John C. Breckinridge

Birth Name: John Cabell Breckinridge

Date of Birth: January 16, 1821

Place of Birth: Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.

Date of Death: May 17, 1875

Place of Death: Lexington, Kentucky, U.S.

Ethnicity: Scots-Irish/Northern Irish, Scottish, English, distant Welsh

John C. Breckinridge was an American lawyer, politician, and soldier. He served as Vice President of the United States, from March 4, 1857 to March 4, 1861. He was elected to the position in 1856. Also as a Member of the Democratic Party, he was a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kentucky, from March 4, 1851 to March 3, 1855, and a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, from March 4, 1861 to December 4, 1861. Later, he was Confederate States Secretary of War, from February 6, 1865 to May 10, 1865.

He was one of the Democratic Party’s two nominees for President of the United States in 1860, representing the Southern Democrats.

Vice President Breckinridge was born in Thorn Hill, his family’s estate, the son of Mary Clay (Smith) and Cabell Breckinridge (Joseph Cabell Breckinridge), a politician, who was Secretary of State of Kentucky, from September 2, 1820 to September 1, 1823, among other duties. His uncle was politician and Presbyterian minister Robert Jefferson Breckinridge. Vice President Breckinridge’s grandfather John Breckinridge was also a politician, who was Attorney General of Kentucky, from December 19, 1793 to November 30, 1797, Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, from 1799 to 1800, a U.S. Senator from Kentucky, from March 4, 1801 to August 7, 1805, and U.S. Attorney General, from August 7, 1805 to December 14, 1806.

Vice President Breckinridge’s maternal grandfather, Samuel Stanhope Smith, was a Presbyterian minister, the founder-president of Hampden–Sydney College, and also President of the College of New Jersey, now Princeton University, from 1795 to 1812. Vice President Breckinridge’s maternal great-grandfather, John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian minister and a Founding Father of the United States, who was a delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress, and a signatory to the Declaration of Independence of the United States.

Vice President Breckinridge was married to Mary Cyrene Burch Breckinridge, until his death. The couple had six children, including Clifton R. Breckinridge, a Democratic politician, who was a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Arkansas, from March 4, 1883 to August 14, 1894. Through Clifton, Vice President Breckinridge’s grandchildren included lieutenant general James Carson Breckinridge, and Mary Carson Breckinridge, who founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS).

Vice President Breckinridge’s paternal grandfather was John Breckinridge (the son of Robert Breckenridge and Lettice/Letitia Preston). John was born in Virginia. Robert was born in County Derry, Ulster, Ireland, the son of Alexander Breckenridge, who was born in Ayrshire, Scotland, and of Jane Preston, who was born in Derry, County Cavan, Ulster. Vice President Breckinridge’s great-grandmother Lettice was born in Lima, Londonderry, Ireland, the daughter of John Preston, who was born in Limavady, and of Elizabeth Patton, whose own father, shipping magnate Henry Patton, was born in Caiggo, Dundee, County of Angus, Scotland, and whose own mother was born in Kilmacrennan, County Donegal, Ulster. Robert and Lettice are sometimes described as cousins to some degree. Lettice’s family became the prominent Preston political family of Virginia. Through his grandfather’s line, Vice President Breckinridge was a half-first cousin, once removed, of James D. Breckinridge, who was a U.S. Representative from Kentucky.

Vice President Breckinridge’s paternal grandmother was Mary Hopkins “Polly” Cabell (the daughter of Joseph Cabell and Mary Hopkins). Vice President Breckinridge’s grandmother Mary was born in Virginia, and was from Virginia’s Cabell political family. Joseph was the son of William Cabell, who was born in Warminster, Wiltshire Unitary Authority, Wiltshire, England, and of Elizabeth Burks. Vice President Breckinridge’s great-grandmother Mary was the daughter of Arthur Hopkins and Elizabeth Pettus, or of Samuel Hopkins.

Vice President Breckinridge’s maternal grandfather was Samuel Stanhope Smith (the son of The Rev. Robert Smith and Elizabeth Blair). Samuel was born in Pennsylvania. The Rev. Robert was born in Londonderry, Ireland. Elizabeth was the daughter of Samuel James Blair and Martha Campbell Lyle, who were born in Antrim, Ireland.

Vice President Breckinridge’s maternal grandmother was Ann/Anne/Anna Witherspoon (the daughter of John Witherspoon and Elizabeth Montgomery). John was born in Manse of Yester, Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland, the son of The Rev. James Alexander Witherspoon and Anne Walker. He was a descendant of Presbyterian leader John Welsh of Ayr, and, evidently, of Scottish minister, theologian, writer, and Protestant Reformation leader, John Knox. Elizabeth was born in Drakemyre, North Ayrshire, Scotland, the daughter of Robert Montgomery and Janet Cossar.

Sources: Genealogies of John C. Breckinridge –

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