James Breckinridge

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James Breckinridge (March 7, 1763 – May 13, 1833), was a Virginia lawyer and Federalist politician born in Augusta County, Virginia (now Botetourt County) to Robert Breckenridge and Lettice Preston.[1] James was not the only politically active member of his family; his older brother John was Attorney General to Thomas Jefferson.[2] James' early schooling was erratic because of the American Revolution and in 1781, at the age of eighteen, he joined a corps of western riflemen.[3] Later that year, he became an officer under General Nathanael Greene in North Carolina.[4] Later in life, Breckinridge resumed his military career for a brief time: at the age of 51, on account of the War of 1812, Virginia's governor appointed him brigadier general of the Third Brigade of state militia.[5] The militia guarded Richmond and reinforced troops in Baltimore, but it did not see combat.[6]

In 1782, Breckinridge began his career in public service as the Deputy Clerk of Botetourt County.[7] By 1784 he had become a land surveyor. Breckinridge entered the College of William & Mary in November 1786, and like his brother John, studied law under George Wythe.[8] In 1788, Breckinridge attended the Virginia Ratifying Convention, at which time his Federalist leanings were already becoming apparent.[9] He abandoned his studies in 1788, but was admitted to the bar in 1789. That same year, Breckinridge was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, the first of his 13 terms.[10] He interrupted his time in the House of Delegates in the mid-1790s, when he served as a commonwealth attorney. Breckinridge became active in national politics in 1809, when he was elected to the United States House of Representatives.[11]

Breckinridge married Anne Selden in 1791 and settled in Botetourt County on a plantation he named Grove Hill.[12] He and Anne had 10 children and owned 49 slaves.[13] In his later life, Breckinridge served as a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia, until his death at Grove Hill in 1833.[14]

See also


  1. Philander D. Chase, "Breckinridge, James", American National Biography Online, accessed November 18, 2014.
  2. Mary Newton Stanard, "Breckenridge, James" in Dictionary of Virginia Biography, ed. Allen Johnson & Dumas Malone (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958), 6.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Mary Newton Stanard, "Breckenridge, James."
  5. Philander D. Chase, "Breckinridge, James."
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Ibid.
  14. Ibid.