Hugh C. Duffy
A History of Kentucky and Kentuckians
The Leaders and Representative Men in Commerce, Industry and Modern Activities
E. Polk Johnson
HUGH C. DUFFY.—A prominent farmer and the present representative of Harrison county, Kentucky, in the state legislature, Hugh Cornelius Duffy was trained for the profession of law in which he was engaged in active practice at Gallatin, Tennessee, for a number of years. He had experienced remarkable success and was becoming widely known as one of the able members of his profession when failing health compelled him to give up his life work.
The Hon. Mr. Duffy was born at Hartsville, Sumner county, Tennessee, December 31, 1853, his parents being Michael and Cornelia (Read) Duffy, the former of whom was born in county Donegal, Ireland, and the latter of whom was a native of Sumner county, Tennessee. When a child nine years of age Michael Duffy came to the United States with his uncle, Hugh Ragan, his parents being deceased, and the ancestral estates near Ulster, county Tyrone, division of Ulster, having been seized as forfeited. The paternal grandmother of the subject, whose maiden name was Nellie Cannon, was closely related to the O'Neal whom Cornwallis first deceived and then butchered. Michael Duffy and his uncle made location in Sumner county, Tennessee, where the former was reared to maturity and where was solemnized his marriage to Miss Cornelia Read. He died at the residence of his brother, Frank, in Todd county, Kentucky, in 1859, and his wife, who long survived him, passed away in 1901, at the age of eighty- one years. The subject's grandfather on the paternal side was Charles Duffy, who died in Ireland and who was the father of five sons, one of whom, Patrick, was a gallant soldier in the Mexican and Civil wars, and another, Frank, who settled in Todd county, Kentucky. The others never married and died young. Michael Duffy was a farmer, merchant and extensive dealer in tobacco during his active career. He was a slave owner and prominent and well-to-do. He served as assessor of Sumner county, Tennessee, and represented Sumner county in the Lower House of the State Legislature. After his death his widow married George W. Terry, of Sumner county, Tennessee. To the first marriage were born five children, of whom are living Hugh C., of this review, and Michael T., who married William Satterwhite, of Nashville, Tennessee. By her second marriage she had one child, who died at the age of five years.
Hugh C. Duffy, the immediate subject of this review, lived on the farm which his mother inherited from her father, William Read, until after her second marriage. He then resided with his step-father, G. W. Terry, near Hendersonville, Sumner county, Tennessee, until sixteen years of age. Although never punished in the slightest measure at school he experienced a great aversion to the first schools he attended, so great an aversion, in fact, that he could not be driven to school. His mother whipped him severely to make him attend, with so little success that she finally abandoned all effort in that line, saying, "If you ever wish to go to school I shall endeavor to send you, but I shall never again ask you to go." In order that the abundant energies of her sons might be employed, the mother bought a farm and placed William R. and Hugh C. upon it to make their livings, the former being fifteen and the latter eleven years of age. At the age of fourteen years, Hugh experienced "a change of heart" and asked his mother to send him to school and she accordingly made arrangements for him to enter the school of Captain J. B. Howison at Hendersonville. There he pursued his studies until Captain Howison went to Gallatin to teach, and he then enjoyed the instruction of Professor C. W. Callender, continuing under his tutelage until prepared for the University of Virginia, to which his mother had promised to send him in the ensuing fall. Finding herself unable financially to fulfill this promise without injustice to her other children, upon young Hugh's request, she granted him the privilege of working out his own destiny. He visited Professor C. W. Callender and stated his circumstances to him and his desires, and Professor Callender received him in his school upon condition that the tuition should be paid after he had had an opportunity to make the necessary money. Both Captain Howison and Professor Callender were well educated men, the former a graduate of the University of Virginia and the other bearing the degree of Master of Arts from Harvard. A gentler, more noble man never lived than C. W. Callender, his conduct toward one he believed deserving being ever affectionate and parental.
