Bullitt County History

Joshua Fry Bullitt

Joshua Fry Bullitt was the president of the Shepherdsville Iron Manufacturing Company. A grandson of Alexander Scott Bullitt, his life is described in The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume XIII, 1906, pages 19-20; which is transcribed below (with error corrections).

Joshua Fry Bullitt

BULLITT, Joshua Fry, jurist, was born in Jefferson county, Ky,. Feb. 22, 1821. son of William Christian and Mildred A. (Fry) Bullitt, and grandson of Alexander Scott and Priscilla (Christian) Bullitt. His earliest American ancestor was Benjamin Bullitt, a Huguenot, who, shortly after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, emigrated from France and in 1665 settled in Charles county, Md., near Port Tobacco. The name was originally Bullett, but was anglisized to Bullitt in order to evade the law of England which prohibited aliens from holding real estate in the colonies.

Benjamin Bullitt left one son, Benjamin, who prior to 1727, moved from Maryland to Fauquier county, Va., and in 1727 married Elizabeth Harrison. Their youngest son, Cuthbert Bullitt (1740-90), was educated for the bar, and practiced his profession with marked success until he was appointed judge of the supreme court of Virginia, an office he held until his death. He was also a member of the Virginia convention of 1770, and was one of the committee appointed "to prepare a declaration of the rights and plan of government."

In 1700 he married Helen Scott of Prince William county, and their eldest son was Alexander Scott Bullitt, grandfather of Joshua Fry Bullitt. He emigrated to Kentucky in 1785, and married the eldest daughter of Col. William Christian and Annie Henry, a favorite sister of Patrick Henry. William C. Bullitt's father was first lieutenant-governor of the state and president of the first constitutional convention.

He was married to a daughter of Joshua Fry, a noted teacher of the early days of Kentucky. The son [Joshua Fry Bullitt] was educated at Centre College, Danville, and the University of Virginia, and was admitted to the bar in 1844. In 1851 and 1853 he represented the city of Louisville in the legislature, and in 1861 was elected to the bench of the court of appeals to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Henry C. Wood.

In July, 1864, while chief justice, he was arrested with a number of prominent citizens, by instructions of Gen. Sherman to Gen. Burbridge, under suspicion of favoring [the South.] He was taken to Louisville, and after being exchanged by Gen. Forrest resumed his place on the bench Dec. 6th, and continued to discharge his official duties until Dec. 24th. He was so bitterly denounced by the Federal authorities that in January, 1865, having well-grounded fears for his personal safety, he went to reside in Canada. June 3, 1865, he was declared formally removed from office by address of the legislature, and was superseded by William Sampson, state senator from Barren county.

Subsequently he returned to Louisville, where he continued to reside and to practice law, in partnership first with Henry J. Stites. and later with his brother, Thomas W. In 1881 he became associated with his eldest son, Joshua F., Jr., who had just come to the bar. and this partnership continued until 1887. On Jan. 30. 1869, with other prominent jurists, he memorialized the legislature in favor of an act admitting negro testimony and other liberal laws toward the colored people. In March of that year the legislature adopted resolutions exonerating Judge Bullitt and declaring there had been "no legal or constitutional cause for his removal." His disabilities were removed by Congress in 1871.

In 1872 he was appointed one of the commissioners to revise the code of practice, was one of the editors of the civil code in 1876 and was engaged on a new revision of the code in 1897. Judge Bullitt was a man of great force of character, but reserved and fond of study and writing. He was married in 1846 to Elizabeth B., daughter of Dr. George W. Smith. Thomas W. Bullitt, a prominent lawyer of Louisville, and John Christian Bullitt of Philadelphia, also a successful lawyer, were his brothers. He died in Louisville, Ky., Feb. 10, 1897.

His obituary was published in The Courier-Journal, Thursday, 17 Feb 1898, and is transcribed below.


Judge Joshua Fry Bullitt Passes Away.


Was Born, Lived and Died in Jefferson County.

Joshua Fry Bullitt, ex-judge of the Court of Appeals, died yesterday afternoon at his country home on the workhouse road, about three miles from the city. He had been ill for some time, but only during the past two weeks had his condition been alarming. During this period his decline was steady, and it was apparent that his death was near. He is survived by Mrs. Bullitt and two sons – Mr. Joshua Bullitt of Big Stone Gap, and Dr. James Bullitt of this city.

In the death of Judge Bullitt passes away an eminent jurist and a man whose career was of marked activity and pronounced success. He was born February 22, 1822, in Jefferson county, his father being William C. Bullitt. He attended a private school until his thirteenth year, when he began clerking in a wholesale grocery in Louisville. This business he later gave up to attend Centre College at Danville for one year; then the University of Virginia for one year. He then returned home, studied law two years and was admitted to the bar in 1844. From 1845 till 1847 he had as partner Mr. F. Fairthorne, formerly of Philadelphia, afterward admitting J. C. Bullitt. Judge Bullitt was later associated with Ballard Smith; then with S. B. Smith; still later he and ex-Judge Henry Stites were in partnership. His latest associates have been his brother, Col. Thomas W. Bullitt, and W. O. Harris.

For two years Judge Bullitt was a member of the Board of Aldermen of Louisville. From 1851 to 1853 he represented the city in the Legislature. In 1861 he was elected to the bench of the Court of Appeals, and from August 1864 to July 1865, was Chief Justice of the court.

On July 5, 1863, on the pretense that certain persons were conspiring to invite the Confederates into the State, and so bring about civil war, the Government authorities caused the arrest of Judge Bullitt and other prominent citizens, an incident that was one of the most memorable of those exciting times in Kentucky.

In 1871 Judge Bullitt was appointed one of the Commissioners to revise the Code of Practice in Kentucky; in 1876 he was appointed one of the editors of the Civil Code. As to his politics, prior to 1855 he wa sa Whig; then he became a Douglas Democrat and stumped the State for Douglas in 1860.

Judge Bullitt's wife, who survives, was Miss Elizabeth B. Smith, whom he married in 1846. She was a daughter of Dr. George W. Smith, of Louisville.

As a lawyer Judge Bullitt held high rank and was counted among the most profound of the State. His arguments were noted for their conciseness and force. One of his best-known cases involved the "boot and shoe" contracts of John Stevers, which were sued upon in 1838 and settled in 1872, after pending thirty-four years. After Hamilton Smith had tried the case, in 1850, Judge Bullitt took charge of it, and finally settled it by a compromise for $37,000, although the claim had accumulated to $60,000.

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The Bullitt County History Museum, a service of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is located in the county courthouse at 300 South Buckman Street (Highway 61) in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. The museum, along with its research room, is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday. Admission is free. The museum, as part of the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, is a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization and is classified as a 509(a)2 public charity. Contributions and bequests are deductible under section 2055, 2106, or 2522 of the Internal Revenue Code. Page last modified: 28 Jul 2021 . Page URL: bullittcountyhistory.org/bchistory/joshua-fry-bullitt.html