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Served from 1836 through 1842
Chief Justice: 1836, 1837, 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842
As the first Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, William A. Fletcher had the important task of ushering the Territorial judiciary of Michigan into the state judiciary of Michigan.
Fletcher was born on June 26, 1788, in Plymouth, New Hampshire. He was descended from English immigrants and a Congregationalist minister’s son.
As a young man, Fletcher was a merchant in Salem, Massachusetts. However, he switched his career path and moved to Esperance, New York, to study law. By 1821, he had established himself in a Detroit law office.
In 1823, his career in public service began when Governor Lewis Cass appointed him Chief Justice of the County Court in Wayne County. Shortly after his term expired, Fletcher served as the Attorney General of the Territory. Meanwhile, he continued to practice law in Detroit as well as serve on a Territorial Council.
Fletcher became a Circuit Judge and served in that capacity from 1833 until 1836. Once Michigan obtained statehood, Fletcher was appointed Chief Justice of the first Michigan Supreme Court. While serving on the court, Fletcher wrote “The Revised Statutes of the State of Michigan,” which the Legislature adopted in 1837. Following his retirement from the Court, Fletcher served as Regent of the University of Michigan from 1842 until 1846.
Along with his contributions to the development of the Court system in Michigan, Fletcher’s personal life is worth noting. While studying law in New York, he married his fairly wealthy landlady, Gertrude Lawzer. However, he left her behind when he moved to the Michigan Territory. After not hearing from Fletcher for a number of years, “the wife and landlady equipped herself with horse and wagon to seek her accomplished lord.” (Gage, James L., of Esperance, New York to Horace L. Wilgus, University of Michigan Law School, March 24, 1936. From the archives of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.) Upon her arrival in the Territory, Lawzer learned that Fletcher was struggling with debt, and she returned to New York. The couple was legally separated in 1843 and Fletcher married Adeline D. Doyle in 1846.
William A. Fletcher died on September 19, 1852.