Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Cardinal Richelieu Coleman (1878-1963)

                             From the 1912 Virginia House of Delegates composite photograph.

   It isn't often that one stumbles across an American political figure named in honor of a prominent figure in French history, and the man shown above, Cardinal Richelieu Coleman, is a definite exception. Named in honor of Armand Jean du-Plessis, Cardinal Richelieu (1585-1642), the eminent 17th century French clergyman and statesman, this amusingly named man was a figure of note in Virginia political circles during the early 20th century (he served two terms in the state house of delegates), but unfortunately this notoriety did not carry over into the years following his death, as scant biographical information could be found on Mr. Coleman or his career in public service. The following profile on Mr. Coleman has been piece-mealed together from any and all sources that could be located!
   A lifelong resident of Virginia, C. Richelieu Coleman, as most sources list him, was the first of two sons born to former Virginia state legislator Solon Thomas and Nancy Elizabeth Blaydes Coleman, his birth occurring on November 19, 1878. Recorded in his Fredericksburg Daily Star obituary as being "educated in private schools", Coleman later "assumed management responsibilities of the family estate", Alta Vista, after completing his education. He married in October of 1900 to Sallie W. Davis (1877-1979) and later had two children, Solon Bernard (1901-1974) and Lorene Coleman Saunders (1907-1986). Solon Coleman would later follow his father into politics, being elected as a member of the Virginia state senate in 1935 for one term. He would later serve as a circuit court judge for a total of ten years, retiring in 1972.
   C. Richelieu Coleman first entered the political forum around 1902, when he became a member of the registration board for Spotsylvania County. In November 1909 Coleman announced his candidacy for a seat in the Virginia State House of Delegates and in the November election defeated the Republican nominee, Henry Warden. Representing the city of Fredericksburg in the county of Spotsylvania, Coleman took his seat at the beginning of the 1910-12 legislative term and was later named to the house committees on Enrolled Bills, Executive Expenditures and Labor and the Poor. 

From the 1910 Virginia House of Delegates composite portrait.

  Despite being a legislator for only a few months in 1910, C. Richelieu Coleman made a lasting impression on at least a few people, as the following quote will illustrate. An anonymous "letter from Lahore, VA" published in the Fredericksburg Daily Star's September 27, 1910 edition remarked that:
"I was pleased to shake the hand of the Hon. Richelieu Coleman, the safe and sound representative of Spotsylvania in the House of Delegates. He is popular wherever known and his course in the legislature commends him to the confidence and support of all lovers of clean, good government."
   Coleman's first term in the legislature saw him introduce a number of pieces of legislation, including a bill to "divide Spotsylvania County into four revenue districts" and another to "permit Spotsylvania County to select any road law of any county in whole or in part of this state." Coleman's popularity eventually led to his reelection to the Virginia state house in 1911, defeating Republican candidate C.B. Massie by "a large majority." During his second term Coleman held a seat on the committees on Schools and Colleges, Labor and the Poor, Executive Expenditures and Enrolled Bills, and during this session of the legislature was chosen by then Governor William H. Mann as Virginia's delegate to the Southern Commercial Congress being held at Nashville in 1912. 

From the Fredericksburg Daily Star, January 14, 1910.

   After leaving the legislature Coleman became engaged with the Virginia office of Internal Revenue, becoming a deputy collector of internal revenue, subsequently serving in this capacity from 1913-1920. A stint with the Virginia Attorney General's office followed from 1922-1933, and in 1922 he was elected as a member of the Virginia State Democratic Committee. 
   Coleman continued to be politically active well into his twilight years, seeing service on the Spotsylvania County School Board and the School Trustee Electoral Board. He was a longtime area inspector for the Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Commission (retiring in 1953 at age 75) and throughout the 1950s and the early 60s sat on the Spotsylvania County Elections Board, holding a seat here until his death, which occurred on May 8, 1963, as the result of stroke he had suffered a week previously. A year prior to his passing the then 83-year-old Coleman had seen his son Solon (then 61 years of age) installed as a Virginia Circuit Court judge.
   Popularly known in Spotsylvania County as "Mr. Democrat", Coleman's death at age 84 ended a lengthy career in public service that extended until the year of his death. Following funeral services Coleman was interred at the Oak Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and was survived by Sallie, his wife of over sixty years. Sallie Davis Coleman celebrated her 100th birthday in 1977 and died a few months before her 102nd birthday in August 1979, later being buried in the same cemetery as her husband.

From Coleman's obituary in the May 8, 1963 edition of the Fredericksburg Daily Star

From the Frederickburg Daily Star, May 8, 1963.


  1. Mr. Osterdahl:

    A couple of things.

    Fredericksburg is not a county -- it is a separate, independent city. In Virginia, every city is separate and distinct from every county. Virginia cities are NOT coextensive with counties in any way. Virginia is the only state in the union where this is the case.

    Cardinal Richelieu was NOT re-elected in 1912 -- he was re-elected in 1911. Virginia has held its state elections in odd years going back to at least the post-Civil War period.

    I love this site, by the way.

    David C.F. Ray of Annandale, Virginia

    1. David,

      Thank you kindly for the correction in regard to Fredericksburg.....the 1910 Virginia Delegates Manual (where I originally located Coleman's name) listed him as representing "Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania", which I (incorrectly) assumed to be two separate counties. A keen eye certainly helps, so thank you for that! And thank you for the kind comments as well!----Andy

  2. Mr. Osterdahl:

    Not to appear too picky, but since Fredericksburg is an independent city, Mr. Richelieu was elected in 1909 and 1911 to represent BOTH Spotsylvania County AND the City of Fredericksburg.

    David C.F. Ray of Annandale, Virginia