Judge Hansell: Distinguished Man of Georgia

Augustin Harris Hansell, Judge on the Southern Circuit of Georgia from the 1850s to 1902, tried many cases in the Superior Court of Berrien County.

Augustin Harris Hansell, Judge on the Southern Circuit of Georgia from the 1850s to 1902, tried many cases in the Superior Court of Berrien County.

As a young attorney Augustin H. Hansell put up a sensational murder defense for Jim Hightower (aka James Stewart); as Solicitor General he won an equally sensational murder conviction against Jonathan Studstill, which was later pardoned by the state legislature. From 1858 to 1902, Judge Hansell sat on the bench for the Southern Circuit of the Superior Court.  He presided over the trials of  some of Ray City’s early settlers in the Superior Court of Berrien County.  One sensational case was the 1899 trial of James T. Biggles, who shot down Madison Pearson on the front porch Henry H. Knight’s mercantile store at Ray’s Mill, GA.  He was a representative of Thomas County, GA at the Georgia Secession Convention of 1861, and signed the Georgia Ordinance of Secession along with: John Carroll Lamb, of Berrien County, who would later serve as a captain of the Berrien Minute Men and a major of the 29th Georgia Regiment; and Colonel Carey W. Styles of Ware County, who commanded Captain Levi J. Knight’s company of Berrien Minutemen while they served with the 13th Georgia Regiment at Brunswick, GA.

 The Atlanta Constitution printed a short biography of Judge Hansell in 1896 :

 The Atlanta Constitution
March 2, 1896  Pg 8 JUDGE HANSELL.Sketch of One of Georgia’s Most Distinguished Men.

PUBLIC OFFICES HELD BY HIM

And Which He Has Filled to the Satisfaction of His People – Sketch of the Judge.

    The desire for information touching the personal history of those distinguished men who have become renowned in science, in arts, in letters, in statesmanship and in the attainments of those beneficial victories of peace no less renowned than those of war, has always been so general among our people that it may be said to be natural.
    We have such distinguished personages as these all over Georgia – men who have been in the public service for years with their harness still entwined tightly around them, dispensing justice or looking after the welfare of our beloved state. And one of these is Hon. Augustin H. Hansell, the patriarch judge of the southern circuit of Georgia.
    With only one year lacking, a half century has this good man occupied a seat in the judicial chair of his native state.  His is one of the grandest characters in all Georgia – grand in all the emolumental features that go to make up the man – grand in the mighty elements of characteristic truth, justice, and moderation; grand in the noble attributes of both public and private life, and grand in the pure, simple faith of Christian duty.
    With a mind loaded with the fruits of many years of arduous study and mental toil, and with a heart as tender as a woman’s and as big as Stone mountain, he wields the gavel of justice over the people like a loving father over a numerous household, as strict and stern to the deliberate transgressor as he is kind and lenient to the tear-eyed repentant.  What a strong argument his life would make in favor of electing judges for lifetime on good behavior.
    I was frequently thrown in contact with Judge Hansell during my stay in Thomasville this summer and obtaining from him a sketch of his life, which no doubt will be of interest to the people of Georgia and serve as a good moral lesson to the young generation now advancing.
    Augustin H. Hansell was born in Milledgeville, Ga., the 26th of August, 1817.
His father was William Y. Hansell, for a long time a prominent lawyer of that city and afterwards residing in Marietta. His mother was a daughter of Captain Augustin Harris and a sister of Judge Iverson L. Harris. of Milledgeville.  Judge Hansell was educated in the academies of that day.In 1836 he was one of the volunteer cavalry company from Baldwin county in the Creek war and while in the field was appointed military secretary by General J. W. S. Sanford, commanding the Georgia troops.  In 1838 he was appointed by Governor Gilmer as his military secretary under a special act of the legislature and at the expiration of that term he was appointed auditor of military claims against the state.  He afterwards studied to the bar at Macon under Judge S. M. D. King in May, 1839.  In  November of that year he located in Hawkinsville and devoted himself to his profession.   In May, 1840, he was married to Miss M. S. Paine, daughter of Dr. C. J. Paine, of Milledgeville, by Rev. John W. Baker, then pastor of the Presbyterian church there, but now residing in Marietta.  It was a veritable love match and as the years went by the bond of protection and loyalty, of care and fidelity, of mutual love and tenderness cemented these two hearts in a love that was unalterable.  Together they have lived for more than fifty-five years without a harsh or unkind word having passed between them and with a family of children who have been devoted to their parents and added greatly to the happiness of the peaceful, quiet old home.  Judge and Mrs. Hansell had a large reception of their friends at their golden wedding in 1890.
    In 1843 Judge Hansell was elected to and served one term as representative of Pulaski county in the legislature and in 1847 was elected solicitor general for the southern circuit, then extending from Laurens and Twiggs counties to the Florida line, covering an immense territory and commanding a travel by private conveyance of at least 2,000 miles every year to attend the various courts.
    Judge Hansell was a member of the Whig party, but devoted himself mainly to his profession and was never an offensive partisan, and in 1849, with a democratic majority in both branches of the legislature, he had so many warm personal friends of that party in the assembly that he was elected judge of the southern circuit by a handsome majority.  In the spring of 1850 he removed his family to Scottsboro, where they remained until November, 1852, when he resigned the judgeship and removed to Thomasville, his present home, and resumed the practice of law in partnership with  Hon. James L. Seward.
     In 1859 Judge Lane, who had succeeded him on the bench, was elected to congress and Judge Hansell was appointed to the bench by Governor Joseph E. Brown and elected by the people in January, 1860.  He continued on the bench and had been re-elected by the people in 1868, but on the reconstruction was voted off.  Soon afterwards he was nominated for congress by the democrats of the first district and accepted and made a short canvass of the district, but the election was postponed until the next year, and having fully resumed the practice of law, he declined being a candidate and continued to give his attention to the practice until the democrats gained control of the state government and in 1870 he was appointed judge by Governor James M. Smith and has been continued in office until this time and was re-elected by the last legislature for another term of four years and  is now under his eleventh commission as judge of the southern circuit.
    Judge Hansell was a member of the convention of 1861 when the state seceded, and was also a member of the constitutional convention of 1877.
    Judge Hansell, though always open and firm in his politics, has never been what is called an active politician, and as the greater part of his active life has been on the bench, he has been careful to avoid being offensive.  He has thus been fortunate in acquiring and retaining that confidence which is so important to a judge.  In all of his elections he has had no opposition since 1849, and has always been engaged holding his courts at such times without having to come to Atlanta to take part in the scrambles for office.
Judge and Mrs. Hansell were blessed with five  children, all of whom are now living.  Captain Charles P. Hansell, of Thomasville, well known in Georgia, is their only son, and their married daughters are Mrs. B. L. Baker, wife of the pastor of the Presbyterian church at Monticello, Fla.; Mrs. James S. Denham, wife of Hon. J. S. Denham, who has been mayor of that town for a good number of years, and a prominent merchant and business man, and Mrs. James Watt, wife of Mr. James Watt, a most successful hardware merchant of Thomasville, a native of Edinburgh, Scotland.  Only their youngest daughter, Miss Sallie, remains with “the old folks at home.”

