Charles Triplett O'Ferrall

Charles Triplett O'Ferrall

Portrait of Governor O'Ferrall
42nd Governor of Virginia
In office
January 1, 1894  January 1, 1898
Lieutenant Robert Craig Kent
Preceded by Philip W. McKinney
Succeeded by James Hoge Tyler
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th district
In office
May 5, 1884 December 28, 1893
Preceded by John Paul
Succeeded by Smith S. Turner
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Rockingham County
In office
Alongside George Deneale
Personal details
Born October 21, 1840
Berkley Springs, Virginia
Died September 22, 1905(1905-09-22) (aged 64)
Richmond, Virginia
Political party Democratic
Alma mater Washington College
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Allegiance  Confederate States
Service/branch Confederate States Army
Years of service 18611865
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars American Civil War

Charles Triplett "Trip" O'Ferrall (October 21, 1840 September 22, 1905) was a Virginian politician who served as a U.S. Representative from 1883 to 1894 and the 42nd Governor of Virginia from 1894 to 1898.

Early life and career

Charles O'Ferrall was born in Bath, Virginia (now Berkeley Springs, West Virginia) to John and Jane Laurens Green O'Ferrall. His father was an innkeeper and former member of the Virginia General Assembly who was elected Clerk of Court of Morgan County in 1851. When John O'Ferrall died suddenly in 1855, the local judge thought highly enough of Charles O'Ferrall to appoint the fifteen-year-old to hold the post until an election could be held.[1] He was sufficiently respected to later win election, at the age of seventeen, to a full six-year term as Clerk of Court. However, he only served less than half the term before the county was thrown into upheaval by the outbreak of the civil war.[2]

Despite coming from a predominantly pro-Union area, O'Ferrall felt his true allegiance to be to Virginia, and he thus joined the Confederate side of the war.[3] Enlisting as a cavalry private, O'Ferrall was immediately offered the position of sergeant.[4] He subsequently distinguished himself in several battles, leading to his advancement to the rank of major and his being allowed to form his own cavalry battalion.[5] By the end of the war, O'Ferrall was a colonel in command of all cavalry in the Shenandoah Valley, and his regiment engaged in the last fight of the war on Virginia soil.[6] All told, he had been wounded eight times in battle, including once so seriously that he was left for dead.[1]

Entry into state politics

After the war, O'Ferrall returned to the family tradition of inn keeping, though he found this both personally and financially unfulfilling.[1] Accordingly, he decided to instead pursue a law degree at Washington College, graduating in 1869 and starting a law practice in Harrisonburg. However, he quickly returned to politics by successfully running for the Virginia House of Delegates in 1871, and unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congress the next year.[7] In 1874, the General Assembly appointed O'Ferrall as a county judge. However, he found the duty tedious and returned to the practice of law at the end of his six-year term.[8]

After several years of practicing law and assisting various Democratic candidates, O'Ferrall challenged John Paul for Virginia's 7th congressional district in 1883. The initial election vote count showed O'Ferrall down by 200 votes (out of 24,000), but he contested the result and eventually won the seat.[8] O'Ferrall subsequently won reelection five times, serving ten years in the House of Representatives. His congressional career was largely unremarkable, though he did gain a reputation as a staunch advocate for Virginia and of President Grover Cleveland.[9]


After two failed attempts to gain the Democratic nomination for governor, O'Ferrall determined to make a strong push in 1893.[10] He was able to gain the support of the Democratic organization and easily won the nomination. The Republicans decided not to contest the election, so O'Ferrall's only opponent was Populist Party candidate Edmund Cocke who he defeated with 59.71% of the vote.[11] O'Ferrall benefited from fears of populism and negro supremacy to win election with the largest majority that any Virginia governor had ever received.[12]

The first half of O'Ferrall's term as governor was highlighted by his willingness to use strong measures to preserve law and order. He dispatched armed forces to protect nonstriking miners and maintain peace during a miners' strike and also to drive Coxey's "army" of protest marchers out of the state.[13] Despite his public stance as a white supremacist, O'Ferrall was also quick to send troops to break up mob violence and prevent lynchings.[14] His actions thus defused several high-profile situations, and he remained a generally popular governor through the end of 1895.[15]

In 1896, the politics of the Democratic party were dominated by the issue of bimetallism and "Free Silver", alienating O'Ferrall who had always been a staunch advocate of the gold standard. The silver issue culminated in the selection of William Jennings Bryan as the Democratic 1896 presidential candidate.[16] As a result, O'Ferrall became one of a small group of Virginia Democrats who supported the gold standard and opposed Bryan's candidacy.[17] This stand undermined O'Ferrall's popularity and political support, and ensured that he would be a lame duck with no significant political accomplishments for the remainder of his term as governor.[18]

Electoral history

Departure from politics and death

O'Ferrall's opposition to the silver issue not only undermined the last years of his governorship, but also effectively lead to his retirement from public life.[19] He subsequently attempted a return to the practice of law, but his practice was undermined by significant health issues, partly the result of the wounds he had suffered during the Civil War.[20] In 1904, he published his autobiography, titled Forty Years of Active Service. Shortly after its publication, O'Ferrall died on September 22, 1905 in Richmond Virginia, and was buried in the Hollywood Cemetery.[7] His personal papers are held by the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William & Mary.[21]


  1. 1 2 3 Weisiger, Minor T. (1982). Edward Younger, ed. The Governors of Virginia, 1860-1978. University Press of Virginia. p. 135. ISBN 0-8139-0920-1.
  2. O'Ferrall, Charles Triplett (1904). Forty Years of Active Service. The Neale publishing company. pp. 183–184. ISBN 0-7222-8280-X.
  3. O'Ferrall (1904) p. 185
  4. O'Ferrall (1904) pp. 21–22
  5. O'Ferrall (1904) pp. 86-87
  6. Frank H. Gille (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Virginia 1999; Volume One. Somerset Publishers. p. 182. ISBN 0-403-09753-3.
  7. 1 2 "Biographical Directory of the United States Congress: O'FERRALL, Charles Triplett, (1840 - 1905)". United States Congress. Retrieved 2007-12-17.
  8. 1 2 Weisiger (1982) p. 137
  9. Weisiger (1982) pp. 137–138
  10. Weisiger (1982) p. 138
  11. Tice Moore, James. "Edmund R. Cocke (1841–1922)". Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
  12. Moger, Allen (1968). Virginia: Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870-1925. University Press of Virginia. pp. 109–111. OCLC 435376.
  13. Moger (1968) pp. 154–155
  14. Weisiger (1982) p. 141
  15. Weisiger (1982) p. 142
  16. Weisiger (1982) p. 143
  17. Moger (1968) p. 161
  18. Weisiger (1982) pp. 143–144
  19. Moger (1968) p. 165
  20. Weisiger (1982) p. 145
  21. "Charles Triplett O'Ferrall Papers". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William & Mary. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Paul
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
Smith S. Turner
Political offices
Preceded by
Philip W. McKinney
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
James Hoge Tyler
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