HISTORY OF THE TOWN OFLE RAY.
Child’s Gazetteer of Jefferson County
LE RAY received its name from James Le Ray de Chaumont, the proprietor, and was formed from Brownville, February 17, 1806. Antwerp was taken off in 1810, a part of Wilna in 1813, and Philadelphia and a part of Alexandria in 1821. It is an interior town, east of the center of the county, and lies nearly in the form of an equilateral triangle, of which the western boundary is a north and south line, against the towns of Orleans and Pamelia, the northeast side joining Theresa and Philadelphia, and the southeast border being formed partially by Wilna, but principally by the Black River, which is its main water course. The next stream in size is Indian River, which enters from Philadelphia, flows in a southwesterly course to within one mile of Evans Mills, then turns sharply towards the north and returns to Philadelphia, after a meander of nearly five miles in Le Ray. Pleasant Creek, rising in the southeast, turns the mill-wheels at Le Raysville, Slocumville, Churchill’s, Henry’s, and Evans Mills, then, having received the waters of West Creek, passes on towards Indian River, which it joins at the point where the latter turns its course northward. Gardner’s Creek falls into the Indian River from the eastward, above the bend. Several very small streams take their rise in the northwest, and flow thence through Pamelia into Perch Lake. The surface of the town is level or gently rolling, and the soil is principally a clayey loam. A strip of barren sand, known as the “pine plains,” once covered with pine, extends along Black River into Wilna.
A small part of Le Ray was included in the Chassanis tract, its north line running from Great Bend, north 87 degrees west, and being also the south line of Le Ray’s purchase, which embraced four-fifths of the present town.
The first town meeting was held March 3, 1807, at the house of Abiel Shurtleff, and at this meeting the following were elected to manage the municipal affairs of the town: James Shurtleff, supervisor; Thomas Ward, town clerk; Ruel Kimball, John B. Bossuot, and Richardson Avery, assessors; Daniel Child, Daniel Sterling, and Lyman Holbrook, commissioners of highways; and Thomas Thurston, constable and collector.
In 1807, at the town meeting, it was voted $5 bounty for all wolves caught or killed in town. In 1808 this bounty was reduced to $2.50, and in 1809 raised to $5, and to $10 in 1810, and in this year a bounty of 50 cents a head was voted on foxes and one cent a head on squirrels. In 1811 the bounty on squirrels was raised to three cents.
The first action taken by the town for educational purposes was at a special town meeting, June 6, 1813, held for the “choice of one school committee and one school inspector.” Ruel Kimball had one vote for committee, and Thomas Ward three votes and was elected. Ralph Huntington was chosen inspector.
The first 13 roads surveyed after the town was set off from Brownville were surveyed by Cadwallader Child, who had already surveyed roads in Brownville, which comprised all north of Black River. The fourteenth and seventeenth roads were surveyed by Musgrove Evans. “Road No. 1, surveyed by Cadwallader Child, April 15-16, 1806, from Ethni Evan’s to the road leading from Benjamin Brown’s to the bridge at the bend of Black River, * * * three miles, 309 rods.” “Road No. 2, surveyed May 5, 1806, from the bridge of the bend of Black River to Elizabethtown (Philadelphia), * * eight miles, five furlongs, and 24 rods.”
From Spafford’s Gazetteer of 1813 we quote: --
“In 1811-12 there were in this town, in the vicinity of Evans Mills and Le Raysville, several saw-mills, a grain-mill, carding machine, two store-houses, and two school-houses.”
The same author in 1824 says: ---
“In 1821 there were two small villages, or hamlets, Le Raysville, where is the postoffice, containing 20 houses, a store, tavern, school-house, grist-mill, and saw-mill, and that called Evans Mills, containing 25 houses, two stores, two taverns, a grist-mill and saw-mill, a tannery, a clothier’s works, distillery, and school-house.”
