January 1, 2015

A Tribute to Joseph Elzie Hays

I have previously written about Joseph Elzie Hays and his family in Adair and Russell Co., KY.  That blog can be read here.



"Sketch of Joseph E. Hays.

"At his home in Jamestown, on the 23rd of last month, there passed from the walks of man, one who in many respects was a remarkable man.

"In a less isolated locality than that in which he spent most of his life, Joseph E. Hays might have been as distinguished as many of those whose names are known to multitudes.  But, for him home, for much of his life, he chose the little town of Jamestown, remote from railroad lines and from the busy mass of the world, and far removed from any of its great centers of thought and action.

"And yet it seems that no one has undertaken to write anything of the life of this well-known citizen and lawyer.  There is much that might be written.  Certainly the story of the 82 years of life of one whose talents and industry distinguished him among his fellows, can be be told in the limits of a brief article.  So much must be omitted.

"Hon. Joseph E. Hays was born in Russell county, Ky., December 6, 1822.  He was the son of Gabriel Hays [Jr.] and Martha Coffey Hays, who came here from Virginia some years before Russell county was created, and when this section was mostly a wilderness.

"His paternal grandmother was Jane Moore Quigly, of London, England, while his maternal grandmother was Jennie [Jane] Witherspoon, a member of a distinguished North Carolina family.  Both of these grandparents were cultured and intellectual women, and the grandson either inherited or early developed a burning desire for an education.

"In that day schools and teachers were few and far between, but the boy who really means to educate himself and accomplish something in the world, keeps saying to himself; 'where there's a will, there's a way.'

"And the boy, Joseph E. Hays, found away, though oftentimes it was far from being an easy one.  By a firelight made of boards and dry sticks he learned to read, of evening, after the day's work was over.  It was not always over, however, with the night fall, for his parents, as well as everybody else, perhaps in the vicinity at that time, were poor, and it is said, his labors were sometimes carried far into the night.  The family had to be supported and the father was an invalid.

"As an illustration of the lack of conveniences in this section, in that early day, it is said that he learned to cipher on a slate rock.

"But not baffled by adverse circumstances he attended country schools two short terms, then raised a tobacco crop to earn money with which to attend Zion Academy, in Adair county.  If the writer is not mistaken this school was at that time presided over by a Virginia gentleman, Prof. Carnes, who had been well educated in one of the fine colleges of that elder state.

"The writer has heard Mr. Hays say that when he quit school he recited the contents of Latin Grammar, missing nothing of importance, without a question being asked, except a general one, such as 'Tell what you know about this book,' or something of the kind.  It was at this school, Zion Academy, which Mr. Hays attended for two terms, that he learned Latin and Greek.

"I am not sure whether it was before or after this, but think it was before, that Mr. Hiram Rowe met the young man, and learning of his anxiety to learn, as well as recognizing his ability to do so, offered to teach him surveying.  The offer was promptly accepted and it was arranged that the lad should go to the home of Mr. Rowe and begin his studies at once.  So well did he apply himself and so readily did he master the subject, that at the remarkably early age of sixteen Mr. Rowe's pupil and protégé was surveyor of the county.

"After leaving school, and after having taught a few terms, when not attending school, Mr. Hays studied medicine and began to practice, but soon abandoned it to study law with Hon. Sam Bell Maxey.  At this time he was about 23 years old.

"After being admitted, he began, at Burkesville, Ky., in partnership with Mr. Cheek, the practice of the profession he was to follow for half a century.  It was here that he met and married Miss. Sophia M. Saufley,¹ a daughter of Henry Saufley, of Virginia.

"After his marriage he removed to Jamestown, and began to practice here and in adjoining counties.  At the bar of this section of that time were such men as Gov. Bramlette, Judge Fountain T. Fox, of Danville, Hon. Sherrod Williams, Col. T. P. Hill, Littleton Beard, Judge T. Z. Morrow, Hons. Tim Cravens, Ephrain and John S. Van Winkle and Major Tom Winfrey.  There were giants in those days and it is eulogy enough for any lawyer to say that he met and held his own with these men.

"At one time Mr. Hays practiced in six or seven counties and when in his prime probably received a larger sum annually in fees than is now earned by any two or three lawyers in this district.

"Two or three of the Stone Bro's., Hon. J. F. Montgomery and others read law with Mr. Hays, when they were preparing for admission to the bar.

"Mr. Hays, though in active practice for fifty years, held few offices.  He was County Attorney of Russell county, Police Judge of Jamestown, and frequently sat as special Judge of the Circuit Court.  It was while acting as Police Judge that he closed the saloons in Jamestown, it is said almost at the risk of his life, so bitter was the feeling on the subject.

