George Poindexter

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George Poindexter
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
June 28, 1834 – November 30, 1834
Preceded by Hugh Lawson White
Succeeded by John Tyler
United States Senator
from Mississippi
In office
October 15, 1830 – March 3, 1835
Preceded by Robert H. Adams
Succeeded by Robert J. Walker
2nd Governor of Mississippi
In office
January 5, 1820 – January 7, 1822
Preceded by David Holmes
Succeeded by Walter Leake
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi's at-large congressional district
In office
December 10, 1817 – March 3, 1819
Preceded by William Lattimore (as Territorial Delegate)
Succeeded by Christopher Rankin
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives from Mississippi Territory's at-large congressional district
In office
March 4, 1807 – March 3, 1813
Preceded by William Lattimore
Succeeded by William Lattimore
Personal details
Born 1779
Louisa County, Virginia
Died September 5, 1853 (aged 73–74)
Jackson, Mississippi
Political party Democratic-Republican
Spouse(s) Lydia Carter
Agatha Chinn
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Judge

George Poindexter (1779 – September 5, 1853) was an American politician, lawyer and judge from Mississippi. Born in Virginia, he moved to the Mississippi Territory in 1802. He served as United States Representative from the newly admitted state, was elected as Governor (1820–1822), and served as a United States Senator.

Early life[edit]

Poindexter was born in Louisa County, Virginia in 1779.[1] He was the son of Thomas Poindexter and Lucy (Jones) Poindexter;[1] the Poindexters were a large Virginia family of French Huguenot and English ancestry.[2] Poindexter received a sporadic education,[2] primarily from studying under the tutelage of two of his brothers. He was orphaned after his father died when Poindexter was 17; Poindexter inherited two slaves and a share of his father's land, and resided with an older brother until he came of age.[3] The Poindexter family of Virginia made frequent use of the names George, Thomas, and John; as a result, their genealogy is difficult to trace.[1] He may have been the uncle of Ohio abolitionist preacher James Preston Poindexter, whose father was Joseph Poindexter, a journalist at the Richmond Enquirer.[4]

The exact details of Poindexter's legal studies are not known, but according to family tradition, Poindexter studied under practicing attorneys, first in Kentucky, and later in Richmond.[5] He was admitted to the bar in 1800, and began to practice in Milton, an Albemarle County town along the Rivanna River which no longer exists.[6]

Move to Mississippi[edit]

George Poindexter, 1808

After moving to the Mississippi Territory in 1802, Poindexter set up his law practice in Natchez.[7] He soon became a friend of Governor William C. C. Claiborne, and a leader in the local Democratic-Republican Party.[8] As a result, in 1803, he was appointed Attorney General of the Territory;[8] he served until 1807,[9] when he took up his duties as a member of the Territorial House of Representatives, to which he had been elected in 1806.[10] (He had been an unsuccessful candidate for the legislature in 1804.)[11]

During Mississippi's early years, nearby areas were under Spanish control.[12] When tensions rose over Mississippi's expansion, and the Spanish threatened an attack, residents of Adams County formed a militia;[12] Poindexter was one of the main organizers of a company in Natchez, the Mississippi Blues, and he was elected commander with the rank of captain.[12] No attack from Spain materialized, and the militia soon disbanded.[12]

When former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr appeared in Mississippi while traveling south as part of the Burr conspiracy in 1807, acting Governor Cowles Mead declared martial law, and appointed Poindexter and William B. Shields as aides-de-camp on his military staff, and sent them to interview Burr and determine his intentions.[13] When Burr was arrested, Poindexter conducted the prosecution until Burr's escape from custody.[13] After Burr escaped, Governor Robert Williams returned from vacation at his home in North Carolina to personally take control of the situation;[14] he criticized Mead and fired the militia officers Mead had appointed, including Poindexter.[14]

Territorial delegate to Congress[edit]

Poindexter was elected as a delegate to the United States House of Representatives from the Mississippi Territory; he served in the 10th, 11th and 12th Congresses (1807 to 1813).[15] As a delegate, Poindexter concentrated his efforts largely on questions germane to Mississippi, such as federal patronage, as well as advocating for Mississippi's admission to the Union.[15] Poindexter also worked to resolve and standardize land titles in Mississippi, where residents possessed deeds and grants from Spain, France, England, and the United States, due to the number of times the area had changed hands.[16] He also opposed those who claimed the Yazoo lands, but in 1810 the United States Supreme Court's ruling in Fletcher v. Peck, resolved the claims in their favor.[17]

