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John Dennis Phelan (March 23, 1809 – September 9, 1879) was an American editor, politician and jurist.

John Dennis Phelan
John Dennis Phelan.jpg
Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama
In office
In office
Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives
In office
Preceded byJames W. McClung
Succeeded bySamuel Walker
Attorney General of Alabama
In office
Preceded byAlexander Meek
Succeeded byLincoln Clark
Personal details
Born(1809-03-23)March 23, 1809
New Brunswick, New Jersey
DiedSeptember 9, 1879(1879-09-09) (aged 70)
Birmingham, Alabama
Political partyDemocratic
Mary Anne Harris
(m. 1835; her death 1870)
RelationsJames Phelan, Sr. (brother)
Phelan Beale (grandson)
ParentsJohn Phelan
Priscilla Oakes Ford Phelan
Alma materUniversity of Nashville


Early lifeEdit

Phelan was born on March 23, 1809 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was the son of John Phelan (d. 1850), an Irish immigrant, and Priscilla Oakes (née Ford) Phelan (1785–1864), of New England stock, who moved to Richmond and, later, Huntsville, Alabama in 1818.[1][2] His father was cashier of the Bank of New Brunswick during the War of 1812.[2] His brother was James Phelan, Sr., also a jurist and journalist.[1]

He graduated at the University of Nashville in 1828 and studied law in Virginia with the Hon. Benjamin Watkins Leigh.[1]


After being admitted to the bar in Virginia, he returned to Alabama in 1830. He became editor of the Huntsville Democrat. From 1833 to 1835, he served in the Alabama Legislature as a Democrat representing Madison County, until he became the Attorney General of Alabama in 1836. After he was succeeded at Attorney General by Lincoln Clark in 1838, he returned to the Legislature where he was elected Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives in 1839, serving in that role util 1840.[3]

From 1841 to 1851, he was a judge of the circuit court, until his elevation to the Alabama Supreme Court in 1851, holding that office for two years until 1853, and then again in 1863-65 when "he was removed by the 'Reconstruction' carpet-bag ruler of Alabama."[1] In the interval when he was not a judge in the Alabama Supreme Court, he was clerk to that body, and also later in 1865-68.[3] He became professor of law in the University of the South in 1869, holding the chair till his death.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

On April 16, 1835, he was married to Mary Anne Harris (1815–1870) in Limestone County, Alabama.[5] Her parents were Mary Anne (née Moore) Harris and Gen. Thomas Kent Harris, a native of Virginia who moved to Tennessee and served as a representative of that state in the U.S. Congress from 1813 to 1815. Together, they were the parents of:[6]

  • Thomas Phelan (1836–1862), who died at the Battle of Gaines's Mill during the U.S. Civil War.[6]
  • Watkins Phelan (1838–1863), who died at the Siege of Petersburg during the War.[6]
  • Dennis Phelan (1839–1856)[6]
  • John Phelan (1841–1890), a captain of Phelan's Light Artillery for the Confederate States Army.[6]
  • Ellis Phelan (1843–1897), a fellow judge and clerk of the House of Representatives who was a Captain in the 45th Regiment of Alabama Volunteers.[6]
  • Priscella Phelan (b. 1846), who married G. A. Williamson in 1881.[6]
  • Mary Harris Phelan (1847–1928), who married Robert Leonidas Watt (1844–1886) in 1872.[7]
  • Anna King Phelan, who married James Chester Derby in 1884.[6]
  • Sidney Harris Phelan (1854–1913), who married Palmer Graham in 1877.[6]
  • Caroline Blount Phelan (1856–1948), who married Jesse Drew Beale (1851–1905) in 1877.[6]
  • James Lalor Phelan (1859–1899), who married Sallie Tankersley in 1889.[6]

After several months of ill health, Phelan died in Birmingham, Alabama on September 9, 1879.[8]


His grandson was Phelan Beale (1881–1956), who formed the law practice of "Bouvier and Beale" with Jacqueline Onassis's grandfather, "Major" John Vernou Bouvier, Jr.[9] Beale was married to Edith Ewing Bouvier,[10] sister of John Vernou Bouvier III and aunt to Jackie Kennedy.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Owen, Thomas McAdory; Owen, Marie Bankhead (1921). History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography. S. J. Clarke Publishing Company. p. 1356. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b McGee, Thomas D'Arcy (1852). A History of the Irish Settlers in North America: From the Earliest Period to the Census of 1850. Office of the "American Celt". p. 172. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Past Speakers and Clerks of the Alabama House of Representatives". Alabama Legislature. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  4. ^   Wilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1892). "Phelan, John Dennis" . Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  5. ^ "Alabama Marriages, 1816-1957," database, Family Search (9 February 2018).
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Saunders, James Edmonds (1899). Early Settlers of Alabama. L. Graham & Son, Limited, printers. p. 392. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  7. ^ Burden, Greg (2014). Blount Springs: Alabama's Fountain of Youth. Fifth Estate. p. 127. ISBN 9781936533404. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  8. ^ "Hon. John D. Phelan". Huntsville Weekly Democrat. 17 Sep 1879. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  9. ^ "PHELAN BEALE, 75, RETIRED LAWYER; Former Member of Firm Here Is Dead in Mississippi-- Known as Sportsman" (PDF). The New York Times. June 13, 1956. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  10. ^ Wolfgang Saxon (February 7, 1977). "Edith Bouvier Beale, Recluse, Dead at 81. Aunt of Mrs. Onassis Was Subject of the Documentary Movie 'Grey Gardens' in 1973". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-11. Edith Bouvier Beale, who faded from high society to re-emerge among the seedy surroundings of a rundown Long Island mansion in the film 'Grey Gardens,' died Saturday at Southampton (L.I) Hospital at the age of 81. Grey Gardens was the home she shared with her daughter, Edith, on Apaquogue Road in East Hampton.
  11. ^ Martin, Douglas (25 January 2002). "Edith Bouvier Beale, 84, 'Little Edie,' Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved 13 March 2019.

External LinksEdit

Legal offices
Preceded by
Alexander Meek
Attorney General of Alabama
Succeeded by
Lincoln Clark
Political offices
Preceded by
James W. McClung
Speaker of the Alabama House of Representatives
Succeeded by
Samuel Walker
Preceded by
Newly created seat
Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama
Succeeded by
Seat abolished