Biography of Hon. Joseph B. Crockett

The following sketch was written by Hon. James F. Buckner, of Louisville, for the Kentucky New Era. Col. Buckner was a student of Mr. Crockett, and for several years his law partner, hence no one is better qualified to write an impartial sketch of the man, and he pays a noble tribute to his old friend, partner and preceptor. He says:

Joseph B. Crockett, the son of Col. Robert Crockett, was born in 1808, at Union Mills, in Jessamine County, Kentucky, and settled on a farm near Russellville. It was while Col. Crockett was pursuing the vocation of a farmer in Logan County that the son enjoyed the advantages of the tuition of Daniel Comfort, a gentleman who for many years taught a classical school in that vicinity, and to whom many of the most distinguished men of that section were indebted for instruction. In the spring of 1827 he entered the University of Tennessee at Nashville, but in con-sequence of the straitened pecuniary condition of his father he was compelled to leave Nashville after having enjoyed the benefit of the University for less than one year. When only nineteen years of age he came to Hopkinsville and entered upon the study of law in the office of Hon. Charles S. Morehead, who was then one of the most promising young attorneys of the State, and who was rapidly rising to distinction in his profession.

Young Crockett was a close student, and displayed great energy and spared no labor to make himself useful to his preceptor, who was enjoying a large practice. His deportment was such as secured the esteem of the older members of the profession, and soon the good opinion of the business community generally. In due time he was licensed and admitted to the bar. About 1830 he formed a partnership with Gustavus A. Henry, a brilliant association which continued for about two years, and until Mr. Henry removed to Tennessee, where he became very distinguished as an advocate and lawyer. Mr. Crockett succeeded to the entire business of the late firm of Henry & Crockett, and from close attention and his growing reputation his business rapidly increased. He married the daughter of John Bryan, a respectable and influential citizen of Hopkinsville, and in the spring of 1833 he became a candidate for the Legislature, and in August was elected the Representative from the County of Christian. His general intelligence and business habits established him in the estimation of his fellow members as one of the leading members of the body. He became very popular in the House of Representatives, and his course was approved by his constituents at home. He declined a re-election, as the growing demands of his professional business forbade it. It was about this time that the writer, upon his invitation, entered his office as a student, and continued in that capacity until August, 1836, when they formed a partnership in the practice, which continued until 1840, when Mr. Crockett removed to the city of St. Louis. While the partnership existed the writer confined himself principally to the office, and to business in Christian County. Mr. Crockett‘s labors extended to all the counties of the district. The firm was successful in securing a fair share of business.

In September, 1836, at a special election, he was chosen a Representative for Christian County to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Hon. George Morris, who died a few days after the regular election in August. The ability with which he discharged his duties as a Representative left its impress upon the legislators of the State. On the termination of the session, avowing his fixed determination not to be a candidate for re-election, and declining a nomination for Congress, he was induced by Gov. Clark to accept the appointment of Commonwealth’s Attorney for the district. The position was laborious and brought him in contact with a bar distinguished for ability. But the interest of the Common-wealth lost nothing by being entrusted to his hands. His career as a prosecutor was brilliant and able. But the duties of a prosecutor were uncongenial to his tastes. He preferred being enlisted for the defense. Besides, the emoluments of the position were far short of what could be realized in the defense. After a period of two years he resigned, when he was thrown immediately into a larger and more profitable business, giving him more leisure to enjoy the comforts of home with his family. He immediately embarked in a lucrative practice, and was employed for the defense in the most important commercial cases arising in Southern and Western Kentucky. A man of high personal integrity, of engaging manners, well versed in the laws and discipline of the courts, and with a rich, chaste flow of language, I have always regarded Mr. Crockett one of the very ablest criminal lawyers I have ever known. On his removal to St. Louis, his reputation had preceded him, and his practice in the courts at St. Louis soon became large. Against the advice of many friends, he was induced to take charge of the political department of a prominent newspaper, the Intelligencer, in that city. He continued his connection with the paper for several years, and contributed much to establish its influence. The labors of an editor in addition to the duties of his profession were too much for him, and very seriously affected his health. He was compelled to sever his connection with the newspaper. About this time, 1852, the Pacific coast attracted his attention. He brought his family back to Hopkinsville, among their relations, placing his children at school, and set out on a tour of exploration for business and recreation to the golden coast by way of Vera Cruz and the city of Mexico, San Diego to San Francisco. The effect of the trip was very beneficial to him. He was re-invigorated and his health was fully re-established. He opened an office in that city, and his family soon followed him. He engaged actively in business, and soon found himself in the front rank of his profession. The bar of California was distinguished for its learning and great ability. The rare advantages of the golden State had drawn to its chief city many of the most brilliant, learned and ambitious men of the East.

No one ever made the acquaintance of Mr. Crockett, either professionally or in private life, who did not become deeply attached to him. His kindness of heart and generous courtesy compelled all to love him. These traits of character made him, universally popular, and his learning and talent gave him high standing with his professional brethren. Gwin Page; of Louisville, (who had been his fellow-student at Hopkinsville, in the office of Gov. Morehead) upon his invitation went to California and formed a partnership with him. They continued for some time in a pleasant and lucrative practice, but it was dissolved in consequence of the failing health and death of Mr. Page. Upon the death of Judge Shapter, of the Supreme Court, Mr. Crockett was appointed by the Governor to fill his unexpired term. At the succeeding election the people elevated him to the position which he had previously held by appointment. This office he filled for twelve years, having reached the Chief Justiceship, and retired in 1880, owing to general infirmity. His life gradually wasted away, when he died in the winter of 1883-84, surrounded by his family, within sound of the surf of the Pacific. The high character for personal and professional integrity which distinguished his early life in Kentucky followed him to Missouri and California, and marked his career as an elegant gentleman, a brilliant lawyer, an able, just and upright judge.

The following incident from another source, and illustrative of his career while living in Hopkinsville, is related of Judge Crockett: In the year 1838, the celebrated case of the Commonwealth against Barkley for killing Cuvilier, was tried in the Christian Circuit Court, in which case Elijah Hise, of Russellville, and J. B. Crockett, through sympathy for a poor and (as they believed) greatly wronged man, volunteered their services to defend Barkley without fee. The reputation of Elijah Hise as an able lawyer is such that I need only say of him, he entered heartily into the defense, and perhaps never showed his great powers as an advocate to better advantage than then. And gifted as Joseph B. Crockett had previously shown himself to be, he on that occasion astonished his friends and the court and led the jury captive by argument and eloquence, and not only contributed materially to the acquittal of the accused, but by his great effort, young as he then was, placed himself in the front rank of the able lawyers then practicing at the bar.

John W. Crockett studied law in the office of Crockett & Buckner, in Hopkinsville, and left here in 1839. He went to Hickman, Kentucky, and remained there for a time, but returned to Hopkinsville and spent several years, and then removed to Henderson, Kentucky, where he died some ten years ago. He was an able lawyer, but scarcely the equal of his brother, Judge Crockett.


Battle, J. H. Counties Of Todd And Christian, Kentucky. Historical And Biographical. F. A. Battey Publishing Co., Chicago And Louisville. 1884. At current time this manuscript consists of only the Todd County section and a few biographies from Christian County.

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