Mississippi’s first governor, David Holmes, was born on March 10, 1769 in York County, Pennsylvania. While he was a child, his family moved to Virginia where he grew up and in 1797, became a US Representative from that state.
In 1809, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Holmes to be the fourth governor of the Mississippi Territory. Becoming a popular individual in the state, Holmes’ appointment helped to end an extended period of harsh factionalism in the territory. Washington, Mississippi, located approximately six miles east of Natchez, served as the territorial capital during Holmes’ administration. Shortly after his appointment, Jefferson College opened its doors for the first time. Though established in 1802, classes did not begin for several years due to lack of funding. As Mississippi’s first institution of higher education, Jefferson College became one of the first state supported schools in the United States.
During his service as territorial governor, Holmes dealt with a number of border incidents which occurred below the 31st Parallel. Spanish adventurers were known to spark a number of violent outbursts across Mississippi’s southern frontier and during the War of 1812, provoked a quantity of Indian raids in the eastern half of the territory.
At the close of the War of 1812, the population of the Mississippi Territory expanded to such a degree that by 1817, it reached the level required for statehood. In July, a convention took place to draft the first constitution for the soon-to-be-state. Having successfully led Mississippi from territorial status to statehood, Holmes was elected the first governor without opposition. Governor Holmes’ inauguration took place on October 7, 1817 with Natchez established as the new state’s capital. Mississippi’s formal admission to the United States took place on December 10, 1817. The Mississippi Constitution stated a governor’s term would be two years and a successive term was permitted.
Holmes served as Mississippi’s first and fifth governor. During his first administration, the state’s judges were appointed and the judicial system established. The Legislature was also organized and the state militia was created. In addition, the Choctaw Indian land, located on the eastern side of the Pearl River, was organized.
Following his first administration, Mississippi’s state legislature appointed Governor Holmes to the US Senate in 1820. He served in this capacity until 1825, when he returned to the office of governor with a margin of 7 to 1 in that year’s election. A short time after his second term began on January 7, 1826 Governor Holmes’ health began to fail, causing him to resign from office on July 25th after serving only six months of his second term.
One of three Mississippi chief executives who never married, Holmes’ time in office was the second longest in the state’s history. He returned to Virginia after his resignation and died at Jordan’s Sulphur Springs on August 28, 1832 and laid to rest in the Mount Hebron Cemetery in Winchester, Virginia.