ENTRY

John William Poindexter (ca. 1848–February 16, 1889)

SUMMARY

John William Poindexter represented Louisa County in the House of Delegates from 1875 to 1877. Born free, little is known about his childhood. By 1860 he may have been working as a stemmer for a tobacconist near Louisa Court House. After the American Civil War (1861–1865), he became a teacher sponsored by the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society in schools operated by the Freedmen’s Bureau. He reportedly attended the teacher preparatory department at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. In 1875 he won election to a term representing the county in the House of Delegates. He opposed a poll tax requirement to vote, spoke in support of allocating funds to the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, and argued against requiring payment for services at the state school for the deaf and blind. Poindexter refused the Republican nomination for another House term in 1877 and while receiving the nomination again in 1879 he lost in the general election. He remained active in the Republican Party during the 1880s, being part of a delegation that visited President James A. Garfield, attending the national convention as an at-large delegate in 1880, and holding a patronage position as a deputy collector of taxes. Poindexter continued to teach in Louisa County until he died of tuberculosis in 1889.

Early Life and Political Career

Poindexter was born free in Louisa County and was the son of Mary Poindexter. The name of his father is not recorded. Several free Poindexter families resided in the county at the time and shared given names among their children. At about age fifteen, he stood five feet, five inches tall and had dark eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion. It is possible that in 1860 he was living with and working as a stemmer for a tobacconist near Louisa Court House.

Poindexter learned to read and write, perhaps before the end of the Civil War. By the spring of 1868, he was teaching at Louisa Court House, one of many teachers whom the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society supported, and he continued to teach in schools operated by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands until 1870. Poindexter reportedly attended the teacher preparatory department at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. He purchased a small lot near the courthouse at the end of December 1872 and acquired another tract of land comprising a little more than eight acres. Poindexter never married.

Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute

Reportedly an excellent speaker, Poindexter joined the Republican Party and by 1874 was attending local conventions. In 1875 he and white Republican William F. Gordon won the nomination for two seats to representing Louisa County in the House of Delegates for a two-year term. On November 2, they defeated two white Conservative Party candidates, with Gordon receiving 1,183 votes, Poindexter 1,144 votes, and the two Conservatives 1,118 and 1,101 votes. Poindexter held the lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on Asylums and Prisons and was not a very active legislator. In February 1876 he voted against a proposed constitutional amendment, which was ratified later that year, to impose a poll tax as a prerequisite for the franchise and to deny the vote to men who had been convicted of petty larceny. When the delegates were debating the bill to appropriate money for the state’s colleges and universities, Poindexter spoke in favor of an amendment to provide $3,000 for Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University). Later in the year he attended a convention of African Americans interested in education issues and was elected to its executive committee. In December 1875 Poindexter was elected secretary of a newly organized Republican conference to build up the party in Virginia, and at the state convention in the spring of 1876 he was elected a delegate to the party’s national convention, which he attended in June in Cincinnati.

During Poindexter’s second session in the General Assembly, which opened in December 1876, he and three other members of the Committee on Asylums and Prisons dissented from the report of the majority and argued that families of deaf and blind people being cared for in the state school should not be required to pay for their care. Late in the session, Poindexter and another delegate figured in an investigation into an irregularity discovered in the records of the clerk of the House of Delegates. The record had been altered to allow them payment for thirteen days of attendance rather than for three days. The investigation suggested that a junior staff member in the clerk’s office had altered the record and received the full pay for thirteen days of attendance but delivered compensation to the legislators for only three days. After the assembly adjourned in April 1877, the staff member was indicted and tried, but a company of unusually able defense attorneys secured an acquittal. Poindexter was not implicated in any wrong-doing.

