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About Nathan Goff, Jr.
Nathan Goff, Jr. (February 9, 1843 – April 24, 1920) was a member of the United States Congress from West Virginia, who 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, Harrison County, Virginia (now West Virginia) on February 9, 1843. He attended the Northwestern Academy in Clarksburg and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., then received a law degree from the City University of New York.
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.
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 1867-1868. In 1868 he became United States Attorney for West Virginia, a position he held until 1881 when President Hayes appointed him Secretary of the Navy, to succeed Richard W. Thompson of Indiana. Goff held the position just under two months, from January 7, 1881 until Hayes' term ended on March 4.
After leaving the Navy Department, Goff was again named as U.S. Attorney for West Virginia. He held this post 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 4, 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 Democrat 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 23 (or 24; published biographies contain both dates), 1920 and was interred in the Odd Fellows Cemetery. He was the last surviving member of the Hayes Cabinet.
Goff established something of a political dynasty, with several family members also serving in Congress. His son Guy Despard Goff (1866–1933) served in the U.S. Senate as a Republican from 1925-1931. Louise Goff Reece, daughter of Guy Goff, served in the House of Representatives as a Republican from 1961-1963.
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.
The World War II destroyer USS Goff (DD-247) was named in his honor.