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608                              VERMONT HISTORICAL MAGAZINE.

 

 

 

HON. CORNELIUS PETER VAN NESS.

 

BY HON. DAVID A. SMALLEY.

 

The Van Ness family, as their name indicates, were of Dutch origin, and were residents of Columbia county, in the State of New York, a county fruitful of men of eminence and fame. The father of the subject of our present biographical sketch was Peter Van Ness, a wealthy and respectable farmer. There were two older sons of this gentleman, namely, John P., who was born in the town of Ghent, formerly Claverack, in the county of Columbia, in the year 1770; and William P., who was horn at the same place in the year 1778. They were cousins — we may mention in passing — of Judge William W. Van Ness, a native of the same town, an able and accomplished gentleman, and who at his death, in the year 1823, left behind him a reputation as a jurist, a scholar, and a man of rare genius and attractive social qualities, such as the most ambitious might well envy.

Gen. John P. Van Ness, the oldest of the sons of Peter Van Ness (for some slight notice of the other members of this family of eminent men seems due to the memory of the distinguished subject of our memoir), was educated at Columbia college in the city of New York, studied law in the office of the late Brockholst Livingston, and commenced the practice of his profession in his native county. Subsequently, in the year 1801, he was chosen member of congress from his district; and having in the following y ear, 1802, married a wealthy lady of the city of Washington, he took up his permanent residence there, where he remained till his death, in the year 1846. He was a man of a high order of talents, and of great personal influence. For many years he was mayor of the city of Washington, as also president of the Bank of the Metropolis, in the same city — the powerful and controlling monied institution of that section of the country — and is well remembered for his large liberality and his exercise of munificent hospitality.

The next son, William P. Van Ness, was also educated at Columbia college, and studied law in the office of the late Edward Livingston of the city of New York. He practiced his profession in that city, where he did a large and remunerative business until he was appointed by President Madison to the the office of United States district judge of southern New York. This office he filled with eminent ability until his sudden death in the autumn of the year 1826; and is described by his biographer as having been "a man of transcendent talents, possessed of rare powers of mind, and a political writer of much energy and ability."

Cornelius Peter Van Ness, the subject of our present memoir, was the third son of Peter Van Ness, and was born on the 26th of January, 1782, in the town of Kinderhook, Columbia county, and State of New York, on the place, it is said, where Ex-President Van Buren lately resided. He was at first designed for the profession of the law, as his brothers before him had been; and, like them, at the

 — — — — —

years before the death of Ethan Allen, or whether — having taken place at some earlier period — the fact and the result of the visit were communicated to him by his uncle Caleb between 1787 and 1796.

 

 

 

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age of fifteen was fitted to enter the junior class (the mid-way term) of Columbia college. But not fancying at that time a professional life, his father consented to a change of plan, and he was not sent to college. Three years later, however, and upon maturer reflection, he thought better of the matter, and entered himself as a student of law in the office of his brother, William P. Van Ness, at New York. Ex-President Martin Van Buren was a fellow student with him at the time in the same office.

Having completed a full course of legal study, he was admitted to the bar in the year 1804, and commenced the practice of his profession in his native town of Kinderhook. The same year, on the 5th of March, 1804, he married Miss Rhoda Savage, daughter of James Savage, Esq., of Chatham, Columbia county, N. Y., a highly educated, accomplished and beautiful lady, and one whose name is ever mentioned by those who knew her, with profound esteem and most affectionate remembrance. She is said to have exercised a very great and salutary influence over her husband, and to have contributed much to his subsequent success in life. Impetuous by nature, and somewhat rough and rude in his early years, she helped to soften the roughness of his character, to direct aright his strong impulses, and to aid him in fitting himself for the elevated social station to which he afterwards arose.

