York Town Square

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York resident Jeremiah Sullivan Black was famous American lawyer. But does anyone know that?

This portrait of Jeremiah Sullivan Black, a leading U.S. lawyer in the mid-1800s, hangs in the York County, Pa., Administrative Center. York County controller Robb Green e-mailed this photo of that portrait. Also of interest: Piece of John Wilkes Booth’s body shown in Philly and Presidents visit York, alive and via funeral trains and A Civil War Black Republican: ‘He robs birds’ nests … sucks hens’ eggs’.

Robb Green is not only known as the “marrying mayor” because of the number of weddings (2,300 plus) he performed as Jefferson’s mayor – a practice he is continuing now that he no longer holds that borough position.
The controller of York County is also a history enthusiast. It doesn’t take a long conversation with Robb to understand that.
A portrait of Jeremiah Sullivan Black hangs near his office in the old York County Courthouse.
He’s not convinced people know about this important 19th-century lawyer, former chief justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and attorney general and secretary of state under President James Buchanan… .

Indeed, those lofty offices should boost Black in the minds of York countians.
The point that has subtracted from his fame is the friends he kept.
His role in Buchanan’s cabinet was one example. Buchanan is considered in the lower tier of U.S. presidents, right there with Warren G. Harding.
The nation essentially started falling apart under Buchanan’s leadership and Black’s advisorship in those days before Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War.
And the more one digs into Black’s record, the more one realizes that his views of the value of black people was terribly low.
Still, his legal mind was respected by many. The “Black’s Reports” that he published as reporter of the Supreme Court’s opinions after the Buchanan cabinet left office earned him high praise, according to Legal Encyclopedia.
He continued to argue cases before the U.S. Supreme Court after his return to private practice in the 1860s.
Jeremiah Sullivan Black may be best known in York County today for his mansion, Brockie, in the hills south of York.
Robb Green quite rightly believes that with the upcoming observation of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, Judge Black’s legal legacy should not be forgotten.
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