Although his term began on 7 January 1822, Gov. Walter Leake did not deliver his inaugural address until 24 June because the capital city was being relocated. When he finally spoke, the capital was temporarily situated at Columbia, in Marion County. Five days later, the legislature located the state capital at the new town of Jackson, which was being built near LeFleur’s Bluff, a trading post on the Pearl River. In December 1822 members of the legislature and other state officials moved to Jackson. During Leake’s first year in office, the state’s first capitol, a small two-story brick building on Capitol Street, was constructed at a cost of three thousand dollars.
Walter Leake was born in Albemarle County, Virginia, on 25 May 1762 and came to the Mississippi governorship with a great deal of experience in political and governmental affairs. He was a Revolutionary War veteran and had served in the Virginia legislature. Pres. Thomas Jefferson appointed Leake judge of the Mississippi Territory in 1807, and he moved to Claiborne County, which he represented in the constitutional convention of 1817. Following Mississippi statehood, Leake was appointed one of the state’s first two US senators. In 1820 he was appointed to the state supreme court to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge John Taylor. He served on the high court until his inauguration as governor.
During his first administration Leake signed a law abolishing imprisonment for debt, making Mississippi one of the first states to do so. Leake also tried unsuccessfully to persuade the legislature to pass a law prohibiting dueling.
Leake arranged for the formal transfer of the 1819 federal land grant that had been given to Mississippi to support a state university, and the state’s first major road system was begun during his term, with roads leading out from Jackson to Natchez, Vicksburg, Winchester (Yazoo City), Holmesville, Liberty, and other points. The towns of Jackson (1823) and Vicksburg (1825) were incorporated during his administration.
In 1823 Leake became Mississippi’s first governor reelected to a second term, but he died on 17 November 1825 at his home in Mount Salus (now known as Clinton). He was succeeded by Lt. Gov. Gerard C. Brandon.
Leake County and Leakesville, the county seat of Greene County, were named in Leake’s honor.
- Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950)
- Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912)
- Dunbar Rowland, Encyclopedia of Mississippi History, vol. 2 (1907)