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Mini Bios of People of Scots Descent
Biography of CONRAD SYME

This biography was submitted by Sandy Spradling, E-mail address: <>

History of Greenbrier County 
J. R. Cole 
Lewisburg, WV 1917 
p. 166-171


Conrad Hunt Syme, the present corporation counsel for the District of  Columbia, is a native of Lewisburg, Greenbrier county, West Virginia. He is descended from an ancestry whose intellects enriched the history and helped to shape and control for long years the sentiment and policy of this country. He is a sixth lineal descendant of Col. John Syme and Sarah Winston, his wife, who lived at Studleigh, Hanover county, Virginia. Col. John Syme, of Studleigh, came to Virginia from Scotland. He held a royal commission and was a member of the House of Burgesses in 1722. He died in 1731, leaving his widow, Sarah Winston Syme, and one son, named after his father, and who was afterward known as Col. John Syme the II. Sarah Winston was the daughter of Isaac Winston, of Yorkshire, England. Her sister, Lucy Winston, married William Cole, and was the grandmother of Dorothy Payne Todd, who married President Madison and who is familiarly known as Dolly Madison. The Winstons, as a family, were noted for their brilliant talents. Sarah Winston had the distinction of having two sons in the House of Burgesses at the same time-Col. John Syme II., the son of her first husband, and Patrick Henry, her son by a later marriage with John Henry. Col. John Syme married Mildred Meriwether, daughter of Nicholas and Mildred Meriwether, of Rocky Mills, Hanover county, Virginia. He was a member of the Virginia Assembly from 1752 to 1755, a member of the Privy Council in 1759, and a delegate to the First Virginia Convention from Hanover county in 1776. He was captured by the British Ceneral Tarlton, at the house of Dr. Walker. He was so unprepossessing in appearance that Tarlton is said to have exclaimed when he saw him, "Angels and ministers of grace, defend us. Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damned?"

Col. John Syme and Mildred Meriwether had a number of children, one of whom, and the only son, was Nicholas Syme, who marrried Jane Johnson, daughter of Col. William Johnson. Their son, Dr. William Henry Syme, was the first member of the family to live in Greenbrier county. Dr. Syme was born in Hanover county, Virginia, September 5, 1808. After receiving a thorough training in the primary educational branches he matriculated at William and Mary College, the oldest, and at the same time, the most distinguished school of the State, and graduated with high bonors. He then took up the study of law, attended the celebrated school of Chancellor Tucker, at Winchester, Va., and was admitted to the bar. He went to Lewisburg, Va. (now West Virginia), to enter the practice of his profession. Lewisburg, at that time and for many years thereafter, was one of the places at which the Court of Appeals of Virginia held its sessions. Before entering actively into the practice of law he fell in love at first sight with Anne Mays, the beautiful daughter of John Mays, of Greenbrier county. It is related that she consented to marry him upon the condition that he should abandon the practice of law and become a physician. To this condition he assented and they were married on October 4, 1832, and 
she accompanied him to Lexington, Ky., where he entered the Transylvania University, from which, in due course, he graduated, receiving the degree of Doctor of Medicine. He returned to Lewisburg, where he practiced his profession until his death, January 15, 1875. Ten children were born to them, and all were reared in Lewisburg: Jane Rebecca died in infancy; Willianna died in 1850; Richard Johnson, the eldest son, married Miss Burgess, of Winchester, Va.; Samuel Augustus married Mary Maxwell, daughter of Conrad Hanse Hunt, of Fredericksburg, Va.; William Henry died in 1861; Chapman Johnson married Miss Julia Russell, of Petersburg; John Nesmith married Christian, daughter of Conrad Hanse Hunt, of Fredericksburg, Va.; James Nesmith and Alexander Kossuth Syme never married; Sue C. Syme, another daughter, married Oliver P Sydenstricker, of Lewisburg.

Although Dr. Syme devoted himself to the practice of his profession with assiduity and great success and became the leading physician in that part of the country. Yet his training as a lawyer and the bent given to his mind by his academic studies while at college broadened him far beyond the line of his chosen profession. He was not intellectually content in the practice of medicine. He continued his classical studies during the whole of his life. He was as familiar with the works of Plato and Aristotle, and Horace and Virgil in their native tongues, as he was with Bacon and Shakespeare, Dryden and Goldsmith. He was a profound student of history, and Caesar and Tacitus, Hume and Gibbon and Macaulay were his constant intellectual companions. For some time he ed-ited The Statesman, a weekly newspaper published at Lewisburg, whose editorial columns he enriched with classical references and analogy. He was a finished orator and a convincing public speaker, and took active part in public affairs. At the beginning of the Civil war he offered his services to the Governor of Virginia, but being at that time crippled with rheumatic gout, which afterwards confined him to his bed for fifteen years, he was unable to actively participate in the conflict. He was appointed provost marshal, with the rank of captain, Confederate States of America, and performed the duties of this position during the war. He was a man loved, respected and admired by all who knew him, and when he died the citizens of Greenbrier assembled in public meeting at the court house and passed resolutions expressive of their appreciation of his character and their regret at his loss.

