Joseph R. Underwood

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Joseph R. Underwood
United States Senator
from Kentucky
In office
March 4, 1847 – March 3, 1853
Preceded by James T. Morehead
Succeeded by John B. Thompson
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd district
In office
March 4, 1835 – March 3, 1843
Preceded by Christopher Tompkins
Succeeded by Henry Grider
Member of the Kentucky House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born Joseph Rogers Underwood
(1791-10-24)October 24, 1791
Goochland County, Virginia, U.S.
Died August 23, 1876(1876-08-23) (aged 84)
Bowling Green, Kentucky, U.S.
Political party Whig
Other political
Spouse(s) Eliza McCowes Trotter (d. 1835)
Elizabeth Threlkeld Cox
Children Eugene Underwood, Julia Underwood Cox, Eliza Underwood Rutledge, Jane Underwood Rogers, John C. Underwood, Robert Underwood, Lily Underwood Munford, and Josephine Underwood Woods
Alma mater Transylvania University
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Battles/wars War of 1812

Joseph Rogers Underwood (October 24, 1791 – August 23, 1876) was a lawyer, judge, United States Representative and Senator from Kentucky.[1]

Early and family life[edit]

Joseph Underwood was born in Goochland County, Virginia to John Underwood, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, and his wife Frances Rogers. His younger brother Warner Lewis Underwood later also represented Kentucky's 3rd Congressional district.

Joseph Underwood moved to Barren County, Kentucky in 1803 and lived with his uncle, Edmund Rogers. He attended private schools and graduated from Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky in 1811. He studied read law in Lexington under Robert Wickliffe, but interrupted those studies to serve in the War of 1812 as a Lieutenant in the Thirteenth Regiment of the Kentucky Infantry.

He married Eliza McCowes Trotter on March 26, 1817 and they had several children before her death in 1835, including Eugene Underwood (1818-1893), Julia Underwood Cox (1822-1875)(whose Washington D.C. husband John Threlkeld Cox, the son of the Mayor of Georgetown would become a Confederate cavalry colonel and perhaps brevet brigadier general),[2] Eliza Underwood Rutledge (1829-1865) (whose Tennessee husband became a Confederate Major) and Jane Underwood Rogers (1830-1907). After her death, Underwood married Elizabeth Threlkeld Cox (1818-1884) (sister of John Threlkeld Cox who married his eldest daughter Julia). Their children included John Cox Underwood (1840-1913), Robert Underwood (1844-1907), Lily Underwood Munford (1854-1885), and Josephine Underwood Woods (1858-1920).[3]


He was admitted to the bar in 1813 and began practicing law in Glasgow, Kentucky.

Underwood served among Glasgow's town trustees and as county auditor until 1823. He was a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives from 1816 to 1819.

In 1823, he moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and again was elected to the State House of Representatives, serving from 1825 to 1826. He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Kentucky in 1828, then served as a judge of the Court of Appeals from 1828 until 1835, following the Old Court-New Court controversy.

An opponent of Andrew Jackson and outspoken emancipationist, Underwood was elected as a Whig to the United States House of Representatives, serving Kentucky's District 3 from March 4, 1835 until March 3, 1843. There he was chairman of the U.S. House Committee on the District of Columbia. He declined to be a candidate for renomination in 1843, and resumed the practice of law. He was a presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1844, and voters again elected him to the State House in 1846, where he served as speaker.

Underwood was elected as a Whig to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1847 to March 3, 1853, when he did not run for reelection.

Underwood sent his own able-bodied slaves to Liberia and urged others to do likewise, although he supported the Compromise of 1850. Before the American Civil War, Underwood campaigned in Kentucky for the Constitutional Union Party. He ran for the state legislature again and was elected, serving two more terms, from 1861 to 1863 and fighting secessionists in the border state legislature. However, two of his sons would support the Confederacy. He attended the Democratic National Convention in 1864 and helped rebuild that party in the state.[4]

Death and legacy[edit]

Underwood died near Bowling Green and was interred in Fairview Cemetery.[5] Western Kentucky University has his papers.[6] His son John C. Underwood became a Confederate Engineer and later Bowling Green's city engineer and briefly mayor, as well as Kentucky's 21st Lieutenant Governor. His grandson Oscar Wilder Underwood (Eugene's son) became majority leader in the U.S. House as well as the U.S. Senate.


  1. ^ CongBio|U000011
  2. ^
  3. ^ findagrave no. 7781981
  4. ^ Nancy D. Baird, "Joseph Rogers Underwood" in John E. Kleber (ed.), The Kentucky Encyclopedia (University Press of Kentucky) p. 906 citing Jean F. Keith, "Joseph Rogers Underwood: Friend of African Colonization" FCHQ 22 (April 1948) pp. 117-33
  5. ^ Find a Grave No. 7781081
  6. ^

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Christopher Tompkins
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Kentucky's 3rd congressional district

1835 - 1843
Succeeded by
Henry Grider
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
James T. Morehead
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Kentucky
Served alongside: John J. Crittenden, Thomas Metcalfe, Henry Clay, David Meriwether, Archibald Dixon
Succeeded by
John B. Thompson