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Augustus S. Merrimon, United States senator and jurist, was born on September 15, 1830, in Transylvania County, the son of Branch and Mary Paxton Merrimon. His father, a Methodist minister, impressed upon his son the importance of an education. He spent one year at James Norwood’s Asheville Male Academy, and for a year read law alongside Zebulon B. Vance in Asheville under the tutelage of John W. Woodfin. He was admitted to the bar in 1852.
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Before the Civil War, Merrimon held a variety of public offices in Asheville. He served as a solicitor for Buncombe County and was elected to the legislature serving from 1860-61. Although against secession, Merrimon nevertheless enlisted on May 3, 1861, in Company F, 14th North Carolina Infantry. The following month he accepted a captain’s commission in the Confederate commissary corps, serving at Hatteras, Ocracoke, Raleigh, and Weldon.
In late 1861, Merrimon was appointed solicitor for the Eighth Confederate Congressional district encompassing the mountains of western North Carolina. For the remainder of the war, Merrimon attempted to quell violence in the western part of the state between pro-Confederate and Unionist factions. At the conflict’s close, he was elected judge of the Eighth district.
In 1867, Merrimon resigned his judgeship in the face of requests by the United States military to quash indictments against former Unionists. He moved to Raleigh, where he began a law office with partner Samuel F. Phillips. From 1868 until 1870, Merrimon had a close relationship with Josiah Turner, editor of the Raleigh Sentinel and drafted numerous railroad bills for George W. Swepson. During the Kirk-Holden War, Merrimon fought for writs of habeas corpus for many imprisoned citizens and cross-examined witnesses on behalf of the prosecution during the impeachment of Governor William W. Holden.
In 1872, Merrimon ran unsuccessfully for governor but he was elected by the legislature to a U.S. Senate seat the following year. Senator Merrimon spoke against a civil rights bill and attacked Republicans at large. In 1879 Merrimon retired from the Senate and returned to his law practice, developing a new partnership with Thomas C. Fuller and Samuel A. Ashe. On September 29, 1883, Governor Thomas J. Jarvis appointed Merrimon to the state supreme court. Six years later, Governor Daniel G. Fowle appointed him chief justice, a position to which he was elected to his own right in 1890.
Merrimon served as chief justice until his death on November 14, 1892. He was survived by six children, his wife having preceded him in death. He is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, IV (1991), 258-259—sketch by John L. Bell Jr.
Weymouth T. Jordan Jr., North Carolina Troops, 1861-1865: A Roster, V (1975)
Augustus Summerfield Merrimon: A Memoir (1894)
John L. Wheeler, ed., Reminiscences and Memoirs of North Carolina and Eminent North Carolinians (1884)