First county judges’ portraits displayed
by DAVID DAVIS, Managing Editor
Dec 23, 2012 | 2729 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Looking over Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Puckett’s shoulders are the portraits of Charles Fleming Keith, left, and Daniel Coffee Trewhitt. Both men were prominent in the early history of Bradley County. The portraits were presented to Judge Puckett by local attorney Paul Dietrich. Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
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Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Puckett recently placed the portraits of the first two judges to serve Bradley County on display in his courtroom in downtown Cleveland.

The two portraits hang with prominence on the wall behind the bench. Charles Fleming Keith, Nov. 22, 1781 to Sept. 15, 1865, hangs on the left and Daniel Coffee Trewhitt Jan. 29, 1823 to Jan. 4, 1891, hangs on the right.

Puckett said he believes it is important to remember the two men who helped lay the foundation of Bradley County at the very beginning.

“These two portraits will hang on permanent display in this courtroom,” he said shortly after the two resolutions were read into the court minutes on Dec. 7 by local attorney Paul Dietrich.

“The honorable Judge Daniel Coffee Trewhitt’s life and service in the law deserve emulation as one who with honor upheld his appointed and elected offices during the war of 1861 to 1865 and afterward during the state’s reconstruction for which Judge Trewhitt deserves the recognition and accolade of all future generations for his service in pursuit of the rule of law during this perilous and tumultuous time of war, civil unrest, and governmental upheaval,” he read from the resolution.

“And, as Chancellor of Hamilton County by appointment of the Military Governor of Tennessee and by his election as Circuit Court Judge he gained the approval of his contemporaries.”

Charles Fleming Keith was the first circuit judge of the State of Tennessee to serve Bradley County upon its formation by the state legislature, Feb. 10, 1836 (Chapter No. 32 Private Acts of 1835-36), and the first judge of the Third Judicial Circuit of Tennessee comprising the counties of McMinn, Bradley, Hamilton, Meigs, Monroe, Roane, Rhea, Bledsoe, Marion, and Polk.

Dietrich said Keith’s portrait will hang as a lasting memento of his judicial service, in the circuit court courtroom of Division I in the Bradley County Courthouse.

“The honorable Judge Keith deserves the accolades of all future generations as he deserved those of his contemporaries in the bar and in his community and throughout the State of Tennessee and the nation,” he read from the resolution. “Judge Keith displayed the greatest of all judicial attributes, firmness and restraint in the face of popular outcry and public clamor, by his decision denying jurisdiction of the State of Tennessee over the Cherokee Nation.”

Keith opined, “Cherokees though not a sovereign independent nation, were nevertheless a nation, so recognized by the treaties made with them — that the individuals composing this nation were not citizens or members of the states, but members of a separate community — that they had passed under the dominion of the United States, but not of the states in their separate capacity — that they were not subject to the legislation of the States, but to the Legislation of Congress [and finding that] the act of the legislature extending the jurisdiction of the States over the Indian Territory, to be unconstitutional and void.”

According to information provided by Dietrich, Judge Keith’s decision arose from the murder of John Walker Jr., son of a wealthy Cherokee businessman, John Walker. The younger chief called “Jack” was ambushed by two men on a spot where now stands an historical marker in present day Cleveland as he returned from a Cherokee Council at Red Clay in which Walker and others who had expressed support for a removal treaty with the United States had been denounced by followers of Cherokee Chief John Ross. The marker stands near the intersection of Stuart Road and Keith Streets.

That ruling was reversed on appeal by the Tennessee Supreme Court in the case of State of Tennessee v. Foreman in 1835.

The resolution for Judge Keith states:

“WHEREAS , Judge Keith’s personal and judicial character and the quality of his service are worthy of notice and emulation,

Be it RESOLVED that the Resolution found in the minutes of the Circuit Court of McMinn County, Tennessee for Saturday, Dec. 16, 1865 at p. 445 be spread upon the minutes of the Circuit Court of Bradley County, together with this present Memorial Resolution, and

WHEREAS, Judge Keith served under three nationally prominent Tennesseans during his 34 years in office — Governors of Tennessee, Sam Houston and James K. Polk and Presidents of the United States, Andrew Jackson and James K. Polk, and

WHEREAS, Judge Keith was an exceedingly fair and honest man, and

WHEREAS, Judge Keith was a devout Episcopalian, and always opened and dismissed Court with prayer, and in charging the Jury on a case, he always asked Divine Guidance in their decision, and

WHEREAS, he died at “Elmwood” in McMinn County on Sept. 15, 1865.”

