Joseph Allen Bristow

Joseph A. Bristow (1838–1903)

Joseph A. Bristow was a Republican member of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902. The Middlesex County Confederate veteran developed an interest in oyster harvesting and took out a patent for deepwater tongs with an associate. He joined the Republican Party and later supported the Readjusters who wished to reduce the antebellum state debt. Becoming one of Readjuster leader William Mahone's chief local organizers, Bristow remained the most important Republican in the county for more than thirty years. After unsuccessful attempts at being elected a presidential elector and a congressman, he won a seat to the state constitutional convention from the district of Essex and Middlesex counties. One of only a dozen Republicans in the convention and the only one from east of the mountains, he voted against the restrictive voter-registration provisions that the convention adopted and against the adoption of the constitution. Bristow's resolution that naturally occurring oyster beds be held as a public trust did evolve into a section of the new constitution. MORE...

 

Joseph Allen Bristow was born at Stormont in Middlesex County on September 17, 1838, the son of Larkin Stubblefield Bristow and Catherine Seward Bristow. He attended local private schools and began the study of medicine, but on July 18, 1861, before he completed his studies, he joined the Confederate army. Bristow was a sergeant in the 24th Virginia Cavalry Regiment when he was captured near Petersburg on July 28, 1864. He spent six months in the prison camp at Elmira, New York, before being exchanged on parole on February 25, 1865.

His father had died during the war, and Joseph Bristow returned to manage Pleasant View, the family farm. On January 24, 1866, he married Mary Mildred Roane, also of Middlesex County, and they had two sons and one daughter before she died at the end of 1871. On October 3, 1875, Bristow married Lucy Elizabeth Chambers, of Person County, North Carolina. They had five sons and five daughters. A nephew, Myon Edison Bristow, served as Virginia's commissioner of insurance and banking during the Great Depression.

Bristow broadened his interests beyond farming into several other businesses and made himself an expert on oysters. He helped develop a special oyster tong that enabled watermen to extend their catch into the deep waters of the Rappahannock River and the lower Chesapeake Bay. On April 29, 1890, three years after the first patent for a deepwater tong had been issued to a man in Maryland, Bristow and William M. Dixon received patent number 426,909 for their design.

Bristow and several members of his family joined the Republican Party in 1872, and most of them supported the Readjusters, who wished to reduce the antebellum state debt rather than pay it off in full. Bristow was one of William Mahone's loyal local leaders and remained the most important Republican in Middlesex County for more than thirty years. In 1892 he was an unsuccessful candidate for presidential elector. In 1898 the Republicans of the First Congressional District nominated Bristow for Congress. He did not campaign and lost the dull election to the incumbent, Democrat William Atkinson Jones, by a margin of more than two to one. That same year Bristow was rewarded for his party loyalty with appointment as postmaster at Saluda, an office he held until his death in 1903, when his son Burke Bristow succeeded him.

In the spring of 1901 the Democratic Party nominated a former Populist leader, John Hill Carter Beverley, for the seat in a state constitutional convention from the district of Essex and Middlesex counties. In protest, many conservative Democrats either did not vote or sided with the Republicans. As a result Bristow won the election by a vote of 1,533 to 1,005. With no legislative experience and as one of only a dozen Republicans in the 100-member convention and the only one from east of the mountains, he could not have expected to wield much influence. Bristow held the lowest-ranking seat on the Committee on the Organization and Government of Counties, and he took little part in the debates. He introduced resolutions intended to protect private oyster beds and to enable watermen and farmers to sell their catches and produce free from local licensing ordinances and discriminatory freight rates. Bristow's resolution that naturally occurring oyster beds should be held as a public trust for the use of the people of Virginia evolved into section 175 of the Constitution of 1902. He voted against the restrictive voter-registration provisions that the convention adopted, against putting the constitution into effect without a referendum on ratification, and, on June 6, 1902, against the adoption of the constitution.

Bristow died at Pleasant View on April 30, 1903, after an illness of four months and was buried in the family cemetery on the estate.

Time Line

  • September 17, 1838 - Joseph A. Bristow is born at Stormont in Middlesex County, the son of Larkin Stubblefield Bristow and Catherine Seward Bristow.
  • July 18, 1861 - Joseph A. Bristow joins the Confederate army.
  • July 28, 1864 - Joseph A. Bristow, a sergeant in the 24th Virginia Cavalry Regiment, is captured near Petersburg.
  • February 25, 1865 - After spending six months in a prison camp at Elmira, New York, Joseph A. Bristow is exchanged on parole.
  • January 24, 1866 - Joseph A. Bristow marries Mary Mildred Roane, of Middlesex County. They will have two sons and one daughter.
  • 1871 - Mary Mildred Roane Bristow dies. She is survived by her husband, Joseph A. Bristow, and their two sons and daughter.
  • October 3, 1875 - Joseph A. Bristow marries Lucy Elizabeth Chambers, of Person County, North Carolina. They will have five sons and five daughters.
  • April 29, 1890 - A special oyster tong developed by Joseph A. Bristow and William M. Dixon receives U.S. Patent 426,909.
  • 1898 - The Republicans of the First Congressional District nominate Joseph A. Bristow for Congress. He does not campaign and loses to the incumbent, Democrat William Atkinson Jones.
  • 1898 - Joseph A. Bristow is appointed postmaster at Saluda, an office he holds until his death in 1903.
  • 1901 - Joseph A. Bristow is elected to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902 from the district of Essex and Middlesex counties. He defeats his opponent, John Hill Carter Beverley, by a vote of 1,533 to 1,005.
  • June 6, 1902 - Joseph A. Bristow, a Republican delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1901–1902, votes against the adoption of the constitution.
  • April 30, 1903 - Joseph A. Bristow dies at his home, Pleasant View, after an illness of four months. He is buried in the family cemetery on the estate.

References

Further Reading
Dailey, Jane. Before Jim Crow: The Politics of Race in Postemancipation Virginia. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.
Dinan, John J. The Virginia State Constitution: A Reference Guide. New York: Greenwood Publishing Co., 2006.
Tarter, Brent. "Bristow, Joseph Allen." In the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Vol. 2, edited by Sara B. Bearss, et al., 235–236. Richmond: Library of Virginia, 2001.
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Tarter, B., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Joseph A. Bristow (1838–1903). (2015, November 2). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Bristow_Joseph_Allen_1838-1903.

  • MLA Citation:

    Tarter, Brent and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Joseph A. Bristow (1838–1903)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 2 Nov. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: August 15, 2013 | Last modified: November 2, 2015


Contributed by Brent Tarter and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Brent Tarter is founding editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography