Augustus Brevoort Woodward (1743-1826) was the first Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Michigan.In that position, he played a prominent role in the planning and reconstruction of Detroit following a devastating fire.
Woodward never married. His biographer, Arthur M. Woodford, describes Woodward as a prototype of Washington Irving’s Ichabod Crane. He stood six feet three or four inches tall, thin, sallow, and stooped. His long, narrow face was dominated by a big nose. His only outward vestage of vanity was a generous crop of thick, black, hair. His contemporaries commented on his slovenliness.
While in Washington, he was described as "a man of middle age, a hardened bachelor who wore nut-brown clothing . . . he slept in his office which was never swept . . . and was eccentric and erratic. His friends were few and his practice was so small that he hardly made a living."
He was born in New York City in 1774 and was baptized Elias Brevoort Woodward on November 6 in a Reformed Dutch Church. He was the eldest child of New York merchant, John Woodward, who fought in the American Revolutionary War and lost his fortune as a result of the war, and Ann Silvester Woodward, the daughter of Francis Silvester, a cooper, and the niece of Ann Silvester, the wife of Elias Brevoort, a leading pre-Revolutionary resident of Manhattan with a substantial estate and who was Woodward's namesake. The family moved to Philadelphia by 1796. As a young adult, Woodward chose to be called "Augustus", rather than Elias.
He entered Columbia College at the age of fifteen, and graduated with a B.A. in 1793. After graduation, he took a job in Philadelphia as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury Department. By 1795, he had moved to Rockbridge County, Virginia, where he taught school and studied law. While there, he met Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and the two became close friends.
Not long after Jefferson became Vice President of the United States, Woodward moved to Georgetown, Washington, D.C. and became a lawyer in the district. While there, Woodward was introduced to Pierre Charles L'Enfant. Woodward took notes of the layout for the United States' new capitol, even pasting a copy of the layout into the cover of his notebook. He had been present at the laying of the cornerstone of the District in 1792. His uncle and namesake, left him an inheritance of 150 English pounds, and with L'Enfant's city plan as a guide, Woodward acquired several land parcels for development. He moved to nearby Alexandria (then within the boundaries of the District of Columbia) and practiced law, one of the first 11 attorneys admitted at the first session of the new court of the District.
Between 1801 and 1808 Woodward published at least eight essay pamphlets entitled Considerations on the Government of the Territory of Columbia under the pen name "Epaminondas". Woodward urged the passage of a constitutional amendment to give these citizens the right to vote for President of the United States and Vice-President and their own senators and representatives.
Relation to Jefferson
In 1805, President Jefferson appointed Woodward to the territorial bench. By the time of his appointment, Woodward and Jefferson had known each other for about ten years. "The two men, lawyers by training, were interested in everything included in the term 'human knowledge,' which each tried to reduce to a system. Both were concerned with education. Each drafted a statute establishing a university. Each attempted to codify the law of his particular jurisdiction. And both prepared one or more memoranda discussing what constituted a desirable preparation for the practice of law."
Woodward arrived in Detroit on June 30, 1805, with the city in ruins from the devastating June 11, 1805 fire. Few buildings were left standing.
Woodward, with Governor William Hull and associate Justices John Griffin and Frederick Bates, possessed all the legislative power in the Territory. Woodward and Griffin, along with the current Governor and a third judge, would hold this power from 1805 until the institution of a legislature in 1824. Woodward and Hull bickered almost constantly.
Woodward and Hull planned to rebuild Detroit, which was the capital of the Territory. L'Enfant's layout for Washington, D.C. was the model on which they based their work (thanks to Woodward's notebook). Woodward's plan attempted to live up to the new city motto, Speramus Meliora, Resurgit Cineribus (“We hope for better days, it will rise again from the ashes”). For the first time in Detroit's history, attention shifted fully from its river to its roads. Woodward Avenue in Detroit, originally called Court House Avenue and other names, was popularly named for Woodward's efforts in rebuilding. Woodward, somewhat tongue in cheek, claimed the road's name as nothing more than the fact that the road went toward the wooded area to the northwest of the city.
Woodward proposed a system of hexagonal street blocks, with the Grand Circus at its center. Wide avenues, alternatively 200 feet and 120 feet, would emanate from large circular plazas like spokes from the hub of a wheel. As the city grew these would spread in all directions from the banks of the Detroit River. When Woodward presented his proposal, Detroit had fewer than 1,000 residents. The plan was abandoned after only 11 years, but not before some elements had been implemented. Most prominent of these are the five main "spokes" of Woodward, Michigan, Gratiot, Grand River and Jefferson Avenues.
During the War of 1812, Governor (now Brigadier General) Hull surrendered Detroit to the United British without a shot being fired (see: Battle of Detroit). Woodward stayed (Hull and Justices Bates and Griffin left) and maintained his status in Detroit during the British occupation. The British offered him the office of Secretary of the Territory, but he declined the offer. Eventually Woodward became a problem for the British. He was asked to leave the territory and granted safe passage to New York.
Considered a hero on his return to Washington D.C., Woodward soon focused himself on science (a life-long interest) and the establishment of the University of Michigan along similar themes to the University of Virginia, founded by Woodward's friend Thomas Jefferson.
It has been said that Woodward was among the first to recognize the coming of the scientific age. In 1816, he published his seminal work, A System of Universal Science.
With Reverend John Montieth and Father Gabriel Richard, Woodward drafted a charter for an institution he called the Catholepistemiad or the University of Michigania. On August 26, 1817 the Governor and Judges of the Michigan Territory signed the university act into law. This institution became the University of Michigan. It was ahead of its time. No mere charter, it was a detailed blueprint for the organization of a university.
Woodward was also a Freemason.
One of Woodward's legacies is the Woodward Code: a series of statutes serving as the basis of the Territorial Supreme Court legal procedures.
August 26, 1824 saw Woodward's return to the judiciary, as President James Monroe appointed him to a judgeship in the new Territory of Florida. Woodward served until his death July 12, 1827 at the age of fifty-two.
- A Portrait of Augustus B. Woodward
- Woodward Avenue, Detroit's grand old 'Main Street'
- Judge Augustus Woodward
- AUGUSTUS B. WOODWARD, 1st Territorial Justice
Portions of this article were taken from Wikipedia on 2/19/2008.