Judge John B Howcott (c.1817-1852)


John B Howcott was born about 1817, the youngest of the eight children of Nathaniel & Sarah (Norcom) Howcott. John was in the 20-30 age group at the time of the 1840 census, indicating that he had been born in the 1810s, which is consistent with the more precise age of 35 recorded when he died in November 1852.


John was only about three years old when his father died and eleven at the time of his mother’s death. Her will left John and his brother Nathaniel “four Negroes viz Negroe woman Pleasant, Girl Maria, Boys Freeman and Donaldson to be equally divided as soon as Nathaniel Howcott arrives to the age of Twenty One years.”


Whilst Nathaniel was still a minor, the revenue raised by hiring out the four slaves was simply shared between the two brothers’ accounts and paid for John’s fees to attend Edenton Academy. [1] This establishment provided a curriculum extending to Latin and Greek, as well as English grammar, maths and geography. [2] Its two-storey frame building had been built in 1800-1801 at Court Street but in 1895 was moved and divided into two buildings that are now numbered as 109 & 111 E. Church Street. [3]


By 1833, John was one or the 39 law students enrolled at Yale College, New Haven, Connecticut. [4] He had apparently returned to Chowan county by 7 May 1835, when he sold a slave, Wallace, to his brother Charles R Howcott for $450. [5] This transaction was presumably in preparation for John’s move down south.


Madison county, Mississippi was formed in 1828 out of a part of the 13,000,000 acres of land that the Choctaw nation had in 1820 been pressurised to cede to the United States by the Treaty of Doaks Stand. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 required the expulsion of most of the Choctaw from the state of Mississippi within the following three years. The enormous areas that thus became available attracted many American settlers, including John B Howcott. 


Canton was incorporated as the county seat for Madison in 1836. John B Howcott was one of the earliest probate judges to sit in its courthouse.


It was probably fairly soon after he arrived at Canton that John married Elizabeth W Jones, a daughter of Rev Hill Jones and his wife Judith B Boddie. [6]


John and Elizabeth were parties to numerous deeds registered in the county, the earliest relating to each of them being:

  • 23 September 1836 - John B Howcott of Madison county bought about 12 acres at Canton from Killis Walton and his wife for $1,060
  • 1 November 1840 – Gift from Hill Jones of Madison county to his daughter Elizabeth W Howcott, wife of John B Howcott, of six negro slaves and their issue. [7]


John B Howcott was recorded in the 1840 census of Madison county, the free white members of his household consisting of one male and one female aged 20/30 and a female aged under five, who was presumably his daughter Eugenia. At that time, he held three male and four female slaves.


The known children of John B and Elizabeth W Howcott are:







Virginia J





Eugenia Sarah Elizabeth





Cornelia Martha




Baptised as Martha Cornelia

John Calhoun


Carrie V Macey 1870



William Hill


Mary Edith Watt 1875



Mary Rebecca Wilkinson






Virginia J, Eugenia S E and Mary R were all buried at Old Iron Cemetery, on the north side of Robinson Road, about 5.7 miles east of its junction with Highway 16. [8] Among the other nine people commemorated there were the children’s maternal grandparents, Rev Hill Jones (1771-1846) and his wife Judith B Boddie (1780-1860).


Nine days before he died on 17 September 1846, Hill Jones signed a will that left to his daughter Elizabeth W Howcott “the following Negroes, to wit. Essex and Huldy”. [9]


Grace church, Canton

The first Episcopal church services in Canton were held in 1840, but it was not until February 1848 that Grace Church was formally established. Its building opened for worship in 1853 and still survives. The manuscript record book lists a number of those who during the first year (1840) were “the principal supporters of the church, and the most regular attendants upon her ministrations”. Among those on the list was “Judge Jno B Howcott, Judge of Probate & married”.


On 6 July 1849, John and Elizabeth’s four children who were then living were all baptised at Grace church on the same day. Having come from a Methodist family, Elizabeth was not confirmed until 18 May 1850.


Although the congregation at Grace church was mainly of white people, there are some references to the baptisms, marriages and deaths of slaves. Two such marriages took place at “Mrs Howcott’s residence” in 1854:

  • “Charles” a servant of Mr Hooveys’ to “Susan” a servant of Mrs Howcotts’
  • “Crittenden” a servant of Mr Mills to “Delilah” a servant of Mrs Howcotts’


Judge John B Howcott, late of Canton, Mississippi, died at Memphis at 5 pm on 22 November 1852. Three days later, the members of the Memphis Bar resolved in tribute:

that we deplore the loss of another member of this Bar, in whom were united so many excellent qualities of head and heart. The deceased was a sincere and devoted friend and a polite and accomplished gentleman; and coming lately among us, he brought with him the reputation of a sound and effective lawyer.” [10]


John was only 35 years old when he died of pleurisy. His burial took place at the Morris cemetery, which was situated at the junction of South and Main Street, on the day after his death. [11] In 1860, his body was one of those transferred to Elmwood cemetery, Memphis, where his monument stands to this day. The Howcott plot at Elmwood cemetery is in Turley section, lot 40. It includes the graves of:

  • L (or T) Williams
  • Dr N Howcott (17 December 1852)
  • Mrs Howcott (1 April 1857)
  • Judge Howcott (3 April 1860)
  • Mrs Mary Hardaway Wilburn (1883-1924)
  • Mrs Elise C Hall (1911-1968)


The inscription on a substantial monument that stands within the plot reads:

Judge John B Howcott, Native of Edenton NC, Died 1852




Dr Nathaniel Howcott (about 1805-1856), a brother of John B Howcott, was a dentist and Methodist minister. He had evidently arrived at Memphis, Tennessee in 1839 or 1840, as in an advertisement published in the “Daily Appeal” on 7 February 1852 Nathaniel claimed to have been in Memphis for 12 years.


