Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Charles James Faulkner


Statesman Charles James Faulkner (July 6, 1806-November 1, 1884) was born in Martinsburg, the son of an Irish immigrant. Faulkner attended Georgetown College (now Georgetown University) in Washington and studied law in Winchester, Virginia. He entered the Virginia General Assembly at age 23 in 1829, his first political race. In 1833, Faulkner married Mary W. Boyd, the youngest daughter of Gen. Elisha Boyd, and through her acquired the plantation of Boydville and other properties. Faulkner served also in the Virginia General Assembly (1829-30, 1831-33, 1838-42, 1848-49), U.S. Congress (1851–59, 1875-77), and as U.S. minister to France (1860-61).

In 1832, Faulkner spoke publicly for the gradual elimination of slavery. He advocated Western Virginia interests, such as voting rights for all white males regardless of property, when Virginia rewrote its constitution in 1850–51.

Faulkner was U.S. Minister to France for 14 months before the Civil War. In 1861, he delivered his last report to Secretary of State William Seward. Before Faulkner could head home to Martinsburg, Seward had him arrested as a suspected Southern sympathizer. He was never formally charged. Seward offered to release Faulkner if he would swear an oath of allegiance. Faulkner refused and was eventually traded for another prisoner. During the Civil War, Faulkner served on Stonewall Jackson’s staff, primarily writing reports.

After the war and the creation of West Virginia, Faulkner again refused an oath of allegiance to the United States and recovered his law license only with difficulty. Nonetheless, when Virginia sued to regain the counties of Berkeley and Jefferson, West Virginia called on Faulkner to represent the new state’s interests at the U.S. Supreme Court. He was a voice of restraint as a delegate to West Virginia’s Constitutional Convention of 1872, in which ex-Confederates set out to undo much of the 1863 Constitution, which they considered too Northern.

Faulkner died in Martinsburg. His son Charles James Faulkner Jr. served West Virginia as a U.S. senator (1887–99), while his great-nephew, U.S. Senator Harry F. Byrd, ruled Virginia politics for many years in the 20th century. Boydville, the Boyd-Faulkner home, a Martinsburg landmark, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

Read the National Register nomination for Boydville.

Written by Dawn Miller


  1. Rice, Otis K. & Stephen W. Brown. West Virginia: A History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.

  2. Keesecker, Guy L. Marriage Records of Berkeley County, Virginia, 1781-1854. Martinsburg: 1969.

  3. McVeigh, Donald Rusk. "Charles James Faulkner: Reluctant Rebel." Ph.D. diss., West Virginia University, 1954.