St. George Tucker

St. George Tucker (1752–1827)

St. George Tucker was one of the most influential jurists and legal scholars in the United States late in the 1700s and early in the 1800s. Tucker served as judge on three different courts in Virginia: the General Court (1788–1804), the Virginia Court of Appeals (1804–1811), and the federal district court for the eastern district of Virginia (1813–1825). In addition to his work as a jurist, Tucker was an important legal scholar and educator. From 1788 until 1804, between court terms, Tucker taught law at the College of William and Mary . Perhaps Tucker's most significant contribution was his 1803 publication of a five-volume edition Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone. Tucker's "American Blackstone," the first major treatise on American law, helped shape a generation of lawyers and judges. MORE...

 

Tucker was born near Port Royal, Bermuda, in 1752, the youngest of six children. His parents were Colonel Henry Tucker, a prominent merchant, and Anne Butterfield, daughter of Bermuda's chief justice. In 1772, Tucker enrolled at the College of William and Mary, during which time he also studied law with Williamsburg attorney George Wythe, one of the most eminent lawyers in the North American colonies and mentor to many prominent young Virginians, including Thomas Jefferson. In 1774, at the onset of the American Revolution (1775–1783), Tucker was admitted to the Virginia bar, but had to delay his law practice until 1782, toward the war's end. During the Revolution, he served in the Virginia militia, and suffered a minor injury at the battle of Guilford Courthouse (March 15, 1781).

In 1778, Tucker married Frances Bland Randolph, a widow and mother of three children. Randolph died in 1788, after giving birth to the couple's sixth child. In 1791, Tucker married Lelia Skipwith Carter, a widow and the mother of two children. During her marriage to Tucker, Carter gave birth to three additional children, but all died during childhood. One of Tucker's children, Henry St. George Tucker, born in 1780, became one of the most prominent lawyers in nineteenth-century Virginia, serving in Congress and on the Virginia Court of Appeals.

In 1782, the elder Tucker set up his legal practice in Petersburg and quickly became one of the leading lawyers in Virginia. In 1788, the state legislature appointed him to a position on the General Court, and in 1804 he was elevated to the Virginia Court of Appeals. Though Tucker resigned from that post in 1811, U.S. president James Madison appointed him to the federal district court in 1813.

In addition to his service as a jurist, Tucker had a deep interest in training aspiring lawyers. In 1788, he succeeded his mentor George Wythe as professor of law at the College of William and Mary. Tucker's law lectures, which he published as part of his 1803 edition of Blackstone's Commentaries, were the first systematic effort to describe the contours of the American legal system as it had been shaped by the American Revolution, the United States Constitution, and the various state constitutions (particularly the Virginia constitution). In 1796, Tucker presented A Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of It, in the State of Virginia to the state legislature, but his essay was ignored. When St. George Tucker died in 1827, he was considered one of the most influential jurists and legal scholars of his era.

Major Works

  • Reflections on the Policy and Necessity of Encouraging the Commerce of the Citizens of the United States of America, and of Granting Them Exclusive Privileges of Trade, as Columbus (1785)
  • The Knight and Friars. An Historical Tale; After the Manner of John Gilpin (1786)
  • Liberty, a Poem; on the Independence of America (1788)
  • Cautionary Hints to Congress, Respecting the Sale of Western Lands, Belonging to the United States, as Columbus (1795)
  • A Letter, to the Rev. Jedediah Morse, A.M., Author of the "American Universal Geography" (1795)
  • A Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of It, in the State of Virginia (1796)
  • The Probationary Odes of Jonathan Pindar, esq. a Cousin of Peter's, and Candidate for the Post of Poet Laureat to the C.U.S. In Two Parts (1796)
  • Remarks on the Treaty of Amity, Navigation, and Commerce, Concluded between Lord Grenville and Mr. Jay, on the Part of Great Britain and the United States, Respectively … , as Columbus (1796)
  • Examination of the Question, "How far the Common Law of England is the Law of the Federal Government of the United States?" (1802)
  • Reflections on the Cession of Louisiana to the United States, as Sylvestris (1803)
  • The Crisis: An Appeal to a Candid World, on the War Entered into by the United States of America, Against Great-Britain and Her Dependencies … , as Columbus (1817)
  • The Poems of St. George Tucker of Williamsburg, Virginia, 1752–1827 (1977)

Time Line

  • 1752 - St. George Tucker is born near Port Royal, Bermuda.
  • 1772 - St. George Tucker enrolls at the College of William and Mary.
  • 1774 - St. George Tucker gains admission to the Virginia bar.
  • September 1778 - St. George Tucker marries Frances Bland Randolph.
  • 1782 - St. George Tucker begins his law practice, having been delayed by the onset of the Revolutionary War after being admitted to the Virginia bar.
  • 1788 to 1804 - St. George Tucker serves as a judge on the Virginia General Court.
  • 1788 - St. George Tucker is appointed to a position on the General Court.
  • 1788 to 1804 - St. George Tucker teaches law at the College of William and Mary.
  • October 1791 - St. George Tucker marries Lelia Skipwith Carter.
  • 1796 - St. George Tucker writes A Dissertation on Slavery: With a Proposal for the Gradual Abolition of It, in the State of Virginia.
  • 1803 - St. George Tucker's American Blackstone, the first major treatise on American law, is published.
  • 1804 to 1811 - St. George Tucker serves as a judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals.
  • 1813 to 1825 - St. George Tucker serves as judge in the federal district court for the eastern district of Virginia.
  • November 10, 1827 - St. George Tucker dies.
Further Reading
Cullen, Charles T. St. George Tucker and Law in Virginia, 1772–1804. New York: Garland Publishing, 1987.
Hamilton, Phillip. The Making and Unmaking of a Revolutionary Family: The Tuckers of Virginia, 1752–1830. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 2003
Cite This Entry
  • APA Citation:

    Douglas, D. M. St. George Tucker (1752–1827). (2013, December 26). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Tucker_St_George_1752_x2013_1827.

  • MLA Citation:

    Douglas, Davison M. "St. George Tucker (1752–1827)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 26 Dec. 2013. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: February 26, 2008 | Last modified: December 26, 2013


Contributed by Davison M. Douglas, Arthur B. Hanson Professor of Law, William and Mary School of Law.