He remained in the practice of law at Kinderhook two years, and then, in the year 1806, removed to Vermont. He first located himself at St. Albans, but some two or three years later, in 1809, he changed his residence to Burlington, where, with occasional intermissions while engaged in public offices, he continued to practice his profession for 20 years or more. The same year of his removal to Burlington, 1809, he was appointed by President Madison to the then most important and responsible office of U. S. district attorney for the district of Vermont. This valuable appointment came to him, it is said, through the unsolicited recommendation of Judge Brockholst Livingston, of the United States supreme court, who at that time held the U. S. circuit courts of the Vermont district, and who had marked Mr. Van Ness's youthful ability and promise and judged him to be the proper man for the place. His judgment thus formed was not erroneous, nor his confidence misplaced. Mr. Van Ness proved himself an able and indefatigable attorney, and amply fulfilled the expectations formed of him. And this at that time was no mean praise. The bar of Vermont was then led by men of rare ability and legal acumen, whose names still linger as household words among the successors in the profession. Among these were Aldis and Swift of Franklin county, Farrand of Chittenden, Edmond and Chipman of Addison, Bradley of Windham, Hubbard and Marsh of Windsor, Chase of Orange, Mattocks of Caledonia, and Prentiss of Washington. "These gentlemen," says a writer in the New York Daily Times of Jan. 8, 1853, understood to be Gamalid B. Sawyer, then of New York, but now of Burlington, Vt., and who penned at that time an able and interesting biographical sketch of Gov. Van Ness on occasion of his then recent death, from which we take the liberty of extracting largely for our present notice, — "These gentlemen," says he, "most of whom had been attracted to Vermont by prospects similar to those which brought Mr. Van Ness there, and were or became distinguished on the bench, in the legislature, or in congress, possessed learning and high intellectual cultivation. There was not one of them whose legal and forensic ability would not have made him a formidable antagonist at any bar in the Union. With such men Mr. Van Ness entered the field of competition, and his success was as marked and rapid, as it was gratifying and perhaps unexpected. He studied intensely; never intermitted investigation while a fact, principle, or authority, on either side of his case, remained unexplained. Quick and acute in his perceptions, clear in arrangement, penetrating and sagacious, his elocution was both fluent and forcible. He was successful, and success constantly enlarged his practice. With his thoroughness of preparation — an admirable trait in the character of a lawyer — ambition had much to do, for his maxim was to do his very best in every case, and on every occasion of professional contest; but there was another principle — he loved his profession and the conflicts of the bar, and entered into his causes with an enthusiasm which identified himself and his reputation with success; and clients wondered at a depth of feeling and anxiety for their interests, which sometimes exceeded their own. He was soon by the side of his ablest competitors, — by their admission, and the public voice."

We have said that the office of U. S. district attorney for Vermont at that time was one of peculiar importance and large responsibility. The occasion of its being so was this. The restrictive policy then imposed upon our commerce by the national adminis

 

 

 

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tration, in consequence of the arbitrary measures adopted by both England and France towards the vessels and cargoes of neutrals, had driven importations almost entirely from our seaboard, and foreign goods, in consequence, could find admission to the country only by way of Canada on our northern frontier. Lake Champlain and its valley became by this means the great thoroughfare of our foreign trade, Burlington its chief port of entry, and — by  reason of the vast amount of smuggling which naturally ensued — the U. S. district court of Vermont the arena of multiplied litigation, and the duties of the district attorney correspondingly delicate, arduous and responsible. It is enough to say that Mr. Van Ness performed them with tact, skill and eminent success. This important and then highly lucrative office he held till the year 1813, when urgent occasion arose for transferring his services to the office of collector of the port of Burlington, the most important revenue post at that time, probably, to be found in the whole country. The national administration, then involved in the task of conducting our second war with Great Britain, found itself, in consequence of the long continuance of restrictions upon commerce and foreign importations, sorely pressed by embarrassments. Without home manufactures to supply the wants of the country; and articles of foreign production, previously relied upon, having become exceedingly scarce; the people were put to excessive inconvenience, and muttered discontent already threatened the government. with the loss at least of popular favor, if not of a hearty popular support of the war. The government, too, was not a little incommoded to procure blankets and other articles of foreign manufacture for the use of its own armies; and last, but perhaps most pressing want of all, it needed the revenue duties on foreign importations to replenish its own exhausted treasury. Under these circumstances it became necessary to adopt some expedient to meet these several requirements. The foreign goods so much needed by the people for consumption, and by the merchants and traders for the marts of business, and by the custom house for the revenues which they would pay into the government treasury, were ready at hand in the warehouses of Montreal, where they had for a long time been accumulating from abroad in anticipation of some opening of admission to the American market. But as British goods they were forbidden by the restrictive policy of the government from being permitted to enter the country. To obviate this difficulty a legal fiction was resorted to, at the instance, it is said, of leading merchants and capitalists of Boston and New York, and at which the government winked, at least, if indeed it was not itself a party to the measure. It was suggested that the goods, under color of being the property of neutral persons, might be made admissible, and the governmental restrictive policy, ostensibly at least, remain unimpaired. One Monzuco, therefore, an Italian or Spanish gentleman, resident at the time in this country, was commissioned by the parties to the transaction to appear and act is the ostensible importer and owner of the goods; and in his name and as being such actual owner of them the goods were suffered to be entered at the custom house or the port of Burlington, the duties there collected on them, and their subsequent distribution and sale throughout the country freely allowed. Vast quantities of foreign merchandise were thus in a short space of time admitted into the States through Canada, from which not only did the government treasury derive a large and timely revenue, but the merchants of the country were also supplied again with the means of trade and business, while the people were furnished with cloths and wares and numerous articles of necessity, for which their long pressing needs rendered them not unwilling to pay almost any price if they could but obtain them.

