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CLAIBORNE, William Charles Cole.

William Charles Cole Claiborne, the first Governor of the State of Louisiana, was born in Virginia in 1775; the second of four sons of Colonel William Claiborne and Mary Leigh.

His ancestors had lived in Virginia for nearly 200 years, and were the descendants of the celebrated William Claiborne, sometimes styled in history as the "evil genius of Maryland", but better known as the original champion of the "States Right" doctrine.

Governor Claiborne, after spending a brief period at the college of William and Mary, terminated his education at the Richmond Academy; his father's limited means compelling him to depend on entirely upon his own exertions for his future prospects. At the age of sixteen he left his native State for the City of New York to obtain employment. There he was kindly received by a Virginian, with whom he had some previous acquaintance, and who was then Clerk of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress. Through their friendship he was immediately engaged as an enrolling clerk of that body, and frequently employed in drafting original bills for it members and committees. These duties occupying but a proportion of his time, the remainder was devoted to attending the debates of Congress, reading political works, and acquiring the French language for which he evinced great aptitude. Congress being shortly afterwards being removed to Philadelphia, Claiborne followed , and there formed the acquaintance of Vice-President Adams, Thomas Jefferson and General John Sevier, at that time a delegate from but afterwards Governor of Tennessee. While in Philadelphia he became a member of a debating society, and their debates giving him a taste for legal discussion, he resolved to adopt law as a profession. He returned to Richmond to prepare himself. Receiving his license to practice shortly after. Claiborne settled in Sullivan county in the Territory of Tennessee, and started to practice his profession.

Shortly after Tennessee demanded admission into the Union as a State. A convention was called to frame a constitution, Claiborne was chosen a member, and General Sevier was elected Governor of the new state. The legislature elected Claiborne Judge of the Supreme Court of Law and Equity, he resigned to assume the duties of a Representative in Congress, for which he had been selected by the people, in August 1797, and to which he was re-elected in 1799.

In July, 1801, he was appointed Governor of the Mississippi Territory by President Jefferson; and while holding that office he was commissioned November 10, 1803, to act with General Wilkingson in the acceptance of the transfer to the United States of the Province of Louisiana, by the French Government in fulfillment of the treaty stipulation between the two countries. Governor Claiborne subsequently received the appointment of Governor-General of that Province. In this position his powers were almost unlimited in the different branches of its government and he exercise them without appeal, after the manner of the former Spanish Intendants.

When the Territory of Orleans was created, March 2, 1805, Governor Claiborne vacated the administration of the Mississippi Territory to preside over the new territory, as he had received an appointment from the President as Governor. When Louisiana became a State, in 1812, he was the choice of the people for that position for two very popular and influential competitors - General Jacques P.Villere, whose high character had made him a great favorite of the Creole population, and Jean Noel Destrehan, a planter of large fortune and great enterprise who was sent to the United States Senate. Governor Claiborne's occupancy of the Executive Chair terminating in December, 1816, and being constitutionally ineligible for re-election, he became a private citizen, for the first time in twenty years.

Still, it appears that the people were not inclined to dispense with his valuable services, for he was elected by the Leglislature of Louisiana on the 13th of January, 1817, to represent the State in the United States Senate. Unfortunately he did not live until the end of the term; a long and painful illness terminated his life in the city of New Orleans, on the 23rd November, 1817, at the age of 42. Universally respected, the City Council of New Orleans passed a resolution expressive of the public grief.

Governor Claiborne was married three times. His first wife was Miss Eliza Lewis, of Nashville, who fell a victim to Yellow Fever in New Orleans. By here he had one daughter, who died at the same time as her mother. His second wife, Miss Clarissa Duralde, the daughter of a Louisiana magistrate and Spanish officer, bore him one son who was named after him and died in New Orlenas in August, 1878, leaving a large family behind him. By the Governors third wife, Miss Suzette Bosque, he had two children - C.W.W.Claiborne, who died in 1879, and Sophronie, who married Mandeville de Marigny. The Governors widow eventually married John R.Grymes, the eminant New Orlenas lawyer. Patriotically devoted to the republican institiutions of his native land, he received continual proof of his countrymen's appreciation of his ability and worth; he was repeatedly elected by the people of different States to the highest and most responsible positions in their power to bestow.

Copyright [sic] "The Governors of Louisiana" by William J. Reeves.


For details of places named after William Charles Cole Claiborne see Claiborne Parish


For details of the connection William Charles Cole Claiborne and Jean Laffite


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