In 1880 Le Ray had a population of 2,660. The town is located In the second school district of Jefferson County, and in 1888 had 18 school districts, in which 20 teachers were employed 28 weeks or more. There were 476 scholars attending school, and the aggregate days attendance during the year was 41,651. The total value of school buildings and sites was $6,640, while the assessed valuation of all the districts was $1,468,588. The whole amount raised for school purposes was $4,186.78 of which $2,165.16 was received by local tax. Truman C. Gary was school commissioner.
EVANS MILLS is a pleasant post village situated near the center of the town, at the confluence of West and Pleasant creeks, one mile south of the point where their united waters fall into Indian River. It is also a station on R., W. & O. Railroad, distant from Watertown 11 miles, 192 from Albany, and 334 from New York. The village now contains telegraph, telephone, and American express offices, seven general stores, two hotels, a tin store, two hardware stores, drug store, shoe shop, four blacksmith shops, a cheese factory, one grist and saw-mill, a printing office, harness shop, several dressmaking establishments, a millinery store, a restaurant, and about 500 inhabitants. The village received its name from Ethni Evans, who came to Jefferson County in 1802, from Hinsdale, N. H., first locating in Brownville, where he was employed by Jacob Brown. He became acquainted with the water-power on Pleasant Creek at this point, and being himself a millwright, he purchased a tract of land on both sides of the stream for the purpose of erecting mills upon it. The tract contained 192 acres, and embraced the present site of the village. The price paid was $3 per acre, and the date of purchase July 9, 1804. Mr. Evans at once made a clearing, built a log house, and commenced the construction of a dam. The mills were built and completed during the years 1805 and 1806. About 1808 a store and public house were opened by Jenison Clark, in a frame building which stood on the corner of Main and Noble streets, where the Brick Hotel now is. The latter was opened in 1827, and is now occupied by Peter Farmer. The letters “J. H.” on the front of the block signify that it was erected by Capt. John Hoover. In June, 1812, the inhabitants of this village commenced the erection of a block-house to serve as a general shelter and defense against the attacks from the Indians, which they thought probable. It was located across the road from the present Railroad House. The alarm subsided before the body of the house was finished, and it was never used. The first cemetery here was given to the public by Ethni Evans. The present Main street, when it was laid out, cut the old graveyard in two. The remains of the southeastern part were removed to the opposite side. Subsequently they were transferred to the present old cemetery. A few years ago a number of prominent citizens purchased another tract of land adjoining the old burying ground, have laid it out into lots, and have given it the name of Maple Grove Cemetery.
Evans Mills became an incorporated village in 1874, the incorporation being ratified by a vote of 54 to 49, at a legal meeting held September 7 in that year. The territory embraced in the corporation was 720.44 acres. A. M. Cook was elected president of the corporation, and George Ivers, B. M. Strong, and Bowen Root, trustees. The last named declined to serve and William M. Reese was appointed in his place. But notwithstanding that the incorporation was legally accomplished, and the officers property elected and qualified, the organization never went into effect. An adverse feeling sprung up, a new meeting was called at which the vote of ratification was rescinded, and the village was shorn of the dignity of incorporation, in which condition it has since remained. The advent of the railroad, in 1854, increased the commercial importance of the village by furnishing means of transportation for the products of the agricultural district surrounding. The postoffice was established here in 1824. The first postmaster was William Palmer, who kept the office at his store in the old tavern building of Jenison Clark. In 1846 the name of the office was changed to Evansville, but five years later the original name of Evans Mills was restored. The first physician in the village was Dr. Ira Smith, who continued in practice here many years after 1822. Since the commencement of Evans Mills there have been located here a fulling-mill, clothiery, tannery, one or two potasheries, about the same number of distilleries, a spinning-wheel manufactory, and several other enterprises which have been discontinued. It is accounted one of the enterprising villages of Jefferson County.
