Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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Edmund Pendleton

EDMUND PENDLETON (1721–1803)

Edmund Pendleton was one of the most accomplished attorneys in Virginia at the time of the American Revolution. Born on September 9, 1721, Pendleton was orphaned in his native Caroline County when he was very young. He grew up as the ward of the county clerk, in whose office he learned the law and gained introductions to many men of wealth and influence. Pendleton married in 1742, and after his first wife's death, he remarried in 1745. He had no children, but adopted an orphaned nephew in 1759 and raised him as his son. In 1777 Pendleton fell off a horse and broke his hip. The injury left him with a permanent limp.

In 1751 Pendleton became a justice of the peace and the following year won election to the House of Burgesses, where he served until the Revolution. Pendleton was a member of the First and Second Continental Congresses, president of the Virginia Committee of Safety that governed the colony from the summer of 1775 to the summer of 1776, and president of the fourth and fifth Virginia Conventions. He rewrote the several draft resolutions introduced into the fifth convention early in May 1776 and created the resolves that the convention unanimously adopted on May 15, instructing the colony's delegates to Congress to introduce a resolution for independence and authorizing a committee of the convention to draft the Declaration of Rights and the first constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In the autumn of 1776, Pendleton became the first Speaker of the new House of Delegates. He was president of the Convention of 1788 that ratified the Constitution of the United States. The following year, Pendleton became the head of Virginia's judiciary department, the Court of Appeals, and served until his death. In 1788 George Washington appointed him as a judge for the United States District Court of Virginia, but he declined the appointment. Pendleton died on October 23, 1803.

Suggested Reading:

Mays, David John. Edmund Pendleton, 1721–1803: A Biography. 2 vols. Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1984.