John B. Huston

John Boyd Huston was one of the most bril­liant attor­neys to ever prac­tice law in Winchester.  Huston was born in Nelson County on October 1, 1813.  His par­ents, devout Presbyterians, hoped to edu­cate their only son for the min­istry.  After grad­u­at­ing from Centre College, he dashed their hopes by enrolling in law school at Transylvania University. 

Huston came to Clark County after receiv­ing his law degree in 1835.  While resid­ing in Winchester, he mar­ried Mary J. Allan, a daugh­ter of Chilton Allan.  He went into pol­i­tics and was first elect­ed to the Kentucky leg­is­la­ture in 1835.  After serv­ing a sin­gle term, Huston prac­ticed law with his promi­nent father-in-law and proved him­self an able jury attorney. 

In 1857 he went into prac­tice with William S. Downey.  James Simpson sold them a house and lot on Short Street (now Cleveland).  The 1857 deed states that it was the house “in which said Huston and Downey now have a law office.” The office was where the McEldowney Building stands today.

According to his biog­ra­ph­er, “Politics at best offered to Mr. Huston only a play­ground in which he over­flowed with humor and delight­ed eager audi­ences by his rare gifts of speech.  His real bat­tle­field was the court room, where he was sel­dom rivaled as an advo­cate.  His address­es to pop­u­lar audi­ences were always aglow with fer­vor, but his argu­ments before Courts and juries were remark­able for high­er qual­i­ties.  He could bring laugh­ter to the most stol­id coun­te­nance and start a well-spring of tears in the very heart of the cold­ness and indif­fer­ence.  The old­er lawyers of Lexington well remem­ber his bril­liant dis­play of eru­di­tion, his severe log­ic, his caus­tic phrase­ol­o­gy, and his appeals to the ten­der part of one’s nature.”

Huston returned to the leg­is­la­ture in 1855 as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Know Nothing Party, a rem­nant of the for­mer Whigs.  He rep­re­sent­ed Kentucky at the Border State Convention in 1861.  He is cred­it­ed as the major influ­ence on Kentucky remain­ing in the Union.  Although referred to at this time as “General Huston,” there is no record of his ever serv­ing in the army.  He could have received his rank by appoint­ment in the Kentucky militia.

When Lincoln ran for re-elec­tion in 1864, Huston came out open­ly in sup­port of General McClellan.  He opposed the mil­i­tary juris­dic­tion imposed on Kentucky as well as the enlist­ment of slaves in the fed­er­al army. For this Gen. Steven G. Burbridge, Union com­man­der of the District of Kentucky, had him arrest­ed.  Gov. Thomas Bramlette com­plained direct­ly to the President.  He received orders for Huston’s release along with the fol­low­ing note from Lincoln: 

“I can scarce­ly believe that General John B. Huston has been arrest­ed for no oth­er offense than oppo­si­tion to my re-elec­tion; for if that had been deemed suf­fi­cient cause of arrest I should have heard of more than one arrest in Kentucky on elec­tion day.”

Order for Huston’s Arrest. “To Governor Thos. E. Bramlette: In the exercise of power delegated to me by the President of the United States I have arrested John B. Huston and am responsible for my action to my Government. When the Civil Authorities make no effort to suppress disloyalty the Military must and will. S. G. Burbridge. (Submitted)
Order for Huston’s Arrest. “To Governor Thos. E. Bramlette: In the exer­cise of pow­er del­e­gat­ed to me by the President of the United States I have arrest­ed John B. Huston and am respon­si­ble for my action to my Government. When the Civil Authorities make no effort to sup­press dis­loy­al­ty the Military must and will. S. G. Burbridge. (Submitted)

Near the end of the war, Huston and Downey sold the law office to Charles Eginton and moved their prac­tice to Lexington.  There Huston con­tin­ued his illus­tri­ous law career.  While estab­lish­ing a lucra­tive prac­tice, he served as a law pro­fes­sor at Transylvania for twelve years and was acknowl­edged by his peers as one of the giants of their pro­fes­sion.  He was said to be “in stature over six feet, full-chest­ed, grace­ful; he had a bright eye, a fine­ly shaped head, a pow­er­ful and pleas­ant voice and an expres­sive face.” 

Kentuckian John C. Breckinridge, when asked who in his opin­ion was the most learned and dis­tin­guished jurist in America, replied with­out hes­i­ta­tion, “Gen. John B. Huston.”

At the close of his life, Huston returned to Winchester, where he died at the Rees House in 1881.  He was interred in an unmarked grave at the Winchester Cemetery. 

In 1904 a mon­u­ment was “erect­ed by his asso­ciates of the Lexington and Winchester Bars and oth­er friends as a tes­ti­mo­ni­al of their hon­or and affec­tion.”  Huston has one of only two “white bronze” (cast zinc) mon­u­ments in the ceme­tery.  The com­mem­o­ra­tive ser­vice at the Opera House fol­low­ing the ded­i­ca­tion was attend­ed by many promi­nent fig­ures from across cen­tral Kentucky.  Judge W. M. Beckner presided and W. C. P. Breckinridge, wide­ly known as “The Silver-tongued Orator,” gave the ded­i­ca­tion address. 

Huston’s por­trait hangs today in the sec­ond-floor court­room at the Courthouse.

Huston’s Memorial Marker in Winchester Cemetery. (Submitted)
Huston’s Memorial Marker in Winchester Cemetery. (Submitted)

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