Dictionary of Virginia Biography

LeRoy Griffin Edwards (14 February 1804–22 or 23 August 1866), president of the Convention of 1864, was the son of Griffin Edwards and Priscilla Lee Edwards. He was born in Northumberland County, and when he was a child the family moved to Norfolk County. After teaching school in Norfolk County late in the 1820s or early in the 1830s, Edwards began working in 1835 as collector of tolls for the Dismal Swamp Canal Company. On 15 May 1837 he executed a marriage bond in Norfolk County and two days later married Frances W. Robins. Three of their four sons and one of their two daughters survived childhood. In the 1850 census Edwards reported that he owned real estate valued at $3,000 and also twelve enslaved men, women, and children. Ten years later he reported real estate valued at $20,000 and personal property valued at $11,300, including six slaves.

In June 1845, after the General Assembly had established free schools in Norfolk County, Edwards was elected president of the first county school board. During the 1850s he served as superintendent of public schools. In 1858 Edwards left the canal company and on 1 July of that year began a six-year term as clerk of the Norfolk County Court. He won reelection in July 1865.

United States forces occupied Norfolk early in the Civil War and during the summer of 1862 seized the Dismal Swamp Canal. As Edwards reported to stockholders after the war, the property was ill-used, although his appointment as head of the company by Union authorities in November 1863 allowed him to save it from complete ruin. When Union forces transporting goods under military permit refused to pay tolls, he traveled twice to Washington, D.C., to request assistance in collection, but the United States Treasury Department provided no help. One Union official threatened Edwards with arrest and imprisonment if he persisted in detaining vessels that had not paid. At war's end the canal was dilapidated because of strenuous use and neglect by the military.

On 21 January 1864 voters in the state senate district comprising Norfolk and Princess Anne Counties and the city of Portsmouth elected Edwards to represent them in a convention that met from 13 February through 11 April 1864 in Alexandria to revise the state constitution. The seventeen delegates represented thirteen counties and four cities then under United States control in the Tidewater, Eastern Shore, and northern region of the state.

On 16 February 1864 Edwards, whose three sons served in the Confederate army, defeated two other candidates to win election as president of the convention. He joined fourteen other delegates in voting on 10 March to adopt a report by the Committee on Emancipation and Education that abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except in criminal cases) in the state, that allowed courts to apprentice black children just as they would white children, and that declared that the General Assembly would not enact laws establishing slavery or recognizing human property.

As president of the convention Edwards did not speak often. He offered an amendment to a report on voter qualifications whereby the legislature could restore voting rights, lost because a person supported the Confederacy or gave aid to the rebellion, if the General Assembly believed it was safe to do so. On 4 April, Edwards voted with the majority to proclaim the constitution in force rather than submit it to the electorate for ratification or rejection. He voted again with the majority on 7 April to adopt the constitution and the following day signed the document. The new constitution recognized the creation of West Virginia as a separate state, provided funding for primary and free schools, reduced from five to three the number of judges on the Supreme Court of Appeals, and required voting by paper ballot for state officers and members of the General Assembly.

On the final day of the proceedings, Edwards thanked the delegates for the confidence they had shown in him as convention president. He added that he had come to the convention with "humble aspirations, but with a sincere desire to do something towards restoring to our distressed and ruined people a civil government under which they might be free from oppression and wrong." Edwards also stated that he hoped the Union would be restored and emerge stronger than ever. After the defeat of Confederacy, in May 1865 the Restored government moved to Richmond and the new constitution became effective for all of Virginia. LeRoy Griffin Edwards died at his Norfolk County home during the night of 2223 August 1866, probably during the early morning hours. He was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, in Portsmouth.

Sources Consulted:
Birth date of 14 Feb. 1804, death date of 23 Aug. 1866, and family information in Horace Edwin Hayden, Virginia Genealogies: A Genealogy of the Glassell Family… (1891), 99; variant birth date of 11 Feb. 1801 and death date of 23 Aug. 1866 in Oak Grove Cemetery Records, Olive Branch Cemetery, Portsmouth; biographies in F. Johnston, comp., Memorials of Old Virginia Clerks… (1888), 264–266, and Charles B. Cross Jr., The County Court, 1637–1904: Norfolk County, Virginia (1964), 40 (Edwards autograph on 39); letters in several collections, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, Va.; Norfolk Co. Marriage Bonds; Norfolk Co. Common Law Order Book, 13:594; Norfolk and Portsmouth Herald, and General Advertiser, 19 May 1837; New York Times, 17 Feb., 11 Mar. 1864; Journal of the Constitutional Convention Which Convened at Alexandria on the 13th Day of February, 1864 (1864), 5, 18, 43, 47, 48, 51–52 (quotation); Reports on Affairs of Dismal Swamp Canal Company, 50th Cong., 2d sess., 1889, Senate Misc. Doc. 89, serial 2615, 11; death date of 23 Aug. 1866 in Norfolk Co. Death Register and Bureau of Vital Statistics Death Register, Norfolk Co.; obituary and death notice (with death date of 22 Aug. 1866) in Norfolk Day Book, 23 Aug. 1866; memorial in Norfolk Co. Minute Book, 35:256, reprinted in Norfolk Day Book, 24 Aug. 1866.

Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by John G. Deal.

How to cite this page:
John G. Deal,"LeRoy Griffin Edwards (1804–1866)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2016 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Edwards_LeRoy_Griffin, accessed [today's date]).

Return to the Dictionary of Virginia Biography Search page.

facebook twitter youtube instagram linkedin