LeBaron Bradford Colt was born in Dedham, Massachusetts to Christopher and Theodora (DeWolf) Colt. He and his equally famous brother, Samuel, had very influential forebears. On their maternal side, they were the grandsons of General George DeWolf of Bristol and the grandnephews of U.S. Senator James DeWolf, a wealthy merchant and notorious slave trader. Other maternal forebears–the LeBarons and the Bradfords–were prominent early settlers of Plymouth Colony. Their paternal line included uncle Samuel Colt of Hartford, inventor of the renowned Colt revolver.
LeBaron was raised in Connecticut, graduated from Yale in 1868, and from Columbia Law School two years later. After a one-year sojourn through Europe, then a customary excursion for recently-graduated members of the upper class, LeBaron gained admission to the Bar and began the practice of law in Chicago. In 1875, he moved to Bristol, his ancestral home, and soon established a partnership in Providence with his brother Samuel and Francis Colwell, who would become first president of the Rhode Island Bar Association.
LeBaron entered politics in 1879 as a Republican state representative from Bristol, and in March 1881, President Garfield selected him as judge of the federal court for the District of Rhode Island. Because of his impressive judicial debut, LeBaron was elevated to the presiding justiceship of the First Circuit Court of Appeals by President Arthur in 1884. In that capacity Colt served with distinction and with praise from the Bar until the Rhode Island General Assembly elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1912 as the successor to Nelson W. Aldrich. Colt was reelected by popular vote in 1918 and served in the Senate from March 4, 1913 until he died at his home (Linden Place) on August 18, 1924.
In Congress Colt was a member of the Judiciary Committee and chaired the Committee on Conservation of Natural Resources and the Committee on Immigration. In the latter post he demonstrated his sense of justice and humanity by opposing nativistic and xenophobic changes in American immigration law. He disfavored the discriminatory national origins quota system of 1924, despite a national mood that supported such ethnocultural restrictions, and he was among the few senators who opposed the Japanese Exclusion Act.
Colt was an outspoken believer in a pluralistic America in an era of great intolerance; a stance that earned him praise from such diverse groups as Armenians, Jews, Italians, and Japanese. Among the letters of condolence sent to Linden Place after Colt’s death was one by Vito Famiglietti of the Sons of Italy who wrote that Colt, “although himself of old American stock,. . . always comprehended the aims and aspirations, as well as the difficulties and problems, of immigrant peoples.”
The senator married Marie Louise Ledyard of Chicago in 1873. Their union produced six children. He is buried, with most of his family, in Bristol’s Juniper Hill Cemetery.