Ellis Paxson Oberholtzer.

Philadelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) online

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with a confidence that comes with the consciousness of personal ability, right
conception of things and a habitual regard for what is best in the execution of
human activities.


Joseph N. Pew, of Mercer, Pennsylvania, was born July 20, 1848, and is a
son of John Pew. The first American ancestor was Abraham Pew, of English
birth, who came to this country prior to the Revolutionary war. Joseph N.
Pew acquired his education in the State Normal School at Edinboro, Pennsyl-
vania, from which he was graduated in 1867. He then became connected with
the oil business at Titusville. and throughout his entire life has been connected
with the development of oil anil natural gas and with real estate and banking.
He has witnessed the greater part of the development of the oil fields of the
country and has been concerned in the growth of many enterprises connected
therewith. The Sun Company, of which he is president, owns an oil refinery
at Philadelphia and one at Toledo, Ohio. For the past six years he has resided
at Philadelphia but still maintains his home in Mercer county. Mr. Pew is
president of the board of trustees of Grove City College and for many years
has been active in the management of that institution.


Prominent in the American consular service in the first half of the nineteenth
centur)', from that time on Richard \'aux continued in public life, his practical
activities constituting a potent source of progress, reform and improvement.
He was born December 19, 1816, at his father's home in Arch street, Philadel-
phia. His ancestors on both sides were among the earliest colonists, several of
them coming to this country with Penn, being conspicuous in founding the
colony which bears his name. His paternal grandfather was a native of Eng-
land while his grandfather and great-grandfather in the maternal line were
Philadelphians. His father, Roberts Vaux, born in this city, was one of the
leading men of his time. A member of the Society of Friends and a man of
liberal education, he directed the mental development of his son Richard, who
recited his lessons to his father or to private tutors whom his father selected and
advised. Roberts Vaux held decided views concerning physical and mental cul-
ture and development, thinking along lines in advance of the time. The value
of his theories and beliefs, however, was demonstrated in the education of his
son. Moreover, he left an indelible impress upon the educational system of the


state, being one of the authors of the present form of school organization in
Pennsylvania and drawing up the first act on that subject that was passed by
the state legislature. He was instrumental in inducing the governor to present
the subject in his annual message to the general assembly and was afterward
for fourteen years president of the board of control of public schools in Phila-
delphia. In this connection he laid a broad, sure and safe foundation for the
further development of the educational interests of the city and this work alone
would entitle him to mention on the roll of fame. However, his services in
other connections were equally notable. It was Roberts Vaux who first sug-
gested the idea that the object of imprisonment should be the reformation rather
than the punishment of criminals and with this end in view, proposed solitary
confinement with labor and the need of humanizing influences. Like all who
seek to change the established order of things, he met with repeated rebuffs in
his attempt to secure recognition for his plans, but at length the state gave its
approval, and the Eastern Penitentiary was modeled on this plan.

Richard Vaux, after finishing his course of studies under his distinguished
father, took up the study of law, becoming first a student in the law office of
William M. Meredith, and when twenty years of age was admitted to the bar.
Soon after this he received a note from the Hon. John Forsyth, secretary of
state under President Van Buren, saying that he understood that Mr. Vaux had
planned a trip to Europe and asking him when he expected to sail. As a result
of the correspondence which followed, Secretary Forsyth sent Mr. Vaux a
written request that he take charge of the package which would be handed to
him the night before he sailed, this package to be delivered to the American
legation in London. In due course of time Mr. Vaux turned this package over
to Andrew Stevenson, of Virginia, then United States minister at the Court of
St. James, and while delivering some private letters that had been entrusted to
him for Mrs. Stevenson, the minister entered the room, saying, "Come down
stairs, sir, I have made you secretary of the legation. One of the packages you
brought directs the present secretary to report to one of the continental courts
and you must fill the vacancy." This entirely disturbed Mr. Vaux's plans and
he protested against accepting the proffered position but nevertheless it was
thrust upon him and he continued as legation secretary until his successor,
Benjamin Rush, arrived from the United States in the following year. Mr.
Vaux then proceeded upon his continental tour and while abroad won attention
and admiration everywhere by reason of his fine personal appearance, his charm
of manner and the brilliancy of his intellect. Upon his return to London, Mr.
Stevenson insisted upon his remaining as his private secretary, which position
Mr. Vaux filled until 1839. He made his entrance into European society as
secretary of the legation and, although he had not yet attained his majority, he
was a welcome guest in many of the homes of the nobility. On visiting Dublin
he was given an invitation by Lady Clarke to a reception at the house of Daniel
O'Connell and there had the pleasure of meeting the famous Irish poet, Thomas
Moore. A month after his entrance into London society King George IV died
and the Princess Victoria was proclaimed queen and Mr. VaUx, as a member
of the legation, attended the coronation. At one of the balls given in honor of


