James B. Ray

James B. Ray

Infobox Politician
name =James B Ray

order =4th
office =Governor of Indiana
predecessor = William Hendricks
successor = Noah Noble
term_start =February 15, 1825
term_end =December 4, 1831
lieutenant = Milton Stapp
office1 =Indiana State Senator
predecessor1 =
successor1 =
term_start1 =December 2, 1822
term_end1 =February 15, 1825
birth_date= February 19, 1794
birth_place= Jefferson County, Kentucky
death_date= August 4, 1848 (aged 54)
death_place= Cincinnati, Ohio
spouse = Mary Riddle
religion = Methodist
party = Independent

James Brown Ray (February 19 1794, Jefferson County, Kentuckyndash August 4 1848, Cincinnati, Ohio) was an Indiana politician and the only Senate President-Pro-Tempore to succeed to become Governor of the State of Indiana, serving from 1825 to 1831, and was most known for his eccentricity and promotion of the railroad.


James Brown Ray was born in Jefferson County, Kentucky on February 19, 1794. He moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, when he was still a boy, where he studied law in the office of General Gano. He later met Mary Riddle who he married on December 10, 1818. The couple moved to Brookville, Indiana that year, and Ray setup a law office and quickly rose to prominence in the community.Woollen, p.56]

Ray was known to be rash and sometimes belligerent. In one incident he insulted a Brookville farmer who beat Ray quite badly for the insult. In another incident Ray threatened another lawyer with a "thrashing" before a court session, to which the lawyer replied with a fist in Ray's face. The courtroom went wild and both men were restrained before further blows could be thrown. [Woollen, p. 64]

In 1822 Ray was elected to Indiana State Senate beginning his term on December 2. On January 30, 1824, the same day Lieutenant Governor Ratliff Boon resigned, Ray was elected senate-president-pro-tempore. In 1823 his wife died and remarried to a widow, Esther Booker or Centreville, in September of 1825. [Woollen, p. 63]


On February 12, 1825 Governor William Hendricks resigned from his office to become a senator. Ray, who was still serving as the Senate President Pro Tempore became governor, the only time this occurred in Indiana history.Dunn, 374]

Ray ran for Governor in 1825 and defeated Chief Justice Isaac Blackford by 2,622 votes to become governor by election. He was reelected in 1828, defeating Israel T. Branby and Harbin H. Moore. Ray became the first governor to serve in the new capitol of Indianapolis. He found the Governor's Mansion to lack privacy, and refused to live there, instead purchasing a private home elsewhere in the city. His Indianapolis home, the oldest still remaining in Indianapolis, is within the Lockerbie Square Historic District. [Conn, Earl L. "My Indiana:101 Places to See" (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2006). pg.88]

His administration while governor focused largely on internal improvements in the state. Ray was a vocal advocate of the railroads, but most of the General Assembly considered his ideas "mad and impractical", instead favoring the construction of canals. [Woollen, p.60] A compromise was ultimately reached which funded both projects. After the William Hendricks administration had restored the state's credit, the new administration was able to move ahead with plans to build canals, railroads, and more roads in the state. [An Illustrated History of the State of Indiana, By De Witt C. Goodrich, Pg 196] Construction on the Wabash and Erie Canal began during his administration. Industry in the state expanded exponentially during those years with several large factories opening up in the different locations around the state.

In 1826, Ray negotiated a treaty with the Pottawatomie purchasing a ten mile wide tract of land through the northern part of the state for use in what would later become the Michigan Road. The treaty also purchased land between the Wabash River and the Eel River for the construction of a canal to connect the two. [Woollen, p. 58] Taking a commission from the federal government to negotiate the treaty was unconstitutional and reminiscent of the attempted impeachment of Jonathan Jennings. A motion to bring impeachment preceding against him was narrowly defeated in the General Assembly, 28–30. [Woollen, 61]

Ray also focused attention on the poor. He urged the legislature to build asylums, orphanages and provide other means to help the disadvantaged in the state. [An Illustrated History of the State of Indiana, By De Witt C. Goodrich, Pg 197-199]

Shortly after his election the execution of three murderers was to be carried out. Two of the murders where men and one was still a minor. The three men had taken part in murdering a family of Senecas. In a last minute decision Ray decided to pardon the young minor, arriving at the location of the execution on horse back just in time to spare the boys life. [cite book|author=Maurice Thompson|title=Stories of Indiana|year=1898|pages=195-197|publisher=American Book Company|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=WeEXAAAAIAAJ]

In 1830, the entire Indiana Supreme Court was up for reappointment. Ray reappointed Justice Issac Blackford, but refused to reappoint the other two members because they had declined to support his run for the United States Senate. Combined with what was considered his "insane" position on making Indianapolis a hub for a great railroad, his party stopped supporting him and he lost most of his public support. [Woollen, pp. 57 & 60]

Return to private life

Ray returned to his law practice which he moved to Indianapolis, after his term as governor. He found it difficult to find clients and dislike among the public did not quickly fade. He ran for Clerk of Marion County in 1835 but was overwhelming defeated. He ran for Congress in 1837, but was soundly defeated by William Herod, 5,888–9,635.Woollen, p. 62]

His public treatment led him to become even more firm in his views, which further hurt his standing. His public image did not help either, he was known to walk with a cane, for appearance only, and stop in the street and write in the air with it for no apparent reason. He ran advertisements in the newspaper offering to sell a "tavern-stand", a farm he did not own, and offering to construct a railroad from Charlestown, South Carolina to Indianapolis. He had few friends and most people thought he was truelly insane. [Woollen, p. 64] He took a trip to Wisconsin in 1848 and stopped in Cincinnati, Ohio, before returning home. There he developed Cholera and he died on August 4, 1848, aged 54, and was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery. [Woollen, p. 62]

By 1855, the railroad he was criticized for had taken ahold, and Indianapolis did, in fact, become the transportation hub he predicted it could be. [Woollen, 61]




*cite book|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=PCbZ8rS-84gC|title=Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana|author=Woollen, William Wesley|publisher=Ayer Publishing|year=1975|isbn=0405068964

ee also

*List of Governors of Indiana

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