Served from 1805 through 1824
Chief Justice: 1805 through 1824
Augustus B. Woodward was a native of Virginia, born in November of 1774. It is speculated that he received his college education from William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. In his early life, Woodward devoted himself to literary pursuits and wrote and published several works. He was present at the official formation of the District of Columbia and witnessed the laying of the cornerstone for the District at Jones’ Point in 1792. He became the first attorney to establish a law practice in the new capital. At that time he was described as “a man of middle age, a hardened bachelor who wore nut-brown clothing . . . he slept in his office which was never swept . . . and was eccentric and erratic. His friends were few and his practice was so small that he hardly made a living.”
Regardless of his personal affectations, Woodward was known for his writing skills, and on March 3, 1805, he was appointed by President Thomas Jefferson to serve as Judge for the Territory of Michigan.
Woodward, together with the two other judges, Bates and Griffin, and the current Governor of the Territory, possessed the legislative power of the Territory. They exercised that power until 1824, when the first legislative council was held in Detroit. After the surrender of Detroit in the War of 1812, Woodward did much to improve the conditions for its citizens, as they had been placed under martial law. While Governor Hull and the other two justices did not remain in Detroit, Woodward stayed to continue his duties.
Woodward was instrumental in the planning of the city of Detroit and the creation of the University of Michigan. He rose above the criticism he received about his work. When criticized, “he always assumed a lofty and dispassionate attitude, and his written and spoken defenses were always ingenious, plausible and pointed.” (Ross, Robert B. The Early Bench and Bar of Detroit: From 1805 – 1850). Detroit: Richard P. Joy and Clarence M. Burton, 1907.)
In August of 1824, Woodward was appointed United States Judge for the Territory of Florida. Augustus B. Woodward died on July 12, 1827, having never married.
Years Served on Court:
1805 – 1824
Portrait presented on:
October 18, 2005
Oil on canvas
30″ X 48″
State of Michigan
Hall of Justice – 6th Floor: Courtroom Entrance
Portrait photo by:
Roger Boetcher, Lansing – October 2005