John Branch

16th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1817 to 1820

Date Born: November 4, 1782

Date Died: January 4, 1863

Place Born: Halifax County, NC

Place Buried: Elmwood Cemetery, Enfield, NC

Residence: Leon County, FL

Occupation: Lawyer, Planter


John Branch was born on November 4, 1782 in Halifax County, NC, the son of John Branch and Rebecca (Bradford) Branch. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in 1801 and reading law under Judge John Haywood in Franklin County, John Branch entered a long and varied career in politics. It was clear that law did not particularly interest him.

On April 6, 1803, John Branch married Elizabeth Foort, daughter of John Foort, Jr. and Margaret (Randolph) Foort. They took up residence at his Cellar Field Plantation, near Enfield, NC, and had nine children. He married a second time, to Mary Eliza Jordan Bond of Bertie County, in 1853.

In 1811, John Branch was first elected to represent Halifax County in the NC Senate of the:
- 36th General Assembly that met in 1811
- 38th General Assembly that met in 1813
- 39th General Assembly that met in 1814
- 40th General Assembly that met in 1815 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 41st General Assembly that met in 1816 - elected Speaker of the Senate
- 42nd General Assembly that met in 1817 - elected Speaker of the Senate

On December 3, 1817, the General Assembly elected John Branch as the next Governor of North Carolina and he had to give up his seat in the Senate as well as his Speaker position. He served three terms and left office on December 7, 1820.

His governorship came at a time when North Carolina was conspicuous in the nation for its provincialism and inertia. Gov. John Branch lent his moral and political support to the ambitious reform measures of Archibald D. Murphey. He therefore took significant steps to promote public education, initiate internal improvements, liberalize the penal code, and stem the exodus of North Carolinians to areas of the country regarded as more promising. It was during his governorship that the NC Supreme Court came into being as a separate and independent body.

On December 14, 1822 Branch entered national politics with his election to the U.S. Senate - he took his seat on March 4, 1823, succeeding Montford Stokes. He was re-elected, but did not serve because he was appointed as Secretary of the Navy.

On March 9, 1829, John Branch was then appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Andrew Jackson. As a staunch advocate of states’ rights, John Branch opposed internal improvements on the national level and was generally Jacksonian in his view of the federal government. He fell out of favor with President Jackson, however, during the “Eaton Affair” and, as a result, resigned from the cabinet.

In 1832, John Branch sought unsuccessfully to purge vice-presidential candidate Martin Van Buren from the Democratic ticket, and came to be publicly identified with John C. Calhoun and the doctrine of nullification.

After his return to North Carolina following a single term in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Branch’s personal and political opposition to President Andrew Jackson contributed significantly to the formation and ascendancy of the Whig Party in North Carolina.

In the state Constitutional Convention of 1835, John Branch represented Halifax County and argued for the removal of religious qualifications for office and against the disfranchisement of free blacks. In 1838 he was defeated in his bid for a fourth term as governor by Edward B. Dudley, the office having become elective as a result of the progressive reforms of the new state Constitution three years earlier.

In 1836, John Branch moved his family to Leon County, Florida, where they lived for much of the next decade-and-a-half on his Live Oak Plantation. In June of 1844, John Branch was appointed Governor of that territory by President John Tyler. It was during his term in office that Florida became a state in 1845.

John Branch again returned to North Carolina in 1851 after the death of his beloved Elizabeth. He remarried in 1853 and remained retired until his death on January 4, 1863. His burial was in Enfield, in his native Halifax County.

Click Here to download or read the book "John Branch 1782-1863" by Marshall DeLancey Haywood, printed in 1915, fromwhere much of the above comes.


John Branch (November 4, 1782 – January 4, 1863) served as U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Navy, Governor of the state of North Carolina, and was the sixth and last territorial Governor of Florida.

Branch was born in Halifax County, North Carolina, on November 4, 1782, the son of wealthy landowners. Educated as a lawyer, he occupied himself as a planter and civic leader. Branch served in the NC Senate from 1811 to 1817 and was the state's Governor from 1817 to 1820. After further service in the NC Senate, he represented North Carolina in the U.S. Senate from 1823 until 1829 and was a strong supporter of President Andrew Jackson.

When Jackson became President, he selected John Branch as his Secretary of the Navy. In that post, Branch promoted several reforms in the Navy's policies and administration, many of which were not implemented until years later. He reduced the resources going to the construction of new ships, while increasing those applied to keeping existing vessels in good repair. Branch also sent the frigate Potomac to the Far East to punish the murderers of a U.S. merchant ship's crew and to generally promote and protect American commerce in the region.

John Branch resigned as Secretary of the Navy in 1831, during the Petticoat Affair scandal. He was elected in that year to the U.S. House of Representatives and later to North Carolina state political offices. In the mid-1830s, he moved to Leon County, Florida, where he lived for much of the next decade-and-a-half on his Live Oak Plantation. In 1844, President John Tyler appointed him Florida's territorial Governor until the 1845 election of a governor under the state constitution. Branch returned to North Carolina in the early 1850s, remaining there until his death on January 4, 1863, and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Enfield, North Carolina.

Branch was an uncle of the Confederate General Lawrence O'Bryan Branch.


John Branch, (uncle of Lawrence O'Bryan Branch and great-uncle of William Augustus Blount Branch), a Senator and a Representative from North Carolina; born in Halifax, Halifax County, N.C., November 4, 1782; appointed commissioner for valuation of lands and dwellings and enumeration of slaves, third district of North Carolina 1799; graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1801; studied law; admitted to the bar; member, State Senate 1811-1817, 1822, serving as speaker 1815-1817; Governor of North Carolina 1817-1820; appointed Federal judge for the western district of Florida by President James Monroe 1822; elected to the U.S. Senate in 1822; re-elected in 1829, and served from March 4, 1823, to March 9, 1829, when he resigned; chairman, Committee on Agriculture (Twentieth Congress); appointed Secretary of the Navy by President Andrew Jackson and served from March 9, 1829, until his resignation, effective May 12, 1831, having been elected to the U.S. Congress; elected as a Democrat to the 22nd U.S.Congress and served from May 12, 1831, to March 3, 1833; was not a candidate for renomination in 1832; member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1835; appointed Governor of Florida by President John Tyler and served from June 21, 1844, until the election of a Governor under the State Constitution in 1845; died in Enfield, Halifax County, NC, January 3, 1863; interment in the family burial ground.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the small book, entitled "John Branch 1782-1863," by Marshall Delancey Haywood, published in 1915.

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