Theodore Sedgwick

Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, c. 1808

Theodore Sedgwick (May 9, 1746 - January 24, 1813) was an American attorney, politician and jurist, who served in elected state government and as a Delegate to the Continental Congress, a U.S. Representative, and a United States Senator from Massachusetts. He served as the fifth Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. He was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1802 and served there the rest of his life.

Sedgwick was born in West Hartford, Connecticut, on May 9, 1746 as the son of Benjamin Sedgwick and Ann Thompson. Sedgwick attended Yale College, where he studied theology and law. He did not graduate, but went on to study law ("read law") under the attorney Mark Hopkins of Great Barrington. Sedgwick was admitted to the bar in 1766 and commenced practice in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He moved to Sheffield. During the American Revolutionary War, he served in the Continental Army as a major, and took part in the expedition to Canada and the Battle of White Plains in 1776. As a relatively young lawyer, Sedgwick and Tapping Reeve pled the case of Brom and Bett vs. Ashley (1781), an early "freedom suit", in county court for the slaves Elizabeth Freeman (known as Bett) and Brom. Bett was a black slave who had fled from her master, Colonel John Ashley of Sheffield, Massachusetts, because of cruel treatment by his wife. Brom joined her in suing for freedom from the Ashleys. The attorneys challenged their enslavement under the new state constitution of 1780, which held that "all men are born free and equal." The jury agreed and ruled that Bett and Brom were free. The decision was upheld on appeal by the state Supreme Court.

A Federalist, Sedgwick began his political career in 1780 as a delegate to the Continental Congress. He was elected as representative to the state house, and then as state senator. He was a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1780. In 1789 Sedgwick was elected as Representative to Congress fromMassachusetts' first congressional district, and over time also represented the Massachusetts' second district, serving until 1796. That year he was elected to the United States Senate, and served until 1799. In 1799 he was re-elected as a Representative, this time from the fourth district, and was elected the fifth Speaker of the House, serving until March 1801. In 1802, Sedgwick was appointed a justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. He held this position until his death. While on his death bed, Sedgwick converted to Unitarianism with his daughter Catharine Maria and William Ellery Channing in attendance.

On January 24, 1813, Sedgwick died in Boston, Massachusetts at th age of 66. He was buried in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. His grave is at the center of the "Sedgwick Pie."

Family Edit

Sedgwick married Elizabeth Masony around 1767. She died of smallpox on April 12, 1771 while eight months pregnant.

Sedgwick married a second time to Pamela Dwight on April 17, 1774. She committed suicide on September 20, 1807 by poison.

  • Elizabeth Mason Sedgwick - m. Thaddeus Pomeroy
  • Frances Pamela Sedgwick - m. Ebenezer Watson
  • Theodore Sedgwick, Jr. - m. Susan Anne Livingston
  • Henry Dwight Sedgwick - m. Jane Minot
  • Robert Sedgwick - m. Elizabeth Dana Ellery
  • Charles Sedgwick - m. Elizabeth Buckminster Dwight
  • Catharine Maria Sedgwick - unmarried.

Sedgwick married third to Penelope Russell on November 7, 1808. The two remained married until Sedgwick's death in 1813.