George Washington Cowles.

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cil, was designated as its chancellor. In 1698 the court went out of
existence by limitation ; was revised by ordinance in 1701; suspended
in 1703, and re-established in the next year. At first the Court of
Chancery was unpopular in the province, the Assembly and the
colonists opposing it with the argument that the crown had no authority
to establish an equity court in the colony, and they were doubtful of
the propriety of constituting the governor and council such a court.
Under the Constitution of 1777 the court was recognized, but its
chancellor was thereby prohibited from holding any other office except


delegate to Congress on special occasions. Upon the reorganization of
the court in L778, by convention of representatives, masters and ex-
aminers in chancery were provided to be appointed by the council of
appointment; registers and clerks by the chancellor. The latter
licensed all solicitors and counsellors of the court. Under the Constitu-
tion of 1821 the chancellor was appointed by the governor and held office
during good behavior, or until sixty years of age. Appeals lay from
the Chancery Court to the Court for the Correction of Errors. Under
the second Constitution equity powers were vested in the circuit judges,
and their decisions were reviewable on appeal to the chancellor. But
this equity character was soon taken from the circuit judges and there-
after devolved upon the chancellor, while the judges alluded to acted as
vice-chancellors in their respective circuits. But, by the radical
changes made by the Constitution of 1843, the Court of Chancery was
abolished, and its powers, duties and jurisdiction vested in the Supreme
Court, as before stated.

By act of the Legislature adopted in 1848, and entitled the " Code of
Procedure," all distinctions between actions at law and suits in equity
were abolished, so far as the manner of commencing and conducting
them was concerned, and one uniform method of practice was adopted.
Under this act appeals lay to the General Term of the Supreme Court
from judgments rendered in justice's, mayor's and recorder's, and
county courts, and from all orders and decisions of a justice at special
term of the Supreme Court.

The judiciary article of the Constitution of 1846 amended in 1869,
authorizing the Legislature, not more often than once in five years,
to provide for the organization of General Terms, consisting of a pre-
siding justice and not more than three associates; but by chapter 408 of
the laws of 1870 the then organization of the General Term was abro-
gated and the State divided into four departments and provision made
for holding General Terms in each. By the same act the governor was
directed to designate from among the justices of the Supreme Court a
presiding justice and two associates to constitute a General Term in
each department. Under the authority of the constitutional amend-
ment adopted in 1882, the Legislature in 1883 divided the State into
five judicial departments, and provided for the election of twelve
additional justices to hold office from the first Monday in June, 1884.

In June, 1887, the Legislature enacted the code of civil procedure to
take the place of the code of 1848. By this many minor changes were



made, among them a provision that every two years the justices of the
General Terms, and the chief judges of the Superior City Courts,
should meet and revise and establish general rules of practice for all
the courts of record in the State, except the Court of Appeals.

Such are, in brief, the changes through which the Supreme Court of
this State has passed in its growth from the prerogative of an irrespon-
sible governor, to one of the most independent and enlightened instru-
mentalities for the protection and attainment of the rights of citizens
of which any State or nation can rightfully boast. So well is this fact
understood by the people, that by far the greater amount of business,
which might be done in inferior courts at less expense, is taken to this
court for settlement. The only man from Wayne county ever elected
Supreme Court judge was Theron R. Strong of Palmyra.

Next in inferiority to the Supreme Court is the County Court, held
in and for each county of the State at such times and places as its
judges may direct. This court had its origin in the English Court of
Sessions, and, like that court, had at first criminal jurisdiction only.
By an act passed in 1663, a Court of Sessions, having power to try both
civil and criminal causes by jury, was directed to be held by three
justices of the peace, in each of the counties of the province twice each
year, with an additional term in Albany and two in New York. By
the act of 1691 and the decree of 1600, all civil jurisdiction was taken
from this court and conferred upon the Court of Common Pleas. By
the sweeping changes made by the Constitution in 1846, provision was
made for a County Court in each county of the State, excepting New
York, to be held by an officer to be designated the county judge, and
to have such jurisdiction as the Legislature might prescribe. Under
authority of this Constitution the County Courts have been given,
from time to time, jurisdiction in various classes of actions which need
not be enumerated here, and have also been invested with certain
equity powers in the foreclosure of mortgages; to sell infants' real
estate; to partition lands; to admeasure dower and care for the persons
and estate of lunatics and habitual drunkards. The Judiciary Act of
L869 continued the existing jurisdiction of County Courts, and confer-
red upon them original jurisdiction in all actions in which the defend-
ants lived within the county, and the damages claimed did not exceed
$1,000, which sum has since been extended to $2,000. Like the
Supreme Court, the County Court now has its civil and its criminal
side. In Criminal matters the county judge is assisted by two justices