Before leaving for Washington, DC to begin his duties, Mead informed Poindexter of disparaging comments Williams had made to Mead about Poindexter following Burr's escape.[18] Poindexter responded by challenging Williams to a duel;[19] Williams replied that he would admit to any comment Mead attributed to him, but that he would not "involve either his public or private character with such a man."[19] Poindexter responded by writing letters to the editor that made it appear that he had been wronged by Williams and was unable to obtain satisfaction, which had the effect of making Williams appear cowardly in the eyes of his constituents.[19]

Poindexter was in Richmond in October 1807 to testify at Burr's treason trial;[20] his testimony suggested that Burr's arrest had been based on flimsy evidence, which probably played a part in Burr's acquittal.[20]

In 1811, Poindexter's outspoken opposition to the Federalist Party resulted in a duel with wealthy merchant and planter Abijah Hunt.[21] Poindexter killed Hunt, but afterwards Poindexter's political opponents alleged that he had broken the code duello by firing at Hunt prematurely.[2]

Judgeship and the House of Representatives[edit]

Poindexter did not run for reelection in 1812; after his final term in Congress ended he was appointed as federal Judge for the Mississippi Territory, and he served from 1813 to 1817.[2] Poindexter also served as a volunteer aide to William Carroll as Carroll commanded a division of Tennessee militia at the War of 1812's decisive 1814 Battle of New Orleans.[22]

Poindexter was chairman of the committee that was appointed to draft a constitution for the new state of Mississippi. After its admission in 1817, he was elected to be the state's first representative in Congress.[2] He served in the 15th Congress from 1817 to 1819, when he chaired the Committee on Public Lands.

After that, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1820 to the 17th Congress and in 1822 to the 18th Congress.

Governor of Mississippi[edit]

In 1819 Poindexter was elected the second Governor of Mississippi by a large margin, winning more than 60% of the vote. He served from 1820 to 1822. During his time in office he oversaw a reorganization of the militia, the state created its first free public schools, state courts were reorganized, and Jackson was selected as the site for the state capital.

United States Senate[edit]

Poindexter was appointed to the United States Senate in 1830 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Robert H. Adams, and served from 1830 to 1835. Soon after his appointment, he learned of the financial distress of Martha Jefferson Randolph, whose father Thomas Jefferson, the late president, had left an estate heavily encumbered by debt. Poindexter introduced a bill to grant Randolph 50,000 acres in Virginia, with the idea she could sell the land to raise money to live on. The bill failed to pass the Senate, and was rejected by the two Virginia senators in 1831.[23]

Poindexter served as chairman of the Committee on Private Land Claims in the 22nd Congress from 1831 to 1833, of the Committee on Public Lands in the 23rd Congress from 1833 to 1835 and was President pro tempore of the Senate from June to November 1834.

Poindexter's tenure as chairman of the Committee on Private Land Claims had been considered moderately controversial at the time, as he had espoused some views that could be considered Socialist, regarding government repossession of land. Poindexter was thought to have made these claims to support President Andrew Jackson's fight with the Second Bank of the United States. He was a supporter of President Jackson, and had defended him against calls for censure stemming from the Arbuthnot and Ambrister incident, but had slowly become less happy with the President's policies.[2]

In 1834 Poindexter had his home in Washington, D.C. painted by Richard Lawrence. A deranged man, Lawrence came to believe that he was the ruler of England and the United States, and that Jackson was a usurper. In January 1835 Lawrence made two attempts to shoot at Jackson using two separate pistols, both of which misfired. The assassination attempt occurred as President Andrew Jackson was attending a memorial service for a Congressman at the House of Representatives. It was the first attempt to assassinate a President. Jackson accused various political enemies as being behind Lawrence. Among them was Poindexter, who denied any connection except for having his house painted. Poindexter also took issue with Vice President Martin Van Buren's support of Jackson during the debate over the Bank, and made explicit threats that caused Van Buren to carry pistols for self-defense when presiding over the Senate. The accusations about Lawrence followed Poindexter back to Mississippi, and he was unsuccessful in running for a second term.

He became embittered by these political problems in Mississippi due to his opposition to Jackson.[2]

Retirement from politics[edit]

In 1835, Poindexter moved to Kentucky, where he continued practicing law in Lexington. He later moved back to Jackson, Mississippi and continued his law practice until his death there on September 5, 1853. He was interred in Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson.


