James Barbour (June 10, 1775 – June 7, 1842) was an American lawyer, a member and speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, the 18th Governor of Virginia, the first Governor to reside in the current Virginia Governor's Mansion, a U.S. Senator from 1814–1825, and the United States Secretary of War from 1825-1828. Barbour was a renowned statesman and orator. His abilities to persuade by speech were noted by several of his peers, including John Quincy Adams. Barboursville, Virginia located in Orange County was named after James Barbour. The ruin of Barbour's mansion, Barboursville, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and can be found on the grounds of Barboursville Vineyards in the Madison-Barbour Rural Historic District in Barboursville, Virginia. The mansion was designed by James Barbour's friend, Thomas Jefferson. Barbour County, Alabama is named in his honor. Barbour county in West Virginia, as well as Barbourville, Kentucky and Barboursville, West Virginia are all named in honor of James Barbour. He was the brother of Philip Pendleton Barbour, as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court as well as the first cousin of John S. Barbour and first cousin, once removed of John S. Barbour, Jr..
James Barbour was born in Barboursville, Virginia in Orange County on June 10, 1775. Barbour was the son of Thomas Barbour, who held a seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and Mary Pendleton Thomas, both of Orange County, Virginia. His family was one of the first to settle in Orange County, which proved to be lucrative for the family. By the time of James’s birth, the Barbour family owned over 2,000 acres (8 km²) and held several slaves. Much of that wealth, however, dissipated before James could acquire a formal education. James was educated, in part, at Gordonsville, Virginia by James Waddell. He served as deputy sheriff of Orange County, beginning in 1792. Shortly thereafter, in 1794, he was admitted to the Virginia Bar. On October 29, 1792, Barbour married Lucy Johnson, who was the daughter of Benjamin Johnson who served in the House of Burgesses. With wedding gifts from his father, James was able to slowly acquire his own personal wealth. By 1798, he owned several slaves and was prepared to begin his own plantation.
Barbour was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1796. He was the youngest member of the House. During his tenure, Barbour was known for his eloquent speech. He served on many committees in the House and even as chairman on several committees, including the Committee of Privileges and Elections and the Finance Committee. He held the role of Speaker of the House of Delegates – a seat he held for many terms. During these years, Barbour held strong to his Virginian Republican beliefs. He vigorously opposed the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and used his known skills in rhetoric to support the Virginia Resolutions. Barbour believed the Acts and their supporters to be a threat to the United States, stating “to make an expected attack from abroad a pretext for attacking the principles of liberty at home has drawn aside the curtain and clearly illuminated for all who are willing to see.” Holding strong to the ideals on which the U.S. was formed, Barbour refused to support any act he believed to give the Executive unchecked powers. Among his acts in the House of Delegates, Barbour believed his greatest to be the Act which provided for the Literary Fund of Virginia. The Act, passed on February 2, 1810, provided funding for public education in each county in the Commonwealth. Barbour strongly believed society would progress only through education. Barbour later requested that the only inscription on his tombstone be a reference to this Act. Like many of his time, Barbour was a figure who to the modern mind appears conflicted, if not hypocritical. While believing society could progress through education, he also believed intellectual abilities were connected with landownership.