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Cousin Abe Lilly


Attorney General Armistead Abraham ‘‘Cousin Abe’’ Lilly (March 25, 1878-June 21, 1956) was born at Jumping Branch, Summers County, the son of Robert G. and Virginia Lilly. He was raised in Raleigh County, attended Concord College, and graduated from the Southern Normal University in Tennessee, from which he received his law degree in 1900. That same year he entered into the practice of law in Beckley and was elected to the West Virginia legislature. He was elected prosecuting attorney of Raleigh County in 1904 at the age of 26. Lilly, a Republican, was elected to statewide office as attorney general in 1912. After election as attorney general, he moved to Charleston where he lived for the rest of his life.

Lilly served as attorney general from 1913 to 1917. During his term, Lilly and Governor Henry Hatfield decided to appeal the Virginia Debt Suit to the U.S. Supreme Court. In becoming a state West Virginia had willingly assumed a part of the Virginia state debt that existed prior to the division of the mother state. The amount was at issue, however, and Virginia eventually sued. The suit dragged out over the remainder of the 1800s and into the 1900s before being resolved. In settling the debt, which was paid in following years through the sale of bonds, it is estimated that Lilly and Hatfield saved the state a large sum of money. Lilly ran for governor in the 1916 primary, losing the Republican nomination to Ira E. Robinson. In 1922 he sought, but failed to obtain, nomination for U.S. senator.

Cousin Abe was the scion of one of southern West Virginia’s largest families. He organized the Lilly Reunion Association in 1929 and served as its president until his death. Lilly died in his penthouse on top of Charleston’s Ruffner Hotel, of which he was principal owner.

Written by Kenneth R. Bailey


  1. Beckley Post-Herald, 6/22/1956.