||This article includes a list of references, but its sources remain unclear because it has insufficient inline citations. (May 2010)|
September 9, 1721|
Caroline County, Colony of Virginia, British America
|Died||October 23, 1803
Edmundsbury, Caroline County, Virginia, United States
|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 Virginia planter, politician, lawyer and judge. He served in the Virginia legislature before and during the American Revolutionary War, rising to the position of Speaker. Pendleton attended the First Continental Congress as one of Virginia's delegates alongside George Washington and Patrick Henry, and led the conventions both wherein Virginia declared independence (1776) and adopted the U.S. Constitution (1788). Unlike his sometime political rival Henry, Pendleton was a moderate who initially hoped for reconciliation, rather than revolt. With Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, Pendleton revised Virginia's legal code after the break with Britain. To contemporaries, Pendleton may have distinguished himself most as a judge, particularly in the appellate roles in which he spent his final 25 years, including leadership of what is now known as the 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."
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. 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 apprentice to Benjamin Robinson, Clerk of the Caroline County Court, and soon began reading lawbooks and learning legal procedures. 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.
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. 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.
Since Pendleton had no direct descendants, his nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews became his heirs. His oldest brother, James Pendleton, 19 years his senior, died in 1762 and left a large estate in Culpeper for Edmund to administer for his wife and four children. Many nephews were named after him including Edmund Pendleton Jr., his nephew and Edmund Pendleton and Edmund Pendleton Gaines his grandnephews. Another relative, James Madison would become U.S. President.
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. 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. 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.
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."
Pendleton served as President of the Virginia Committee of Safety from August 16, 1775 to July 5, 1776 (effectively serving as governor of the colony) and as President of the Virginia Convention which authorized Virginia's delegates to propose a resolution to move for the break from Britain and creation of the Declaration of Independence. The Convention debated the Virginia Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason and which served as a model for the Declaration of Independence. Pendleton proposed the modification in the statement of universal rights in Virginia's declaration to exclude slaves, thus winning support of slave owners.
Fellow delegates elected Pendleton the first Speaker of Virginia's new House of Delegates although a fall from a horse in March 1777 dislocated his hip and caused him to miss the first session. He used crutches the rest of his life. Pendleton, along with Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, revised Virginia's law code. He became Judge of the High Court of Chancery in 1777. When Virginia created a Supreme Court of Appeals in 1778, Pendleton was appointed its first president, and served until his death. In 1788 delegates unanimously selected Pendleton president of the Virginia Ratifying Convention. When George Wythe took the chair, Pendleton addressing colleagues thus: "...the people by us are peaceably assembled, to contemplate in the calm lights of mild philosophy, what Government is best calculated to promote their happiness, and secure their liberty. This I am sure we shall effect, if we do not lose sight of them by too much attachment to pictures of beauty, or horror, in our researches into antiquity, our travels for examples into remote regions..."
Call for Declaration of Independence 
Resolutions of the Virginia Convention Calling upon Congress for a Declaration of Independence
"Wednesday May 15, 1776 Present 112 Members
For as much as all the endeavors of the United Colonies, by the most decent representations and petitions to the king and parliament of Great Britain to restore peace and security to America under the British government and a re-union with that people upon just and liberal terms instead of a redress of grievances, have produced from an imperious and vindictive administration increased insult oppression and a vigorous attempt to effect our total destruction. By a late act, all these colonies are declared to be in rebellion, and out of the protection of the British crown our properties subjected to confiscation, our people, when captivated, compelled to join in the murder and plunder of their relations and countrymen, and all former rapine and oppression of Americans declared legal and just. Fleets and armies are raised, and the aid of foreign troops engaged to assist these destructive purposes: The king’s representatives in the colony hath not only withheld all the powers of government from operating for our safety, but, having retired on board an armed ship, is carrying on a piratical and savage war against us tempting our slaves by every artifice to resort to him, and training and employing them against their masters. In this state of extreme danger, we have no alternative left but an abject submission to the will of those over-bearing tyrants, or a total separation from the crown and government of Great Britain, uniting and exerting the strength of all America for defense, and forming alliances with foreign powers for commerce and aid in war: Wherefore, appealing to the SEARCHER OF HEARTS for the sincerity of former declarations, expressing our desire to preserve a connection with that nation, and that we are driven from that inclination by their wicked councils, and the eternal laws of self-preservation,
Resolved unanimously, that the delegates appointed to represent this colony in General Congress be instructed to propose to that respectable body to declare the United Colonies free and independent states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain; and that they give the assent of this colony to such declaration, and to whatever measures may be thought proper and necessary by the Congress for forming foreign alliances and a confederation of the colonies, at such time, and in the manner, as to them shall seem best: Provided, that the power of forming government for, and the regulations of the internal concerns of each colony, be left to the respective colonial legislatures.
Resolved unanimously, that a committee be appointed to prepare a Declaration of Rights, and such a plan of government as will be most likely to maintain peace and order in this colony, and secure substantial and equal liberty to the people.
Edmund Pendleton, President."
Minutes from Congress, October 1803 
Mourning For Edmund Pendleton
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.
On this occasion he begged leave to offer to the house the following resolution:
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.
The resolution was immediately taken up and agreed to - Ayes 77, Nayes 0
Thomas Jefferson said of Pendleton: "Taken in all he was the ablest man in debate I ever met".
- JOURNAL OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES, gales and Seaton, printers, 1826, p. 427
- Mays, Edmund Pendleton (Harvard University Press, 1952) vol. 1, p. 6
- Mays, vol 1, pp. 11-17.
- Mays, vol. 1, pp. 21-22
- Mays, vol. 1, pp. 24-39.
- Mays, Vol. 1, pp. 39-40.
- Edmund Pendleton, Colonial Williamsburg, 2011
- We Hold These Truths . . . And Other Words That Made America, Paul Aron, Colonial Willamsburg and Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, 2008
- Speech at the Virginia Ratifying Convention, Edmund Pendleton, June 12, 1788
- 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).
- 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. googlebooks.com 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, 1883.googlebooks.com Accessed October 20, 2007
- Understanding the American Revolution: issues and actors, Jack P. Greene, University of Virginia Press, 1995
- The Life and Times of Edmund Pendleton, Robert Leroy Hilldrup
- The Letters and Papers of Edmund Pendleton, David Mays
Further reading 
- 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