Amasa J. (Amasa Junius) Parker.

Landmarks of Albany County, New York online

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once in every fortnight, from whence their can be noe appeal unless the cause of
action bee above the value of Twenty Pounds, who have likewise priviledges to
make bylaws for ye regulation of their own affairs as they think fitt, soe as the same
be approved of by ye Gov'r and Council.

Their Mayor, Recorders, town-clerks and Sheriffs are appointed by the Governor.

The mayor, recorder and aldermen of the city of Albany, or any
three of them, were, in 1686, r.v officio members of the old Court of
Common Pleas, acting when there was no judge present. On May 27,
1691, Peter Schuyler was appointed presiding judge of that court; on
May 37, 1703, he was succeeded by John Abeel, who served only until
October, when Mr. Schuyler was reappointed and served for fifteen
years. He was succeeded December 33, 1717, by Kilian Van Rensse-
laer, who presided until 1726, when Rutger Bleecker succeeded to the
office. In 1733 Ryer Gerritsen was appointed, and served to Novem-
ber 38, 1749, when he was succeeded by Robert Sanders. This court
convened on the 5th day of April, 1750. Present —

Robert Sanders, Sybr't G. Van Schaick esqr's, judges; John Beekman, Leonard
A. Gansevoort, Robert Roseboom, assistants.

At the Court of Common Pleas held at the City Hall in Albany, ( )c-
tober o, 1759, \'olkert P. Douw was one of the judges; this is the
first time his name appears in the records as an occupant of the bench.
He presided until January, 1771, and was succeeded by Rensselaer
NicoUs. The colonial Court of Common Pleas held regular terms
until 1776, when it was dissolved under the influence of the animating
spirit of independence. Its last presiding judge was Henry Bleecker,


and its last term began January 19, 177U. Judge Volkert P. Douw
was commissioned first judge of the Albany County Court of Common
Pleas January 6, 1778. The later list under the heading of County
Court shows the other incumbents of the office.

Among the prominent lawyers of the colonial time were Richard
Gansvoort, A. .Sylvester, Robert Yates, Peter W. Yates, and a Mr.
Corry, of whom the Yates brothers had a large amount of practice for
those days.

On the 1st of January, 1785, the terms of the Supreme Court were
directed to be held at Albany on the last Tuesday of July and the
third Tuesday in October. Therefore, the first term of that court
ever held in Albany convened on the last Tuesday of July, of that
year, with Hon. Richard Morris, who had been appointed chief justice
in place of John Jay, presiding.

With the accession of the English a new order of judicial administra-
tion came into existence. There was the Court of Assizes, which was
established under the Duke's Laws at Hempstead in 1665. This court
was composed of the governor, members of the council, high sheriff,
and such justices of the peace as might attend. It sat in New York
and only once a year, but special terms could be called, _ Its jurisdic-
tion extended over all criminal matters, and in civil cases where the
value of ^20 or more was involved. This court was abolished in 1683.

In 1683 an act was passed " to settle Courts of Justice," which ordered
the holding of a Court of Oyer and Terminer in the respective counties
of the province, composed of one judge, assisted by four justices of the
peace in each county. In New York city and the city of Albany, the
mayor, recorder, and four aldermen were associated with the judge.
This court had jurisdiction over all capital criminal causes, and appel-
late jurisdiction where jC,h or more was involved. The authority for
holding the court was derived from the governor; the court was abol-
ished in 1691. Courts of Sessions and Justices' Courts were also con-
tinued and a Court of Chancery established. The Court of Sessions
was ordered to be held in New York four times, in Albany three times,
and in the other ten counties twice in each year. In New York the
court was composed of the mayor and four aldermen; in Albany of the
mayor and the justices of the peace. All cases civil and criminal were
determined by it, with a jury; but actions involving ^5 or more could,
upon application, be removed to the Court of Oyer and Terminer.

In 1086, when Albany city was incorporated, a Mayor's Court was


established, which was composed of the mayor, recorder and four alder-
men, associated with the judge in holding the Court of Oyer and Term-
iner. It is believed that this court possessed the functions of a Court
of Sessions.

The Court of Chancery was founded, with the governor or his a])-
pointee as chancellor, assisted by the council. This court expired by
limitation in 1698, but was revived by ordinance August 28, 1701; it
was suspended June 13, 1703, and finally re-established November 7,

1704. It ceased its existence in July, 1817, under the new constitu-
tion. It was an equity court and by the second constitution equity
powers were vested in the circuit judge, subject to the appellate juris-
diction of the chancellor.

