Dictionary of Virginia Biography

Richard Thomas Walker Duke (27 August 1853–8 March 1926), civic leader and writer, was born in Charlottesville and was the son of Elizabeth Scott Eskridge Duke and Richard Thomas Walker Duke (1822–1898), an attorney and later a member of the House of Representatives. From 1870 to 1874 Duke attended the University of Virginia, where he edited the Virginia University Magazine, which frequently published his poetry. His work as an editor earned him a scholarship that enabled him in his fourth academic year to study law under the renowned professor John Barbee Minor. In October 1874 Duke was admitted to practice law in Albemarle County and soon thereafter became his father's partner.

By the end of 1875 Duke had become a Freemason and had joined the Widow's Son Lodge No. 60, in Charlottesville, of which his father and brother were already members. He held a series of increasingly more-responsible offices until 1886, when he and his family members withdrew from the Charlottesville lodge. That year Duke joined the Staunton Lodge No. 13, but he returned to the Charlottesville lodge in 1900. He served in succession as grand junior deacon of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, grand senior deacon, grand junior warden, grand senior warden, and deputy grand master (December 1896–December 1897) before becoming the grand master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia for two consecutive one-year terms, from December 1897 through December 1899. As grand master, Duke played a conspicuous role in the Masonic ceremonies commemorating the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of George Washington, held in Alexandria on 14 December 1899. He introduced President William McKinley before his keynote speech and also delivered his own memorial oration. For more than twenty-five years Duke remained in high demand as a speaker across the state, especially at the laying of cornerstones, and a number of his addresses appeared in print. He credited Freemasonry with having allowed him to gain a wide reputation throughout Virginia.

Local Offices
A day after incorporating Charlottesville as a city, the General Assembly on 3 March 1888 elected Duke as Charlottesville's first corporation court judge. He took the oath of office for the first of two consecutive six-year terms on 5 March. Although Duke won unanimous reelection in January 1894, he declined a third term and stepped down on 1 January 1901. He sat on Charlottesville's city council for several years early in the twentieth century. On 17 March 1911 he was appointed commonwealth's attorney for Albemarle County, following the death of the longtime incumbent. Elected to a full six-year term later that year, Duke won reelection in 1917 and 1923.

Editor and Writer
From May 1906 until his death, Duke served as the editor in chief of the Virginia Law Register, an influential academic journal he transformed into a learned yet engaging forum for commentary and debate on the legal issues of the day. Although Duke often asserted his disinterest in or objectivity on various topics, especially politics, his views on many issues invariably bled onto the page. His editorials, in particular, reveal his skepticism of woman suffrage and of having women serve on juries, his support for poll taxes and the 1924 Act to Provide for the Sexual Sterilization of Inmates of State Institutions in Certain Cases, and his criticism of Prohibition.

Duke often wrote memorials of his colleagues for the Virginia State Bar Association Proceedings, and he published several articles on historical subjects in such magazines as St. Nicholas. A collection of his selected poetry, some previously published in Scribner's Monthly Magazine, Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, and Lippincott's Monthly Magazine, appeared posthumously under the title In My Library and Other Poems (1927). Beginning in 1879, he kept a diary, of which forty-one volumes survive. In November 1899, Duke began an account of his early life and young adulthood for his family. By the time of his death, his recollections had reached the year 1882 and filled four and a half manuscript volumes. Historians have frequently excerpted and cited his memoirs, which provide an anecdotal record of nineteenth-century life in Albemarle County.

Civic Activity
Duke chartered and for more than a decade served as the first president of the Charlottesville Ice Company. He sat on the board or served as an officer of various other businesses, including two coal companies, the Monticello Wine Company, the Potomac Electric Power Company, the Washington Railway and Electric Company, and the Albemarle National Bank (later reorganized by Duke and others as the National Bank of Charlottesville).

