William H. Cabell

William H. Cabell (December 16, 1772  January 12, 1853) was a Virginia lawyer, politician, plantation owner and judge aligned with the Democratic-Republican party. He served as Member of the Virginia House of Delegates, as Governor of Virginia, and as judge on what later became the Virginia Supreme Court. Cabell adopted his middle initial in 1795which did not stand for a nameto distinguish himself from other William Cabells, including his uncle, William Cabell Sr.[1][2]

William H. Cabell
Portrait of William H. Cabell by Flavius Josephus Fisher
14th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 7, 1805  December 1, 1808
Preceded byJohn Page
Succeeded byJohn Tyler, Sr.
6th Chief Justice of Virginia
In office
January 18, 1842  December 31, 1850
Preceded byHenry St. George Tucker, Sr.
Succeeded byJohn J. Allen
Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court
In office
March 21, 1811  December 31, 1850
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Amherst County
In office
November 8, 1796  December 3, 1797
Serving with Joseph Burrus
Preceded byWilliam Cabell Jr.
Succeeded byJoseph Shelton
In office
December 3, 1798  November 30, 1799
Serving with William Ware
Preceded byJoseph Shelton
Succeeded byDavid S. Garland
In office
December 6, 1802  January 1, 1805
Serving with John Camm, Hudson M. Garland
Preceded byDavid S. Garland
Succeeded byCharles Taliaferro
Personal details
Born(1772-12-16)December 16, 1772
Cumberland County, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedJanuary 12, 1853(1853-01-12) (aged 80)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Cabell, Agnes S. B. Cabell
Alma materHampden-Sydney College College of William and Mary
ProfessionPlanter, lawyer, judge

Early life

Cabell was born at "Boston Hill", in Cumberland County in the Colony of Virginia on December 16, 1772. The eldest of the three surviving sons of Colonel (and burgess) Nicholas Cabell (1750-1803)[3] and Hannah Carrington Cabel (1751-1817), both of the First Families of Virginia. His grandfather, Dr. William Cabell, had emigrated from Britain to Virginia, and moved westward along the James River into Goochland County with his family, of which Nicholas was the youngest son (by his second wife). Through his father Cabell was descended from Henry Daubeney, 1st Earl of Bridgewater, Giles Daubeney, 1st Baron Daubeney and Sir Giles Daubeney of England, and through his mother he was descended from John Strangways. His uncles John Cabell, Joseph Cabell and William Cabell also became prominent planters and government officials in the upper James River watershed, in what became Albemarle County, then Buckingham County and Amherst County in grandfather Dr. Cabell's lifetime. Nicholas Cabell inherited the Liberty Hall plantation where his grandfather died, and also had sons Joseph Carrington Cabell (who helped found the University of Virginia and served in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly)[4] and Nicholas Cabell (who inherited Liberty Hall but died of tuberculosis).[5] This Cabell's birth family also included daughter Mary Ann Cabell Carrington (1783-1850). At least fourteen members of the extended Cabell family would serve in Virginia's legislature before the American Civil War, and six after the conflict.

Young William Cabell studied with private tutors and later attended and graduated from Hampden–Sydney College in 1789.[6] He then moved to Williamsburg and attended the College of William and Mary, where he took legal courses from Judge St. George Tucker before graduating in July 1793. Young Cabell then moved to Richmond to read law.


Cabell began his legal career soon after his admission to the Virginia bar on June 13, 1794, and also followed his father's footsteps in entering politics, although he would also serve as a judge.

Political career

Amherst County voters first elected William H. Cabell to the Virginia House of Delegates to succeed his cousin William Cabell Jr. (after this man adopted his distinguishing initial) in 1796. For some time, this William Cabell had lived with both his uncle William Cabell Sr. and cousin William Cabell Jr. at their plantation called "Union Hill" near Liberty Hall. His uncle had represented Amherst County in the legislature for more than three decades—after its foundation from Albemarle County had also at times held all executive and judicial offices in the county until his death, whereupon William Jr. had succeeded to the part-time legislative position, though he proved not as strong a candidate as his father, hence this man's entry into politics. Although Amherst County voters failed to re-elect William H. Cabell after that term, he would serve multiple separate terms as one of Amherst County's two (part-time) delegates before moving across the James River into Buckingham County.[7] In one of his early legislative terms, Cabell voted for the Virginia resolutions against the alien and sedition laws, which were designed to impede his political party. Cabell also served as Republican presidential elector in 1800 and 1804.

In 1804, legislators elected him as the 14th Governor of Virginia and he served from 1805 to 1808. While he was Virginia's governor, the British sloop of war Leopard attacked the frigate Chesapeake off Norfolk (the ChesapeakeLeopard affair later known as a forerunner of the War of 1812) and former Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson ordered the arrest of Vice President Aaron Burr for the Burr conspiracy. Burr went on trial for treason in Richmond, because much the planning took place in lands Virginia once claimed in the Ohio Valley, but was acquitted as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall (a fellow Richmond resident) found insufficient evidence of treason, although much conspiracy.


