Theodore Sedgwick

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For his grandson the law writer, see Theodore Sedgwick (writer).
Theodore Sedgwick
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart c1808 (Museum Fine Arts Boston)
5th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
December 2, 1799 – March 4, 1801
President John Adams
Preceded by Jonathan Dayton
Succeeded by Nathaniel Macon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1795 – June 1796
Preceded by Samuel Holten
Succeeded by Thomson J. Skinner
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1799 – March 3, 1801
Preceded by Thomson J. Skinner
Succeeded by John Bacon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1793 – March 3, 1795
Preceded by Dwight Foster
Succeeded by Artemas Ward
In office
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1793
Preceded by District created
Succeeded by Henry Dearborn
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
June 11, 1796 – March 4, 1799
Preceded by Caleb Strong
Succeeded by Samuel Dexter
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
June 27, 1798 – December 5, 1798
President John Adams
Preceded by Jacob Read
Succeeded by John Laurance
Personal details
Born (1746-05-09)May 9, 1746
West Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Died January 24, 1813(1813-01-24) (aged 66)
Boston, Massachusetts
Nationality American, U.S.
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Pamela Dwight (m. 1774–1807)
Penelope Russell (m. 1808–13)
Children 10
Alma mater Yale College
Occupation Attorney, politician and jurist
Profession Law
Religion Unitarianism
Military service
Service/branch Continental Army
Rank Major
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

Theodore Sedgwick (May 9, 1746 – January 24, 1813) was an American attorney, politician and jurist, who served in elected state government and as a Delegate to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Representative, and a United States Senator from Massachusetts. He served as the fifth Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1802 and served there the rest of his life.

Early life and education[edit]

His father was Benjaman Sedgwick (1716-1755). His paternal immigrant ancestor Major General Robert Sedgwick arrived in 1636 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, as part of the Great Migration.[1]

The younger Sedgwick attended Yale College, where he studied theology and law. He did not graduate, but went on to study law ("read law") under the attorney Mark Hopkins of Great Barrington (He was the grandfather of the Mark Hopkins who later became president of Williams College.)

Early career[edit]

Sedgwick was admitted to the bar in 1766 and commenced practice in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He moved to Sheffield. During the American Revolutionary War, he served in the Continental Army as a major, and took part in the expedition to Canada and the Battle of White Plains in 1776.[2]

Freedom suit[edit]

As a relatively young lawyer, Sedgwick and Tapping Reeve pled the case of Brom and Bett vs. Ashley (1781), an early "freedom suit", in county court for the slaves Elizabeth Freeman (known as Bett) and Brom. Bett was a black slave who had fled from her master, Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, because of cruel treatment by his wife. Brom joined her in suing for freedom from the Ashleys. The attorneys challenged their enslavement under the new state constitution of 1780, which held that "all men are born free and equal." The jury agreed and ruled that Bett and Brom were free. The decision was upheld on appeal by the state Supreme Court.

Bett marked her freedom by taking the name of Elizabeth Freeman, and she chose to work for wages at the Sedgwick household, where she helped rear their several children. She worked there for much of the rest of her life, buying a separate house for her and her daughter after the Sedgwick children were grown. The Sedgwicks had Freeman buried in their family plot. The family marked Freeman's grave with an inscribed monument, and it is beside that of their daughter Catharine Maria Sedgwick.[3][4]

Political career[edit]

A Federalist, Sedgwick began his political career in 1780 as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was elected as representative to the state house, and then as state senator. He was a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780.[5]

In 1789 Sedgwick was elected as Representative to Congress from Massachusetts' first congressional district, and over time also represented the Massachusetts' second district, serving until 1796. That year he was elected to the United States Senate, and served until 1799. In 1799 he was re-elected as a Representative, this time from the fourth district, and was elected the fifth Speaker of the House, serving until March 1801.

In 1802, Sedgwick was appointed a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. He held this position until his death.

