Flem D. Sampson (1875-1967)

Historical marker #1884 in Knox County commemorates the life of Kentucky Governor Flem D. Sampson.

Born on January 25, 1875, Sampson was born in London, Kentucky. Sampson earned his early education from local schools before attending Union College in Knox County and Valparaiso University in Indiana for his law degree. In 1894, he opened a practice in Barbourville. Sampson became the city attorney and president of the Barbourville’s First National Bank. In his personal life, he married Susie Steele and they had three children.

Along with law, Sampson got involved with politics around the turn of the century. In 1906, he was elected county judge for Knox County. In 1911 and 1916, Sampson won the election for circuit judge of the 34th Judicial District. His reputation as a strict law enforcer landed him in the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1916 and again in 1924. He was Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals from 1923 to 1924. These judicial positions helped propel his gubernatorial campaign. In 1927, Sampson ran on the Republican ticket with James Breathitt, Jr., his running mate for lieutenant governor. Sampson soundly won the race against the Democratic Governor J. C. W. Beckham. Democrats lost many of their votes when they nominated Beckham since he was against the racing and alcohol industries. Democrats who supported those industries left their party and instead voted for Sampson.

While in office, Republican Governor Sampson struggle to get much accomplished due to the heavily Democratic General Assembly. They shut down most of Sampson’s ideas and overruled his vetoes. In addition, he was indicted by a grand jury for receiving gifts from a textbook company, but the issue was eventually dismissed. In 1929, these struggles, combined with the Great Depression, made his administration look even worse. In 1931, he finished his term and returned to Knox County to resume his law practice.

Despite his struggles as governor, Sampson did not quit politics. He was re-elected as circuit court judge for Knox County. In 1940, he again ran for a seat on the Kentucky Court of Appeals but was defeated. He also served on the Citizens’ Advisory Highway Committee, and, in 1959, Sampson received the Governor’s Medallion for distinguished public service. On May 25, 1967, he died in Pewee Valley, but the family buried him in the Barbourville Cemetery.