John M. Patton

John Mercer Patton (August 10, 1797  October 29, 1858) was a nineteenth-century politician and lawyer from Virginia. Patton served in the United States House of Representatives representing two different Virginia Districts, and was the acting governor of Virginia for twelve days in 1841.[1][2][3]

John M. Patton
Acting Governor of Virginia
In office
March 20, 1841  March 31, 1841
Preceded byThomas W. Gilmer
Succeeded byJohn Rutherfoord
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th district
In office
March 4, 1833  April 7, 1838
Preceded byJoseph Chinn
Succeeded byLinn Banks
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 11th district
In office
November 25, 1830  March 3, 1833
Preceded byPhilip P. Barbour
Succeeded byAndrew Stevenson
Personal details
John Mercer Patton

August 10, 1797
Fredericksburg, Virginia, U.S.
DiedOctober 29, 1858(1858-10-29) (aged 61)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
RelationsGeorge S. Patton Sr. (son)
Waller T. Patton (son)
George S. Patton Jr. (greatgrandson)
Parent(s)Robert Patton and Anne Gordon Mercer
Alma materPrinceton University
University of Pennsylvania

Early life, education and family

Patton was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia to Robert Patton (1760–1851), a British immigrant of Scottish extraction, and Ann Gordon Mercer (1762–1857), the Philadelphia-born daughter of General Hugh Mercer, who died defending Princeton, New Jersey in 1777.[4] Young Patton attended Princeton University and graduated from the medical department at the University of Pennsylvania in 1818, though he never practiced as a doctor. He went on to study law and was admitted to the Virginia bar. In the first federal census, in 1810, the Robert Patton family in Fredericksburg owned a slave.[5] His father or brother Robert Patton Jr. represented Spotsylvania County in the Virginia House of Delegates during the 1820-1821 session.[6]

J.M. Patton married the former Margaret ("Peggy") French, daughter of a local family of planters and lawyers. Their children included John M. Patton Jr. (1826-1899), Isaac Williams Patton (1828-1890; who established a plantation in Louisiana after the Mexican–American War), George S. Patton Sr. (1833-1864), Waller T. Patton (1835-1863), Hugh M. Patton (1841-1916), James French Patton (1843-1882), Joseph F. Patton (1844-?) and William Patton (1845-1905), as well as daughters Lucy A. Williamson (who returned to live with the family by 1850) and Eliza Patton.[7]


Patton began his legal practice in Fredericksburg, and also held enslaved people at his plantation in nearby Spotsylvania County. Robert Patton Jr. (either his father or elder brother) represented Spotsylvania County in the House of Delegates in 1820–1821, and owned 11 slaves in the 1810 census[8] and 12 slaves in the 1820 census.[9] In the 1830 federal census, John M. Patton owned nine slaves (two boys and a girl under 10, as well as two men under 35, two women under 35, and two women between 35 and 55.[10] He owned a similar number in Richmond in the last census during his lifetime—an elderly man, two elderly women, 40 year old Black woman, 26 year old mulatto woman and mulatto boys aged 15, 10 and 2 years old.[11] He may also have owned two slaves in Pittsylvania County, where his daughter Eliza had married John Gilmer. [Robert Patton owned 8 slaves of whom only 2 were children in Culpeper County west of Spotsylvania in 1850][12]

Meanwhile, voters in the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania area elected Patton as a Jacksonian and Democrat to the United States House of Representatives originally to fill a vacancy in 1830, but he won re-election twice and served until 1838. He became chairman of the Committee on Territories from 1835 to 1839.[13] In 1834, Virginia legislators almost elected him as the state's attorney general, by western Virginia lawyer Sidney Smith Baxter was appointed by a four vote margin.

After leaving Congress, Virginia legislators appointed Patton the senior councilor of the Virginia Council of State and therefore the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia.[4]

After Governor Thomas W. Gilmer resigned in 1841, Patton served as Acting Governor of Virginia for twelve days, until his term ended on March 31, 1841.

Grave at Shockoe Hill Cemetery

Patton returned to his private legal practice in Richmond, including work on a revision of the Code of Virginia, which he and Conway Robinson published in 1849.[4]

Death and legacy

Patton died in Richmond, Virginia on October 29, 1858. He was interred at Shockoe Hill Cemetery. His sons James French Patton, Isaac Williams Patton, George S. Patton Sr., Hugh M. Patton and Waller T. Patton all became Confederate States Army officers (and William M. Patton fought with VMI cadets). Although Col W.T. Patton died leading his men at the Battle of Gettysburg and Col. George S. Patton died during the Third Battle of Winchester, the other sons survived the war. Isaac Williams Patton (who had moved to Louisiana to operate a plantation before the war) became mayor of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1878. Hugh M. Patton briefly served as clerk of the Virginia Senate, James French Patton also become a lawyer and briefly served on the West Virginia Supreme Court, and William McFarland Patton became a professor of civil engineering at VMI (where most of his brothers had also graduated). His grandson George S. Patton became a California attorney and his great-grandson was World War II General George S. Patton Jr.


  1. Appleton's Cyclopedia vol IV p. 677
  2. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography, vol. 2, p. 53
  3. Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography; Volume 2. Lewis Historical Publishing Company. p. 53.
  4. 1810 U.S. Federal Census for Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County p. 5 of 14
  5. Leonard p. 305
  6. 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Richmond Virginia family no. 18
  7. 1810 U.S. Federal Census for Spotsylvania County pp. 34-35 of 41
  8. 1820 U.S. Federal Census for Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County p. 9 of 16
  9. 1830 U.S. Federal Census for Spotsylvania County pp. 23-24 of 32
  10. U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule for Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia p,. 57, 117 of 120
  11. 1850 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule for Culpeper County p. 71 of 76
  12. "PATTON, John Mercer, (1797–1858)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved January 1, 2014.
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