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Solomon Sibley

Solomon Sibley
1st Mayor of Detroit, first charter
In office
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Elijah Brush
US Representative
In office
Preceded by William Woodbridge
Succeeded by Gabriel Richard
Personal details
Born October 7, 1769
Sutton, Massachusetts
Died April 4, 1846(1846-04-04) (aged 76)
Detroit, Michigan
Alma mater Brown University
Profession Lawyer

Solomon Sibley (October 7, 1769 – April 4, 1846) was an American politician and jurist in the Michigan Territory.


  • Early life: 1769–1815 1
  • Congressional delegate: 1815–1823 2
  • Michigan Supreme Court: 1824–1837 3
  • Retirement and personal life: 1837–1846 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life: 1769–1815

Sibley was born in Sutton, Massachusetts,[1] and after completing preparatory studies, he graduated from the College of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University) at Providence in 1794.[2] He studied law, was admitted to the Bar in 1795 and began a practice in Marietta, Ohio, which was then part of the Northwest Territory.[2] He soon moved to Cincinnati and then moved again to Detroit, Michigan in 1797, shortly after the British handed over the fort in 1796.[1] When he arrived, Sibley was one of only two lawyers in Detroit. Being a pioneer lawyer was a physically challenging profession, often requiring long travel by horseback through wilderness over Indian trails in all types of weather to attend the territorial courts in Cincinnati, Marietta, or Chillicothe, Ohio.

In December, 1798, Detroit elected a delegate to the legislature of the Northwest Territory. This, the first election in Michigan under United States control, was held in a Detroit tavern. Although Sibley was elected, his opponent, James May, claimed he had won by providing liquor for the voters. Despite the protestation, Sibley represented Wayne County in the first legislature of the Northwest Territory, commencing his term in January 1799.[3]

Sibley was instrumental in passing the legislation in 1802 by which Detroit was incorporated as a town. Sibley was elected first as Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and then under the first city charter of 1806 as the first mayor of Detroit.[2] During the War of 1812, Sibley commanded a company of riflemen in defense of Detroit, though the British attack was successful and William Hull surrendered the fort. After the war, Sibley served as Auditor of Public Accounts for the Michigan Territory from 1814 to 1817.

Congressional delegate: 1815–1823

Sibley was appointed as the first United States Attorney for the Michigan Territory by U.S. President James Madison, serving from 1815 to 1823.[2] When William Woodbridge resigned on August 9, 1820 as territorial Delegate to the 16th United States Congress, Sibley was elected to fill the vacancy.[2] Sibley won re-election to the 17th Congress, serving in total from November 20, 1820 to March 3, 1823. Sibley continued to serve as U.S. Attorney, and thus held concurrent legislative and executive positions. During this period, Sibley was also commissioned, along with Lewis Cass, to negotiate the August 29, 1821, Treaty of Chicago with the Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Chippewa, in which the tribes ceded most of their territory south of the Grand River.

Michigan Supreme Court: 1824–1837

Sibley was not a candidate for re-election to Congress in 1822.[2] In 1824, he was appointed as one of three justices on the Michigan Territorial Supreme Court by U.S. President James Monroe,[2] becoming the sixth Territorial Justice. From 1827 until 1837, when he had to resign due to deafness, Sibley was Chief Justice of the court.

Retirement and personal life: 1837–1846

Sibley married Sarah Whipple Sproat Sibley (1782–1851), the only daughter of Colonel Ebenezer Sproat, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War. They had eight children, one of whom, Henry Hastings Sibley (b. 1811), was a territorial delegate from Wisconsin Territory, 1848–1849 and from Minnesota Territory, 1849–1853 and the first Governor of Minnesota, 1858–1860.[2] A second son, Alexander H. Sibley (b. 1817), was the president of the Silver Islet Mining Company which operated a silver mine in Ontario. A daughter, Catherine Whipple Sibley, married Charles Christopher Trowbridge, mayor of Detroit in 1834 and unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Michigan in 1837.[4]

Sibley died in Detroit and is interred in Elmwood Cemetery there.[2] Upon his death, many members of the Bar wore a badge of mourning for 30 days. Shortly after his death, his widow Sarah built the Sibley House on Jefferson, which still stands.[5]


  1. ^ a b "Solomon Sibley". Elmwood Cemetery. Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "SIBLEY, Solomon, (1769–1846)". US Congress. Retrieved September 7, 2010. 
  3. ^ Paul Leake (1912), History of Detroit: a chronicle of its progress, its industries, its institutions, and the people of the fair city of the Straits, Volume 2, The Lewis Publishing Company, pp. 437–440 
  4. ^ The early bench and bar of Detroit from 1805 to the end of 1850, 1907, p. 187 
  5. ^ "Sibley House". Michigan State Housing Development Authority. Retrieved September 10, 2010. 

External links

  • Solomon Sibley at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • History of Detroit
  • Michigan Supreme Court Historical Society
  • Solomon Sibley: Michigan's First United States Attorney, 1815–1823 by Ross Parker
  • Political Graveyard
  • Elmwood Cemetery Biography
Political offices
New title Mayor of Detroit, Michigan
Succeeded by
Elijah Brush
Preceded by
Auditor of Michigan Territory
Succeeded by
Assembly seats
New district Member of the Northwest Territory House of Representatives from Wayne County
Served alongside: Francois Chabert Joncaire, Jacob Visgar
Succeeded by
Francois Chabert Joncaire
George McDougall
Jonathan Schieffelin
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William Woodbridge
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan Territory

1820-11-20 – 1823-03-03
Succeeded by
Gabriel Richard

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