Littleton Waller Tazewell

Littleton Waller Tazewell (December 17, 1774  May 6, 1860) was a Virginia lawyer, plantation owner and politician who served as U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator and the 26th Governor of Virginia, as well as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.[1]

Littleton Tazewell
26th Governor of Virginia
In office
March 31, 1834  April 30, 1836
Preceded byJohn Floyd
Succeeded byWyndham Robertson (acting)
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
July 9, 1832  July 16, 1832
Preceded bySamuel Smith
Succeeded byHugh Lawson White
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
December 7, 1824  July 16, 1832
Preceded byJohn Taylor
Succeeded byWilliam Rives
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
In office
Serving with William Barrett, Archer Hankins
Preceded byMiles King
Succeeded byGeorge Loyall
In office
Preceded byWilliam Lightfoot
Succeeded byWilliam Barrett
In office
Serving with John Allen, William Lightfoot
Preceded byJohn Pierce
Succeeded byChampion Travis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 13th district
In office
November 26, 1800  March 3, 1801
Preceded byJohn Marshall
Succeeded byJohn Clopton
Personal details
Born(1774-12-17)December 17, 1774
Williamsburg, Virginia, British America
DiedMay 6, 1860(1860-05-06) (aged 85)
Norfolk, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyAnti-Administration (Before 1792)
Democratic-Republican (1792–1825)
Jacksonian (1825–1828)
Democratic (1828–1860)
SpouseAnne Stratton
EducationCollege of William and Mary (BA)

Early and family life

Tazewell, son of Henry Tazewell (1753-1799), and his wife Dorothy Elizabeth Waller (1754–77) was born in Williamsburg in the Colony of Virginia shortly before Christmas, 1774. His father was clerk of the revolutionary conventions during the next two years. Although his mother died when he was a child, his maternal grandfather, lawyer Benjamin Waller, taught him Latin.[2] Tazewell was privately tutored by John Wickham; he later graduated from the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg in 1791. He married Ann Stratton Nivison Tazewell (1785-1858) and they had at least six daughters as well as two sons, although only four daughters would survive their mother.


After studying law, Tazewell was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1796, and commenced practice in James City County, Virginia. He was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (a part-time position) representing James City County from 1798 to 1800, when he resigned to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of John Marshall in the Sixth United States Congress, serving in the federal legislature from November 26, 1800, to March 4, 1801.[3] Politically, Tazewell was a Jeffersonian Republican, and upon the fissure of that party he associated with the Jacksonian Democrats.

Tazewell moved to Norfolk, Virginia in 1802. He represented Norfolk Borough in the General Assemblies of 1804–1805 and 1805–1806, but was replaced by William Newsum, Jr. in the Assembly of 1806-1806.[4] Nonetheless, on July 5, 1807, he defused the impressment crisis involving the British HMS Leopard in Norfolk harbor and the USS Chesapeake and Norfolk mayor Richard E. Lee.[5] Tazewell again represented James City County in the House of Delegates from 1809 until 1812.[6] Then Norfolk voters elected him to represent the Borough again in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1816 to 1817. After the War of 1812, Tazewell, General Taylor, George Newton and others also formed the Roanoke Commercial Company, designed to expand traffic through the Dismal Swamp Canal and allow goods from as far away as mountainous Bedford County to ship through Norfolk.[7] Tazewell also served as one of the commissioners of claims under the treaty with Spain which ceded Florida in 1821.

Virginia legislators elected Tazewell in 1824 to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of John Taylor. Re-elected in 1829, he served from December 7, 1824, to July 16, 1832, when he resigned to become Virginia's governor, as discussed below. While in the Senate, Tazewell was President pro tempore of the Senate during the Twenty-second United States Congress and chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. His principal published work is Review of the Negotiations between the United States and Great Britain Respecting the Commerce of the Two Countries (1829).[8]

Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Littleton Waller Tazewell, 1825. Library of Congress

Tazewell served as Norfolk's delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in 1829–1830.[9][10]