In 1804 Poindexter married Lydia Carter (1789–1824),[24][25] the daughter of a prominent Natchez businessman and plantation owner.[26] They had two sons, George Littleton (or Lytleton) and Albert Gallatin.[27] They divorced after Poindexter publicly accused his wife of infidelity and claimed that their second child, whom he disavowed, was the product of an extramarital affair between his wife and their neighbor.[28] In 1820 Lydia Carter Poindexter married Reverend Lewis Williams and moved to Brimfield, Massachusetts.[26] Her sons remained with her;[29] Poindexter provided for the support of George, but disavowed Albert and refused to provide for him.[29]

In 1816 Poindexter married Agatha Ball Chinn (1794–1822). They had one son who died of yellow fever as a child while Poindexter was Governor, and Agatha Poindexter died soon afterwards.

He was said to have a serious liaison with a slave woman.

When several years before, Representative Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky was criticized for his common-law marriage with his slave Julia Chinn, he said, "Unlike Jefferson, Clay, Poindexter and others, I married my wife under the eyes of God, and apparently He has found no objections."[30]

Historian Burke has written,

During slavery times, there was no particular stigma attached to the fact that many southern plantation owners, along with their white overseers, often fathered mulatto children born of black slave women. As long as the white father denied the facts, the customs that created miscegenation were usually overlooked by Southern society.[30]

Johnson violated the norms by acknowledging Chinn as his wife and their daughters as his, plus trying to introduce his daughters to "polite society".[30]


  1. ^ a b c The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 15-16.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Poindexter, George". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  3. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 18-19.
  4. ^ Simmons, Martha. Preaching with Sacred Fire: An Anthology of African American Sermons, 1750 to the Present. WW Norton & Company, 2010. p322-323
  5. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 21-22.
  6. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 22.
  7. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 28.
  8. ^ a b The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 63.
  9. ^ Trinity College (1942). Historical Papers. 25-28. Durham, NC: Trinity College Historical Society. p. 181. 
  10. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 74-75.
  11. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 67.
  12. ^ a b c d The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 75.
  13. ^ a b The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 76-77.
  14. ^ a b The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 80-81.
  15. ^ a b The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 84-85.
  16. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 104-106.
  17. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 107.
  18. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 79-80.
  19. ^ a b c The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 80-82.
  20. ^ a b The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 82-83.
  21. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 114-115.
  22. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 129-130.
  23. ^ Marc Leepson, Chap. One, "Stealing Monticello", Saving Monticello: The Levy Family's Epic Quest to Rescue the House that Jefferson Built, University of Virginia, 2001, accessed November 12, 2013
  24. ^ The Early Life of George Poindexter, p. 66.
  25. ^ Johnson, Charles Owen (1961). The Genealogy of Several Allied Families: Frazer, Owen, Bessellieu, Carter, Shaw, Wright, Landfair, Briggs, Neill, Tidwell, Johnson, and Others. Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing. p. 465. 
  26. ^ a b The Genealogy of Several Allied Families, p. 465.
  27. ^ McCain, William David (1995). The Journal of Mississippi History. 57. Jackson, MS: Mississippi Department of Archives and History. p. 204. 
  28. ^ Wyatt-Brown, Bertram (1994). The House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy, and Imagination in a Southern Family. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-19-505626-6. 
  29. ^ a b The Early Life of George Poindexter, pp. 134-135.
  30. ^ a b c Henry Robert Burke. Richard Mentor Johnson: "Window to the Past", Lest We Forget Communications. Retrieved on January 3, 2008.



External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Lattimore
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's at-large congressional district

March 4, 1807 – March 3, 1813
Succeeded by
William Lattimore
Preceded by
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Mississippi's at-large congressional district

December 10, 1817 – March 3, 1819
Succeeded by
Christopher Rankin
Political offices
Preceded by
David Holmes
Governor of Mississippi
January 5, 1820 – January 7, 1822
Succeeded by
Walter Leake
Preceded by
Hugh Lawson White
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
June 28, 1834 – November 30, 1834
Succeeded by
John Tyler
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Robert H. Adams
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Mississippi
October 15, 1830 – March 3, 1835
Served alongside: Powhatan Ellis and John Black
Succeeded by
Robert J. Walker