Samuel Augustus Maverick Syme, the second son of Dr. Wilham Henry Syme, and the father of Conrad Hunt Syme, was born in Lewisburg, W. Va., April 8, 1838. He was educated at the Lewisburg Academy under Custer and other noted teachers, and shortly before the Civil war went to Indiana to attend college. Upon the outbreak of the war he went to Richmond, Va., where he volunteered in the Richmond Blues, commanded by Capt. Jennings Wise, and was with them during the West Virginia campaign in the early days of the war. He afterwards served under Generals Floyd and Early until the close of the war, when he returned to Lewisburg. After serving some time as a civil engineer on the Chesapeake & Ohio railroad, he entered the merchandising business in Lewisburg. He was married to Mary Maxwell Hunt on December 13, 1866, and five children were born to them: Conrad Hunt Syme, Dr. William Henry Syme, Eliza Hunt and Jane Grey, all of Washington, D. C., and Mary Maxwell, who married the Rev. Henry Waddell Pratt, and who now resides at Abbeville, S. C. Samuel A. M. Syme continued in the merchandising business until about 1878, when he went to California and engaged with the California Street Railway System, which had just installed the first cable line in use in the United States. He returned from California in 1886 and accepted a position in the Government service in Washington, where he has since resided.

Mary Maxwell Syme, wife of Samuel A. M. Syme, was one of the most respected, admired and beloved women who ever lived in Greenbrier county. Her father, who was one of the most prominent men in Fredericksburg, Va., had given her the advantage of a very liberal education. She was bright and witty in conversation, gifted in repartee, and of the most charitable and benevolent nature. The poor and needy and the sick and oppressed found in her a constant and devoted friend. During the war her ardent Southern sympathies kept in constant touch with the leaders of the Confederate army in Missouri, where she then resided, and she worked for the cause of the South with unceasing devotion, and often incurred personal danger. Her whole life was one of un-selfish devotion, not only to her own family, but to many others in the community in which she lived. She died in Washington, D. C., on the fourteenth of March, 1910, where she had made her home since 1883. 

Conrad Hunt Syme was born in Lewisburg, W. Va., January 13, 1868. He attended school at the old Lewisburg Academy and at the Lewisburg graded school until the family moved to Washington, D.C., in 1883. He graduated from the Washington High School in 1887 and immediately entered for the law course at Georgetown University. In 1888 he was appointed private secretary to United States Senator Charles J. Faulkner, occupying this position until 1897. He was admitted to the bar in West Virginia in 1893 and in the District of Columbia in 1894. During the time he was private secretary to Senator Faulkner he took an active part in West Virginia politics. He was assistant secretary to the State Democratic Committee in 1892, and also to the Democratic Congressional Committee in 1896. He spoke frequently on the stump in West Virginia and elsewhere in political campaigns from 1890 to 1896. He was appointed delegate from the District of Columbia to the Atlanta Exposition in 1895 and was a delegate to the West Virginia State Convention in 1896.

In the campaign of 1912 he was active in behalf of the candidacy of Woodrow Wilson for President, and in 1916 he made a speaking tour, at the request of the Democratic National Committee, in West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware in behalf of his re-election to the Presidency.

In 1897 he entered actively into the practice of law in Washington, D. C., and secured a lucrative practice. He has been a member of the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States since 1900. In 1900 he, together with Senator Faulkner, was employed in the contest over the will of Baroness Amoss, and in 1901 he went to Europe and took testimony in this case at Rome, Luzerne, Heidelberg, Hamburg and Berlin, and afterwards visited Paris and London. In 1902 he was employed as one of the counsel for the defendants in the celebrated post office fraud cases. In 1905 he was employed to defend the will of Ellen M. Colton, widow of General Colton, of California, one of the builders of the Union Pacific railroad, and this employment carried him to California.

In 1913, at the solicitation of the Commissioners of the District of Columbia, he became Corporation Counsel of the District of Columbia and Ceneral Counsel of the Public Utilities Commission of the District of Columbia, which position he now occupies and where he has represented the District of Columbia in the most important litigation in all of the courts with much success. This position corresponds with that of the attorney general in the States and carries with it the responsibility for all legal matters pertaining to the capital of the Nation. He is a charter member of the University Club, of Washington, D. C., and a member of the National Press Club, and of the City Club, of New York.

In 1896 he was married, at Harrodsburg, Ky., to Lavinia B. Forsythe, daughter of Dr. and Mrs. M. L. Forsythe. 'Miss Forsythe, at the time of her marriage, was one of the belles of the blue grass region and her family was among the first settlers of Kentucky, her ancestors having gone there from Virginia many years before the Revolutionary war. Two sons were born to them-Leander Dunbar Syme, born on January 8, 1898, and Samuel Augustus Syme, born on February 5, 1900. The elder son, having graduated at the Central High School in Washington, D. C., received an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, on November 10, 1916, and entered this institution on June 14, 1917, as a cadet. The younger son, having attended three years at the Central High School in Washington, D. C., entered the Virginia Military Institute, at Lexington, Va., as a cadet, on September 5, 1917, both boys preparing themselves as rapidly as possible to take part in the existing war with Germany.

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