Justice John L. Taylor and the Beginnings of the N.C. Supreme Court

Image from the N.C. Museum of History

Image from the N.C. Museum of History

On January 29, 1829, John Louis Taylor, the first North Carolina Supreme Court chief justice, died. Born in England, Taylor moved to America when he was 12. He attended William and Mary College, but was unable to complete his studies due to financial problems. He moved to Fayetteville, where he was admitted to the bar in 1788 at the age of 19.

Taylor practiced law in Fayetteville and was appointed to the General Assembly in 1790. In 1798, the Assembly appointed him a judge of the superior courts. By that time he had moved to New Bern. For the following two decades he served as a judge, and, in 1811, was appointed by all other state superior court judges as their “chief justice.” Accordingly he sold his New Bern properties and moved to Raleigh where he built his residence, Elmwood in 1813.

When the North Carolina Supreme Court was established in 1818, Taylor was elected its first chief justice. Three years later, he opened a private law school at his home. Although not a college graduate, he served as a trustee for the University of North Carolina, and was awarded an honorary law degree by Georgetown University.

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