Henry Mason Mathews was born in Frankford, Greenbrier County. He studied at the Lewisburg Academy, University of Virginia, and a law school in Lexington, Virginia. Following school, he maintained a law practice in Lewisburg and taught at Allegheny College in Blue Sulphur Springs. During the Civil War, Mathews served as a major in the Confederate Army. He was elected to the legislature in 1865, but was not allowed to serve due to the law prohibiting former Confederates from holding public office. Mathews was a member of the 1872 constitutional convention and served as attorney general under Governor John J. Jacob.
As governor, Mathews dealt with economic problems associated with the national depression. In July 1877, four months into his term, Mathews sent the state militia to Martinsburg, Berkeley County, where Baltimore and Ohio Railroad workers had been stopping trains to protest wage cuts. When many militia members sympathized with the strikers, President Rutherford B. Hayes dispatched federal troops to break the first national labor strike. In 1880, Mathews once again sent militia to Hawks Nest, Fayette County, to stop the state's first major coal strike. He was a proponent of increased immigration, improved transportation, expansion of the coal and oil industries, and funding to establish a state geological survey.
After his term as governor, Mathews returned to Lewisburg, where he died in 1884.
Gubernatorial Papers Finding Aid (1877-1881)
West Virginia's Governors
West Virginia History Center