Albany county men who held the office of master of the Colonial
Court of Chancery were John Abeel and Evert P. Banker, October 13,

1705, and P. P. Schuyler, 1768.

Chancellors of the State Court of Chancery who resided in Albany
were John Lansing, jr., October 31, 1801; James Kent, October 25,
1814; Reuben H. Walworth, April 22, 1838.

The third judicial system was organized in 1691 and continued
through the colonial period. In that year the Court for the Correction
of Errors and Appeals was founded, consisting of the Governor and
Council. Appeals lay to this court from any judgment exceeding in
value ^100, which amount was increased in 1753 to ;^300.

By the 32d article of the constitution of 1777 a Court for the Trial of
Impeachments and Correction of Errors was provided for, to consist of
the president of the Senate for the time being, the senators, chancellor
and judges of the Supreme Court, or a majority of them. The im-
peachment functions of this court were directed against corrupt con-
duct by State officials. In the correction of errors, appeals were al-
lowed to it from the Court of Chancery, Supreme Court, and Court of
Probate. This court was continued under the constitution of 1831,
with slight change, but was abolished by the constitution of 1846. Its
powers and duties were then conferred upon a new court, the Court
for the Trial of Impeachments, as far as that feature of the former
court was concerned. The new court was composed of the president
of the Senate, the senators, or a majority of them, and the judges of
the Court of Appeals, or a majority of them. When summoned this
court is held in Albany. The Court for the Trial of Impeachments
and Correction of Errors, as far as the correction of errors is concerned


was succeeded by our Court of Appeals, which was organized under
the constitution of 1846. As first formed it consisted of eight judges,
four of whom were chosen by the electors for a term of eight years,
and four were selected from the class of the Supreme Court justices
having the shortest term to serve. The judge elected who had the
shortest term to serve, acted as chief judge. This court was reorgan-
ized by the convention of 1867-8, the article relating to the judiciary
being ratified by the people in 1869. By that article this court con-
sisted of a chief judge and six associate judges, who hold office ff)r
terms of fourteen years. The new article also provided for a Commis-
sion of Appeals, composed of four judges of this court in office when
the article went into effect, and a fifth commissioner. Their term was
three years and they selected their chief. This commission served un-
til 1875, for the relief of its sister court.

In 1888, the Legislature passed a concurrent resolution that section
6 of article 6 of the constitution be amended so that upon the certifi-
cate of the Court of Appeals to the governor of such an accumulation
of causes on the calendar of the Court of Appeals, that the public in-
terests required a more speedy disposition thereof, the governor may
designate seven justices of the Supreme Court to act as associate judg-
es for the time being, of the Court of Appeals, and to form a second
division of that court, and to be dissolved by the governor when the
said causes are substantially disposed of. This amendment was sub-
mitted to the people of the State at the general election of that year
and was ratified, and in accordance therewith the governor selected
seven Supreme Court justices, who were constituted the Second Division
of the Court of Appeals.

Under the system of 16'Jl were established also the Court of Common
Pleas and the vSupreme Court. The criminal side of the latter was
what constituted the Court of Oyer and Terminer. The Supreme
Court expired by limitation in 1698, was continued by proclamation
January 19, 1699, and finally by ordinance May 15, 1699. Its powers
and jurisdiction were broad, but' it was without equity jurisdiction.
Any case involving ^^SO or more could be commenced in, or returned
to, it and it could correct errors and revise the judgments of the lower
courts. Appeals lay from it to the Governor and Council in cases in-
volving _^100 or more, which amount was, as before stated, increased
to /,'300 in 1753. The court held four terms annually, sitting in New
York only. It consisted of five judges, two of whom with the chief


judge, could act. In November, 1758, a fourth judge was added to
constitute the acting bench. Persons who had served seven years un-
der an attorney or had taken a collegiate course and served three years
apprenticeship, were granted license to practice in this court by the
governor. The first constitution recognized the Supreme Court as it
then existed. It was reorganized May 3, 1777, but with only slight
changes. - In 1785 two terms were directed to be held in Albany and
two in New York each year, and the clerk's office was directed to be
kept in New York and that of his deputy in AlbanJ^ By an act passed
April 19, 1786, one or more of the justices of the Supreme Court were
required to hold during the vacations, and oftener if necessary. Circuit
Courts in each of the counties of the State, for the trial of all issues
triable in the respective counties. The proceedings were to be returned
to the Supreme Court, where they were to be recorded and judgment
given according to law. On March 10, 1797, the judges were author-
ized to appoint an additional clerk, with an office in Albany. In 1S07
another clerk's office was established in Utica. The first rules of the
court were adopted at the April term in 1796. In the same year a law
was passed directing this court to designate at its April term one of
their number to hold a Circuit Court in the western, one in the middle,
and one in the southern district. An act of February, 1788, provided
for holding a Court of Oyer and Terminer by the justices at the same
time with the Circuit. Two or more of the judges and assistant judges
of the Court of Common Pleas were to sit in the Oyer and Terminer
with the justices. In the city of Albany the mayor, recorder and al-
dermen were associated with them.

