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Fleming Aretas Brooks, Bio and Photo

Aretas Brooks Fleming


The Fleming family has occupied a prominent place FLEMING in the history of Virginia and West Virginia for more than a hundred years, and Aretas Brooks Fleming is one of its most prominent members.

As legislator, judge and governor of the state, he has served the state and his native country with fidelity, and reflected credit upon himself and the people whom he served. Public-spirited as a citizen, he carried his enthusiasm for righteousness and efficiency into the offices he has held. He attracted the attention, especially while governor, of the whole country to the, then, almost undeveloped mineral and timber resources of West Virginia, by public addresses and published articles in trade and other papers.

The fact that he was engaged, with others, in the active development of the natural resources of his state, in his own county and other counties of the state, gave his words and writings as governor great weight with strangers looking for investments and new locations; and, with other causes, was the beginning of the great industrial development which has followed in the state, especially of the Upper Monongahela Valley. He has been stockholder and director in many of the industrial enterprises in Fairmont, Marion and other counties, and says as a rule he has lost money in the investments made in other states, but has never lost money on an investment in Marion county. His natural dignified simplicity and cordiality of manner has won and held hosts of friends, making him welcome wherever he goes.

Governor Fleming is a man of medium stature, and has been hearty and vigorous all his life, taking no vacations from his work, but about five years ago his doctor prescribed a vacation on account of his health, and he traveled several months abroad; but since his return he has followed the advice of his old physician (as often as he could think of it) who directed him to work when he felt like it and to quit early.

He has always had a youthful appearance, and tells a good story on himself when he first went to Pruntytown to hold court after his appointment in February, 1878, as judge. He wrote the hotelkeeper to reserve him a room with fire. Mr. Rogers, the hotel man, was not acquaintedwith him personally. So when he reached the hotel and applied for a room with fire Mr. Rogers, who was expecting a large elderly man, said he had no room with fire except the room reserved for the new judge, whom he was then expecting, and inquired if the new guest was acquainted with the new judge. When assured that he was and would answer for any objection on the part of the judge for using his room, Mr. Rogers said, “Well, young fellow, if you make it all right with the new judge, you can have it.”

Governor Fleming was born on a farm near Middletown, now Fairmont, in Harrison, now Marion county, Virginia, now West Virginia, on October 15, 1839, being the eldest son of Benjamin F. (q. v.) and Rhoda (Brooks) Fleming. He was reared on his father’s farm, and attended the private and select schools of the neighborhood and in the town of Fairmont, acquiring a thorough preparatory education. After this, beginning in 1859, he completed the course of law lectures under the famous Dr. John B. Minor, at the University of Virginia. He taught school in Marion and Gilmer counties, in which last-named county he located for the practice of law in 1861, after being admitted to the bar in Marion county.

He opened a private school at Glenville, the county seat, while waiting for clients. Clients came faster than usual to so young a lawyer, and he soon called on his brother, Robert F. Fleming, to take charge of the school while he attended to his practice. This brother afterwards was elected judge of the circuit court in that circuit. The war between the states, however, came on, and the future governor returned to Fairmont, “the courts being silent in the presence of the flagrant war.”

He was elected prosecuting attorney in 1863, under the new state of West Virginia, for Marion county, and at the close of his term in 1865 was re-elected and served a second term of two years. After the war closed, he formed a law partnership with the late Judge Alpheus F. Haymond, who afterwards, in 1872, was elected one of the judges of the supreme court of appeals of the state. The same year, 1872, Mr. Fleming was elected to the house of delegates from Marion county, and again in 1875, serving on the judiciary committee and on other important committees, in 1872 ; and in 1875 as chairman of committee on taxation and finance.

From the time he began to practice until 1878, a period of about fifteen years, he became attorney for one or the other parties in many of the important cases pending in Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties, and held a leading position at the bar of these and adjoining counties. About this time the judge of the second judicial circuit, the Hon. Charles S. Lewis, died, and Mr. Fleming was in February, 1878, appointed by Governor Henry M. Matthews to fill the vacancy.

At the ensuing election in the fall of 1878, he was made the nominee of his party and was elected by a large majority, carrying every county, although the circuit was largely Republican. In 1880 he was again nominated for the same office and carried his old circuit, consisting of six counties, four of which were Republican; he was also elected as candidate for judge of the new circuit composed of Marion, Monongalia and Harrison counties, provided for by the amendment to the constitution ratified at that election. Both circuits were largely Republican, and he carried them both by large majorities.This very flattering approval and testimony to his efficiency as a public servant was very unusual at that time in our political history, and especially in a presidential year.

