Jesse Lynch Holman

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Jesse Lynch Holman (October 24, 1784 – March 18, 1842) was an Indiana lawyer, politician, and jurist, as well as a novelist, poet, city planner, and preacher. Holman also helped found Indiana University, Franklin College, and the Indiana Historical Society. Most notably, Holman was one of the first three justices of the Indiana Supreme Court and later served as a U. S. federal district judge.[1]

Born near Danville, Kentucky, on October 24, 1784, Holman grew up on the frontier.[2] He read law and was admitted to the Kentucky bar on September 2, 1805. Holman established a private practice at Port William, now called Carrollton, Kentucky, and also practiced law at New Castle and later at Frankfort, Kentucky.[3]

In 1808 Holman came to the Indiana Territory and acquired land in Dearborn County. That same year Holman wrote a novel, The Prisoners of Niagara; or, Errors of Education.[4] In 1810 Holman married Elizabeth Masterson, the daughter of Judge Richard M. Masterson, a wealthy Kentucky landowner and jurist.[5] Holman brought his wife and first child to Dearborn County in 1811 and built a home he named "Veraestau" on a bluff overlooking the Ohio River.[6]

From 1811 to 1830 Holman maintained a private law practice in Aurora, Dearborn County, Indiana, and became a prominent politician and jurist.[7] In 1811 Holman was appointed a district prosecuting attorney for Dearborn County, Indiana Territory.[8] In 1814 he was elected to Indiana's territorial legislature and served as president of the Indiana Territorial Council.[8] From 1814 to 1816 Holman was a judge for the Indiana Territory's Second Judicial Circuit Court. In 1816 he also served a judge for the Third Judicial Circuit Court.[8]

When Indiana became a state in 1816, Governor Jonathan Jennings appointed Holman a justice of the Indiana Supreme Court, a post he held until December 28, 1830.[9] One of the most notable cases to appear before Justices Holman, James Scott, and Isaac N. Blackford was Lasselle v. State. In this case the Indiana Supreme Court reversed a lower court's decision and held that "The framers of our constitution intended a total and entire prohibition of slavery in this State; and we can conceive of no form of words in which that intention could have been more clearly stated."[10] In 1831 Holman lost a bid for a seat in the U. S. Senate.[11]

In addition to judicial duties, Holman was an active leader in Dearborn County's civic affairs. He helped plat the town of Aurora in 1819.[9] A lifelong Baptist, Holman was active in the church's missionary work and Sunday school programs, helping to establish the First Baptist Church of Aurora in 1820 and the Indiana Bible Society in 1831.[12] Holman also supported public education. He helped found Aurora's public library and served as the superintendent for Dearborn County schools from 1832 to 1834.[12] In 1834, during a break from political life, Holman became an ordained minister and preached at the First Baptist Church of Aurora.[13]

On September 16, 1835, during a congressional recess, President Andrew Jackson appointed Holman to the U.S. District Court for the District of Indiana, a seat vacated by Benjamin Parke. After political disagreements among the Indiana delegation were resolved, Holman was formally nominated on March 21 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate on March 29, 1836. Holman received his commission the same day and served as a federal judge until his death in Aurora on March 18, 1842.[8] Originally buried at Veraestau, he was later moved to the Holman family plot River View Cemetery.[14]

He was the father of Congressman William Steele Holman (1822-1897). Holman's daughter, Emmerine, married Allen Hamilton, a founder of Fort Wayne, Indiana.[15]


  1. ^ Gugin and St. Clair, p. 9.
  2. ^ Blake, p. 26.
  3. ^ Blake, p. 26–27.
  4. ^ He later tried to destroy copies of the book, considering it unsuitable for young people to read. Gugin and St. Clair, p. 9–10.
  5. ^ Blake, p. 28.
  6. ^ Blake, p. 25.
  7. ^ Blake, p. 29.
  8. ^ a b c d Federal Judicial Center, Biographical Directory of Federal Judges.
  9. ^ a b Gugin and St. Clair, p. 10.
  10. ^ Shepard, p. 36.
  11. ^ Gugin and St. Clair, p. 11.
  12. ^ a b Blake, p. 42.
  13. ^ Gugin and St. Clair, p. 10–11.
  14. ^ "Indiana State Historic Architectural and Archaeological Research Database (SHAARD)" (Searchable database). Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology. Retrieved 2015-08-01.  Note: This includes Mary O'Brien Gibson (n.d.). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form: River View Cemetery" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-01.  and Accompanying photographs, site map, parcel map, and quad map.
  15. ^ Blake, p. 51.


  • Jesse Lynch Holman at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  • Blake, George. "Jesse Lynch Holman: Pioneer Hoosier." Indiana Magazine of History 39 (March 1943).
  • Gugin, Linda C., and James E. St. Clair, eds. Justices of the Indiana Supreme Court. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2010.
  • "Seeking a Federal Judgeship under Jackson." Indiana Magazine of History 35 (September 1939).
  • Shepard, Randall T., "Slave Cases and the Indiana Supreme Court." Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History 15 (Summer 2003) p. 34–41.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Benjamin Parke
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Indiana
Succeeded by
Elisha Mills Huntington