In 1857, coal mine manager Edmund C. Fitzhugh killed a drunken trespasser in his garden. Though Fitzhugh was under indictment for murder and only marginally qualified for the position, U.S. president James Buchanan made the stunning decision to appoint him to Washington Territory’s District and Supreme Courts.
The blue blood Virginian lawyer migrated to the California gold rush in 1849. After Fitzhugh’s San Francisco law partner and others invested in a new Bellingham Bay coal mine, he moved north to open it. During the next ten years—including a few as Democratic Party chairman—he built and exploited his political network. In addition to serving on the federal bench and managing the militarily strategic mine, he was a county auditor, became Governor Isaac Stevens’ Treaty War military aide and Indian agent, and helped Stevens run the 1860 Breckinridge for President national campaign. During the Civil War he returned home and was Confederate General Eppa Hunton’s staff officer. After the war, he practiced law in a small Iowa town. Fitzhugh devastated the lives of four wives and six children, and eventually died alone in the fleabag remnant of a once-prestigious San Francisco hotel.
Author Candace Wellman spent more than two decades researching Fitzhugh’s life and contributions—both good and bad—to Pacific Northwest history. Although the court system played a large part in the region’s future, Man of Treacherous Charm is the first full biography of an early Washington Territory justice. The volume offers unique insights into the people, personalities, politics, and practices of the territory and the American West in the 19th century.
Candace Wellman’s Peace Weavers won the 2018 WILLA literary award for scholarly nonfiction from Women Writing the West, and her Interwoven Lives was a 2020 finalist. This is her third title with WSU Press.
“Perhaps the single most enlightening takeaway for me was the stark contrast between the legal landscape of Fitzhugh’s time and that of my own. No current judge would even consider hearing, on appeal, a case over which they had presided as the trial judge…an entertaining and educational read.”—Chuck Snyder, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge, retired
“The author [performed] very thorough archival and genealogical research across a wide span of geography and time…Fitzhugh’s career as a frontier lawyer, entrepreneur, judge, Confederate soldier, and his post-war dissolution is clearly, and at times, dramatically told.”—David L. Nicandri, former director, Washington State Historical Society, and author, Lewis and Clark Reframed
Illustrations / maps / notes / bibliography / index
6″ x 9″ / 338 pages / ISBN 978-0-87422-422-1 (2023)