Judge Fleming continued to occupy the bench in the new circuit until the fall of 1888, completing more than ten years of service on the bench. In August, 1888, at Huntington, he was nominated for governor of the state by the Democratic state convention, and accepted the nomination and resigned his place on the bench, September 1, 1888. His opponent for governor on the Republican ticket was General Nathan Goff, now a judge in the United States circuit court of appeals, who had then been in congress several terms from the first district of West Virginia, and candidate for governor in 1876, a brilliant orator and the idol of his party.

The result of the election showed a small margin in favor of General Goff on the face of the returns, with the balance of the Democratic ticket elected. The Democratic state executive committee was dissatisfied and instituted an investigation; they charged that there had been a large number of illegal votes cast for the Republican candidate, especially in the new mining regions on the Norfolk & Western railroad. At the request of this state committee, and numerous other prominent citizens, Judge Fleming inaugurated a contest for the office of governor before the legislature. A joint committee of both houses was appointed by the legislature, and after taking a vast amount of testimony, reported a majority of votes in favor of Judge Fleming, having excluded a large number of votes both for General Goff and for Judge Fleming, which were found by the joint committee to be illegal.

After discussion before the legislature by eminent counsel, the legislature on February 4, 1890, declared Judge Fleming duly elected, and on the 6th day of the same month he was inaugurated governor. The contest, carried on with utmost vigor by both parties, developed no personal animosity between the contestants themselves, who were in fact personal friends long before the contest and have been ever since.

Governor Fleming, as a leader of his party during his term of office, was very successful in holding his parry together, and rendering it valuable service; but his greatest service to his party, as well as to his state, was in his efficient administration of the dudes of his office and economical character of his administration, also his constant effort to induce capital to enter the state for investment, and aid in the building of railroads, opening of mines, developing timber lands and oil and gas fields.

During the most of Governor Fleming’s business life from about 1874 he has been identified with the coal development of the Upper Monongahela Valley, with his father-in-law, the late James Otis Watson, who was the pioneer coal operator in this region. Together with the sons of Mr. Watson, he was interested in the organization of the early coal companies, which have acquired coal acreage on the Monongahela and West Fork rivers. One of the first was known as the Gaston Gas Coal Company, which was reached by a branch railroad, built by the coal company, from the Baltimore & Ohio railroad at the head of the Monongahela river up the West Fork, which mine is still operated as a part of the Consolidation Coal Company.

He has been identified with all the coal operations of the Watsons under the various names of the Montana Coal & Coke Company, West Fairmont Coal Company, New England Coal Company, Briar Hill Coal & Coke Company, and others. He was also identified with the late Senator Johnson N. Camden in the building of the Monongahela River railroad, along the West Fork to Clarksburg, resulting in the opening of the big Monongah and other mines along the West Fork, most of which are now operated by the Consolidation Coal Company.

As the coal, oil and gas business developed and railroads were built, he was actively identified in all of the efforts for advancement, both in the Upper Monongahela Valley and other parts of the state. Whenthe Fairmont Coal Company was organized in 1901, he was one of its directors and its attorney in the purchase and consolidation of other companies into it, largely owned by the Watsons, who purchased nearly all the active coal companies in the Fairmont region about the year 1901. This company in turn has since developed into the Consolidation Coal Company, owning vast properties in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Kentucky, the governor maintaining his place on the board of directors, and as general counsel for the company in West Virginia. He is a director in the Cumberland & Pennsylvania and in the Monongahela River Railroad companies. Governor Fleming has been identified and interested in the building of the traction lines in Fairmont and Clarksburg, and the connecting lines between these cities, and to other points, in recent years.

He has been identified with the National Bank of Fairmont from its beginning, in which he is a director. He is a stockholder and director in the Watson Company, which owns the fine stone ten-story bank and office building known as the Watson building, which was recently erected in the city of Fairmont.

Governor Fleming has also been identified with the educational interests, both state and local institutions, and was one of the founders of the State Normal School at Fairmont, originally organized as a private institution, and afterwards turned over, in 1863, to the state as a gift from the owners, in consideration of the establishment of a State Normal School at Fairmont. This institution has for many years justified both the state and its liberal founders in its establishment. He has had many formal honors and has served local constituencies as faithfully in small offices as he has the state in the larger places. In the year 1881 the State University conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

Governor Fleming’s father and mother were Presbyterians; for many years he has been a trustee of the First Presbyterian Church of Fairmont.Governor Fleming married, September 7, 1865, Carrie M., eldest daughter of James Otis and Matilda Watson. He says his wife and mother are largely entitled to the credit for whatever success he has had in life.

His children are:

1. Gypsy W., married Charles E. Ward, of Charleston, West Virginia, January 18, 1894; two children: Margaret F., born in 1895, and Caroline B., born in 1897.

