William C. C. Claiborne
Written by

William Charles Cole Claiborne was born in 1775 in Sussex County, Virginia and eventually became Louisiana’s first elected governor in 1812. His father was Colonel William Claiborne who was descended from a distinguished

 

Westmoreland Country, England family. William C.C. also had a brother named Nathaniel who served as a member of Congress from Virginia for 20 years.

He briefly attended William and Mary College in Richmond before clerking in the US House of Representatives while studying law and, through his association with John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Sevier, moved to Tennessee to open his first law practice. While in Tennessee he helped write the state constitution.

In 1797 he resigned a position on the Tennessee State Supreme Court to run for the US House of Representatives. Because of his assistance in support of Thomas Jefferson during the disputed presidential election of 1804, Claiborne was selected to serve as governor of the Louisiana Territory, which was known then as the Mississippi Territory.

In the spring of 1802, Claiborne became increasingly concerned over a Spanish insurrection during the American occupation; and was able to convince the US to send soldiers to help defend New Orleans from a possible insurrection.

While serving in New Orleans he lead the suppression of a slave revolt near what is now LaPlace, Louisiana. He also pushed legislation to require that all state business be conducted in both French and English. This law meant with the approval of his American Creole population who did not speak French.

In 1812 Claiborne won Louisiana’s gubernatorial election by defeating Jacques Villere by a popular vote of 3,707 to 1,947.

During his term as governor he was often criticized for his apparent acceptance of the activities of the pirate Jean Lafitte. At one point, Claiborne authorized the posting of a $500 reward for Lafitte’s capture, only to be humiliated as Lafitte offered $15,000 for the governor’s life!

In 1805, records indicate that Claiborne’s home was at the corner of Levee (not Decatur) and Toulouse in what is now the Government House. Not uncommon in the early 19th Century was the settling of disputes between gentlemen by a duel. Such an event took place in 1807 when one Daniel Clark severely wounded the governor in the thigh. The duel took place in a location somewhere in West Florida (in the Florida parishes of today).

His death at age 42 in 1817 ended a notable term for Louisiana’s first governor. He was buried in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and later his remains were relocated to Metairie Cemetery. His grave site along with many other famous Louisianans is included in most cemetery tours departing the French Quarter.

Lindy Boggs, widow of US Representative Hale Boggs, is the great-great-great grandniece of Governor Claiborne. Lindy served as Louisiana’s 2nd District US Representative fro 1973 through 1991 when she was appointed as US Ambassador to the Vatican. Lindy is the mother of NPR reporter and commentator Cokie Roberts.