Judge Keith’s daughter, Louisa J. Rowland, wrote the following eulogy of her father in 1904:

“Peace hath her heroes as well as war, though no blare of trumpets proclaims her victories, and they pass unnoticed save by the recording angel who keeps watch beyond the stars. But the unobtrusive civil officer who pursues the even tenor of his way in an unsettled, transitional period of the nations’ history, and with a firm and yet gentle hand, leads a turbulent, semi-civilized people to respect the law of the land, and whose every act and word of a long life has been to promote peace and kindness and to the uplifting of all those who come in contact with him, is as worthy to be commemorated in song and story, and to be crowned with a laurel wreath as unfading as the soldier who, with blood-stained sword, offers his life in defense of frontier home from marauding of hostile savages. Such was the character and influence of Charles Fleming Keith.”

According to Dietrich’s resolution, Daniel Coffee Trewhitt was elected in 1878 as circuit judge of the 4th Judicial Circuit of Tennessee comprising the counties of McMinn, Polk, Meigs, Bradley, Rhea, Hamilton, Marion, Sequatchie, Bledsoe, James, and a special court at Chattanooga in which he served until his death in 1891.

Trewhitt was born at Daddy’s Creek in Morgan County, Tenn., to Levi Trewhitt and Harriett Lavender Trewhitt. He had 11 siblings. The family moved to Cleveland in 1836 where he attended Oak Grove Academy from 1837-1840.

He married Mary M. Winnee in 1841 and their marriage produced four children. The young Trewhitt studied the law under the tutelage of his father and his father’s law partner, John C. Gaut.

He initially practiced law with his father Levi, a founding father of Cleveland, and younger brother Andrew Jackson Trewhitt. He later decided to practice law away from his father “so as to be forced to rely on his own resources,” and consequently moved to Harrison in 1852 to establish his own law practice. At that time, Harrison was the county seat of Hamilton County.

Trewhitt, along with his father and brother, was a staunch Unionist in East Tennessee and very involved in the politics of the day. In 1855 and 1859 he was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives for Hamilton County.

In 1859, he was appointed to a statewide committee “On Free Negroes and Slaves.” He also made many speeches in East Tennessee against secession and because he was a pointed and incisive speaker, clear and logical, and full of earnest conviction his speeches had considerable weight in shaping the opinions of the people of Hamilton County and East Tennessee.

In 1861, Trewhitt won the state senate seat for Hamilton County. However, since Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, and Trewhitt was a staunch Unionist, he could not, in good conscience, serve a Confederate state. He did, however, agree to serve if a new state of East Tennessee was formed. It was not; therefore he chose not to serve in the Tennessee State Senate. Instead, on Sept. 28, 1861, he volunteered for the Union Army at Camp Dick Robinson, Ky.

He was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Regiment East Tennessee Volunteers (Infantry) and later served as assistant adjutant to Gen. James G. Spears with the rank of Captain of General Morgan’s Division in Nashville.

Levi Trewhitt was arrested in December 1861 and taken to Confederate prison in Tuscaloosa, Ala., where he died during imprisonment at the Nidelet Naval Hospital in Mobile on Jan. 31, 1862. He is buried at Fort Hill Cemetery in Cleveland.

Trewhitt’s first wife, Mary, died during the Civil War. He married Mary Melissa Hunter in 1865 by whom he fathered four children. In that same year, he was appointed chancellor for Hamilton County by Gov. William G. “Parson” Brownlow, an office he held until 1870 when the reconstruction government in Tennessee ended.

In 1878, he was elected Circuit Judge for the 4th Judicial Circuit of Tennessee, which included McMinn, Polk, Meigs, Bradley, Rhea, Hamilton, Marion, Sequatchie, Bledsoe, James, and a special court at Chattanooga. He served as circuit judge until his death in 1891.