The eminent character of this gentleman requires more than a passing mention, in fact, a sketch of the early courts and bar of Christian County would be imperfect without an extended notice of him and his many public services. He has left a record in two States that time cannot efface. As a lawyer, jurist and statesman he was pre-eminently great. For nearly forty years he devoted his best energies to the service of his country, wielding an influence exceeded by few of his day and time. At the period when Judge Ninian Edwards lived his most active life, the surroundings were such as we know little or nothing of now except by tradition. The pioneer people were rough, rude, simple, sincere, honest, warm-hearted and hospitable. In the young State were the two extremes, the rude simplicity, and the gifted, brilliant children of genius, and amid these surroundings Judge Edwards trod his pathway of life, the pure politician, lawyer and statesman.
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He was born in 1775, in Montgomery County, Md. His father, Benjamin Edwards, was a native of Virginia, and a man of considerable prominence, having served in the Maryland Legislature, in the State Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution, and also represented his State in Congress from 1793 to 1795. Ninian Edwards graduated in Dickinson College, Pennsylvania. He studied law and medicine, and practiced the former with great success. He came to Kentucky in 1794, and devoted some time to the improvement of a farm in Nelson County, located by his father, and on which his father’s family settled in 1800. He was elected to the Kentucky Legislature in 1796, and was re-elected at the expiration of his term. He removed to Russellville in 1798, where he soon became distinguished in his profession, and was successful in the accumulation of property. Soon after the enactment of the law authorizing the formation of the Circuit Court he was appointed to the Circuit Bench, and as such presided over the second term of the Circuit Court held in Christian County; in 1806 was elevated to the Court of Appeals, and in 1808 became Chief Justice of Kentucky, all before he had attained his thirty-second year. In 1804 he was Presidential Elector on the Jefferson ticket for the Second Congressional District.
In 1809 Judge Edwards was appointed by President Madison Governor of the Illinois Territory, a position he occupied until 1816, and the duties of which he discharged with marked ability. In 1816 he was commissioned to treat with the Indians, and in 1818, when the State was admitted into the Union, he was elected to the United States Senate, serving until 1824, and soon after was elected Governor of the State. After the expiration of his gubernatorial term, he retired to private life. Few men accomplished more, and filled more important stations in a life-time than did Gov. Edwards. As a criminal lawyer he had few equals. He was a man of commanding appearance, and fine address, and wielded great power. He died July 20, 1833, at Belleville, St. Clair Co., Ill., in the fifty eighth year of his age.