of sessions, elected by the people from among the justices of the peace in
the county. It is in the criminal branch of this court, known as the Ses-
sions, that all the minor criminal offenses are now disposed of. All
indictments of the grand jury, excepting for murder or some very
serious felony, are sent to it for trial from the Oyer and Terminer.
By the codes of 1848 and 1877, the methods of procedure and practice
were made to conform as nearly as possible to the practice in the
Supreme Court. This was done with the evident design of attracting
litigation into these courts, thus relieving the Supreme Court. In this
purpose there has been failure, litigants much preferring the shield
and assistance of the broader powers of the higher court. By the
Judiciary Act the term of office of county judges was extended from
four to six years. Under the code the judges can perform some of the
duties of a justice of the Supreme Court at Chambers. The County
Court has appellate jurisdiction over actions arising in Justice's Courts
and Courts of Special Sessions. Appeals lay from the County Court
to the General Term. County judges were appointed until 1847, after
which the)^ were elected.

First judges in the old court of Common Pleas were originally ap-
pointed by the governor and Senate for a term of five years. None of
those appointed previous to the formation of Wayne county was from
within . the present limits of Wayne. Their names were : Oliver
Phelps, May, 1789-93; Timothy Hosmer, October, 1793-1802; John
Nicholas, January, 1803-1819; Nathaniel W. Howell, March, 1818.

Those appointed since the formation of Wayne county are as follows :
John W. Hallet, April 19, 1825; Alexander R. Tiffany, March 28,
1827; William Sisson, January 30, 1830 ; Hiram K. Jerome, January
29, 1840; Oliver H. Palmer, April 12, 1843; William H. Adams, May
12, 1846.

Those who have held the office since it was made elective are as fol-
lows: George H. Middleton, June, 1847; Leander S. Ketcham,
November, 1851; Lyman Sherwood, November, 1859; George W.
Cowles, November, 1863, and November, 1867; Charles McLouth,
(appointed) November 1, 1869; Luther M. Norton, November, 1869;
George W. Cowles, November, 1873; Thaddeus W. Collins, Novem-
ber, 1879; George W. Cowles, November, 1879; George W. Cowles,
November, 1885; L. M. Norton, 1891, incumbent.

Surrogate's Courts, one of which exists in each of the counties of
the State, are now courts of record having a seal. Their special


jurisdiction is the settlement and care of estates of persons who have
died either with or without a will, and of infants. The derivation of
the powers and practice of the Surrogate's Court in this State is from
the Ecclesiastical Court of England through a part of the colonial coun-
cil, which existed during the Dutch rule here, and exercised its
authority in accordance with the Dutch Roman law, the custom of
Amsterdam and the law of Aasdom ; the Court of Burgomasters and
Scheppens, the Court of Orphan Masters, the Mayor's Court, the Pre-
rogative Court and the Court of Probates. The settlement of estates
and the guardianship of orphans which was at first invested in the
director-general and council of New Netherlands, was transferred to
the Burgomasters in 1053, and soon afterwards to the orphan masters.
Under the colony the Prerogative Court controlled all matters in rela-
tion to the probate of wills and settlement of estates. This power con-
tinued until 1692, when by act of legislation all probates and granting
of letters of administration were to be under the hand of the governor
or his delegate ; and two freeholders were appointed in each town to
take charge of the estates of persons dying without a will. Under the
duke's laws this duty had been performed by the constables, overseers
and justices of each town. In 1778 the governor was divested of all
this power excepting the appointment of surrogates, and it was confer-
red upon the Court of Probates. Under the first Constitution surro-
gates were appointed by the council of appointment; under the second
Constitution, by the governor with the approval of the Senate. The
Constitution of 184G abrogated the office of surrogate in all counties
having less than 40,000 population, and conferred its powers and duties
upon the county judge. By the code of civil procedure surrogates
were invested with all the necessary powers to carry out the equitable
and incidental requirements of their office.

The following persons held the office of surrogate in Ontario county
previous to the formation of Wayne: John Cooper, Ma)* 5, 1789;
Samuel Mellish, March 22, 1702; Israel Chapin, jr., March 18, L795;
Amos Hall, February 23, 1790; Dudlay Saltonstall, January 25, 1798;
Reuben Hart, February 10, 1809; Eliphalet Taylor, February 13,
lsio; Reuben Hart, February 5, 1811; Eliphalet Taylor, March 9, L813;
Reuben Hart, March 17, 1815: Stephen Phelps, April 10, 1817; Ira
Selby, March 5, 1821; Jared Wilcox, March 38, 1S2:*».