The extended Cabell family owned many plantations and mills along the James River watershed, and over times bought and sold land as well as enslaved people used to operate those plantations. However, some records are lost, and similar names of his cousins complicate differentiation. In the early 1800s, Cabell's main plantation was in Buckingham County that he bought from his uncle Joseph Cabell (who had called it "Repton"). He renamed "Montevideo" and lived with his family as well as widowed mother until her death. He sold the plantation in the late 1820s and moved his family to Richmond. Thus, the 1820 federal census confirms he lived in New Canton, a township in Buckingham County, and owned 48 enslaved males (19 of them boys) and 50 enslaved females (including 19 girls), most of whom probably worked in the tobacco fields, or possibly cultivated wheat and corn and other market crops.[8] However, federal records did not individually identify slaves until 1850, the last census in this man's life. Thus, in 1840, Judge Cabell's Richmond household included four enslaved boys younger than sixteen years old, two enslaved men between 16 and 24 years old, three enslaved women between 25 and 35 years old and one woman in the 36 to 55 year old category.[9] By that time, he presumably had provided dowries for daughters mentioned in another section, and start-up capital for sons. In the final census of his life, Judge Cabell's Richmond household, in addition to two adult sons (William W. Cabell and Henry Cabell and his wife), also included 60, 50 and 31-year-old women, mulatto girls aged 7 and 8, and mulatto boys aged 15 and 11, probably all working as domestic servants. A similar number of slaves were owned by his eldest son, Dr. Robert G. Cabell, who lived next door with his family.[10]

Judicial career

As his gubernatorial term ended, in December 1808, the General Assembly elected Cabell a judge of the general court, so he sat in Amherst or Buckingham County, or both. Two years later, legislators selected him for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court of Appeals. He began serving on that court on March 21, 1811, and served continuously for more than four decades. He refused to allow a slave to buy his freedom in "Stevenson v. Singleton, 1 Leigh 72 (1829). During the court's reorganization in 1831, Cabell was again selected to the new court, where he became president on January 18, 1842. He remained in this position until 1850, but during the last year before his resignation had several absences due to ill health.

Personal life

Cabell's grave at Shockoe Hill Cemetery

Cabell built the Midway Mill in 1787, which later was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but demolished in 1998.[11][12] In 1795, back in Amherst County, William Cabell married Elizabeth Cabell (1774-1801), but they had no children who survived. After her death, on March 11, 1805, he married Agnes Sarah Bell Gamble, eldest daughter of Colonel Robert Gamble, of Richmond.[13] Their children included:

  • Emma Catherine Cabell Carrington (1808–1887)
  • Robert Gamble Cabell (1809–1889)
  • Elizabeth Hannah Cabell Daniel (1811–1892)
  • William Wirt Cabell (1813–1891)
  • Edward Carrington Cabell (1816–1896), who moved to Florida and served in its legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress.
  • John Grattan Cabell (1817–1896)
  • Henry Coalter Cabell (1820–1889).

In 1840, Judge Cabell's household consisted of seven free white persons and ten slaves (2 adult men, 4 boys under age 10, 4 adult women).[14] In 1850, he and Agnes lived with lawyer sons William Cabell (aged 35) and Henry Cabell (age 30 and his wife) and an at least the slaves mentioned earlier.[15]

Death and legacy

Cabell died on January 12, 1853, in Richmond, Virginia and was interred in Shockoe Hill Cemetery.

The Library of Virginia holds Cabell's executive papers (as governor of Virginia).[16]

Cabell County, West Virginia was named in his honor, as is a residence hall at William & Mary.[17]


  1. Alexander Brown The Cabells and their kin: a memorial volume of history, biography, and genealogy. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, 1939, p. 251.
  2. "The Cabell Family Papers – Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library". Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  3. "The Cabell Family Papers – Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library". Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  4. "Cabell, Joseph C. (1778–1856)". Encyclopedia Virginia.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. Alexander Brown, The Cabells and their Kin (1993 ed.) p.
  6. "Lacy, Drury". The National Cyclopædia of American Biography. Vol. II. New York: James T. White & Company. 1921. p. 22.
  7. Cynthia Miller Leonard, The General Assembly of Virginia: 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) pp. 203, 211, 227, 231, 235, 239.
  8. 1820 U.S. Federal Census for New Canton, Buckingham County, Virginia, p. 51 of 54
  9. 1840 U.S. Federal Census for Richmond Ward 3, Henrico County, Virginia, p. 68 of 73
  10. 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Richmond, Henrico County, Virginia, p. 87 of 120.
  11. Virginia Historic Landmark Commission staff (January 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Midway Mill" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  12. "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  13. Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (1915) unpaginated but available online at ancestry.com
  14. 1840 U.S. Federal census for Richmond, Virginia.
  15. Neither Virginia probate nor slave census records are available online and the recording of slaves differed in the 1840, 1850 and 1860 federal censuses.
  16. A Guide to the Governor William H. Cabell Executive Papers, 1805–1808
  17. "William & Mary – Cabell & Nicholas Halls". Wm.edu. Retrieved July 2, 2016.

Further reading

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