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Judge John James Pearson

PEARSON, Judge John James, was born in Delaware county, Pa., October 25, 1800. He was the son of Bevan Pearson and his wife Anne Warner, the former of English and Welsh decent, the latter of English descent exclusively, their ancestors having come from the counties of Derbyshire and Yorkshire and from Glamorganshire in Wales. They belonged to the Society of Friends and were prominent in early colonial history. The first member of the family who come to this country were John Blunston, chosen by William Penn as one of his council for State, and William Warner, who was appointed judge by King Charles II. and presided over the first court ever held in Pennsylvania, at Upland (Chester), September 13, 1681.

In his fifth year John J. Pearson was taken with his fatherís family to Mercer county, this State, where he enjoyed the educational advantages of the best schools of the county, and prosecuted his studies in the classics and certain branches of science, but not getting a regular college course and graduation. His native tastes and talents led him to choose the legal profession for his occupation, and he was probably influenced also by the example of his grandfather, John Pearson, a prominent judge. He began his preparation for his life work by a course of reading and study under Hon. John Banks, a lawyer of high standing in Mercer county at that time, and subsequently a member of Congress and a judge.

Mr. Pearson was admitted to the Mercer county bar in August, 1822, and immediately took up his residence at Franklin, Venango county, where he began his practice. It was the practice of the attorneys of that day to travel long circuits, and following this custom, Mr. Pearson sought and obtained much business in the counties of Venango, Mercer, Crawford, Warren, Erie, Beaver and Butler. Although fully qualified and equipped for a general practice and equally able in all departments of professional service, he became most eminent in the trial of land titles, in which he was recognized as the highest authority.

In the spring of 1830 he removed his residence to his former home in Mercer county, and continued to travel his large curcuit <sic> until 1849. During this period his time was given almost entirely to his profession, the only interruption he permitted being his acceptance of the office of congressman from the Beaver-Mercer district, in 1835-36, and that of State senator for four years, beginning in 1837. While in the State Senate he served three years as chairman of the judiciary committee, one of the most important and laborious positions in that body.

On the 7th of April, 1849, Governor William F. Johnson appointed Mr. Pearson to the office of president judge of Twelfth judicial district, comprising the counties of Dauphin and Lebanon. His appointment was immediately confirmed by the Senate, and in the following summer he changed his residence to Harrisburg, where he spent the remainder of his life. Owing to growing population and consequent increase of State business, the docket of this court had become crowded, and business was much in arrears, but Judge Pearsonís industrious and methodical methods and tireless and patient diligence soon brought all cases to proper trial.

The office filled by Judge Pearson became elective under the changed Constitution of the Sate, and its term was made of ten years duration. In the autumn of 1851 Judge Pearson was elected and commissioned judge of the same district, and was re-elect for a second term in 1861, and for a third term in 1871, and completed these three terms of service with his characteristic fidelity and ability. His election in every instance was by a unanimous vote of the district.

He decided many questions of great magnitude and tried many noted criminal cases. He evolved the principles upon which the taxation of corporations by this State are now decided, both by the courts of this State and of the United States. As a lawyer and judge he attained prominence. Two volumes of his decisions are published and are universally accepted as standard authority on the points involved.

Judge Pearson having reached the age of four score, declined to stand for re-election in 181. His letter of declination is a classic in its language and sentiment, and showed that he was a man as great in his views and feelings in the ripeness of age as he had been in the prime of his powers. Judge Pearson was married, first, on the 12th of October, 1828, to Ellen, only daughter of Gen. Samuel Hayes, of Venango county. She died in February, 1840. On July 12, 1842, he married, secondly, Mary Harris Briggs, only daughter of Joseph and Caroline Briggs, grand-daughter of Gen. John Andre Hanna, and great-granddaughter of John Harris, the founder of Harrisburg. In his personality Judge Pearson was attractive and inspiring. Dignity was never wanting, nor was it ever prominent and oppressive. He was genial and cordial in social life, always careful and considerate to others, and genuine in his sympathy with all classes. He could safely be named as worthy of the closest imitation in character and conduct. His death occurred May 30, 1888, and was mourned as a public bereavement. The memory of his greatness and goodness remains and is imperishable.

Pages 425-426


Transcribed by Marjorie Tittle for the Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Genealogy Transcription Project - 30 Oct 2000 Copyright 2000 - All Rights Reserved; Use, duplication or reproduction for profit or presentation by any person or organization is strictly prohibited.