11 Replies Latest reply on Jan 6, 2022 10:29 AM by Kenneth Cutler

    Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq

    Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

      I’m researching George W. Macrae, Esq who was, on August 24, 1842, appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida by President John Tyler. Two years later, he was elected to the Territorial Senate, representing South Florida. He was chosen as Senate President as he had no strong party affiliations and was thought to be able to act fairly. My research indicates that he was appointed also as a District Judge and practiced as an attorney in the Southern District of Florida and had direct ties to Key West. Does your collection contain any material on him? The Florida Supreme Court Webpage says about him:


      Former Justice George Macrae is the fourth Supreme Court Justice and is one of the mysteries of the Court. Little information has been uncovered about him. He served for one year, 1847.

      This painting [left] of the justice is entirely imaginary. No actual photograph or portrait of him has ever been identified. There is no evidence of the date and place of his birth or of his family history.

      Macrae first came into prominence in Florida in 1842, when President John Tyler appointed him United States Attorney for the Southern District.

      Two years later, Macrae won election to the territorial senate from South Florida.  When another candidate declined appointment in 1847 as circuit judge for the southern circuit, Governor William Moseley turned to Macrae, whom the legislature had also previously considered for the position.

      After serving only a single year as circuit judge/Supreme Court justice, Macrae was replaced by Florida House of Representatives Speaker Joseph Lancaster.  Macrae’s activities after leaving the court are as uncertain as his origins.


      Based on references I’ve found thus far, he seems to have been an extremely influential person and I find it hard to believe that there are no images or more information about him! Accordingly, I’m reaching out to you to see if you are aware of any other information on him or where I might find it. I know he was active in the Masonic Lodge in Dade and he must have known the fathers of Key West, Pardon C. Greene, John Whitehead, John Fleeming, and John Simonton who were his contemporaries.


      Any help would be much appreciated. I really want to find his bio and image.




        • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
          Tracy Skrabut Adventurer

          Dear Kenneth,


          Thank you for posting your request in History Hub. As a federal repository, the National Archives holds the permanent records of the federal courts and federal agencies within the United States and its territories.  Personal papers and other manuscript documents are very rarely retained save for when the records relate to the work being done by a particular government official.


          I regards to his service as a US District Attorney, I was able to locate a single record in our catalog which might be of interest. It is from the series: Letters of Resignation and Declination of Federal Office, 1789 - 1974


          Macrae, George W.




          The catalog description reads: This file consists of the 1846 resignation as District Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.


          This record is not digitized online, but you may request a copy of the record from National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) at : Archives2reference@nara.gov


          George W. Macrae was a justice within the Florida judicial system. I have been able to locate a few bits of information related to him, though it is very sparse.


          This, from the Florida Bar's official twitter:




          I also located a book which may have information on the cases he tried, or may contain more information on him here:


          The Supreme Court of Florida and its predecessor courts, 1821-1917




          I also located a post from the Florida Courts Facebook page which also mentioned Macrae and the mystery surrounding him.




          So far as I have been able to research, there is no centralized repository for historical records for Masonic Lodges. You may wish to contact the lodge in the area where he was believed to have been a member, to inquire as to what historical records they may hold in regards to him.


          If he was prominent in key West, I might suggest reaching out to the Key West Art and Historical Society.





          I hope this is helpful in your research!

          1 person found this helpful
          • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
            Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

            I'm answering some of my own questions with my research in case anyone is interested.

            Here are my conclusions and my research is attached to back them up. There are a few “leaps” but I still have some pokers in the fire.


            I believe that George W. Macrae was George Wallace Macrae, son of John Macrae of Prince William County, Virginia. I found vital dates as follows:


            Birth: 24 Jun 1802 Prince William County, Virginia, USA

            Death: 6 Mar 1858 (aged 55)Kentucky, USA

            Burial: Dade Family Cemetery Church Hill, Christian County, Kentucky, USA


            There are several newspaper clippings that suggest that GW Macrae was an attorney practicing as early as 1823 in the Prince William County and Brentsville area of Virginia. His brother John was also an attorney and his father, John Macrae was a correspondent with George Washington. The Prince William County and Brentsville area of Virginia is close to DC and Washington was from Virginia. GW Macrae was extremely active in local politics and was a frequent representative of Prince William Va in the State Legislature. As pointed out by Professor Denham, he would have been a contemporary of and undoubtedly knew, President Tyler; a fellow Virginian. His family roots go back generations in Va and they were slaveholders. Documents show both his father John and grandfather, Allen Macrae as owners. John Macrae owned lots of Virginia land and there are also many references to either him or brother John in newspapers of the time.


            An 1828 news article confirms George’s middle name to be Wallace which is the maiden name of his mother, Elizabeth. George was heavily involved with the Whig party and Freeholders of the county of Prince William. He knew Judge William A.G. Dade a Judge of the General Court and this may be a family connection that explains his burial in the Dade Family Cemetery, Church Hill, Christian County, Kentucky.


            An article in 1839 suggests that he may have been a Captain in the Virginia Militia and he was appointed that year as a delegate to represent the Democratic Party at the state convention in Richmond that year. In 1840 there’s was a hint that he might have been tapped as a candidate to represent Prince William in the Legislature, but he declined and by 1842 he was the Attorney of the US for the Southern District of Florida after L.W. Smith resigned. One reference suggests that George W. MacRae was last President of the Florida Territorial Senate in 1845 which was the year that Florida was admitted into the Union. After statehood justice was administered by Circuit riding judges and in 1846, Macrae was the Southern Circuit judge that included Monroe County Florida. He may have served Florida’s Western Circuit before the Sothern appointment.


