Joshua Fry Bullitt, Jr.

Joshua Fry Bullitt, Jr.

Joshua Fry Bullitt, Jr., (July 24, 1856 - 1933) was a Virginia lawyer who practiced in Big Stone Gap, Virginia. He was one of the leading citizens of Southwest Virginia in the late 19th and early 20th century, both as a practicing lawyer and as a political figure. His prominence corresponded with the rise of the coal business in central Appalachia. His legacy includes both the continuation of the energy companies that he helped to create, and the outstanding careers of the legal figures who worked with and learned from him, just as he was the heir to a series of accomplished legal figures. As the leader of a citizen police force, he was the model for a character in one of the best-selling novels in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century.

Born in Jefferson County, Kentucky, Bullitt was the son of Joshua Fry Bullitt, a former Chief Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. [cite web|url=|title=Death List of A Day: Joshua Fry Bullitt, February 18, 1898|publisher=The New York Times|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] His ancestors included Colonel John Henry, father of Patrick Henry, Joshua Fry of the College of William & Mary, the Southwest Virginia explorer Thomas Walker, and his great-grandfather, Alexander Scott Bullitt,cite book
last = Tyler
first = Lyon G., ed.
title = Men of Mark in Virginia: Ideals of American Life; A Collection of Biographies of the Leading Men in the State, volume III
publisher = Men of Mark Pub. Co. (accessed via Google Books)
date = 1907
] for whom Bullitt County, Kentucky was named. His first cousins included William Marshall Bullitt, who served as United States Solicitor General during the Taft administration, and who refurbished the family's ancestral home, Oxmoor Farm. Joshua Bullitt, Jr., won a scholarship to attend Washington & Lee University, graduating in 1876. He learned the law from his father, and from former U.S. Attorney General James Speed, and by attending the summer lectures of Professor John B. Minor of the University of Virginia Law School, before starting out as a lawyer in 1880. Bullitt served in the Kentucky legislature in 1884 and 1885, and ran for Congress in Virginia in 1896, when the incumbent was James A. Walker.cite book
last = Tyler
first = Lyon G., ed.
title = Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography
publisher = Lewis Historical Publishing (accessed via Google Books)
date = 1915

After seven years as a lawyer in Kentucky, Bullitt moved his practice to Big Stone Gap. Big Stone Gap was conceived as a model town, viewed by some to become the "Pittsburgh of the South."cite web|url=|title= Southwest Virginia Museum|publisher=Town of Big Stone Gap|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] Two of Bullitt's law partners went on to become prominent judges. Bullitt worked for a time in his law practice with Henry C. McDowell, who later became a federal judge. Bullitt also worked as partner with Joseph L. Kelly, who served on the Virginia Supreme Court. Bullitt served as president of The Virginia Bar Association in 1911-12.cite web|url=|title= VBA History and Heritage|publisher=The Virginia Bar Association|accessmonthday=March 2 |accessyear=2008] Between 1890 and 1920, Bullitt and his partners represented coal companies in approximately 100 cases before the Virginia Supreme Court, most involving mineral rights or injured miners. "Around 1905 Bullitt formed a new partnership with John W. Chalkley. They found ready clients among the many new coal companies. Bullitt became one of a handful of experts on the arcane subject of Appalachian land titles."cite web|url=|title= Environmental History: AN ARCHIVAL GUIDE & BIBLIOGRAPHY|publisher=History Cooperative|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] On the coal lawyer's priorities, land and labor, Bullitt was an opponent of the adoption of the Torrens system of registering land titles in Virginia, [The Torrens System: An Open Symposium, The Virginia Law Register, Vol. 11, No. 7 (Nov., 1905)] and in a speech to the bar association in 1903, Bullitt predicted the demise of labor unions, concluding that their reason for being would disappear once corporations were reformed. [Annual Report of the American Bar Association, 1903 (available on Google Books)]

Bullitt's main client was the Virginia Coal and Iron Company. The company came to own 98,510 acres of land in Lee and Wise counties in Virginia and in Harlan County, Kentucky.cite web|url=|title= Finding Aid for the Virginia Coal and Iron Company Records, 1883-1915|publisher=University of Tennessee|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] Virginia Coal and Iron Company was a predecessor of the Westmoreland Coal Company and the Penn Virginia Corporation.cite web|url=|title= Westmoreland Coal Company Historical Timeline|publisher=Westmoreland Coal Company|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] Today, Penn Virginia is listed on the S&P 600. The papers of Bullitt's law office are included with the Westmoreland collection at the Hagley Museum and Library in Delaware. Bullitt's son-in-law, Ralph Taggart, became president of Westmoreland in 1929. [cite book
last = Rottenburg
first = Dan
title = In the Kingdom of Coal: An American Family and the Rock That Changed the World
publisher = Routledge (accessed via Google Books)
date = 2003
isbn = 0415935229

"In 1890, when the coal boom was in full swing," Bullitt "organized the Police Guard of Big Stone Gap. The Guard was formed to suppress the more raucous behavior of the mountaineers who periodically poured into town looking for excitement." The Guard and its activities were described by its most famous member, the popular author John Fox, Jr.. Fox used Bullitt as the model for the "Captain of the Guard" character in his best-selling book, "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine", and Fox dedicated his earlier book "Blue-grass and Rhododendron", [cite book
last = Fox, Jr.
first = John
title = Blue-grass and rhododendron: outdoors in old Kentucky
publisher = Scribner's (accessed via Google Books)
date = 1901
] published in 1901, to Bullitt and McDowell, along with Horace Ethelbert Fox, as "The First Three Captains of the Guard." "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine" sold more than 1.5 million copies by 1942. [cite web|url=,9171,777643,00.html|title= Half-Century Scoreboard|publisher=Time Magazine, Feb. 9, 1942|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] The "vigilance committee," as the Guard was also known, cleaned up the town in 18 months. [cite book
last = York
first = Bill
title = John Fox, Jr.: Appalachian Author
publisher = McFarland (accessed via Google Books)
date = 2002
isbn = 0786413727

The most famous case involving the Guard was the disappearance of Philadelphian E.L. Wentz, a member of the family that included the principal owners of Virginia Coal and Iron Company. In 1904, when the missing body was discovered, Bullitt led his group of men into the woods to guard the remains of the victim, who had not been seen since the fall of the previous year. [cite web|url=|title=WENTZ'S BODY GUARDED BY TWENTY-FIVE MEN; Roped Off Where It Was Found in the Virginia Mountains|publisher=The New York Times, May 10, 1904|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] Bullitt represented the Wentz family at the coroner's inquest, at which the jury reached a surprise verdict that the cause of death was suicide not homicide. [cite web|url=|title=WENTZ SHOT HIMSELF, SAYS CORONER'S JURY; Verdict Rendered on Mystery of Mine Owner's Death|publisher=The New York Times, May 12, 1904|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008] Bullitt was the leader of the National Guard unit known as Company "H" of the Second Virginia Regiment, and that was called to service in Mexico in 1916 and later for World War I. [cite web|url=|title= Wise County in War Time|publisher=New River Notes|accessmonthday=March 1 |accessyear=2008]

Bullitt concluded his career in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where the owners of many of the coal companies in Wise County, Virginia were based.

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