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Landmarks of Tompkins County, New York
by John H. Selkreg, 1894; D. Mason & Co., Publisher
The statement is commonly expressed that the judicial system of the State of New York is largely copied from the common law of England. While this is true to a great extent, there are important differences revealed by a close study of the history of the laws of this State, showing that our system is in many important respects an original growth. In the simple yet initiative matter of entitling a criminal process there is a radical difference between our method and that which must be followed in England. Here it is "The people versus the criminal;" there, " Rex versus the criminal." In the one it is an independent judiciary responsible directly to the people; in the other the court is subservient to the king.
This dominant idea of the sovereignty of the people over our laws, as well as in other respects, has had a slow, conservative, yet steadily progressive and systematic growth. In the early history of the State the governor was in effect the maker, interpreter and enforcer of the laws. He was the chief judge of the Court of Final Resort, while his councillors were generally his obedient followers. The execution of the English and Colonial statutes rested with him, as did also the exercise of royal authority in the Province; and it was not until the adoption of the first Constitution, in 1777, that he ceased to contend for these prerogatives and to act as though the only functions of the court and councillors were to do his bidding as servants and helpers, while the Legislature should adopt only such laws as the executive should suggest and approve. By the first Constitution the governor was wholly stripped of the judicial power which he possessed under the Colonial rule, and such power was vested in the lieutenant-governor and the Senate, the chancellor and the justices of the Supreme Court; the former to be elected by the people, and the latter to be appointed by the Council. Under this Constitution there was the first radical separation of the judicial and the legislative powers, and the advancement of the judiciary to the position of a co-ordinate department of the government, and subject to the limitation consequent upon the appointment of its members by the Council.
But even this restriction was soon felt to be incompatible, though it was not until the adoption of the Constitution of 1846 that the last connection between the purely political and the judicial parts of the State government was abolished; and with it disappeared the last remaining relic of the colonial period as regards the laws. From this time on the judiciary became more directly representative of the people in the election by them of its members. The development of the idea of the responsibility of the courts to the people, from the time when all its members were at the beck and nod of one wellnigh irresponsible master, to the time when all judges, even of the Court of Last Resort, are voted for by the people, has been remarkable. Yet, through all this change there has prevailed the idea of one ultimate tribunal from whose decision there can be no appeal.
Noting briefly the present arrangement and powers of the courts of this State and the elements from which they have grown, we see that the whole scheme is involved in the idea of, first, a trial before a magistrate and jury-arbiters respectively of law and fact-and then a review by a higher tribunal of the facts and law, and ultimately of the law by a court of last resort. To accomplish the purposes of this scheme there has been devised and established, first, the present Court of Appeals, the ultimate tribunal of the State, perfected in its present form by the Conventions of 1867 and 1868, and ratified by a vote of the people in 1869; and taking the place of the old "Court for the trial of Impeachment and Correction of Errors" to the extent of correcting errors of law. As first organized under the Constitution of 1846, the Court of Appeals was composed of eight judges, four of whom were elected by the people and the remainder chosen from the justices of the Supreme Court having the shortest time to serve. As organized in 1869, and now existing, the court consists of the chief judge and six associate judges, who hold office for a term of fourteen years from and including the first day of January after their election. This court is continually in session at the Capitol in Albany, except as it takes recess from time to time on its own motion. It has full power to correct or reverse the decisions of all inferior courts when properly before it for review. Five judges constitute a quorum, and four must concur to render judgment. If four do not agree the case must be reargued; but no more than two rehearings can be had, and if then four judges do not concur, the judgment of the court below stands affirmed. The Legislature has provided by statute how and when proceedings and decisions of inferior tribunals may be reviewed in the Court of Appeals, and may in its discretion alter or amend the same. Upon the reorganization of the court in 1869 its work was far in arrears, and the law commonly known as the "Judiciary Act" provided for a Commission of Appeals to aid the Court of Appeals. And still more recently, in 1888, the Legislature passed a concurrent resolution that section 6 of article 6 of the Constitution be amended so that upon the certificate 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 interests required a more speedy disposition thereof, the governor may designate seven justices of the Supreme Court to act as associate judges, 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 necessity for their services ceased to exist. This amendment was submitted 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. The only citizen of Tompkins county who has been placed upon the bench of this court is Francis M. FINCH, a present incumbent of the office. He received the appointment May 25, 1880, from the governor and Senate, and was afterwards elected to the same position.
Second to the Court of Appeals in rank and jurisdiction stands the Supreme Court, which, as it now exists, is made up of many and widely different elements. It was originally created by act of the Colonial Legislature May 6, 1691, and finally by ordinance of the Governor and Council, May 15, 1699, and empowered to try all issues to the same extent as the English Courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer, except in the exercise of equity powers. It had jurisdiction in actions involving $100 and over, and to revise and correct the decisions of inferior courts. An appeal lay from it to the Governor and Council. The judges-at first there were five of them-annually made a circuit of the counties, under a commission naming them, issued by the governor, and giving them nisi prius oyer and terminer, and jail delivery powers. Under the first Constitution the court was reorganized, the judges being then named by the Council of Appointment. All proceedings were directed to be entitled in the name of the people, instead of that of the king.
