Hamilton Child.

Geographical gazetteer of Jefferson county, N.Y., 1685-1890 online

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there, except during the terms of the courts, when he came to and assisted
his brother in the preparation and trial of causes. He took the leading part
until after 1840, and in important cases till 1848. He was elected to the
Assembly in 1839 and 1840, and in 1848 was elected to Congress. The
various attainments of Mr. Clarke, his wit, humor, and eloquence, have left
an impression upon the judicial history of this county which will long remain-
He was a genius, and taking him all in all he never had his equal in this
county, if he had in the state. He died in 1863, at the age of 74 years. His
humor was probably inherited, for, it is said, that he and his brother John
visited their aged father in Connecticut. The father was then over 80
years of age. As they were about leaving Charles E., in a very pathetic
tone, said to his father that they were all growing old, that he and John lived
a great way off, and that it was probable they should never meet again. The
father replied that he had read a good many papers and accounts of deaths —
that he very seldom saw an account of the death of a man of his age.


Robert Lansing was a son of Sanders and Catharine Lansing, and was
born at Albany, February 2, 1799. He was a member of Union College,
but for some reason did not remain there and graduate. In 18 17 he came
to Watertown and entered the law office of Egbert Ten Eyck, and was ad-
mitted in 1820. In June, 1826, he was appointed district attorney for the
county of Jefferson, which office he held until February, 1833, when he was
succeeded by George C. Sherman. He was elected to the state Senate in
November, 1831, and held that office four years from January i, 1832. He
was then succeeded by Micah Sterling. Mr. Lansing was again elected to the
state Senate. I don't know the precise year, but he was the immediate
successor of Ashley Davenport. He said he was nominated by the
Democratic Union. On December 22, 183 1, he married Maria Hub-
bard, the eldest daughter of Noadiah Hubbard, of Champion. She died
in the year 1839, leaving one child surviving, now so well and favor-
ably known in the profession as John Lansing. On February 2, 1841, he
married Cornelia Hubbard, the second daughter of Noadiah Hubbard. Soon
after the expiration of his senatorial term he formed a copartnership with
George C. Sherman, under the name of Lansing & Sherman. In February,
1845, he was again appointed district attorney, and held the office for one
year, when he resigned. In June, 1847, he was elected county judge under
the constitution of 1846, which office he held until January i, 1852. At the
expiration of this office he practically retired from the profession, except to
act as referee, which for many years he was afterwards called upon to do.
He died October 3, 1878, aged nearly 80 years. He was thoroughly imbued
with the principles of the law, unostentatious of his great legal learning, and
of scrupulous integrity. He was a fluent speaker, and logical and clear in his
arguments. After his partnership with Mr. Sherman he seldom took the
lead in the trial or argument of causes ; but the writer has heard him on sev-
eral occasions in important cases, and can confirm the traditional reputation
of his earlier years.

George C. Sherman was born in Providence, R. I., December 14, 1799,
and came to this county at an early day. He worked when a boy for David
W. Bucklin, and developing at an early age uncommon ability, Mr. Bucklin
took him into his office as a law student. He was admitteil to practice in
1823, and formed soon thereafter a partnership with Mr. Bucklin, which con-
tinued until the latter left for New York. On January 3, 1828, he married
Mary Ann Hubbard, the third daughter of Noadiah Hubbard, of Champion,
who now survives him. In 1833 he was appointed district attorney, which
office he held till February, 1840. In 1843 he was appointed one of the
judges of the Common Pleas, which office he held until July, 1847, when the
constitution of 1846 went into effect. He was elected to the state Senate in
the fall of 1843, and held the office for two years from the first day of Jan-
uary then next. He early speculated in land, buying a large tract at from
two to three dollars per acre, and commenced selling immediately at $8.


of Thomas C. Chittenden, and was admitted in 1826. He was master in
chancery, and held divers other small offices. In April, 1845, he was
appointed first judge of the Common Pleas of this county, and held the office
till July I, 1847. He continued the practice there until he died several years
since. Mr. Skinner was a sound and learned lawyer. He was not a promi-
nent jury advocate. His practice, and where he excelled, was in chancery;
and was somewhat noted for the ingenuity of his questions before an exam-
iner, all of which were required to be written. It is not known that he left
any descendants or relatives now residing in this county.

