James H. Piles (Panola County)

Assistant Secretary of State: 1875
State House: 1870-1875

Born: c. 1842 in Springfield, OH

Attorney. Son of Robert J. Piles, a barber who was listed on the Springfield census from 1840-1880 and died in 1886, and Martha Yancey, who died c. 1899 according to probate records. Robert Piles was described in the Springfield Republic as “the leading colored man of Springfield, who, by his industry, perseverance and sound sense, commands the respect of all his fellow citizens” (1877). Martha Piles attended meetings of the Iconoclasts, “a literary society existing among the more educated and refined colored citizens” (Springfield Republic, 1885).

James H. Piles was listed with his parents and siblings on the 1850 and 1860 census, and he was working as a barber, presumably with his father. Piles registered for the Civil War draft in June of 1863, and his occupation was listed as “student”; he was attending Oberlin College at the time. He earned his A.B. from Oberlin in 1866 (see A History of Oberlin College from its Foundation through the Civil War, 1943). He was admitted to the bar in Ohio and later in New Orleans, which was noted in international newspapers.

I have not yet located Piles on the 1870 census, when he would have been living in Mississippi. In the spring of 1874, Piles was arrested on a charge of stealing law books; nothing more seems to have come of this, and it was probably a made-up charge. By 1880, he was once again in Springfield and working as a lawyer.

In 1883, Piles moved to Washington, D.C., where he was a clerk in the patent office with an annual salary of $1200. In 1885, he was promoted from clerk to assistant examiner. He resigned from this post in 1887. On the 1910 census, Piles was practicing law in Springfield again.

“He worked as the principal of a black school in Springfield, then moved to Mississippi, where he became a Union League leader, was a member of the Panola County Republican executive committee, and served in the state House of Representatives, 1870-75. In 1875, Piles held office as Mississippi’s assistant secretary of state. He returned North after the end of Reconstruction, and from 1883 to 1896 lived in Washington, D.C., where he served as an examiner in the U.S. Patent Office. In 1912, Piles was practicing law in Memphis.”
(Eric Foner, Freedom’s Lawmakers: A Directory of Black Officeholders during Reconstruction, 1993)


Signature of James H. Piles from an 1870 letter to Governor Alcorn