the Queen's coronation, Mr. \'aux was ordered to take a place in the quadrille
with Her Majesty, which was called "dancing with the Queen."

After his return to America, in October, 1839, Mr. Vaux was continuously
connected with the public life of the city and state. He was nominated by the
democrats of the ninth ward of Philadelphia for the legislature and the follow-
ing year received an appointment from the supreme court to the position of court
inspector of the Eastern Penitentiary, serving first as secretary and then as
president uninterruptedly until his death. On the 4th of March, 1850, he was
a delegate to the state convention at Harrisburg which attempted to harmonize
the Van Buren and Johnson elements of the party. Soon afterward he entered
upon the active practice of the law, but was again and again called to public
office in the settlement of momentous questions in the discharge of official duties
or in the organization of movements tending to promote civic interests. In 1841
he was appointed recorder of Philadelphia and during seven years' incumbency
rendered satisfactory service in that office. His work in connection therewith
led to his publication of a legal volume entitled, "Recorder's Decisions," which
is accepted as an authority in every recorder's office in America. His books and
pamphlets are numerous and intellectual and indicate a wide range of thought,
research and interest. Like his father he gave much study to the subject of
penal institutions and was regarded as an authority on penology.

Mr. Vaux never ceased to be recognized as one of the democratic leaders in
Philadelphia and in 1842 was chosen for the first time as standard bearer of
his party for municipal honors. He consented to accept the nomination for the
mayoralty although he knew that there was no hope of election, the whig party
then being in the ascendency. In 1854 he was once more nominated for mayor.
His third defeat aroused his metal and from the state house steps he made the
announcement that he would again become a candidate. At the biennial election
in 1856 he led the democratic forces to victory and defeated H. D. Moore. His
administration was marked by many official acts of value, including the organ-
ization of a very efficient police force, but such was the strength of the opposing
party that when in 1858 he was again democratic nominee, he was once more

In public affairs other than political, however, he received many expressions
of confidence and trust. In 1858 he was made a member of the board of city
trusts, which includes Girard College, and the following year was elected presi-
dent of its board, continuing this to serve until he voluntarily resigned. Some
years afterward he was reappointed to the board, for the management recog-
nized the value of his service in this connection. In i860 he was made one of
the electors at large in the presidential contest of Douglas, Breckenridge and
Lincoln and again in the McClellan and Greeley campaigns. He was again called
to public life in 1877 and in 1890 at a special election held after the defeat of
Samuel J. Randall, was chosen congressman from the third district. His first
speech in congress was a vigorous and brilliant defense of the constitution in
reference to the holding of federal elections and it was regarded as the most
notable speech made by a Pennsylvanian in the house in many years. On the
7th of January, 1892, Mr. Vaux completed a half century of service as inspector
of the Eastern Penitentiary, during forty years of which time he had been


president of the board. His interest in grave political problems was stimulated
by his knowledge of the law and his service as a law-maker. He was active in
his efforts to correct public evils, to stimulate reform and progress, and to
organize plans whereby the interests of the state and of the individual were pro-