The biographer of Mr. Van Ness, to whom we have above referred, represents the then collector of the port of Burlington, the late Samuel Buel, Esq., as a gentleman too high minded and too scrupulously conscientous to take part in such apparently fraudulent transactions, and therefore that it became necessary to get him out of the way, and to put a less scrupulous man in his place. Mr. Buel therefore, it is said, "was removed upon some frivolous and groundless pretext, and Mr. Van Ness translated to the collectorship of Vermont."

But this is not only casting an unjust and undeserved fling at Mr. Van Ness's good name for high-toned integrity, for which, during a long life of public service, no one ever bore a more pure and unsullied reputation, but it also gives the other named gentleman, Mr. Buel, credit for the exercise of conscientiousness where none was specially called for. There was nothing surely that was morally wrong in the transaction, unless it may have been Signor Monzuco's oaths to the Custom House returns, which was a matter, of course,

 

 

 

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for himself and his employers alone. As to the main transaction, nobody was deceived by it, nobody was wronged by it. So far as the government was concerned in it, either by privity or consent, it was obviously to be looked upon as an expedient resorted to for effecting necessary ends without openly, or indeed, in any way really violating government consistency. It afforded, indeed, to the political opposition party of that day a fine handle for political sarcasm and affected indignation, which they did not fail to use. But it carried no moral turpitude with it, and could justly bring no stain upon the port collector for the acquiescent part which he was called upon to bear in it. And, indeed, it was well enough understood that the gentleman named as then filling the office, far from having the nice scruples attributed to him by the biographer from whom we quote, was himself only too willing to bear an active part in the transaction, provided it were for an adequate consideration. But though a good enough man in his way, and well fitted to the performance of the ordinary duties of his office, the times and the occasion obviously demanded for the post a man of' more than ordinary ability, sagacity and aptitude for the place; and hence the government, with just and discriminating discernment, displaced the former occupant, and made Mr. Van Ness collector for the port of Burlington in his stead. Mr. Van Ness held the office until the termination of the war, and then left it to fill the more important one of commissioner — conjointly with the late Peter B. Porter and John Holmes — to settle our national boundaries under the treaty of Ghent. This was an office or agency of great importance, and which Mr. Van Ness continued to hold for some four or five years, with a salary of $4,500 per annum. It is admitted on all hands that he displayed in this position distinguished ability and rare fitness for its duties, and added largely thereby to his growing and already eminent, reputation as a public man.

Resuming, after this, the practice of his profession at Burlington, which, no longer necessary, "he continued," says his biographer, "from love of it," he became again wore directly engaged in the affairs and interests of his own state; and by that leading and masterly influence which he ever exercised over its people when he chose to do so, he was able to combine conflicting elements and parties together, and place himself at their head. He had, indeed, all along for years previously — ever since, we may say, his early appointment to the office of United States district attorney — wielded the sceptre of government influence and patronage for the Green Mountain State. He was now to be the leading spirit of its own home interests and affairs. His own town of Burlington had already, as early as 1818, chosen him its representative to the General Assembly, and he was reelected for the three following years.

"The ablest men of the state," says his biographer, "were in the legislature, and the circumstances of the state and of the times brought before it measures and questions of high interest and importance; and Mr. Van Ness brought with him the habits of labor, industry and deep investigation and preparation, which he had always manifested. As a parliamentary leader and debater he assumed the same standing — perhaps I should say ascendency — he had possessed at the bar. He mingled in every important debate, and his influence and talents were usefully exerted and wisely directed. One of those measures may be mentioned. He brought in a bill to incorporate the Bank of Burlington, and on the fate of that bill depended the adoption of the banking system of Vermont. The people, years before that, had been induced into forming a Vermont state bank, owned by the state, and conducted by its agents. He carried the bill." We may add in passing, that Mr. Van Ness was chosen to be one of the directors of the bank whose incorporation he had thus procured — the old Bank of Burlington — and became its first, president; an office which he held till his appointment to the bench of the supreme court of the state, when he resigned it.

During the last year Van Ness's legislative term, 1821, his office of commissioner having ceased by the final disagreement of the British and American commissioners, he was appointed chief justice of the state; which office he held until two years later, when he was withdrawn from it to be placed in the executive chair of the state. He held the office of governor three years, having been twice reelected without opposition, and declining a further reelection in 1826. We need not say that he filled these offices with distinguished ability and eminent success. As chief justice of the supreme court, "his duties," says his biographer, "carried him into every county, and his judicial administration increased, and confirmed his popularity. For while his promptitude, learning and ability were conceded, the bar

 

 

 

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and the public admitted that he had not been surpassed in courtesy, dignity and impartiality." As governor of the state, the same writer says of him, "he performed his current duties well, of course, made judicious and popular recommendations, promoted the adoption of good measures, and maintained the reputation and influence he had acquired. His reception of Lafayette in 1825, is remembered. Him and the state officers he received and entertained at his fine mansion in Burlington, in a style of magnificent hospitality suited to his liberal temper and ample means."

