Nelson Sharpe

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Served from 1919 through 1935
Chief Justice: 1927, 1934


Nelson Sharpe was born in Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada, on August 25, 1858, and received his elementary education in the public schools of that province. His formal education continued when he entered Albert College, Belleville, Ontario. Nature endowed him with a strong, well-balanced mind in a strong body.

His real education, however, commenced when, at the age of 24, he moved to the little town of West Branch, Michigan, among the pine forests of Ogemaw County. There, in partnership with his brother Albert, he published a newspaper and practiced law. He became an American citizen in 1888.

In 1893, the Thirty-Fourth Judicial Circuit, consisting of six counties, was created by an act of the legislature. Governor John Rich appointed Sharpe to be the first Judge of this vast circuit. He was an outstanding trial judge for many years. In fact, he attained such eminence that without political influence he was selected for the Michigan Supreme Court on merit alone. He began service in 1919, filling the vacancy left by Russell Ostrander. Sharpe served for 26 years as Circuit Judge of the Thirty-Fourth Judicial Circuit, and for 16 years as a Justice in the Michigan Supreme Court.

Sharpe was not particularly ambitious. He was content with his work in the Circuit. He was devoted to his family, and maintained a large apartment so that they might be comfortable in case they chose to visit him. Sharpe was a man who did not desire fame or fortune. He was content with his achievements and received more joy from the rewards of his family. (Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Reports: Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of Michigan. Chicago: Callaghan and Co., 1879–1948, Vol. 274.)

Nelson Sharpe died on October 20, 1935.

Portrait Artist:
Seyffret, Leopold Gould

Oil on canvas

74.3cm X 62.07cm (29 1/4″ X 24 7/16″)

Owned by:
State of Michigan

Current location:
Hall of Justice – 6th Floor:
Chief Justice McCormack’s Suite

Portrait photo by:
Doug Elbinger, Lansing – June 1996