Valentine Wood Southall

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Signature of V. W. Southall, ca. 1840

Valentine W. Southall (1793-1861) was a prominent lawyer who settled in Albemarle County circa 1813 and described as one of the ablest lawyers of his time.[1] During his career, Southall served as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Albemarle County, was a member of the General Assembly, where he was also Speaker of the House, and participated in the convention that formed the Constitution of 1850 that updated the state constitution. Southall participated in the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861 before his death later that year.

Southall-Venable House

Built by V. W. Southall, the house was owned in 1917 by Southall’s grandson, Charles Venable, Jr., and his wife, Madge. Charles was the son of Mary Southall Brown, who inherited the property from her mother in 1874, and Charles Scott Venable, Sr. a University of Virginia professor. Venable Sr., who had served as an aide-de-camp for Gen. Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, worked to promote education as a way to improve post-Reconstruction conditions in Virginia. The city of Charlottesville named an elementary school after Venable in 1925.


Valentine Wood Southall was born at "Westham," a 2,000-acre plantation along the James River in Goochland County, west of Richmond; son of Stephen Southall, a major in the Revolutionary Army, and Martha Southall, daughter of Colonel Valentine and Lucy Henry Wood, sister of Patrick Henry.

Southall defended Hudson Sprouse alongside Rice Wood and Frank Dyer at the October term of the Circuit Court in 1823. When General Lafayette was entertained at dinner in the Rotunda at the University of Virginia on November 15, 1824, Mr. Southall presided.

Member House of Delegates (Albemarle), 1833-1846; succeeded Thomas W. Gilmer (Albemarle), 1840-1842. Speaker of the House, 1840-1842 and 1844-1845. Mr Southall was serving as president pro tempore of the Constitutional Convention on the day the Ordinance of Secession was passed. Mr Southall voted against secession on April 4, 1861 but changed his vote on April 17.

In 1813, when about twenty years of age, he came to Albemarle. He studied law and was early admitted to the bar, and rapidly rose in his profession. For more than twenty years he was Commonwealth's attorney for the county, and was considered one of the ablest prosecuting lawyers of his day. Mr. Southall became a most intense Jeffersonian Republican in politics, a great admirer of Mr. Jefferson, whom he frequently visited at Monticello, and from whom such close associations became his legal adviser. Such was Mr. Jefferson's confidence in his superior judgment that Mr. Southall was appointed by him as the first secretary of the Board of Visitors for the Central College, afterwards the University of Virginia. After this, Mr. Southall advocated the State's Rights party, which was opposed to Jackson, and which soon after became the Whig party. In 1833 Mr. Southall, with Thomas W. Gilmer, were sent to the Virginia House of Delegates, where he remained most of the time until 1845, becoming Speaker of the House in 1840, after Mr. Gilmer was made Governor of the State. In 1850 Mr. Southall was sent as a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention from Albemarle, Nelson and Amherst, and in 1861 was sent to the Secessional Convention, called after the election of Mr. Lincoln to the presidency.

Mr. Southall was elected and sent as a Union man, opposed to secession, but after Lincoln's proclamation for troops to coerce the South, he voted for secession. He died suddenly while a member of the convention, August 22, 1861, and is buried as [sic] Charlottesville, Va.

The court and bar of Albermarle, in 18xx, honored the memory of its distinguished son, by hanging on the walls in the court-house, his life-size pastel portrait beside that of Jefferson, being a gift to the county and city by his children.

Mr. Southall married first, Mary, daughter of Alexandria Garret; second, Martha, daughter of James Powell Cocke, first of "Malvern Hill," and then of "Edgemont," in Albermarle, being a direct descendant of Richard Cocke, first of the name in the State, and member of the House of Burgesses in 1633. By his second wife, were:

  • William H. Southall, of Leigh, near Ivy Station.
  • James C. Southall, the eminent editor and author
  • S. V. Southall, prominent lawyer of Charlottesville
  • Lucy H. Southall, wife of Charles Sharp, of Norfolk, Va.
  • Mary M. Southall, wife of John Thompson Brown, colonel of First Virginia Artillery, in Lee's army; subsequently wife of Professor Charles S. Venable, of the University of Virginia, and member of General R. E. Lee's staff. Colonel Brown was killed May 6, 1864, in the Battle of the Wilderness.
  • Florence C. Southall, died unmarried.


"Junior Volunteers", 1807; first Secretary of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia.

Other Notable Service and/or Elected Offices

Virginia Constitutional Convention: 1850, 1861; Albemarle delegate to the Constitutional Conventions of 1850-51 and 1861.

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Born at “Westham” Goochland County, Va., 1789 or 1790 Died in Charlottesville, Va., August 22, 1861. Buried in the family section of Maplewood Cemetery Charlottesville, Va.

Valentine W. Southall of Albemarle County was the son of Stephen (a major in the Revolutionary Army) and Martha (Wood) Southall. She was a daughter of Colonel Valentine and Lucy Henry (sister of Patrick Henry) Wood of Goochland County. He was educated at Ogilvies School, and was admitted to the Albemarle Bar in 1813. He was a member of “junior Volunteers” in 1807; House of Delegates, 1833-34, 1835-36, 1839-42, 1843-46; and the Constitutional Conventions of 1850-51 and 1861.

He was considered as one of the ablest lawyers of his day in the Commonwealth. He was the first Secretary of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia. When General Lafayette was entertained at dinner in the Rotunda on November IS, 1824, it was Mr. Southall who presided.

While he was Speaker of the House, the Clerk was George Wythe Munford. Southall was president pro tempore on the day the Ordinance of Secession was passed. Southall voted against secession on April 4, 1861, but changed his vote on April 17. Two or three months later, he died in the little brick office in the front yard of his residence.

Relatives & death

V. W. Southall was grandnephew of Patrick Henry; second cousin of William Campbell Preston and John Smith Preston; second cousin once removed of Robert Jefferson Breckinridge Jr. and William Campbell Preston Breckinridge; second cousin twice removed of Levin Irving Handy, Desha Breckinridge and Henry Skillman Breckinridge.

Political family: Breckinridge-Preston-Cabell family of Virginia.

Southall married firstly, in 1820, Mary Anne Garrett (died during childbirth), daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth (Minor) Garrett of Louisa County, and secondly, February 1, 1825, Martha Cocke, daughter of James Powell and Lucy (Smith) Cocke of Albemarle County, by whom he had both sons and daughters.

Spouses: Mary Anne Garrett (m. 1820); Martha Cocke (m. February 1, 1825) Children (by Mary Anne Garrett): daughter Children (by Martha Cocke; d. July 12, 1874, aged 75): sons and daughters.

Valentine Wood Southall died in Charlottesville, Va., August 22, 1861 (age about 68 years). Interment somewhere; memorials located at Charlottesville's Maplewood Cemetery in the Southall family section and at the Southall Cemetery, Amelia County, Virginia.


  1. Web. House History, Commonwealth of Virginia, retrieved Feb. 16, 2023.

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