Although his term began January 7, 1822, Governor Leake did not deliver his inaugural address until June 24 because the capital city was being relocated from Natchez. When he finally gave his address, the capital was temporarily situated at Columbia in Marion County. Five days later, the Mississippi Legislature located the state capital at the new town of Jackson, which was near a trading post on the Pearl River known as LeFleur’s Bluff. In December 1822 members of the legislature and other state officials moved to Jackson. During Governor Leake’s first year in office the state’s first capitol, a small two-story brick building on Capitol Street, was constructed at a cost of $3,000.
Walter Leake was born in Albermarle County, Virginia, on May 25, 1762, and came to the office of governor with a great deal of experience in political and governmental affairs. He was a Revolutionary War veteran and had served in the Virginia Legislature. After President Thomas Jefferson appointed him judge of the Mississippi Territory in 1807, Leake moved to Claiborne County. He represented that county in the Constitutional Convention of 1817.
Following Mississippi’s admission to statehood, Leake was appointed one of the state's first two United States senators. In 1820, after he resigned his Senate seat, Leake was appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge John Taylor. He served on the high court until his inauguration as governor in January of 1822.
During his first administration, Governor Leake signed a law abolishing imprisonment for debt, making Mississippi one of the first states in America to enact such a law. Governor Leake also tried unsuccessfully to persuade the legislature to pass a law prohibiting dueling in Mississippi.
Governor Leake arranged for the formal transfer of the federal land grant that had been given to Mississippi in 1819 to support a state university, and the state’s first major road system was begun during his term, with roads leading out from Jackson to Natchez, Vicksburg, Winchester (Yazoo City), Holmesville, Liberty, and to other points. The towns of Jackson (1823) and Vicksburg (1825) were incorporated during his administration.
In 1823, Governor Leake became Mississippi’s first governor to be re-elected for a second term. But in the second year of his second term, Governor Leake became ill and died November 17, 1825, at his home in Mt. Salus, now known as Clinton. He was succeeded by Lieutenant Governor Gerard C. Brandon.
Leake County and Leakesville, the county seat of Greene County, are named in honor of Governor Leake.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 1446.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 50.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II. 63-67.