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Edmund Pendleton

Edmund Pendleton
1st Chief Justice of Virginia
In office
December 24, 1788 – October 23, 1803
Succeeded by Peter Lyons
Personal details
Born (1721-09-09)September 9, 1721
Caroline County, Colony of Virginia, British America
Died October 23, 1803(1803-10-23) (aged 82)
Edmundsbury, Caroline County, Virginia, United States
Nationality American
Political party United States Federalist Party (informally)
Spouse(s) 1st, Elizabeth Roy, 2nd, Sarah Pollard
Occupation Lawyer, Judge, Delegate to First Continental Congress
Religion Church of England/Episcopal

Edmund Pendleton (September 9, 1721 – October 23, 1803) was a Supreme Court of Virginia. On his death, Congress donned black armbands and passed a resolution expressing "their regret that another star from the splendid constellation of virtue and talents which guided the people of the United States in their struggle for independence."[1]


  • Biography 1
    • Early years 1.1
    • Career 1.2
    • Family 1.3
  • Legacy 2
    • Minutes from Congress, October 1803 2.1
    • Quotes 2.2
  • References 3
  • Further reading 4
  • External links 5


Early years

Pendleton was born in Caroline County to Mary Bishop Taylor, whose young husband (and father of her six other children), Henry Pendleton, had died four months earlier.[2] Pendleton's maternal grandfather, James Taylor, was a large landowner in nearby Rappahannock County, and may have helped raise the children until the widow remarried Edward Watkins two years later. When Edmund was 14 years old, he became apprenticed to Benjamin Robinson, Clerk of the Caroline County Court, which is where he learned about political issues and soon began reading law books and learning legal procedures.[3] In 1737, Pendleton was made clerk of the vestry of St. Mary’s Parish in Caroline, which not only secured him a steady (though small) income, but also began his involvement with practical church-related matters which would continue throughout his life.


Washington, Henry & Pendleton going to the First Congress, lithograph, Henry Bryan Hall

Edmund Pendleton received a license to practice law in April 1741. His success before nearby county courts, including as the prosecuting attorney for Essex County allowed Pendleton to become a member of the General Court bar in October 1745.[4] When attorneys were forbidden to practice before both courts, Pendleton chose the General Court, and wrapped up his lower court practice—which allowed him to accept appointment as a Justice of the Peace for Caroline County in 1751.[5] Pendleton also trained many young lawyers, including his nephews John Penn (later one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence) and John Taylor of Caroline (who became a U.S. Senator).

From 1752-1776 Pendleton represented Caroline County in the House of Burgesses. In May 1766, his mentor, the powerful speaker John Robinson died, and Pendleton was appointed one of the executors, thus becoming involved in the John Robinson Estate Scandal throughout the rest of his legal career.

Sent to Virginia Delegation to the Continental Congress and Richard Henry Lee to move for Independence Lee Resolution June 7, 1776.

Pendleton was on the Virginia Committee of Correspondence in 1773 and was a delegate to Continental Congress from Virginia in 1774. A moderate among the revolutionaries, in a resolution at the Second Congress, he said: "The ground and foundation of the present unhappy dispute between the British Ministry and Parliament and America, is a Right claimed by the former to tax the Subjects of the latter without their consent, and not an inclination on our part to set up for independency, which we utterly disavow and wish to restore to a Constitutional Connection upon the most solid and reasonable basis."[6]

Pendleton served as President of the Virginia

  • Pendleton's Congressional Biography

External links

  • David J. Mays Edmund Pendleton, 1721-1803: A Biography; 1952, Harvard University Press; 1984 reprint: Library of Virginia, ISBN 0-88490-119-X; (paperback: ISBN 0-88490-120-3).
  • David J. Mays (editor); The Letters and Papers of Edmund Pendleton (2 volumes);1967, Charlottesville, Virginia, The University Press of Virginia.
  • The Life and Times of Edmund Pendleton, Robert Leroy Hilldrup, 1939, University of North Carolina Press