. The constitution of 1831 made several important changes in this
court. For example, it was to sit four times a year in review of its own
decisions and to determine questions of law; each justice, however,
could hold circuit courts, as well as the circuit court judges, and any
justice of the Supreme Court could preside at the Oyer and Terminer.
The court had power to amend its practice in cases not covered by
statute and was directed to revise its rules every seven years, to sim-
plify proceedings, expedite decisions, diminish costs and remedy
abuses. The judges were appointed by the governer with consent of
the Senate and held office during good behavior or until sixty years of
age. Their number was reduced to three and from 1823 they were
allowed $2,000 each annually; this sum was increased to $2,500 in 1835
and in 1839 to $3,000. Two of the terms were held at the Capitol in


Albany. The act of 1691 gave this court cognizance of matters of ex-
chequer, thus removing the necessity for the Court of Exchequer which
was established by Governor Dongan in 1685.

The constitution of 1821 also created a Circuit Court, which was the
nisi prills or trial court of the Supreme Court. At least two Circuit
Courts and Courts of Oyer and Terminer were required to be held in
each county annually, the circuit jvidge presiding.

The following persons have held the office of circuit judge from Al-
bany county: William A. Duer, April 21, 1823; James Vanderpoel,
January 12, 1830; Amasa J. Parker, March 6, 1844.

The constitution of 1846 abolished the .Supreme Court as it then ex-
isted and established a new one with general jurisdiction in law and
equity. The State was divided into eight judicial districts, in each of
which four justices were elected, except in the first (New York city)
where five were elected. Albany county was placed in the third dis-
trict. The term of office was made eight years, but the amended judi-
ciary article made the term as at present, fourteen years. This court
possesses the powers and exercises the jurisdiction of the preceding-
Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery, and the Circuit Court under
the constitution of 1846 and the judiciary act of May 12, 1847. On
April 27, 1870, the Legislature abolished the General Terms as then
existing and divided the State into four departments, providing for
General Terms to be held in each. The governor designates a presid-
ing justice and two associate justices for each department to compose
the General Term. At least two terms of Circuit Court and Court of
Oyer and Terminer were held annually in each county and as many
Special Terms as the justices in each department deemed necessary.
Following are the names of those who have held the office of Supreme
Court justice and judge of the Circuit Court from Albany:

Chief Justices front Albany County of the Supreme Court from lyyy to rS^y. —
Robert Yates, September 38, 1790; John Lansing, jr., February 15, 1798; James
Kent, July 3, 1804; Smith Thompson, Februarys, 1814; Ambrose Spencer, February
9, 1819; Greene C. Bronson, March 5, 1845.

Puisne Justices of the Supreme Court. — Robert Yates, May 8, 1777; John Lan-
sing, jr., September 38, 1790; Ambrose Spencer, February 3, 1804; Greene C. Bron-
son, January 6, 1836.

Judges of the Supreme Court under the Constitution of 1S46. — Ira Harris, June
7, 1847; Elisha P. Hurlbut. June 7, 1847; Malbone Watson, June 7, 1847, and No-
vember 8, 1853; Amasa J. Parker, June 7, 1847; Ira Harris, November 4, 1851 ; Deo-
datus Wright, April 20, 1857: Rufus W. Peckham, November 8, 1861; William L.


Learned, June 21, 1869; Rufus W. Peckham, jr., November 6. 1883; William L.
Learned, November, 1884; D. Cady Herrick, 1892.

Judges of the Supreme Court under the Constitution of tSg^. — Appellate Divi-
sion, b. Cady Herrick, 1896; Trial Term, Alden Chester, 18S16.

Surrogates. — Courts for the care and administration of estates have
come down from the first Orphan's Court. Originally the Director-
General and Council of New Netherland were guardians of widows and
orphans. It was the duty of church deacons to attend personally to
these interests and to notify the director of the death of parents. In
New Amsterdam the burgomasters became cx-officio Orphan Masters
in 1853, but at their own request they were soon relieved of the duty
and two special Orphan Masters were appointed. At Fort Orange in
1052 the Vice-Director was appointed, and in 1657 Jan Verbeck and
Evert Wendel.

