George Mathews (judge)

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George Mathews
Presiding Judge of the Louisiana Supreme Court
In office
Preceded byNew position
Succeeded byHenry Carlton
Justice of the Superior Court of the Territory of Orleans
In office
Preceded byEphraim Kirby
Succeeded byCourt abolished
Justice of the Superior Court of the Territory of Mississippi
In office
Preceded byNew position
Succeeded byCourt abolished
Personal details
BornSeptember 30, 1774
Augusta County, Virginia
DiedNovember 14, 1836
St. Francisville, Louisiana
Resting placeGrace Episcopal Church
Spouse(s)Harriet Flowers
RelationsGeorge Mathews, father;
Mathews family (Virginia)
ResidenceButler Greenwood Plantation
Alma materLiberty Hall Academy Washington and Lee University

George Mathews Jr. (September 30, 1774 – November 14, 1836), was a Judge of the Superior Courts of the Territory of Mississippi and the Territory of Orleans, and Presiding Judge of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1813 until his death in 1836. His ruling in Marie Louise v. Marot was cited as precedent by dissenting U.S. Supreme Court Justice John McLean in the 1856 landmark Dred Scott v. Sandford case.

Early life[edit]

Mathews was born in Augusta County, Virginia, on September 30, 1774, the son of a planter and Revolutionary War officer, George Mathews and his wife, Polly. The elder Mathews would later serve twice as Governor of Georgia. In 1785, the elder Mathews moved himself and his whole family to Wilkes County, Georgia, to land that today is in Oglethorpe County.

Mathews returned to Virginia for his education at Liberty Hall Academy (which later became Washington and Lee University). He originally set out to become a physician but was persuaded by his father to study law under his brother, John Mathews, in Augusta, Georgia.[1] He married Harriet Flowers in 1809 and they resided near St. Francisville, Louisiana, at her family's Butler Greenwood Plantation.[2]

George and Harriett Mathews raised indigo, cotton, sugar cane, and corn on the plantation, shipping the crops from their own dock on Bayou Sara and extending their land holdings to include a sugar plantation in Lafourche Parish that, according to Lewis Gray's figures, placed them among the top 9% of sugar planters in the state in the 1850s.[3]

Career on the bench[edit]

In 1804 Mathews was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to be judge of the Superior Court of the newly created Territory of Mississippi. He served for two years on that court before being appointed judge of the Superior Court for the Territory of Orleans in 1806.

When Louisiana became a state in 1813, the territorial courts were replaced by a new Supreme Court. Mathews was appointed by Governor William C.C. Claiborne as judge of that new high court on February 23, 1813. He served alongside Judges Dominic Augustin Hall, Pierre Derbigny and Francois Xavier Martin.[1] He reputedly learned both French and Spanish as much of the law of the State of Louisiana was rooted in the traditions of the land's previous colonial overlords and many lawyers spoke one of the two languages but not English.[1]

US Supreme Court Justice John McLean, who relied on Mathews' precedent for his dissent from the Court ruling in Dred Scott v. Sandford

Dred Scott v. Sandford precedent[edit]

In the early 1830s, a Louisiana family went to France with their young slave girl, Josephine Louise. When the family returned home, the slave girl's mother sued to obtain a declaration of immediate emancipation as a result of the girl being transported to a country that did not recognize the institution of slavery. The 1835 case, Marie Louise v. Marot (1836) was heard by the Louisiana state district court and appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Court held that a slave who is taken to a territory prohibitive of slavery cannot be again reduced to slavery on returning to a territory allowing of slavery. Mathews, speaking for the court, stated that "[b]eing free for one was not in the power of her former owner to reduce her again to slavery."[4]

21 years later, his precedent was relied upon by US Supreme Court Justice John McLean, who dissented from the court's Dred Scott ruling that a slave was a piece of property that could by transported by his owner from a Southern state into a territory that forbade slavery without losing his slave status.[4] Six of 8 justices did not abide by the precedent in what has been considered the worst decision ever made by the Supreme Court.[5]

Legacy and honors[edit]

Mathews died in St. Francisville on November 14, 1836 and was buried at Grace Episcopal Church.[6] He left a very large fortune at his death, and his will was successfully attacked; one of its dispositions being annulled by the Louisiana Supreme Court.[7]

The Louisiana Historical Association celebrated the Centenary of the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1922 and at that time Mathews was remembered as, "short, rotund, placid, even-tempered, and genial, with a touch of humor and pleasantry in his intercourse with men and on the bench. His disposition crops out in his opinions which, moreover, are fine specimens of taste and learning."[8]

Mathews, Louisiana, is named in his honor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dart, Henry P. (September 22, 1922). "Mazureau's Oration on Mathews". Louisiana Historical Quarterly. New Orleans, Louisiana: Louisiana Historical Society. 4 (1): 149. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  2. ^ National Park Service: Butler-Greenwood Plantation,, retrieved 27 Aug 2009.
  3. ^ Butler--Greenwood Plantation, National Register of Historic Places, retrieved 2009-10-10
  4. ^ a b "Champion of Civil Rights: Judge John Minor Wisdom". Southern Biography Series: LSU Press, 2009, p 24. Retrieved December 4, 2012.
  5. ^ Finkelman, Paul. “Scott v. Sandford: The Court’s Most Dreadful Case and How it Changed History,” Archived 2012-12-03 at the Wayback Machine 82 Chi.-Kent L. Rev. 3 2007. Retrieved August 20, 2012.
  6. ^ "Grace Episcopal Cemetery, St. Francisville, Louisiana". Findagrave. Retrieved 2009-05-18.
  7. ^ Celebration of the Centenary of the Supreme Court of Louisiana (March 1, 1913), in John Wymond, Henry Plauché Dart, eds., The Louisiana Historical Quarterly (1922), p. 114.
  8. ^ "Centenary of the Supreme Court". Louisiana Historical Quarterly. 4 (1): 32. September 22, 1922.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
newly created position
Judge of the Superior Court of the Territory of Mississippi
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Ephraim Kirby
Judge of the Superior Court of the Territory of Orleans
Succeeded by
court abolished
Preceded by
newly created position
Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court
Chief Justice 1821–1836
Succeeded by
Henry Carlton