That he was a distinguished factor in the social circles of the city is indi-
cated in the fact that he was several times reelected president of the Philadelphia
Club. His interest in scientific research was indicated in the fact that he was
a member of the American Philosophical Society and of the Historical Society
of Pennsylvania. He was a life-long member of the Masonic fraternity, for
three years was grand master of the state, and was one of the most widely
known Masons of the world, being regarded as an authority on matters of
Masonic jurisprudence. The cast of his mind was extremely judicial. He was
analytical and logical and by clear reasoning arrived at deductions in which
thinking men could find no fallacy. The brilliancy of his intellect made him a
leader of public thought and opinion and though politically with the minority
party, led to careful consideration that in the course of years brought substan-
tial results. His life history closed on the 22d day of March, 1895, but he left
the indelible impress of his individuality upon the history of a century, that in
practical reform, breadth of thought and substantial progress overtops every
other century of the Christian era.


John C. Bullitt, possessed of "a nature broadly charitable and humane," and
endowed by nature with that superior mental power that enabled him to win
high honor and fame at the bar, came of distinguished southern ancestry, but it
was his individual worth and character that impressed his name indelibly upon
the history of Kentucky and Pennsylvania, his native and his adopted states.
It is doubtful if one could be found who held to higher ideals in the practice of
law or who in private life manifested in larger degree those traits of character
which cause him still to live in the memory of his friends enshrined in the halo
of a gracious presence and charming manner as well as marked intellectuality.

Mr. Bullitt was born February 10, 1824, at Oxmoor, the ancestral home of
the family, "a farm of about eight hundred acres of superb land on the waters
of Bear Grass creek, seven miles from the courthouse of Louisville." It had
been purchased about 1784 by his grandfather, Alexander Scott Bullitt, who
resided there until his death in 1816. The family first lived in a house near the
spring, but about 1787 the present house was erected by William C. Bullitt,
father of John C. Bullitt. A double row of locust trees bordered an avenue for
about a quarter of a mile and then opened into a lane of twenty-five or thirty.
acres. In this lane and well removed from the house on either side were the
negro cabins and the outbuildings that sheltered grain, stock and farm imple-
ments. There were about forty or fifty negroes upon the place, the men doing
the farm work and the women the spinning and weaving as well as household



I YiLOtN rviUWO^i lO.^U.


labors. The wife of Alexander Scott Bullitt, whom he married in 1785, was a
daughter of Colonel William Christian, and her mother was a sister of Patrick
Henry. Ancestry, however, was never the subject of conversation in the Bullitt
family, the parents teaching their children by example and precept that their
happiness and success in life must depend upon their own actions and character
and that they "must not shine in borrowed light." John C. Bullitt and the other
children of his father's family had reached a considerable age ere they knew
that they were related to, as they expressed it, "the great Patrick Henry we
read about in school." His great-grandfather, Colonel William Christian, was
killed by the Indians in April, 1786, and was buried at Oxmoor. On the maternal
side John C. Bullitt was a lineal descendant of Lawrence Washington, the grand-
father of George Washington. His maternal grandfather was Colonel Joshua
Fry, who was in command of the Virginia forces with George Washington as his
lieutenant colonel in Braddock's campaign of 1754. John C. Bullitt in his ma-
ture years related stories of early life and conditions that existed in his home lo-
cality in his boyhood. Although the people were refined and cultured their habits
of life were simple, but true southern hospitality was found in their home. There
were few carriages and most of the visiting as well as travel was done on horse-
back. Dancing was often the feature of the evening entertainment and the music
was furnished by a negro fiddler.

