Biography of John Linn Hurt

By Lyon C. Tyler, LL.D., 1907.

Hurt, John Linn, state senator, was born in Carroll [C]ounty, Tennessee, March 19, 1838, but was reared in Virginia. His father was William Walker Hurt; his mother was Nancy (Sims) Linn.

Mr. Hurt's earliest American ancestor was the Rev. Robert Hurt, who came from England about the middle of the eighteenth century, and became distinguished in the Baptist ministry in Virginia.

Mr. Hurt lived in the country until he was eighteen years of age. His elementary education was received in the Samuel Davis institute, at Halifax Courthouse, Virginia. While attending school, he helped on the farm, and thus acquired a strong love of agricultural pursuits and a keen sympathy with the farming interests — which have helped no little to make him one of the most useful representatives in the state senate.

A potent factor in the making of Mr. Hurt's character was his mother's influence. This was especially strong; and this noble woman was his guiding star. To her he owes largely his great success; for she instilled into him those lofty ideals which have guided and controlled his life. Some defects of his early education, Senator Hurt has remedied by general reading. Many a winter evening has he spent with the standard writers of our literature, and he can often be found surrounded by his books and holding converse with “the mighty minds of old.”

Mr. Hurt entered active life very young. In 1854, he was appointed deputy in the clerk's office of Halifax County. After serving faithfully in this capacity for some years, he became clerk of the circuit court of Pittsylvania County, a position which he filled successfully for twelve years. Along with his clerkship, he has also farmed for many years.

In 1861, Mr. Hurt obeyed Virginia's call to arms, and followed the sword of Lee as it flashed high in air, to drive back the armies of invasion. In 1863, he was captured, but not long afterwards was paroled, and returned to his farming avocations in Virginia.

Mr. Hurt has achieved much distinction in the politics of his state. It was in 1877 that he first took his seat in the senate of Virginia. The state had but recently emerged from the clutches of the Reconstruction wolf, and was passing through the crisis of threatened repudiation. She needed sons of brain and of character to steer her between Scylla and Charybdis. Not the least important of those that came to her aid was Senator John L. Hurt, of Pittsylvania County. In the senate of 1881-1882, Mr. Hurt was one of the recognized leaders of the Conservative, or anti-Mahone, Democrats. The Mahone party had a large majority in the house of delegates, but not in the senate. The balance of power was held by a coterie of independent men who came to be known as the “Big Four.” These united with the Conservatives led by Senator Hurt and others to defeat the policy of the majority in the house of delegates. One measure especially objectionable to Senator Hurt was the Reapportionment bill, the passage of which would have sent eight Republican congressmen to Washington to represent Virginia. The Danville district, with about one hundred and eighty-five thousand inhabitants, was to have the same representation in congress as the fourth district containing one hundred and twenty-two thousand, the greater number of them negroes. To pass this measure through the senate, the Republican party of the North and the administration in Washington lent powerful assistance. In the way, however, stood the famous “Big Four” and the conservative Democrats, led by Mr. Hurt and others like him. “Mr. Hurt,” says a paper of the day, “is cool, shrewd, and always on his guard — finds out what transpires in the council of the enemy, but never allows his opponents to know what will be his next move.”

Victory crowned the cause of the Conservatives, all partisan movements were defeated, and Virginia remained in the Democratic ranks. In two years, the Mahone régime passed away, a new legislature put the public institutions into excellent shape, and, later on, the threatened repudiation of the state debt, or of a large part of it, was averted, and a satisfactory settlement of the debt redeemed the good name of Virginia.

In all this, Senator Hurt bore a prominent and honorable part, and, in his ripe age, he may now look back upon those years of middle life and feel that he dared do all that became a man and did it valiantly.

Mr. Hurt's advice to young men is to “listen to their mothers, tell the truth, and lead sober and industrious lives.” This good advice contains the philosophy of his own life.

Senator Hurt has been twice married: first to Nannie Kate Clement; second to Sallie T. Douglas. He has no children.

His address is Hurt, Pittsylvania County, Virginia.


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