George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Hugh Williamson, 19 September 1789

From Hugh Williamson

New York 19th Septr 1789


I took the Liberty some Time ago to mention a Citizen of North Carolina as a Gentleman who might discharge the Duties of a Judge with Honour to himself and Satisfaction to the Public.

Mr James Iredell, who is Brother in Law to Governour Johnston, is the Gentleman to whom I referred.1 At the Beginning of the late Revolution he held an Office under the Crown, he resigned it immediately and in Order to cut off the Bridge he accepted of a Judge’s Gown in the superiour Court. That Office he quitted after some Time and was afterwards for some Years Attorney for the State. He is in the first Practice as a Lawyer, his Abilities and learning are extensive and he seems generally to be measured as the Standard of Integrity; his private Life is amiable and without Reproach; his Diligence is great and I believe there is not a man in the State who does not think him entitled to any Degree of public Trust.

If you should at any Time be disposed to make farther Enquiries concerning Mr Iredell, he is well known to Major Butler and probably to some other Members of Congress. I have the Honour to be with the utmost Consideration Sir Your most obedt servant

Hu. Williamson


1No earlier letter from Williamson recommending James Iredell (1751–1799) has been found. Iredell studied law under Samuel Johnston and married Johnston’s sister Hannah in 1773. A prominent figure in North Carolina legal circles since the early 1770s, Iredell served his state as attorney general from 1779 to 1781. At this time he was a member of the North Carolina Council of State and was currently engaged in producing a revised edition of the state’s statutes. A strong supporter of the Constitution, he served in North Carolina’s first ratifiying convention and wrote a number of essays supporting the new government. Although he could not be considered for a judicial post until North Carolina ratified, when Robert Hanson Harrison resigned as associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1790, GW chose Iredell for the post because, as he observed in his diary, “in addition to the reputation he sustains for abilities, legal knowledge and respectability of character he is of a State of some importance in the Union that has given No character to a federal Office. In ascertaining the character of this Gentlemen I had recourse to every means of information in my power and found them all concurring in his favor” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 6:28–29). GW wrote to Iredell on 13 Feb. 1790, offering him the post (LB, DLC:GW). Iredell’s acceptance, 3 Mar. 1790, is in DNA: RG 59, Miscellaneous Letters.

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