George William Summers II
George W. Summers II (1804-1868) was born in Fairfax County, Virginia, in 1804, the youngest child of Col. George W. and Anna Summers. The Summers family purchased a large estate along Kanawha River called Walnut Grove (on the present site of John Amos Power Plant in Putnam County) and relocated there in 1814. Following the death of his father in 1818, young George moved to Charleston with his older brother, Judge Lewis Summers. George attended Washington College (now Washington & Lee University) in Lexington, Virginia, and graduated from Ohio University in 1826. He returned to Charleston to read law under his brother, Lewis, before being admitted to the bar in 1827. In the courtroom, George gained a solid reputation as a talented attorney with a keen ability to examine witnesses. A gifted orator, he would go on to have a distinguished career in public service.
George W. Summers, c. 1843, by George Caleb Bingham
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George Summers served four terms in the Virginia General Assembly (1830-35), and two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1841-45). On February, 14, 1833, he married Amacetta Laidley, who was a few weeks short of her fifteenth birthday. In 1850-51, as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention in Richmond, he was an outspoken supporter of poltical reform. His efforts helped the western counties gain increased representation in the Virginia legislature. George Summers ran for governor on the Whig ticket in 1851; however, he lost to Joseph Johnson of Clarksburg in a landmark contest that pitted two gubernatorial candidates from the western counties. In the hotly contested campaign, opponents portrayed Summers as an abolitionist despite the fact that he owned slaves. In 1852, Summers was elected circuit judge of Kanawha County. He served in that post until 1858, when he retired from the bench.
On February 4, 1861 Kanawha County voters elected Summers as one of their two delegates to a convention called for the purpose of determining Virginia’s political future during the secession crisis, and on the same day he took his seat as one of five men selected to represent the state at a national peace conference. Summers pledged his support for the Union, which did not sit well with other members of the Virginia delegation. The Washington Peace Conference failed and Summers ultimately returned to Richmond as floor leader of the Unionists. He gave an impassioned speech in favor of keeping Virginia in the Union and voted against the Ordinance of Secession when the majority of delegates supported it. Following the statehood referendum affirming Virginia’s secession, Summers resigned his seat at the convention and retired from public life.
During the Civil War, Secretary of State William Seward recommended Summers as a nominee to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court, and it was rumored that President Lincoln contemplated naming him to a cabinet post. Neither of these appointments came to pass, but they speak favorably to Summers’ reputation as a judge, statesman, and staunch Unionist. He did have his detractors, however. The Wheeling Intelligencer, a leading Unionist newspaper, accused him of being disloyal to the federal government, and Confederate General Henry A. Wise threatened to hang him in 1861. Fighting occurred on Summers’ 366-acre Glenwood estate during the Battle of Charleston on September 13, 1862.
Amacetta Summers died in 1867, and George Summers died at Glenwood on September 19, 1868 at the age of 64. Originally laid to rest in the family cemetery at Walnut Grove, his remains—as well as other family members interred there—were relocated to Charleston’s Spring Hill cemetery in 1978. In 1871, Summers County was created and named in George Summers’ honor.