North Carolina Governor John Ellis

Featured Character – 1860


North Carolina Governor John Ellis

Courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives

John Ellis was born on November 23, 1820 in eastern Rowan County. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1841 and, like his father, began to study law. The next year, he began his career in law and served in the state legislative assembly from 1844-1848. Ellis’s love for his state made him an ardent promoter of internal improvements and the spread of economic markets by means of transportation. He supported construction of the North Carolina Railroad, claiming it would boost economy and foster political reconciliation. A son of a planter, Ellis believed that under the U.S. Constitution, having slaves was a protected right. He feared the influence of abolitionists during the 1850s, as he believed that there were many slaveholders who supported the Union and the constitutional property rights. Ellis was not an aggressive advocate for secession, though he did sympathize with the plight of his fellow Southerners. To avoid war, he tried to dispatch envoys to the capitals of both the Confederacy and the Union to give back seized forts Caswell and Johnston, but to no avail. When President Lincoln called for troops from North Carolina to put down the rebellion, Ellis replied,

“I can be no party to this wicked violation of the laws of the country and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.”

North Carolina seceded from the Union on May 20, 1861, with Ellis leading his state in action. However, not two months later, Ellis’ bad health overpowered his will and he died in July of 1861. He is buried in the Old English Cemetery in Salisbury, North Carolina.