The following persons have held this office in Wayne county: John
S. Tallmadge, April 18, L823; Frederick Smith, January 11, L826;


Graham H. Chapin, March 10, 1826; Lyman Sherwood, February 12,
1833; James C. Smith, April 10, 1844; (after 1847, the office was
merged in that of county judge. )

The onl} T remaining courts which are common to the State are the
Special Sessions, held by a justice of the peace for the trial of minor
offences, and justice courts with limited civil jurisdiction. Previous to
the Constitution of 1821, modified in 1826, justices of the peace were
appointed ; since that date they have been elected. The office and its
duties are descended from the English office of the same name, but are
much less important here than there, and under the laws of this State
are purety the creature of the statute. The office is now of little im-
portance in the administration of law, and with its loss of old-time
power has lost also much of its former dignity.

The office of district attorney was formerly known as assistant
attorney-general. The districts then embraced several counties in
each and were seven in number. On the loth of April, 1817, upon the
organization of Tompkins county, a new district was formed, number
the eighth, which included Broome, Cortland, Seneca and Tompkins
counties. At first the office was filled by the governor and council dur-
ing pleasure. The office of district attorney, as now known, was cre-
ated April 4, 1801. By a law passed in April, 1818, each county was
constituted a separate district for the purposes of this office. During
the era of the second Constitution district attorneys were appointed by
the County Courts in each county.

The following persons have held the office of district attorney for
Wayne county from and including the year given in each case: William
H. Adams, 1823: Graham H. Chapin, September 26, 1829; William
H. Adams, September 29, 1830; John M. Holley, February, 2, 1831;
Theron R. Strong, January 31, 1835; Charles D. Lawton, September
26, 1839; John M. Holley, October 5, 1842; George H. Middleton,
September 26, 1845; Lyman Sherwood, May 30, 1846; Coles Bashford,
June, 1847; George Olmstead, October 4, 1850; Stephen K. Williams,
November, 1850; Joseph Welling, November, 1853; Jared F. Harri-
son, November, 1856; Jacob B. Decker, November, 1858; William F.
Aldrich, November, 1861; George N. Williams, jr , November, 1864;
John H. Camp, November, 1867; Charles H. Roy, November, 1870;
Murganzy Hopkins, November, 1873; Marvin I. Greenwood, Novem-
ber, 1876; John Vandenburg, November, 1879; Jefferson W. Hoag,
November, 1882; Charles H. Ray, November, 1885; Samuel M.
Sawyer, November, 1888; re-elected November, 1891.


The legal business of the inhabitants of the territory of Wa)me
county, was, of course, done in Ontario county previous to 1K23. The
public buildings were situated, as now, in Canandaigua. We learn from
the records that the first court in Ontario county was held in the un-
finished chamber of Moses Atwater's house on the first Tuesday in
June, 1792: Oliver Phelps, judge; Nathaniel Gorham, jr., clerk;
Judah Colt, sheriff. Vincent Mathews of Newtown was the only
attorney present when the court opened. The first business in the
Surrogate's Court of the county was the settlement of the estate of
Captain Jonathan Whitney, who died in 1793.

By an act of the Legislature April 9, 1792, the supervisors of Ontario
county were authorized to raise by tax the sum of six hundred pounds
for building a court house. Under this act the first court house was
erected on the square in Canandaigua. The first jail was a block-house
which had been built as a protection against the Indians.

With the erection of Wayne county all the necessary measures were
adopted for the transfer of the courts to the new community. The
act contains the following provisions :

" There shall be held in and for the county a Court of Common
Pleas and a Court of General Sessions of the Peace, and there shall be
three terms of said court in every year, to commence and end as fol-
lows: The terms of said court shall begin on the fourth Tuesday of
January, May and September, and may continue to be held until the
Saturday following inclusive.

"That the first term of the said Court of Common Pleas and General
Sessions of the Peace in and for Wayne county shall be held in the
Presbyterian meeting house in the village of Lyons, and all subsequent
terms shall be holden in the same place until the completion of the
court house."

