William H. Cabell
Portrait of William H. Cabell by Flavius Josephus Fisher (cropped).jpg
Portrait of William H. Cabell by Flavius Josephus Fisher
14th Governor of Virginia
In office
December 7, 1805 – December 1, 1808
Preceded byJohn Page
Succeeded byJohn Tyler, Sr.
6th Chief Justice of Virginia
In office
January 18, 1842 – December 31, 1850
Preceded byHenry St. George Tucker, Sr.
Succeeded byJohn J. Allen
Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court
In office
March 21, 1811 – December 31, 1850
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Amherst County
In office
November 8, 1796 – December 3, 1797
Serving with Joseph Burrus
Preceded byWilliam Cabell Jr.
Succeeded byJoseph Shelton
In office
December 3, 1798 – November 30, 1799
Serving with William Ware
Preceded byJoseph Shelton
Succeeded byDavid S. Garland
In office
December 6, 1802 – January 1, 1805
Serving with John Camm, Hudson M. Garland
Preceded byDavid S. Garland
Succeeded byCharles Taliaferro
Personal details
Born(1772-12-16)December 16, 1772
Cumberland County, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedJanuary 12, 1853(1853-01-12) (aged 80)
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic-Republican
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Cabell, Agnes S. B. Cabell
Alma materCollege of William and Mary
ProfessionLawyer, judge

William H. Cabell (December 16, 1772 – January 12, 1853) was a Virginia lawyer, politician and judge aligned with the Democratic-Republican party. He served as Member of the Assembly, as Governor of Virginia, and as judge on what later became the Virginia Supreme Court. Cabell adopted his middle initial, which did not stand for anything, in 1795, to distinguish himself from other William Cabells, including his uncle William Cabell Sr. and first cousin William Cabell Jr. (1759-1822)[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Cabell was born at "Boston Hill", in Cumberland County in the Colony of Virginia on December 16, 1772. He was one of the sons of Colonel (and burgess) Nicholas Cabell[3] and Hannah Carrington Cabell, both of the First Families of Virginia. His younger brothers were Joseph Carrington Cabell and Nicholas Cabell and the family also included daughter Mary Ann Cabell Carrington.

Young William Cabell studied with private tutors and, later, attended and graduated from Hampden–Sydney College in 1789.[4] He then moved to Williamsburg and attended the College of William and Mary, where he took legal courses from Judge St. George Tucker before graduating in July 1793. Young Cabell then moved to Richmond to read law.


Cabell began his legal career soon after his admission to the Virginia bar on June 13, 1794, and also followed his father's footsteps in entering politics. Amherst County voters elected him to the Virginia House of Delegates to succeed his cousin (after adopting his distinguishing initial). Although Amherst County voters failed to re-elect him after that term, this Cabell would serve multiple terms as one of Amherst County's two (part-time) delegates before being elected the 14th Governor of Virginia and serving from 1805 to 1808.[5]

In one of his early legislative terms, Cabell voted for the Virginia resolutions against the alien and sedition laws, which were designed to impede his political party. Cabell also served as Republican Presidential elector in 1800 and 1804. While he was Virginia's governor, the British sloop of war Leopard attacked the frigate Chesapeake off Norfolk (the ChesapeakeLeopard affair later known as a forerunner of the War of 1812) and former Virginia governor Thomas Jefferson ordered the arrest of Vice President Aaron Burr for the Burr conspiracy. Burr went on trial for treason in Richmond, because much the planning took place in lands Virginia once claimed in the Ohio Valley, but was acquitted as U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall (a fellow Richmond resident) found insufficient evidence of treason, although much conspiracy.

Judicial career[edit]

As his gubernatorial term ended, in December 1808, the General Assembly elected Cabell a judge of the general court. Two years later, legislators selected him for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court of Appeals. He began serving on that court on March 21, 1811, and served continuously for more than four decades. During the court's reorganization in 1831, Cabell was again selected to the new court, where he became president on January 18, 1842. He remained in this position until 1850, but during the last year before his resignation had several absences due to ill health.

Personal life[edit]

Cabell's grave at Shockoe Hill Cemetery

Cabell built the Midway Mill in 1787, which later was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but demolished in 1998.[6][7] In 1795, back in Amherst County, William Cabell married Elizabeth Cabell (1774-1801), but they had no children who survived. After her death, on March 11, 1805, he married Agnes Sarah Bell Gamble, eldest daughter of Colonel Robert Gamble, of Richmond.[8] Their children included:

  • Emma Catherine Cabell Carrington (1808–1887)
  • Robert Gamble Cabell (1809–1889)
  • Elizabeth Hannah Cabell Daniel (1811–1892)
  • William Wirt Cabell (1813–1891)
  • Edward Carrington Cabell (1816–1896), who moved to Florida and served in its legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress.
  • John Grattan Cabell (1817–1896)
  • Henry Coalter Cabell (1820–1889).

In 1840, Judge Cabell's household consisted of seven free white persons and ten slaves (2 adult men, 4 boys under age 10, 4 adult women).[9] In 1850, he and Agnes lived with lawyer sons William Cabell (aged 35) and Henry Cabell (age 30 and his wife) and an unspecified number of slaves.[10][11]

Cabell died on January 12, 1853 in Richmond, Virginia and was interred in Shockoe Hill Cemetery.


Cabell's executive papers are held at the Library of Virginia.[12]

Cabell County, West Virginia was named in his honor, as is a residence hall at William & Mary.[13]


  1. ^ Brown, A. The Cabells and their kin: a memorial volume of history, biography, and genealogy. Richmond, Va.: Garrett and Massie, 1939, p. 251.
  2. ^ "The Cabell Family Papers – Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library". Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  3. ^ "The Cabell Family Papers – Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library". Retrieved July 1, 2016.
  4. ^ "Lacy, Drury". The National Cyclopædia of American Biography. II. New York: James T. White & Company. 1921. p. 22.
  5. ^ Cynthia Miller Leonard, The General Assembly of Virginia: 1619-1978 (Richmond: Virginia State Library 1978) pp. 203, 211, 227, 231, 235, 239 518.
  6. ^ Virginia Historic Landmark Commission staff (January 1973). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Midway Mill" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
  7. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  8. ^ Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography (1915) unpaginated but available online at ancestry.com
  9. ^ 1840 U.S. Federal census for Richmond, Virginia.
  10. ^ Neither Virginia probate nor slave census records are available online and the recording of slaves differed in the 1840, 1850 and 1860 federal censuses.
  11. ^ 1850 U.S. Federal Census for Richmond, Virginia,
  12. ^ A Guide to the Governor William H. Cabell Executive Papers, 1805–1808
  13. ^ "William & Mary – Cabell & Nicholas Halls". Wm.edu. Retrieved July 2, 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Page
Governor of Virginia
Succeeded by
John Tyler, Sr.