Emmet J. O'Brien

Letter of William S. O'Brien to Virgil A. Lewis

December 11, 1906

Hon. Virgil A. Lewis,
Charleston, West Va.

Dear Sir: -

Your favor of the 6th inst, asking information regarding Emmet J. O'Brien, who represented Barbour County in the convention which assembled in Wheeling to frame the first constitution of West Virginia, came duly to hand. I have prepared a short biography of my father which you will find enclosed. If there is any further information you desire relative to his life, I will take pleasure in giving it to you.

Yours truly,

Wm. S. O'Brien


Emmet Jones O'Brien was born in Beverly, Randolph County, Virginia, on the 14th day of May, 1820. His father, Daniel O'Brien, was born near the Shannon River, in county Clare, Ireland, and was a descendant of two of the oldest families of Ireland. His mother, Hannah Norris O'Brien, was a daughter of John Norris, of Lewis county, Virginia, and a descendant of the Norris and Jones families of Fauquier county, of the same state.

Emmet J. O'Brien was reared in Barbour county, then Virginia, and had only limited advantages to secure an education. His father dying when he was but a youth compelled him to enter upon the active duties of life when but a boy, but with it all he acquired a knowledge of the common branches and entered somewhat into the higher education of that day, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and surveying. He was an extensive reader, gaining thereby much technical knowledge in law, history and politics, and naturally became active in the political development of the state. Before the war he was a bridge contractor, and afterward, while he was able to perform manual labor, worked at the stone cutter and mason's trade. The exigencies of the war stripped him of his fortune.

He was married twice, first to Louisa Reger, of Barbour county, who died at an early age. He then married Martha A. Vandervort, widow of Joseph Vandervort, and a daughter of Jonathan Hall, of Lewis county, Virginia, now West Virginia, one of a noted family of that section of the state. To that union four children were born, viz: Alonzo Lee, Daniel U., William S. and Mary Lillian. Alonzo Lee graduated at West Point, served seven years in the regular army, and died at Weston, at the age of thirty-one.

Emmet J. O'Brien removed from Barbour County to Weston, Lewis county, immediately after the war, and there resided until his death, on February 27, 1888. He retained the vigor of his intellect to the moment of his death. With the full realization of his approaching end, and with the same cool determination that had marked him in the affairs of life, a few moments before his dissolution he called for his family Bible and wrote therein the day and date of his death. He was buried at Machpelah Cemetery, at Weston, West Virginia. It is a common saying among all the people where he lived, "that Colonel O'Brien," as they were wont to call him, "was an honest man and did much good."

Emmet J. O'Brien was elected Lieut. Colonel Virginia Militia in 1848, and a Colonel in 1854, and was commissioned by Henry A. Wise, governor of Virginia, a Brigadier General of the 20th Brigade, 3rd Division of Virginia, in 1859. He was elected from Barbour County a member of the convention to frame a constitution for the new state of West Virginia. He was again elected by the 6th Senatorial district to the State Senate, to take his seat in January 1866. After his time expired in the Senate, he turned his attention solely to the training and education of his growing family.

His widow is now living with her son, William, at Buckhannon, West Virginia.