Born into a prosperous mercantile family on June 16, 1749, in Philadelphia, he was a brilliant man, fluent in French and Spanish. He studied French, medicine, law and divinity under the Jesuits at St. Omer’s College in France, and later studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1785 he moved to Davidson County, North Carolina, where he established a medical practice and was elected to the State General Assembly. He served as a North Carolina delegate to the Continental Congress from 1786 to 1788, during the time that the U.S. Constitution was being drafted, but apparently had little or no role in that.
In 1786 he was appointed North Carolina’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern District, and that’s apparently when he got involved in one of the political schemes that didn’t work out as planned.
In 1784, some folks in what is now eastern Tennessee in effect seceded from the new United States and declared themselves the independent republic of Franklin. But problems soon plagued the State of Franklin, not the least of which was an inability to defend itself against recurring Indian attacks. Franklin petitioned to become a U.S. state, but Congress turned that down.
That’s when White used his position and travels as Indian superintendent to act as a go-between for Franklin Gov. John Sevier and the governor of Spanish Louisiana. Sevier wanted to place Franklin under Spanish protection which would have in reality meant Spanish rule. When that failed, the State of Franklin dissolved itself after a little bit more than four years of existence and became part of North Carolina. The area that had been Franklin was later incorporated into the new state of Tennessee.
In 1790 James White moved to Nashville and in 1794, despite his role in the Franklin fiasco, was chosen to serve in Tennessee’s first Territorial legislature. Later in 1794 he was elected as the territory’s first non-voting delegate to the U.S. Congress. He was reelected in November 1794 and served from September 1794 until the territory became a state in June, 1796.
In the 1790s he was involved in more intrigue, becoming involved in a plan concocted by William Blount, the U.S. Senator from Tennessee, to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to help the British conquer the Spanish territory of West Florida, which included the Florida panhandle, coastal Mississippi and parts of southeastern Louisiana.
That plan ended when the president got hold of a letter discussing the plot and moved quickly to squelch it. It’s not clear just what White’s role was in this plot, but it apparently didn’t hurt his standing with the Spanish. He moved to Spanish Louisiana in 1799, settling in St. Martinville probably just before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.
Once again, his past schemes seemed not to be a political bother to him.
In 1804 President Thomas Jefferson appointed White judge of the Attakapas District. Then he was named judge of St. Martin Parish when it was formed in 1807, holding that position until his death on Dec. 10, 1809. One biography says he died in St. Martinville another that he died in St. James Parish. I have not been able to find where he was buried.
He was the father of Congressman and Louisiana’s tenth governor, Edward Douglass White (1795-1847), and the grandfather of U.S. Senator and U.S. Chief Justice Edward Douglass White (1845-1921).
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.