b.4 Apr 1762 Essex, Virginia, United States
d.4 Sep 1822
m. 7 Sep 1786
Facts and Events
Roane was born in Essex County, Virginia, on April 4, 1762. His father was William Roane, a Scotsman's son who had emigrated from Ireland in 1741 and served in the House of Burgesses before the American Revolutionary War.
Spencer Roane attended private schools and entered the College of William and Mary about 1777. In 1780, Roane studied law under Chancellor George Wythe, and later for a year in Philadelphia. At age 22, Roane was appointed to the Virginia Council of State, and continued his legal career. His father, William Roane died in 1788.
In 1789, fellow legislators appointed the 27 year old Spencer Roane a judge of the General Court, where he continued until 1794 when appointed a judge of the Court of Appeals, when he sold Mahockney Plantation and moved to Richmond.
Roane remained an influential judge on that high court until his death on September 4, 1822. Roane gained a reputation as a States Rights advocate and opponent of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall, who President John Adams chose for that post shortly before President Thomas Jefferson took the office (and who was rumored to have favored Roane instead). In 1815, Roane defied the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, which he feared marked a drift toward abolition of slavery. In 1819, Roane again editorialized (under the pen names Hampden and Amphictyon) against Marshall and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in McCulloch v. Maryland. . When in 1820, Marshall wrote for his court in Cohens v. Virginia, Roane criticized the decision as the "zenith of despotic power" and "negatives the idea that the states have a real existence." Twice in his lifetime Judge Roane was one of the men appointed to revise Virginia's laws. Some of the correspondence between Jefferson and Roane remains, although Roane reportedly destroyed many papers before his death.
In 1804, Roane persuaded his cousin Thomas Ritchie, a schoolteacher and bookstore owner, to establish the 'Richmond Enquirer' as an intellectual counterweight to the 'Virginia Gazette' (which supported the Whig party) and 'Richmond Recorder' (which supported the Federalists). The 'Enquirer' supported the Democratic-Republican Party of Thomas Jefferson and others. Roane, Ritche and Dr. John Brockenbrough, all natives of Essex County, Virginia became known as the "Essex Junto" because of their political power in the county courts and the officeholders dependent on them. John Randolph of Roanoke, John Taylor of Caroline County, Andrew Stevenson and Benjamin Watkins Leigh also later came to be characterized as members of what came to be called the Richmond junto.
Spencer Roane was named for Col. Nicholas Spencer, acting Governor of the state of Virginia in 1683-1684, although Roane wasn't descended from Spencer, who was a family relation. (Col. John Mottrom, first member of the Virginia House of Burgesses for Northumberland County, had a son John Mottrom, who in turn had a son named Spencer Mottrom, named for Gov. Nicholas Spencer, who was married to John Mottrom Jr.'s sister. Capt. Spencer Mottrom's daughter Mary, in turn, was married to Joseph Ball, whose son Spencer Ball had a son Spencer Mottrom Ball, whose daughter married William Roane, father of Justice Spencer Roane.)