Matt Whitaker Ransom was born on October 8, 1826, in Warren County, North Carolina, to his parents Robert and Prisilla Ransom. In 1847, Ransom graduated from the University of North Carolina and he began studying law. The young Ransom passed the North Carolina bar, later practicing law in his hometown. On January 19, 1853, Matt Ransom married Martha Exum, and the couple moved to Northampton County.
Ransom, a member of the Whig Party, became the youngest North Carolina Attorney General when he was elected to the position in 1852. In 1855, Ransom resigned from office, joining the Democratic shortly after his resignation. Before the start of the Civil War, Ransom served as a county legislator from 1858 until 1861, and he was selected as a Confederate delegate to the 1861 Confederate convention in Montgomery, Alabama.
When the Civil War started, Ransom enlisted in the Confederate Army and he was commissioned into the 35th North Carolina Infantry Division. Although he entered the army as a private, Ransom eventually took command of the 35th Infantry as a Brigadier General. Ransom proved an effective leader during the war, fighting in battles of Antietam, Fredricksburg, and Petersburg. In July of 1863, the recently promoted Brigadier General Ransom and his 35th North Carolina Regiment mounted a successful defense in Northampton County at the Battle of Boon’s Mill. At the end of the war, Ransom was present when Robert E. Lee yielded to the Union forces at Appomattox.
In 1866, Ransom moved to Weldon, North Carolina, to start a new law practice. As a Democrat who stressed the importance of Northern and Southern cooperation, Ransom campaigned for the Senate in 1872 after Zebulon Vance resigned from office. Ransom served in the Senate for over twenty years, and during the Fifty-third Congress, Senator Ransom served as president pro tempore.
In 1875, Senator Ransom delivered a speech that summed up his career in Congress: “I came from the true State of North Carolina to the Senate of the United States with a sacred purpose to reconcile the once divided people of my country…To accomplish it, no sacrifice seemed too dear, except the dishonor of my State.”
In 1895, Ransom lost his seat to an Populist party candidate, but he soon received a presidential appointment as Minister of Mexico in 1897. Ransom served as foreign minister to Mexico until 1897, when he decided to return to his home in Northampton County. Senator Ransom passed away on October 8, 1904, and he was buried on his estate in Weldon.
“Matt W. Ransom.” North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program website. A Division of the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources. (Accessed March 1, 2012).
“Ransom, Matt Whitaker.” Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=R000062, (accessed March 1, 2012).
“Matt W. Ransom Papers, 1845-1914.” SHC Staff; Jessica Sedgwick. The University Library of UNC-Chapel Hill website. http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/r/Ransom,Matt_W.html, (accessed March 1, 2012).
“Boon’s Mill, Battle of.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006).