Jacob Beeson Jackson (April 16, 1829-December 11, 1893) was West Virginia’s sixth governor. Born in Parkersburg, Jackson was a member of one of the region’s most distinguished families. His father was John Jay Jackson Sr., and his grandfather was former Virginia Congressman John George Jackson of Clarksburg, a leader in what historian John Alexander Williams describes as Western Virginia’s pre-Civil War oligarchy. By the time of Jacob’s birth, John Jay Jackson was fast establishing himself as one of Virginia’s most prominent attorneys, and he would become a prominent judge.
Unlike his two older brothers, John Jay Jr. and James Monroe Jackson, Jacob did not attend college. After studying at the Reverend Festus Hanks’s school in Parkersburg, he taught school before deciding to become a lawyer. He was taught the law by his father and was admitted to the bar in 1852. He began his legal career in St. Marys, the county seat of Pleasants County. Jackson served as Pleasants County’s prosecuting attorney for nine years. His work took him from time to time to Wheeling, where during the Civil War he was arrested for making pro-Confederate remarks. In 1864, he returned to his native Parkersburg, where he was known for his eloquent speaking ability, and became active in the Democratic Party. He was known by the nickname ‘‘Jake.’’
In 1870, Jackson became Wood County’s prosecuting attorney. Five years later he was elected to the House of Delegates and served one term. In 1879, he was elected mayor of Parkersburg. By this time, his father had been dead for two years. Brother John Jay Jackson Jr. had been a federal judge for 18 years, having been appointed by President Lincoln in August 1861.
In November 1880, Jacob Jackson was elected governor of West Virginia and took up residence in the capital city of Wheeling. Jackson had been a Copperhead during the Civil War, as the Southern-sympathizing Northern Democrats were called, and his election as governor confirmed the emergence of formerly pro-Confederate Democrats as the ruling power in West Virginia. Jackson defeated Republican George C. Sturgiss of Monongalia County, a man of opposite views who had opposed the re-enfranchisement of former Confederates in the previous decade.
Governor Jackson worked for, in his words, ‘‘the intelligent majority.’’ He called the legislature into a special session in 1882 to re-codify the state’s laws, but he is remembered for his attempts at tax reform. He ordered a thorough assessment of personal property for taxation. During the 1873–78 economic depression, the legislature had exempted certain businesses from taxes, but following the depression the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that all property not specifically exempted by the state constitution had to be assessed. Jackson’s assessment order represented an important step forward, but met with limited success due to the foot dragging of local assessors and the opposition of railroads and other taxpayers. While he was governor, his only child, William Wirt Jackson, served as Jackson’s personal secretary.
After Jacob Jackson left the governorship on March 3, 1885, he returned to the private practice of law in Parkersburg. He was president of the Citizens National Bank at the time of his death. He died in his home at the corner of Seventh and Avery streets in the city of his birth.
Read Gov. Jackson’s inaugural address.
This Article was written by Bernard L. Allen
Ambler, Charles H. & Festus P. Summers. West Virginia: The Mountain State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958.
Morgan, John G. West Virginia Governors, 1863-1980. Charleston: Charleston Newspapers, 1980.
Miller, Thomas Condit, and Hu Maxwell. West Virginia and Its People vol. 3. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing, 1913.