By the Constitution of 1821 many and important changes were made in the character and methods of this court. The judges were reduced in number to three and appointed by the governor, with the consent of the Senate, to hold office during good behavior, or until sixty years of age. They were removable by the Legislature when two-thirds of the Assembly and a majority of the Senate so voted. Four times each year the full court sat in review of their decisions upon questions of law. By the Constitution of 1846 the Supreme Court as it then existed was abolished, and a new court of the same name, and having general jurisdiction in law and equity, was established in its place. This court was divided into General Terms, Circuits, Special Terms, and Oyer and Terminer. Its members were composed of thirty-three justices, to be elected by the people, and to reside, five in the first and four in each of the other seven judicial districts into which the State was divided. By the Judiciary Act of 1847 General Terms were to be held at least once in each year in counties having more than forty thousand inhabitants, and in other counties at least once in two years; and at least two Special Terms and two Circuit Courts were to be held yearly in each county, except Hamilton. By this act the court was authorized to name the times and places of holding its terms, and those of Oyer and Terminer; the latter being a part of the Circuit Court and held by the justice, the county judge and two justices of sessions. Since 1882 the Oyer and Terminer has consisted of a single justice of the Supreme Court.
It is proper at this point to describe one of the old courts the powers of which have been vested in the Supreme Court. We refer to the Chancery Court, an heirloom of the colonial period, which had its origin in the Court of Assizes, the latter being invested with equity powers under the duke's laws. The court was established in 1683, and the governor or such person as he should appoint, assisted by the Council, was designated as its chancellor. In 1698 the court went out of existence by limitation; was revived 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 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 1778, by convention of representatives, masters and examiners in chancery were provided to be appointed by the Council of Appointment; registers and clerks by the chancellor. The latter licensed all solicitors and councillors of the court. Under the Constitution 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 review able on appeal to the chancellor. But this equity character was soon taken from the circuit judges and thereafter 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 1846, 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 or 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 was 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 presiding justice and not more than three associates; but by chapter 408 of the laws of 1870 the then organization of the General Term was abrogated 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 Amendment 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 irresponsible governor, to one of the most independent and enlightened instrumentalities 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.
In this court, and those which it directly succeeded, the following Tompkins county men held office: In the Court of Common Pleas, Oliver C. COMSTOCK, appointed April 10, 1817; Richard SMITH, appointed June 10, 1818; Andrew D. W. BRUYN, appointed January 18, 1826; Amasa DANA, appointed March 16, 1837; Henry D. BARTO, appointed February 18, 1843. In the organization of the judicial districts of the State, Tompkins county was within the Sixth, and Douglass BOARDMAN, of Ithaca, was elected justice in 1865, and continued in office until 1870. On December 24, 1873, he was appointed associate justice on the General Term Bench. A more extended biography of Judge BOARDMAN will be found on another page of this work.
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 1683, 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 1699, all civil jurisdiction was taken from this court and conferred upon the Court of Common Pleas. By the sweeping changes made by the Constitution of 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 estates of lunatics and habitual drunkards. The Judiciary Act of 1869 continued the existing jurisdiction of County Courts, and conferred upon them original jurisdiction in all actions in which the defendants lived within the county, and the damages claimed did not exceed $1,000. 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 Sessions, 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 Supreme Court. By the Judiciary Act the term of office of county judges was extended from four to six years. Under the Codes 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 Courts and Courts of Special Sessions. Appeals lay from the County Court to the General Term. County judges were appointed until 1847, after which they were elected.
In the County Court of Tompkins county the following have held offices: County judges, Oliver C. COMSTOCK, April 10, 1817; Richard SMITH, June 10, 1818; A. D. W. BRUYN, January 18, 1826; Amasa DANA, March 16, 1837; Henry D. BARTO, February 18, 1843; Alfred WELLS, elected June, 1847-51; Douglass BOARDMAN, 1851-55; Samuel P. WISNER, 1855-59; Henry S. WALBRIDGE, 1859-67; Mills VAN VALKENBURG, 1867-74; Marcus LYON, 1874-91; Bradford ALMY, elected November, 1891.
Special county judges were authorized for this county by the Legislature in 1852. The following persons have held the office: Jerome ROWE (special judge and surrogate), 1852-63; Arthur S. JOHNSON, 1862-71; George W. WOOD, 1871-72; Jesse M. McKINNEY, 1873-77; Edward A. WAGNER, 1877-81; Jared T. NEWMAN, 1881-84; John TYLER, 1884-89; Judson A. ELSTON, 1889-92; James L. BAKER, 1892-94.
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 Council, 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 Prerogative Court and the Court of Probates. The settlement of estates and the guardianship of orphans which was at first vested in the Director-General and Council of New Netherlands, was transferred to the Burgomasters in 1653, and soon afterward to the Orphan Masters. Under the Colony the Prerogative Court controlled all matters in relation to the probate of wills and settlement of estates. This power continued 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 surrogate's, and it was conferred upon the Court of Probates. Under the first Constitution surrogates were appointed by the Council of Appointment; under the second Constitution, by the governor with the approval of the Senate. The Constitution of 1846 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 have held the office of surrogate in Tompkins county: Andrew D. W. BRUYN, appointed April 11, 1817; Edmund F. PELTON, appointed March 21, 1821; Miles FINCH, appointed March 27, 1823; Charles HUMPHREY, March 4, 1831; Evans HUMPHREY, January 8, 1834; Arthur S. JOHNSON, March 3, 1838; George G. FREER, February 14, 1843.
