John W. North

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John Wesley North
Minnesota Territorial House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1815-01-04)January 4, 1815
Sand Lake, Rensselaer County, New York
Died(1890-02-22)February 22, 1890
Fresno, California
Resting placeEvergreen Cemetery (Riverside, California)
Political partyRepublican Party of Minnesota
Spouse(s)Emma Bacon (d. 1847). Ann Hendrix Loomis (1848–1890)
ResidenceNorthfield, Minnesota
OccupationBusiness Owner

John Wesley North (1815–1890) was a 19th-century pioneer American statesman of national reputation. He was the founder of the cities of Northfield, Minnesota and Riverside, California, where John W. North High School and the John W. North Water Treatment Plant are located and named after him. He also received a Presidential appointment to Nevada's highest court, the predecessor of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

Early life and career[edit]

North was born at Sand Lake, Rensselaer County, New York, January 4, 1815.[1] His grandparents had come to New York from Connecticut shortly after the Revolutionary War.[2] He started teaching school at the age of 15 and became a licensed lay preacher in 1833. He completed his post secondary education at Cazenovia Seminary in New York and attended Wesleyan University. He later studied law and was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1845.

1850 photograph of "John W. North home, east side of Minneapolis, at 118 University Avenue Southeast."

His first wife was Emma Bacon (d. 1847). In 1848, he married Ann Hendrix Loomis.

He moved to the Minnesota Territory in 1849 where he continued to practice law. The first years in Minnesota were spent at St. Anthony. In the fall of 1850, North was elected a member of the second Minnesota Territorial Legislature of the territory. He ran for reelection in the 1851 elections but was defeated. He was one of the founders of the Republican Party of Minnesota in 1855. In 1857, he was a member of the Minnesota state Constitutional Convention. In 1860, he was a delegate to the Chicago Republican Convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln for the presidency of the United States and was a member of the committee that went to Springfield to notify Lincoln of his nomination.

In addition to his legislative career in Minnesota, North was influential in founding the University of Minnesota, wrote the act which became the University's charter and was treasurer of its board of regents (an appointed position) from 1851–60.

Founding Northfield, Minnesota[edit]

On August 17, 1855, North purchased 160 acres (65 ha) of land from three farmers: Daniel Kuykendahl, Daniel Turner, and Herman Jenkins. The entire tract of 320 acres (130 ha) was platted in the fall of 1855, and the plat of the Original Town, comprising most of what is now the First and Second wards and a small tract across the river south of the section line now marked by Fourth street, was filed in the office of the register of deeds March 7, 1856. The town was named Northfield, Minnesota.

In the summer of 1855 North started work on the dam and a $4,000 saw mill which began sawing lumber about the first of December of that year.

Ann Loomis North

North’s wife, Ann Loomis North, and three children aged four months to four years, joined him in Northfield in on January 3, 1856. A fourth child, John Greenleaf North (b. October 11, 1856 in Saint Anthony, Minnesota), was born later that year. The Norths eventually had six children.

The Norths founded many of the early societies in Northfield. A college-bred man, John was keenly interested in the organization of the Lyceum Society, which was formed October 1, 1856, and of which he was the first president. A number of the early Northfield settlers had known the Norths in Syracuse, New York, including Ann's brother and sister-in-law, George (1835–1894) and Kate A. Loomis.

When North suffered financial failure in the Panic of 1857, his business interests were purchased in 1859 by his friend Charles Augustus Wheaton, who had moved to Northfield from Syracuse on the advice of the Norths after the death of Wheaton's first wife.

North's connection to the community he founded lasted only about six years. He left well before the event that brought the town its most notoriety—the James-Younger Gang's attempt to rob the First National Bank of Northfield in 1876.