When about six years old John C. Bullitt, together with other members of his
father's family, became a pupil in a school taught by Robert Nelson Smith, not
far from Oxmoor. Even at an early day he displayed traits of character which
throughout his life made him the loved companion of those who came within the
circle of his acquaintance. It was said he "was a merry, happy boy, generous
and always ready to do a kindness or to resent a wrong." His education was con-
tinued in Center College at Danville, Kentucky, but at his first vacation he re-
turned to Oxmoor and devoted the three succeeding years to farm work. He
ever regarded that period as the foundation of his strong constitution and the
source of his capacity to undergo severe and continuous labor which came to him
in the course of his professional duties in later years. In 1840 he again entered
Center College and on the completion of a three years' course was graduated with
high honors. It was during his school days there that he formed the acquaintance
of Logan McKnight, which was the beginning of a friendship that was only sev-
ered by death and which constituted, as it were, his introduction to practice at
the Philadelphia bar when Mr. McNight, then president of the Bank of Ken-
tucky, gave into Mr. Bullitt's keeping the bank's afifairs in Pennsylvania. Mr.
Bullitt began his law studies in Lexington, where he attended college in 1843-4,
after which he pursued his reading under the direction of his father, a distin-
guished Kentucky lawyer. He was admitted to the bar at Louisville in 1845 and
in September of that year located for practice in Clarksville, Tennessee.
Advancement at the bar is proverbially slow and like most young men Mr. Bul-
litt had a period of waiting ere success in his profession came to him. He spent
his time largely in attending sessions of the court and noting minutely the proc-
esses and methods of the lawyers then in active practice. On one occasion he
was sitting upon a window sill of the courtroom watching the proceedings. A
man by the name of Moon was on trial for the murder of a Mr. Johnson, who


had a shoe store in Bardstown, Kentucky, and was a Methodist Episcopal
preacher or exhorter, popular with the people. The murder had been committed
because of Johnson's continued refusal to pay his note of one hundred dollars
held by Moon. Popular favor supported Johnson. Moon had no counsel and the
judge, looking around the courtroom and seeing Mr. Bullitt, appointed him to
defend the case. Wholly unprepared, he asked for a few minutes' private con-
ference with the defendant and then, appearing before the court, presented an
affidavit drawn in accordance with a statute of Tennessee which he remembered
that if a man could not have a fair trial at the first term of court on account of
the excitement and prejudice against him, he was entitled to a continuance.
After much opposition by the prosecuting attorney the judge granted the contin-
uance and later a second continuance because it was impossible to obtain the
presence of a witness who was ready to take oath that Moon had once been in-
sane. Because of the popularity of the murdered man Mr. Bullitt felt that he
was not only standing alone in this position but that he was awakening the an-
tagonism of the general public and this might cause him trouble professionally.
But in the course he pursued he displayed the independence, courage and per-
sistence and a loyalty to duty which were ever among his strong characteristics.
In 1846 he left Clarksville and joined his brother Joshua in the practice of law
in Louisville. In June, 1848, he made a trip north, in the course of which he met
James Buchanan, then secretary of state at Washington, who urged him to go to
Philadelphia, saying that he would surely win success there. Whether or not
this was the motive force that drew him to the east is not definitely known but
in March of the following year John C. Bullitt became a member of the Phila-
delphia bar. In the meantime the Bank of Kentucky, of which his old friend,
Mr. McKnight, was president, had appointed the Schuylkill Bank of Philadel-
phia as one of its transfer agents of stock and in 1839 it was discovered that an
officer of the Schuylkill Bank had caused a fraudulent issue of its stock to the
amount of one million, three hundred and eighteen thousand, five hundred dollars.
In 1846 the Bank of Kentucky recovered a judgment against the Schuylkill Bank
of one million, one hundred and eighty-four thousand, seven hundred and thirty-
nine dollars, and to Mr. Bullitt was entrusted the task of making collections on.
this claim in which the officers of the Bank of Kentucky bear evidence of his
"skill, diligence and fidelity of rare excellence in the conduct of this business.''
A half century later when the Bank of Kentucky expressed to Mr. Bullitt
through its officers appreciation of the splendid service which he rendered, and
asked that his portrait might be painted to be hung in the bank, he replied in a
letter to the bank officials : "No one could realize the importance of these cir-
cumstances (his appointment) to me unless he was fully aware of the sense of
isolation which comes over a young man landing in a large city among strangers
and without influence of any sort to aid him for the purpose of making his way
in the profession of law and especially in view of the formidable array and
high character of the Philadelphia bar at that time. * * * j determined to
make every eff'ort in my power to prove myself worthy of this great trust and
equal to what was required and expected of me." A considerable part of the
property recovered from the Schuylkill Bank consisted of coal lands in Schuylkill
county, where large tracts are still known by the name of the bank, and the repre-