Meanwhile prisoners were to be confined in the jail of Ontario
county. The act appointed William D. Ford, of Jefferson county;
Samuel Strong, of Tioga county, and Oliver P. Ashley, of Greene
county, as "commissioners for examining and determining a proper
site for a court house and jail. "

The supervisors of Wa5me county were authorized to meet at the
house of Henry L. Woolsey, in Lyons, on the first Tuesday in October,
L823, and '.' cause to be assessed, collected and paid into the treasury
of said county of Wayne, the sum of $2,500; and also at their next
annual meeting the further sum of $2,500, in like manner as taxes to
defray the contingent expenses of the county."


In pursuance of this legislation the church in Lyons was prepared
for its new purpose. The upper part of the pulpit was removed; a
platform was built over the small chancel in front, a carpet was laid,
tables and chairs provided, and there on the fourth Tuesday in May,
L823, the first courts of Wayne county were held. John S. Tallmadge
was first judge, and Enoch Moore and William Sisson, judges. Hugh
Jameson was sheriff ; William H. Adams, district attorney; Israel J.
Richardson, county clerk; George W. Scott, deputy clerk; Andrew J.
Lowe and George Sisson, coroners.

The resident attorneys of the county admitted to practice at the
organization of the courts were: William H. Adams, Graham H.
Chapin, Frederick Smith, Orville L. Holley, Hiram K. Jerome,
William J. Hough, Joseph S. Colt John Fleming, jr., Hugh Jameson,
William Wells, Thomas P. Baldwin, Alexander R. Tiffany, Charles F.
Smith, Edward M. Coe.

Names of the first grand jurors empaneled in the county: John
Adams, Abner F. Lakey, William D. Wiley, John Baber, jr., Lemuel
Spear, David Warner, Ephraim Green, William Voorhies, James
Mason, Abel Wyman, David Russell, Cephas Moody, Stephen Sher-
man, William Wilson, William Plank, Alexander Beard, Jacob Butter-
field, Daniel Chapman, Jeremiah B. Pierce, Freeman Rogers, Newell
Taft, Pliny Foster, Joseph Lane.

The first court house was built in pursuance of the provisions of the
Legislative act before noted. The building committee consisted of
Simeon Griswold, of Galen, a Mr. Kellogg, of Sodus, and another
gentleman, name unknown; Joseph Hull was the architect; John Mc-
Carn and Harry Gale were the masons. The corner stone was laid with
Masonic ceremonies, Henry Seymour officiated, and Gen. William H.
Adams delivered the address. The building was of brick and stood in
the center of the present park in Lyons. It was burned in 185G, and
the clerk's office erected. The old court house had long been inade-
quate and inconvenient for the county business before steps were taken
in 1852-3 towards providing a better one. A Legislative act of April
11, 1853, appointed John Adams, Stephen Marshall and Francis E.
Cornwell, commissioners for the erection of a new court house and
jaii. The State comptroller was authorized to loan the county $12,000
from the school fund, to be repaid in four annual installments ; and on
the 9th of April, 1855, another loan of $10,000 was made. Through
the efforts of a committee consisting of William D. Perrine, S. Har-


rington, S. Marshall, John Knowles, and P. P. Bradish, the commis-
sioners secured title to two lots of land on the north side of Church
street, opposite and north of the court house site. Its style of architec-
ture is imposing and appropriate and the cost of the building about

The first county clerk's office stood west of the park on Pearl street.
It was used until it became apparent that it was both unsafe and in-
adequate, when measures were adopted for the erection of a new one.
A lot was purchased a little west of the old office, on the same street,
and in 1874 the present commodious fire-proof structure was erected at
a cost of about $14,000.

The county jail is a stone structure in the west part of Lyons, and
is well adapted for its purposes.

The following document has a quaint interest in this connection :


I do solemnly swear that I have not been engaged in a duel, by sending or accept-
ing a challenge to fight a duel, or by fighting a duel, or in any other manner, in
violation of the act entitled, "An act to suppress dueling," since the first day of
July, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixteen ; nor will I
be concerned either directly or indirectly, in any duel during the continuance of the
said act, and while an inhabitant of this State. — May 27, 1823.

William H. Adams, William Wells, Lem. W. Ruggles,

Fred K.Smith, 'Edward M. Coe, Mark H. Sibley,

Orville L. Holley, Chas. F. Smith, Alex. R. Tiffany,

Wm. J. Hough, Th. P. Baldwin, Hiram K. Jerome,

John Fleming, jr. David Hudson, Rodney J. Church,

Graham H. Chapin, Jeff Clark. George W. Scott,

Hugh Jameson, Jared Willson, Joseph Skinner.

