- Born September 9, 1721 in Caroline County, Virginia
- Apprenticed to Carolina County Clerk of Court at age 13
- Began practicing law at age 20
- Spent life in public service
Edmund Pendleton was born to a widowed mother of modest means in September of 1721. The course of his life was set at age 13, when he was apprenticed to the Carolina County Clerk of Court. There he learned the legal trade, beginning his own practice at age 20. He was admitted to the bar in 1745, and appointed Justice of the Peace in 1751.
Moderate political beliefs
Pendleton’s distinguished legal career placed him among the community’s leaders when revolutionary talk began. While Pendleton agreed that Britain had trampled the rights of the colonies with stamp taxes and other unfair restrictions, he advocated for the united colonies to reconcile with the mother country. In a resolution presented before the Second Continental Congress in 1775, he wrote:
“The ground and foundation of the present unhappy dispute between the British Ministry and Parliament and America, is a Right claimed by the former to tax the Subjects of the latter without their consent, and not an inclination on our part to set up for independency, which we utterly disavow and wish to restore to a Constitutional Connection upon the most solid and reasonable basis.”
A lifetime statesman
Stature and experience made Pendleton a favored leader throughout the Revolutionary years. He was appointed head of Virginia’s powerful Committee of Safety in 1775. He served as a representative of the House of Burgesses in each of Virginia’s five conventions, and held the position of president of the 1775 and 1776 conventions.
Although injured in a fall from a horse that left him crippled for the rest of his life, Pendleton remained a dedicated public servant. He was a member of the state house of delegates in 1776 and 1777. He served as judge of the general court and court of chancery in 1777 and as presiding judge of the court of appeals in 1779. In 1788, he was president of the Virginia ratification convention.
Mourned in Washington
On October 23, 1803, Edmund Pendleton’s death came as a shock to the Governor’s Council where his attendance had been expected that morning. At 83 years of age, he was still a venerated figure in national politics. In a gesture of mourning, the United States House and Senate wore black arm badges for 30 days, calling them “an emblem of their veneration for his illustrious character, and of their regret that another star is fallen from the splendid constellation of virtue and talents which guided the people of the United States in their struggle for Independence.”