The only 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 18'21, 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 purely the creature of the statute. The office is now of little importance 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 15th 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 during pleasure. The office of district attorney, as now known, was created 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 Court of Special Sessions in each county. The following have held the office in Tompkins county: David WOODCOCK (appointed or elected) June 11, 1813; Amasa DANA, January 28, 1823; Samuel LOVE, May 15, 1837; Benjamin G. FERRIS, May 16, 1840; Alfred WELLS, May 17, 1845; Arthur S. JOHNSON, June 14, 1847; Douglass BOARDMAN, June, 1847; William MARSH, November, 1850; John A. WILLIAMS, November, 1853; Marcus LYON, November, 1856; Harvey A. DOWE (appointed vice LYON, removed from county), June 10, 1864; Samuel H. WILCOX, November, 1864; Merrit KING, November, 1867; Samuel D. HALLIDAY, November, 1873; Simeon SMITH (appointed vice HALLIDAY, resigned), 1875; David M. DEAN, November, 1876; Clarence L. SMITH, November, 1882; Jesse H. JENNINGS, November, 1883, and re-elected in 1891.
Sheriffs during the colonial period were appointed annually in October, unless otherwise noticed. Under the first Constitution they were appointed annually by the Council of Appointment, and no person could hold the office more than four successive years. The sheriff could hold no other office and must be a freeholder in the county to which appointed. Since the Constitution of 1821, sheriffs have been elected for a term of three years, and are ineligible for election to the succeeding term. The following have held this office in Tompkins county: Hermon CAMP (appointed), April 11, 1817; Henry BLOOM, June 26, 1817; Nicoll HALSEY, March 2, 1819; Nicholas TOWNLEY, Feb ruary 12, 1821, and, elected November, 1822. (After this date the sheriffs have been elected in November of each year named.) Ebenezer VICKERY, 1825; Thomas ROBERTSON, 1828; Peter HAGER 2d, 1831; Minos McGOWAN, 1834; Jehiel LUDLOW, 1837; Edward L. PORTER, 1839; Ephraim LABAR, 1842; John P. ANDREWS, 1845; Charles C. HOWELL, 1848; Lewis H. VAN KIRK, 1851; Richard J. IVES, 1854; Smith ROBERTSON, 1857; Homer JENNINGS, 1860; Edward HUNGERFORD, 1863; Eron C. VAN KIRK, 1866; Horace L. ROOT, 1869; Eron C. VAN KIRK, 1872; Barnard M. HAGIN, 1875; William J. SMITH, 1878; John K. FOLLETT, 1881; J. Warren TIBBETTS, 1884; John K. FOLLETT, 1887; J. Warren TIBBETTS, 1890; Charles S. SEAMAN, 1893.
Such legal business as the pioneers of what is now Tompkins county found necessary for about twenty years after their various settlements and down to the formation of this county in 1817, was of course transacted at the county seats of Cayuga and Seneca counties (the former taken from Onondaga county in 1797, and the latter from Cayuga in 1804). There were, without a doubt, lawsuits among those early settlers, but they were not so numerous nor so important as those of later days. The pioneers felt a too kindly spirit towards each other to admit of their often bringing malicious prosecutions against their neighbors, and they were far too busy with their labors in making homes for themselves and their children to willingly squander time in traveling to distant court houses, when traveling was a serious matter, there to wait the often tardy action of the primitive judiciary.
The act of the Legislature which organized Tompkins county designated Ithaca (then a little hamlet in the old town of Ulysses) as the county seat. It would seem that somebody in the then counties of Cayuga and Seneca feared that the new county would not fulfill its proper destiny, for the act provided that in case of failure on the part of the town to convey a site for the county buildings and raise $7,000 with which to erect the same, the territory of the new county was to be reannexed to Cayuga and Seneca. But these provisions were promptly complied with, and in 1818 a building for a court house and jail was erected and ready for occupancy. As a "hall of justice" it was quite insignificant; but it served its purpose until 1854, when the present structure was erected on the same site.
The old court house became inadequate for its purposes, and an act was passed by the Legislature authorizing the erection of the present structure, which was begun in 1854 and finished the succeeding year. The act named Stephen B. CUSHING, Samuel GILES and Horace MACK a building committee, and under their careful direction the building was completed at a cost of $12,154.76. In the light of modern architectural practice it cannot be said that the court house is an honor to the county; indeed, this fact is so apparent that at this date (1894) measures are advocated for the erection of a new structure which will properly serve the people and honorably reflect the progress of the community.
The first judicial officers of the county were as follows: First judge, Oliver C. COMSTOCK, appointed April 10, 1817; surrogate, Andrew D. W. BRUYN, appointed March 11, 1818; sheriff, Hermon CAMP, appointed April 11, 1817; district attorney, David WOODCOCK, appointed April 11, 1817; clerk, Archer GREEN, appointed April 11, 1817. The first justices of the peace (appointed 1817) were as follows: W. WIGTON, Eliakim AVERY, A. D. W. BRUYN, Henry BLOOM, Charles BINGHAM, Nathaniel F. MACK, John SUTTON, Simeon F. STRONG, Joseph GOODWIN, John BOWMAN, J. BENNETT, Samuel LOVE, John ELLIS, William MARTIN, Peter RAPPLEYA, Chester COBORNE, Thomas WHITE, Richard SMITH, Henry D. BARTO, Caleb SMITH, Peter WHITMORE, J. WEAVER, Stephen WOODWORTH, Lewis TOOKER, John BOWKER, Charles KELLY, C. BROWN 2d, James COLEGROVE and Abijah MILLER.
