James Forsyth
James Forsyth

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

JAMES FORSYTH is from the northern part of the State, and has passed the whole of his professional life in Troy. He came here in October, 1843, and formed a law partnership with the Hon. Hiram P. Hunt, then member of Congress from this district, which continued for two or three years; after which he struck out for himself in the profession of the law, which he has pursued with ability, honor, and success at the Rensselaer bar for more than thirty-five years. Subsequently he was for some years associated in professional business with the late Charles R. Richards, Esq., and with Sewall Sergeant, Esq., now of New York, and later with E. L. Fursman and Esek Cowen, Esqs. He is the eldest son of Robert and Sabrina (Ramsay) Forsyth, and was born in the town of Peru (now Ausable), Clinton Co., N. Y. His ancestors were of Scotch-Irish extraction, and came to this country in 1730, settling in Chester, Rockingham Co., N. H. In 1816 his parents crossed Lake Champlain and settled on the Ausable River, on the eastern side of the wilderness of Northern New York, where the subject of this sketch was born on the 8th of September, 1817. The family were pioneers in that part of the country. His father was lumberman, farmer, tavern-keeper, and merchant; he held various town offices, and met a premature death by drowning in 1834 at Plattsburgh, N. Y. His mother was a New Hampshire woman, daughter of James Ramsay, Esq., of Tomney, Grafton Co., N. H., of unusual mental force and culture. She died at Keeseville, N. Y., in 1864.

Mr. Forsyth received his rudimentary education in the common school of the period, and his preparation for college at the Keeseville Academy, and in 1835 entered the University of Vermont, at Burlington, from which he graduated with the usual honors in 1839. The same year he commenced the study of the law in the office of the Hon. George A. Simmons and Charles F. Tabor, Esqs., at Keeseville, where he remained until he was admitted to the bar in 1842, and until the following year, when he came to Troy. The Rensselaer bar was then led by eminent lawyers, such as David Buel, Jr., Hiram P. Hunt, Job Pierson, Samuel G. Huntington, David L. Seymour, and others, with John P. Cushman as the circuit judge. For a young lawyer, under the then existing circumstances of the case, who was determined to live by his profession, there was no alternative but to "labor and to wait."

Among other professional business at this time, he was employed to institute proceedings in chancery to open an old decree in partition of the land known as the "South Part of Green Island," Watervliet, Albany Co., and to repartition the same among the proprietors and heirs, on the ground that the terms and conditions contained in the decree of partition had not been complied with. The suit, after bill and answer filed, was settled, and the property repartitioned by agreement of parties, and the land thrown open to purchasers, upon which a prosperous village has since grown up.

Shortly after this period the railroad growth and expansion in Troy and vicinity began. The legislation of the State on railroads was crude and undigested, and had to be interpreted, construed, and settled by judicial decisions. The construction of every railroad involved a great amount of litigation and professional service. He was in a ;position to take his share of this new business, and for fifteen years he was identified with it.

The Saratoga and Washington Railroad, Whitehall and Rutland Railroad, Rutland and Washington Railroad, the Troy and Boston Railroad, Albany Northern Railroad, New York and Troy (Harlem Extension) Railroad, and the Troy Union Railroad, - all were the growth of this period, and with which he had more or less to do on one side or the other.

In 1855 he foreclosed the second mortgage on the Saratoga and Washington Railroad Company, and the road was sold and a new corporation, the Saratoga and Whitehall Railroad Company, organized.

He was engaged in several capital cases tried in this county, and in several important litigation involving the rights and liabilities of subscribers to the stock of projected railroads and corporations, and in the contested seat case in the Supreme Court between Judge Wright and Judge Hogeboom, tried before referees at Stephentown during the Anti-Rent excitement.

In 1846 he married Sarah M., daughter of Elisha Tibbits, Esq., late of New York. Of this marriage was born a son, Robert, now an engineer in Chicago. She died in 1854, and in 1860 he married Lydia A., daughter of Charles Pumpelly, Esq., late of Oswego, N. Y. She died in 1876. The only child of this marriage (James) is now at school.

In politics Mr. Forsyth always acted steadily with the Whig party until its dissolution, and than constantly with the Republican party, organized in 1854, to which he took an active part.

When the Rebellion broke out, in 1861, Governor Morgan appointed him chairman of the war committee of Rensselaer County, and he at once applied himself to this new duty, and three regiments of volunteers were with the great dispatch raised and sent to war by this committee.

When the United States government organized a department for raising men for the service he was appointed by President Lincoln on the board of enrollment, and was provost-marshal of this district from July 1, 1864, to the end of the war. He was United States collector of internal revenue in this district in the years 1868-69.

Preferring the duties, labors, and study of his profession and the command of his own time in business, he has not sought political preferment or asked the suffrages of his party, neither has he avoided the discomfiture of defeat when his party asked the sacrifice in a city and county usually adverse in politics. He has been identified with important interests in Troy tending to its growth and prosperity. Officially connected with the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad and the Troy Union Railroad, as attorney and counsel; and of the latter, from its organization until 1868, the secretary and treasurer. A director, attorney, and counsel of the Commercial Bank of Troy from 1853 until its close during the war. Also a director of the Troy City National Bank, as organized by the late John A. Griswold, in 1865. The president of the Troy and West Troy Bridge Company since the completion of the work, in 1874. He was one of the incorporators, and is now one of the trustees, of the Union Trust Company of New York.

Always interested in both educational and church work, a firm advocate of the free-school system, he is a trustee of the Troy Female Seminary, and of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the president of the latter institution since 1869. His is a vestryman of St. Paul's Church, Troy, and has been a deputy to the General Convention of the American Church since the erection of the diocese of Albany.

Of late is avocations have diverted from the laborious practice of the profession, but he has lost none of his thorough love for the law as a science, or of his industry and zeal as a critical reader and student of elementary writers and books of reports. He is content to see the business of the courts in the hands of younger men who have won it, and no one enjoys their triumphs more than he, or gives his praise more freely to worthy young men of the bar.

His career has been one of close application to this profession and varied surrounding interests, without a respite, except in 1859, when he went abroad with Governor Seward and Hon. Henry J. Raymond, and passed the summer on the Continent during the Italian campaign, witnessing the battle of Solferino, in Italy, on the 24th of June of that year, between the French and Austrians (in which more than forty thousand men were placed "hors du combat"). After that he made the tour of Rome and Southern Italy with Governor Seward. In 1870, soon after the opening of the Union Pacific Railroad, he visited California.

He has been the candidate of his party for mayor repeatedly, and for county judge, and his name was strongly urged in 1874 by the Republicans in this part of the State for the appointment of United States district judge for this district, in place of Judge N. K. Hall, deceased; but a more central location of this officer in the district, at Syracuse, was made.

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