Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Woodward, Augustus

Augustus Brevoort Woodward, the first chief justice of the Michigan Territory, helped create a basis for the state’s legal development. He was born in New York City in 1774 and after college, became the first lawyer to establish a practice in Washington, D.C. An acquaintance of President Thomas Jefferson, Woodward was appointed as a territorial judge for the Michigan Territory, arriving in Detroit just days after the 1805 fire. Emulating Washington, D.C.’s hub-and-spoke street plan, Woodward laid out a striking vision for his new hometown, including a main thoroughfare, running north from the Detroit River to the city of Pontiac, that bears his name.

When the British occupied Detroit during the War of 1812, most American officials departed. Woodward remained, advocating for fair treatment of the town’s citizens. Following the conflict, in addition to his court docket, he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for the University of Michigan.

Woodward’s personality, characterized as “brilliant but eccentric,” made him a lightning rod for criticism and he made powerful enemies. However, he was lauded as a jurist, for his reasoning and writing skills, one of his notable decisions being an anti-slavery opinion in 1807, early on in the debate of that subject.

After 19 years in Detroit, he was assigned a judicial post in the Territory of Florida. He died there on July 12, 1827, a lifelong bachelor. A plaque, placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Detroit Bar Association inside the Millender Center at Jefferson Avenue and Randolph Street, the site of Woodward’s law office, commemorates his achievements.



Detroit Bank note signed by Augustus Woodward, 1806 - 1971.084.019

Historical marker mentioning Augustus Woodward and the founding of the University of Michigan, 1951 - 2013.041.429

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