Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thomas A. Kercheval: dedicated anti-polygamist

Thomas was born in Maury County Tennessee on January 16th 1837 to Thomas Kercheval and Mary M Kennedy. He went to Virginia for Law school at Emory and Henry College. He passed the bar in Tennessee 1860 and practiced law in Fayetteville, Lincoln County. After a couple of years he began a political career as the U. S. Provst Marshal from 1862-1864, which required him to move to Nashville. That position alone demonstrates he must have been loyal to the Union. He was a member of the Unionist Party and the Republican Party.

Somehow he was appointed by the reconstruction government to the Tennessee General Assembly from Lincoln County in 1865 until 1867. His appointment cause quite a stir since he no longer lived in Lincoln County. Afterwards he practiced law in Nashville until his election back to the General Assembly from 1869-1871, this time representing the Davidson County (Nashville).

He served in the City Council fron 1871 to 1872, and then as Mayor of Nashville from 1872-1873. In 1874 he married Alice G Brien, the daughter of a Nashville judge. He then returned to as Mayor of Nashville in 1875 until 1883.

In 1885 he was elected to the General Assembly again where he served until 1887. It was during this third stint in the General Assembly that he authored a bill which prohibited the teaching of polygamy in the State of Tennessee. As far as I can tell, it was enforced only once.

He went back to city government, serving as Mayor from 1886 to 1887 (yes, I saw the overlap.) and then as a member of the Board of Public Works from 1888 to 1893. Afte his public service was over he continued practicing law in Nashvile until "infirmaties of age" required him to retire. Thomas died on March 22, 1915 and is buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery in Nashville.


Amy said...

I just looked at his Findagrave entry. No picture of his grave, but there does seem to be some continuing interest in him from various people who have left notes and "candles" or "flowers."

He is included on a family tree on Ancestry, and a descendant includes a biography of an African-American Tennessee legislator named Thomas Sykes who, in the 1880s, "joined city councilman James C. Napier and others in a local reform movement against Mayor Thomas A. Kercheval's powerful political machine. The group made significant progress in moving African Americans into city jobs..." But by the end of the decade, perhaps due to men like Thomas Kercheval, there were no longer any black members of the Tennessee Legislature. It sounds like Kercheval may have been more effective at enforcing Jim Crow laws than anti-polygamy laws.

BruceCrow said...

Thanks Amy,
Although I have used Findagrave and Ancestry before I hadn't thought of looking there for additional information. To find info on those working against him, however, is total unexpected.

Although he was a Unionist, he apparently wasn't a supporter of equality.

Anonymous said...

"It was during this third stint in the General Assembly that [Thomas Kercheval] authored a bill which prohibited the teaching of polygamy in the State of Tennessee."

It's worth noting, I think, that the bill forbade the "teaching" of polygamy. Similarly, in Idaho during the 1880s, early legislators sought to shut down the teaching (and not just the practice) of polygamy via a test oath.

It seems to me that state-legislatures were following the lead of the Feds' Edmunds Act & Edmunds-Tucker Act, etc.


BruceCrow said...

Thanks Hunter. The practice of polygamy was already illegal, and never practiced by Mormons in Tennessee. What was practiced was missionary work.

In addition it was partly a reaction to the Cane Creek Massacre which happened only a few months earlier. There was a general belief that the Mormon Missionaries were in Tennessee to teach polygamy and encourage young women to emigrate to Utah. Newspaper editors and politians thought it was fear of this that caused the Massacre. The legislation was presented as a solution.