James Aldrich,prominate judge, was born in the small village of Barnwell, South Carolina, on July 25, 1850. He was the only son of the late James T. and Isabel C. Aldrich. His paternal ancestors in America, George Aldrich and Catherine Seald Aldrich, emigrated from Derbyshire, England, to Massachusetts Bay Colony. They landed on November 6, 1631, and shortly thereafter moved to Mendon, Massachusetts. The family lived for over one hundred years. In 1799, Robert Aldrich, the grandfather of James Aldrich, left Mendon and settled in Charleston. For more that forty years he had charge of the commercial wharves of that city; and, upon his death, in 1851, the owners of the wharves erected a monument to his memory in old St. Philip’s churchyard.
James Thomas, the fourth son of Robert and the father of James Aldrich, was born in Charleston, but moved to Barnwell, South Carolina. Here, in 1847, he married Isabel Coroneous, the fifth child of the late Angus Patterson. He was a leader of the South Carolina bar, and was often urged to aspire to high political position, but accepted only the first lieutenancy in the Confederates States army, serving during the Civil War. He died in 1875. He was characterized by love for the law and general literature, and by integrity and sincerity.
Alexander and Elizabeth Patterson, the material ancestors of Mr. James Aldrich, were of Scotch extraction and lived in Robeson county, North Carolina. Here her father, the honorable Angus Patterson, was born in 1790, but in 1807 he moved to Barnwell. He was an honored and successful lawyer. To Angus Patterson belongs the unique distinction of having represented his county, Barnwewll, in the general assembly continuously from 1818 to 1850. The first four years he served as a member of the house of representatives, and the remaining twenty-eight years as a senator, during the last twelve of which he was president of the senate.
The subject of this sketch possessed, in childhood, a sound physique, and was devoted to boyish sports. He was fond of reading, especially of biography. His mother, an intellectual and educated woman, guided his reading and aided him in every way. His father was of decided literary ability and often read to his children, explaining as he read. The subject of this sketch attended the preparatory school of the Rev. B. F. B. Perry until about 1862, when, his father being in the Confederate service, the family moved to a plantation on the Edisto River. Here, he studied under the guidance of his mother until the fall of 1864, when the family returned to Barnwell.
In 1865 the Federal army, under General Sherman, was marching upon South Caarolina, and Barnwell was in the line of march. James Aldrich, then only fourteen, volunteered to join first a Confederate States company and then a South Carolina company. Both times he was rejected because he was too young. President Davis had recently declared that “the seed corn of the Confederary” MUST be preserved. He then joined an independent company known as a “cradle and grave company”, composed of boys and old men. Doctor Roper, founder of the Roper hospital in Charleston, was a refugee in Barnwell, and in the winter of 1864-65, raised such a company, which young boys, were quick to join. The company served until the Federals had passed through and beyond the vicinity of Barnwell.
James Aldrich took with him, for the use of the company, his father’s carriage horses and wagon. On returning home he went among his father’s farm friends in a part of the country where the Federal troops had not been, and collected a partial supply of sorely needed provisions for his destitute family. These troops had destoryed the South Carolina railway from Branchville to Montmorenci, taken or killed the mules, horses, etc., and destroyed the wagons. The merchants of Barnwell had been burned out and were anxious to procure new goods. Here he saw his opportunity to provide for the necessities of his family. He hauled goods for the merchants from Branchville to Barnwell, about forty miles, until the railroad was rebuilt. He then farmed for two years, working as a laborer.
From 1867 to 1869 he studied in the village schools of Barnwell, after which he entered Washington college at Lexington, Virginia. General Robert E. Lee was the president of the college; but, upon his death and in his memory, Washington and Lee University was established. James Aldrich remained at the university until June, 1872, when his means became exhausted. His hope of a A. M. degree, had to be abandoned. He was an active member of the Graham-Lee Literary society, while in college, and represented it on several occasions. In 1872 he returned to Barnwell, where under his father, he studied law. On January 20, 1873, he was admitted to the bar. He settled in Aiken, and practiced law up to 1889. Early in his practice he became one of the leading attorneys at the bar.
Soon after settling in Aiken, Mr. Aldrich aided in organizing the “Palmetto Rifles”, of which he was elected first lieutenant and later captain. This company, during the “Radical” days, kept peace in the city and county. It took part in numerous fatal Republican riots, such as Ellenton, Rouse’s Bridge and others. The Republican governor disbanded the Palmetto Rifles and called in their arms, but the men reorganized as a social organization, purchased sixteen-shooting Winchester Rifles and continued to protect life, society, and private property until after Governor Hampton was inagurated.
Like most Southern men, Judge Aldrich, prior to 1876, took an active part in poblic affairs. He opposed fusion tickets, and advocated a straight-out Democratic nomination. In the May 1876, Democratic convention he urged the nomination of a Democratic ticket and cast the first vote in that convention for a straight-out nomination, but the convention was not ripe for the move. In the same year, however, the fight prevailed, and Governor Hampton became the nominee of the “unterrified Democracy” and redeemed the state. The subject of this sketch took an active part in that ever-memorable campaign.
Judge Aldrich was elected a member of the house of representatives for his county, Aiken, for ten years, from December 1878 to December 1884, when he declined re-election. But, he was again elected in December 1886, and served again, until December 1889. He was active in committee work and chairman of several important committees.
In December 1889, Judge Aldrich was elected judge of the second judicial district of South Carolina, then composed of the counties of Aiken, Barnwell, Hampton, Beaufort, and Colleton; to these Bamberg was afterward added. To dispose of work he frequently heard cases long into the night. Though not oldest in age, he is the judge now longest in commission, and during his long service has presided at many of the most important and exciting cases tried in this state. His decisions are still quoted as authority throughout the United States. Judge Aldrich, as circuit judge is ex officio a member of the court en bane. The court of highest and last resort in the state of South Carolina. It is convened by the chief justice whenever two or more justices of the supreme court and circuit judges sit together, except the circuit judge from whom the appeal is pending, and the decision of the majority of the justices and judges sitting is final and conclusive.
Judge Aldrich always took an active part in education. He assisted in organizing the Akin institute and was its first president. He was also an active member of the South Carolina Historical socirty. A past master of the Aiken Masonic lodge. A member of the Episcopal church and has frequently represented his church in the convention of the diocese.
In 1903 Judge Aldrich published “ A Short Sketch of the Lives of James Thomas Aldrich and His Wife, Mrs. Isabel Coroneous Aldrich.” Several biographies of Judge Aldrich have been published. Judge Aldrich married December 15, 1874, to Miss Fannie Lebby, they had three children.
Source:Men Of Mark in South Carolina, Volume I
Author:James Calvin Hemphill
Publisher:MEN OF MARK PUBLISHING COMPANY, Of Washington, D.C.