William Kilty

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William Kilty
Chief Judge of the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia
In office
March 23, 1801 – January 27, 1806
Appointed by Thomas Jefferson
Preceded by Seat established
Succeeded by William Cranch
Personal details
Born 1757
London, Great Britain
Died October 10, 1821 (aged 63–64)
Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.
Political party Democratic-Republican
Education College of St Omer

William Kilty (1757 – October 10, 1821) was a United States federal judge, and the third Chancellor of Maryland. During his service in the latter office, he wrote an influential summary of the British Statutes still in force in Maryland, and served on a committee established to address a British blockade of American vessels.

Early life and education[edit]

Born in London, England, Kilty studied medicine under Edward Johnson, of Annapolis.[1] In the American Revolutionary War, Kilty served in the 5th Maryland Regiment as a Surgeon's Mate from April 1778 to April, when he was promoted to become Surgeon of the Regiment. Kilty was taken prisoner at the Battle of Camden, returning to Annapolis in the spring of 1781.[1] He thereafter read law at the College of St. Omer to enter the bar.[1]

Public life[edit]

While working as an attorney, Kilty was among the writers of numerous essays condemning the anarchic state of affairs under the Articles of Confederation, which governed until the ratification of the Constitution of the United States in 1787.[2]:539 He was appointed compiler of the Laws of Maryland from 1798 to 1800.[1] He published the two volumes known as "Kilty's Laws", then settled in Washington, D.C., in 1800.[1]

Federal judicial service[edit]

On March 23, 1801, Kilty received a recess appointment from President Thomas Jefferson, to a new seat on the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia created by 2 Stat. 103. Formally nominated on January 6, 1802, he was confirmed by the United States Senate on January 26, 1802, and received his commission the same day. Kilty served for several periods as Chief Judge of the court. His service was terminated on January 27, 1806 upon his resignation to become Chancellor of Maryland.

Chancellor of Maryland[edit]

Upon the death of Kilty's predecessor, Alexander Contee Hanson, the Governor had first offered the vacancy to Gabriel Duvall, who declined, and then to Robert Smith, the acting Attorney General of the United States, who also declined. Kilty was then appointed, and he accepted, taking his seat on January 26, 1806.[1]

His opinions as Chancellor were noted to be "generally very concise, not laden with citations of authorities like Bland's, but showing close familiarity with English equity jurisprudence".[1] His most important work as Chancellor was his 1811 report on the British Statutes in force in Maryland. The work received high commendation from the Court of Appeals and the profession generally.[1] In Dashiell vs. Attorney-General, 5 H. & J., 403, the court said that "the book was compiled, printed and distributed under the sanction of the State for the use of its officers and is a safe guide in exploring an otherwise very dubious path".[1] Kilty also undertook other public activities during his Chancellorship. In 1807, he was appointed to a committee of prominent citizens to address a British blockade of American vessels;[2]:622 and in January 1808 he assisted in drafting a resolution further condemning British actions against U.S. shipping.[2]:630

Kilty held that office until his death, in Annapolis, Maryland.[1] A memorial was held on October 11, 1821 in the Baltimore County Court, and the National Intelligencer for October 17, 1821, reported an account of the action of the Bar of the District of Columbia on the death of Kilty.

This morning, shortly after the meeting of the court, Colonel Ashton, a member of the bar, stated to the court that the death of William Kilty, late Chancellor of Maryland, had just been announced to the public; that penetrated with deep regret himself at the loss of a citizen and officer of such distinguished talents and such eminent virtues and usefulness, he could not forbear to hope that this court, of which Chancellor Kilty had been formerly the chief judge, and this bar, which could bear such ample testimony to his work and excellence, would not deem it out of place to show, by some public act, their general sorrow for the melancholy event, and their high respect for the memory of the deceased. The court, upon the motion being seconded by Mr. Swann, the District Attorney, and carried, adjourned. It was resolved that the members of the bar of the court wear crape on their left arm for a month.

Kilty was succeeded in office by John Johnson, Sr..[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k William J. Marbury, "The High Court of Chancery and the Chancellors of Maryland", Report of the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Maryland State Bar Association, (1905), p. 137-155.
  2. ^ a b c John Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the Earliest Period to the Present Day: 1765-1812 (1879).


Further reading[edit]

Legal offices
New seat Chief Judge of the United States Circuit Court of the District of Columbia
Succeeded by
William Cranch