We come now to what may be termed a turning point in the political life of Gov Van Ness, and one which not only his friends but even his political enemies — for, as with every public man, he had such — must recall with a shadow of regret, especially as these latter had so large a share in marring and blighting his aspirations and all the future of his personal career. The writer of the biographical sketch to which we have referred, and from which we have so freely extracted, though himself of opposite and sharply bitter hostile politics to those of Gov. Van Ness, and one of those most probably who rejoiced for the moment at his political discomfiture and defeat, has well depicted his standing and position at that period, and, on the whole, very truthfully and fairly presented the narrative of the memorable senatorial contest of 1826, and of its untoward and unexpected result. "At this period," says he, "Gov. Van Ness was in the prime of life — exercised in business — his mind trained in the habits of investigation, and disciplined in the conflicts of forensic and political life. He was widely known as a most able and rising man, and his extensive intercourse with society — especially his frequent visits to Washington, made him personally and familiarly acquainted with public men. He had measured their strength and felt his own. The senate of the United States was then and afterwards the noblest theatre for the American statesmen and orators. On that arena he desired to place himself — where he would be in communion or collision with kindred minds, armed for the contest.

The term of Hon. Horatio Seymour, who was not supposed to contemplate a reelection, was about expiring, and the election for senator was to take place in October, 1826. The influence of Gov. Van Ness seemed irresistible, and his success certain.

"For ten years he had exercised an overruling power — being supposed to have control of all offices of importance under the state and general government in Vermont. While a position of this kind confers the means of conciliating and attaching strong men, it implies the necessity of disobliging and alienating their competitors; and they are apt to be younger and more energetic men. Besides, with something of the "per fervidum ingenium Bataviorum," he did not always use his strength or bear his honors meekly, and was more careless than he was wise and prudent in provoking enmities or prosecuting his own. From this resulted a mass of latent and smouldering hostility, which only waited for a favorable opportunity to burst forth. The opportunity was come, and combined it all. Mr. Seymour, of respectable talents, conciliating manners and irreproachable character, and firmly devoted to Mr. Adams and his reelection, was persuaded to become a candidate by his friends, or rather by the opponents and enemies of Gov. Van Ness. It was in the midst of the remorseless contest between Adams and Jackson, and party spirit ran high. Although he had voted for and approved of Mr. Adams's administration in his messages, his family connections, his intimacy with Mr. Van Buren and other chiefs of the opposition, the support of that party in and out of the state, the defection of important political persons elected to congress elsewhere as Adams men, and his imputed predilections, were urged to his prejudice in the press, in private conversation, in meetings and assemblages. These discussions continued for months; and 'Seymour and Van Ness' was the test at the polls for members of the legislature. When that body met in October, and the whole state assembled with it at Montpelier, it was still uncertain who was strongest; and every argument and persuasion that could move the human mind, was brought to bear upon the members to influence the result. The ballot was at length taken, and Mr. Seymour was elected by a small majority. It was a memorable contest, the like of which had not occurred before nor since, except the recent one of Col. Benton in Missouri."

The writer, in commenting upon the results of the election, and with the asperity of his own political feelings somewhat softened by the flight of time, is pleased to add: "Some injustice was done to Gov. Van Ness, who would doubtless have adhered to the administration during the residue of its existence; but it is quite reasonable to infer that on its termination he would have felt

 

 

 

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himself at liberty to adopt the party to which his sympathies and interests both attached him. Stung by a reverse which he felt to be so decisive, he abandoned the administration in a published manifesto, in which he charged his defeat to the interference of Mr. Adams, grounded on the efforts and letters of persons in his special confidence, which involved him in controversy with them, published in the newspapers of the time, and which contributed to swell the tide of unpopularity which was then setting against the administration."

The writer adds: "The reverses of politicians and statesmen are not the griefs for which the world shed many tears. Yet his friends felt sympathy for a disappointment which he felt keenly, and on cool reflection even opponents might regret that the doors of the senate were barred against talents so conspicuous and so qualified to be an honor and ornament to the state and country."

