Henry G. Connor, judge and legislator, was born in Wilmington in 1852 to David and Mary Connor. At age three, Connor moved with his family to Wilson where his father died when Connor was fifteen, forcing him to leave school and help support his mother and younger siblings. He became a clerk in a Tarboro store but returned to Wilson to study law with George W. Whitfield. Connor received his license in 1871 and in 1877 established a partnership with Frederick Woodard. A conservative Democrat, Connor was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1884 and promptly was appointed chair of the Judiciary Committee, an honor rarely conferred on freshman senators. While a senator, he sponsored the Connor Act, requiring deed registration to stabilize land ownership practices. In 1886 he was elected judge for an eight-year term but resigned in 1893 to practice law in Wilson.
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Connor’s strong allegiance to the Democratic party led him to work closely with his friend Charles B. Aycock in the white supremacy campaign of 1898 to restore the party’s dominance in North Carolina. He was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives and was chosen speaker. In order to follow through with the promises of the 1898 campaign, he helped orchestrate the passage of a constitutional amendment that disenfranchised most black voters. According to Carolyn A. Wallace, “Connor’s views of suffrage were those of his race and generation, but he was anxious that any restrictions be established openly and constitutionally, and one of his primary motivations was to secure honest elections.” Connor was re-elected in 1900 and in 1902 was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court, serving for six years before he was nominated by President William Howard Taft to serve as a federal district court judge, a position he held for the remainder of his life. Always interested in sharing knowledge, Connor wrote several articles and lectured at the University of North Carolina.
Connor was viewed as an honest, hard working man who was devoted to his wife, Katherine Whitfield, daughter of his law tutor. One of his twelve children, Robert Digges Wimberly Connor, grew up to become one of North Carolina’s foremost historians and archivists. Groves and Katherine both died in 1924 and were buried in Wilson’s Maplewood Cemetery.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, I, 416-418—sketch by Carolyn A. Wallace
Josephus Daniels, Henry Groves Connor (1929)
Henry G. Connor, The Convention of 1835 (1908), electronic edition, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina: http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/connor08/menu.html
Henry G. Connor Papers, University of North Carolina online finding aid:
Judge Henry Groves Connor (photo courtesy of the family)