Governor Samuel Swann ASHE
- Born: 24 Mar 1725, Beaufort, South Carolina, USA
- Marriage (1): Mary PORTER in 1746
- Marriage (2): Elizabeth JONES in 1769
- Died: 3 Feb 1813, Rocky Point, Brunswick, North Carolina, USA aged 87
- Buried: Ashe Cemetery, Rocky Point, Pender County, North Carolina, USA
Born in Bath, in Beaufort County but lived in New Hanover County, N.C. Ashe first served as a Delegate to the North Carolina state constitutional convention in 1776. In 1777 he became an associate justice of the North Carolina state supreme court and in 1795 Ashe, then 70 years old, was elected Governor and served three one-year terms (1795 - 1798). It was during his second term in office that he became embroiled in the Glasgow affair. Glasgow was charged with the sale of forged warrants for lands in Tennessee. Ashe, acting on the advice of Andrew Jackson, called for an investigation of Glasgow, the current state Secretary. Glasgow was brought to trial, found guilty and left both his state office and the state of North Carolina. As Governor, Ashe also presided as the President of the University of North Carolina's Board of Trustees. Ashe was a strong opponent of the Federalists though he supported John Adams during the 1798 dispute with France (John Jay Affair).
The town of Asheville and Ashe County in North Carolina were named after him.
Ashe Island, just off North Carolina in the Atlantic Ocean, was named for the Ashe family, a prominent and powerful clan dating back to John Baptista Ashe, a member of the Council of State and speaker of the House. His wife, Elizabeth Swann Ashe, wrote, "Yellow Jacket," the first book ever published in North Carolina. Their son, General John Ashe, was named one of six brigadier generals in 1776, while another son, Samuel, became governor, serving three one-year terms beginning in 1795. During World War II, the United States liberty ship, SS Samuel Ashe, was named in his honor. He died in Rocky Point, North Carolina, where there remains a well-marked grave on his plantation, "The Neck." Future kinsmen proved to be as worthy as their forefathers in politics and military service; the family produced war heroes, a U.S. congressman, a senator and a royal governor.
Extract from "Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians" by John H. Wheeler (1884)
Governor Samuel Ashe, son of John Baptista Ashe, (born 1725; died 1813) was educated at Harvard, and studied law. He, however, served throughout the Revolutionary War, in various military and civil capacities.
He was a Member of the Provincial Congress at Hillsboro, on August 21, 1775, and one of the council of thirteen to whom the government of common wealth was committed. He was also a member of the convention that met at Halifax, on April 4, 1776, and also of the same, in November, 1776, which formed the State Constitution.
In 1777 he was chosen one of the three Judges under the State Government, John Williams and Samuel Spencer, being the others, which he resigned on being elected Governor of the State, 1795.
As a Judge he was firm, upright in character, clear-headed and progressive. In the case of Bayard and wife against Singleton, the idea was first enunciated by him that the courts had the power to pronounce a Statute of the Legislature unconstitutional. To those who had been trained to assert the omnipotence of the British Parliament, this seemed little short of treason; but it is now settled law and considered as one of the bulwarks of liberty.
He married first Mary Porter, and afterwards Mrs. Elizabeth Merrick, by whom he had Thomas, who married Davis -whose son, Pascal Paoli was the father of Judge Thomas S. Ashe whose biography we have already given.
By his first wife he had:
I. John Baptista Ashe.
He died in 1813, and was buried at the Neck Plantation, where many of the descendants of the name, now "Sleep the sleep that knows no waking.''
Extract from Volume II of "Cyclopaedia of Eminent and Representative Men of the Carolinas of the Nineteenth Century" with an introduction by Hon. Samuel A. Ashe (1892)
GEN. SAM ASHE, the youngest son of John Baptista Ashe, was born in 1725; was educated at the north, studied law with his uncle, Sam Swann, was an active participant in all measures in opposition to the crown, and was a leader in the extreme democratic wing of our public men. He was conspicuous in every movement for independence. He was a member of the congress of 1775, and of the provincial council of thirteen (of which he was chosen president), to whom was committed the administration when congress was not in session, was a member of the committee that framed the constitution, and was speaker of the first senate held under the constitution, and by that assembly was elected presiding judge of the supreme court, which position he held for eighteen years. This court was the first in America to refuse to obey a legislative act, on the ground of unconstitutionality. In after years Judge Haywood said, " For this Judge Ashe deserves the gratitude of his country and posterity." He resigned his judicial office in 1795, to accept that of governor, to which he was thrice elected.
