Thomas Walker Gilmer

Thomas W. Gilmer
15th United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
February 19, 1844  February 28, 1844
President John Tyler
Preceded by David Henshaw
Succeeded by John Y. Mason
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1843  February 16, 1844
Preceded by Edmund W. Hubard
Succeeded by William L. Goggin
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 12th district
In office
March 4, 1841 – March 4, 1843
Preceded by James Garland
Succeeded by Augustus A. Chapman
28th Governor of Virginia
In office
March 31, 1840  March 20, 1841
Preceded by David Campbell
Succeeded by James McDowell
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Albemarle County
In office
Alongside Valentine W. Southall
In office
Alongside Valentine W. Southall
In office
Alongside Thomas Jefferson Randolph, Valentine W. Southall
In office
Alongside Rice W. Wood
18th Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Preceded by Linn Banks
Succeeded by Valentine W. Southall
Personal details
Born (1802-04-06)April 6, 1802
Albemarle County, Virginia
Died February 28, 1844(1844-02-28) (aged 41)
aboard USS Princeton, Potomac River, Maryland
Political party Whig (until 1842)
Other political
Democrat (after 1842)
Spouse(s) Anne Elizabeth Baker
Children George Hudson Gilmer
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Thomas Walker Gilmer (April 6, 1802 – February 28, 1844) was an American statesman. He served in an number of political positions in Virginia, including election as the 28th Governor of Virginia. Gilmer's final political office was as the 15th Secretary of the Navy, but he died in an accident ten days after assuming that position.

Personal life

Gilmer was born to George and Eliza Gilmer at their farm, "Gilmerton", in Albemarle County, Virginia. He was taught by private tutors in Charlottesville and Staunton, and studied law in Liberty (now Bedford), Virginia.[1][2][3]

Gilmer practiced law in Charlottesville. He was, briefly, editor of the Virginia Advocate, a Charlottesville newspaper.[1][2]

On May 23, 1826, Gilmer married Anne Elizabeth Baker of Shepherdstown, now in West Virginia. Her late father, John Baker, had been a member of the United States House of Representatives.[1] They had a son, George Hudson Gilmer, a Presbyterian minister.

In 1829, Gilmer purchased Israel Jefferson, a former slave of Thomas Jefferson, who is best known for claiming that Sally Hemings was Thomas Jefferson's concubine. Gilmer later agreed to let Israel pay his own purchase price for his freedom after Gilmer's election to congress, as Israel desired to stay with his wife, a free woman.[4]

Political career

Sketch of Thomas W. Gilmer

Gilmer first served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1829–36, representing Albemarle County. He returned in 1839-40 and was named Speaker.[1][2]

On February 14, 1840, Gilmer was elected the 28th Governor of Virginia. While in office, he had a disagreement with the Virginia General Assembly over the extradition of slave stealers, which played a part in his running for Congress the following winter.[1][2]

In March 1841, he entered the 27th Congress, and although he had been elected as a Whig, voted to sustain Democratic 10th President John Tyler's vetoes (partially because of party differences resulting from the unique situation having a "split ticket" of the Election of 1840 in which the President and Vice Presidents were from different political parties). Tyler had just succeeded to the office after the death of elderly 9th President William Henry Harrison, (who was a member of the opposing Whig Party) only one month after his inauguration on March 4, 1841, where he fell sick from reading one of the longest addresses on record without a coat and hat in the bitter cold. Tyler had very little support in the Party and eventually served just the rest of the term. Gilmer however was re-elected to the 28th Congress as a Democrat in 1842 by a close vote. His competitor, William L. Goggin, contested the result without success.[5]

As one of President John Tyler's close Virginia allies in Washington, Gilmer was involved in the effort by the Tyler Administration to make the annexation of Texas the basis for his failed bid for reelection in 1844. On February 15, 1844, he was appointed by Tyler to be the U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and resigned his seat in the Congress on February 18 to enter on the duties of the office, but 10 days later was killed by the bursting of a bow gun on board USS Princeton while on a tour of the Potomac River below Washington. His death meant the loss of a valuable ally for Tyler and some historians suggest that it may have delayed the Texas Annexation effort.[6]

Electoral history

1842; Gilmer was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 50.21% of the vote, defeating William Leftwich Goggin.


Gilmer is buried at Mount Air Cemetery in Gilbert, Virginia.[7] A year after his death, Gilmer County, Virginia (now in West Virginia, after 1863), was named in his honor;[2] it is now part of West Virginia. The city of Gilmer, Texas, is also named for him. (Gilmer is the county seat of surrounding Upshur County, Texas, named after Abel Parker Upshur, (1790–1844), another victim of the USS Princeton explosion in February 1844 on board the naval ship on the Potomac River, below Washington

Two ships of the United States Navy over the years have been named USS Gilmer in his honor.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Jamerson, p. 61
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Lewis, p. 686
  3. Markham, Thomas A. "A Bit of Town History: A Bit of History of "Old" Liberty/Bedford, Virginia". Retrieved 2008-10-27.
  4. "The Memoirs of Israel Jefferson". PBS. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  5. "GOGGIN, William Leftwich, (1807 - 1870)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  6. Crapol, Edward P. (2006). John Tyler: the accidental president. The University of North Carolina Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-8078-3041-3.
  7. "Thomas Walker Gilmer". Find a Grave. 2003-02-28. Retrieved 2008-10-27.


Political offices
Preceded by
Linn Banks
Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates
Succeeded by
Valentine W. Southall
Preceded by
David Campbell
Governor of Virginia
March 31, 1840 – March 20, 1841
Succeeded by
John M. Patton
Acting Governor
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Garland
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 12th congressional district

March 4, 1841 – March 4, 1843
Succeeded by
Augustus A. Chapman
Preceded by
Edmund W. Hubard
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1843 – February 16, 1844
Succeeded by
William L. Goggin
Government offices
Preceded by
David Henshaw
United States Secretary of the Navy
February 19, 1844 – February 24, 1844
Succeeded by
John Y. Mason
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