Charles Mynn Thruston

Charles M. Thruston (1793-1854) was a prominent Louisville lawyer, and may have been the man that hired Henrietta Wood, who recalled being hired out to a Louisville attorney named “Thurston.”

He appears in Haldeman’s Business Directory for 1844-1845, and also in an 1850 city directory.

The Filson contains an 1826 letter by William Henry Hurst to William Stewart Bodley critiquing several Louisville lawyers, including Thruston:

As to where I shall finally settle I am still doubtful as to this place [Louisville]. I like it still worse, and now the only thing that causes the least desire on my part to settle at this place, is my dislike of the bar. I do not think there is a man at it of any commanding talents, and there appears a total want of magnanimity among them, and they seem rather to discourage a young man from settling among them. I have been introduced to some of them, and do not like a man among them. … Thruston is disaffected and lazy.1

But Eliza Pearce tells William Stewart Bodley on October 7, 1842, that a man named Godfrey Pope is sure to get off from a charge of murdering Leonard Bliss because his “purse is a long one,” and “Mr. Crittenden, Chas. Thruston, & Judge Rowan & Mr. Guthrie appear for Mr. Pope [in defense].”2 And a letter by William Bullitt recommends “Charles M. Thruston” to Mary Russell in 1820 as an able lawyer, since Bullitt was turning over his cases (including Russell’s) to other attorneys.3

He was the grandson of the Virginian Reverend Col. Charles M. Thruston, who fought with Washington in the American Revolution before moving South in 1809, where he died near New Orleans.4 And he was married to Eliza Cosby, daughter of Fortunatus Cosby and granddaughter of Captain Aaron Fontaine.5 His father was John Thruston, eldest son of the Colonel, who came with his brothers Charles and Buckner to Kentucky.6 And his mother later made a second marriage to Capt. Aaron Fontaine.

The lawyer Thurston received his education in Badstown, Kentucky, and studied law under a brother-in-law named Worden Pope, whom he greatly admired and whose Democratic politics he initially shared, but he joined the Whigs in the 1830s and served in the state legislature.7 He was also “an ardent advocate of the American Colonization Society; and, although having no sympathy with Abolitionism, favored some system of gradual emancipation which should finally relieve the country of slavery.”8 He was also an admirer of Henry Clay and in 1844, while Clay was a presidential candidate, gave “speeches in behalf of emancipation, of which he was a zealous advocate. He was the friend of the negro and his chosen counsellor. For the traffic in slaves he had the utmost aversion, and for the trader a contempt he could ill conceal and to which he not infrequently gave expression.”9 (Interesting if he was in fact related to Charles W. Thruston, who frequently traded in slaves.)

He was remembered especially for his skill as a criminal defense lawyer, and in one famous October 1826 case, he successfully defended a slave who was accused of “resisting his master and striking him with an axe. … Mr. Thruston boldly took the ground that the right of self-defense was a boon from heaven and an instinct of nature that no human laws could extinguish, and maintained his position with such power of reasoning and persuasive eloquence that the jury brought in a verdict of acquittal.”10

On June 1, 1835, Thurston was made the Jefferson County attorney and was required to attend every session of the court for the term.11

An entry appointing Thruston’s son executor of his estate proves that he died in 1854.12 A gravestone confirms his death and specifies January 7.

  1. William Henry Hurst to William Stewart Bodley, June 18, 1826, Bodley Family Papers, Folder 8, Filson Historical Society.

  2. Eliza Peace to W. S. Bodley, October 7, 1842, Bodley Family Papers, Folder 29, Filson Historical Society.

  3. William Bullitt to Mary O. Russell, April 19, 1820, Bullitt Family Papers, Mss. A/B937c, Folder 361.

  4. Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky (Cincinnati: J. M. Armstrong, 1878), 458-59.

  5. Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky (Cincinnati: J. M. Armstrong, 1878), 458-59.

  6. M. Joblin and Co., Louisville Past and Present (Louisville: John P. Morton, 1875), 183-189. John was also apparently involved in the Revolutionary War as a young sixteen-year-old.

  7. Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky (Cincinnati: J. M. Armstrong, 1878), 458-59.

  8. Biographical Encyclopedia of Kentucky (Cincinnati: J. M. Armstrong, 1878), 458-59.

  9. J. Stoddard Johnston, ed., Memorial History of Louisville from its First Settlement to the Year 1896, vol. 2 (Chicago and New York: American Biographical Publishing Co., 1896), 358-359.

  10. M. Joblin and Co., Louisville Past and Present (Louisville: John P. Morton, 1875), 183-189.

  11. Jefferson County Court Order Books, vol. 17 (1835), p. 70, Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. P. 72 makes clear that part of his responsibility was to file suits to collect money owed the county.

  12. See Jefferson County Court Order Books, vol. 20 (1854), p. 624, Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives.