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Robert Morton Hughes Papers

Collection ID: MG 7

Scope and Contents

The Hughes Papers are divided into three major sections. The first section contains Hughes' personal and political correspondence, speeches, literary efforts, small amounts of material related to his legal practice and to his involvement in Virginia political affairs (included is his participation in the Constitutional Commission of 1926-1927), and considerable material about his activities in support of education. Of particular note in this last area are his longtime association with the College of William and Mary (1870-1940) and his service on the State Board of Education (1930-1935). The second section consists of correspondence and other papers originally belonging to certain of Hughes' relatives. Some of the correspondence goes back to the late 18th century. The major figures are Hughes' father Judge R. W. Hughes (d. 1901). his mother Eliza Johnston Hughes (d. 1908), his adoptive maternal grandfather John B. Floyd, (1806-1863) and his maternal great uncle Joseph E. Johnston, (1807-1891). Judge Hughes was one of the first prominent Virginian's to turn Republican in the post-Civil War Period; Floyd was Governor of Virginia (1849-1852), Secretary of War under Buchanan (1857-1860), and a general in the Confederate army (1861-1863); Johnston was a general in both the U.S. and Confederate armies (1860-1865). Among Hughes' papers are a number of incomplete drafts of Johnston's published war memoirs. The third section consists of correspondence and other material related to Hughes' extensive activity as an amateur historian. The central topics are the careers of Gen. Johnston and Governor Floyd and after that Virginia and southern history in general.


  • 1754-1950, undated
  • Other: Date acquired: 05/19/1976



20.40 Linear Feet

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Before publishing quotations or excerpts from any materials, permission must be obtained from Special Collections and University Archives, and the holder of the copyright, if not Old Dominion University Libraries.

Biographical or Historical Information

Robert Morton Hughes was born on September 10, 1855, in the house of his mother's adoptive parents, Gov. John B. Floyd and Sally Preston Floyd at Abingdon in southwestern Virginia. Through his parents, Robert W. Hughes and Eliza Johnston Hughes, he was related to many of Western Virginia's prominent families, including the Prestons, Johnstons, Mortons, and Floyds. Hughes lived in Washington, D.C. and Richmond while still a child but spent most of his early life in Abingdon. He was educated there, largely by private tutors. Hughes entered the College of William and Mary in 1870 at the age of 15 and graduated with an A. B. degree in 1873. His association with William and Mary would continue throughout his adult life. Hughes served on the college's Board of Visitors from 1893 to 1918 and was rector from 1905 to 1918. He was also an active fundraiser for the college and was instrumental in the establishment of its Marshall-Wythe School of Government and Citizenship. In 1920 his grateful alma mater awarded him an honorary doctor of laws degree while in 1959 the library of the Norfolk branch of William and Mary (now Old Dominion University) was named in his memory. Hughes also attended the University of Virginia where he studied law and earned a M.A. degree in 1877. After being admitted to the bar this same year, Hughes set up practice in Norfolk, Virginia, where he would continue to work until his retirement in 1920. His specialty was admiralty law. Hughes was elected president of the Virginia Bar Association in 1895 and of the Norfolk and Portsmouth Bar Association in 1907. In 1926 he was appointed by the Governor to a special commission created to suggest revisions to the Virginia constitution. Hughes was a lifelong Republican, following the lead of his father who had been one of the first prominent Virginians to turn Republican during the Reconstruction period. This affiliation would not prove very rewarding for him. An unsuccessful Republican candidate for congress in 1902 and 1904, Hughes also failed in several attempts to be appointed to federal judgeships, beginning in 1897 when he sought to succeed his father as a judge in the district court at Norfolk, Hughes was a staunch conservative and the last years of his life found him ardently opposing the New Deal in general and Roosevelt's attacks on the Supreme Court in particular. While Hughes never held elective office he served his community in many other ways. Besides his long tenure on the Board of Visitors of William and Mary, he sat on the Board of Directors of the Norfolk Public Library from 1912 to 1938--he was president after 1921--and was a member of the State Board of Education from 1930 until 1935 when he resigned because of failing health. Hughes was also an active member of Christ Church (Episcopal) in Norfolk where he served as a vestryman from 1884 to 1928. Hughes' major avocation, especially in later life, was that of amateur historian. His main interest was Virginia history and, within this field, the roles played by members of his own family. He felt particularly duty bound to defend the reputations of two close relatives: Gov. John B. Floyd (1806-1863), his adoptive maternal grandfather, and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston (1807-1891), U.S.A., C.S.A., his maternal great uncle. Johnston had in fact asked Hughes to write his official biography, a work which was published by Appleton in 1893. As a result of his commitment Hughes expended much time and energy writing articles and letters refuting "incorrect" statements by various authors which had directly or indirectly denigrated the careers or questioned the integrity of either man. Robert Morton Hughes died on January 15, 1940. He was survived by his wife - Mattie L. Smith Hughes, a son - Robert M. Hughes, Jr., and two grandchildren -Robert M. Hughes III and Carolyn Wright Hughes. A second son, Sydney Smith Hughes, had died in 1923.

Note written by Janice Halecki

Language of Materials



Contains personal and political correspondence regarding his legal practice, involvement in Virginia politics and his activities in support of education. Had longtime association with the College of William and Mary, served on the State Board of Education and the Board of Directors of the Norfolk Public Library. Significant aspect of this collection is the papers of his family, Governor John B. Floyd, General Joseph E. Johnston, and Judge Robert W. Hughes, important public figures before, during, and after the Civil War.

Arrangement Note

The Hughes collection is divided into 14 series: Series I: Personal Correspondence; Series II: Financial Records; Series III: Speeches; Series IV: Writings; Series V: Legal Practice; Series VI: Politics; Series VII: Education; Series VIII: Memorabilia; Series IX: Photographs; Series X: Family Papers; Series XI: Historical Studies; Series XII: Index Cards; Series XIII: Miscellaneous; and Series XIV: Oversized Materials.

Source of Acquisition

Hughes Family

Method of Acquisition

Gift. Accession #A76-18

Accruals and Additions

Additional accessions made in 1980 and 1983.

Related Materials

Other papers related to Robert Morton Hughes can also be found in the Earl Gregg Swem Library at William & Mary (Mss. 65 H88 and UA 5.013).

A Guide to the Robert Morton Hughes Papers
Janice Halecki
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the ODU Community Collections Repository

3000 Perry Library
4427 Hampton Blvd.
Norfolk VA 23529 US