2. Ida W.,married Walton Miller, cashier of the National Bank of Fairmont, April 23, 1896, and died in 1906, leaving one child, Helen.

3. George W. married Doris Underbill, December 11, 1905; is one of the vice-presidents of the Consolidation Coal Company, and resides in Baltimore, Maryland.

4. Virginia W. Fleming, twin of George W., born 1874; Virginia unmarried.

5. Brooks, born in 1882; married (first) Amy Dodson, in 1906, who died in 1907; (second), 1910, Marie Antoinette Boggess, to whom one child, Caroline, was born in 1911. He is assistant manager of the West Virginia division of the Consolidation Coal Company.


Genealogical and Personal History Of the Upper Monongahela Valley West Virginia, ed. Bernard L. Butcher & James M. Callahan, Vol 11, Lewis Historical Publ Co, NYNY; pages 400-406


FLEMING, Aretas Brooks, seventh governor of West Virginia (1890-93), was born in Fairmont, W. Va.. Oct. 15. 1839, son of Benjamin F. and Rhoda (Brooks) Fleming, grandson of William and Ann Fleming, great-grandson of Nathan and Lydia (Russom) Fleming and great- great-grandson of William Fleming, who settled in Delaware. His boyhood was spent on his father’s farm, and after a common-school education he taught school in the country districts, and lateral Glenville. He studied law in the University of Virginia, and began the practice of his profession in Fairmont, in 1862. In the following year he was elected prosecuting attorney of his county, and was re-elected at the expiration of his term. In 1866 he became the partner of Alpheus F. Haymond who had been president of the supreme court of appeals. In 1872 and again in 1875 he represented his county in the house of delegates. In both of these bodies he was one of the ablest members. Upon the death of the Hon. Charles S. Lewis, in January, 1878,  he was appointed judge of the 2d judicial circuit by Gov. Mathews to fill the vacancy until the following election, when he was regularly elected for a full term by a handsome majority. In August,1888, while still on the bench, he was nominated by the Democrats for governor of West Virginia, and he resigned Sept. 1st to make an active canvass of the state. It was the year of both presidential and state elections, and the Republican party, hoping to break the ” solid South,” made a concentrated effort to carry West Virginia, and a remarkable conflict followed. Gen. Nathan Goff, then a congressman and ex-secretary of the navy, was the Republican candidate; and, although the result finally proved that every candidate on the Democratic state ticket -was elected by a small but safe majority. Judge Fleming was apparently defeated on the face of the returns. He alleged fraud, and inaugurated a contest before the legislature, which was vigorously prosecuted and defended. On Feb. 4, 1890, the joint assembly by resolution declared Judge Fleming to “have been duly elected to the office of governor by a majority of 237 votes, and on Feb. 6th he was inducted into office. He was married, Sept. 7, 1805, to Carrie M., daughter of James O. Watson of Fairmont, and one of the most extensive coal operators in the northern section of the state. Gov. Fleming was one of the originators of the Gaston Gas Coal Co., the Monongahela Coal and Coke Co. and the Montana Coal and Coke Co. Largely through his efforts a state normal school was established in his native town. At the expiration of his term he resumed the practice of law in Fairmont. In 1891 the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by the University of West Virginia.

The National Cyclopedia of American Biography Vol 12, 1904


ab-flemingFLEMING, Aretas Brooks, governor of West Virginia, was born in Fairmont, Harrison county, Va., Oct. 15, 1839; son of Benjamin F. and Rhoda (Brooks) Fleming; grandson of Capt. William Fleming, and of the Rev. Asa Brooks, a Presbyterian minister, who removed to Virginia from New England; great grandson of Nathan Fleming, and of Asa and Polly (Sumner) Brooks, and 2nd great grandson of William Fleming, who emigrated from the north of Ireland to Delaware prior to the Revolution; and also of Jesse Sumner of New England, who died of wounds received while serving in the Revolutionary army. Aretas studied  law in the University of Virginia, 1859-60, and was admitted to the bar in 1862. He was prosecuting attorney of Marion county, W.Va., 1863-66; a member of the house of delegates, 1871-75; judge of the second judicial circuit court, 1878-88, and governor of West Virginia, 1889-93. He was married to Carrie M., daughter of James O. Watson of West Virginia. Ha received the honorary degree of LL.D. from West Virginia university in 1891.

“Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans” Vol 4, Rossiter Johnson, ed; Biographical Society, Boston, 1904

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1 Comment »

  1. A.B. is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Fairmont, WV. His large obelisk is patterned after Washington’s monument in D.C.

    Comment by Gena Wagaman | September 28, 2010 | Reply

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