Governor and State Supreme Court Justice Peter Turney was born in Jasper, Marion County, in 1827, the son of Hopkins and Teresa Francis Turney. He attended local schools in Franklin County and a private school in Nashville and read law, first in his father’s office and later under W. E. Vanable. Admitted to the bar in 1848, he practiced in Winchester in partnership first with his father, and, after 1857, with his brother. When voters defeated the secession measure in February 1861, Turney led the people of Franklin County in adopting a proposal to withdraw the county from Tennessee and attach it to Alabama. As colonel of a regiment dubbed “Turney’s First Tennessee,” he marched to Virginia, served under General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and was wounded three times at Fredericksburg in 1862. Soon after his recovery, Turney commanded the eastern district of Florida, surrendering there in May 1865.
At the end of the war, Turney returned to his Winchester practice. Elected to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1870, he held office until 1886, when he was elected chief justice, serving until 1893. Alarmed by the agrarian movement, Bourbon Democrats nominated Turney for governor in 1892 on the slogan “Put none but Democrats on guard.” Turney defeated Republican George M. Winstead and the independent candidacy of Governor John P. Buchanan.
As governor he signed legislation that ended the convict leasing system and provided lands for new prisons. Nominated for a second term in 1894, Turney narrowly lost to his Republican opponent, H. Clay Evans. Charging fraud, Turney contested the outcome and demanded a recount. The Democratic state legislature, citing voting irregularities, declared Turney the winner by over two thousand votes. The disputed result clouded his second term, and he never again sought public office.
In 1851 Turney married Cassandra Garner, who died in 1857, leaving three children. The following year, he married Hannah F. Graham, by whom he had nine children. He died in Winchester in 1903 and was buried in Winchester Cemetery.
J. Eugene Lewis, “The Tennessee Gubernatorial Campaign and Election of 1894,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 13 (1954); 99-126, 224-43, 301-28; Samuel C. Williams, Phases of the History of the Supreme Court of Tennessee (1944)