            George was very active in Freemasonry in Florida and there are multiple references to his many different leadership roles. Then in 1847 he is appointed to Florida’s new Supreme Court. A note in the proceedings held at the Grand Lodge of Florida (Masons) on January 8th, 1849, in Tallahassee has him in attendance. Then on May 21, 1849 he’s in New York boarding the Bark Alice Tarltan for California. The San Francisco City Directory of Sept. 1, 1850 lists Geo. W. Macrae, counsellor, on Clay Street between M and Kear. He has a brief venture with Washington Bartlett in publishing a newspaper called the Journal of Commerce and Daily Bulletin. In 1850 he unsuccessfully runs for Chief Justice of the Superior Court of San Francisco and attended the first Legislative session of the State of California where he was nominated for the Chief Justice position.


            He returns to involvement in the Masonry of California and holds a leadership role in 1850 as a founding member of the Madison Lodge No. 23, located in Grass Valley, California. He seems to have been a member for only the year 1853 as his name drops off the rosters for the lodge in subsequent years. He is an officer in a California division of the Sons of Temperance as noted in an 1851 article. In 1854 he opens a firm with Augustus Heslep, Heslep & Macrae on the corner of Merchant and Montgomery Streets in San Francisco. By 1856, he appears at a different location from Heslep in the City Directories, so it is assumed the partnership broke up. The last reference found of him in San Francisco is in the 1858 City Directory at 101 Merchant Street.


            In 1858, on March 6th I find a Geo. W. Macrae died at the age of 54 in Christian Kentucky near Lindsays Mill of dysentery. He is listed as single and his occupation is “Lawyer.” His parents are listed as John and Elizabeth Macrae. He is buried at Dade Family Cemetery. Ancestry.com has several trees with this family and some photos of family members, including George’s brother Bailey Macrae.


            Thus far I have not found any photos, portraits, or sketches of George W. Macrae BUT he was a man of great early significance and I believe there must be something out there!


            The details of what I was able to find on this mystery judge and believe that my “leaps” in certain places, such as the connection between the California Macrae and him ending up being buried in Kentucky, certainly can use a more thorough analysis and deeper dive to be validated BUT I believe it is a damn good working theory born out are available if desired. Contact me through my webpage: https://cutlerrader.com/


            I want to thank everyone for your help and suggestions and the camaraderie of the quest for answering the challenge when someone writes: “Little information has been uncovered about him.”


            Be well,



            • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
              Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

              Looking for any image of George W. Macrae! Photo, CDV, engraving, portrait anything that will allow us to see what he looked like!


              Thanks for your help!



                • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
                  Amanda Pritchard Adventurer

                  Dear Ken,


                  Thank you for posting on History Hub!


                  We conducted a search of our Catalog, but came up empty-handed. We suggest you contact our Still Pictures Branch at stillpix@nara.gov. They will be the best source of information regarding photographs in our holdings.


                  Additionally, we suggest you reach out to the State Archives of Florida. They have the "imaginary" painting of George Macrae. They may be able to provide you with more information surrounding the painting and its author. They may also have additional photographs and documents related to George Macrae and his time as an attorney/judge in Florida.


                  Best of luck in your research!

                    • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
                      Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

                      Thanks I tried both without success. As to Stillpix, their response is posted here for others information:


                      We thank you for contacting the National Archives at College Park.  Due to the coronavirus public health emergency, our facility is closed until further notice.  Our staff is currently working remote and do not have access to the records outside of emergency preservation purposes.


                      At this time we cannot assist with your request due to the records being unavailable, and ask you to resubmit your request when we reopen.  You may also want to contact the regional facility in Atlanta, as they hold the Southern District records.  Their email is atlanta.archives@nara.gov


                      You can access a portion of our digitized records online via https://catalog.archives.gov/.  


                      The Research Room at College Park remains closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The National Archives will decide when to begin reopening our facilities based on guidance from the Federal Government, including the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). We are working diligently on our plans for the gradual reopening of our facilities across the country. The reopening plans will be based on local conditions for each geographic area. Even as we begin to reopen, operations may be curtailed due to limited staffing or the need to temporarily close facilities for cleaning. Please understand the protection and safety of our staff, volunteers, and the public remain our top priority. We will provide further information as it is available - please monitor our web page https://www.archives.gov/coronavirus for future developments. We appreciate your understanding and patience. 


                      Thanks again,



                      • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
                        Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

                        Nope, they have nothing. Thanks!!



                    • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
                      Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

                      Update: I reached out to a Prince William County researcher, Mr. Ron Turner, and advised "there are no photographs, paintings, sketches, or engraving at the Prince William County Court House of George W. Macrae. I am also not aware of any in other collections in the county." That's a dead end. I've also been in contact with the family that owns the Dade Family Cemetery where Macrae is buried. They also do not have any images. Nor does at least one branch of Macrae's San Francisco law partner Mr. Augustus Heslep's descendants. The search continues! Any help most appreciated.



                      • Re: Seeking records of George W. Macrae, Esq
                        Kenneth Cutler Wayfarer

                        For those who may be following this string, an article on the answer to the question is now published in the Fall/Winter edition of the “Florida Supreme Court Historical Review Magazine.” and reported on by the Florida Bar https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-news/cutler-solves-the-mystery-of-justice-george-w-macrae/


                        Thanks to all of those who responded and/or helped in the searchA!


                        Ken Cutler, Esq.