Richard F. Lyon

Not to be confused with Richard Francis Lyon.
Richard F. Lyon Sr.
Lyon's home in Atlanta

Richard Francis Lyon (18191894) was a Georgia attorney and jurist before and during the Confederacy.


The oldest son of Thomas Pickett Lyon and Mary Winn Lyon (1823–1895), born September 9, 1819, in Lincoln County, Georgia, Lyon married Ruth Esther Knowles on June 17, 1841; they had eight children: Emily, Julia, Kitty, Richard, Lafayette, Roland, John, and William.[1] He is sometimes called Richard F. Lyon Sr., since he had a son Richard F. Lyon Jr. (1850–1906), and a grandson Richard F. Lyon III (1884–1964).

Richard Lyon and his brother John were both attorneys in Dougherty County, Georgia.[2]

Lyon owned the house that Gen. Sherman took as his headquarters during his occupation of Atlanta, Fulton County, between his Atlanta Campaign and his March to the Sea in 1864. The current Atlanta City Hall stands on the site of this house.[3]

After the Civil War, Lyon moved his family to Macon, Bibb County, Georgia, where he lived until his death. His nephew, Thomas R. Lyon, was also a resident of Albany, Georgia, being active in political and social life.[1]

Political and professional

Photo from reference 1.

As the Whig party candidate, Lyon narrowly lost a bitter race against the Democratic party candidate Nelson Tift for the house seat from Baker County, Georgia in 1847.[4]

In 1856 Lyon was living in Albany, Dougherty County, Georgia, where he joined the Albany Guards. He was Albany's mayor from 1858 to 1859. From 1872 to 1874 he represented Dougherty County in the state legislature. He served as attorney for the city of Albany, and for the Central of Georgia Railroad.[5]

He was an associate justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia from 1859 to 1865.

Lyon served under Georgia's first chief justice, Joseph Henry Lumpkin, due to a Georgia law that said "The oldest Judge in commission is the Chief Justice, or President thereof, but without greater powers than his associates."[6] He lost the election for a second six-year term to Dawson A. Walker.

In an 1860 opinion:

Justice Richard F. Lyon ruled that the duties of the railroad to safeguard slaves were its duties toward passengers rather than freight: "The carrier has not, and can not have, the same absolute control over [a slave] that he has over inanimate matter. ... He is, in fact, a passenger, paid for as a passenger and so treated and held, not only by defendant but by plaintiff."[7]

His local Daughters of the American Revolution chapter called Lyon "one of the most brilliant lawyers the state has ever produced."[1]


  1. 1 2 3 History and Reminiscences of Doughterty County Georgia, compiled by members of the Thronateeska Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution, Albany, Georgia: Herald Publishing Company, 1924.
  2. Herbert Fielder, A Sketch of the Life and Times and Speeches of Joseph E. Brown, pp. 51–52, Press of Springfield printing company, 1883 online
  3. "Atlanta City Hall". City of Atlanta Online. Retrieved 4 April 2007. The land on which the current City Hall stands originally belonged to John S. Neal, a wealthy planter-merchant who moved to Atlanta from Zebulon, Ga. in December, 1859 and bought the land from Richard F. Lyon for $2,000. During the Civil War, shortly before the Atlanta campaign, Neal sold the property back to Lyon and moved back to Zebulon. Lyon could not take immediate possession so Neal rented the house to a Girl's Seminary. General William T. Sherman used this house as his headquarters while he occupied Atlanta, and surprisingly spared the house and furnishings from destruction. After the War, Neal repurchased the house but never again occupied it. It became home to Oglethorpe College for a year (1871-1872), then Girls High School for some fifty years. Boys High School was also briefly housed in this structure. The house was vacant from 1925 to 1928, when it was demolished to make way for the new City Hall.
  4. Anthony Gene Carey, Parties, Slavery, and the Union in Antebellum Georgia, University of Georgia Press, 1997 online.
  5. Obituary of Richard F. Lyon, Macon Telegraph, 27 May 1894.
  6. Paul DeForest Hicks (2002). Joseph Henry Lumpkin: Georgia's First Chief Justice. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
  7. Howard Schweber, The Creation of American Common Law, 1850-1880: Technology, Politics, and the Construction of Citizenship, Cambridge University Press, 2004 online.
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