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The Pattons, Part 3: George II

The story of the Pattons continues. Click here for Part Two.

George S. Patton (1856-1927)

George was born as George William Patton in Charleston, West Virginia (then Virginia) on 30 September 1856.


He grew up in wartime Richmond. He became "very intimate" with Jeff and Joe Davis, sons of Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, whose house was located down the the block. "I was a guest at the May Pole party in the rear of this house when young Joe fell from the railing of the balcony and was killed." He remembered of his friends funeral: "The children of Richmond gave him a very fine tombstone."


His widowed mother moved to California with her four children in 1866 to live near her brother, Andrew Glassell. George was then educated in the public schools of Los Angeles.


Raised to follow in his father's footsteps, in 1868, he chose to have his middle name changed from William to Smith, his father's middle name.


When his mother married George Hugh Smith (also a relative in my family tree), George's stepfather did not try to replace his lost father. Instead, he went out of his way to keep the children's memories of their natural father alive. He polished their father's myth with the glow of personal witness and it was through him that they learned the details of his wartime exploits. It was George Smith who first put George Patton's life and death in a context of military tradition. The family had always considered its sons to have taken up arms only in times of their nation's need. Smith cast them as natural born warriors and models of military professionalism. Enthralled by these stories, George decided that, like his father, he would attend the Virginia Military Institute. However, unlike his father, he had no intention of returning to civilian life, but would seek an officer's commission and become a career soldier.


Thus, in 1873, he returned to Virginia to begin attendance at the Virginia Military Institute, taking advantage of a scholarship offered to the sons of Confederate officers who died in service.


While in Virginia, he spent time with his grandmother Peggy. Usually a well-spoken and outwardly confident young man, George had a skittish streak in him from his traumatic childhood, something that his grandmother was able to provoke to awe and trembling; a scary old battle-ax dressed in black. Shortly before her death, George and his grandmother were riding together in a buggy one Sunday after church. A dignified gentleman, a former Confederate colonel, tipped his hat to Peggy as he rode by them on his horse. "Tell me, Colonel, did you say 'amen' when the minister prayed for 'the president of the United States and all others in authority?'" she asked him abruptly. The gentleman nodded carefully, aware that she had lost two sons to the Yankees. "Yes, ma'am, I did. The war is over, after all." Peggy pursed her lips in silence and suddenly seized the buggy whip from George and lashed it across the colonel's face. "Drive on," she told her grandson sternly, handing the whip back to him. Clearly, the war was not over for her.


George graduated in 1877 and was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the class valedictorian. During his valedictory speech, he echoed his grandmother's feisty example and spoke about the auditorium in which the graduation ceremony was taking place, its walls "still scarred and blackened" from the torches of the Yankee invaders, "continually reminding the sons of the South that their fathers once dared to strike for Liberty." He also paid homage to the ceremony's guest of honor, Virginia Governor James Kemper, who had been Tazewell Patton's brigade commander at Gettysburg.


He remained at the school for a year as an instructor of French before returning to California to study law at Glassell & Smith, his uncle and step-father's practice.


He had abandoned his military ambition out of family obligation. His mother had had two more children with her new husband, bringing the total number of children at home to five. She was also caring for her brother Willie, a Confederate naval hero, who was receiving full-time treatment for tuberculosis in a California sanitorium. George felt compelled to go and help them.


He was admitted to the bar in 1880 and practiced in Los Angeles. His family's law firm was then renamed to Glassell, Smith and Patton.


His mother died of breast cancer on 16 November 1883 at the age of forty-eight. Her son George was with her at her bedside during her final days. She had become a far different person than the pampered plantation belle she had once been. In addition to the hardships of the Civil War and its aftermath, she had lost her youngest son with George Smith to lockjaw and her brother Willie finally succumbed to tuberculosis in 1879.


In 1884, George married Ruth Wilson, daughter of Benjamin Davis Wilson, a prominent landowner, vintner, businessman, and politician, and Margaret (Hereford) Wilson. They had two children, George S. Patton and Anne Wilson "Nita" Patton.


According to some sources, he served as the first City Attorney of Pasadena, but the city's records for its officeholders do not include his name.


In 1882, George was elected to a seat on the Los Angeles board of education and he served as the board's secretary. He also became active in the California National Guard and was appointed inspector of the 1st Brigade with the rank of major.


In January 1887, he became the District Attorney for Los Angeles County, serving until he resigned in April 1887 because of ill health.


The Patton family later moved to Lake Vineyard, a large landholding in San Gabriel, CA where they grew oranges, operated a winery, and raised other crops. The 2,000 acre estate had been established by his father-in-law, Benjamin Wilson.


In 1894, George was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives for California's 6th District but lost to Republican James McLaclan. In 1896, he was a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 6th District. After he and another candidate were tied for several ballots, both withdrew in favor of a compromise choice, Harry W. Patton (no relation).


George was a longtime friend and neighbor of businessman Henry E. Huntington. Beginning in 1902, George worked as an executive for Huntington's real estate development company, which was responsible for construction and settlement in much of the San Gabriel Valley, and extended throughout southern California. In 1913 the city of San Marino was incorporated separately from San Gabriel, and George was elected its first mayor. He served from April 1913 to April 1922, and again from October 1922 to August 1924.


In 1916, he was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator. He ran as a conservative opposed to women's suffrage and other reforms, and lost the general election on 7 November 1916 to Governor Hiram Johnson, a progressive Republican.


On 10 June 1927, George died at his Lake Vineyard home in San Marino.



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