At the first Court of General Sessions in this county, May 28, 1817, the following proceedings took place:
Present, John SUTTON, esq., senior judge; Thomas WHITE, Richard SMITH, and John ELLIS, judges and justices of the peace; Charles BINGHAM, Parley WHITMORE, John BOWMAN, and William WIGTON, assistant justices.
Bills of indictment were presented to said court by the grand inquest of said county against the following persons, viz.: John C. MURRY, Daniel NEWELL, Humphrey D. TABOR, Daniel MURRY, Alvin CHASE, Abraham OSBORNE, and Samuel OSBORNE. The above were "severally recognized in the sum of $100 each." Their securities were John TOWNSEND, jr., for J. C. and D. MURRY; Jabez Howland, for H. D. MURRY; Isaac CHASE, for Alvin CHASE; Isaac CHASE and Henry HEWLIN, for A and S. OSBORNE.
The witnesses, who were also "recognized in the sum of $50 each," were Joseph BOWEN, Chester COBORN, Samuel ROLFF, and William COYKENDALL.
At this term of court a bill was returned by the grand jury for theft or petit larceny against Birdsey CLARK. "Mr. JOHNSON pleaded against the jurisdiction of the court. The court overruled the objection, and ordered that the prisoner give bail or be committed to jail. The prisoner requested and obtained permission to be tried by a special session."A bill of indictment was also returned against Calvin KELLOGG for assault and battery.
The first petit jury was organized at the September term, 1817, and consisted of the following persons:
Samuel KNAPP, Marvin BUCK, John COLLINS, Oliver MILLER, Abner N. HARLAND, Horace COOPER, John SNIFFEN, Aaron K. MATTHEWS, John WALDEN, Caleb DAVIS, Augustus ELY, and Peter VANVLIET.
The first case tried by this jury was the indictment against Messrs. Murry, TABOR, Abraham and Samuel OSBORNE, and Alvin CHASE, for riot. They were found guilty, and Messrs. TABOR, Daniel MURRY, and Abraham OSBORNE, fined $10 each, and Alvin CHASE and Samuel OSBORNE $5 each.
The first Court of Common Pleas was held at the "meeting-house," in the village of Ithaca, town of Ulysses, on the fourth Tuesday of May, 1817. Senior judge, John SUTTON; judges, Richard SMITH, Thomas WHITE, and John ELLIS; assistant justices and justices of the peace, William WIGTON, Charles BINGHAM and John BOWMAN.
"The general pleas and the general commissions of the peace having been read, the court opened in due form. The court adjourned for one hour, to meet again at Champlin & Frisbie's hotel. The court met agreeably to adjournment; present as before. The venire for summoning the grand jury having been returned by John LUDLOW, esq., coroner, their names being called, they all answered. Mr. Ben JOHNSON objected to the grand jury being sworn, because they were summoned by a coroner and the venire directed to him. The court overruled the objection, and directed that the grand jury be sworn. They were accordingly sworn, and John BOWKER, esq., was appointed foreman of the said inquest. At this court it was also Resolved, By the Court, that those attorneys who were authorized to practice in the counties of Seneca and Cayuga, and in the Supreme Court, and in good standing as such, be admitted in this court.
"On the following morning the court, having no further business, adjourned."
The first will recorded and proven was that of John MORRIS, of Lansing, A. D. W. BRUYN being at that time surrogate. It was proven September 6, 1817; Isaiah GILES, J. WHITLOCK, and Sarah GILES, witnesses.
The first letters of administration were issued May 6, 1817, to Elizabeth SMITH, on the estate of Alexander SMITH, of Ulysses. The second letters of administration were issued to Barzillai KING, jr., and Henry D. BARTO, on the estate of Barzillai KING, of Covert.
Tompkins county, in respect to its population, is among the smaller counties of this State, and its bar has not, therefore, been as numerous as in other and more populous counties; but it will not suffer in comparison with the bar of any other interior section in respect to the character, ability and honor of its members. It has had, and now has, members occupying the highest judicial positions in the State, the duties of which have been performed to the honor of the incumbents and the people whom they represent. This county was quite well equipped with lawyers at its organization in 1817, and it is a pleasure to record some brief personal characteristics of many of the early representatives of the profession, as well as of those of more recent times.
One of the foremost of the early attorneys of this county was Ben JOHNSON, whose services were often in demand in the more important cases, and who was called to oppose some of the most distinguished lawyers of the State. Mr. JOHNSON was born at Haverhill, N. H., June 22, 1784. His early education was obtained in the district schools, with a little academic training. He entered the law office of FOOTE & RUMSEY, in Troy, N. Y., studying there in company with John A. COLLIER, with whom he subsequently formed a partnership for practice in Binghamton; this existed but a short time, when Mr. JOHNSON removed to Hector (then in Cayuga), but came to Ithaca some years previous to his marriage, which occurred in November, 1817. He built the house on Seneca street, where he passed the remainder of his life. His office was on Aurora street, and he practiced alone until 1819, when he became associated with Charles HUMPHREY. After several years continuance of this partnership, Mr. JOHNSON joined with Henry S. WALBRIDGE, which connection terminated in 1839. His next partner was his son-in-law, Anthony SCHUYLER. His death took place at his home in Ithaca, March 19, 1848. We find the following written of Mr. JOHNSON:
When fully aroused in an important trial, Ben JOHNSON was regarded by the most astute advocates as the peer of the ablest counsel in the State. Erudite, of logical mind, and possessed of rare powers in debate, his efforts before the courts always challenged attention, and often admiration. An indefatigable worker, he kept scrupulously within the bounds of his vocation, concentrating his mental and physical strength upon the cases in hand. His nature was social and genial, though quiet and undemonstrative.
