James Hoge Tyler (1846–1925)


James Hoge Tyler was a successful farmer and cattle rancher who parlayed his reputation as “the farmer’s friend” into a political career, serving as a member of the Senate of Virginia (1877–1879), lieutenant governor (1890–1894), and governor of Virginia(1898–1902). Tyler served at a tumultuous time in Virginia politics, as the Readjuster movement shook the political order only to fall to a reinvigorated conservative Democratic coalition that would dominate the state until well into the twentieth century. Despite the drama of the era, Tyler was a conciliatory gentleman politician of the old school who was elected to the governorship largely due to his fortuitous backing of free silver. He lacked the political skills or ruthlessness to make a mark in a time dominated by political rings, railroad money, and divisive rhetoric.

Early Years

Blenheim Plantation

James Hoge Tyler was born on August 11, 1846, at Blenheim plantation in Caroline County, to George and Eliza Hoge Tyler. His parents were both descendants of established Virginia families; George Tyler represented Caroline County in the General Assembly. Eliza Tyler died in childbirth, and James was raised by his Hoge grandparents at their estate in Pulaski County. He received his early education from tutors and in the seasonal old field schools that dotted the played-out fields of the rural South. After his grandfather’s death in July 1861, Tyler returned to Caroline County and attended Edge Hill Academy and later Minor’s Academy in Albemarle County.

Tyler enlisted in the Confederate army at age sixteen and served as a private in the Signal Corps until the end of the American Civil War (1861–1865). After the war, he returned to Pulaski County and took up farming at Belle Hampton, the estate he inherited from his grandparents. Tyler became a successful cattle rancher known for his Durham shorthorns and a prominent economic booster of southwestern Virginia. He served as the president of the Virginia State Farmers’ Institute and the Southwest Virginia Live Stock Association. With the discovery of coal on his property and the development of the Belle Hampton Mine, which was valued at $100,000, he turned his attention to the revival of that industry in the region. Hoge married Sue Montgomery Hammet in 1868 and they had eight children, seven of whom survived.

Political Career

Public Free Schools!

Tyler’s interest in the economic development of southwestern Virginia led him into politics, first through farmers’ clubs that he organized, which established him as “the farmer’s friend.” He seemed well suited for public life; he had an outgoing personality that made him a natural politician, a distinguished family name, a record of Confederate service, and successful farming and business interests. He lost his first bid for a seat in the state senate in 1873 but won election in 1876. He served only one term, however, after he was caught up in the debate over funding the state’s prewar debt and the emergence of the Readjuster movement. The Readjusters sought a downward adjustment of the debt that was consuming much of the state’s budget. Tyler was an advocate of debt reform, but he didn’t support a thoroughgoing readjustment of the debt, which he feared would harm the state’s reputation and its ability to attract outside capital. He lost his seat in 1879 as the Readjusters gained strength.

Charles T. O'Ferrall

Tyler mounted two unsuccessful congressional campaigns in the 1880s and remained prominent in civic life, serving on the board of the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (later Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) and helping to found the Farmers’ Assembly. He and his wife moved to Halwick, an estate in Radford, in 1892. He ran for governor in 1889 but declined to rally economically distressed farmers to his cause for fear of splitting the Democratic Party, which had unified to beat back the Readjuster movement. The Democratic nomination went to Philip W. McKinney. Tyler reluctantly accepted the lieutenant governorship and was swept into office with McKinney. Four years later, he pursued the top spot once again and lost the nomination to Charles T. O’Ferrall. In that campaign, however, Tyler declared his support for free silver. The issue of the free coinage of silver caught fire after the devastating financial panic of 1893, as Silverites promised it would restore prosperity and reduce inequality. The silver issue propelled Tyler to an overwhelming victory over Republican Patrick H. McCaull in the 1897 governor’s race.


Members of the All-Black 6th Virginia Volunteers

At the outset of his term, Tyler appeared committed to popular reforms such as lower taxes and controls on corporate influence in politics, but he offered a conciliatory agenda with few specific proposals. His first order of business was the mobilization of Virginia volunteers for the Spanish-American War, which had been declared on April 21, 1898. He had to adjudicate a controversy over the leadership of two battalions of African American militia volunteers. The Black volunteers would only muster under the Black officers who commanded the units, while many whites insisted on white leadership for the units, which was the practice in the regular army. Under intense pressure to assert the superiority of white leadership, Tyler appointed African Americans as the battalion and company leaders and Lieutenant Colonel Richard C. Croxton, a white West Point graduate, as the regiment commander. The two Black units were combined into the 6th Virginia Volunteers, making Virginia one of only a handful of states to include Black soldiers in its volunteer quota for the war, although the unit never saw combat and was eventually disbanded over racial strife.

