Robert Coman Brickell (1824-1900) was a prominent figure in Alabama’s judicial system during the latter half of the nineteenth century. He served as both an Associate Justice and Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. He contributed to writing the Code of Alabama of 1886 as well as the Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of Alabama, with his editions of the work more commonly referred to as Brickell’s Digest.
Robert C. Brickell Brickell was born in Tuscumbia, Colbert County, on April 4, 1824, to Richard Benjamin Brickell and Margaret Coman Brickell; he had three siblings. His family resided in Huntsville, Madison County, at the time of his birth. Brickell’s father was elected the first state printer of Alabama and published the first volume of the Acts of the General Assembly. He would later become the editor and publisher of The Athenian, a weekly newspaper in Athens and was elected to the State House of Representatives for Limestone County in 1831.
Brickell learned basic reading and writing skills in his father’s print shop, and he later worked with his father to earn money for his education. He attended school in Athens. Brickell studied law under Judge Daniel Coleman there for two years and was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in the circuit court of Limestone County when he was 19 years old. In 1843, he began to practice law in Athens and in 1851 moved to Huntsville and worked with fellow lawyer Septimus D. Cabaniss. With LeRoy Walker as senior partner, they formed the firm of Walker, Cabaniss & Brickell. That firm would continue until 1857, when Cabaniss retired and the firm became Walker & Brickell. He identified as a Democrat but, according to sources, did not serve in an official capacity in the Civil War.
In 1873, Republican governor David P. Lewis appointed Brickell as an Associate Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. At this time, the court was composed of Republican judges only. In 1875, he was chosen as Chief Justice by the court. Brickell married Mary Blassingame on November 29, 1876, in Montgomery, Montgomery County. They had two sons, though only one survived childhood. (Robert Coman Brickell followed in his father’s footsteps and went into law. He would serve as attorney general from 1911-1915 and later as a circuit judge.)
Brickell, together with young lawyers Peter J. Hamilton and John P. Tillman, was commissioned by Gov. Thomas Seay to codify the laws of Alabama. They prepared the Code of Alabama of 1886. Brickell also wrote three volumes of Digest of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of Alabama that were published in stages, in 1872, 1874, and 1888. After his death, the next few following editions of the Digest would mention his work as the standard. Brickell would be elected Chief Justice by the Alabama Legislature in 1880 and continue to hold that office until October 25, 1884, when poor health forced him to resign. He then returned to Huntsville to resume his practice. He later served as general counsel of the Decatur Land Company and moved to Montgomery in 1891 and formed another law practice with Maj. Henry Churchill Semple and, according to one source, William Adams Gunter. In 1894, Gov. Thomas Goode Jones appointed him to another term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; he served until 1898 and then opened a law practice with his son.
Brickell died on November 20, 1900, from a sudden illness suspected to have been a stroke. He was buried in Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville. His former home lies within the Twickenham Historic District at 614 Franklin Street and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the district. The two-story Greek Revival-style home was built around 1860.