Duke helped found both the Society of Colonial Wars in the State of Virginia and the Society of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of Virginia. Throughout his later life he maintained an active connection with the University of Virginia. From 1893 until his death, he served as the secretary (and beginning in 1904 as both the treasurer and secretary) of the Trustees of the Miller Fund, a board that regulated a bequest to the university for organizing an agriculture department and student scholarships. From 1894 to 1897 Duke also sat on the executive committee of the university's alumni society and donated money to the school's library. He chaired the board of the Virginia State Library (later the Library of Virginia) from 1923 until his death.

A fervent Democrat, Duke served as a presidential elector at large on the Democratic ticket during the 1912 election and twice (in 1909 and 1925) considered seeking his party's nomination for governor. Duke married Edith Ridgeway Slaughter, of Lynchburg, on 1 October 1884. They had four sons, one of whom died not long after his first birthday, and two daughters. Following his wife's death on 11 June 1921, Duke married Maymee Richardson Slaughter, a widow and his first wife's former sister-in-law, on 5 April 1923 in Lynchburg. They had no children. Richard Thomas Walker Duke died on 8 March 1926 at his Charlottesville home of heart disease exacerbated by influenza and pneumonia. He was buried in Maplewood Cemetery.

Sources Consulted:
Biographies in Lyon Gardiner Tyler, ed., Men of Mark in Virginia (1906–1909), 2:100–102, Helen R. Duke (daughter), "Judge R. T. W. Duke, Jr. (1853–1926)," Papers of the Albemarle County Historical Society 3 (1942–1943): 3355, Peter Wallenstein, "The Case of the Laborer from Louisa: Three Central Virginians and the Origins of the Virginia Highway System," Magazine of Albemarle County History 49 (1991): 19–25, and Elizabeth F. Archer, "Paper Memories: Recalling the Dukes of Albemarle," Magazine of Albemarle County History 59 (2001): 85–125; Birth Register (name recorded as Thos W), Albemarle Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; Lynchburg Marriage Register (1884, 1923); Richard Thomas Walker Duke Papers and Duke Family Papers (including forty-one-volume diary and five-volume memoirs), both Small Special Collections Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va.; Duke and Duke Papers, Arthur J. Morris Law Library, University of Virginia; published addresses include "Some Thoughts on the Study and Practice of the Law," Virginia State Bar Association Proceedings (1890), 131–142, Address Delivered by Hon. R. T. W. Duke, Jr., Grand Senior Deacon, at Laying the Corner-Stone of the Masonic Home of Virginia, Richmond, Dec. 6, 1893 (1893), Law and Her Ministers: Address Delivered by Hon. R. T. W. Duke, Jr., Grand Senior Deacon, at Laying the Corner-Stone of the Court-House of Loudoun, Leesburg, Va., April 24, 1894 (1894), Proceedings of the 121st Grand Annual Communication of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Virginia . . . (1898), 11–27 (with frontispiece portrait), Speech Delivered by Hon. R. T. W. Duke, Jr., Grand Master of Masons in Virginia, at Mount Vernon, Va., Dec. 14, 1899 . . . [1899], A Criticism of the Educational System of the Day, . . . June 10th, 1902 (1902), A Plea for the Study of the Classics: An Address Delivered before the Literary Societies of William and Mary College, . . . June 22, 1904 (1904), "An Address Delivered at the Laying of the Corner Stone of the New Court House at Christiansburg, Va., July 3, 1909," Virginia Law Register 15 (1909–1910): 257–264, and "Libraries and Their Contents": An Address Delivered by R. T. W. Duke, Jr., . . . At the Laying of the Cornerstone of the McIntire Public Library, Charlottesville, Va., November 27th, 1919 [1919]; Death Certificate, Albemarle Co., Bureau of Vital Statistics, Record Group 36, Library of Virginia; obituaries in Charlottesville Daily Progress and Washington Post, both 9 Mar. 1926; memorials in Charlottesville Daily Progress, 10, 11 Mar. 1926, Virginia Law Register, new ser., 11 (Apr. 1926): 757–760, and Proceedings of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Virginia . . . (1927), 21, 512, 513.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Michael Peter Charles Smith.

How to cite this page:
Michael Peter Charles Smith,"Richard Thomas Walker Duke (18531926)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Duke_Richard_Thomas_Walker_1853-1926, accessed [today's date]).

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