And well might they do so. For through the enmities and jealousies and cabals and vindictive workings, which thus barely succeeded in striking down Gov. Van Ness in the prime and vigor of his political life and influence in Vermont, such was the course of subsequent events, that he became politically an exile from the state; and thus was there lost to it a man whose large experience and ripened abilities would have been for many years employed in fostering its interests and shedding lustre upon its name.

On the accession of General Jackson to the presidential chair in 1829 Mr. Van Ness received the distinguished appointment of minister to Spain, a post which he continued to occupy for many years, and the duties of which he fulfilled with his accustomed ability and success. But it was not a position suited to his active and aspiring disposition; while the long absence of ten years from his native land, which it occasioned, sufficed to withdraw him effectually from that sphere of earnest political life, in which, had he been permitted to remain in it, he would have won high political honors and rewards.

Returning to his own country and state in 1840, he found that great changes had taken and were taking place in the field of national politics; old friends and competitors had passed away, to give place to new and younger aspirants; while his own adopted state of Vermont had settled down into a fixed and immovable opposition to democratic rule. The country was on the eve of a new presidential election, the memorable one of Gov. Van Ness mingled in it for a brief season, and strove to gain something of his old influence and ascendancy in the state. But in the tornado of excitement which so effectually swept the country, he was little likely to find success in the old whig state of Vermont, and his efforts were vain and fruitless.

After a short stay in Vermont, Mr. Van Ness in 1841 returned to his native state of New York, and took up his residence in its commercial metropolis. For the brief period of a year and a half in 1844 and 1845, he suffered himself to be drawn from private life to occupy public office again, having received from President Tyler the appointment of collector of the port of New York, "a post," says his biographer, "which he filled well, and from which he retired honorably — paying to the government the last penny" — with this his official career terminated. A year or two later, in 1846, the death of his brother, Gen. John P. Van Ness of Washington, who died childless, left him one of the heirs to a large estate, in the settlement and care of which his now declining years were mainly occupied. He continued to reside at New York, with frequent visits, however, to Washington, where business cares called him, until his death on the 15th of December, 1852. He died — while thus journeying between the two cities — at the Girard house in Philadelphia, and was buried in the family vault in Washington, by the side of his brother, John P. Van Ness.

His biographer, to whom we have so often referred, and to whom we are so largely indebted in the composition of our own biographical sketch of Gov. Van Ness — a gentleman intimately acquainted with him, and himself fitted to appreciate and delineate his intellectual and personal character, thus sums up and closes his remarks upon his life:

"Gov. Van Ness," says he, "neither felt nor affected love for literature; troubled himself little with theoretical speculations, or with abstract principles, except, as connected with the kindred sciences of law and politics, which few men more thoroughly studied and understood — to which he devoted himself exclusively; and this concentration of mind and effort was the secret and the source of his success. Without imagination, using language plain, but expressing always the precise idea he wished to convey, disregarding decoration, his reasoning, compacted link within link, glowed with the fire of earnestness and conviction — or rather his speech was a torrent of impassioned argument, as clear as it was rapid, capable of sweeping away juries and assemblies, and of

 

 

 

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moving from their moorings the anchored caution and gravity of the bench. As a speaker, Mr. Van Ness was of a high order indeed.

He was a patriot, wishing his country well, and would have hesitated at no sacrifices if required by its safety or glory. A man of dauntless courage, he was always ready to meet his enemies, whom he never conciliated; and he did not love his enemies — yet placable, never refusing the offered hand of reconciliation, and forgetting in a moment the animosities and injuries of years. And he never deserted a friend. Nothing — no alteration of circumstances, no odium, unworthiness even, could obliterate his feelings for his friend, or intercept any support or service he could render. His kindly nature kindled with instant sympathy for bad luck and misfortune wherever he encountered it, and the story of embarrassment, trouble or disaster, was not half told when his quick brain was devising expedients of relief, or his hand nervously exploring his pockets, bare it might be from the effect of previous credulity or benevolences. His liberality and generosity were without bounds. He was a gentleman of attractive manners, and his conversation was full of shrewd remark, practical philosophy and anecdote, which his varied experience had collected. With great virtues he had some of the errors and failings incident to strong passions, to his education, his career and the temptations to which he was exposed. He was singularly fortunate, and it was quite in course that his retirement from the office he last held should be followed by a large accession to his wealth, inherited from his brother, John P. Van Ness of Washington. And now the shadows of years were gathering around him, and gout — a malignant and insidious foe — undermined a strong constitution. He died, having reached an age little short of that allotted to man."

We have mentioned above the early marriage of Sir. Van Ness to Miss Savage of Chatham, N. Y., and have spoken of the rare excellencies and the beautiful character of that most estimable lady. Mrs. Van Ness accompanied her husband on his Spanish mission, and died at Madrid in Spain, on the 18th day of July, 1834. Her death was occasioned by the malignant cholera, so prevalent and fatal that season, and she was buried in the garden of the convent of Reedleles, on the Prado.

