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James McNair Baker

(d. 1892)

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At a Glance

James M. Baker was a very prominent lawyer, jurist, and politicianin Florida. He was a graduate of Davidson College. He began his law career in Lumberton, but was made very ill with typhoid fever and chose to move to Florida. He became very prominent in the state as a state’s attorney and politician. He was a Confederate Congressman during the Civil War, living in Richmond for the duration. After the War he resumed the practice of law sought to salvage Florida’s affairs from the extremes of “reconstruction.” He and was made a judge of the fourth judicial district of Florida. Baker County, Florida is named in honor of James M. Baker [1] [2].

Story

Transcribed from: The History of Florida: Past & Present, The Lewis Publishing Co., Vol.

II, page 34, 1923.

BAKER, Hon. JAMES McNAIR, who served as a member of the Senate of the Confederate State and

for many years was a member of the Circuit and Supreme Courts of Florida, is one of the first

named among the great public men of this state in the last century.

He was born in Robeson County, North Carolina, July 20, 1822, the sixth son and eighth child

of ARCHIBALD and CATHERINE BAKER. He was thoroughly prepared for his chosen profession,

graduating in 1844 from Davidson College in North Carolina. He practiced for a time at

Lumberton, North Carolina, but on account of failing health, due to an attack of typhoid

fever, he sought the milder climate of Florida. He came to Florida on horseback and first

practiced at old Columbus, then at the head of navigation on the Sewannee (sic) River. A

short time later he removed to a town then known as Alligator, and he was largely instrumental

in securing its change of name to Lake City. Here his work as a lawyer brought him a

reputation that rapidly spread over the state, and he became a recognized leader of the bar.

About 1852 he was made state's attorney for the Sewannee (sic) Circuit, and in the same year

he was delegate to the Whig National Convention at Baltimore, where WINFIELD SCOTT was

nominated for president. This nomination was strenuously opposed by the Florida delegation.

General SCOTT had been in command in Florida for a time during the Indian war and had made

himself extremely unpopular with the people of the state. Up to that time Florida had been

one of the doubtful states, but the nomination of General SCOTT turned it definitely from

the whig party. In 1856 Mr. BAKER was nominated by the whigs for Congress, and he stumped

the entire state, traveling on horseback. In 1859 he was elected judge of the Sewannee

(sic) Circuit.

In the year he was elected to the bench he married, at Fayetteville, North Carolina, Miss

FANNY GILCHRIST, daughter of ADAM and MARY GILCHRIST. During the heated political contest

of 1860 Judge Baker supported the Bell and Everett ticket. While opposed to secession, he

went with the state, and in 1861 was elected by the Legislature as a member of the Confederate

State Senate for the short term. In 1863 he was reelected, and served throughout the war as

senator from Florida, his home being in Richmond, Virginia.

Senator BAKER returned to Florida after the war and in 1866, upon election of DAVID S. WALKER

as governor, he was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court. He was on the Supreme

Bench until 1868, when as a result of reconstruction measures he resigned and took up private

practice. In the following year he earned his greatest reputation as a lawyer in the

litigation growing out of the disposition of the lands of the internal improvement fund of

Florida and the bonds and other indebtedness contracted by the railroads built under the terms

of the act of 1855, creating that fund.

After the war Judge BAKER was a democrat, and he served as a member of the executive committee

of the state in 1876. He was prominent in redeeming the state from the terrors and misgovernment

of the reconstruction period. In 1881, at almost unanimous request of the bar of his circuit,

he accepted the appointment of judge of the Fourth Judicial Circuit. He was appointed by

Governor Bloxham, and in 1885 was reappointed by Governor Perry. As a result of failing

health Judge BAKER resigned from the bench in 1890, and he lived quietly until his death on

June 20, 1892, when almost seventy years of age and after nearly fifty years of activity as

a citizen, lawyer and statesman of Florida. He was an elder of the Presbyterian Church.

Biographical Data

Important Dates

James McNair Baker was born in Robeson County, NC. James died on June 20, 1892, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery.

Places of Residence

Schools Attended

Occupations

Relatives

References

  1. Memoirs of Florida, Volume 1.
  2. www.bakercountytoday.com/baker_county_history.html