Biography of Judge Rodney J. Hudson
Lake County, CA Biographies





HUDSON, JUDGE RODNEY J. Whose portrait it affords us pleasure to present in the body of this work, was born at St. Helena, Napa County, February 20, 1850, and is the son of David and Frances Hudson. Judge Hudson springs from a fine family, his father being a scion of the well known and highly esteemed Catron family of Tennessee, one of whom, for a period of thirty years, was a highly distinguished Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. His mother was a native of North Carolina, and is allied by blood to one of its best families. Young Hudson grew up at his birthplace, and madethe best of the imperfect advantages for obtaining a primary education, which the, then inefficient conditions of the schools offered. At the age of fifteen he entered an academy at Sonoma, which was conducted under the auspices of the Presbyterians, where Latin and the higher mathematics were taken up. At the end of the term he wrote and delivered his maiden oration, which was highly complimented by the Professors of the Academy, and served to show clearly the bent of the boy's mind, the latent powers that lay within him awaiting proper development. He then returned to his father's farm, but books had a much greater attraction for him than the humdrum, prosaical avocation of tramping up and down a furrow behind a plow, and a book was generally carried to the field, which received much more attention than the work in hand. He then spent three years in attendance at the St. Helena public schools, which were then of high grade, and here he learned to read Latin fluently and made considerable progress in the higher mathematics. During his attendance at this school, and while yet only eighteen years of age, he made his debut into the political arena. In 1868, during the campaign of Seymour and Blair on the one side and Grant and Wilson on the other, a political meeting was held in St. Helena. The late Hon.. W. W. Pendegast was the speaker of the evening, and among those present were young Hudson and his father and mother. At the close of Mr. Pendegast's speech the audience began to call loudly for Rodney Hudson, whose abilities as an orator were even then well known among his friends and acquaintances, and by them fully recognized. When the calls for the young man became so persistent that it became evident that the crowd would not hear a refusal, his father departed, either thinking that his presence would embarrass the boy, or not desiring to be present to witness what he considered inevitable failure His mother, too, felt that a crisis in the boy's life was just at hand, and with her womanly sensitiveness shrank instinctively from witnessing it. But the father's flight and the mother's fears were unnecessary, for the youthful orator was equal to the occasion, and for the space of half an hour he held the audience with his fluent and graceful oratory, and surprised even his best friends by his knowledge of the political issues of the day. Owing to his youth, the effort was regarded with a great deal of favor by all who heard it, and created quite a sensation, and from that time on he has always sustained a high reputation as a public speaker. His next move was to take charge of the St. Helena public schools, having a scholarship of about two hundred, and two assistant teachers. In 1869 he entered the University of Michigan. In a short time his health failed, and he was forced to quit school and return to California. He then entered the law office of Thomas P. Stoney, then County Judge of Napa County, as a student, where he remained for one year. On the occasion of the Fourth of July celebration at St. Helena in 1872, young Hudson, then only twenty two years of age, was called upon to deliver the oration for the occasion. An extract from the Napa Register, then edited by G. W. Henning, will give an idea of the merits of the effort produced by Mr. Hudson on that occasion: "The oration was by Rodney J. Hudson, whom St. Helena may be flattered to call her 'boy.' Rodney he will excuse the familiarity, looks the orator. He has a talent which, if cultivated, will place him in the very front rank of public speakers His personelle and the fact that he was their own, created an interest in him which was not diminished in the least by his finely turned and patriotic periods. * * * We hope he will not go into politics. There is a crown awaiting him in his legitimate professional career which will set more lightly and gracefully upon his head than ever politician's will." In the fall of 1872 he entered the Law School at Lebanon, Tennessee, then presided over by the venerable Judge Carothers. While there he delivered an oration on Washington, which was complimented very highly by the Nashville Union, an extract from which we include in this connection: " His audience was thrilled with delight, excited alike by the spirit and eloquence of his words. The Golden State may well be proud of her representative in the Law School of the University." He graduated at this school and returned to California in 1873. In 1874 he formed a law partnership with the leading practitioner in the southern part of the State. After having been there for four or five months he was called upon to make a Fourth of July address, of which the Los Angeles Star says: "The oration was the most superb effort of the kind ever made in Los Angeles. It was beautiful in all its points, and may be considered an oratorical gem of the first water. We have heard the oration spoken of everywhere as excellent, but not more so than its delivery, which was very fine." In 1875 he was nominated and elected by the Democratic party to the position of District Attorney of Los Angeles County. His first case was for murder, and the man was defended by Col. J. G. Howard, confessedly the ablest criminal lawyer in Southern California. The accused was convicted, and when the District Judge came down from the bench he said: " Mr. Hudson, you have conducted this case as well as any lawyer." He retained the office for two years, when, on account of failing health, he came to Lake County and opened a law office. Here he began at once to build up and maintain a good practice, rarely losing a case before a jury. Mr. Hudson sprang boldly and nobly into the great fight made for the new Constitution, urging its adoption by the people with the greatest vigor and eloquence. He took the field and made several brilliant and telling speeches, and was called the captain of the new Constitution forces in Lake County. In 1878 he was put in nomination for the position of Superior Judge of Lake County. It was a matter of serious doubt with his best friends whether or not he could win in the contest, his youth and limited acquaintance militating much against his chances of success. As for himself, he saw that only energy_ and determination could make success possible, and he made a thorough and personal canvass of the county, and then just upon the eve of the election addressed the people of the county in almost every voting precinct, which was evidently the great element of his success, as he was able to bring out the merits of his own case with a master hand. He was elected by a large plurality, showing that good work had been accomplished. Once elected, the problem of convincing the people of his judicial fairness and integrity confronted him. Upon taking the bench he announced to the bar that he would endeavor to be impartial and upright, and that he knew that he would be independent, as he did not owe his election to any corporation or powerful influence, but to the people. That he has kept his promise is attested by all the bar of Lake County. He has the reputation of observing a uniform courtesy to the bar while presiding, of being positive in his rulings, and swift to retreat when shown to be in error. Of Judge Hudson the Bulletin of Lake County says:

His rulings exhibit fine legal acumen, and he is one of the best judges inCalifornia, and after a while Lake County will be proud to help place him in Congress, where his singular abilities as an orator may have a fitting field in which to display their powers." Rodney J. Hudson is the youngest, but, one, of the Superior Judges in this State; and who can read this sketch and see how he has climbed up the ladder, round by round, until he reached that high position when only twenty nine years of age, without feeling proud of our grand American principles of liberty which give to worth, merit, and real labor, their just meed of reward. He was united in marriage in April, 1881, to Miss Panthea Boggs, daughter of A. G. Boggs, of Napa City.

From:
History of Napa and Lake Counties, California
Slocum, Bowen & Co., Publishers
San Francisco, California 1881


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