Mr. Van Ness subsequently married again; his second wife being a Spanish lady of much beauty and excellence of character, but several years younger than himself. She still survives him, and is a resident of New York, with a young daughter, the fruit of her marriage to Mr. Van Ness.

Gov. Van Ness had three sons, James, Cornelius, and George; and two daughters (by his first marriage), Marcia (Lady Ouseley), and Cornelia (Mrs. Roosevelt).  Of the sons, James, the oldest, is the only one living. We have not the data of his life. Cornelius, the second son, was born at Burlington, Vt., October 10, 1812. He early became a resident of Texas, and soon showed himself to be a man of very superior abilities and of brilliant promise. He had already become a man of public note and of extensive and rapidly growing influence, when he met with a sudden and untimely death; being killed by the accidental discharge of a gun in the hands of a young man of the name of Robinson. He was at the time secretary of state in Texas. His death occurred on the 18th day of July, 1842. George, the youngest of the sons, was born at Burlington, on the 14th of April, 1817, and died at Carrigo, Webb county, in Texas, October 7th, 1855. At the time of his death he was collector of the customs at Carrigo.

Of the daughters, Marcia, said by those who knew her to have been a young lady of fine talents and of brilliant accomplishments, was early married (in March, 1828) to Mr. W. G. Ouseley — subsequently made Sir W. G. Ouseley — then an attachι of the British legation at Washington. Cornelia, a native of St. Albans, the remaining daughter of the first Mrs. Van Ness, was the favorite neice of Gen. John P. Van Ness, and usually a resident member of his family at Washington. She is well remembered as a distinguished belle of that city, before her marriage to the Hon. J. J. Rosevelt, recently one of the judges of the supreme court of the state of New York, and is said to have been a young lady of great and attractive beauty of person and of most fascinating address. Possessing much of her distinguished father's ability, with no little share of his singular aptitude for politics, she was well versed in the political affairs of the country, and is said to have exercised great and conservative influence over more than one of the administrations which have had in charge the interests of the nation.

She is still living, and since her marriage to Judge Roosevelt has been a resident of New York, where her exercise of genial and extensive hospitality is well known and justly appreciated by the many distinguished visitors who frequent that city.

 

 

 

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ALEXANDER DAVIDSON *

 

Was a Scotchman, who came out here soon after the peace, in 1783, and built a one story frame house, on the east side of Shelburne bay, about half way between the shore and the now traveled road to Shelburne, opposite the late residence of Theodore Catlin, deceased. The situation was considerably elevated above the lake, and commanded a pleasant view of the bay and the beautiful point opposite. He owned 100 acres, and set out an orchard of apple trees and other fruits. The Davidson pear tree must have been the first of the kind in the town — it is not now alive, but is remembered as a large and productive tree. Davidson was at first engaged in the lumber business — he was a bachelor and lived with a family in his house, generally, until about 20 years before his decease, when he was supplied and cared for by the family of Theodora Catlin. He was a great Washington man — a federalist, a great reader, a man of good sense, of gentlemanly and rather dignified deportment. He was a good figure of a man — tall, straight — a great walker, wore a cocked hat, a surtout with a cape, and small clothes and a buff vest; there are those who well remember his striking and peculiar figure as he walked up from his place near four miles distant, as he was wont to do, without fail, to town and freeman's meetings to cast his vote. He left a large trunk of books, many of which were moulded and decayed, and his estate was just sufficient to pay his debts and funeral charges. He lived in his house, which was never painted, and became much dilapidated, about 50 years, and died about 30 years ago.

 

 

ELEAZER HUBBELL DEMING. †

 