sentation of the important interests thus entrusted to his charge gave Mr. Hul-
Htt a prominent position at the bar and in the community. His position as legal
represenative of the Bank of Kentucky in Penn.sylvania brought him immediate
recognition and he soon came to represent important mercantile and corporate in-
terests in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. His name appears in connection
with some of the most prominent litigated interests in the history of the state.

In speaking ot this afterward a Philadelphia lawyer of distinguished rank
said: "That Mr. Bullitt should have acquired in less than ten years and when
a little over thirty years of age, a practice which secured his appointment to re-
present such a body of creditors, composed of the leading firms of the city, seems
the more remarkable when it is remembered that the bar of Philadelphia was
never stronger than at that day, and the case is interesting as illustrating his bent
in dealing with such a state of things. His mind was essentially affirmative and
constructive and when called upon to advise as to the disposition of the assets
of an insolvent estate he began by considering how the assets could be made to
yield at least their approximate if not their real value."

His practice continued to grow in volume and importance and for many years
he occupied a conspicuous position in the foremost rank of the legal fraternity of
Philadelphia. In 1873 he became a member of the Pennsylvania constitutional
convention and proposed the amendment by which compensation is to be made
for the injury or destruction as well as the taking of private property for public
use. When Jay Cooke & Company were obliged to suspend payment in Septem-
ber of that year he was asked to represent them and by securing the appointment
of a trustee and committee of creditors to hold and administer the assets of the
firm he prevented the sacrifice of a forced liquidation and the creditors who re-
tained their claims until the final winding up realized a considerable premium over
par and interest. The estate held a large amount of Northern Pacific bonds
and those of other railroad companies, and in the reorganization of the Northern
Pacific, after foreclosure, Mr. Bullitt took the responsibility of organizing the
new company under the old charter which was without precedent, but at length
the new company received recognition from congress. Mr. Bullitt always said
that a professional service which gave him great satisfaction was that in which,
in the spring of 1878, he represented General Fitz John Porter before a court
of inquiry relative to new evidence that General Porter might be able to ofifer
and to report to the president whether the finding of the court marshal, which
had been held in 1862, should be modified or reversed. After careful examina-
tion of the evidence Mr. Bullitt became convinced that the original finding was
erroneous, in which opinion Joseph H. Choate concurred after the evidence had
been submitted to him.

In this connection it was said : "Mr. Bullitt was a fluent and forcible speaker,
with an admirable power of clear and convincing statement, and when he under-
took the conduct of a jury trial or made an argtnnent before the court he was un-
tiring in preparation and powerful in the presentation of his views. These quali-
ties were displayed in a very striking manner in the preparation and conduct of
the Fitz John Porter case. No fact, however slight or insignificant, was over-
looked, and he was fortunately able, through the assistance of his old friend.
Colonel Charles H. Marshall, who had served as General Lee's chief of staff.


and was then one of the leaders of the Baltimore bar, to obtain the most pre-
cise and lucid description of the engagements in which General Porter had par-
ticipated and to prove conclusively that he had been condemned for not taking
part, on the 29th of August, 1862, in a fierce battle which he had himself fought
on the following day."

Other professional duties of equal importance claimed the attention of Mr.
Bullitt, who at the same time kept in touch with the great problems which are to
the statesman and man of affairs of great import. He was appointed by Gov-

Online LibraryEllis Paxson OberholtzerPhiladelphia; a history of the city and its people, a record of 225 years (Volume 4) → online text (page 32 of 62)