John Curtis Underwood

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John Curtis Underwood

Birthplace: Litchfield, Herkimer Cnty, New York
Death: December 07, 1873 (64)
Washington, DC (Seizure)
Place of Burial: Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of John Underwood and Mary Underwood
Husband of Maria Gloria Underwood
Father of Flora Virginia Underwood; Edward Jackson Underwood and Alice Elizabeth Hunt
Brother of Belinda Underwood; Harriet Underwood and John DeLoss Underwood

Managed by: Private User
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About John Curtis Underwood

Find A Grave Memorial #16647561. To see the monument/burial site go to the Media section.

John C. Underwood was one of the most conspicuous antislavery activists in Virginia during the 1850s, one of the first members of the Republican Party in Virginia, a federal judge from 1863 to 1873, and the president of the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868. Born in New York, Underwood practiced law before moving to Virginia. There his condemnations of slavery were such that his wife, a cousin of the future Confederate general Thomas J. Jackson, worried for his safety. During the American Civil War (1861–1865), President Abraham Lincoln appointed Underwood a federal judge for the eastern district of Virginia. His actions on the bench often appeared to be politically motivated and included repeated efforts to confiscate the estates of Confederates in order to destroy slavery and apply what he called "retributive justice." After the war, he admitted that he could pack a jury, if necessary, to convict the former Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, of treason. He also publicly endorsed African American suffrage and full citizenship rights for freedpeople. Toward that end, he served as president of the constitutional convention that met in 1867–1868, during which he argued, unsuccessfully, that women, too, should be granted full suffrage rights. Underwood remained on the bench in his later years, earning a reputation as an outspoken radical and one who was often contemptuous of his critics. He died in Washington, D.C., in 1873.


John Curtiss Underwood (March 14, 1809 - December 7, 1873) was a lawyer, Abolitionist politician, and federal judge.

Underwood was born in Litchfield, New York. Underwood graduated from Hamilton College in 1832 and was a founding member of the Alpha Delta Phi society. He practiced law from 1839-1856. Originally from New York, he married a granddaughter of Edward B. Jackson (whose brother John G. Jackson and great-nephew John Jay Jackson, Jr. were also federal judges), and they had a farm in Clarke County. In 1856 he was a delegate to the Republican convention that nominated John C. Fremont for president. He took a position as Secretary of the Emigrant Aid and Homestead Society from 1856-1861. He left Virginia in 1857 because he was threatened for his abolitionist views.

In 1861 he declined an offer to serve as U.S. consul at Callao, Peru, but accepted instead the office of fifth auditor in the United States Department of the Treasury, at which he served from 1861 to 1864.

Given a recess appointment by Abraham Lincoln to a seat vacated by James D. Halyburton and later confirmed by the United States Senate, Underwood served as judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia from 1863-1864. He was elected to the U.S. Senate from the Commonwealth of Virginia, but not seated in 1865.

Early in the American Civil War he affirmed the right of the United States government to confiscate the enemy's property. His strong views on confiscation policy put him at odds with the Supreme Court by 1870 and generated intense controversy in Virginia.

When the Eastern District was abolished by Congress in 1864, Underwood was reassigned to serve as the United States District Judge for the District of Virginia from 1864 to 1871. In this position, he presided over the grand jury that indicted Jefferson Davis for treason, and later denied him bail because Davis was in the custody of military authorities.

In 1865, he was elected U.S. Senator by the Virginia legislature in session at Alexandria, but was not admitted to his seat as the Senate did not want to set a precedent for allowing premature reentry of Confederate states into the union.[5] Underwood also served as president of the state constitutional convention of 1867–68, the first legislative body in the history of Virginia that included African-Americans, over whose protest the convention failed to provide for schools open to all regardless of color. At the convention, Judge Underwood proposed to give the right to vote to both black citizens and women.

When the Eastern District was re-established in 1871, Underwood was reassigned back to it, and continued as judge of the Eastern District until he died in 1873 in Washington, District of Columbia. He is buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

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John Curtis Underwood's Timeline

March 14, 1809
Litchfield, Herkimer Cnty, New York
October 7, 1840
Fouquier Cnty, Virginia
December 13, 1842
Herkimer County, New York, United States
July 13, 1850
Herkimer, New York
December 7, 1873
Age 64
Washington, DC
Washington, D.C.
Washington, District of Columbia, District of Columbia, United States