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Hon. James C. Napier


Nashville’s first formally educated lawyer was James C. Napier. The Profiles of African Americans in Tennessee text has a nice write-up of his background. As I’ve been working on this blog and researching various people in Nashville history, I have kept Napier in the back of my mind to begin formally researching. I do so hoping that some of the information I provide is useful to others.

So, in light of recently being contacted by someone who may be a distant relative of JC’s, I have now begun working on the genealogy. It is located here. Of course it is still in very early stages, but I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Napier family from here on out.

One aspect I am particularly interested in about him is his grandfather. I found in some sources that his grandfather was of Scottish descent and the founder of Napier Iron Works based in Dickson County, Tennessee. Dickson county is county very close by to Nashville. With a little internet searching, I found that the founder of Napier Iron Works was a man named Dr. Elias W. Napier. Since I had already located JC’s family in the 1850 census, I knew that JC had a brother named Elias W. Well, that would make sense if their grandfather was Elias W! I also found other names in the white Elias’ family that match with names of JC’s family members; for example, Dr. Elias had a nephew named William Carroll Napier, same name as JC’s father.

Then, in using WorldVitalRecords, I found Dr. Elias W. Napier’s will. It was published in the book, Dickson County, Tennessee Will Book, Volume 2 published by Simmons Historical Publications. In the will, he frees a number of his slaves, including “Judy, my seamstress, and her five children, to wit, Fanny, William Carroll, James Monroe, Thomas Benton, and Andrew Jackson.” Looks like Judy is William Carroll Napier’s mom, thus JC’s grandmother. Other family members are also mentioned in the will. I can’t wait to dissect this a little further.

Leave a comment


  1. Anna Williams

     /  March 6, 2008

    Tanya,I am researchung the Napiers also.My Napiers are in Alabama but they are all kin.My ggrandfather ‘s name was John Napier and he is supposed to be the slaveowners son.He was a mullato.Tom Mcknight my cousin is much better at this then I am,he’s made the Tenn.connection.My ggrandfather and some of Tom,s kin came off of John S Napiers plantation in Lawrence County Alabama. Anna

  2. John Larsen

     /  September 8, 2008

    Taneya: My great great grandmother was Mary Wills Napier (1818-1844). Her father, George Fox Napier (1791-1840) was also involved in the founding of the Napier Iron Works in Lewis County during the 1830s.
    Elias was George’s older brother and a financial backer of George in partnership with Felix Catron, a nephew of John Catron, a Nashville attorney and future Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Panic of 1837 killed the plan to rebuild the Iron Works and the partnership ended up in court. Elias was required to buy out John Catron’s half interest, becoming sole owner of the works. This interest went to Elias’ nephew, William C. Napier upon Elias’ death in 1848. George Fox moved to Louisiana where he died. William put the furnace in operation in the late 1840s and ran it until 1873 when he leased it to another company.

    I had been reading about James C. Napier and the reference to his grandfather being the founder of the Napier Iron Works. For a while, I was thinking the founder was George as he was the first Napier connected to that furnace, although the family owned other furnaces and forges in middle Tennessee between 1790 and 1923. I then thought about William, the nephew as he actually brought the furnace into production. Your find of Elias’ will and his freeing of Judy and their children clears that up for me. J. C. Napier and I are distant cousins, but I didn’t quite know how. My family keeps growing!

  3. Matthew Sanger

     /  October 19, 2010

    Wow, great links. My interest in Napier is because he is one of the most famous signatures on american money. He was the register of the treasury from 8-15-1911 to 9-30-1913. He served under Secretaries of the Treasury Lee “Bum” McClung, Carmi Thompson and then finally, John Burke. On the paper currency from this time, bills were signed by the Register of the Treasury and the Secretary of the Treasury. Napier/Thompson notes are especially sought after because of their rareness.

    • Hi Matthew,

      Thanks for the comment. I still have yet to see a real bill w/ him as the treasurer name on it, but I did indeed know that they are rare to find. 🙂

  4. Phillip Troutman

     /  November 21, 2010

    I wrote my master’s thesis on him years ago; you might find some useful info in there, though I was not focused on his genealogy but rather his public career. You should be able to get it through inter-library loan:

    “A “high-toned gentleman” of the new south : the life and times of James Carroll Napier,” Phillip Davis Troutman, University of Virginia, MA Thesis, 1993.

    • Thanks Phillip! I’ll look your thesis up! I am sure there will be some new information for me in it.

  5. Byrdie C. Lee

     /  September 10, 2011

    I am a relative of J. C. Napier. I have a newspaper clip of his obit. His wife Nettie married my mothers first cousin, J. C. and was the daughter of John Mercer Langston, who was the great uncle of Langston Hughes, pres of Va. State University,first Dean of Howard U. Law School, first elected to U. S. congress from Va. ambassador to Haiti, etc. My grandmother’s maiden name was Napier.I have done research on my family, and wrote a play about John Mercer Langston.I could say more, but mostly about Langston.
    Byrdie C. Lee

  6. Vincent Windrow

     /  March 19, 2012

    is it true that J.C. Napier was a member of Omega Psi Phi during his time at Howard University?

    • Hi Vincent,

      I am not personally familiar with those details if he was, but it would be worthy of further investigation. I’ll try to keep an eye out for any indication for you. I have been contacted in the past by a woman who’d heard that his wife Nettie had affiliations with Zeta Phi Beta, so it is possible.

    • M. Otis Fowler Jr

       /  June 2, 2021

      He was made a member of Omega Psi Phi some time prior to June of 1919. He is listed in the Fraternity’s 1st publication as “Elected Active” or Honorary.

  7. Charles Jackson

     /  April 22, 2016

    Wow! Thanks for your research history of such a dynamic man of much understanding, provision, knowledge, wisdom, insight, and concern for his people, or shall I say Our people. (Dr.) Charles Jackson

  8. Charles Jackson

     /  March 16, 2018

    My name is Charles Jackson, and a friend of mine happen to give me a copy of the Nashville Scene Magazine, and we were discussion thee importance of Dr. James Carroll Napier, and reading how his love, and devotion for the African American Community, and his provision for education for minorities is to be commended with the utmost respect, and highest Honor. I wished we had people with his kind of vision, and support for morally justice for humanity, and especially the African American Community, we need to follow his lead. I wonder why we haven’t a special award with honoring his work, and dedication, here in Nashville?

    • Hi Charles – good to hear from you again. I do need to pick up the latest issue of The Scene, and yes, you are right in that he did so much for the community!

    • Ginger

       /  January 30, 2019

      There is a public housing set of units off of Murfreesboro Rd/Lafayette bearing his name. I bet that would tick him off though. He did not want others to be so reliant on any public system. Instead, based on what I’ve read so far, he would want programs that help blacks be self-sufficient. Housing projects and similar programs seem to create a cycle of system dependency instead of teaching skills to help someone be independent. So naming such a housing project may not be as honorary as intended.

  1. Ancestry Family Beta « Taneya’s Genealogy Blog
  2. Keeping up with the Napiers - Part 1 « Taneya’s Genealogy Blog
  3. Taneya’s Genealogy Blog » Blog Archive » Connecting with Cuil
  4. Taneya’s Genealogy Blog » Blog Archive » More Napier Connections

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