About the time Mr. Duffy finished his academical studies free schools were established in the South and he successfully passed an examination which made him eligible for teaching. He secured a position as first assistant in the high school at Gallatin, retaining that position for a period of three years, and at the expiration of that time he entered the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, in the law department of which excellent institution he was graduated with the class of 1877. Although eligible to the degree of bachelor of laws, he did not receive it because he could not spare the necessary money—fifteen dollars—to pay for a diploma. He possesses, however, his certificate of graduation and a letter from O. Southal asking him to send for his diploma. The reason Mr. Duffy did not become a student at Vanderbilt University, an institution of learning within fifteen miles of his home, was that its rules compelled those matriculating to attend the Methodist church Sunday nights. He had voluntarily attended the Methodist church and Sunday-school all his life, but would not be compelled to attend either. Immediately after graduation Mr. Duffy located at Gallatin, where he succeeded in building up a large and lucrative practice and where he rapidly gained recognition as one of the ablest and most versatile lawyers in Sumner county. His close application to work, alas, soon impaired his health and in 1883 he was forced to give up the practice of law, for the study of which he had previously made such great sacrifices. In 1885, shortly after his marriage, he removed to Kentucky.
Mr. Duffy was married November 12, 1884, Miss Fannie Desha becoming his bride. Mrs. Duffy was born on the estate upon which Mr. Duffy and his children now reside, the date of her nativity being December, 1860. She was a daughter of General Lucius Desha and the scion of a fine Southern family. She was summoned to the life eternal in April, 1904, and, a woman of gracious charming personality, her death was deeply mourned by a devoted family and a large circle of warm and admiring friends. Mr. and Mrs. Desha became the parents of seven children, six of whom survive the mother and all of whom reside at home with their father, namely: Eliza M., Cornelia R., Frank L., Eleanor P., Margaret B. and Lucia Desha. Frank L. was graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in the summer of 1911.
Since his marriage Mr. Duffy has devoted his entire time to farming and stock-raising on the old Desha estate, of which he is guardian in trust for his children, the farm having belonged to the mother. In politics Mr. Duffy is a loyal Democrat and in November, 1909, his party elected him to represent the seventy- sixth district in the State Legislature, in which connection he is discharging his duties in a faithful and enlightened manner. Mr. Duffy's bitterest disappointment in life was to give up his profession to which he had devoted so much time and for which he was particularly gifted. His whole ambition is now the education and training of his children to good citizenship. He is particularly cultured and well-read and his profound knowledge of the law has proved very useful, despite the fact that he does not practice. He has never been a member of any fraternity, society, order or sect. He believes that he owes no duties save to the race at large and to the community of which he is a member in particular. His children share his ideals and the above is true of all save one, who is a member of the Methodist Episcopal church.
It cannot be otherwise than appropriate to glance briefly at the history of the family of Cornelia (Read) Duffy, the mother of the Hon. Mr. Duffy. She was a daughter of William and Mary Polly (Bledsoe) Read. The father was a pioneer of Tennessee and Kentucky and was wounded in the arm in a conflict with the Indians. He had led a scouting party up the Cumberland river to thwart the movements of a band of redskins when he received the injury. As he was called Captain Read it is probable that he bore such a commission. Isaac and Anthony Bledsoe, brothers, the first-named Cornelia's grandfather, were members of a band of men known in Tennessee and Kentucky history as the Long hunters. They both accompanied Isaac Shelby to the relief of the Americans at King's Mountain and participated in the battle that ensued. Isaac Bledsoe married Katherine Montgomery and they and their immediate ancestors or descendants were citizens of the colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. They and their descendants fought in many of the Colonial and Indian wars, in the Revolution and the Civil war, in the latter of which they supported the Confederate cause. The Hon. Mr. Duffy is thoroughly American, in his veins flowing the blood of many patriotic ancestors. His forbears were long identified with America and her institutions, fighting in all of her wars and enjoying the blessings of her intervals of peace.