Poindexter and Gordon were two of several candidates for the Republican nomination for the House of Delegates in September 1877 and were narrowly renominated, but divisions at the party’s convention prompted Gordon to refuse to accept the nomination, whereupon Poindexter also refused. Nominated again in 1879, Poindexter lost in a three-man race by a wide margin to a white Conservative and a white Readjuster candidate. Poindexter opposed the recent affiliation of Virginia Republicans with the Readjusters, a biracial coalition founded to reduce the principal on the state’s pre-Civil War public debt that threatened funding for public schools and other services. In 1881 he was part of a Republican delegation that visited President James A. Garfield to request his assistance in strengthening the party in Virginia. Poindexter remained active in the Republican Party during the 1880s, attending the national convention as an at-large delegate in 1880 and also being a candidate for presidential elector that year. Early in the 1880s Poindexter held a patronage position as a deputy collector of taxes, and in 1887 he was again considered a potential candidate for the House of Delegates.

Poindexter continued to teach in Louisa County until he died of tuberculosis on February 16, 1889. In addition to the two small pieces of land, he also owned a mare then worth about $30. The place of his burial is unrecorded.

MAP
TIMELINE
Ca. 1848

John William Poindexter is born free in Louisa County. His mother is Mary Poindexter. The name of his father is not known.

1853

At about age fifteen, John William Poindexter stands five feet, five inches tall and has dark eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion.

1860

John William Poindexter might be living with and working as a stemmer for a tobacconist near Louisa Court House.

1868

By the spring of 1868, John William Poindexter is teaching at Louisa Court House, supported by the New England Freedmen's Aid Society, in schools operated by the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands until 1870.

Ca. 1870

John William Poindexter may be attending the teacher preparatory department at Howard University, in Washington, D.C.

December 1872

John William Poindexter purchases a small lot near the Louisa courthouse.

1874

John William Poindexter attends local Republican Party conventions.

November 2, 1875

John William Poindexter wins the election for a seat to represent Louisa County in the House of Delegates for a two-year term. He holds the lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on Asylums and Prisons and is not an active legislator.

December 1875

John William Poindexter is elected secretary of a newly organized Republican conference to build up the party in Virginia.

February 1876

John William Poindexter votes against a proposed constitutional amendment, which was ratified later that year, to impose a poll tax as a prerequisite for the franchise and to deny the vote to men who had been convicted of petty larceny.

June 1876

John William Poindexter attends the Republican Party's national convention in Cincinnati in June.

December 1876

John William Poindexter and three other members of the Committee on Asylums and Prisons dissent from the report of the majority and argues that families of deaf and blind people being cared for in the state school should not be required to pay for their care.

April 1877

John William Poindexter is not implicated in any wrongdoing in a case of a House clerk altering Poindexter's and other legislators' attendance records to embezzle funds.

September 1877

John William Poindexter declines the Republican Party nomination for the House of Delegates race.

November 1879

John William Poindexter loses the election for a term in the House of Delegates.

1880

John William Poindexter attends the national Republican Party convention as an at-large delegate.

1880

John William Poindexter is a candidate for presidential elector.

1880s

John William Poindexter holds a patronage position as a deputy collector of taxes.

1880s

John William Poindexter continues to teach in Louisa County.

1881

John William Poindexter is part of a Republican delegation that visits President James A. Garfield to request his assistance in strengthening the party in Virginia.

1887

John William Poindexter is again considered a potential candidate for the House of Delegates.

1889

In addition to two small pieces of land, John William Poindexter also owns a mare then worth about $30.

February 16, 1889
John William Poindexter dies of consumption (tuberculosis). The place of his burial is unrecorded.
FURTHER READING

Jackson, Luther Porter. Negro Office-Holders in Virginia, 1865–1895. Norfolk, Virginia: Guide Quality Press, 1945.

CITE THIS ENTRY
APA Citation:
Tarter, Brent & Dictionary of Virginia Biography. John William Poindexter (ca. 1848–February 16, 1889). (2022, May 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/john-william-poindexter-ca-1848-february-16-1889.
MLA Citation:
Tarter, Brent, and Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "John William Poindexter (ca. 1848–February 16, 1889)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (27 May. 2022). Web. 29 Nov. 2022
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