Senator Thomas S. Martin of Virginia with Senator Frank Flint of California

Despite a promising start to his administration, Tyler soon became embroiled in a revolt within the Democratic Party. Reformers were seeking to oust U.S. Senator Thomas S. Martin, who was using railroad money to build a powerful conservative Democratic political machine that would dominate the state well into the twentieth century. The leaders of the so-called May Movement advocated for the direct election of U.S. senators, which would circumvent Martin’s power in the state legislature, and curbs on the widespread voter fraud that was believed to aid Martin. Tyler plunged into the fray as Martin’s opponent, despite being vastly out-organized and out-funded by the canny Martin. When the outcome of the ill-conceived challenge appeared preordained, Tyler withdrew from the campaign just weeks before the vote. His apostasy effectively ended any hope of higher office; Tyler’s only consolation was that his effort contributed to the momentum for a constitutional convention and reform of the party primary system, although he had no influence on the constitutional convention.

I Demand the Surrender of Sylvester Cannon

Tyler did have some modest successes as governor. He oversaw increased funding for public schools, a reduction of the state debt by more than a million dollars, creation of a conditional parole system, and the establishment of the state Labor Bureau and Farm Bureau. He also helped to settle a long-running dispute between Virginia and Maryland over harvesting rights to oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay region and resolved a border dispute with Tennessee. Tyler did, however, sign Virginia’s first Jim Crow law into being in 1900, a measure requiring segregated railroad cars.

Overall, however, Tyler biographer Thomas Gay assessed him as “more spectator than participant” in the tumultuous politics of late nineteenth-century Virginia. He had the instincts of a moderate reformer but lacked the political skill—or will—to marshal allies and effect change. He was remembered as an honest, “kindly man,” said Gay, who “wanted to be liked more than he wanted to be a true leader,” which made him “strangely out of place in an era dominated by political rings, railroad money, and chicanery at the polls.”

Later Years

Union Theological Seminary

Tyler retired to Halwick and resumed his farming interests and involvement with agricultural organizations when his term ended in January 1902. A devout Presbyterian of Scots-Irish descent, he was active in the leadership of the church. He was elected to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church three times and served on the boards of Hampden-Sydney College and Union Theological Seminary. He died on January 3, 1925. A book of Hoge family genealogy that he authored, The Family of Hoge, was published posthumously in 1927.

August 11, 1846
James Hoge Tyler is born to George and Eliza Hoge Tyler at Blenheim plantation in Caroline County; his mother dies in childbirth and he is raised by his Hoge grandparents at Belle Hampton, their estate in Pulaski County.
James Hoge Tyler attends Edge Hill Academy in Caroline County and later Minor's Academy in Albemarle County.
James Hoge Tyler enlists in the Signal Corps of the Confederate army.
James Hoge Tyler takes up farming at Belle Hampton, the Pulaski County estate left to him by his grandparents.
November 16, 1868
James Hoge Tyler marries Sue Montgomery Hammet. They will have eight children, seven of whom survive.
James Hoge Tyler loses his first bid for a seat in the Senate of Virginia.
James Hoge Tyler wins a seat in the Senate of Virginia and serves one term.
James Hoge Tyler is elected lieutenant governor of Virginia.
James Hoge Tyler and Sue Hammet Tyler move to Halwick in Radford.
Lieutenant governor of Virginia James Hoge Tyler runs for governor and loses the Democratic primary to U.S. Representative Charles T. O'Ferrall.
Democrat James Hoge Tyler is elected governor of Virginia in a landslide victory over Republican Patrick H. McCaull.
January 1, 1898
James Hoge Tyler begins his term as governor of Virginia.
James Hoge Tyler launches an unsuccessful effort to unseat U.S. Senator Thomas S. Martin as part of the May Movement that seeks to overthrow the Democratic political machine controlled by Martin.
January 1, 1902
James Hoge Tyler retires to Halwick in Radford.
January 3, 1925
James Hoge Tyler dies.
The Family of Hoge, a family history authored by James Hoge Tyler, is published.
  • Gay, Thomas E., Jr. “James Hoge Tyler: Rebellious Regular.” In The Governors of Virginia, 1860–1978, edited by Edward Younger and James Moore, 147–157. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1982.
  • Moger, Allen W. Virginia: Bourbonism to Byrd, 1870–1925. Charlottesville: The University Press of Virginia, 1968.
  • Tyler, Lyon G., ed. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, Vol. IV. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Company, 1915.
  • Tyler, Lyon G., ed. Men of Mark in Virginia, Vol. I. Washington, D.C.: Men of Mark Publishing Company, 1906.
APA Citation:
Heinemann, Ronald. James Hoge Tyler (1846–1925). (2020, December 07). In Encyclopedia Virginia. https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/tyler-james-hoge-1846-1925.
MLA Citation:
Heinemann, Ronald. "James Hoge Tyler (1846–1925)" Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Humanities, (07 Dec. 2020). Web. 20 May. 2024
Last updated: 2024, May 03
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