Nathan Goff Jr.

Nathan Goff
United States Senator
from West Virginia
In office
April 1, 1913  March 3, 1919
Preceded by Clarence Wayland Watson
Succeeded by Davis Elkins
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
In office
March 17, 1892  March 31, 1913
Appointed by Benjamin Harrison
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by Charles Albert Woods
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from West Virginia's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1883  March 3, 1889
Preceded by Benjamin Wilson
Succeeded by John O. Pendleton
28th United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
January 7, 1881  March 4, 1881
President Rutherford B. Hayes
Preceded by Richard W. Thompson
Succeeded by William H. Hunt
Personal details
Born (1843-02-09)February 9, 1843
Clarksburg, West Virginia, U.S.
Died April 24, 1920(1920-04-24) (aged 77)
Clarksburg, West Virginia, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Laura Goff
Children 2, including Guy
Education Georgetown University (BA)
New York University (LLB)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
  Union Army
Years of service 1861–1865
Rank Major
Battles/wars American Civil War

Nathan Goff Jr. (February 9, 1843 – April 24, 1920) was a member of the United States Congress from West Virginia. He also served briefly as United States Secretary of the Navy during the Rutherford B. Hayes administration and as a United States federal judge.


Goff was born at the Waldomore in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on February 9, 1843, the son of Waldo Potter Goff and the former Harriet Louise Moore. He attended Northwestern Academy in Clarksburg and went to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.. He received a law degree from New York University.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Goff enlisted in the Union Army as part of the Third Regiment of Virginia Volunteer Infantry, later becoming a major in the (West) Virginia Volunteer Cavalry.

On November 7, 1865, Goff married Laura Ellen Despard (1842–1918), and they had two sons, Guy D. Goff and Dr. Weldo P. Goff.

In 1865, Goff was admitted to the bar and established a legal practice, while also becoming prominent in West Virginia politics as a Republican. He served in the State House of Delegates from 1867 to 1868. In 1868 he became United States Attorney for West Virginia, a position he held until 1881. He ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives in 1870 and 1874 and for Governor of West Virginia in 1876. Late in his term as President, Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him Secretary of the Navy after the resignation of Richard W. Thompson from Indiana. Goff held the position from January 7, 1881, until March 4, 1881.

Goff was again named as U.S. Attorney for West Virginia until 1882, when he was elected as a Republican to Congress on his third run for that seat (the other runs were in 1870 and 1874). He had also run for Governor of West Virginia in 1876.

Goff served in the House of Representatives from March 4, 1883, through March 3, 1889, as a member of the 48th-50th Congresses. He was not a candidate for renomination in 1888, choosing instead to make another run for governor. That was a hard-fought contest, and when the original tally came in Goff had won, but the election was too close and Aretas B. Fleming contested the election. After multiple vote recounts and a point where four men took the oath of office claiming they had the rights to the governorship, the matter was given to the state legislature for resolution. The heavily Democratic legislature declared the Democratic Party Candidate (Aretas B. Fleming) the victor. In later years Goff would say that the governorship was a graveyard position and that most men in that position fade away into obscurity.

On December 16, 1891, Goff was nominated by President Benjamin Harrison to a new seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, created by 26 Stat. 826. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 17, 1892, and received commission the same day. Goff was then elected as a Republican to the United States Senate in 1912. He did not immediately take his seat when the Senate convened on March 4, 1913, preferring to remain on the bench until March 31, 1913. He served in the Senate from April 1 to March 4, 1919, choosing not to run for re-election in 1918.

Goff died in Clarksburg, West Virginia, on April 24, 1920, at aged 77, and was interred next to his wife in the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Upon his death, Goff was the last surviving member of President Rutherford B. Hayes' cabinet.

Goff established something of a political dynasty, with several family members also serving in Congress. His son Guy D. Goff (1866–1933) served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1925 to 1931. Louise Goff Reece, daughter of Guy Goff, served in the House of Representatives as a Republican from 1961 to 1963.

His home at Clarksburg, the Nathan Goff Jr. House, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. It was delisted in 1994, after demolition in 1993.[1]


The World War II destroyer USS Goff was named in his honor.



Party political offices
Preceded by
John Jacob
Republican nominee for Governor of West Virginia
Succeeded by
George Sturgiss
Preceded by
Edwin Maxwell
Republican nominee for Governor of West Virginia
Succeeded by
Thomas Davis
Political offices
Preceded by
Richard W. Thompson
United States Secretary of the Navy
Succeeded by
William H. Hunt
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Benjamin Wilson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from West Virginia's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
John O. Pendleton
Legal offices
New seat Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Succeeded by
Charles Albert Woods
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Clarence Watson
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from West Virginia
Served alongside: William E. Chilton, Howard Sutherland
Succeeded by
Davis Elkins
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