David WOODCOCK established himself in Ithaca as early as 1812, and soon took a prominent position at the bar of the State. Traveling the district with the Circuit Courts, as a forcible and astute jury lawyer, in persuasive power was seldom excelled by any whom he met at the bar. He represented Seneca county in the Legislature (1814-15), was district attorney in 1818, and was elected to Congress in 1821.At the close of the XVIIth Congress he retired to his professional practice; but was called again to the Legislature in 1826, where he was a leading member of the House. Declining re-election, he was in 1828 again elected to Congress, where his abilities were at once recognized. On returning he resumed his practice at the bar and was suddenly stricken down with his armor on. He died at Ithaca in September, 1835. His nature was kind and genial', generous and warm hearted, and his influence and example with the younger members of the bar was always salutary. His son, Don C. WOODCOCK, a lawyer of great ability, removed from Ithaca to Troy, and died in that city.
Charles HUMPHREY, already mentioned as a partner of Mr. JOHNSON, was another conspicuous attorney of the early years, who devoted to the service of the country his great legal abilities in establishing and fostering not only local improvements, but rendered signal service to the State. He was a forcible advocate, clear and sharp in attack and repartee, and long adorned the bar of the State. He was a member of the Legislature in 1834, and re-elected in the two succeeding sessions, serving as speaker of the House in both the LVIIlth and LIXth sessions. Years before this he had been sent to the National Legislature, representing the Twenty-fifth District, composed of Tioga and Tompkins counties, taking his seat in 1825. After continuing a large practice many years he was again prevailed upon to take a seat in the State Legislature in 1842. He also served some years as clerk of the Supreme Court at Albany. He suffered from a painful constitutional disease in his later years, but returned to Ithaca and took up his practice in important cases before the Court of Appeals and in the Supreme Court. Supported upon crutches and standing before the highest State court, he always commanded its strict attention and won admiration from distinguished members of the State bar. He died in Albany July 18, 1850, while in professional attendance at the Supreme Court.
Andrew D. W. BRUYN was an early and prominent member of the bar; held the office of surrogate 1817 to 1821, and afterwards under the second Constitution served as first judge of the county, 1826 to 1837. Elected to represent the Twenty-first District, counties of Chemung, Cortland, Tioga and Tompkins, in the XXVth Congress, he took his seat September 4, 1837, and died at Washington in July of the following year. Judge BRUYN was distinguished for his legal acquirements and laborious industry in his profession. He was especially noted for strict observance of all those social, public, private or official duties which, with a high sense of personal honor, make a well rounded character. In his profession he was powerful in argument, while on the bench his decisions were clear and dignified, and wholly unbiased.
Amasa DANA was an early lawyer of Tompkins county whose professional standing gave it honor and prominence, and whose high religious and moral character reflected the brightest luster. He acquired prominence as an advocate early in life, and was elected to the Legislature in 1828 and 1829, having already discharged the duties of the office of district attorney from 1823 to 1827. Returning from the Legislature to resume his practice he was elected to Congress from the Twenty-second District, serving from December, 1839, to March, 1841; and again was called to the same high office (1843 to 1845). He also served as first judge of the County Court, 1837 to 1843. Resuming his practice in 1845 he gave his whole attention to its duties until his death, December 24, 1867, at the age of seventy-six years. It has been written of him:
Judge DANA not only adorned the profession he had chosen by a life of most faithful performance and observance of every exacting requirement of duty to society, to his home, and to every responsible public trust, but deeply imbued with a high and religious sentiment, he brought to the discharge of his professional, judicial and legislative requirements a devout reliance upon the favor of a God in whom he trusted. . . . His memory will be long cherished by the church at whose altar he was a devout worshiper, not less than by the bar of which he was so distinguished an ornament.
Other members of the early bar were Stephen MACK, who graduated from Yale in 1813, located in Owego in 1814, and soon afterward settled in Ithaca, where he practiced his profession many years. He was a diligent and methodical lawyer, and died at the age of seventy-one years, January 7, 1857.
Edmund G. PELTON was a lawyer of some prominence in early years and held the office of surrogate in 1821; and there were others who are, perhaps, entitled to mention in this connection, but whose good deeds have gone into the unremembered history of the past.
William LINN, though he cannot be called a distinguished lawyer, confining himself largely to office work, was conspicuous for his scholarly attainments and his polished style of oratory upon the platform. His numerous public addresses were widely circulated and regarded by cultivated scholars as models of logical force and elegant diction. He died when nearly eighty years of age. He studied for the pure love of it, and was richly endowed with historical and classical knowledge, and was the great orator at all great assemblies from 1810 to 1845. He was the author of the Roorback hoax of 1844.
Horace KING, whose "Early History of Ithaca" attracted considerable attention, was a native of Ithaca. He had just entered on the practice of his profession in 1847, when he delivered his historical lecture. His very early death arrested a career which his qualifications as a pleader, and his attractiveness as a public speaker, must have made one of note in this community and elsewhere.