Among the early and most successful business men of Burlington, was the late E. H. Deming. His father was Pownal Deming of Litchfield, Conn., a captain in the United States navy; and his mother, Miss Abby Hubbell of Bridgeport, a young lady described by her friends and those who knew her, as "of great beauty and much idolized by her parents," who was married to Capt. Deming at a very early age, and died February 13th, 1785, when only eighteen years of age, in giving birth (at Bridgeport, Conn.) to the subject of our notice. Deprived of his mother at the hour of his birth, with a father whose calling in life carried him far from home, the child was thrown wholly upon the care of his maternal grandparents, and was brought up by them. Mr. Hubbell, the grandfather, was a farmer, and when young Deming was but twelve years old, the family removed from Connecticut to Jericho, Vt. His advantages there for education were but limited, being no more than the scanty opportunities, for acquiring the simplest rudiments of knowledge, such as the district school of those days afforded. This, as has been the case with many in like circumstances, was matter of much regret to him in after life; and one powerful stimulant to him for the acquisition of wealth, in which he was subsequently so successful, was that he might have means to give his children the high advantages of early education, which had been denied himself. As it was, however, it is still remembered of him that he made such good use of the opportunities afforded to him in the district school, that on one occasion, when through illness of the teacher, a vacancy occurred, he was selected temporarily to supply his place. At quite an early age, he came from Jericho to Burlington, and at first resided for a while in the family of the late Mr. John Johnson, where he learned mathematics, surveying, etc. His first lessons in practical mercantile business, were acquired from the late Samuel Hickok, Esq., in whose store he was for sometime employed as clerk. Subsequently to this, as we gather from some memoranda made by himself, he passed some time in New York, in 1804 and 1805, as clerk there, during which time, through the friendship of Mr. Pearsall, an auctioneer of that city, he was able, by buying goods at auction and selling again, and by carefully saving his clerk-hire, to accumulate a moderate sum of money, sufficient as he deemed to warrant his embarking in business on his own account. He accordingly returned to Burlington with a small stock of goods in which he had invested his small capital, and there commenced business on the 5th of September, 1805, at the age, as he himself has recorded it, of 20 years and 6 months.

It is curious to note that he sets down his capital at that time as amounting to the sum of $1,573.63, viz.: $1,003 in cash, of which $506 was left him from his father, Pownal Deming's estate, and the balance had been made or saved by him, as before mentioned, in New York, and the remainder in some old goods and personal effects which never, as he himself expresses it, were turned to

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* Who was called also the "hermit of Burlington." — Ed.

† Biography furnished by the family.

 

 

 

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much use or profit. From that time he was accustomed to inventory his entire property every year, from the record of which, still remaining in his own handwriting, we are enabled to trace his yearly gains, and to notice his steady and uniform success. He continued in business just 20 years; retiring from it in the year 1826, on account of failing health and premonitions of the fatal disease of consumption, which two years afterwards, on the 5th May, 1828, terminated his life: leaving behind him a large estate for those days, and the reputation of having been "the best business man in Chittenden county." We should add, that those who knew him well, speak of him as having been a man of untiring energy and perseverance, always persistently carrying out what he had undertaken; plain and simple in his tastes, having a marked dislike to display; unobtrusive in manner, of quiet humor, and "fond of a good joke;" and of great exactness in business, and of sterling honesty and uprightness in its transactions.

Mr. Deming was married to Miss Fanny Follett, daughter of Timothy Follett of Bennington, and a sister of the Hon. Timothy Follett of Burlington, on the 18th Oct., 1807, He had eight children, five of whom were living at the time of his death: one of these, however, an infant daughter, died soon after his decease. He left, but one son, his eldest child, Charles Follett Deming, Esq., who after having received every advantage of a finished education, and entered upon the practice of the legal profession, with a bright promise of success, was cut off at the early age of 24 years, by the same fell disease which had terminated the life of his honored father.

 

 

HON. CHARLES ADAMS.

 

BY REV. JOSHUA YOUNG.

 

Was born in Arlington, Vt., March 12th, A. D. 1785.

At the age of' nineteen, after a term of three years' study, he received a degree with three others at the University of Vermont, in the first class that was graduated at that institution.

He immediately entered the law office of Hon. William C. Harrington (Col. Harrington), in Burlington, and in due course of time was admitted to the Chittenden county bar, where he soon become distinguished in his profession.

In 1814, he married Maria Waite, by whom he had four children, of whom two survive: one, J. S. Adams, Esq., is the present able secretary of the Vermont Board of Education.

For one or more terms Mr. Adams served his fellow citizens at Montpelier as councillor from Burlington — as our legislators were then called — and in 1825, during the visit of Gen. Lafayette, at the laying of the corner stone of the University building, was aid to Gov. Van Ness, and to him was assigned the duty of introducing strangers who desired to shake hands with that distinguished friend of America, and friend of just and impartial liberty everywhere.

He died on Wednesday morning, Jan. 12, 1861, aged 76 years — widely known throughout the state for his eminent ability and public services for more than forty years, and esteemed by his fellow men for the purity of his character, and his generous and earnest public spirit.

The characteristics of Mr. Adams — his intellectual qualities and his public merits are well set forth in the following notice of his death, taken from the Burlington Daily Times, and in the resolutions appended:

"He was an able lawyer. In the preparation of his causes industrious and thorough; in their management, acute, ingenious, quick in perception, full of resources, tasking the strength of the strongest opponents, and manifesting an ability of which the reports preserve abundant. evidence.

