James Iredell


James Iredell was born in England but sent to Edenton because of situations that had occurred within his family. Being of humble birth, James’ mother had to ask favors of her kin to get her son’s passage to the colonies. George III appointed Iredell to oversee activities of the port. Here Iredell’s job was in the customs house looking at what was being shipped in and out of the port, a tax collector. While in Edenton, Iredell would study law under Samuel Johnston. Iredell writing to his father stated that the Johnston family was, “without exception, the first in this country in every respect, and in none more distinguishingly than in possessing an uncommon share of good sense, and more admired rules of conduct.” In 1771 he would be admitted to the bar and well on his way to higher posts. Iredell also found love in the Johnston household. Hannah Johnston, sister of Samuel Johnston, was the young lady that caught his eye. They married in 1773 and together had four children. Their son James Iredell, Jr. would become Governor of North Carolina. The home in which they lived, located in Edenton, remained in the family until Hannah Iredell passed away in 1826.

During the time around the Revolution, Iredell would serve as collector of the port for the Crown. His convictions were strong though and he would support the Whig or Patriot cause. Iredell, during the time of revolution, would become a leading essayist. His work, “Principles of an American Whigs,” came before the Declaration of Independence with similar principles. The principles being wrongs the crown imposed on the colonists. While at war with Great Britain, Iredell helped North Carolina set up their judicial system.

After the Revolution in 1787 the Philadelphia convention proposed there be a Constitution. Iredell would push for acceptance of the Constitution to be passed within North Carolina. He would be the floor leader of the North Carolina Federalist at the first convention within North Carolina. North Carolina would refuse the Constitution though, until it accepted a Bill of Rights. The Constitution would pass in 1789 at the second convention thanks to the papers of Iredell. Due to Iredell’s hard work in getting the Constitution to pass within North Carolina; George Washington would elect Iredell as a member of the Supreme Court. While a Federal Judge, Iredell helped both President Washington and John Adams. He is best known for the cases of Chisholm v. Georgia, and Calder v. Bull. The Chisholm case dealt with Alexander Chisholm suing the State of Georgia for money his family had loaned them during the American Revolution. Iredell was the only Supreme Court Judge to vote against the plaintiff. The result of this would be the passing of the Eleventh Amendment. “The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” The other case Calder v. Bull in which Iredell said the Supreme Court has the right to review legislative acts. Serving for nearly a decade on the Supreme Court, James Iredell had a tremendous affect on how people look at the Constitution. Iredell, overworked, fell ill and died in 1799. He is currently buried in Edenton at the Johnston Family Cemetery.


Butler, Lindley S. (1976). North Carolina and the coming of the Revolution 1763-1776. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.

Camp, Louis Van. (2001). Edenton and Chowan County, North Carolina. Charleston, SC: Arcadia.

Edenton Woman’s Club. (1970). Guide book, colonial Edenton and countryside, Edenton, North Carolina. Chowan Herald Inc. Edenton, NC.

North Carolina History Project. (2013). James Iredell, Sr. In Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 17, 2013, from Link