Augustus SHERRILL was one of the old-time lawyers of Ithaca, whose memory is yet vividly recalled by those here from 1830 to 1846. Careful, painstaking and accurate, he was appreciated by clients, and enjoyed to a marked degree the confidence of the community.
George G. FREER practiced law in Ithaca for many years with Samuel LOVE. He was proprietor of the Tompkins Times in 1836 and appointed surrogate by Governor BOUCK in 1843. Mr. FREER removed to Watkins, and died there some ten years ago.
George D. BEERS, as an advocate before a jury, was almost invariably pitted against such eminent practitioners as Ben JOHNSON and Charles HUMPHREY. His keen analytical mind grasped the salient points in a case, and he had a remarkable faculty of impressing a jury by the earnestness of his pleading and the grasp he had on the strong features of the case in hand. Mr. BEERS was born at Hobart, Delaware county, June 7, 1812, and removed to Ithaca just after the organization of the county. He graduated from Union College, his diploma bearing the autograph of the remarkable Dr. Eliphalet NOTT. He was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court in July, 1833, and in the Court of Chancery in 1834. In 1844 he was elected to the State Senate under the four-year term of four senators to a district. In 1879 he attended the fiftieth anniversary of his college class. He died in Ithaca, October 12, 1880.
Frederick G. STANLEY practiced law in Ithaca four years along in the thirties. But little can be ascertained in regard to his early life or his family. Those of his profession who knew him and his conduct of cases, speak of him as the peer of the brightest intellects who have dignified the bar in this section of the State. Mr. STANLEY removed to Buffalo, and after a few years, during which he built up a large clientage, he died.
Moses R. WRIGHT was a young and brilliant lawyer who came to Ithaca in 1841, and whose career of great eminence was ended by his untimely death about ten years afterwards. No record is obtainable on his life, but there is scarcely a resident of Tompkins county who will not recall him, and those who knew him personally yet retain vivid recollections of his great power as an advocate and his clear conception of legal principles. He was a writer, especially on political subjects, of great force.
Henry S. WALBRIDGE finished his law studies in the law office of Ben JOHNSON and, as before stated, entered into partnership with the latter. This gave him the advantages of Mr. JOHNSON's reputation to a certain extent and enabled him to soon occupy a commanding position, to which his superior qualifications also entitled him. He was elected to the Legislature in 1827, and again in 1846, serving with credit to himself and satisfaction to the people. After a period of devotion to his profession he was elected to Congress from this district, and served from 1851 to 1853. Returning to Ithaca, he was elected first judge of the county in 1859, in which high office he discharged his duties with eminent ability and faithfulness until 1867. He soon afterward met with accidental death in a railroad casualty near the city of New York.
Benjamin G. FERRIS was a college graduate, and soon after finishing his education he entered the office of David WOODCOCK. Admitted to the bar in due time, he soon took an enviable position in his profession and rapidly advanced to the front rank. He served in the Legislature in 1851, was district attorney of this county (1840-45), and in 1853 was appointed secretary of Utah Territory by President FILLMORE. A short time in that uncongenial position sufficed for him, and he returned to Ithaca and resumed practice, spending a few intervening years in New York city. He died in Ithaca in 1893.
Alfred WELLS studied law in the office of HUMPHREY & WOODCOCK, and after his admission to the bar soon became prominent in the profession. This is indicated by his early selection in 1847 as first judge of the county, in which office he served four years. He was elected to the XXXVIth Congress (1859-61) and was recognized as an able legislator. Returning to his profession, he was afterwards appointed assessor of internal revenue, and occupied that station at the time of his death.
Douglass BOARDMAN during the greater part of his professional life occupied a foremost position at the bar and in the judiciary. His abilities as a lawyer were recognized soon after he was admitted, and he was early called to judicial labor. Elected first judge of this county in 1851, he served as such four years, relinquishing for that position the office of district attorney, to which he was chosen in 1847 .Returning to his practice in 1855 he pursued it with diligence and eminent success for ten years, when the general knowledge of his fitness to adorn the bench led to his selection for Supreme Court judge in 1865. At the close of his first term of eight years he was renominated and elected without a competitor for a term of fourteen years. Soon afterwards, and on the death of Hon. John M. PARKER, Judge BOARDMAN was appointed to the vacancy thus made on the General Term bench of the Sixth District. His death occurred at his summer residence at Sheldrake in 1892.
William H. BOGART was a lawyer by profession and spent many years in Ithaca. He was a man of fine natural qualifications; was elected to the State Legislature in 1840 and served one term; he also served as clerk of the House and the Senate. He was a graceful writer and an eloquent speaker. Later in his life he removed to Aurora, where he enjoyed an elegant leisure in a beautiful and hospitable home.
Milo GOODRICH was for a number of years prominent in the bar of the county, located at Dryden. He was a native of Cortland county, studied in Worcester, Mass., and was admitted in 1840, soon after which he settled in Dryden. He was elected to the XLIId Congress, was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1867, and held other positions of honor. As a lawyer he was skillful, and gave the most unremitting care to preparation of his cases. About the year 1870 he removed to Auburn, N. Y., where he died.
