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First West Virginia Legislature

Biographical Sketches: James Burley

Wheeling Intelligencer
July 25, 1863

The First West Va. Legislature.


Sketches Personal, Political and Biographical.



Mr. BURLEY is sixty-two years of age, and was born among the Butternuts of Green county, Pennsylvania. At the age of seven his parents moved to Western Virginia, then Ohio, now Marshall county, in one or the other of which counties he has ever resided. He was raised a farmer, which business he is now engaged in, but for many years acted as deputy sheriff for Ohio county before the division thereof, during which time he resided in the city of Wheeling, where his first wife died of cholera in 1833. In 1834 he moved to Marshall county, where he acted as sheriff for several years. Subsequently he engaged in the merchandizing business, and used to purchase and send a great deal of the produce of his county to the Eastern and New Orleans markets. After a term of fourteen years in this business he sold out and moved to the farm on which he has ever since resided; in a style that a good many people would envy. His farm is said to be splendid and the buildings and improvements all that could be desired.

Mr. Burley was never a candidate before the people for any office higher than a justice of the peace, until the call for the memorable Richmond Convention in 1861, to which Convention he was elected by a large majority of the voters of Marshall county, where notwithstanding all the threats on the one hand and all the flattery on the other, used by the disunionists of that body, to induce the members to favor secession, he remained faithful to the last, and was one of the "fifty-five" who voted against the ordinance of Secession. Whilst there, in secret session, he learned many of the plans laid by the rebels to force the people of Western Virginia to acquiesce in what had been done, and help do the fighting, or rather to do it themselves, or what was worse, to have it on their own soil.

Mr. Burley loves to hate old Henry A. Wise, and raised the ire of that distinguished person by offering a series of resolutions, in that Convention, which, while they denied the right of secession, took the ground that a part of the State had the same right to revolutionize the State that a part of the Union (a State or States) had to revolutionize the National Government. Mr. Burley does not love the editors of the Richmond Enquirer, and thinks but little of the editors and proprietors of the old Wheeling Union, and anything which has arisen upon its ruins; but has a high opinion of the loyal people of his own district, and watches their interests with a jealous eye.

Mr. Burley gives a glowing description of the members of the Richmond Convention; he says that Myers W. Fisher and the two Goode's were the meanest; Wise the most hateful; Harvey the most quarrelsome and fullest of threats; Jim Barbour the greatest hypocrite; Sam Woods the most susceptible of flattery; Baldwin the sharpest man; Summers the finest orator; Wysor the most gentlemanly rebel; Graham the biggest fool; old Morton could drink the most wine and brandy; L. S. Hall the most whiskey, and that Baldwin and Masters were the most handsomest men.

Politically he is an old Henry Clay Whig; and voted for Bell and Everett in 1860, and was and is yet in favor of the Union, the Constitution and the enforcement of the Laws.

He is rather good natured. I should judge; a little exciteable [sic], but free to forgive; is a large man, built on the Fallstathan style, and has --- "A big round belly,

Which shakes when he laughs,
Like a bowl full of jelly."

He must be fully six feet high; walks slowly with a firm, lazy step; his face is round, full and smoothly shaven; eyes quite small, but bright and twinkling, and are of a grayish blue color; nose large; mouth small; cheeks fleshy, smooth and round; hair gray but not white, a little curley [sic], and pretty thin. In short he is a good looking, good natured man, and full of fun, enjoying a joke exceedingly, and gets off a good many of his own. He dresses carelessly, with striped breeches and vest and lined coat, sometimes a blue blouse; wears his shoes slip-shod, or one down at the heel and the other up; when he wears boots, one leg of his pants is very apt to be inside and the other out; smokes a great deal out of a dirty looking blue stone pipe; but with all this makes himself exceedingly agreeable.

Mr. Burley was appointed by the President Chairman of the Committee on Military affairs, but at the first meeting of the committee he declined, stating as the reason, that he did not know the difference between a Brigadier General and a corporal. He is a member of the Committee on Courts of Justice, and General laws, the Committee on Military affairs and others, and is one of the most useful and laborious members of the Senate, whose opinions and actions are sound and safe though very backward and timerous [sic] in relation to making motions or speeches.

Biographies of the First West Virginia Legislature

West Virginia Archives and History