"Mr. Hays was at one time a candidate for Congress, but withdrew before the election was held.

"In politics he was a strong Democrat. He was a slave owner and an ardent Southern sympathizer.  He belonged to that school of Southern politicians who believed that slavery was right, that the negro was a 'slave race,' and that the right of property ought not to be interfered with by any legal or constitutional enactment whatever, at least not without just compensation.

"I do not know, but I doubt that his were ever changed by the trend of events since the war, for he was singularly tenacious of any opinion, once thoroughly formed.

"Mr. Hays was thrice married.  His first wife died in early life a few years after they moved to Jamestown.  His second wife was Miss Mary Coffey², of Russell county.  To this union were born four children; Sophia M., Hiram Rowe, Mary A. and Rosaline Owsley.  Of these, only one is now living, the first named, Mrs. Sophia M. Stone.  Their mother died at the birth of the youngest daughter.  Afterward, Mr. Hays married the lady who now survives him, was Miss Elizabeth Young.³

"Mr. Hays had been for 39 years a member of the Christian church.

"Studying the question for himself, he came o believe that Jesus is the Christ and the Savior of mankind, and accepted him as his personal Savior.  The writer is told by those who know that in his latter days he spent much of his time in reading the Bible, in meditation and in prayer.

"It is not amiss to say here that he had two words of counsel for young men, which he mentioned with great emphasis when occasion offered.  They were, 'Be temperate, be industrious.'  And he followed his own advice in these respects.  He used neither tobacco nor intoxicants, in any form.  And as a lawyer his industry seemed to have no limits, when the interests of his client were at stake.  He always said he was not a very robust boy, and he attributed his wonderful physical powers solely to temperate habits and hard work.

"We can not undertake, in this article, any thing like a satisfactory study of Mr. Hays' character as a man or of his professional attainments.  As said before, in a wider field, a wider fame might have been his.  He believed in himself.  This sort of faith is even an important  factor of success.

"During the strenuous days of middle life he made some enemies.  Who does not, if he does any thing worth the doing?  He was not always, understood, I believe, by some with whom he came in contact, nor did he ever seek popularity as a good within itself.  He said once, that if he had the approval of his own conscience, he little cared what other men might say.  This was characteristic of the man.

"In his own words, his life had been 'one of duty.'  What more, if it was simply one of duty, as he saw it, what more can be required of any man?

"On public questions where any moral issue was involved, he always espoused the side that he believed would promote the moral good of the community.

"Frugal and simple in his own habits he spent money lavishly upon others who had any claim upon his bounty.

"But now, life's fitful fever is over.  The vast majority of mankind, so far as the world can see or know, seems to do little but eke out an existence, for a few short years, at most; then they die, are buried, and forgotten.

"Surely then one who by his own efforts, in the face of poverty and adversity, and starting life in a remote and primitive community, raised himself to a position of affluence and to an honorable and even distinguished place in his profession, is entitled, when he quits the walks of men, to more than passing mention.

"But then, men build their own best monuments, to wit, their own deeds and their own character and influence.  These do not die with our death.

"I leave then the subject of this sketch to something better than this poor effort of mine - to the commemoration of his own self-builded [sic] monuments, to the biography written by him in the hearts and lives of those who knew him.

"This biography can not be wrong.  Peace, then, to his ashes, rest to his soul."4


¹Sophia was born in VA, c1822, they married in 1848 and appeared in the 1850 Russell Co., census.  According to writer W. H. Perrin in Kentucky: A History of the State Sophia died Mar. 14, 1853.  There were no known children.

²Mary Ann was his double-second cousin, once removed.  Her parents were Elias "Eli" and Mary "Polly" Coffey Coffey, first cousins.  Elias was a son of Salathiel while Mary was a daughter of Nathan, brothers and said to be sons of the thus-far mythical Chesley Coffey.  She died on May 24, 1869 at the birth of her fourth child, Rose L. Hays.

³Elizabeth was a daughter of G. W. and Margaret Pemberton Young.

4Joseph is buried at Stone Cemetery in Jamestown, Russell Co., KY.  His Find-A-Grave memorial is #82210819

Source: A tribute to Joseph Elzie Hays by unknown author and which appeared in "The Adair County News, Columbia, Adair Co., KY", (http://1.usa.gov/1xiPV2T,) Page 1, Cols. 1-3, Vol. 7, No. 13, on Wed., Feb. 10, 1904.

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