Gov. Claiborne

William C.C. Claiborne

1775 - 1817

Louisiana's first elected governor, William Charles Cole Claiborne, was actually born in 1775 in Sussex County, Virginia. Claiborne was educated at Richmond Academy and briefly attended William and Mary College. Claiborne worked for the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives while studying law and in 1794 he moved to the frontier, Tennessee, to open a law practice.

In Tennessee he helped write the state constitution and was appointed the new state's supreme court. In 1797 he resigned from the Tennessee supreme court to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Claiborne was a Democratic Republican and cast his vote for Jefferson in the disputed presidential election. Jefferson rewarded Claiborne with the appointment to be governor of the then Mississippi Territory. In 1804 he appointed Claiborne to be Territorial Governor of Louisiana.

In 1811 he earned the respect of native Creoles with his quick suppression of a slave insurrection near Laplace. The Creoles and Cajuns had already appreciated Claiborne's requirement that all state business be conducted in both French and English.

In 1812 he was elected the first Governor of the State of Louisiana over Jacques Villere by a popular vote of 3,707 to 1,947. His campaign was helped by his compassionate reception of refugees from St. Domingue in 1809 and his Creole wife. After his years as governor, Claiborne was elected the U.S. Senate. However, Claiborne passed away before he could take his seat in the Senate.

The popular Claiborne was at odds with many state residents over one issue - the acceptability of pirate Jean Lafitte. The people loved Lafitte because he provided goods, though stolen, that were inexpensive or otherwise not available. Governor Claiborne, disappointed that the Lousiana legislature would not approve his request to put up a reward for Lafitte, put up $500 himself. As a humorous response, Lafitte offered a $15,000 reward for the governor.

Claiborne's great-great-great-grandniece is Lindy Boggs, born 1916 and named Corinne Claiborne. Lindy Boggs served Louisiana as a U.S. Representative from 2nd District, 1973 through 1991 when she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican. Lindy is the mother of reporter and commentator Cokie Roberts.