James S. Wheeler
City of Troy

This biography is from Troy and Rensselaer County, New York, Volume III, by Rutherford Hayner, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., New York and Chicago, 1925. It was submitted by Debby Masterson.

JAMES S. WHEELER—While his father and brother Henry chose business careers, James S. Wheeler embraced the law, and from 1889 until his passing, sixteen years later, was engaged in the practice of his profession in Troy. He displayed marked ability, and although but a comparatively young man he had won the high opinion of his associates and contemporaries of the bar. Possessing to an unusual degree the legal mind, logical in his reason'ng, and sound in counsel, his professional advice was implicitly relied upon. His early death was deeply regretted, not alone by relatives and friends, but by all who knew the manly, courteous and upright young man, even though the acquaintance was slight.

James S. Wheeler was the youngest son of James Wheelock and Mary (Sargeant) Wheeler, and a brother of Henry Wheeler, president of the Union National Bank of Troy, New York (see preceding sketch), also a brother of Edmund S. Wheeler, now, too, deceased, and of Margaret B. Wheeler. The family came to Troy from Brooklyn, New York, in 1861, and in Watervliet, New York, February 3, 1862, James S. Wheeler was born. He died at the home of his brother, Edmund S. Wheeler, on the Mechanicsville road, north of Waterford, after a week's illness, January 6, 1905.

In the schools of Troy—primary, grammar, and high, the lad pursued his studies with honor, being among the leaders of his class, and at graduation, class of 1881, he was salutatorian. He then entered Williams College, but in the spring of 1883 he was stricken with pneumonia and left in so weakened a condition that he could not return to college in the fall. While still in a state of invalidism, he taught the district school on the Brunswick road, just outside Troy, and when health returned he began the study of law, under the preceptorship of Smith & Wellington, and continued until his own admission to the bar. May 10, 1889. He at once began the practice of law in Troy, and for several years wab associated with Andrew P. McKean, under the firm name of Wheeler & McKean. In May, 1899, he was admitted to practice in the United States district courts, and always commanded a good practice. He was engaged in the law for sixteen years, and won his way to a leading position at the Rensselaer county bar. He was for several years attorney and legal adviser to the board of directors of the Union National Bank. As a lawyer his marked ability won for him the admiration of his colleagues, and his early death was deeply regretted, not only by the members of the bar, but by a large number of friends. He was manly, gentlemanly, courteous and kind, his strict integrity and winning personality drawing and holding men to him. He was a member of the County and State Bar associations, Zeta Psi fraternity, the East Side Club, and Troy Commercial Travelers' Association.

At a meeting of the Rensselaer county bar, held to honor two of their fallen comrades,—James S. Wheeler and Theodore F. Hamilton,—Andrew P. McKean, a former partner, presented the following memorial for Mr. Wheeler:


James S. Wheeler, in the forty-third year of his age, in the sixteenth of his membership of the legal profession, in which comparatively short time he had earned for himself a position among the foremost, has been suddenly taken from us by the hand of Death.

Born in an adjoining county, just across the lordly river that washes the base of the eminence which is his last resting place, the greater part of his life was lived here in this city, where most of his work was done.

From the very dawn of his early youth, he manifested the high traits of a noble character, which as it developed in his school days, in his college career, in his studies as a law clerk, preparing for his profession, and in the pursuit of his profession, in all its engrossing demands, made him a marked man among all who cherish and strive to attain the high ideals of the order whose ranks he adorned.

Though not often appearing in court as an advocate, yet when he did so, there was an earnestness and a thoroughness about him which instantly attracted attention, and won him the applause of his fellow-members of the bar. He was exceptionally well versed in the underlying principles on which the grand structure of our system of jurisprudence is erected. In the application of those principles to the cause in hand, he had a sagacity and a broadness of judgment that never failed to commend him to the clients whose interests were entrusted to his charge.

As a counsellor he had rare gifts, and these gifts were never used save in a meritorious cause. He neither sought, nor was by nature fitted for, any of the legal tasks in which the conscience gets blunted in the employment of sharp tactics to gain a desired end. He was too high-minded to descend to anything that savored of duplicity toward an opponent or the court.

His ideals were those of justice and right, and it was always in the defense of justice, and the defense of right that his keen and admirably trained intellect and the fund of his legal training were employed. He had built up by industry, perseverance and skill, a large clientage, important matters were under his keeping, and his acquaintance with affairs and with men of affairs was extensive.

Though not given to oratorical display, he nevertheless was an orator in the true sense of the word; his command of language was great, his diction was of the purest, his ability to present the facts and the logic and law of a cause was frequently demonstrated, and had he chosen the specialty of an advocate, rather than that of a counsellor, he would have been as distinguished in the one rank as he was the other.

He had that enviable distinction which only comes to the pure in heart, and the firm in professional rectitude, in that he enjoyed the unbounded confidence of his legal brethren. His word once pledged was never broken. Others will speak of his character as a citizen, and as a friend. Others will bear, and have borne, testimony to his charity, his kindly instincts, and his honorable relations to the domain outside of his profession. We pay our tribute to his memory as a lawyer, as a member of the bar, and as an officer in the Temple of the Goddess of Justice, at whose shrine he worshipped.

Signed by the committee:

Andrew P. McKean,
Thomas S. Fagan,
H. Judd Ward,
James Farrell,
Calvin S. McChesney.

Said J. K. Long in part:

He had an enthusiastic love for the beauties of nature; a keen and appreciative eye for the picturesqueness of a landscape. He delighted to be in the fields, in the woods, to watch the sparkling course of the brooks, and to observe the attractions of the scenery in this beautiful valley of the Hudson, in which his life was spent. Nature intended him for an active out-of-door life, though circumstances decided otherwise.

He was peculiarly a clean-minded man in thought, expression and language. Scandal and low gossip were offensive to him, and no one ever heard him utter an impure remark or cloudy jest. While not active in what is called politics, yet he was ever alert to the importance of the duties of a good and patriotic citizen.

He loved his country, he was intensely loyal to the interests of his native State, and he took more than a passing view of the affairs of the municipality in which we live, and more by his example and his walk through life, than by assertion or vociferation, he paid the obligations which good citizenship requires shall be fulfilled.

Of him it may truly be said:

Gone to the realms of purer space.
Our brother leaves effulgent trace.
Of deeds well done and learning bright,
A warrior true in cause of right.
Chivalrous he in act and word,
Gainst him the voice of censure ne'er was heard.
But paeans of praise his brethren give.
To the noble life he strove to live.

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Debby Masterson

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