By the Duke's Laws authority to grant probate of wills was vested in
the Court of Assizes and Court of Sessions. This duty being a part of
the royal prerogative, was subsequently reserved to the governor, and
the Legislature accordingly, on November 11, 1692, passed a law
directing that all probates and letters of administration be thereafter
granted by the governor or his delegate, and that two freeholders be
appointed in each town to have charge of the estates of intestates.
This method constituted the Prerogative Court.

In 1778 the Legislature passed a law taking from the governor the
powers described above and transferring them to the judge of the
Court of Probates, except in the appointment of surrogates. In 1787
the appointment of a surrogate in each couuty was authorized, while
the judge of the Court of Probates continued to hold jurisdiction in
cases out the State and of non-residents within the State. An act of
March 10, 1797, provided for holding the Court of Probates in Albany
and that the judge and clerk should remove the documents here and
reside here. The court held appellate jurisdiction over the Surrogate's
Court. It was abolished March 21, 1823. The Albany citizens who
held the office of judge in this court were as follows: Leonard Ganse-
voort, April 5, 1799; T. Van Wyck Graham, March 10, 1813; Gerrit Y.
Lansing, July 8, 1816.

Under the first constitution surrogates were appointed for an mi-
limited period by the Council of Appointment. Under the second
constitution they were appointed by the governf)r and Senate for four


years, and appeals went up to the chancellor. The constitution of
1846 abolished the office except in counties having 40,0ii0 population
or more and transferred its duties to the county judge. In counties
with more than 40,000, surrogates are elected for six years. The sur-
rogates of Albany county have been as follows:

John De Peyster, April 3, 1756: William Hannah, November 18, 1766; Peter
Lansingh, December 3, 1766; Stephen De Lancey, September 19, 1769; John De
Peyster, March 23, 1778; Henry Oothoudt, April 4, 1782; John De P. Domv, April
4, 1782; Abraham G. Lansing, March 13, 1787; Elisha Dorr, April 12, 1808; John H.
Wendell, March 5, 1810; Richard Lush, June 11, 1811; John H. Wendell, March 3,
1813; George Merchant, March 17, 1815; Christopher C. Yates, April 19, 1815;
Ebenezer Baldwin, July 7, 1819; Abraham Ten Eyck, jr., February 19, 1821;
Thomas A. Brigden, April 11, 1822; Anthony Blanchard, April 9, 1831; Moses
Patten, February 28, 1840; Anthony Blanchard, February 28. 1844; Lewis Benedict,
jr., June, 1847; Orville H. Chittenden, November, 1851; James A. McKown, No-
vember, 1855; Justus Haswell, November, 1859; Israel Lawton, November, 1863;
Peter A. Rogers, November, 1871; Francis H. Woods, November, 1883; Martin D.
Conway, 1889; George H. Fitts, 1895.

County Court. — The act of 1683 directed that a Court of Sessions be
held by three justices of the peace in each of the tweh-e counties of
the province, four times annually in New York, three times in Albany,
and twice in each of the other counties. By the act of 1691 and
ordinances of 1699, the functions of this court were confined to crim-
inal matters, while civil cases were transferred to the Court of Com-
mon Pleas. The latter court was established in New York and Albany
by the charters of 1686 and a Court of Common Pleas was erected for
each county by the act of 1691. Composed at first of one judge and
three justices, it was ordered in 1702 that the judge be assisted by two
or more jttstices. all to be appointed by the governor. Its jurisdiction
embraced all actions, real, personal and mixed, where more than
_;^5 are involved. It was based upon the practice of the King's
Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster, England. Appeals were
allowed to the Supreme Court where the amount involved exceeded
^"20. This court continued through the colonial period. Under the
first constitution the number of judges and assistant justices varied
greatly in the different counties, reaching in some counties as many as
twelve. On March 27, 1718, the office of assistant justice was abol-
ished and the number of judges limited to five, inclusive of the first
judge. The constitution of 1831 continued this court with little change.
The criminal side of the court was the Court of Sessions, which was
the name of the criminal side of our County Court up to the adoption



of the present Constitution. The judges were appointed by the Gov-
ernor and the Council of Appointment down to 1831, after which they
were appointed by the Governor and Senate down to 1846, when the
office was made elective. '