He warmly advocated democratic principles, opposed the ratification of the Federal constitution until it was amended, and was a leader of the opposition to the federal party. He died at Rocky Point, in 1813, at the age of eighty-eight years. He married first Mary Porter, a granddaughter of Col. Maurice Moore, and had by her two sons, John Baptista, and Sam; and after her death married Mrs. Elizabeth Merrick and had one son, Thomas.
Extract from "Dictionary of North Carolina: Vol. I" by William S. Powell (1994)
Ashe, Samuel (1725 - 3 Feb. 1813), judge and governor, was born near Bath, where his father, John Baptista Ashe, was speaker in the Assembly, representing the Beaufort Precinct. His father and his mother, Elizabeth Swann, moved to the Cape Fear region, where Samuel's brother John, later general, Stamp Act patriot, soldier and colonial legislator, was born. Samuel's parents died before he was ten and he was raised by his uncle, Sam Swann, head of the Popular party and speaker of the Assembly.
Ashe married first a cousin, Mary Porter, to whom were born three sons, John Baptista, Cincinnatus, and Samuel.
After the death of his first wife, Ashe married Mrs Elizabeth Jones Merrick, by whom he had several children; only one, Thomas, lived to maturity.
Extract from Find A Grave
Birth: 24 March 1725 in Bath, Beaufort County, North Carolina, USA
Death: 3 February 1813
Ashe served as the Governor of North Carolina from 1795 to 1798. Ashe County, North Carolina, was named for him.
Burial: Ashe Cemetery, Rocky Point, Pender County, North Carolina.
Remarks of C.F.W. Coker at Ashe Cemetery Dedication, Wake County, North Carolina concerning Governor Samuel Ashe
(Source: Elizabeth Reid Murray Collection)
April 16, 1967 LADIES AND GENTLEMEN
It is an especial pleasure for me to be here this beautiful afternoon, as a representative of your State Department of Archives and History, at the rededication of the grave of one of the foremost men in the History of North Carolina and the nation. No words of mine can add or detract from the honor which this man earned for himself and his family, but it is nonetheless appropriate for us to reacquaint ourselves with some of the details of his life.
Samuel Ashe is a man of whom we have no portrait or other likeness. Our knowledge of his early life and education is scant. We do know, however, that he was born sometime in 1725 in or near Bath Town in Beaufort County, the second son of John Baptista Ashe and Elizabeth Swarm Ashe. His father was a prominent lawyer and public official in the young colony; and through his mother, Samuel was related to Colonel Maurice Moore and to Edward Mosely, two of the most influential men in North Carolina.
Samuel Ashe's elder brother, John, served with great distinction in the War of the Regulation and in the American Revolution, and he attained the rank of major general in the North Carolina Militia.
His sister, Mary, married George Moore, son of "King" Roger Moore of New Hanover County.
In 1727, John Baptista Ashe, his wife Elizabeth, and their three small children moved from Beaufort County to the region which became New Hanover County two years later (and, of course, became Pender County still later). The father received grants of land on Rocky Point and higher up the North east River, and apparently he was a man of considerable means. Mrs. Ashe died in 1730 or 1731, and her husband, a few years later, in November, 1734.
For reasons which are not entirely clear, the elder Ashe appears to have willed almost all of his considerable estate to his second son, Samuel, who was nine years old at the time. He made provision for the education of all of his children, however, asking his executors, in these words (and I quote): "Let my sons be taught to read and write, and be introduced into the practical part of Arithmetick, not too hastily hurrying them to Latin and Grammar, but after they are pretty well versed in these let them be taught Latin & Greek. I propose that this be done in Virginia; After which let them learn French, perhaps Some French man at Santee wile undertake this; when they are arrived to years of discretion Let them study Mathematicks. To my Sons when they
arrive at age I recommend the pursuit & Study of some profession or business (I could wich one to ye Law, the other to Merchandize). [But in any case]. . . Let them follow their own inclinations."
