Lawyers, Abolitionists, Judges, Politicians
The first black law firm in America was started in downtown Charleston at 91 Broad Street. This law firm, otherwise called the Whipper, Elliott, Allen Law Firm, was launched by attorneys William J. Whipper, Robert Brown Elliott, and Macon B. Allen. The three men moved to South Carolina at different times during their adult lives. However, Whipper is the only attorney who earned his law degree in South Carolina.
Several historians noted that on April 29, 1845, attorneys Macon Bolling Allen and Robert Morris signed a contract to provide legal services together. On May 5, 1845, they opened the first Black law office in the country.
Macon Bolling Allen
Macon was born in 1816 in Indiana. In 1840, he moved to Portland, Maine, and in 1844, he changed his name to Macon Bolling Allen. He passed the Maine bar exam in 1844 and became the first Black in America to practice licensed law. In 1845, he passed the Massachusetts bar exam.
Later, he qualified to run for a position as Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County in Massachusetts. In 1846, he became the first Black person to serve as a judge in America. In 1874, Allen became a South Carolina probate court judge.
He worked for white abolitionist attorney Samuel Fessenden in Maine. But he moved to Massachusetts since he had no potential client base in Maine and the whites wouldn’t hire a Black lawyer.
Twenty-four years after establishing the first Black law office in America, Allen, attorney William J. Whipper and attorney Robert Brown Elliot founded the first Black law firm in South Carolina, America, in 1869. It became known as Whipper, Elliot, & Allen.
After the late 1870s, not much is known about Allen’s career. In 1887, he became an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association of Washington, D.C. Allen died on Oct. 10, 1894, at 78.
Robert Morris Elliott
Robert Morris Jr. was born in 1823 in Massachusetts. He worked for a white abolitionist attorney, Ellis Gray Coring, at age 15. Attorney Ellis was captivated with Morris’ intellect that he tutored him to become a lawyer. At age 24, Morris passed the state’s exam in 1847, and Coring presented him to the Massachusetts bar for admission.
Morris became the first Black attorney to file and win a lawsuit in America. In 1848, that suit became the Roberts v. Boston civil rights complaint that sought to end segregation in the city’s public schools. The first lawsuit filed by Morris laid the foundation for the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling.
Morris filed suits to relinquish the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. This he did during the famous cases of Anthony Burns and Shadrach Minkins. They had both escaped enslavement in Virginia and fled to Massachusetts.
Morris was an abolitionist. He was charged and arrested for escape conspiracy after he helped Minkins to break out of the courthouse.
Anti-slavery Governor John Albion Andrew appointed Morris as a Massachusetts magistrate.
Morris made strategic notations in David Walker’s appeal. He mentored Walker’s son, Edwin, to become a lawyer.
William James Whipper
Whipper was born on January 23, 1834, in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He was an African American abolitionist, municipal judge, trial lawyer, and state legislator in South Carolina.
Between 1864 and 1865, he served in the United States Army as a member of the 31st Colored Troops during the Civil War.
Whipper served as a co-counsel to Jonathan Jasper Wright at the Supreme Court of South Carolina. In 1868, they elected him as a delegate to the state constitutional convention.
In 1875, Whipper was sworn in as a House of Representative of South Carolina. For twelve years, he served as Beaufort County probate judge.
While in Columbia, he became one of the most influential members of the Reconstruction legislature because of his talent and intellect. After he retired from politics, he died in Beaufort in 1907.
Whipper William, Robert Elliott, and Macon B. Allen took similar career paths that led them to promote justice, civil rights, and advancement for the blacks. Together, the trio formed the first known African American law firm, Whipper, Elliott, and Allen. They were the epitome of reconstitution among African Americans during the 19th century.
The Black Male Archives Team