Biographical Sketch of James Kelly

Portrait of James K. Kelly


James K. Kelly 

Born 1819 
Died 1903 
Clackamas County delegate

James Kerr Kelly was born in Blanchard, Pennsylvania on Feb. 16, 1819.  He graduated from Princeton University in 1839 and earned his law degree from Dickinson College in 1842.  He practiced law and was eventually appointed deputy attorney general in Pennsylvania.

In 1849 Kelly moved to California. He prospected for gold and then practiced law in San Francisco.  In 1851 he relocated to Oregon City in the Oregon Territory.  In 1852 Kelly was selected to serve as chair of a legal commission codifying territorial laws. From 1853 to 1857 he served in the territorial legislature.

When the Yakima Indian War broke out in 1855 Kelly raised a company in the Oregon Mounted Volunteers and was later elected colonel of the first regiment. 

Kelly was a Clackamas County delegate to the constitutional convention and served on the Committee for Judicial Department. He proposed appointing a reporter to record the proceedings for history. He “did not want what was said and done at this convention to pass to oblivion.” The proposal was defeated.

Kelly served as senator for Clackamas County from 1860 to 1864 and later served as U. S. senator from 1871 to 1877. He then was named as the chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, serving between 1878 and 1882.  Matthew Deady thought that he was “probably the best of the judges to have sat on the court.”

Kelly moved to Washington D.C. in 1890 and opened a law office there.  He died on Sept. 15, 1903.