About this Famous Person
James K. POLK
11th President of the United States
Source : Tim DOWLING
James Knox Polk, the first of ten children, was born in a farmhouse (possibly a "log" cabin) in what is now Pineville, North Carolina in Mecklenburg County, just outside Charlotte. His father, Samuel Polk, was a slaveholder, successful farmer and surveyor of Scots-Irish descent. His mother, Jane Polk (née Knox), was a descendant of a brother of the Scottish religious reformer John Knox. She named her firstborn after her father James Knox. Like most early Scots-Irish settlers in the North Carolina mountains, the Knox and Polk families were Presbyterian. While Jane remained a devout Presbyterian her entire life, Samuel (whose father, Ezekiel Polk, was a deist) rejected dogmatic Presbyterianism. When the parents took James to church to be baptized, the father Samuel refused to declare his belief in Christianity, and the minister refused to baptize the child. In 1803, most of Polk's relatives moved to the Duck River area in what is now Maury County, Middle Tennessee; Polk's family waited until 1806 to follow. The family grew prosperous, with Samuel Polk turning to land speculation and becoming a county judge.
Polk was home schooled His health was problematic and in 1812 his pain became so unbearable that he was taken to Dr. Ephraim McDowell of Danville, Kentucky, who operated to remove urinary stones. Polk was awake during the operation with nothing but brandy available for anesthetic, but it was successful. The surgery may have left Polk sterile, as he did not sire any children.
When Polk recovered, his father offered to bring him into the mercantile business, but Polk refused. In July 1813, Polk enrolled at the Zion Church near his home. A year later he attended an academy in Murfreesboro, where he may have met his future wife, Sarah Childress. At Murfreesboro, Polk proved a promising student. In January 1816, he transferred and was admitted into the University of North Carolina as a second-semester sophomore. The Polks had connections with the university, then a small school of about 80 students: Sam Polk was their land agent for Tennessee, and his cousin, William Polk, was a trustee. While there, Polk joined the Dialectic Society where he regularly took part in debates and learned the art of oratory. His roommate William Dunn Moseley later became the first governor of Florida. Polk graduated with honors in May 1818. The University later named its lower quad, Polk Place, on the main campus after Polk.
After graduation, Polk traveled to Nashville to study law under renowned Nashville trial attorney Felix Grundy. Grundy became Polk's first mentor. On September 20, 1819, Polk, with Grundy's endorsement, was elected clerk for the Tennessee State Senate. Polk was reelected as clerk in 1821 without opposition, and would continue to serve until 1822. Polk was admitted to the bar in June 1820 and his first case was to defend his father against a public fighting charge, and secure his release for a one dollar fine. Polk's practice was successful as there were many cases arising from debts after the Panic of 1819.
- Category American politician