Richmond Pearson, U. S. Congressman and diplomat, was born on January 26, 1852, in Yadkin County, the fourth of five children of Richmond Pearson, Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and his wife Margaret. He hailed from a long line of politicians, with both grandfathers having been members of the United States Senate.
Original Date Cast:
Pearson received his early education at Horner Military School before attending Princeton University. He graduated with honors and served as valedictorian of the Class of 1872. Following his graduation, Pearson studied law at his father’s school, Richmond Hill. In 1874, he was admitted to the North Carolina bar. President Ulysses S. Grant that same year appointed him the United States Consul to Belgium. A year later, he returned to the United States and received a Master of Arts degree from Princeton, before departing again for Belgium where he remained until 1877.
Pearson resigned his position in 1877, and began practicing law with friend John D. Davis in St. Louis, Missouri. The death of his father in 1878 led Pearson to abandon the practice and return to North Carolina. He inherited a large tract of land near Asheville that he subsequently built upon, naming the site Richmond Hill in honor of his father. Poet Sidney Lanier, a close family friend, stayed at the home for two months in 1881 attempting to overcome tuberculosis.
Pearson served as a member of the North Carolina Legislature from 1885 to 1889, and as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1894 until 1901. In 1886, Pearson was involved in two widely publicized challenges to duels. In April and May of that year, he challenged General Johnstone Jones and Robert Y. McAden over their opposition to the Buncombe Stock Law of 1885. The duels were averted however as both men declined the challenges.
A lifelong Democrat, Pearson changed his party affiliation to Republican in 1894 when running for the U. S. Congress. As a member of the House of Representatives, Pearson served on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and in December 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed him United States Consul to Italy. Appointments to Persia from 1902 to 1907 as well as Greece and Montenegro from 1907 to 1909 followed.
Pearson retired from the diplomatic service in 1909 and spent his remaining years at Richmond Hill. He died on September 12, 1923, leaving a widow, Gabrielle Thomas Pearson, and two children. He is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Asheville.
Christopher Crittenden, William S. Powell, and Robert H. Woody, ed., One Hundred Years, One Hundred Men (1971)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 48-49—sketch by Brenda Marks Eagles
Greensboro Daily News, September 13, 1923
Asheville Citizen-Times, October 28, 1951
Biographical Dictionary of the American Congress (1961)
Richmond Pearson (1852-1923), photo from D.H. Ramsey Library, Special Collections, UNC Asheville.