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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Winston, Robert Watson

by William S. Powell, 1996

12 Sept. 1860–14 Oct. 1944

Engraving of Robert Watson Winston, circa 1905. Image from Watson Winston, lawyer, judge, and author, was born in Windsor, the son of Patrick Henry and Martha Elizabeth Bird Winston. After attending the Horner School in Oxford, he entered The University of North Carolina where he was on the baseball team; he was graduated in 1879 and received an LL.B. degree in 1881. Admitted to the bar in 1881, he opened an office in Oxford, where he was treasurer first and then city attorney. In 1895 he moved to Durham and formed a partnership with other lawyers, ultimately with Victor S. Bryant during the period 1903–9. Moving to Raleigh in 1909, he was an associate of Charles B. Aycock until 1912 and thereafter with J. Crawford Biggs.

Politics attracted Winston, and for many years after 1895 he was a member of the state Democratic committee. He served in the North Carolina Senate during the years 1885–87 and as a superior court circuit judge from 1889 to 1895. As an attorney he represented a number of important business and financial firms, including the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the state of North Carolina in railroad cases. He successfully defended Raleigh newspaper editor Josephus Daniels in a contempt of court charge brought by a federal judge.

Judge Winston, as he was widely known, retired from his law practice in 1924 and for a brief time lived at the Cosmos Club in Washington, Photograph of Robert Watson Winston circa 1919. Image from the North Carolina Digital Collections.D.C. At age sixty-three he reentered The University of North Carolina as a freshman, taking the complete four-year course, he said, to reorient himself. He devoted the remainder of his life to study and writing, living most of the time at the Carolina Inn on the campus. In 1928 he published Andrew Johnson: Plebian and Patriot, a 549-page biography of the Raleigh native who succeeded Abraham Lincoln as president in 1865. In 1930 his biography of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, High Stakes and Hair Trigger, appeared. Robert E. Lee—A Biography and Gadfly of Chapel Hill: A Biography of Horace Williams, Socrates of Chapel Hill, were brought out in 1934 and 1942, respectively. His auto-biography, It's A Far Cry, in 1937 was a look at southern traditions that survived beyond their time. Also published were many of Winston's lectures and public addresses dealing with the law, the lives of prominent citizens, and the history of the state.

On 13 Dec. 1882 Robert Winston and Sophronia Horner were married in Oxford. She was the daughter of James Hunter Horner, whose school Winston had attended in his youth. Their children were James Horner, Annabel Conyers (m. Watts Carr), Gertrude (m. Frank Blount Webb), and Robert Watson. Winston received honorary degrees from Wake Forest College, The University of North Carolina, and Duke University. He also became an honorary member of Phi Beta Kappa. He was an Episcopalian and a Democrat.


Samuel A. Ashe, ed., Biographical History of North Carolina, vol. 2 (1905 [portrait]).

John L. Cheney, Jr., ed., North Carolina Government, 1585–1979 (1981).

Daniel L. Grant, Alumni History of the University of North Carolina (1924).

Nat. Cyc. Am. Biog., vol. 45 (1962).

New York Times, 15 Oct. 1945.

Patricia Winston Norman (Flintridge, Calif.), personal contact, October 1981.

Robert Watson Winston Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill).

Additional Resources:

Winston, Robert Watson. It's A Far Cry. Henry Holt And Company. 1937. (accessed March 27, 2013).

Robert Watson Winston." Prominent people of North Carolina: brief biographies of leading people for ready reference purposes. Asheville, N.C.: Evening News Pub. Co., 1906. 20. (accessed March 27, 2013).

"London center has historic ties." Carolina Arts & Sciences Spring 2006. 27. (accessed March 27, 2013).

Winston, Robert W. A century of law in North Carolina. Raleigh, N.C.: Mitchell Print. Co. 1919. (accessed March 27, 2013).

Winston, Robert W. The Red Cross and the war. [Raleigh, N.C. : The author]. 1918. (accessed March 27, 2013).

Winston, Robert W. Talks about Law: Wherein Such Legal Principles as Touch the Daily Business ... Edwards & Broughton. 1894. (accessed March 27, 2013).

Image Credits:

E.G. Williams and Bro. "Robert W. Winston." Biographical history of North Carolina from colonial times to the present. Greensboro, N.C.: C. L. Van Noppen. 1905. 467.

"Robert Watson Winston" A century of law in North Carolina. Raleigh, N.C.: Mitchell Print. Co. 1919. (accessed March 27, 2013).

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