When the constitutional convention met in July 1817 to draft Mississippi’s first constitution, David Holmes was named president of the convention and was subsequently elected without opposition as the state’s first governor. Holmes had served as territorial governor for several years, and his election facilitated Mississippi’s transition from territorial status to statehood.
Holmes was born in York County, Pennsylvania, on 10 March 1769, and moved with his family to Virginia when he was very young. In 1797 he was elected to represent the state in the US Congress, and he remained in office until 1809, when he was appointed governor of the Mississippi Territory. Holmes was a popular choice for governor, and his appointment marked the end of a long period of bitter factionalism in the territory. During his administration the territorial capital was located at Washington, a small town six miles east of Natchez.
Holmes directed the territory during very difficult times. Border incidents with Spanish adventurers below the thirty-first parallel sparked frequent violence along Mississippi’s southern frontier, and the War of 1812 incited numerous Indian raids in the eastern half of the territory.
The Mississippi Territory grew rapidly after the war and by 1817 had reached the population required for statehood. Holmes was inaugurated as governor on 7 October 1817 at Natchez, the new state capital, and Mississippi was formally granted statehood on 10 December. Under Mississippi’s first constitution the governor served a two-year term and was allowed to succeed himself. During Holmes’s first administration the judicial system was established and the state’s judges were appointed, the legislature was organized, the militia was created, and the Choctaw Indian land cession east of the Pearl River was organized.
Holmes did not seek reelection in 1819, and the following year the state legislature appointed him to the US Senate, where he served until he was again elected governor in 1825, receiving nearly 90 percent of the vote. Holmes’s health soon began to fail, however, and he resigned on 25 July 1826. His eleven years and one month as territorial and state governor ranks him second among Mississippi’s chief executives.
Holmes subsequently returned to Virginia, where his health continued to decline until his death on 28 August 1832. Holmes County was named in his honor.
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950)
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 1 (1907)