Joseph Mulhn was born in Ireland in September, 181 1, and came to this
country with his parents when very young, and resided in Brownville, where
he attended the common school for awhile. He worked in a printing office
a short time, setting type, with the view of becoming a printer; but the desire
for a higher education prevailed. With the assistance of friends he went to
the Union Academy at Belleville, where he prepared for college. He entered
the junior class in 183 1, and graduated in 1833. He then taught the
academy in Belleville and afterwards in Watertown a few years, and studied
law in the office of SterUng & Bronson, and was admitted in 1837. At this
time Sterling was in the state Senate, and Bronson in Congress. The whole
business of the office fell to the charge of Mr. Mullin, the duties of which he
discharged with ability. He at once took a prominent position at the bar,
the peer of the older members. N. P. Wardwell having married the daughter
of Mr. Sterling, the latter took him into partnership and Mr. Mullin opened
an office by himself. In 1845 he entered into a partnership with John P.
Brown, who had been a student in his office, and so continued until the
death of Brown in 1847. In the fall of 1847 he formed a copartnership with
Lawrence J. Goodale, which continued five years. After that he entered
into partnership with the present Justice Merwin, and so continued until he
was elected a justice of the Supreme Court in the fall of 1859. He was
reelected in the fall of 1867, and again in the fall of 1875. Having arrived
at the age of 70 years, his office, by the constitutional limitation, expired
December 31, 1881. He was district attorney for the county from February,
1843, to February, 1845. He was elected to the Thirtieth Congress in
1847 and served to 1849, and held several municipal offices during the time
he was at the bar. He died in June, 1882, while temporarily at Saratoga,
and his remains were brought to Watertown and interred in Brookside Cem-
etery. At a meeting of the bar of Jefferson County, held June 14, 1882,
resolutions were introduced by Lysander H. Brown, his school-mate at the
district school, his roommate at the academy and in college, accompanied
with an address, paying a just and eloquent tribute to his memory. The
resolutions and the address were published in the Watertoum Times of June
15th, and were ordered to be entered, and are now on record, in the proceed-
ings of the court which was then in session. The history of Justice
MuUin is a matter of record. The eminent position he attained in the

/'' ' ^^^V^Z-^T-^r/ V^y


judiciary sufficiently appears in the state reports, where it will remain for
generations to come, a fitting monument to his learning and ability.

James F. Starbuck was born in Cayuga County, N. Y., September 5, 1815,
and at an early day removed with his parents to Niagara County. In the
sprmg of 1839 he came to Watertown and entered the law office of Lansing
& Sherman, where he remained until he was admitted to the Common Pleas
in 1843, and to the Supreme Court in 1844. In 1845 he opened an office by
himself in Watertown. In 1846 he was elected a secretary of the convention
that formed the constitution of that year, and in November, 1850, was elected
district attorney, and held the office three years from January i, 185 i. He
married Sarah Burchard, a daughter of Peleg Burchard, in May, 1855, who
died in 1857, leaving a daughter surviving her — now the wife of E. S. Goodale,
a merchant in Watertown. In 1861 he married Mrs. B3yer, the widow of
Judge Joseph Boyer, who now survives. In i860 he was a candidate for
Congress, but was defeated. In 1876 he was elected to the state Senate,
from the district comprising Jefferson and Lewis counties. He died Decem-
ber 20, tS8o. The political history cf Mr. Starbuck may be found in a his-
tory of New York with an encyclopedia of biography of prominent men in
the state, published by W. J. Comley, in 1877, which also contains his litho-
graph. We are here concerned with his professional histoiy, character, and
standing only. His election to the office of district attorney enabled him to
develop his great ability in the trial of causes, especially before juries, and he
at once took a leading position in jury cases in the countv, his main com-
petitors being John Clarke during his life, and Levi H. Brown thereafter.
He was from an early day laborious in his profession. In special cases he
was probably one of if not the most powerful advocates before a jury ever
in the county. His eff^orts were not uniform. Only in those special cases
adapted to his temperament and his methods of thought did he excel his
cotemporaries. His long habit of, and thorough preparation and study in,
preparing to argue facts before a jury somewhat disqualified him from excell-
ing in the argument of questions of law before the court. But he excelled
in that which was the great object and ambition of his early life.

