Thomas Settle, Jr., state supreme court justice and founding member of the North Carolina Republican Party, was born in 1831 in Rockingham County, the son of Thomas and Henrietta Graves Settle. Settle’s father, who had been a speaker of the House of Commons, U.S. congressman, and superior court judge, stressed the importance of a proper education. In 1850 Settle, Jr., graduated from the University of North Carolina and subsequently became the secretary for Democratic Governor David S. Reid who was Settle’s brother-in-law.
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After a year on Reid’s staff, Settle began studying law with state Supreme Court Justice Richmond M. Pearson, and in 1854 returned to Rockingham County as an attorney. Shortly thereafter, despite the fact his father was a leading Whig, Settle, Jr. ran and was elected as a Democratic representative to the state House of Commons. He served two subsequent terms and in 1856 was appointed to the board of trustees for the University of North Carolina.
Although opposed to secession, Settle, Jr. volunteered his services to the Confederate army upon the outbreak of the Civil War. On May 3, 1861, he was appointed captain of Company I, 3rd North Carolina Volunteers, which later became Company I, 13th North Carolina Troops. He led his company, known as the “Rockingham Rangers” until April 1862, when he was reelected to the captaincy. However, Settle turned down the command and “went home.” Upon his return home, he resumed his career as a solicitor.
In 1865-66, Settle served as a delegate to the state constitutional convention and in the fall of 1865 won a seat in the state senate. A strong supporter of Governor William Holden, Settle became identified with the radical Republican ideology concerning Reconstruction. In the spring of 1867 he became one of the founding members of the North Carolina Republican Party.
Settle was appointed an associate justice to the state supreme court in 1878. He resigned three years later to accept the position of U.S. ambassador to Peru. His ambassadorship ended a year later due to illness, at which time he returned to North Carolina and was reappointed to the supreme court. In 1872 he presided over the Republican National Convention, and in 1876 accepted his party’s nomination as gubernatorial candidate. In what became known popularly as the “Battle of the Giants,” Settle faced off against former governor Zebulon B. Vance. Settle lost the election, effectively ending Reconstruction in North Carolina. The following year he accepted an appointment as a U.S. district court judge in Florida.
Settle died on December 1, 1888, and was buried in Greensboro, where his family had moved in 1870 and maintained their home during his service in Florida.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 316-317—sketch by Lindley S. Butler
Jeffrey Crow, “Thomas Settle, Jr.: Reconstruction and the Memory of the Civil War,” Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy, XXVII (2002), 61-96 (originally published in Journal of Southern History, Fall 1996)
Bob W. Carter, “A Biographical Sketch of Thomas Settle, Jr., and his Family,” Journal of Rockingham County History and Genealogy, XXVII (2002), 97-114