|Judge John McHenry|
John McHenry was born of Scottish ancestry on October 19, 1809 in Allington, Montgomery. In 1847, he married Ellen Josephine Metcalfe.
The couple settled in New Orleans where he became a noted attorney and judge. He became controversial as a trial judge in the South, as between 1846 and 1851 he ruled in favor of nearly twenty enslaved petitioners who sought freedom on the basis of having touched free soil. These rulings directly contravened Louisiana state law, but McHenry reasoned that they were in keeping with higher sources of law: constitutional, federal, and international.
President Martin Van Buren offered him the post of Minister (Ambassador) to Spain, which he declined in order to sail aboard the Northerner and head to California, where he arrived on August 15, 1850. In California, he was asked to assist in setting up the State's constitution.
In San Fransisco, he opened a law firm and as a judge in the County Courthouse. He commuted across the San Francisco Bay from his property situated on the Temescal Rancho. He moved to San Francisco in 1864 where he successfully invested in real estate (in what is now Mission Bay), but returned to the East Bay in 1878.
He also owned additional property across the Bay, which is the site of the Emeryville Shellmound. After his death, his widow bemoaned the fact that the land contained “tombs and treasures of Indian royalty.”
Despite his anti-slavery ruling, McHenry still held deep sympathies for the South and was arrested in San Francisco for “enticing a private on Alcatraz Island to join an anti-Union activity” in 1861.
His daughter was Mary McHenry Keith, a noted social justice advocate, suffragist and wife of artist William Keith.
SOURCES: Vanished Waters by Nancy Olmsted, Bancroft Library, California Art Club, Emeryville Historical Society, Find a Grave, Alta Californi
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