Further reading

  • Autobiography, Edmund Pendleton, completed on July 20, 1793, it was first published in the Richmond Enquirer, April 11, 1828
  • Leftwich, George J. Colonel George Strother Gaines and Other Pioneers in Mississippi Territory. Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, v. 1. Jackson, Miss: Mississippi Historical Society, 1916. Accessed October 20, 2007
  • Page, Richard Channing Moore. Genealogy of the Page Family in Virginia. Also a Condensed Account of the Nelson, Walker, Pendleton and Randolph Families, with References to the Byrd, Carter, Cary, Duke, Gilmer, Harrison, Rives, Thornton, Wellford, Washington, and Other Distinguished Families in Virginia. New York: Jenkins & Thomas, printers, Accessed October 20, 2007
  • Understanding the American Revolution: issues and actors, Jack P. Greene, University of Virginia Press, 1995
  1. ^ JOURNAL OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES, Gales and Seaton, printers, 1826, p. 427
  2. ^ Mays, Edmund Pendleton (Harvard University Press, 1952) vol. 1, p. 6
  3. ^ Mays, vol 1, pp. 11-17.
  4. ^ Mays, vol. 1, pp. 24-39.
  5. ^ Mays, Vol. 1, pp. 39-40.
  6. ^ Edmund Pendleton, Colonial Williamsburg, 2011
  7. ^ We Hold These Truths . . . And Other Words That Made America, Paul Aron, Colonial Willamsburg and Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008
  8. ^ Speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Edmund Pendleton, June 12, 1788
  9. ^ Mays, vol. 1, pp. 21-22
  10. ^
  11. ^ photo needed
  12. ^ The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 1. Kentucky State Historical Society. 1903. p. 36. 
  13. ^ David J. Mays;"Edmund Pendleton, 1721-1803: A Biography"; 1952, Harvard University Press; 1984 reprint: Library of Virginia, ISBN 0-88490-119-X; (paperback: ISBN 0-88490-120-3).


Thomas Jefferson said of Pendleton: "Taken in all he was the ablest man in debate I ever met".[13]


The resolution was immediately taken up and agreed to - Ayes 77, Nayes 0

Resolved, That this House, impressed with a lively sense of the important services rendered to his country by Edmund Pendleton, deceased, will wear a badge of mourning for thirty days, as an emblem of their veneration for his illustrious character, and of their regret that another star is fallen from the splendid constellation of virtue and talents which guided the people of the United States in their struggle for independence.

On this occasion he begged leave to offer to the house the following resolution:

Mr. Eustis rose and observed that within a few days past the House were called upon to take notice of an event which perhaps would be more interesting to posterity than to the present generation; the death of one of those illustrious patriots who, by a life devoted to his country, had bequeathed a name and an example to posterity which he would not attempt to describe. He had information that another of these sages, Edmund Pendleton, of Virginia, had paid the last tribute to nature.

Mourning For Edmund Pendleton

Minutes from Congress, October 1803

Pendleton County, West Virginia (formed 1788) and Pendleton County, Kentucky[12] (formed 1798) were both named in Pendleton's honor.

Judge Pendleton, after lying in state in Richmond, was buried at his home, Edmundsbury, in Caroline County. Due to the ravages of time upon the estate's buildings, his body was removed circa 1907 to Bruton Parish Church in what became Colonial Williamsburg. A memorial to the distinguished legislator and jurist still exists near the former estate.[11]

Pendleton marker off Richmond Highway


Many relatives were named after the judge, including grandnephews Edmund Pendleton (1776-1820) (Edmund Jr.'s son), Edmund Pendleton (1790-1823) (son of Nathaniel Pendleton's son Philip), Edmund Pendleton (1786-1838)(son of Henry Pendleton) and General Philip Pendleton Barbour(1783-1841) served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court after serving as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (his brother James Barbour was Virginia's 18th Governor as well as later a United States Senator and Secretary of War). Edmund Henry Pendleton (1843-1910) served in the 4th New York artillery as a Union staff officer in the Civil War; Rev. and Brig. General William Nelson Pendleton (1809-1883) commanded the Rockbridge Artillery and Confederate artillery units in that war, and his son Sandie Pendleton (1840-1864) became a distinguished staff officer before dying in the Valley Campaigns of 1864.[10]

Since Pendleton had no direct descendants, his nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews became his heirs. Pendleton did not grant freedom to any slaves in his will, unlike

Edmund Pendleton married twice. He married Betty Roy on January 21, 1741, but she died in childbirth on November 17, 1742, and their infant son died shortly thereafter.[9] On January 20, 1745, Pendleton married Sarah Pollard, daughter of Joseph Pollard and Priscilla Hoomes. Edmund and Sarah had no children, but in his extensive correspondence with contemporaries, he often referred to their marriage as happy.


Pendleton marker inside Bruton Parish Chapel

Fellow delegates elected Pendleton the first Speaker of Virginia's new [8]


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