Pritchard: A Historical Portrait of a Visionary Leader - TribPapers

Pritchard: A Historical Portrait of a Visionary Leader

Photo by Clint Parker.

Asheville – Riding along Merrimon Avenue at Chestnut Street in Asheville, you’ll find this historical marker: JETER C. PRITCHARD, United States Senator, 1895-1903, Republican leader, newspaperman, federal judge. His home is 3/10 mile east; grave is 1.3 mi. west.

Jeter Conley Pritchard, a name synonymous with vision, leadership, and innovation, stands as a towering figure in the annals of history. Born in the stormy era of the mid-19th century, Pritchard emerged as a trailblazer, leaving an indelible mark on the socio-political landscape of his time and beyond.

Pritchard was born on July 12, 1857, the son of William H. and Elizabeth Pritchard in Jonesboro, Tennessee, just before the turmoil of the Civil War. William defied the Confederate army’s maximum enlistment age by seven years when he volunteered as a substitute for Henry Cone, the father of Moses Cone. Henry would die of a disease acquired during the Siege of Vicksburg. Young Jeter Pritchard had to go to work to sustain his widowed mom as a newspaper apprentice for the Union Flag and Commercial.

In the late 1860s, Pritchard commenced his education at Martins Creek Academy in Erwin, Tennessee, all while juggling his employment at a newspaper. By 1873, he relocated to Bakersville, North Carolina, assuming the role of associate editor at the Roan Mountain Republican. Subsequently, he transitioned to Madison County, where he concluded his journalistic career to pursue a law practice.

As a fledgling attorney, Pritchard delved into the realm of politics, serving terms in the General Assembly in 1884 and 1890. In 1888, he secured the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor and contested a United States Senate seat in 1892, albeit unsuccessfully.

However, in 1894, he clinched the Senate seat vacated by Zebulon B. Vance, thus commencing a congressional tenure that endured until 1901. Notably, Pritchard’s final term was marred by a contentious political battle against his opponent, Marion Butler.

The political landscape of their era was defined by the contentious contest between fellow Senator Marion Butler and Pritchard, a battle that captured the attention of the nation. Butler, a formidable figure in his own right, squared off against Pritchard in a fierce struggle for power and influence.

The campaign was characterized by heated debates, mudslinging, and intense rivalry, as each candidate sought to sway voters with their vision and promises for the future. Ultimately, Pritchard emerged victorious, securing the Senate seat and cementing his legacy as a political heavyweight. However, the bitter hatred and division stirred by their clash lingered long after the ballots were cast, underscoring the emotional passions and high stakes of the political arena in their time.

During his tenure in Congress, Pritchard notably championed the bill instrumental in establishing the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Pritchard entered matrimony in 1877 with Augusta Ray, bearing three sons and a daughter. Tragically, Augusta passed away in 1886, and one of their sons, William, lost his life in the Filipino Insurrection of 1904.

Subsequently, Pritchard wed Melissa Bowman, from whom he had a son. However, Melissa’s untimely demise followed soon after. Pritchard then entered his third marriage with Lillian E. Saum in 1903.

Also in 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Pritchard as a Federal district judge. Shortly thereafter, Pritchard garnered acclaim for issuing a writ of habeas corpus in the trial of newspaper editor Josephus Daniels, who faced contempt charges in the district court of Raleigh. Pritchard’s decision resonated both domestically and internationally.

Remaining on the bench until his passing on April 10, 1921, Pritchard left a legacy of legal understanding and political leadership reverberating throughout North Carolina history. He found his final resting place at Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.