Samuel Dickinson, Nathan Park,

This document is on file in the county clerk's office. It gives the
names of the lawyers here at that early date, with a few from Ontario
county who desired to practice here.

In the year 1856 the number of lawyers in the county had reached
thirty-six, and they were distributed as follows:

Clyde. — George W. Cowles (still in practice), L. S. Ketch um, C. D.
Lawton, William S. Stow, Joseph Welling, J. Van Dcnburgh.

Lyons.— William II. Adams, G. H. Arnold, R. W. Ashley, G, W.
Benton, William Clark, F. E. Cornwell, D. H. Devoe, E. A. Griswold,


John T. Mackenzie, D. W. Parshall, Lyman Sherwood, William Sis-
son, William Van Marter, John N. York.

Newark.— Stephen Culver, G. W. Middleton, L. M. Norton, S. K.
Williams (still in practice.)

Palmyra. — W. F. Aldrich, Ornon Archer, Joseph W. Corning,
James Peddie, S. B. Mclntyre, J. F. Harrison, G. W. Cuyler, Frederick

Red Creek.— J. B. Decker. Sodus.— C. C. Teal. South Butler.— A.
S. Wood. Wolcott.— Chauncey F. Clark.

Very few of these are now living. In 1860 the number had increased
to fifty-five, and at the present time (1894) there are fifty-three as
follows :

Lyons. — Chester G. Blaine, Frank Brown, Dwight S. Chamberlain,
John L. Cole, Thaddeus W. Collins, Thaddeus W. Collins, jr., James
W. Dunwell, Burton Hammond, William Kreutzer, William U.
Kreutzer, George Kent, Edson W. Hamm, William R. Mason, Charles
H. Ray, John W. Van Etten. Palmyra. —David S. Aldrich, jr., Fred
E. Converse, Henry R. Durfee, Mark C. Finley, Addison W. Gates,
Murganzy Hopkins, Charles McLouth, Samuel B. Mclntyre, Samuel
N. Sawyer, Pliny T. Sexton, George Tinklepaugh. Newark. — Edwin
K. Burnham, Marvin I. Greenwood, Joseph Gilbert, C. W. Esty, Edgar
D. Miller, Luther M. Norton, Henry L. Rupert, Byron C. Williams,
Stephen K. Williams. Clyde. — George O. Baker, George W. Cowles,
Thomas Robinson, Charles T. Saxton, De Lancey Stow. Wolcott. —
Jefferson W. Hoag, Edward H. Kellogg, Joel Fanning, Anson S; Wood,
William Roe, George S. Horton, A. C. Brink. Sodus.— Mync M.
Kelly, Benjamin B. Seaman. Red Creek. — Jacob B. Decker, Charles
O. Peterson. Marion. — Henry R. Taber. Lincoln. — Charles E.

The Wayne County Bar Association was organized November 10,
1890, with the following officers: S. B. Mclntyre, president; John
Vandenburg and William Roe, vice-presidents; Burton Hammond,
secretary; Henry R. Durfee, treasurer; S. B. Mclntyre,. T. W. Col-
lins, George W. Cowles, and L. M. Norton, executive committee.

One of the most conspicuous figures at the bar of Wayne county
was Theron R. Strong. He was born at Salisbury, Conn. , November
7, 1802. His father was Martin Strong, for many years a State
senator and county judge of Litchfield county, Conn. His grand-



father was Judge Adonijah Strong, who was also a colonel in the
Revolutionary war.

Theron R. Strong was intended for other than professional pursuits,
but his inherited love of the law led him to its study and finally after
much opposition he was permitted to pursue his studies in the justly
celebrated law school of Judge Gould in Litchfield for one year. He
then sought the West, as it was then called, and for a time located in
Washington county, where, in the office of Cornelius L. Allen, later a
justice of the Supreme Court, he continued his studies. After admis-
sion to the bar he sought a permanent location, and with means in-
sufficient to support himself in one of the cities of the State, he finally
selected Palmyra as his field of practice.

His early years were those of struggle and hardship, and his slender
means were often at so low an ebb as to deprive him of the necessaries
of life. But his sterling worth, although hidden by a natural diffi-
dence and modesty, was soon discovered and, equipped with a thorough
familiarity with legal principles, he won the confidence of and attracted
as clients the most desirable citizens of Wayne county. He was as-
sociated many years in business with Hon. O. H. Palmer, and the firm
of Strong & Palmer was for many years among the leaders of Wayne

Online LibraryGeorge Washington CowlesLandmarks of Wayne County, New York → online text (page 12 of 107)