Author: James Tice Moore


Edmund R. Cocke (1841–1922)

Edmund R. Cocke was a veteran of the American Civil War (1861–1865) who, after the war, became a Populist Party leader, running unsuccessful campaigns for Virginia governor (1893) and lieutenant governor (1897). After being wounded at Gettysburg (1863) and captured at Sailor’s Creek (1865), Cocke, a staunch Democrat and white-supremacist, chaired Cumberland County‘s electoral board beginning in 1884. He told a friend that Republicans “putrefy every thing they touch,” but he never was accused of being unfairly partisan in his position. Around the same time, Captain Cocke, as he was known, became involved in populist politics through the Farmers’ Assembly of the State of Virginia, which he cofounded, and his disagreement with Democrats over the gold standard led to his defection to the People’s Party in 1892. Although intellectually gifted, he was considered by his peers to be an uninspiring speaker, and he was soundly defeated in his run for governor in 1893 and, four years later, for lieutenant governor. This latter defeat effectively ended Populism in Virginia. In 1898, Cocke’s wife died, in 1900 his plantation burned, and in his last few years he experimented with making gold through alchemy and lashed out at Prohibition Democrats. He died of kidney failure in 1922.


William E. Cameron (1842–1927)

William E. Cameron was a veteran of the American Civil War (1861–1865), a journalist, a governor of Virginia (1882–1886), and a member of the Convention of 1901–1902. Cameron served in the Confederate army during the war, then worked as a journalist in Petersburg and Richmond, supporting the Conservative Party. Beginning in 1876, he was elected to three consecutive two-year terms as the mayor of Petersburg. Later in the 1870s he began to side with the Readjusters, a faction that sought to adjust the payment of Virginia’s prewar debt. He won the governorship as a nominee of the Readjuster-Republican coalition in 1881. Cameron and the Readjusters issued a series of reforms, including repealing the poll tax, but his aggressive use of political patronage angered voters and his opponents. The revived Democratic Party, capitalizing on white supremacy and the electorate’s unease over Cameron’s tactics, took over the General Assembly in 1883. Cameron left politics after completing his term, but was elected in 1901 to a state constitutional convention. He played an influential role, advocating provisions that strengthened the governor’s authority to discharge subordinate officials; defending legislative election of judges; and supporting reinstating the poll tax and other restrictions that disfranchised African American voters. Cameron returned to journalism in 1906, editing the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot until 1919. He died in Louisa County in 1927.