Willis Benson Machen

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Willis Benson Machen
Official Congressional portrait
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
September 27, 1872 – March 3, 1873
Preceded byGarrett Davis
Succeeded byThomas C. McCreery
Member of the Kentucky House of Representatives
In office
Member of the Kentucky Senate
In office
Personal details
Born(1810-04-10)April 10, 1810
Caldwell County, Kentucky
DiedSeptember 29, 1893(1893-09-29) (aged 83)
Hopkinsville, Kentucky
Resting placeRiverview Cemetery
Political partyDemocratic
Margaret Aurelia Lyon
(m. 1835; died 1852)

Eliza N. Dobbins
(m. 1852; died 1859)

Victoria Theresa Mims
(m. 1859; his death 1893)
RelationsSon-in-law of Chittenden Lyon
Grandfather of Zelda Fitzgerald
Father-in-law of Anthony D. Sayre
Childrenat least 17
ResidenceMineral Mount
Alma materCumberland College
OccupationFarmer, Iron worker

Willis Benson Machen (April 10, 1810 – September 29, 1893) was a Democratic U.S. Senator from Kentucky.

Early life[edit]

Willis Benson Machen was born the son of Henry Ballenger Machen and Nancy Machen (née Tarrant) on April 10, 1810 in Caldwell County, Kentucky (now Lyon County, Kentucky).[1] He attended the common schools of the area and became a farmer.[1] Machen attended Cumberland College in Princeton, and then engaged in agricultural pursuits near Eddyville.

In addition to farming, Machen worked at the Livingston iron forge.[2] Soon, he and a partner opened their own business, but it failed and nearly led Machen to financial ruin.[3] Eventually, he was able to repay his debts, and he began building turnpikes.[3] An injury forced him to abandon that course as well, so he turned to the practice of law.[3] He was admitted to the bar in 1844 and quickly built up a large clientele.[2][3]

Machen was married three times and was widowed twice. Machen married firstly Margaret Aurelia Lyon (1819-1852), daughter of U.S. Representative Chittenden Lyon and granddaughter of U.S. Representative Colonel Matthew Lyon, on December 28, 1835. They had at least six children: a daughter, Mary J. Machen (1838-1854) and five sons, Edward Chittenden Machen (1840-1845), Henry Lyon Machen (1843-1893), Edward C. Machen (1846-after 1887), Willis Benson Machen Jr. (1849-1851) and Willis Benson Machen III (1851-1852).[4] His wife died in 1852 and in the same year he married his second wife Eliza N. Dobbins (1829-1859). They had three children: one son, John S. Machen and two daughters, Mary E. Machen and Elizabeth Machen. He was again widowed in 1859. He married thirdly Victoria Theresa Mims (1838-1895), daughter of John Harrison Mims and Caroline Hanson (Cresap) Mims, on September 10, 1859. They had eight children (at least three died in childhood): sons, Frank P. Machen, Willis B. Machen (IV) (1872-1903), Charles Victor Machen and Albert Sidney Machen (1875-1876) and daughters, Minerva Buckner "Minnie" (Machen) Sayre (1860-1958) (the wife of Anthony D. Sayre and mother of Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald), Maggie Davis Machen (1862-1864), Caroline Mims Machen (1874-1874) and Marjorie Lee (Machen) Rieke (1881-1913).[5][6][7][8][9]

Political career[edit]

Machen was delegate to the State constitutional convention in 1849, was a member of the Kentucky Senate in 1854, and was a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1856 and 1860.

When a group of secessionist Kentuckians formed a Confederate government for the state, the Kentucky Confederate legislative council elected Machen as its president.[10] Machen represented Kentucky's 1st congressional district in the First Confederate Congress, serving on the Accounts and Ways and Means Committees.[2] He was re-elected to the Second Confederate Congress and worked in the quartermaster and commissary departments.[2] In total, he served in the Confederate Congress from February 22, 1862 until its dissolution in April 1865.[2]

After the close of the war, Machen, fearing reprisals for his alignment with the Confederacy, fled to Canada; his third wife and daughters Minnie and Marjorie joined him there. In 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant issued a pardon for Machen, and he returned to Kentucky.[11]

Friends encouraged Machen to run for governor, but there were questions about his eligibility, and he declined.[12] On July 9, 1872, Kentucky's delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland nominated Machen for the office of Vice-President of the United States; he received one electoral vote.[4]

On September 22, 1872, Governor Preston H. Leslie appointed Machen to the United States Senate to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Garrett Davis.[4] When the Kentucky Senate re-convened, he was formally elected to the seat on January 21, 1873, defeating Republican Tarvin Baker by a vote of 104–18.[1][2] He served from September 27, 1872, to March 3, 1873.

Later life[edit]

Following his congressional tenure, he resumed agricultural interests. He also jointly owned several iron furnaces in Lyon County; it was at one of these furnaces that William Kelly invented his process for making steel rails.[4] In 1880, Machen was appointed to the Kentucky Railroad Commission, serving one full term.[4]

Following his term on the railroad commission, Machen retired to Mineral Mound, his 1,000-acre (4 km2) estate on the Cumberland River near Eddyville, where he raised tobacco.[12] He died September 29, 1893 at the Western Asylum in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and was interred in Riverview Cemetery in Eddyville.[2] Today, Machen's former estate is the site of Mineral Mound State Park.

Machen was the grandfather of Zelda Fitzgerald.[13] He died before she was born.[13]


  1. ^ a b c National Cyclopedia, p. 395
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Kleber, p. 598
  3. ^ a b c d Milford, p. 3
  4. ^ a b c d e Johnson
  5. ^ www.ancestry.co.uk https://www.ancestry.co.uk/genealogy/records/victoria-theresa-mims-24-21vt05l. Retrieved 2021-02-02. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. ^ "Willis Benson Machen (1810-1893) - Find A Grave..." www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  7. ^ "Willis Benson Machen · Civil War Governors of Kentucky". discovery.civilwargovernors.org. Retrieved 2021-01-14.
  8. ^ "Sen. Willis Benson MACHEN & Margaret Aurelia LYON & Eliza N. DOBBINS & Victoria T. MIMS". dgmweb.net. Retrieved 2021-01-15.
  9. ^ "FamilySearch.org". ancestors.familysearch.org. Retrieved 2021-01-15.
  10. ^ Kent Masterson Brown, ed. (2000). "The Government of Confederate Kentucky". The Civil War in Kentucky: Battle for the Bluegrass. Mason City, Iowa: Savas Publishing Company. pp. 69–98. ISBN 1-882810-47-3.
  11. ^ Cline, p. 17
  12. ^ a b Milford, p. 4
  13. ^ a b Bruccoli 2002, p. 88

Further reading[edit]

U.S. Senate
Preceded by
U.S. senator (Class 3) from Kentucky
Served alongside: John W. Stevenson
Succeeded by