"[Further]. . . I will that my daughter be taught to write and read & some femanine accomplishments which may render her agreable; And that she be not kept ignorant as to what appertains to a good house wife in the management of household affairs." [End Quote.]
The three orphaned children, John, Samuel, and Mary, were left to the care and guidance of their maternal uncle, Samuel Swann, who had
succeeded his uncle as leader of the populist party, and who served as speaker of the General Assembly for twenty-five years.
Of the youth of Samuel Ashe we know almost nothing. Some of his biographers state that he received his education in the north; others state more specifically that he attended Harvard College. In any event, it is apparent from subsequent events that he was trained in the law.
In an atmosphere of republican (as opposed to royal) sentiment, and among kinsmen who had steadily opposed crown prerogratives and maintained the liberties of the people, Ashe grew to manhood. One of his descendants remembers him as "a man of large frame, strong physically as well as intellectually; . . . self-reliant, independent in his views and sturdy in maintaining them."
Samuel seems to have intended to enter public service, following in the traditions of his forebears. As assistant Attorney for the British Crown in New Hanover County before the beginning of the Revolution, he won the respect and admiration of the last Royal Governor, Josiah Martin, who in 1775 wrote to the King that Samuel Johnston and Samuel Ashe were the only men of integrity among the members of the Revolutionary Provincial Council of North Carolina. But whatever loyalty that Ashe might have had before 1774, he certainly had none once it had become apparent that the people demanded independence. He was one of eight members of the Committee appointed in New Hanover
County on July 21, 1774, to prepare an address to the people of North Carolina to call a Revolutionary Convention for the following month.
The next January, 1775, he was appointed a member of the New Hanover Committee of Safety, and later, a member of the Provincial Convention of North Carolina, that body which ruled the State between the nullification of British authority and the adoption of the first North Carolina Constitution late the following year. He served for a while as president of the Provincial Council, the chief executive agency during this period; and in 1776, he was instrumental in the framing of the first Constitution for the state, just as fourteen years later he was to play a prominent role in the North Carolina Conventions at Hillsborough and Fayetteville which were called to consider the ratification of the United States Constitution.
With the convening of the first General Assembly of North Carolina under the new State Constitution, in April, 1777, Samuel Ashe was elected to the Senate by New Hanover County, and then, by the Senate, to the office of its Speaker. In this position he served for the remainder of the session.
Besides his many public commitments, he had acquired several family commitments by this time. A few years before, he had married a cousin, Mary Porter, by whom he had three sons: John Baptista II, Samuel, Jr., and Cincinnatus Ashe. After the death of Mary, he married another kinswoman, Elizabeth Merrick, and this union produced a son Thomas. Of these four sons, Cincinnatus was lost at sea during the Revolutionary War. The other grown sons served with distinction during the war; and all of them followed in the family tradition of public service.
One of the most significant factors in the events which took place in North Carolina between the cessation of English control and the firm establishment of popular rule was the absence of any duly-qualified judicial system. Courts continued to sit, of course, in local disputes; but their jurisdiction and authority was, to say the least, a matter of question. As Samuel Ashe remarked some years later: "At the time of separation from Great Britain, we were thrown into a similar situation with people ship-wrecked and cast on a marooned island, without law, without magistrates, without government, . . . [and without] any legal authority."
The new Constitution of 1776, which Ashe had helped to frame, provided for Supreme Courts of Law and Equity, and in 1777, Ashe was appointed one of the justices in the new court system. For the next eighteen years he served in this capacity, earning for himself a great reputation for integrity and legal authority. In 1785, Ashe took part in one of the most significant cases in American jurisprudence.
In the decision in the case of Bayard vs. Singleton, part of an act of the General Assembly which called for the confiscation of Loyalists' property was declared unconstitutional by Ashe and the other two justices of the Supreme Court. Although several other states contend for the honor, this decision may have been the very first in history where an act of a legislature under a written constitution was nullified by a court. Such a concept was and still is unheard of under
English Common Law, but since the more famous decision of Chief Justice John Marshall in 1803 in the case of Marbury vs. Madison, such a concept has been recognized as a basis of American law. Samuel Ashe and North Carolina deserve much recognition in this regard.