The constitution of 1841! abolished the Court of Common Pleas and
created the County Court, providing for the election in each county,
except in the city of New York, of one county judge who should hold
a court and have jurisdiction in cases arising in Justices' Court and in
such special cases as the , Legislature might order. Upon this court
the Legislature has conferred jurisdiction in actions for debt in sums
not exceeding $'2,000; in replevin suits for $1,000; in cases of trespass
and personal injury not exceeding $500; also equity jurisdiction for
mortgage foreclosures, sale of infants' real estate, partition of lands,
admeasurement of dower, satisfaction of certain judgments, etc. The
tenure of office of county judge was extended from four to six years.
Associated with the county judge were two justices of the peace to be
designated by law to hold Courts of Sessions, with such criminal juris-
diction as the Legislature might prescribe. The Constitution of 1894
changed somewhat the powers and forms of the court, the principal
changes being in the criminal side of the court. Following are the
names of the first judges of the Court of Common Pleas and of the County
Court after its erection :

Mayor, Recorder and Aldermen of Albany, or any three of them, from 1686.
Peter Schuyler, May 27, 1691; John Abeel, May 27, 1703; Peter Schuyler, October
14, 1702; Killiaen Van Rensselaer, December 23, 1717; Rutger Bleecker. December
23, 1726; Ryer Gerritse, December 23, 1733; Robert Sanders, November 28, 1749;
Sybrant Goose Van Schaick, January 5, 1758; Rensselaer Nicoll, May 14. 1762;
Abraham Ten Broeck, March 4, 1773; Walter Livingston, March 22, 1774; John H.
Ten Eyck, March 21, 1775; Volkert P. Douw, January 6, 1778; Abram Ten Broeck,
March 26, 1781; Leonard Gansevoort, March 19, 1794; John Tayler. February 7,
1797; Nicholas N. yuackenbush, January 13, 1803; David McCarty, March 13, 1804;
Charles D. Cooper, March 29, 1806; Jacob Ten Eyck, June 8, 1807; Apollos Moore,
June 6, 1812; James L'Amoreaux, March 15, 1828; Samuel Cheever, March 12, 1833;
John Lansing. May 17. 1838; Peter Gansevoort, April 17, 1843; William Parmelee,
June, 1847; Albert D. Robinson, November, 1851; George Wolford, November, 1859;
Jacob H. Clute, November, 1863; Thomas J. Van Alstyne, November, 1871; John C.
Nott, November, 1883; Jacob H. Clute, 1889; Clifford D. Gregory, 1895.

Di'stru/ A f/ornijs.— Under the act of February 12, 1796, this State
was divided into seven districts, over which an assistant attorney-gen-
eral was appointed by the Governor and Council, to serve during their
pleasure. The office of district attorney was created April 4, 1801,


the State being divided into seven districts, as before, but subsequently
several new ones were formed. By a law passed April, 1818, each
county was constituted a separate district for the purposes of this office.
During the life of the second constitution, district attorneys were ap-
pointed by the Court of General Sessions in each county. The follow-
ing persons have held this office in Albany county:

Abraham Van Vechten, February 16, 1796; Samuel S. Lush, April (i, 1S13; IJavid
L. Van Antwerp, June 31, 1818; Samuel A. Foote, July 3, 1819; Benjamin F. Butler,
February 19, 1821; Edward Livingston, June 14, 1825; Rufus W. Peckham, March
27, 1838; Henry G. Wheaton, March 30, 1841; Edwin Litchfield, March 30, 1844;
Andrew J. Colvin, March 31, 1846; Samuel H. Hammond, June, 1847; Andrew J.
Colvin, November, 1850; Hamilton Harris, November, 1853; Samuel G. Courtney,
November, 1856; Ira Shafer, November, 1859; Solomon F. Higgins, November,
1862; Henry Smith, November, 1865; Rufus W. Peckham, jr., November, 1868; Na-
thaniel C. Moak, November, 1871; John M. Bailey, November, 1874; Lansing Hotal-
ing, November, 1877; U. Cady Herrick, November, 1880; Hugh Reilly, appointed
vice Herrick resigned June, 1886, and elected 1889; James W. Eaton, 1891 ; Eugene
Burlinganie, 1894.

County Clerks. — During the colonial period the county clerk was
clerk of the Court of Common Pleas, clerk of the Peace, and clerk of
the Sessions of Peace, in his own county. Under the first constitution
it was his duty to keep the county records and act as clerk of the In-
ferior Court of Common Pleas and clerk of the Oyer and Terminer.

Online LibraryAmasa J. (Amasa Junius) ParkerLandmarks of Albany County, New York → online text (page 13 of 138)