     Judge Hansell’s manners are a singular union of artless simplicity, polished elegance and dignity; his conversation always breathes a pure and gentle spirit, while it is animated, judicious and instructive.  In his intercourse with the world he is never offensive, never sycophantic, equally opposed both to that confident self-esteem, which justly gives offense, and that cringing suppleness, which as justly loses respect.  He   has  a keen and intuitive perception of fact and character.  His principles of conduct are those of punctilious honor, refined and guarded by moral and religious sentiment.  He possesses strict and scrupulous integrity,  enthusiastic warmth and bravery of spirit, and that moral and civic courage which is most uncommon, most difficult of attainments, and most valuable and commanding of all the qualities which dignify and adorn the man and the citizen and without which the public official is a curse.
    His character, as exhibited in private life, is most attractive.  He is an attentive and affectionate father, husband and friend, indulgent to the faults of others, sincere, generous and affable.  He is a zealous and faithful Christian.  Religion is the child of his judgment, not the creation of his passion.  With the sublime system of revelation resting in his thoughts, the Christian law hangs like a tablet upon his breast, and duty ever points her finger to the scriptural commands graven there to serve him as a model for practice.
    He is now nearing the end of a long and useful career, being only a few  years of four score; and as he lives, so will he die, giving lessons and examples of good to his latest breath – the same composed, thoughtful, cheerful and peerless man when treading on the brink of time, as when careering  midway on his pilgrimage, elate with hope and scattering seeds of good along his pathway.
   May God bless him and preserve him for many more years of usefulness to his people.    – MILLARD GEORGE.

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1 Comment

  1. Bryan Shaw said,

    January 9, 2012 at 9:45 am

    When Berrien County decided to build a new courthouse in 1897, it was decided to build it on the same spot as the existing two-story wood frame courthouse which was the first one built in the county in 1858. Dr. William B. Goodman purchased the building and had it moved across the street to the northern corner of the east side of the square, modifying it into a hotel. Dr. Goodman respected Judge Hansell so much that he named the structure The New Hansell Hotel. The New Hansell hotel was torn down sometime around 1920, and was replaced by the buildings which occupy the location today. Photos of the courthouse after it was converted to the New Hansell Hotel can be viewed at:
    http://berriencounty.smugmug.com/County-History/Landmarks/Landmarks/


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