Judge John Webb Green

Copyright (2002) * All rights reserved
J.C. (Jim) Tumblin, OD, DOS
3604 Kesterwood Drive, East
Knoxville, Tennessee 37918-2557
(865) 687-1948

Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference

Judge John Webb Green


No list of "Fountain Citians Who Made a Difference" would be complete that did not include Judge John Webb Green, who provided service to his community throughout his long life of which many years were spent in Fountain City.   Judge Green is Fountain City's patriarch.

On the lawn of his beloved Ridgeview II, Judge Green's estate on Black Oak Ridge overlooking Fountain City, stood six trees which were symbols of six great men:

Steeped in the history of his country and dedicated to its future and the future of his community, Judge Green left many legacies to Fountain City.  Not the least of his contributions were his long-term efforts to establish and then to preserve Fountain City Park and Fountain City Lake into perpetuity for the enjoyment of the children and adults of the suburb.

Ridgeview II

Birth and Early Life

John Webb Green was born on June 9, 1859, on his grandfatherís plantation near Oxford, Mississippi. His father, Francis Marion Green (born November 7, 1823), was a native of Fauquier County, Virginia. He moved to Mississippi and worked as an attorney and plantation owner who raised a company known as the Lamar Rifles in LaFayette County, Mississippi. They were organized early in the Civil War on May 4, 1861. His unit eventually became Mississippi's 11th Infantry Regiment. The unit was reorganized on April 21, 1862, and remained intact until the Southís surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.

Soon after its organization the unit proceeded to join the Army of Northern Virginia. After participating in many of the campaigns and battles of the Army of Northern Virginia, Francis Green was mortally wounded at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House on May 12, 1864, while he was acting as Colonel of his regiment. He died on May 15 and was buried in Sharon Cemetery, Middleburg, Virginia. Colonel Greenís commission had been approved by the Confederate Senate, but he never saw it. The certificate was presented to the family later and it became one of his sonís prized possessions along with the small Bible his father had carried into battle.

At the time Colonel Frances M. Green was wounded, the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment was attached to Davisí Brigade, Hethís Division, 3rd Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Spotsylvania Court House Campaign (May 9-19, 1864) occurred when General Ulysses Grantís Union army attempted to interpose itself between General Robert E. Leeís Confederate Army attempting to force Lee to attack the more powerful Union forces.  On May 10 Colonel Emory Uptonís twelve massed regiments attacked Leeís defenders at the "Mule Shoe Salient" in one of the most vicious battles of the war. Upton breached the Confederate works but could not expand his penetration.

Observing his success, Grant sought to apply Uptonís tactics with an entire corps on May 12 at 4:30 a.m. Almost an entire Confederate division was captured but additional units blunted the breakthrough. The battle lasted twenty hours in a severe rainstorm in a battle as vicious as before. Lt. Col. Green was probably involved in the defense of the salient on that day and was mortally wounded. Writing of the battle later, a Confederate officer noted, "We have met a man this time (Grant), who either does not know when he is whipped, or who cares not if he loses his whole Army." Some feel that the Wilderness-Spotsylvania campaigns marked the beginning of the end of the Confederacy. It is ironic that Colonel F.M. Green, among the first to join the Confederate army, had met his death at the same time the death knell sounded for the Confederacy.

John W. Green was fatherless at age five. His mother, Susan Webb Green, was a native of North Carolina, the daughter of William and Elizabeth Webb. She had come as a child to Haywood County, Tennessee and later to Mississippi, where her family also lived on a plantation near Oxford. She was sent to school at Jackson, Tennessee and later graduated from Jackson Female College. She and Francis Marion Green were married in 1858 and the union produced two sons, John W. and William N. Green. Even though he was very young when his father died, John remembered the full-bearded man of medium height, dressed in a gray uniform. He had just been home on furlough before his last battle. Upon their fatherís death the boys were brought up on their grandfather Webbís plantation, where they were taught to hoe corn, grow and pick cotton, cut firewood, milk cows and perform other farm chores.

Education and Early Career

After attending two primary schools, John finished his education at Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. He always felt his experience at Webb School had much to do with his success in life. Many famous graduates of Webb were influenced by the senior principal, W.R. "Old Sawney" Webb, a stimulating instructor who also instilled the principles of truth, honor and decent living in his students at their most impressionable age.

Attendance at Sunday School in his motherís Methodist Church also began his association with that denomination, which was to continue throughout his life. He attended Southwestern Presbyterian University, then in Clarksville, Tennessee, but now in Memphis. Later he read law in the Knoxville office of Major T.S. Webb, who was a nephew of Johnís stepfather, Robert C. Webb. He was licensed to practice on September 29, 1880. He continued to live in Knoxville or suburban Fountain City and practiced law in the city of Knoxville for the rest of his life. Later he would proudly declare that he had lived under the administrations of 19 presidents (if Jefferson Davis is included), beginning with James Buchanan.

Marriage and Family Life

On January 26, 1897, John W. Green married Ellen Marshall McClung (1872-1956), the daughter of Frank H. McClung, a Knoxville merchant, and a descendant of James White, founder of Knoxville. Their wedding was conducted at the palatial home of the brideís father that stood on the future site of the Arnold Hotel. For many years the Greenís permanent home was on Laurel Avenue and they spent portions of the summer at their estate on Black Oak Ridge where he kept his blooded saddle and carriage horses. Their home, which they called Ridgeview II, was built in 1922 with Barber and McMurry as the architects. (see McNabb)

During their lengthy married life, the Greens maintained a dignified and exceedingly fond and understanding relationship. They shared an interest in travel. One of his books describes their trip around the world, another an 8000 mile trip to California and back by automobile. Both were interested in their fruitful gardens, orchards and vineyards at Ridgeview II. When Mrs. Green preceded him in death in 1956, she left the bulk of her half-million dollar estate to her husband for his lifetime and then to the University of Tennessee for an art museum. The beautiful Frank H. McClung Museum on Circle Park Drive with its impressive exhibits from all over the world is her memorial to her father.

