John Louis Taylor

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Chief Justice
John Louis Taylor
Chief Justice, Supreme Court of North Carolina
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Chief Justice, North Carolina Superior Court
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Judge, North Carolina Superior Court
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Representative, North Carolina House of Commons
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
In office
Preceded by
Succeeded by
In office
Preceded by
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In office
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In office
Preceded by {{{8thofficepreceded}}}
Succeeded by {{{8thofficesucceeded}}}
Personal details
Born March 1, 1769
  London, UK
Died January 29, 1829 (age 59)
  Raleigh, NC
Resting place Oakwood Cemetery, Raleigh, NC
Residence(s) Elmwood, Raleigh, NC
Alma mater College of William & Mary
Profession Lawyer
Spouse(s) Julia Rowan
Jane Gaston
Known for Chief Justice of North Carolina
Signature [[File:|left|200px]]

John Louis Taylor (1 March 1769 – 29 January 1829), was the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of North Carolina. Taylor was born in London to parents of Irish descent. He emigrated to America at the age of twelve with his older brother, settling in Virginia.[1] Taylor was able to attend the College of William & Mary for a short while — sometime between 1785 and 1788 — but had to leave for financial reasons. His education is described as "classical," but these dates place him at the College at the same time George Wythe was teaching law (before 1789).[2] Taylor left without taking a degree and moved to North Carolina where he studied law on his own, was admitted to the bar in 1788 before taking up practice in Fayetteville.[3]

Taylor served in North Carolina's House of Commons (now the House of Representatives) for three terms between 1792 and 1794.[4] He moved to the city of New Bern in 1796, and in 1798 he was elected by the General Assembly as a judge of the Superior Court.[5] In 1811, he was elected the presiding officer of the court, and moved to Raleigh. When North Carolina established a distinct Supreme Court in 1818, he was elected Chief Justice.

Taylor was a well-respected judge and legal scholar, and a reporter of his own cases and others. His publications include:

Taylor also undertook two revisions of North Carolina law, assisting with one released in 1821, and a second published in 1827, which became known as "Taylor's Revisal."[6]

The Chief Justice tutored students at his home in Raleigh, and in 1822 opened the first public law school in North Carolina, advertising that he was

desirous of affording to the youth of the country an opportunity of acquiring a scientific knowledge of their own Laws without the inconvenience and expense of seeking it in other States, and of assisting them in a course of studies which even to those who are not destined to the profession, is of great importance in the ordinary affairs of social life....

Taylor recommending that his students obtain a copy of Blackstone's Commentaries, "for the purpose of making such annotations, indicative of the alteration of the Law as may be suggested in lecturing or in conversation on legal topics, and will be permanently useful to them."[7] It is likely Taylor continued to teach until his death in 1829.[8]

Orr v. Irwin (1816)

Perhaps the best argument for Taylor having been a student of George Wythe is the Chief Justice's familiarity with Wythe's work. In his decision for Orr's Heirs v. Irwin's Heirs and Devisees (1816),[9] Taylor reprints a large part of Wythe's opinion from Farley v. Shippen (1794), demonstrating that he owned a rare copy of Wythe's Reports, published in 1795. Instead of a detailed argument, Taylor cites a few cases from A General Abridgment of Cases in Equity, Vernon's Reports, Atkyns, and Vesey, and then prefaces his extracts of Wythe:

To these cases may be added a decision made by the late Chancellor Wythe, in Virginia, which may be cited as equal in point of authority, if not superior, to any of the British decisions, from the luminous and conclusive reasoning on which that upright and truly estimable judge founds it.

Clarum & venerabile nomen.[10]

Taylor's quotation of Farley v. Shippen continues for three pages, and he concludes by saying:

We have transcribed thus largely from the work of the Chancellor, because it is not in every library, and the discussion of the question, which is new in this court, being the most able and copious we have anywhere met with, cannot fail to be instructive to the student, and acceptable to the practitioner, who will both be disposed to allow that the excellence of the matter atones for the length of the extract.[11]

The publisher J.W. Randolph of Richmond, Virginia, later used Taylor's effusions for Wythe in advertisements for the second edition (1852) of Wythe's Reports.

See also


  1. Max R. Williams, "Taylor, John Louis," American National Biography Online, accessed January 30, 2018.
  2. "Portrait of Chief Justice John Louis Taylor," North Carolina Supreme Court Historical Society, accessed January 31, 2018.
  3. Gertrude S. Carraway, "John Louis Taylor," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, vol. 6, William S. Powell, ed. (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1996). Available at NCpedia, accessed January 30, 2018.
  4. John H. Wheeler, Historical Sketches of North Carolina, from 1584 to 1851 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co., 1851), 2:129.
  5. Gertrude S. Carraway, Years of Light: History of St. John's Lodge, No. 3, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, New Bern, North Carolina, 1944-1974, 5944-5974, A.L. (Anno Lucis, Year of Light), (New Bern, NC: Owen G. Dunn, 1944), 110-111.
  6. "Taylor, John Louis," Dictionary of American Biography, Dumas Malone, ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964), 9:334-335.
  7. Taylor's advertisements appeared in the Raleigh Register on February 15 and August 2, 1822. Charles L. Coon, North Carolina Schools and Academies, 1790-1840: A Documentary History (Raleigh, NC: Edwards and Broughton, 1915), 531.
  8. Thomas Hunter, "The Institutionalization of Legal Education in North Carolina, 1790-1920," in The History of Legal Education in the United States: Commentaries and Primary Sources, ed. Lee Sheppard (Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2007), 414.
  9. Orr v. Irwin, 2 Law Repos. (4 N. Car.) 465.
  10. "Illustrious and venerable name." The Carolina Law Repository, Containing Biographical Sketches of Eminent Judges, Opinions of American and Foreign Jurists, and Reports of Cases Adjudged in the Supreme Court of North-Carolina (Raleigh, NC: Joseph Gales, 1816), 2:466.
  11. Carolina Law Repository, 2:469.

Further reading

External links