As a citizen he was distinguished for his public spirit. In the affairs and prosperity of Burlington, he always took a lively interest. Of the university, of whose corporation he was for many years an active member, he was an efficient and liberal friend and patron; indeed, in the many difficulties and reverses the institution has had to encounter from fire and other circumstances, Mr. Adams was one of the few to whom its preservation as well as prosperity and usefulness are mainly due. But he was public spirited always and everywhere.

As a son, brother and father, he has left a record of duties nobly performed, which is impressed on the community where he passed his days.

Thus has passed away one of the few remaining men of a past epoch, and the disappearance of Charles Adams is another memento to remind us "what shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue."

The members of the Chittenden county bar net yesterday afternoon at the office of the state's attorney. Jeremiah French, Esq., was chosen president of the meeting, and L. B. Englesby, secretary.

 

 

 

 

 

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Hon. Geo. F. Edmunds announced the death of Mr. Adams briefly and impressively, and offered the following resolutions:

 

Whereas, it has pleased God to call from among us our eldest brother in the bar, Hon. Charles Adams, the largest portion of whose life has been spent in the diligent study and honorable practice of the law.

And,

Whereas, in discharge of a public duty as well as in obedience to the dictates of our private feelings, we think it proper to mark this occasion by some record of our estimate of his abilities and his character; therefore

Resolved, That the public character and services of Mr. Adams demand commendation; that through his long life whether as a private person or in public office, he maintained a wide and various intercourse with public men, and cherished a constant and deep interest in public affairs: and by his wisdom and sagacity, the fruit of large intellectual endowments, matured thought, and extensive observation, and by the soundness of his judicial opinions, he exerted at all times a most salutary influence upon the sentiments and progress of his community.

Resolved, That in his practice as a counsellor and advocate of this bar we would record their sense of his integrity, prudence, learning, knowledge of men and affairs, and power of persuasion, and that when he died there was extinguished one of the few remaining lights of the "old common law."

Resolved, That the state's attorney be requested to present these resolutions to the County Court at its next term, and request the Court to order them to be placed upon its record.

Resolved, That as a token of respect for the deceased we will attend his funeral in a body, wearing the appropriate badge of mourning.

Resolved, That the Secretary transmit to the family of Mr. Adams a copy of these resolutions, together with an expression of the sympathy of the members of this bar, appropriate to this mournful occasion.

The resolutions were unanimously agreed to; and the meeting adjourned till Friday morning at half past nine o'clock, to attend the funeral.

 

From the Sermon on the death of Mr. Adams.

To our aged brother, whose remains we followed to the grave last Friday, death came when death seems fitting — not in green spring, when life is in its blossom; not in golden summer, when ambition and labor are fast ripening their fruits; but in late autumn, when the mature fruits fall from the trees, and the yellow grain bends to the sickle, and the full harvest is gathered in. At first, true to the instinct, I alluded to in the beginning of these remarks, timid, shrinking, he was scarcely willing to depart. "I am very feeble," he said to me one day, "but it seems to me that never in my life had I so much to do as now." And his trembling hand pulled out the drawer which contained, in various manuscripts, the evidences of his literary plans and unfinished labors, and all of them of public interest and utility. But, as his waning strength assured him that his time was come, that it was God's will he soon should go, he took to his heart the consolations of the religion of Jesus, to which his mind — although somewhat skeptical, perhaps, by nature; and critical by habit — ever yielded an intelligent and grateful assent; received the sacraments of the church, and, happy in listening day by day to the sacred songs of the psalmist, and the blessed words of Jesus, gently breathed his last; and his end was peace. It was a part of my original purpose to say something, at this time, respecting the professional and public services of the able lawyer, the studious scholar, the devoted and public-spirited citizen, the upright man, whose death we commemorate; but the press, speaking from a longer acquaintance, and to a larger audience has already discharged this office of respect, and therefore it only remains for me simply to express my appreciation of the kind friend and attentive parishioner he ever was to me. The occasional evening visit; the pleasant conversation, always on topics worthy and of high public concern; the book or paper sent to me, now and then, as a gift, or for instructive perusal; the kind words spoken from the experience of age, and from the sympathies of congenial opinions — these things I shall remember and think of as I look and see him no more in his place in this house he was so constant to occupy every Sunday, morning and evening, till health and strength failed." — J. Y.

 

[And here, at the foot of this biography, we may be permitted to gratefully record, this work enlisted his sympathy and coφporation — already had he taken in charge the

 

 

 

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preparation of the history of the town with whose annals he was so familiar and which he had done so much to illustrate, and aided in selecting a board of town historians for the county, when sudden paralysis met the valuable old man journeying with so much seeming leisure and quietude down to his grave and Burlington and Chittenden county lost the man most preeminently qualified to gather up the records of her past and write the biographies of her public men. — Ed.]