Community Service and His Books

Judge Green was Chairman of the Board of Education for fourteen years, a Trustee of Eastern State Hospital for many years, fuel administrator for Knoxville during World War I and long-time Chairman of the Committee on Admission to Practice in the Federal Courts of Knoxville, beginning in 1917. A stalwart friend and supporter of the Lawson McGhee Library, he served on the board for more than seventy years (emphasis added), sixty-three of those years as chairman of the board. He wrote in his reminiscences, "... poor indeed is he who, as the shadows lengthen and his activities slacken, cannot find real enjoyment, comfort, companionship, and solace in a good book."

He was the author of five books: Travels of a Lawyer (1927), Other Travels of a Lawyer (1930), Bench and Bar of Knox County-A History of Knoxville Lawyers (1947), Lives of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Tennessee (1947) and Law and Lawyers (1950).

Judge and Mrs. Green at the Pyramids

University of Tennessee, Special Collections

One of his proudest memories of his lengthy practice of the law was his defense of the Champion Corporation in litigation to condemn their tracts for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for which his firm was paid one of its largest fees ($30,000). He was always partial to civil cases and stated that he only appeared two or three times in criminal cases. His first appearance before the Supreme Court was at age twenty-four and he made many appearances thereafter. He was called into brief service as a judge on the stateís top courts by special appointments on several occasions--the Supreme Court in 1902 and 1935 and the Court of Appeals in 1916. However, he discouraged the governorís support for his appointment to a Knox County chancellorship by saying, "The trouble is that Iím a partisan. I always find myself taking sides on an issue. Iím not cut out to sit there on the bench as a neutral referee when other men are arguing issues."

Although he was spare, erect and patrician in manner and immaculately dressed, Judge Green chose to ride the streetcars or busses to his office in the Burwell Building downtown, because of the opportunity to associate with fellow passengers. His chauffeur would ride him from Ridgeview to his streetcar or bus stop in Fountain City and return to meet him at the end of the day. He was a lifetime member of Church Street Methodist Church, but taught the menís Sunday School class at Fountain City Methodist Church for several years. Many prominent Fountain Citians and their fathers before them were members of his class.

The Fountain City Park Commission met for its first organizational meeting on June 24, 1932. Judge John W. Green was elected Chairman and Mrs. Anna A. Lowe, principal of Fountain City Grammar School, was elected Secretary. Other members of the board were Mrs. S.L. Sullins, Calloway A. Moore, Emma Clark, Rev. Carl Martin and Arthur Savage. The citizens of Fountain City are the beneficiaries of Judge Greenís service as Chairman of the Fountain City Park Commission for many years. He defended the park against encroachment of any kind to maintain recreational opportunities for children and adults. In the 1950s he responded with righteous indignation when two nationally-known segregationists attempted to use the park for a rally. He also reacted strongly when a highway project threatened to eliminate a portion of Fountain City Lake.

When he was 96 years old, Judge Green was the honored guest and featured speaker at the dedication of the 14-acre Fountain City Recreation Park. At the ceremony he read his "Lexicon of Youth," a group of maxims derived from his life experience:

Make few promises and always speak the truth. Never speak evil of any one. Keep good company, or none. Live up to your engagements. Never play a game of chance. Drink no intoxicating liquors; good character is above all things.

Keep your secrets if you have any. Never borrow if you can possibly help it. Do not marry until you are able to support a spouse. Keep yourself innocent, if you would be happy. When you speak to a person, look him in the face.

Make no haste to be rich if you would prosper. Ever live (misfortune excepted) within your income. Save when you are young to spend when you are old.

Avoid temptation through fear you may not understand it. Never run into debt unless you see a way to get out again. Small and steady gains give competency with a tranquil mind. Good company and good conversation are the sinews of virtue.

Your character cannot be essentially injured except by your own acts. If anyone speak evil of you, let your own life be so that no one will believe. When you retire to bed, think over what you have done throughout the day.

Never be idle; if your hands cannot find employment, attend to cultivation of your mind. Read over these maxims once a week.

His lexicon is a code we can live by and so is his motto, "It is better to wear out than to rust out." Throughout his 97 years, Judge John Webb Green set an outstanding example of service to his family, his church, his profession and his community. His many friends mourned his passing on May 26, 1957.

Judge John W. Green made a difference in the lives of Fountain Citians.

d-green.doc (Copyright, 1998; Revised 1/17/02, 1/29/02, 7/1/02, 2/26/03, 12/27/03)


Bob Cunningham, "Mrs. John Green, Wife of Judge, Dies," Knoxville News-Sentinel, May 14, 1956.

Lee Davis, "Judge Green, Knox Bar Leader, Dies," Knoxville News-Sentinel, May 27, 1957.

John W. Green, Travels of a Lawyer (Knoxville, 1927).

Other Travels of a Lawyer (Knoxville, 1930).

Bench and Bar of Knox County-A History of Knoxville Lawyers, Archer and Smith (Knoxville, 1947).

Lives of the Judges of the Supreme Court of Tennessee, Archer and Smith (Knoxville, 1947).

Law and Lawyers (Sketches of Federal Judges of Tennessee, McCowat-Mercer (Jackson, 1950).

Robert K. Krick, Leeís Colonels (A Biographical Register of Field Officers of the Army of Northern Virginia), Morningside (Dayton, 1979).

Stewart Sifakis, Compendium of the Confederate Armies (Mississippi), Facts on File Press (New York, 1995).

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