W.T. Wood

Lafayette County Courthouse, Lexington, Missouri

Built in 1847-49, it is the oldest courthouse in constant use west of the Mississippi. W.T. Wood was three times a Circuit Court Judge.

The Honorable W. T. Wood, Circuit Court Judge from Lafayette County, was elected President of the Lexington Slave Owners Convention on its first day. [Craik, Southern Interest, 373] A well known Whig lawyer and jurist, Wood lent respectability to the group.

William T. Wood (1809-1893?) was born in Mercer County, Kentucky and was licensed as a Kentucky attorney in 1828. He joined his brother Jesse in Missouri in 1829, becoming clerk of the Clay County Court in 1830. His legal skills were called upon in 1835 as chief draftsman of a petition to Congress for the Platte Purchase. Governor Lilburn Boggs then appointed Wood first circuit attorney for the Platte circuit. [Paxton, Annals, 1019] In 1840 he was elected as a Whig to the Missouri General Assembly on a ticket with Alexander Doniphan, defeating David Atchison and a Democratic slate. He moved his legal practice to Lexington in 1845, and was elected Judge of the Circuit Court sitting in Lexington in 1854. [Chapman Brothers, 495]

Wood was one of the first attorneys defending the Mormons in their Jackson County eviction, joining with Doniphan , Atchison and Amos Rees in 1833. [Burnet, Recollections, 52] Later when the Mormon population of his own county was growing rapidly, Wood was the moving force in a Liberty town meeting in June 1836 demanding the Mormons depart Clay County:

"That it is the opinion of this meeting that the recent emigrants among the Mormons should take measures to leave this county immediately, as they have no crops on hand and nothing to lose by continuing their journey to some more friendly land." In addition to the Mormons' religious tenets, which were found "... so different from the present churches of the age that they always have and always will excite deep prejudices against them...,"

Wood and his friends cited cultural differences:

".... They are eastern men, whose manners, habits, customs, and even dialect are essentially different from our own; they are non-slaveholders, and opposed to slavery, which, in this peculiar period when abolition has reared its deformed and haggard visage in our land is well calculated to excite deep and abiding prejudices in any community where slavery is tolerated and practiced." [Smith, History of RLDS, 56]

Liberty Jail (1833) Clay County

Joseph Smith was held five months awaiting trial in winter 1838-1839 and received three revelations during his stay.
[Eden Bookshop LDS]

At the 1838 Richmond court hearing of Mormons captured at Far West, Wood changed sides when asked by General Clark to assist in the prosecution. Clark wrote to Governor Boggs that the enquiry " [took] a very extensive range and [involved] many important legal principles" not often seen in Missouri courts. The circuit court attorney agreed to approach the experienced prosecutor Colonel Wood to assist him. Clark was confident Boggs would somehow find a way to pay Wood a reasonable fee. [November 14, 1838, Mormon War Letters, Missouri State Archives]

Wood was a "prominent Whig in western Missouri." The state party was divided by the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in 1854. Although all four Missouri Whigs in Congress voted for the bill, many at home favored Senator Benton's position opposing the bill, feeling repeal of the Missouri Compromise would inflame the slavery controversy to the detriment of the national Whig Party. Party leaders Abiel Leonard and James S. Rollins called a meeting in Columbia to unite the Missouri members, who "teetered on the brink of disruption." The convention came down strongly on the pro- slavery side, which pleased Wood. The judge's political position was summed up in his letter to Rollins after the meeting:

"There is no longer the slightest danger of division in the Whig ranks, all may stand upon the platform you have adopted-opposition to the principle of the Wilmot proviso, approval of the principles of the compromise measures of 1850, unbending non- intervention by Congress and the right of the people of the states and territories to determine the character of their own domestic and local institutions and with all over approval of the Nebraska bill." [Mering, Whig Party in Missouri, 199]

In 1856 Wood moved to St. Louis where, like Doniphan and others avoiding the battleground in western Missouri, he spent the war. He served on a committee of prominent St. Louis citizens trying to maintain the peace in the city during street fights between secessionists and union supporters. In 1865 he returned to Lexington and was elected Circuit Court Judge again in 1878. [United States Biographical, Eminent and Self-Made Men, 232ff.]

Charles Clark