Merritt KING was a son of one of the pioneers of the town of Danby, where his grandfather settled as early as 1800. By self-sacrificing efforts he obtained a liberal education; served honorably in the One Hundred and Thirty-seventy Regiment N. Y. V. for three years, and held the rank of major when mustered out. He studied in Ithaca, and took a regular course at the Albany Law School, graduating with honor. He served twice as district attorney (1867 and 1870), and in the fall of 1875 received the nomination for member of Assembly, but was defeated by the university vote.
Stephen B. CUSHING is remembered as one of the most promising and brilliant advocates at the bar of Tompkins county from 1837 to 1855. Almost from the beginning of his practice he stepped to the front rank as a jury lawyer; was elected to the Legislature in 1852, and was a prominent candidate for speaker on the Democratic side. Turning much of his attention to politics, he was nominated in 1855 for attorney general of the State, on the American ticket, was elected, and entered upon the duties of the office January 1, 1856. On retiring from that position he formed a partnership with Daniel E. SICKLES, of New York city, and continued a successful practice. He died there suddenly in 1865.
Charles Clarence VAN KIRK, born in Ithaca, November 4, 1855, died August 1, 1892. He was educated in the Ithaca Academy and after some years passed in Colorado and in lumbering business learned stenography, in which he became an expert. During his study he read law in the office of Henry A. MERRITT, of Troy. He was admitted to the bar in 1885, and for a time had a large income from reporting and as a referee. On account of weakening sight he returned to Ithaca in 1887 and opened a law office, continuing to practice until his death.
TOMPKINS COUNTY BAR-1894.
IMPORTANT TRIALS AND CRIMES.-As a part of the criminal record of Tompkins county, the remarkable career of Edward H. RULLOFF should not be omitted. He was born near the city of St. Johns, in the Province of New Brunswick, and was hanged at Binghamton, Broome county, on the 18th of May, 1871. His father's name was William RULLOFFSON, the son taking the name of RULLOFF upon removing to this locality. Financial circumstances denied him a professional career, and he became a clerk in a store in St. Johns. His employers were twice burned out and RULLOFF left his clerkship to begin the study of law. For a theft in the store of those he formerly served he was arrested, tried and convicted, and served a sentence of two years in State prison. At the close of his sentence he disappeared from St. Johns, and nothing is known of his career until he appeared in Dryden in May, 1842. He claimed to be in search of employment, even as a laborer, if nothing better offered. His acquirements attracted great attention, and he secured a position as a drug clerk in Ithaca. He soon acquired an intimate knowledge of drugs and their effects, and then left the business. He next opened a select school in Dryden, and among his pupils was Miss Harriet SCHUTT, a most amiable and lovely girl of seventeen years. RULLOFF paid her marked attention, and in opposition to the wishes of her parents, he married her on the 31st of December,1843. Almost immediately afterwards RULLOFF, entirely without cause, developed an insane jealousy and treated his wife with positive cruelty, in one instance striking her with an iron pestle and felling her to the floor. He removed to Lansing, where a daughter was born in April, 1845, and for a period RULLOFF treated his wife with more kindness. He acquired quite a library, began the study of medicine, and was called to treat a child of William H. SCHUTT that was suffering with some slight ailment; but the babe died in convulsions and the child's mother also died with symptoms of poisoning two days after. The body of Mrs. SCHUTT was exhumed in 1858 and distinct traces of copper found in the stomach.
The evening of the 23d of June was the last time RULLOFF's wife and child were seen alive. The next morning RULLOFF borrowed a horse and wagon of Thomas ROBERTSON, who lived opposite, placed a heavy chest in the wagon and drove away towards Cayuga Lake. On the following morning he returned, the chest then being quite light, took it into the house, filled it with books and clothing, and removed it in the following night. Then RULLOFF disappeared, but was tracked to Cleveland, Ohio, by Ephraim SCHUTT, brother of Mrs. RULLOFF, who arrested the criminal and returned with him to Ithaca. Large sums were expended in dragging Cayuga Lake for remains of the wife and child, but without success. The bodies not being found, RULLOFF was indicted for abducting his wife, was tried in January, 1846, found guilty and sentenced to prison for ten years. At the close of his term he was indicted for the murder of his daughter. He secured a removal of his case to Tioga county, where he was tried on the 18th of October, 1856, found guilty and sentenced to be hung. From this verdict an appeal was taken to the General Term, which was heard in April, 1857. An appeal was then taken to the Court of Appeals.
Jacob S. JARVIS was the jailor in charge of RULLOFF, and allowed his son, Albert, to have lengthened visits to RULLOFF's cell, where the latter instructed him in the languages and other studies. On the 5th of May, 1857, through the connivance of the son, the prisoner escaped, the son fleeing with him. The Court of Appeals soon afterward reversed the decision of the courts below, and RULLOFF surrendered to the sheriff to await his final discharge.
A meeting of citizens was held and organized for the purpose of breaking into the jail and lynching the prisoner on the 19th of March, 1859. The sheriff learned of the plot and removed RULLOFF to Auburn the previous day. He was afterwards surrendered to the authorities of Pennsylvania to be tried for burglaries committed in Warren, in that State. He escaped conviction there, and for a time disappeared from view of all acquaintances.