Ashe served ably on the court until 1795 when he was elected Governor. As was the practice in North Carolina between 1776 and 1835, the chief executive was elected by the General Assembly for a one-year term of office. Ashe had been recognized as a strong Jeffersonian or Anti-Federalist since 1788-89 when he opposed North Carolina's ratification of the United States Constitution. When the Jeffersonian party became the dominant force in the General Assembly of North Carolina in the mid-1790s, it was natural that this group would select a man of Ashe's calibre as its leader.
Re-elected twice, Ashe served for three full terms, from 1795 to 1798, even though he was in his early seventies by this time. During his administration, probably the most important event was the discovery of the Tennessee land frauds which had been perpetrated by James Glasgow, the Secretary of State. The Governor called together the remaining members of the Council of State, announced, "An angel has fallen," and set about with his usual judicial deliberateness to bring the matter to rights. When Glasgow and his cohorts attempted to burn the Capitol in Raleigh in an effort to destroy the records which would prove the fraud, Ashe succeeded in detecting and foiling the plot. The culprits were brought to trial and convicted.
The Governor retired to private life in 1798 when he was 73 years old. He spent the remaining fifteen years of his life on his plantation at Rocky Point or at his summer home near Hawfields in Orange County. He died on February 3, 1813, in his eighty-eighth year.
It behooves us here this afternoon to pay grateful and humble respects to this man, his predecessors, and his successors. In my conclusion, I would like to quote two sentences by Stephen Beauregard Weeks, one of North Carolina's most eminent historians: "There have been few families in North Carolina which, by reason of inherent ability, have produced in each generation some member who has risen above the level of his time and continued unimpaired the best traditions of his ancestors. In this respect, no family in North Carolina has a more marked record than that of ASHE."
Extract from "The South in the Building of the Nation: Vol. XI" (1909)
ASHES, THE, of North Carolina. The Ashe family has been since colonial days one of the most distinguished in North Carolina. Its founder was John Baptista Ashe, who came from England early in the Eighteenth century. He was a member of the governor's council in 1730.
SAMUEL ASHE, brother of John (b. 1725; d. Rocky
Point, N. C., Feb. 3, 1813), was a prominent lawyer; was a member of the North Carolina committee of safety prior to the breaking out of the Revolution; and was successively a member of the provincial congress of the state, a judge of the superior court, and governor.
Extract from Find A Grave
Name: Samuel Ashe
Birth: 24 March 1725 in Bath, Beaufort County, North Carolina, USA.
Death: 3 February 1813
Note: Ashe served as the Governor of North Carolina from 1795 to 1798. Ashe County, North Carolina, was named for him.
Spouse: Elizabeth Jones Merrick Ashe (1735-1815)
Children: John Baptista Ashe (1748-1802) and Samuel Ashe (1763-1835)
Burial: Ashe Cemetery, Rocky Point, Pender County, North Carolina, USA.
Note on the ancestry of Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr.
Arthur Robert Ashe Jr. was born on 10 July 1943, in Richmond, Virginia. He went on to become a great tennis player, winning the US Open in 1968, the Australian Open in 1970, and Wimbledon in 1975. Arthur Ashe and his family can trace their ancestry back eleven generations to the early 1700s, when slaves were brought from Africa to the USA to work on the farms, in the homes, and on plantations. The Ashe ancestors were slaves who had been brought from West Africa and who were owned by Governor Samuel Ashe of South Carolina. Like many slaves in the colonial period, they adopted the name of their owner. Thus, the name "Ashe" was passed down the generations into the twentieth century. Arthur Ashe died of pneumonia related to AIDS on 6 February 1993 in New York City.
Samuel married Mary PORTER, daughter of John PORTER III and Elizabeth MOORE, in 1746. (Mary PORTER was born in 1732, died in 1767 and was buried in Ashe Cemetery, Rocky Point, Pender County, North Carolina, USA.)
Samuel next married Elizabeth JONES, daughter of Thomas JONES and Margaret MOORE, in 1769. (Elizabeth JONES was born on 10 Jun 1735, died on 3 Jan 1815 and was buried in Ashe Cemetery, Rocky Point, Pender County, North Carolina, USA.)