John W. Ellis Bio-Sketch


Name: John Willis Ellis
Rank: 35th Governor of North Carolina
Date in Office: 1859-Death
Education: Randolph Macon College and, the University of North Carolina
Birth Date: November 23, 1820
Birth Place: Eastern Rowan County (Now Davidson County)
Death Date: July 7, 1861
Death Place: Red Sulphur Springs, Virginia
Gravesite: Old English Cemetery, Rowan County NC

John W. Ellis was born in Eastern Rowan County in November 1820 to parents, Anderson and Judith Ellis. His father was a wealthy planter and this allowed Ellis to receive a formal education.

John Ellis would attend Randolph Macon College for one year before attending the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill NC. Here, Ellis would attend until his graduation in 1841. Upon his graduation he would work with Richmond Mumford Pearson, whom would teach him about the practice of law. Ellis would go on to set out on his own to practice law in Salisbury NC in 1842.  John Willis Ellis would begin his career in Politics in 1844 where he would serve in the NC Legislature until 1848. He would be elected to fill a Superior Court Judge position by the General Assembly in 1848. Judge Ellis would hold this capacity until being elected as the 35th NC Governor of NC in 1858.

As a Democrat, John Willis Ellis would win the gubernatorial election in 1858 against Duncan MacRae.   Being the son of a planter, he championed Slaveholders property rights and believed the US Constitution protected the right. He feared abolitionists voicing their belief in a total emancipation would split the country.  Governor Ellis also promoted improvements in education, plank roads, increasing river navigation and freight transportation speed. These issues would help him get re-elected in 1860 over John Pool. However, there was also the cloud of secession and sectional division looming.

In his inaugural address of 1861, urged moderation and restraint on the sectional issue. He did however soon realize in March that North Carolina would eventually have to decide whom they supported.  With the firing of South Carolina on Fort Sumter, Lincoln requested troops from North Carolina to suppress the insurrection. Governor Ellis placed the State’s support with the Confederacy and replied, “You can get no troops from North Carolina.” With this act, Ellis ordered the taking of all federal buildings and arsenals in the state.  He would lead the state into secession officially on May 20, 1861.

John Willis Ellis began to fall into ill health and would travel to Red Sulphur Springs Virginia in an effort to improve his health. However, this effort was unsuccessful and he would die in Virginia on July 7, 1861. His body would be buried in the family cemetery in Davidson County before being moved to the Old English Cemetery in Salisbury NC.