Charles E. Nichols

From the Biographical Review, Volume XXXIII, located at the Durham Center Museum.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


CHARLES E. NICHOLS, counselor-at-law, and District Attorney of Greene County, and one of the best-known and most respected residents of Catskill, was born in Athens, Greene County, March 20, 1854. His father is General George Sylvester Nichols, and his mother in maidenhood was Ann Neterville Foster.

His paternal grandfather was Judge Sylvester Nichols, a native and prominent citizen of Athens. Besides carrying on a farm, the grandfather was a manufacturer of brick and lime, was also engaged in freighting on a large scale, being the owner of several vessels. He was also County Judge of Greene County for several years. He married Lucy E. Hamilton, who also was a native of Athens. She died in 1891, at the age of ninety. Seven of their children grew to maturity; namely, George Sylvester, Samuel Hamilton, William T., Elbridge, Charles P., Henry O., and Sarah.

George Sylvester Nichols, the first-named son, was born in Athens, N.Y., January 12, 1820. He attended private schools in Athens until twelve years old; and in 1832 he entered Lenox Academy, Mass., where he remained one year. In 1834 he studied at the academy in Kinderhook, N.Y., which was established by his grandfather. From 1838 to 1846 he was captain of the sloop "Science," owned by his father, carrying brick, lime, hay, and produce from Athens to New York. He was appointed Brigade Quartermaster of the Thirty-seventh Brigade of New York State Militia, and commissioned by Governor William C. Bouck on September 14, 1843; and he was appointed Brigadier-general of the Thirty-seventh Brigade by Governor Silas Weight on March 3, 1845. In 1847 and 1848 he was employed in Troy, N. Y., as superintendent of Colonel J. Hooker’s docks, barges and canal boats, and general manager of his transportation line to New York. He started for California in 1849, sailing from New York on February 5 in the steamer "Crescent City" for San Francisco. After staying a month on the isthmus, in Gorgona and Panama, he left the last-named place on the steamer "Oregon" on her first trip up the coast, and, arriving at San Francisco on the first day of April, 1849, went directly to Sutter’s Mill, Coloma, where he was engaged nearly two years in packing and trading. He left San Francisco for home about December 1, 1850, by steamer, going to Panama, from there crossing the isthmus to Chagres by mule and bungo, as on the trip out, and thence reaching New York by steamer about the first of January, 1851. In the spring of 1851 he was elected Supervisor of the town of Athens, and two years later was nominated by the Democratic party for State Senator for the Tenth District, which includes Greene and Ulster Counties, but was defeated by the Prohibition candidate. In 1855 he was again nominated for State Senator, this time by the American party, was elected, and served one term. On June 8, 1860 he was appointed one of the Board of Commissioners of Excise for Greene County for three years.

When hostilities began between the South and the North, he felt that his former military training would be of value to his country, and decided to offer himself as a volunteer. On November 23, 1861, having received an appointment as Major in the Ninth New York Cavalry, and having been given his commission by Governor Morgan, he left Albany on the same day for the national capital. Upon going into active service, his bravery and ability at once became conspicuous, and his promotion was rapid. On May 30, 1863, he was made Lieutenant Colonel of his regiment, and on June 14, 1864, was commissioned Colonel by Governor Seymour. He was mustered out with the regiment at Buffalo, N. Y., on July 17, 1865. On March 13, 1865, "for gallant and meritorious services in all the cavalry engagements under General Sheridan," he was brevetted Brigadier-general of United States Volunteers.

On June 25, 1867, he was appointed by Collector H. A. Smythe Inspector of Customs in the New York Custom House, and on November 8, 1875, he was appointed, by Collector Chester A. Arthur, Deputy Collector of Customs. In 1879 he was nominated for member of Congress by the Republican party in the fifteenth Congressional District (Ulster, Greene, and Schoharie Counties), but was defeated. In 1882 he was appointed by Secretary of the Interior, the Hon. H. M. Teller, Special Examiner in the pension office; and in this capacity he served three years. For three years also subsequent to 1885 he held the office of County Clerk of Greene County, having been elected by the Republican party. Since 1889 General Nichols has retired from active life.

On October, 7, 1845, he married Ann Netteville Foster, daughter of Captain James G. and Ann E. Foster. Mrs. Nichols was born in Athens, N.Y., and died there at the age of eighty. Her father was a sea captain, and commanded a ship that ran from New York to Liverpool, England. During the embargo placed upon America vessels by the French, he anchored his vessel in the river, a few miles below Athens, to get it in fresh water, and while there met Ann Colson, with whom he fell in love at sight. He made only one more voyage, and then married and settled in Athens, where he went into the brick-making business. This he gave up after a time, and subsequently carried on a store until his death, at the age of seventy-six. He owned a fine farm. His wife died at the age of seventy-eight, having been the mother of six children. Five children were born to General George S. and Ann N. Nichols, and four of them are living; namely, Mary, Foster, Charles E., and Arthur. Mary married Frank N. Howland, who is a member of the firm of Smith & Candee, the oldest and leading firm of dealers in lime, brick, and builder’s supplies in New York City. Foster Nichols is purchasing agent for M. Guggenheim’s Sons, who are among the largest smelters and refiners in the United States. Arthur Nichols is a mining operator in Leadville, Col. Mrs. Nichols was a devout Episcopalian, as is also the general; and he was formerly a member of the Masonic organization. He resides in "The Old Nest" in Athens, which has been his home for half a century.

Charles E. Nichols, spent his early years in his native town of Athens, and received his early education in the district schools. Subsequently he attended the high school at Englewood, N. J., the Fairfield Seminary at Fairfield, N. Y., and the Fort Edward Collegiate Institute. Then, following the memorable advice of Horace Greeley, he went West, and was employed in the general office of the Colorado Central Railroad at Golden, Col., for about four years. Having decided to enter the legal profession, he gave his mind with ardor to the necessary studies, and was admitted to the bar in Colorado in 1880. He practiced his profession in that State for about two years, during which time he also engaged to some extent in mining. Then, returning East, he was admitted to the bar in the State of New York in 1882, after which he practiced law in Athens for some three years. In 1885 he was appointed Deputy County Clerk under his father, which position he held until 1889. He was then appointed Clerk to the Surrogate’s Court by the present surrogate, and served until December, 1898, a period of ten years in all, when he resigned, having been elected District Attorney in the fall of that year. He still has three years to serve in this office.

Mr. Nichols was married in 1890 to Mrs. Mary B. Willis, who was born in Connecticut, the daughter of the Rev. H. H. Bates, and Episcopalian clergyman. Her mother’s maiden name was E. Samanthe Bascom. Both parents were native of Vermont. They had three children. Mr. Bates was rector of a church in Glens Falls, N. Y., at the breaking out of the Civil War; and, when one of his wardens had enlisted as a Colonel and another as a Major, he resigned his charge at their request, and went to the front as chaplain of their regiment. He remained with his regiment throughout the war, and subsequently, his health being impaired, took a small charge in Oak Hill, this county. There he died in 1868. He was an active Mason, and was buried with Masonic rites. The lodge of which he was a member erected a monument to his memory at Oak Hill, N. Y., where he was buried.

Mr. Nichols is Vice-Chancellor in the Knights of Pythias Lodge in Catskill, and Junior Sagamore of the Red Men. In 1882 he was a member of the Lodge of Knight of Pythias in Athens. He has resided in Catskill since 1890, when he removed here from Athens. He and his wife are members of the Episcopal church, which has recently erected a beautiful new church edifice. While in Athens Mr. Nichols was a lay-reader in the church there, and for three yeas superintendent of the Sunday-school.


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