"The Commonwealth” – a newspaper published at Canton - recorded the death on 22 September 1859 at Sharon of Miss Martha Howcott, "only daughter of Mrs Elizabeth Holcott". Sharon is about six miles to the northeast of Canton. An index to the U.S. mortality schedules states that Cornelia Howcott died of congestion aged 18 in September 1859.


Judith B Jones died on 19 January 1860. Her will, which she had signed on 6 July 1857, left “my negro man Vincent my negro woman Susan and her two children Offa and Tanny and my negro Boy John, and my Carriage and Carriage horses” to her daughter Elizabeth W Howcott. [12]


The 1860 census records Elizabeth Howcott aged 40 a white female with personal estate worth $26,000 and born in North Carolina. She was living at Canton with John (aged 16) and William Howcott (aged 13), both of whom had been born in Mississippi. The slave schedules of the same census for Madison county record Mrs E Howcott as the owner of ten male and ten female slaves, who were living in a total of four houses.


During the Civil War, the Howcott home was burned down, after which Elizabeth Howcott moved in with her slaves. [13]


Only four people with the Howcott surname have been found in the 1870 census as living in Mississippi. John Howcott, then described as 26 years old, was working as an assistant post master, lodging at a boarding house in Canton, the value of his personal estate being given as $400. The other three individuals recorded were all black and living at Canton. They had presumably been among Elizabeth Howcott’s slaves prior to Emancipation. Lada Howcott, aged 35, was a domestic servant; living in the same household was 8-year-old Melissa Howcott, who was presumably her daughter. In another household, Sarah Howcott, aged 14, was also a domestic servant. No later records have been found of black people at or from Mississippi with the Howcott surname.


Although she has not been found in the 1870 census, Elizabeth Howcott evidently remained in the area as in 1873, she was a victim of a tornado that swept through Canton and was described in a newspaper report as “the most terrible in its destructive effects that ever visited this section of the country. The hurricane struck the city at about eight o’clock and lasted for about 20 minutes, demolishing many buildings.” The report continued: “We learn that Mrs Howcott, Mr John Howcott’s mother, was severely injured, having been caught in the fulling building, and she was only rescued from being burned, in the ruins by some gentlemen who were passing at the time. She states that the building was struck by lightning and thus set on fire.” [14]


According to a copy of the inscription on a tombstone at Canton cemetery, Elizabeth W Howcott (born May 1818) died on 12 November 1878. She is recorded along with Cornelia M Howcott and John B Howcott with a comment that he was buried at Memphis. However, an index to the U.S. mortality schedules states that E W Howcott died of consumption aged 61 in November 1879.




TDA = “The Daily Appeal”, which was a newspaper at Memphis.


[1]     "North Carolina Estate Files, 1663-1979," database with images, FamilySearch – accounts for the estate of Nathaniel Howcott (1820). 120 images, starting with the hyperlink.

[2]     “Antebellum Edenton”, by Sally Greene.

[3]     North Carolina Architects & Builders: A Biographical Dictionary “Joe Welcome (ca.1774-1859)” by Catherine W. Bishir.

[4]     “Catalogue of the Officers and Students in Yale College, 1833-34” includes John B Howcott of Edenton, NC as a law student lodging at B F Thompson’s.

[5]     From bill of sale in Chowan county deeds, book L2, page 329.

[6]     Hill Jones was born in Warren county, North Carolina and joined the Methodist Church in 1794. He was a licenced local preacher. ("The Southwestern Christian Advocate", 9 October 1846).

[7]     The slaves were John, Heulda, Melissa, Rinda, River [or Riner] and Willis. Madison county land deeds book H, page 334.

[8]     “Cemeteries of Madison County Mississippi", compiled by Walter W Wellington (Madison County Historical Society, 1997). Eugenia’s death is recorded in the manuscript book at Grace church, her place of interment being described as “Family burying ground 10 miles east of Canton”.

[9]     Will of Hill Jones proved at Madison county court, cause number 361, book A, page 105.

[10]    TDA, 24 November 1852.

[11]    TDA, 24 November & 2 December 1852.

[12]    Will of Judith B Jones proved at Madison county court, cause number 959, book A, pages 315-317. Three images, starting with the hyperlink.

[13]    Information from Harley B Howcott Jr.

[14]    “Daily Ohio State Journal”, 2 February 1873, page 1.