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William Gaston, 1778-1844


William Gaston, 1778-1844


William Gaston (1778-1844), the son of the famed doctor-patriot, Alexander Gaston, was instrumental in the establishment of a North Carolina Supreme Court. In his time as a legislator and jurist, he sought to improve the status of slaves through his famous decisions that also set precedents for later rulings for the civil rights of blacks.


Joe Siler


Schauinger, Herman J. William Gaston: Carolinian. 1949. The Bruce Publishing Company. 


Schauinger, Herman J. Catholic Historical Review. "The Domestic Life of William Gaston, Catholic Jurist." 30.4. Jan. 1945 364-426. 


William Gaston was born to Dr. Alexander and Margaret Gaston (née Sharpe) in New Bern North Carolina in 1778. His father’s involvement in the Revolutionary War left Margaret a widow when Gaston was three. His mother, an incredibly devout Catholic valued a good education. As such, she sent him to the brand new Georgetown College in Maryland, where, at age twelve he became their first student. There he studied English, Latin, Greek, French, Arithmetic, elocution, geography and "use of the globe." Unfortunately, he caught a cold and was unable to complete his time at Georgetown. He was Georgetown’s first student, and the first to drop out. By 1796, though, he had completed his education at Princeton at the head of his class. After studying under François Martin for the Bar he began making his name as a legislature. Throughout his years, he had five children and three wives; widowed in each case. In 1813, after the newest declaration of war against Great Britain, Gaston was elected to the thirteenth. He also served one more term in Washington the next year before returning to Raleigh. Gaston served as a lawyer and advocated heavily for a Supreme Court for North Carolina, to which he was ultimately appointed and served the last ten years of his life and made several important rulings and dissentions. State vs. Negro Will, State vs. William Manuel, and State vs. Miller were all made in his time on the bench of the Supreme Court. These cases and the decisions that resulted all emphasized a change in the way in which slaves were presented in court. In his rulings, Gaston wished to soften the law in relation to slaves. While hearing a divorce case, Gaston became faint and retreated home to wait on the last hours of his life. William Gaston died in his bed January 23rd 1844.


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Joe Siler, William Gaston, 1778-1844, Civil War Era NC, accessed August 13, 2022,