Levi H. Brown was born in the town of Lorraine, March 25, 18 18. His
father, Aaron Brown, was a wealthy farmer and a prominent citizen of that
town. When 19 years of age Levi H. commenced to obtain an education,
and prepared for college at the Belleville Academy. He entered Union Col-
lege in 1841, and graduated in 1843; studied law in the office of Judge
Jones in Schenectady, and in the office of Calvin Skinner at Adams, and was
admitted in 1846. He practiced in Adams until June i, 1852, when he re-
moved to Watertown and formed a partnership with Joshua Moore under the
name of Moore & Brown. This firm, under the lead of Mr. Moore, did a
large business. Mr. Moore died in April, 1854, when Mr. Brown formed a
partnership with Allen C. Beach, under the name of Brown & Beach. Upon
the death of Mr. Moore the responsibility of a large and important business


devolved upon Mr. Brown, and he in all respects proved equal for the occa-
sion. This firm did a large and increasing business until 1871, when Mr.
Beach was elected lieutenant-governor, and the firm dissolved. Mr. Brown
has since and now practices alone, except for a short time, when he was in
company with Mr. Gipsonnow in Minnesota, and S. S. Trowbridge. He held
many local offices — supervisor, mayor, etc. Here we are to record princi-
pally his professional life as a prominent member of the bar of Jefferson
County for more than 40 years. Of the vast business he has done, and the
intense and untiring labor he has performed, much might be written.

His cases were thoroughly prepared, and his arrangement and presenta-
tion of the facts and evidence to the jury were unexcelled. He entered upon
the trial of case after case at the circuit with strength and vigor. His pre-
sentation of his case to the jury was clear and logical. He has a smooth and
pleasant voice, and is a fiuent speaker, and exercised a great influence over
juries. Mr. Brown has been, not only a good jury lawyer, but is equally able
in the argument of cases on appeal in the higher courts. After John Clarke
the writer has never met a more formidable adversary in the appellate court.
Mr. Brown is now at work with apparently all the mental and physical vigor
and strength he had 30 years ago, having apparently many years of labor and
usefulness still before him. He does little in law business as attorney, but
still retains his practice as counselor. His private business occupies nearly
all his time and attention.

Edmund B. Wynn's first appearance in Watertown was as a student in the
office of James F. Starbuck. He was admitted in 1846, and soon thereafter
opened an ofKice at Three Mile Bay, and practiced there till about 1852, when
he removed to Watertown, and established an office here, where he has
practiced ever since. He very soon became an attorney for the Rome &
Watertown Railroad, and has continued and is now such attorney. He was
for sometime a partner of Denis O'Brien, now a judge of the Court of Ap-
peals, and also of Wilber F. Porter, but for several years last past has been
alone. He was a candidate for the office of justice of the Supreme Court in
the 5th district a few years since. He is now possessed of a vigorous con-
stitution and good health, and is eminent as a railroad attorney.

Denis O'Brien was born in Ogdensburg, March 13, 1837. The events of
his life have become a subject of public history. Though the positions he
has held, and now holds, entitle him to a prominent place in the official
records of the state, yet in the history of his adopted county, where the germ
of his future success was developed, it is proper that a brief sketch of his life,
character, and ability should be recorded. He was favored by nature with a
strong physical constitution and equable temperament, which properly di-
rected impart great intellectual strength. Thus endowed he early entered upon
the realities of life with a determination to succeed. He studied law in the
office of Messrs. Meyers & Magone, of Ogdensburg ; was admitted to the
bar in May, i86r ; and in November of that year removed to Watertown to