Marriages and family[edit]

After his first wife died, Sedgwick married a second time on April 17, 1774 to Pamela Dwight of the New England Dwight family. She was born June 9, 1752 and died September 20, 1807, and was the daughter of Brigadier General Joseph Dwight of Great Barrington and his second wife, the widow Abigail Williams Sargent. Abigail was the daughter of Colonel Ephraim Williams, and half-sister of Ephraim Williams, Jr. the founder of Williams College.[1]

The Sedgwicks had ten children, although three died within a year of birth, reflecting the high infant mortality of the time. They were:[1][6]

  1. Elizabeth Mason Sedgwick, born April 30, 1775, married Thaddeus Pomeroy, and died October 15, 1827.
  2. A child died at birth on March 27, 1777.
  3. Frances Pamela Sedgwick, born May 6, 1778, married Ebenezer Watson and died June 20, 1842.
  4. Theodore Sedgwick II, born December 9, 1780, became a lawyer, and died 1839. He married Susan Anne Livingston (1788–1867). His wife, Susan Ridley, was the author, among other works, of "The Morals of Pleasure" (1829); "The Young Emigrants" and "The Children's Week" (1830); "Allen Pres-cott" (1835); "Alida" (1844); and "Walter Thornley" (1859). Their son Theodore Sedgwick (1811–1859) was a lawyer and author.
  5. Catherine Sedgwick, born July 11, 1782 and died March 4, 1783.
  6. Henry Dwight Sedgwick, born April 18, 1784 and died March 1, 1785.
  7. Henry Dwight Sedgwick, born September 22, 1785, married Jane Minot (1795–1859) and died December 23, 1831. Their grandson was also a lawyer, Henry Dwight Sedgwick III (1861–1957).
  8. Catharine Maria Sedgwick, born December 28, 1789, became one of the first noted female writers in the United States,[3] and died July 31, 1867.
  9. Charles Sedgwick, born December 15, 1791, became clerk of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, married Elizabeth Buckminster Dwight (1801–1864), and died August 3, 1856. Their grandson was anatomist Charles Sedgwick Minot (1852–1914).

After Pamela's death, Sedgwick married his third wife Penelope Russell on November 7, 1808. The two remained married until Sedgwick's death in 1813.[7]


While on his death bed, Sedgwick converted to Unitarianism with his daughter Catharine Maria and William Ellery Channing in attendance.[8] On January 24, 1813, Sedgwick died in Boston, Massachusetts at the age of 66. He was buried in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His grave is at the center of the "Sedgwick Pie".[4]

Modern-day relatives[edit]

Theodore Sedgwick is the fourth great-grandfather of actress Kyra Sedgwick.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Benjamin Woodbridge Dwight (1874). The history of the descendants of John Dwight, of Dedham, Mass 2. J. F. Trow & son, printers and bookbinders. pp. 735–739. 
  2. ^ James M. Banner, Jr. "Sedgwick, Theodore"; American National Biography Online, February 2000.
  3. ^ a b New Haven Colony Historical Society
  4. ^ a b "Sedgwick Pie - Listing of Graves, Stockbridge, Massachusetts Cemetery", Sedgwick Website
  5. ^ "Charter of Incorporation of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "Sedgwick Genealogy North America: Theodore Sedgwick (1746 - 1813)". Retrieved 21 December 2012. 
  7. ^ Kenslea, Timothy (2006). The Sedgwicks in Love: Courtship, Engagement, And Marriage in the Early Republic. University Press of New England (UPNE). p. 6. ISBN 1-584-65494-5. 
  8. ^ Damon-Bach, Lucinda L. ; Clements, Victoria, ed. (2003). Catharine Maria Sedgwick: Critical Perspectives. UPNE. p. XXXIV. ISBN 1-555-53548-8. 
  9. ^ "Sedgwick Genealogy North America: Kyra Sedgwick 1965". Retrieved 21 December 2012. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
New seat Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1793
Succeeded by
Henry Dearborn, George Thatcher, Peleg Wadsworth (General ticket)
(Maine District)
Preceded by
Benjamin Goodhue
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 2nd congressional district

March 4, 1793 – March 4, 1795
alongside: Dwight Foster, William Lyman, Artemas Ward on a General ticket
Succeeded by
William Lyman
Preceded by
Fisher Ames, Samuel Dexter, Benjamin Goodhue, Samuel Holten (General Ticket)
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1795 – June 1796
Succeeded by
Thomson J. Skinner
United States Senate
Preceded by
Caleb Strong
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
June 11, 1796 – March 4, 1799
Served alongside: Benjamin Goodhue
Succeeded by
Samuel Dexter
Preceded by
Jacob Read
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
June 27, 1798 – December 5, 1798
Succeeded by
John Laurance
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Thomson J. Skinner
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1799 – March 4, 1801
Succeeded by
John Bacon
Preceded by
Jonathan Dayton
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
December 2, 1799 – March 4, 1801
Succeeded by
Nathaniel Macon
Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Dawes
Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Succeeded by
Charles Jackson