Richard Hawes was born on February 6, 1797 near Bowling Green, Caroline County, Virginia. He was one of eleven children born to Richard and Clara[a] Walker Hawes. The Hawes' were a political family; Richard's brother, Albert Gallatin Hawes, nephew, Aylett Hawes, and cousin, Aylett Hawes Buckner, all served in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1810, the family moved to Kentucky, settling in Fayette County, near Lexington. Part of Hawes' early education was obtained through the Jessamine County school conducted by Samuel Wilson.
On November 13, 1818, Hawes married Hetty Morrison Nicholas of Lexington. He pursued classical studies at Transylvania University, then studied law under Robert C. Wickliffe. Hawes and Wickliffe became law partners upon the former's admission to the bar in 1818. Due to overcrowding of the bar in Lexington, Hawes moved to Winchester in 1824. While there, he became part owner of a rope and bagging factory with Benjamin H. Buckner.
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