reside permanently. From that time his business, and reputation in his pro-
fession, gradually increased. From 1869 he was an alderman in the city for
some four years, and afterwards was elected mayor. His judicious man-
agement of these offices won the respect and confidence of the substantial
portion of the city's population. His success in his profession gave him a
high local reputation through the county. In 1880 he succeeded the late
James F. Starbuck as a member of the State Democratic Committee. This
gave him an opportunity of extending his reputation for ability and fidelity
beyond the bounds of his county and generally over the state ; and he im-
proved it. For four years he held this position. In November, 1883, he
was elected attorney-general and reelected in November, 1885, his term of
office terminating January i, 1888. His administration as state's attorney
for this great commonwealth established confidence in his thorough capabil-
ity and integrity with all parties throughout the state. In 1889 he remained
at home, during which time it became evident that public opinion was tend-
ing towards his nomination by the Democratic party for judge of the Court
of Appeals. This seems to have been conceded on account of his exalted
though comparatively brief public service. When the state convention met
he was nominated with remarkable unanimity. The nomination was ratified
by the people at the election by a large majority; and he has now entered
upon the discharge of the duties of his dignified and responsible position.
It is not only heartily desired, but universally believed, that he will discharge
his high judicial duties with credit to himself and honor to the already
exalted standing of the Court of Appeals.

In concluding this sketch of the bench and bar of Jefferson County the
writer concedes that there may be therein many errors, both of fact and of
judgment. Bat the facts have been gathered from the best and most reli-
able sources in his reach. The character of the judges and members of the
bar, so far as it has been written, has been derived from tradition, and from
the record, when the individual was not personally known ; and no exemption
from error is claimed in the delination of character even where personally

The sketch properly ends at the adoption of the constitution of 1846. By
that instrument the whole organization of our judicial system was changed,
and from that time a new era in the practice and administration of the law
commenced. Though over 40 years have passed since that time, yet from
the records now so v/ell kept, and the printed calendars required at every
term of the Supreme Court, a history of the bench and bar from that time is
comparatively an easy task. It is a history that should be written and pre-
served before many more years pass away.




The pioneer newspaper in Jefferson County bore the high-soaring name of
American Eagle. It was estabhshed in Watertown in 1809, by Henry Cof-
feen. It was printed by Abram Taylor, Jr., and was RepubUcan in politics,
supporting the administration of President Madison. Judge Coffeen was one
of the first settlers of Watertown, and possessed large influence. Where the
materials on which the Eagle was printed were obtained is unknown, but it
is not unlikely that they were the same employed in the publication of the
Black River Gazette, established at Martinsburg, Lewis County, in 1807.
The journal last named was a short-lived venture ; its publisher, James B.
Robbins, removed to Watertown, and it is probably fair to presume that the
press found its way here. The Martinsburg paper, it is believed, was the
first one in Northern New York west of the Adirondacks. Of the Eagle and
its conductors nothing more is known than has been stated. In January,
181 2, Jarius Rich, who had read law in Massachusetts and been admitted to
practice, but whose license had been revoked in consequence of his partici-
pation in a broil in a justice's court, purchased the establishment from Cof-
feen, changed the name of the paper to the Afnerican Advocate, and con-
tinued in it until 18 17. He appears to have been a man who had the cour-
age of his convictions, who freed his mind when he had anything to offer, and
who did not shrink from the consequences of his utterances. He was in the
Advocate in 1813, when Com. Perry won his brilliant victory on Lake Erie,
and naturally indulged in words of exultation. Referring to Perry's achieve-
ments he suggested that the " old cock," as he termed Com. Chauncey, then
in command of the small fleet on Lake Ontario, ought to follow Perr'ys ex-
ample. This enraged the Commodore, and he came straightway to Water-
town. Entering the oftice of the Advocate he inquired for the editor. Rich
told him he was the man. The Commodore then said he had come all the
way from Backets Harbor to obtain satisfaction, and proposed to cane him.
Thereupon Rich seized the Commodore and pitched him headlong to the
foot of the stairs. This ended the affair. In the spring of 1817 Seth A.
and Dorephus Abbey came to Watertown from Albany, and finding the
Advocate advertised for sale, by the sheriff, bought it, and, in connection with
John H. Lord, a journeyman printer, s\.2i.x\.e

Online LibraryHamilton ChildGeographical gazetteer of Jefferson county, N.Y., 1685-1890 → online text (page 12 of 204)