Nevada Judiciary[edit]

In 1861 President Abraham Lincoln appointed North the official surveyor of the new Territory of Nevada, and North moved to Virginia City, Nevada. The territorial surveyor was a sensitive position in a mining region such as Nevada’s Comstock Lode, where the boundaries of mining claims were the constant subject of lawsuits. Lincoln may have counted on North to keep Nevada Territory loyal to the Union, and to bring Nevada in as a Republican state, as he had Minnesota.[3] North surveyed, invested in silver mining properties, began building an ore-treatment mill he named the Minnesota Mill, and practiced law.

In early 1863, when Justice Gordon Mott's resignation from the Supreme Court of Nevada Territory was a certainty, Judge Horatio M. Jones recommended North for the vacancy. On August 20, 1863, Lincoln granted North a temporary appointment to Nevada's highest court, the predecessor of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. Initially, North won praise both for his decisions and for removing the backlog of cases on his docket.[4][5] He was also elected president of the 1863 constitutional convention (in Carson City) assigned to draft a proposed state constitution for Nevada. In both positions he clashed with William M. Stewart, a prominent lawyer with political ambitions and large mining companies as clients. North’s rulings supported the "many-ledge" interpretation of mining law on the Comstock Lode, which favored the smaller mining companies over the larger companies that were Stewart’s clients.

Stewart accused North of accepting bribes from litigants. North denied the charge, and Stewart was forced to publicly recant, but Stewart continued to attack North’s honesty, and orchestrated a campaign against North in the Nevada newspapers allied with Stewart. Other newspapers supported North.

North resigned because of ill health after less than a year on the bench, but sued Stewart for slander. North agreed to submit his suit to arbitration, and after hearing both sides, the court declared that Stewart had indeed slandered North, and that there was no evidence that North had engaged in corruption. Nevertheless, North left the Territory for California, and Stewart remained and became the U.S. Senator from the new state of Nevada.[6]

Founding Riverside, California[edit]

North and his family moved to the northern California town of Santa Clara, and then for a while to Tennessee. There are reports that North, an abolitionist, was shunned in Tennessee after he talked a crowd out of lynching a black man. This precipitated a move in 1870 back to California where, in 1870, North founded the southern California town of Riverside along with associates—some from Minnesota—who joined him there.

In 1879, he and his family moved north to San Francisco and joined a law firm. That year, North was nominated, but did not win, the Republican nomination to the California Supreme Court. In 1880, he became the general agent for the Washington Irrigated Colony, near Fresno, California. He opened a law office in Fresno, built a house and started a farm in nearby small community of Oleander. His wife did not join him in this move.

John North died in Fresno on February 22, 1890,[7] and was buried in Riverside's Evergreen Cemetery.[8]


  1. ^ John North, Minnesota Legislators Past and Present
  2. ^ John Wesley North and the Reform Frontier By Merlin Stonehouse page 4
  3. ^ Merlin Stonehouse (1965) John Wesley North and the Reform Frontier, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, pp. 133-135.
  4. ^
  5. ^ James W. Hulse (1988), Making law in the Great Basin: the evolution of the federal court in Nevada, 1855–1905, Western Legal History, v. 1, n. 2, pp. 135–162.
  6. ^ David A. Johnson (1983) The courts and the Comstock Lode: the travail of John Wesley North, Pacific Historian, v. 27, n. 2, pp. 31–46.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Evergreen Cemetery – Founders' Stories Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine
  • The News, Northfield, 8/16/1929. Northfield H&A, 4, 5–7, 20, 30, 34, 42, 46, 86; Continuum, 23, 41; #1: 8–10; Timeline

External links[edit]

  • John W. North at Minnesota Legislators Past & Present
  • Northfield Historical Society web site
  • Entry for John Wesley North at Online Nevada Encyclopedia
  • The story of the founding of Northfield from the St. Olaf College Online Archives
  • "John Wesley North". Civil War abolitionist. Find a Grave. Mar 21, 2003. Retrieved Aug 19, 2011.
Preceded by
Territorial House 1851 (District 5); Republican Constitutional Convention 1857 (District 6)
1851 and 1867
Succeeded by