Alabama Attorneys General

John Dennis Phelan

Ala. Attorney General John Dennis Phelan


Attorney General: 1836-1838


Supreme Court Justice, Attorney General, member Alabama legislature, lawyer and educator, was born in 1810, in Brunswick, N. J., and died in September 1879, in Marion, Alabama; son of John and Priscilla Oakes (Ford) Phelan, Irish immigrants, who removed to Richmond, Va., and later to Huntsville where the son grew up. He was educated in the common schools, later graduating from the University of Tennessee.


He read law with Hon. B. W. Leigh, of Virginia, and was admitted to practice, 1832. He located in New Orleans; after a short time there, removed to Huntsville and edited The Democrat. He represented Madison County in the legislature, 1834, in 1836, elected attorney general; in 1838, removed to Tuscaloosa, representing that county, in the legislature, 1839. He was elected circuit judge, 1841-1852, and removed to Marion, Perry County. In 1852, he was elected a Supreme Court Judge for four years; for eight years, he was clerk of the Supreme Court. In 1864 he was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court bench. In 1865, he was removed by the "Reconstruction" carpet-bag ruler of Alabama; held the office of Supreme Court clerk until 1868, when he was again "disqualified." He then accepted the professorship of law, in Sewanee University, Tennessee, where he labored until his death which occurred while on a visit to Alabama.


He was a Democrat; and an Episcopalian. Married: in 1836, near Huntsville, to Mary Anne Harris, of Limestone County, daughter of Gen. Thomas Kent and Mary Anne (Moore) Harris, of White County , Tenn. Mrs. Phelan was one of the charter members and officer of the Ladies Memorial Association, of Montgomery, organized April 1866. Children: 1. Thomas, Confederate soldier, killed at Fredericksburg; 2. Watkins, Confederate soldier, killed at Petersburg; 3. John, Confederate soldier, m. Anna O. Sale; 4. Ellis, m. (1) Amy Hawkins, (2) Mary Frisbil; 5. Mary Anne, m. Robert Watt, of Montgomery, first proprietor of the Exchange Hotel with Sidney Lanier, Condeferate soldier, and lost his arm in the service; 6. Caroline, m. Jesse Beale of Montgomery; Sidney, m. Palmer Graham, removed to Atlanta. Last residence: University of the South, Sewanee, Tenn.


Owen, Thomas M. History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. (1921), 1356.


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