Gideon Cornell (1710 – 1766), 2nd cousin 9x removed
Gideon Cornell (1710-1766) was a farmer, trader and judge who became the first Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, serving from 1747-1749. He was the son of Martha Freeborn and Thomas Cornell, who was elected several times as an assistant and deputy (representative) from Portsmouth. Cornell was a descendant of Thomas Cornell who came from Saffron Walden, County Essex, England, and settled in Portsmouth, Rhode Island (and later in the Dutchcolony of New Netherland). He was also a descendant of Thomas Hazard, one of the nine founding settlers of Newport, Rhode Island, and of William Freeborn, who was one of the 23 signers of the Portsmouth Compact, which established the first government in the Rhode Island colony. Upon his father’s death in 1728, Cornell inherited a large amount of land in Rhode Island and Jamaica and a substantial sum of money. In 1731 at the age of 21, Cornell became a freeman of Portsmouth.
Cornell began his public service as a deputy (representative). From 1740-46 he was elected as an “assistant” to the governor, and in 1746 he was also on a committee to run the boundary line between Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In 1738 Cornell served as one of the Justices of the Peace for Portsmouth, and in 1741 was selected as one of the Justices of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace for Newport County. He had initially been selected as the fifth justice “in room of” (replacing) William Ellery, Sr. who was “chosen assistant,” and in 1742 Cornell was selected again to serve as a Justice of this court.
In May 1747 Cornell was chosen as the first Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which at that time went by the title of the “Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery.” He was likely untrained in the law. In the early days of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, the legislature was distrustful of an independent judiciary and non-lawyer farmers were appointed as justices as late as 1819 (although Cornell likely served as a judge prior to his appointment). His name is misspelled as “Cowell” in Warren’s history of the Harvard Law School.
Cornell owned the sloop Jupiter which was seized in Jamaica for violating the Navigation Act, despite an unsuccessful appeal in 1758 to the Lords of the Committee of Council for Hearing Appeals from the Plantations for the Court at Kensington (28 July 1758). Other ships of Cornell’s were also accused of trading in foreign contraband according to the British laws. Cornell was also involved in other legal entanglements, including a land dispute over mortgaged property in Newport, when in 1763 he filed a trespass and ejectment suit. The opposing party, Thomas Shearman, appealed the case to the Rhode Island Supreme Court and then eventually to the “King in Council” in Great Britain in 1767.
Cornell died in Kingston, Jamaica in 1766 where he had gone to receive a large sum of money awarded to him by the British government. His purported city house still stands at 3 Division Street in Newport, Rhode Island. Cornell was a co-founder of Newport’s Redwood Library, which is housed in the oldest library building in America. He was also one of the original signatories for the petition creating Brown University. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania contains Cornell’s commissions of appointment as judge from 1743-1748.
Gideon Cornell (1710 – 1766), 2nd cousin 9x removed – Thomas Cornell (1674 – 1728) – Susanna Lawton (1650 – 1712) – George Lawton (1607 – 1693) – Robert Lawton (1649 – 1706) – Robert Lawton (1696 – 1735) – Mary Lawton (1723 – 1797) – Caleb Earle (1745 – 1820) – Prudence Earle (1767 – 1843) – Elizabeth Allen (1788 – 1871) – Laura Ann King (1811 – 1882) – Harriet Allen Clarke (1839 – 1898) – Clarence Clark Hamlin (1868 – 1940) – Elizabeth Gunnell Hamlin (1901 – 1982) – Tor Martin Hylbom (1939 – 2009) – Tor Martin (Majerus) Hylbom