When the Whigs secured majorities in the Virginia Assembly for six years, they first elected the Old Republican as a Whig governor 1834–36, although he resigned a year before his term ended.[11] During his two years as governor, Tazewell had to address abolitionism, although Nat Turner's revolt had occurred in 1831 while Tazewell was home from Washington (and caused him to neglect his plantations). He became an advocate of wholesale colonization, and as Governor asked Virginia's legislature to formally request that Northern states suppress abolitionist groups and also asked Congress to suppress delivery of such literature through the U.S. Post Office.[12] Tazewell's governorship was also marked by expansion of the James River Canal, which was to connect to the Kanawha Canal and thus the Ohio River. Under his leadership, the Assembly instructed Virginia's U.S. Senators to support internal improvements, protective tariffs, and a national bank in support of Henry Clay's American System.[13]

Following his term as governor, Tazewell retired from public life, but nevertheless received 11 electoral votes for vice-president in the election of 1840.[14][15]

Tazewell owned plantations and enslaved persons in the Hampton Roads area. In the 1830 U.S. Federal Census, his Norfolk household included nine free white people (5 his children) and a dozen slaves.[16] Although Virginia state slave censuses are not available online, and several federal census returns appear either missing or digitally misindexed, by 1860, his household included nine slaves (3 men, 5 women and one 2-year-old boy) in Norfolk, and over 100 slaves across the Chesapeake Bay in Northampton County, Virginia (inherited through his wife).[17][18]

Death and legacy

Governor Tazewell died a widower in Norfolk, Virginia, on May 6, 1860. Initially interred with his wife on his estate on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, he was re-interred in 1866 at Elmwood Cemetery in Norfolk.

Tazewell, Virginia, Tazewell County, Virginia and Tazewell County, Illinois are named in his honor, and in his father's honor, as are the cities of Tazewell and New Tazewell, Tennessee. A plaque remembering him stands at the corner of Tazewell and Granby streets in Norfolk, near the Tazewell Hotel and Suites, where his two-story house was located. His house, known as the Boush-Tazewell House, was completely dismantled and re-erected in its present location about three miles from its original site around 1902.[19] It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.[20]

Tazewell was the maternal grandfather of Littleton Waller Tazewell Bradford (1848–1918), a prominent Virginia politician, and a founder of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity.

A building at the College of William and Mary is named in Tazewell's honor.[21]


  1. Encyclopedia of American Biography 1800-1902, p. 919 (available online unpaginated on
  2. Virginia and Virginians, R. A. Brock, University of Virginia Library
  3. Cynthia Miller Leonard, Virginia General Assembly 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) pp. 212, 216, 220, 57, 261, 266
  4. Leonard p. 236, 241
  5. Thomas C. Parramore et al, Norfolk:The First Four Centuries (University of Virginia Press 1994) pp. 135-136
  6. Leonard, pp. 257, 261, 266
  7. Parramore p. 148
  8. New International Encyclopedia
  9. Leonard p. 354
  10. Heinemann, Ronald L.,, "Old Dominion, New Commonwealth: a history of Virginia 1607–2007", 2007, ISBN 978-0-8139-2609-4, p.172.
  11. Salmon, Emily J. and Edward D.C. Campbell, Jr., "The Hornbook of Virginia History", ISBN 0-88490-177-7, 1994, p.109
  12. Parramore p. 165
  13. Dabney, Virginius. "Virginia: the New Dominion", ISBN 978-0-8139-1015-4, 1971 p. 219
  14. "Richard Mentor Johnson, 9th Vice President (1837-1841)". U.S. Senate. Archived from the original on October 29, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2020. One of the 23 Virginia electors, and all of South Carolina's 11 electors, voted for Van Buren but defected to James K. Polk and Littleton W. Tazewell of Virginia, respectively, in the vice-presidential contest.
  15. "1840 Presidential General Election Results". Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Archived from the original on August 3, 2020. Retrieved November 23, 2020.
  16. 1830 U.S. Federal Census for Norfolk, Virginia
  17. 1860 U.S. Federal Census, Slave schedules, for Norfolk, Virginia and Northampton, Virginia
  18. Ralph T. Whitelaw, Virginia's Eastern Shore: A stoudy of Northampton and Accomack Counties (Virginia Historical Society 1951) vol. 1 pp. 144, 147
  19. Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (January 1974). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Boush-Tazewell House" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  20. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  21. "William & Mary- Harrison & Page Halls". Retrieved July 2, 2016.
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