John Stokes, George Washington’s Appointee to the Bench
On August 3, 1790, John Stokes was named first federal judge for the district of North Carolina.
Born in March 1756 in south central Virginia, Stokes entered military service at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War and became a captain in February 1778. He served throughout the northern campaigns of Washington’s army, fighting at Brandywine, Germantown and Monmouth. He was severely wounded in action at Charleston.
After the war, Stokes moved to Halifax, to live near his brother Montfort Stokes. He operated law offices in Rowan and Montgomery Counties and tutored several law students including Andrew Jackson. After marrying in 1788, Stokes moved close to what is now Cooleemee in Davie County and became one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina in 1789.
Stokes also entered politics, getting elected to the General Assembly in 1789. Later that year, Stokes took part in the constitutional convention in Fayetteville. A staunch Federalist, Stokes was appointed the first federal judge for the North Carolina district by George Washington after William R. Davie turned down the post.
Stokes’s career as a judge lasted only one term. He died in October 1790 while riding home from his first court appearance in New Bern. Stokes County, created in 1789, is named in his honor.
For more, check out Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663-1943 from North Carolina Historical Publications.
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