When the constitutional convention met in July of 1817 to draft Mississippi’s first constitution, David Holmes was named president of the convention and was subsequently elected without opposition as the state’s first governor. The election of Governor Holmes, who had served as governor of the Mississippi Territory for several years, facilitated the transition of Mississippi from territorial status to statehood.
Holmes was born in York County, Pennsylvania, on March 10, 1769. His family moved to Virginia when he was young lad. At the time of his appointment as fourth governor of the Mississippi Territory in 1809, Holmes was serving in the United States Congress as a representative from Virginia, a position he had held since 1797.
Holmes was a popular choice for governor, and his appointment marked the end of a long period of bitter factionalism in the territory. During his administration the territorial capital was located at Washington, Mississippi, a small town six miles east of Natchez.
Shortly after Governor Holmes was appointed territorial governor, Jefferson College opened for its first session. Jefferson College, which had been established at Washington in 1802 but had not opened due to a lack of funds, was Mississippi’s first institution of higher learning and was among the nation’s earliest state-supported colleges.
Governor Holmes directed the affairs of the territory during some difficult times. Border incidents with Spanish adventurers below the thirty-first parallel sparked frequent violence along Mississippi's southern frontier and the War of 1812 incited numerous Native American raids in the eastern half of the territory.
Following the War of 1812, the Mississippi Territory grew rapidly and by 1817 it had reached the population required for statehood. Governor Holmes was inaugurated October 7, 1817, at Natchez, the new state capital, and Mississippi was formally admitted to statehood on December 10, 1817. Under Mississippi’s first constitution the governor served a two-year term and was allowed to succeed himself.
During Governor Holmes’s first administration the judicial system was established and the state’s judges were appointed, the legislature was organized, the militia was created, and the Choctaw Indian land cession east of the Pearl River was organized.
Governor Holmes, who did not seek re-election in 1819, was appointed by the state legislature to the United States Senate in 1820 where he served until he was again elected governor in 1825, by a margin of 7 to 1. Soon after his second term began, Governor Holmes’s health began to fail and he resigned on July 25, 1826, after serving only six months of his second term.
David Holmes was one of the state’s three chief executives who was not married during his term in office. He served as governor of the territory and the state for eleven years and one month, the second longest period of service in the state’s history.
After his resignation, Governor Holmes returned to Virginia and, following several years of declining health, died at Jordan’s Sulphur Springs on August 28, 1832. Holmes County was named in honor of Mississippi’s first governor.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 1325.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 48.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form I. 878-887.