Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George L. Pendleton (1866-1943)
MSA SC 3520-13692


George Luther Pendleton was born on May 29, 1866, in Millestone, Virginia (in King and Queen County) to William and Katie (Bird) Pendleton. He attended local public schools and earned a degree at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (now Hampton University).1 He went on to receive his law degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and was admitted to the bar of the Maryland Court of Appeals on January 11, 1898.2 Pendleton settled in Annapolis, Maryland, where he married Clarena Harris on June 7, 1899.3 Clarena was the daughter of Charles Harris, an Annapolis restaurant keeper, and his wife, Manzella.4 By 1900, Pendleton was practicing law in Annapolis, and had taken up residence at 3142 West Street.5  While living in Annapolis, Clarena gave birth to their first child, a son named Charles Luther. Sadly, Charles only lived for three months, dying on June 9, 1900, from pneumonia.The family relocated to Baltimore around 1908, and moved into a house on Druid Hill Avenue. Pendleton maintained a general practice, with offices at 310 St. Paul Street. By 1910, he and Clarena had four children: George Harris, born in 1902; Clearance, born in 1903; Ruby Manzella, born in 1906; and Mary, born in 1908. 7 Later, as a well established attorney, he moved his office to 225 N. Calvert Street, and was employed by the Monumental Lodge of Elks of Baltimore.

One of Pendleton's famous cases was his last minute effort to save the life of  John Snowden, an African American man convicted of the murder of Lottie Mae Brandon, a pregnant white woman. On Wednesday, February 19, 1919, one week before Snowden's scheduled execution, Pendleton, on behalf of the Lodge of Elks, met with Snowden in his Annapolis jail cell to obtain his signature on writs of habeas corpus and certiorari. It was Pendleton's intention to appeal the case to the United State Supreme Court. Pendleton based the appeal on claims that "Snowden's case was removed to Baltimore County without his consent and that the jury did not deliver a proper verdict of 'murder in the first degree.'"TheAfro American reported that, "Annapolis Sheriff Joseph H. Bellis was taken off his feet when approached by Attorney George L. Pendleton of Baltimore....who asked for permission to present the writs to Snowden for his signature."9 When Pendleton reached the jail, the Sheriff tried to stop him, saying that he [Pendleton]  was not authorized by the Elks and that the Snowden case had cost the state enough money already and it did not need to proceed any further.  It was decided that another lawyer, Jerry Smith, who represented Sheriff Bellis and the State, would read the petitions to Snowden in his cell, and let him decide whether to sign them or not.  After having both writs read to him "slowly" and "word by word", Snowden consulted with his spiritual advisor, Rev. Benjamin Holt, and agreed to sign them. On Thursday, February 20, Snowden "signed the papers in a shaky hand and sent them back to Attorney Pendleton, who was waiting in the sheriff's office at the courthouse."10 Snowden's supporters kept hope alive that Maryland Governor Emerson C. Harrington would commute the sentence from death to a life sentence, and were caught off guard by Pendleton's move to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite the many efforts of Pendleton and other Snowden supporters, Chief Justice Edward Douglass White refused to grant the writs, meaning the Supreme Court would not hear the case. John Snowden was hanged in the yard of the Annapolis jail on February 28, 1919. In the days prior to Snowden's execution, The Afro American reported, "Up to a late hour today Mr. Pendleton says he still has confidence that he will save Snowden."11

In December 1933, the Grievance Committee of the Bar Association of Baltimore City filed a petition with the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City, asking that Pendleton be disbarred from the practice of law. The complaint cited the fact that Pendleton had previously been disbarred by the U.S. District Court in 1928. The Committee was especially concerned about  lawsuits Pendleton had filed on his own behalf which appeared baseless. Pendleton also was alleged to have inappropriately sought the business of a client, who he even began to represent without securing permission. Pendleton was represented at his disbarment hearing in Baltimore by two prominent African American attorneys, George W. F. McMechen and W. Ashbie Hawkins. The Supreme Bench ruled against Pendleton and suspended him for two years.12

On November 13, 1943, George L. Pendleton died at the age of 79 of a pulmonary edema, and complications from bladder cancer, having spent six months at Provident Hospital in Baltimore. He was laid to rest on November 17, 1943, in Brewer Hill Cemetery, the same Annapolis cemetery that John Snowden is buried in. Pendleton had been a member of the Monumental Bar Association, Hiram Consistory, and the Universal Lodge of Annapolis.13

Endnotes -

1.   Obituary. The Evening Sun, 15 November 1943.
2.   Maryland State Archives COURT OF APPEALS (Test Book) George L. Pendleton, 11 January 1898, Liber RWG 1 page 152, MSA S431-1, MdHR 11,548.
3.   Maryland State Archives ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT (Marriage Record) George L. Pendleton and Clarena Harris, Liber 1886-1904 page 100, MSA C115-2, MdHR 15,542. The couple were granted the license on June 6, 1899, and were married the following day.
4.   Maryland State Archives U.S. CENSUS BUREAU (Census Record, MD) Clarine Harris, 1880, Anne Arundel County, Election District No. 6, MSA SM 61-291, M4730-2.
5.   Maryland State Archives U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) George L. Pendleton, 1900, Anne Arundel County, Enumeration District No. 16, MSA SM 61-375, M2366.
6.   Maryland State Archives BOARD OF HEALTH (Death Record, Counties) Chas. Luther Pendleton, Anne Arundel County, 9 June 1900, MSA SM156-15, SR 3934.
7.   Maryland State Archives U.S. Census Bureau (Census Record, MD) George L. Pendleton, 1910, Baltimore City, Enumeration District No. 230, MSA SM 61-432, M 3260; Maryland State Archives SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Baltimore City Directories Collection) 1908 page 1527, MSA SC 2898, M 7052.
8.    "Snowden Case Goes to United States Supreme Court." The Afro American, 21 February 1919.
9.   ibid.
10. ibid.
11. ibid.
12. Maryland State Archives SPECIAL COLLECTIONS (Baltimore City Circuit Court/Baltimore Courthouse and Law Museum Collection of Papers relating to the Supreme Bench of Baltimore City) Disbarment proceedings against George L. Pendleton, filed 22 December 1933, MSA SC 5603-2-91.
13. Obituary. The Evening Sun, 15 November 1943.
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