Charles Willing Byrd

For other people with the same name, see Charles Byrd (disambiguation).

Charles Willing Byrd (July 26, 1770 – August 25, 1828) was an early Ohio political leader and jurist. He served as Secretary of Northwest Territory and as acting Territorial Governor.

Early life

Charles Willing Byrd was born on July 26, 1770, in Westover, Charles City County, Virginia to the wealthy and powerful Byrd family of Virginia, founded by William Byrd I, Charles William Byrd's great-grandfather. William Byrd I received a 1,200-acre (4.9 km2) grant on October 27, 1673 on an area of the James River that would later become the site of Richmond, Virginia. Charles' mother made sure that her son received a good education after his father, William Byrd III, committed suicide in January 1777, when Charles was only seven years old.

Charles was sent to live in Philadelphia with his uncle, Thomas Powell, who was a member of the Society of Friends and a professor at The College of William & Mary. He read law under Gouverneur Morris while living in Philadelphia.[1] He was accepted into the bar in 1794 after completing his schooling in Philadelphia.

Legal and political career

After being accepted to the bar, Byrd became land agent for Philadelphia financier Robert Morris in Lexington, Kentucky. Morris is most famous for financing the revolution. Byrd served as land agent for Morris from 1794 to 1797, and was responsible for maintaining, selling, and acquiring real estate for Morris.[2][3][4]

While in Kentucky, Byrd married Sarah Waters Meade, the daughter of his father's friend Colonel David Meade, on April 6, 1797. Byrd returned to Philadelphia to open a law practice in 1797.[3][5] In 1799, Charles moved to the Northwest Territory and quickly became involved in government affairs.

Secretary of Northwest Territory

Byrd was appointed Secretary of Northwest Territory by President John Adams on October 3, 1799, after Captain William Henry Harrison resigned to serve as a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives. Byrd took his oath of office before Governor St. Clair on February 26, 1800.[6] While serving as Secretary of the Northwest Territory, Byrd also served as a Hamilton county delegate to the 1802 Ohio Constitutional Convention.[7][8]

Territorial Governor

1803 signature

When President Thomas Jefferson removed Governor Arthur St. Clair from the office of Territorial Governor, Byrd became acting Governor as well as Secretary of the Territory on November 22, 1802.

Byrd served as Secretary of the Northwest Territory until Ohio became a state on March 1, 1803. Byrd served as Territorial Governor until Edward Tiffin was duly elected governor of the state of Ohio on March 3, 1803.[6][9]

Federal Judge

In 1803, Byrd served as a delegate to Ohio's constitutional convention.[10] On March 1, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson nominated Byrd to be the first Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Ohio,[5] a new seat created by 2 Stat. 201. Byrd was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission on March 3, 1803. The first Court sat in the statehouse at Chillicothe, Ohio on June 6, 1803.

In its first session, the court participated in the trial of Aaron Burr. The indictment charged Burr and Harman Blennerhassett, with commencing an expedition to wage war against Spain via Mexico, but the charges were eventually dropped in 1819.[11] Another notable case for the court was Osborn v. Bank of the United States, which arose out of the attempt of the Ohio Legislature to tax out of existence the bank's branches in Cincinnati and Chillicothe by imposing an annual $50,000 tax on each branch.[12] The case reached the United States Supreme Court and the tax was held invalid following the case of McCulloch v. Maryland.

Byrd remained on the court until his death on August 25, 1828.[13]

Personal life

Byrd was the son of Colonel William Byrd III and Mary Willing Byrd. He was also the grandson of William Byrd II, who is considered the founder of Richmond, Virginia.

On June 8, 1807, Byrd and his wife purchased a tract of 600 acres (2.4 km2) in Monroe Township, Adams County, Ohio, known as Buckeye Station and Hurricane Hill, from their brother-in-law, General Nathaniel Massie. The Byrds' home sat on a ridge overlooking Kentucky and the Ohio River. After his wife's death on February 21, 1815, Byrd moved to Chillicothe where he lived and worked for a year before moving to West Union, Ohio.[14]

While residing in West Union, Byrd met and married Hannah Miles (died August 14, 1839) on March 8, 1818. From his diary, Byrd showed an extreme consciousness on matters of physical health and religion. Byrd purchased an area called "Sinking Spring" in Highland County because he believed the waters there possessed medicinal properties conducive to health and longevity. He guarded the diets of his family and himself. By his place at the dining table, Byrd kept a small silver scale, upon which he weighed every article of food allowing a certain quantity of fat, sugar and phosphates with each portion given to himself and his family. Byrd, along with at least one of his sons, had a deep interest in the Shakers movement and made significant donations to the movement.

The children from Byrd's first marriage were Mary Powell Byrd, Kidder Meade Byrd, William Silonwee Byrd, and Evalyn Harrison Byrd. The children from his second marriage were Jane Byrd and Samuel Otway Byrd.


Judge Byrd died on August 25, 1828 at the age of fifty-eight and was interred at the old rural cemetery, Sinking Spring, Highland County, Ohio.[5]


  1. Evans, Nelson Wiley; Emmons B. Stivers (1900). A History of Adams County, Ohio: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Including Character Sketches of the Prominent Persons Identified with the First Century of the Country's Growth ... E B. Stivers. pp. 526–527; J. W. Klise stated that Byrd began his legal education with his uncle. J. W. Klise, ed., State Centennial History of Highland County, 1902; 1902. Reprint. Owensboro, KY: Cook & McDowell, 1980, p. 168.
  2. Milligan, Fred J. (2003). Ohio's Founding Fathers. iUniverse. p. 49. ISBN 0-595-29322-0. Retrieved December 11, 2008.
  3. 1 2 "Charles W. Byrd", Ohio History Central, July 1, 2005
  4. Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (1952). Tyler's quarterly historical and genealogical magazine. s.n. p. 298. Retrieved December 11, 2008.
  5. 1 2 3 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 18, 2009. Retrieved 2008-12-05., Charles Willing Byrd (1770–1828) Bibliography
  6. 1 2 Burtner Jr., W.H. "Charles Willing Byrd". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications. 41: 237–240.
  7. Judges of the United States. 2d ed. (Washington, D.C.: GPO, 1983), 71.
  8. "First Constitutional Convention, Convened November 1, 1802". Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications. V: 131–132. 1896.
  9. Rush R. Sloane, "Organization and Admission of Ohio into the Union and the Great Seal of the State." in Ohio Centennial Anniversary Celebration, ed., E.O. Randall. (Columbus, Oh.: Ohio State Archaeological & Historical Society, 1903), 104–105.
  10. "". Ohio History Central. Retrieved July 28, 2012. External link in |title= (help)
  11. United States v. Burr, CCKy, FedCas No. 14,692 [Nov 8, 1806]; 25 Fed 1 (1896)
  12. Osborn v. Bank of the United States, 22 U.S. 9 Wheat. 738 738 (1824)
  13. Byrd mss., 1794–1881, Lilly Library Manuscript Collections, Indiana University
  14. The house at Buckeye Station built by General Massie in 1797 was sold to John Ellison August 15, 1817. Ibid., 53; Evans, A History of Adams County, Ohio, 527–528.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
William Henry Harrison
Secretary of Northwest Territory
January 1, 1800 – March 1, 1803
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Arthur St. Clair
Governor of Northwest Territory
November 22, 1802 – March 3, 1803
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by
Newly created seat
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Ohio
March 3, 1803 – August 25, 1828
Succeeded by
William Creighton, Jr.
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