John A. Griswold
From the Biographical Review, Volume XXXIII, located at the Durham Center Museum.
Transcribed by Celeste MacCormack.
HON. JOHN A. GRISWOLD, of Catskill, N.Y., and ex-Congressman and former Judge and Surrogate of Greene County, was born in Cairo, this county, November 18, 1822, son of Stephen H. and Phoebe (Ashley) Griswold. He is a representative of the Griswold family of Connecticut, an account of whom appeared in the Magazine of American History in 1884. His father was born in Greene County, New York, February 26, 1793; and his grandfather, Jeremiah Griswold, came to Catskill from Connecticut about the year 1800, accompanied by his family.
Jeremiah Griswold, who was a prosperous farmer, lived to an advanced age. He married Mary Hill, whose birth took place either in Massachusetts or Connecticut in December, 1753. She served the patriot cause during the Revolutionary War by making cartridges for her brothers. She died December 8, 1841.
Stephen H. Griswold, Judge Griswold’s father, studied law, but did not enter into practice, preferring instead to engage in agricultural pursuits. He owned a good farm in Cairo, where he resided until his death, which occurred June 14, 1844. As a staunch supporter of the Democratic party he took an active interest in the political affairs of his day, and was universally esteemed for his upright character. He was a Free Mason, and in his younger days was identified with the local Blue Lodge. He and his wife, Phoebe, were members of the Methodist Episcopal church. Mrs. Griswold was a native of Catskill, where her father, John Ashley, was an industrious farmer. She became the mother of ten children, five of whom are living, namely: John A., the subject of this sketch; Miles, who resides in one of the Western States; Addison, a well-known lawyer of Catskill; Alonzo, who is residing on a farm in Jesup, Ia.; and Marion, who is a banker in Ohio. The others were: Mary, Stephen, Emily, Jerome, and Mahala. Stephen, who entered the Union army as a surgeon early in the Civil War, was captured by the enemy at the first battle of Bull Run, and died in prison. Jerome, who was a druggist in Kansas, was killed by Confederate raiders under Quantrell. Judge Griswold’s mother died June 13, 1877, aged seventy-two years.
Having pursued his preliminary studies in the public schools, John A. Griswold became a pupil at the academies in Prattsville and Catskill, concluding his attendance at the latter at the age of sixteen. After teaching for a time, he applied himself to the study of law with his uncle, Addison C. Griswold, and Richard Corning, the latter a brother of Erastus Corning, of Albany. Subsequently he continued his preparations in Syracuse, N.Y., and was admitted to the bar as an attorney and counsellor of the State in 1848. Commencing the practice of his profession alone, he was later associated with Addison Griswold until elected District Attorney in 1857, and afterward he was for some time in company with Rufus W. Watson. He ably performed the duties of District Attorney for three years, winning the capacity a high reputation; and his able handling of several important cases, both as a public and private practitioner, caused his elevation in 1864 to the position of Judge and Surrogate of Greene County. His four year’ service upon the bench was extremely creditable to himself as well as beneficial to the community; and in 1868 he was elected to a seat in Congress by the Democratic party, defeating Thomas Cornell, of Rondout, by a majority of five hundred votes. His work in the national House of Representatives was characterized by a thorough understanding of the principles of the federal government and a clear conception of the many important questions submitted for legislation; and, when a convention was decided upon for the purpose of revising the Constitution of the State of New York, he was again called into service as a delegate from his district. In 1876 he was a delegate to the National Convention which nominated Samuel J. Tilden for President. He has also rendered his share of service in town affairs, serving as a Supervisor in 1872; and his interest in the welfare of the community in which he lives was not eclipsed by the higher public duties to which he has been called.
In 1857 Judge Griswold married Miss Elizabeth M. Roberts, a daughter of the late William Roberts, who was a prosperous farmer of Cliftondale, Ulster County, this State. Mrs. Griswold died November 8, 1896, aged sixty-six years. Judge Griswold resides in what is known as the Cornwall house, situated on an estate commanding a view for twenty miles around of the varied and picturesque scenery for which the Catskill region is noted. He has survived all of his former legal contemporaries in this section, but is still upon the active list; and, if not as found in years as his personal appearance would indicate, his mental capacity retains its accustomed vigor, and his strong, manly character is as much appreciated to-day as it was during the period of his public services. He is a Master Mason, and was formerly a member of the Catskill Lodge, No. 468. In his religious beliefs he is an Episcopalian.