Augustus S. Merrimon (1830 – 1892)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Augustus Summerfield Merrimon, born at Cherryfields Plantation in Transylvania County, served as a U.S. Senator from 1873 to 1879 and as Chief Justice of North Carolina’s Supreme Court from 1889 until his death in 1892.

Son of Branch and Mary Merrimon, the young Augustus attended Norwood’s Male Academy at the behest of his Methodist minister father. Augustus later read law under John Woodfin alongside Zebulon B. Vance, and he passed the bar in 1852.

After receiving his attorney licensure, Merrimon became a public servant in Asheville, serving in several different capacities until the start of the Civil War. He was elected to the N.C. House of Commons in 1860, and, though he opposed secession, Merrimon joined the Confederate Army in 1861.

During the war, Merrimon was ordered to different forts throughout North Carolina in Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Raleigh. As the Civil War neared conclusion, he was ordered to the western section of North Carolina to act as a political buffer between the conflicting Union and Confederate supporters in the region. Due to his success in preventing severe conflict in western North Carolina, Merrimon became a Superior Court judge to North Carolina’s Eighth district. Merrimon resigned from the position 1867 and he moved to the state capital.

Merrimon moved to Raleigh in the late 1860s and he started a law firm with Samuel F. Phillips. While he resided and worked in Raleigh, Merrimon struck up a friendship with the editor of the Raleigh Sentinel, Josiah Turner, and the relationship proved valuable to Merrimon as he increased his political network in Raleigh. In addition, Merrimon was heavily involved in the Kirk-Holden case; as part of the prosecution, Merrimon cross-examined witnesses during Governor William Holden’s impeachment trial.

In the early 1870s, Merrimon ran for state governor, but he failed to win the election. Instead, Merrimon was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1873. As a Democrat, Merrimon “spoke against a civil rights bill and attacked Republicans at large” (North Carolina Historical Marker). Senator Merrimon resigned in 1879 and soon re-opened his law practice with Thomas C. Fuller and Samuel A. Ashe.

In 1883, Governor Thomas Jarvis appointed Merrimon to the N.C. Supreme Court, and Governor David Fowle made him Chief Justice of the court in 1889. In November 1886, Merrimon was popularly elected to his position, and he served as Chief Justice until he passed away on November 14, 1892. His body was interred at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, N.C.