Author: J. Jefferson Looney

editor-in-chief of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series

Westel Willoughby (1830–1897)

Westel Willoughby was a lawyer, a Union officer in a New York regiment during the American Civil War (1861–1865), and judge of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals from 1869 until a new constitution was adopted in 1870. Born and educated in New York, Willoughby helped raise the 137th New York Volunteer Regiment and was severely wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville (1863). He resigned his commission a few months later but stayed in Virginia, serving as the commonwealth’s attorney of Alexandria County (later Arlington County) from 1864 to 1869, when he was appointed first as a judge of the Ninth Circuit and then of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. He cast the deciding vote in a case that allowed an Alexandria railroad that had sided with the Confederacy to contest a sale of the line’s assets during the Civil War. In private practice he defended the federal government’s efforts to resist compensating the Lee family for the seizure of their Arlington estate. Willoughby made several unsuccessful runs for office as a Republican. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1897.


Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)

Thomas Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), founder of the University of Virginia (1819), governor of Virginia (1779–1781), and third president of the United States (1801–1809). Born at Shadwell, his parents’ estate in Albemarle County, he attended the College of William and Mary and studied the law under the tutelage of George Wythe. In 1769, Jefferson began construction of Monticello, his home in Albemarle County, and for the rest of his life pursued an interest in architecture, which included design of Poplar Forest and the State Capitol. Jefferson also indulged a passion for science, serving as president of the American Philosophical Society (1797–1814) and publishing Notes on the State of Virginia (1795). After representing Albemarle County in the House of Burgesses (1769–1776), Jefferson was a delegate to Virginia’s five Revolutionary Conventions and served in the Second Continental Congress (1775–1776) and the House of Delegates (1776–1779). He earned a reputation during the American Revolution (1775–1783) as a forceful advocate of revolutionary principles, articulated in A Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity for Taking Up Arms (1775), and, most famously, the Declaration of Independence, approved by Congress on July 4, 1776. His two terms as governor were marked by British invasion and Jefferson’s controversial flight to Poplar Forest. From 1784 to 1789, he served as a diplomat in France and there may have begun a sexual relationship with his enslaved servant Sally Hemings. Jefferson served as secretary of state in the administration of George Washington (1790–1793) and as vice president under John Adams (1797–1801) before being elected president by the U.S. House of Representatives after a tie vote in the Electoral College. As president Jefferson arranged for the Louisiana Purchase (1803) and the subsequent Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804–1806). With James Madison, Jefferson helped found the Republican Party and advocated for states’ rights and a small federal government, although as president he sometimes pushed the limits of his executive authority. In his retirement he founded the University of Virginia, which was chartered in 1819 and opened for classes in the spring of 1825. Jefferson died at Monticello on July 4, 1826, fifty years after the Declaration of Independence was approved. He is buried at Monticello.


John Wayles Eppes (1772–1823)

John Wayles Eppes was a member of the House of Delegates (1801–1803), the U.S. House of Representatives (1803–1811, 1813–1815), and the U.S. Senate (1817–1819). Related through his mother to Martha Wayles Skelton, the wife of Thomas Jefferson, Eppes was close to Jefferson. He lived with him in Philadelphia while Jefferson served as secretary of state and secretly copied for him James Madison‘s notes on the Constitutional Convention of 1787. In 1797 he married Jefferson’s daughter Maria (also Mary or Polly) Jefferson. Eppes served four terms in Congress before being unseated by John Randolph of Roanoke, with whom he had a difficult relationship. Once on the floor of the House, Randolph called Eppes a liar and the two almost fought a duel. On another occasion, Eppes acted as a second to a fellow congressman who shot another congressman in a duel. Eppes regained his seat from Randolph in 1813 but lost it again in 1815. Two years later the General Assembly elected him to the U.S. Senate, although ill health forced him to resign in 1819. Eppes died at his Mill Brook estate, in Buckingham and Cumberland counties, in 1823.


Peter Carr (1770–1815)

Peter Carr was a justice of the peace for Albemarle County, a representative to the House of Delegates (1801–1804, 1807–1808), an educator, and a founding trustee of Albemarle Academy, which later evolved into the University of Virginia. He was also the nephew of Thomas Jefferson and lived at Monticello as a young man. Carr is perhaps best known for the assertion, made by Thomas Jefferson Randolph after Carr’s death, that he or his brother Samuel Carr had fathered at least six children with Sally Hemings, Jefferson’s enslaved house servant, between 1795 and 1808. For this reason, Peter Carr was often accepted as the likely father of Hemings’s children until the publication of Annette Gordon-Reed’s monograph Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy (1997), which made a strong case for Jefferson’s paternity, and the 1998 DNA test that concluded that a Jefferson male, not Carr or his brother, had fathered Eston Hemings, the youngest son of Sally Hemings.


John Camm (bap. 1717–1779)

John Camm, a Cambridge-educated Anglican priest, lived in Virginia for most of his life. He served as a professor (1749–1757; 1763–1771) and president of the College of William and Mary (1771–1777) and was elected to the governor’s Council (1772). Because Virginia had no episcopate, Camm took it upon himself to protect the interests of the clergy. In 1757 he protested the governor’s Council’s decision to remove John Brunskill Jr. from his parish because he felt that only the church could strip a clergyman of his ordination. After the General Assembly passed the Two Penny Act of 1758, the second of two laws that stabilized the clergy’s salary at a time when crop failure had inflated the price of tobacco, Camm went to England and obtained an order from the Privy Council that disallowed the acts but never fully invalidated them. He continued to fight the Two Penny Acts until the Privy Council ruled against his appeal in 1767. His political involvement extended to the College of William and Mary, where he often butted heads with the board of visitors. Despite these troubles, he was elected president of the College of William and Mary in 1772 and appointed to the governor’s Council that same year. Because of his Loyalist sympathies during the American Revolution (1775–1783), he was removed as president in 1777. He held the rectorship of Yorkhampton Parish until his death in 1779.


Horace B. Burnham (1824–1894)

Horace B. Burnham was an officer in the U.S. Army during the American Civil War (1861–1865); chief judge advocate of Military District One, the army unit that administered Virginia during Reconstruction; judge of the Richmond City Hustings Court (1867–1869); and justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals (1869–1870). Burnham grew up in Pennsylvania, where he studied and practiced law before the war. He presided over the Supreme Court of Appeals as Virginia transitioned back to civilian rule. The legitimacy of the court, and his position on it, was called into question early in 1870, when Congress passed an act ending Reconstruction in Virginia and implementing a new state constitution under which the General Assembly would select new judges. The military court prevailed against a legal challenge, but by then Burnham had been thrown out of the body. He remained a military justice in courts across the country until 1888, when he retired to his Henrico County estate. He died in 1894 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.