William Bayard Shields

(1780–1823) Judge

In 1818 William Bayard Shields became the first chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Born in Maryland to Archibald and Rebecca Shields, Shields studied law in Delaware under Caesar A. Rodney, who later became US attorney general during the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Shields was admitted to the Delaware bar in April 1803 and shortly thereafter left the state with his mentor, Thomas Rodney, whom Jefferson had appointed to serve as a judge and land commissioner of the Mississippi Territory. Traveling by horse and boat, they arrived in Natchez later that year.

Shields became one of the Mississippi Territory’s premier attorneys and a leading public figure in the local Jefferson-Republican Party. He held numerous public posts, including US agent to the Board of Land Commissioners of the Mississippi Territory (1804), aide-de-camp and major of the militia under Mississippi Territorial governor Robert Williams (1805), member of the General Assembly of the Mississippi Territory (1808–9, 1813–14), superintendent of the Bank of Mississippi (1809), attorney general of the Western District of the Mississippi Territory (1809–12), superior court judge of Mississippi (1817), chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court (1818), and US district judge for the District of Mississippi (1818–23).

On 5 February 1807 Shields married fifteen-year-old Victoire Benoist, the daughter of Gabriel Benoist, a native of Nantes, France, and Elizabeth Dunbar Benoist, whose father was Robert Dunbar, a local indigo and tobacco farmer. The Shieldses went on to have one daughter and four sons, and in 1812 the family built a plantation home, Rokeby, named after a poem by Sir Walter Scott, in the southwestern corner of Jefferson County. According to the 1820 Census, Rokeby was home to ten whites and forty-one slaves.

On 16 April 1823 Shields suffered a severe stroke at his home, and two days later he took his own life.

Further Reading

  • J. F. H. Claiborne, Mississippi as a Province, Territory, and State (1880)
  • Frank E. Everett Jr., Federal Judges in Mississippi, 1818–1968 (1968)
  • W. B. Hamilton, Anglo-American Law on the Frontier: Thomas Rodney and His Territorial Cases (1953)
  • W. B. Hamilton, Thomas Rodney, Revolutionary and Builder of the West (1953)
  • M. Lewis and W. Clark, The Definitive Journals of Lewis and Clark, ed. G. Moulton (2002)
  • Thomas Rodney, Diary 1804 (1945)
  • Thomas Rodney, A Journey through the West: Thomas Rodney’s 1803 Journal from Delaware to the Mississippi Territory, ed. D. L. Smith and R. Swick (1997)
  • Dunbar Rowland, Courts, Judges, and Lawyers of Mississippi (1935); Dunbar Rowland, Mississippi, Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons (1907)
  • J. D. Shields, The Life and Times of Seargent Smith Prentiss (1884); J. R. Skates, A History of the Mississippi Supreme Court, 1817–1948 (1973)
  • R. Weems, Journal of Mississippi History (1953)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title William Bayard Shields
  • Coverage 1780–1823
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 16, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 15, 2018