On the 20th of November, 1861, he was sentenced to prison for two years and six months under the name of James H. KERRON, at Poughkeepsie. RULLOFF at all times seems to have been in communication with Jarvis, who assisted his escape from Tompkins county jail in 1857, and a man named DEXTER, and in all probability pursued a life of crime, which ended in breaking into the store of D. M. & E. G. HALBERT, in Binghamton, on the 17th of August, 1870. Two clerks slept in this store, and one of them, Frederick A. MIRRICK, was killed by RULLOFF. An alarm being given, the burglars fled. DEXTER and JARVIS were drowned while attempting to cross the Chenango River, but RULLOFF escaped for a few days, when he was arrested and imprisoned. His trial began on the 5th of January, 1871, and continued seven days, when the jury returned a verdict of murder in the first degree. RULLOFF was sentenced to be hanged on the 3d of March. A stay was granted, but the murderer was executed in the city of his last crime on the 18th of May, 1871.
This case was so remarkable in all its features as to attract universal attention, and the American Journal of Insanity of April, 1872, devoted fifty pages to a review of the life of RULLOFF.
A legal case of great interest came before the people in early years in this county which grew out of the feeling which existed, especially in the town of Caroline, between those who brought into that town a few slaves and those who did not keep them and never had. Between the years 1805 and 1808 a considerable and very respectable colony of Southerners came into Caroline and brought with them in all some forty slaves; their neighbors were from the East and were, of course, bitterly opposed to slavery. The feeling thus engendered and fostered finally culminated in the indictment and trial of Robert HYDE for removing slaves from this State in violation of the statute. The law for the gradual abolition of slavery in New York prohibited the removal of a slave from the State for the purpose of sale. About the 1st of December, 1823, HYDE and his mother-in-law, the widow Julia SPEED, had gone to their former home in Virginia for a visit and had taken with them a negro girl, Liza, a slave, whom it was believed they intended to sell. HYDE had not complied with the law in getting the consent of a magistrate to take the slave away temporarily, and when he returned without her he had not proven that his failure to bring her back was from any unavoidable cause. In the following summer when HYDE came back without the negro girl, curiosity and inquiry were general and suspicion was aroused. The entire community believed the girl had been sold, and HYDE's premises and those of the other slave owners were watched for months day and night to prevent a repetition of the proceeding. At the Oyer and Terminer of January, 1825, Abiathar ROUNSVELL appeared before the grand jury as complainant against HYDE in the matter. Amasa DANA was district attorney, and Hon. Nicoll HALSEY foreman of the grand jury. An indictment against HYDE was found and he was first tried at the Court of Sessions in the following May. Ben JOHNSON, the Nestor of the Tompkins county bar, was counsel for HYDE. The prosecution depended largely upon the testimony of widow SPEED; she sat near the door of the court room and just before she was called as a witness she slipped out of the room and disappeared. This was an unexpected piece of strategy, but as the case could not then be put over, John G. SPEED was sworn (he was HYDE's brother-in-law), and under direction of the judges the jury found the defendant not guilty of the fifth count of the indictment and did not pass upon the remaining counts, of which there were six in all. HYDE's second trial took place in the following December before Samuel NELSON, when several witnesses were sworn, but HYDE was acquitted. Mr. HYDE lived till between 1850 and 1860 and bore the reputation of being a good citizen and a kind man. The animosities connected with this affair continued to some extent until a second generation, but have now wholly disappeared.
Since the organization of Tompkins county there have been three executions for murder, the first public, and the other two in the jail yard. In the fall of 1831 Guy C. CLARK, a shoemaker, brutally murdered his wife with an axe, in a part of the old Columbia inn, then occupying ground on the corner of State and Cayuga streets and part of the Clinton Hall block on the north. CLARK was tried, convicted and hung in public at Fall Creek, almost upon the precise spot occupied by the large brick school house, but upon an elevated bluff since brought down to a level. The day of the execution, February 2, 1832, was a stormy one, melting snow covering the ground. A band of music headed the procession which conducted CLARK to his fate. Many thousand spectators were present, some arriving on the previous day, and a few who were unable to find accommodations camped out over night or found shelter in barns or outhouses. Peter HAGER 2d was sheriff and Minos McGOWAN, under-sheriff. The body of CLARK was buried, but it is doubtful whether the grave was very carefully guarded, as the body was stolen on the night following the execution.
On the 13th of July, 1841, a shoemaker named John JONES was murdered by John GRAHAM, a fellow-workman, in a ravine just north of Buttermilk Falls, about two miles southwest of Ithaca. The remains of JONES were discovered, GRAHAM was arrested, JONES's watch found upon his person, and money which evidence showed was taken from the body of the murdered man. Although the evidence was wholly circumstantial, it was so conclusive that GRAHAM was convicted and executed in the yard of the old court house, on ground now occupied by the county jail, on May 5, 1842. Edward L. PORTER was sheriff, and William BYINGTON, under-sheriff.
In 1871 an aged man named John LUNGER and his wife occupied an old boat drawn up on the shore of the lake a few rods south of Goodwin's Point, nearly eight miles from Ithaca. Michael FERGUSON, a nephew, lived with them, and a young girl was employed by them. FERGUSON killed LUNGER and his wife, took the girl in a row boat, crossed the lake, came to Ithaca and started on foot to escape into Pennsylvania. The murder was discovered, FERGUSON pursued, captured, tried, sentenced, and hung June 17, 1871. He was dull of intellect and possibly never fully realized the enormity of the crime he committed. Horace L. ROOT was sheriff, and R. H. FISH, undersheriff.
Landmarks - Chapter XI
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