U.S. Senator, Congressman, U.S. attorney, judge, and Republican Party leader Nathan Goff Jr. (February 9, 1843-April 23, 1920) was born in Clarksburg of a prominent family. He was educated at Northwestern Academy in Clarksburg and at Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) in Washington. Goff left Georgetown in 1861 to join the Union service in the Civil War, enlisting as a private and rising to the rank of major and brevet brigadier general. He was captured at Moorefield in January 1864 and imprisoned in Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison before being released in an exchange personally authorized by President Lincoln.
Goff began the practice of law in Clarksburg in March 1865. He served in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1867 and 1868, and President Grant appointed him U.S. district attorney for West Virginia in 1868. He was the Republican nominee for governor in 1876 and was soundly defeated by Democrat Henry Mason Mathews. In 1881, he briefly served as secretary of the navy under President Hayes. Goff was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1882, serving from 1883 until 1889.
Goff ran again for governor in 1888, this time losing West Virginia’s most controversial gubernatorial election to Aretas Brooks Fleming. Goff ’s initial 106-vote majority was challenged by Fleming, and both men were sworn in on inauguration day. The incumbent, E. W. Wilson, refused to vacate the office under the circumstances, and West Virginia found itself with three would-be governors. The issue was finally settled in Fleming’s favor in January 1890 by a party-line vote in the legislature.
In 1892, Goff was appointed a federal judge in the U.S. Fourth Circuit, which included Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas. Goff finished his political career with a term in the U.S. Senate, serving from 1913 until 1919.
His many high offices notwithstanding, Nathan Goff Jr. wielded his greatest power as party boss during the time the Republicans were building strength to recapture control of West Virginia politics. Goff controlled federal patronage in West Virginia during several Republican presidential administrations. He was succeeded as Republican leader by Stephen B. Elkins, the industrialist and U.S. senator who led the Grand Old Party into the 20th century.
Goff succeeded in business as in politics, inheriting wealth and multiplying it. With four others, he bought the Clarksburg Telegram newspaper in 1891. He invested in coal mining and profited extensively from the oil business. As a builder he added landmarks to the city, including the Waldo Hotel and his own lavish house, which was on the National Register of Historic Places at the time of its demolition in 1993.
Nathan Goff Jr. married Laura E. Despard in 1865 and Katherine Penney in 1919. He died at home in Clarksburg.
Last Revised on August 07, 2015
Atkinson, George W. & Alvaro F. Gibbins. Prominent Men of West Virginia. Wheeling: W. L. Callin, 1890.
Smith, G. Wayne. Nathan Goff in the Civil War. West Virginia History, (Jan. 1953).
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e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "Nathan Goff Jr.." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 07 August 2015. Web. 27 February 2017.