LE RAYSVILLE (p. o.) is a small hamlet in the southeastern part of the town. It contains a store, blacksmith shop, shoe shop. a Friends meeting-house, and about 20 or 30 dwellings. The first settlement was made here in 1801 by Benjamin Brown, a brother of Gen. Jacob Brown. Mr. Brown erected mills on Pleasant Creek, across which he constructed a dam. He spent the winter of 1801-02 in Brownville with his brother, and in the spring returned to his purchase, where he erected a log cabin, in which, in the July following, he established his newly-made bride, the first white woman to set foot in the present town of Le Ray. Four years after Brown settled here Dr. Baudry, a Frenchman, who had been sent by James Le Ray, the proprietor, to choose a location for his residence and land office, arrived here, and, after visiting several localities, decided upon this as the most desirable one for the grand manor-house, for the election of which he immediately commenced preparations. The lumber was sawed at Brown’s mill, and early in 1807 the frame was made ready and raised under the superintendence of Ethni Evans. Mr. Le Ray came in 1808 and took possession of the house, although it was not yet finished. The site of the mansion was half a mile southwest from Brown’s, on an eminence overlooking the village. In 1825 this structure was demolished to make room for a more elegant and luxurious one. It was built of stone and smoothly plastered upon the outside. The main building was built with about 60 feet front, and nearly or quite the same depth. Attached to this was a wing, large enough for a mansion in itself. A lofty portico on the southerly front was supported by four massive columns. Internally the finish was of the best. The mansion was completed in 1827, and at that time was said to be the most splendid establishment west of Hudson. In this mansion Le Ray lived and dispensed a refined hospitality for a period of five years before his return to France in 1832. In 1836 he again visited American and spent a few months in Le Raysville, finally returning to France, where he died in 1840, aged 80 years.
In 1840 the mansion was purchased by Jules Rene Payen, who came to this country from Paris, where he had been a student in the Polytechnic School. Becoming interested in chemistry, and having discovered a process by which gunpowder could be manufactured in a less expensive than the ordinary way, he came to this country, and finding the former home of Mr. Le Ray a suitable place for such a manufactory, purchased it with that intent, but soon abandoned his experiments for a less hazardous occupation. The place is now owned by his daughter, Mrs. Julia Phelps, and is occupied by herself and family. The interior is in perfect order and preservation, having had many thousand dollars expended upon it by Mrs. Phelps. The only sign of decay upon the exterior is where the plaster has become detached. The mansion contains many beautiful pieces of furniture, once the property of Mr. Le Ray, among them an old music box the size of a large trunk, very ancient and curious; two beautiful clocks, with mantle ornaments; a handsome and unique table; a writing desk of brass and mahogany; several bedsteads and dressing cases, and many other articles. No pleasanter time could be passed than in a visit to this historic place and attractive home of Mrs. Phelps. One can enjoy a sail upon the beautiful, artificial lake, upon whose suuny surface flats several St. Lawrence River boats. The land office, chapel, and greenhouses are in ruins; the extensive parks, wild and beautiful, are filled with roses and other flowers, which were planted during the occupancy of James Le Ray de Chaumont.
The first public house in Le Raysville was opened in 1810. The first store was opened by Mr. Le Ray, and was conducted for the proprietor by Mr. Devereaux. The first physician of the village, and also the first to locate in the town, was Dr. Horatio Orvis, who settled here in 1808, and continued in practice a great many years. The postoffice was established in the spring of 1818, upon the first opening of the mail route from Denmark to Wilna, via this village. Samuel C. Kanady was the first postmaster, and held the office until his death in 1835.
One miles north of Le Raysville, on Pleasant Creek, is a locality known as SLOCUMVLLE. Settlement was commenced here in 1819* (An ERRATA item stated that this should have read "1813") by one Desjardines, whom Le Ray had sent from France for the purpose of erecting a powder-mill. This enterprise was short-lived, as the powder produced was of an inferior quality. A grist-mill was also built here about the same time, and was said to have contained the first burr-stones brought to Le Ray, they having been sent from France for this especial purpose. The first miller was a Frenchman named Bidrot. A brick house was erected here, one of the first dwellings of that material in Jefferson County. The powder-mill was subsequently converted into a potato-starch manufactory.
BLACK RIVER is a post village located in the towns of Le Ray and Rutland, being divided by Black River, which is spanned at this point by a fine iron bridge, built in 1875. The Le Ray portion of this village was embraced in a tract of 150 acres purchased about 1828 by Christopher Poor, from Alexandria Le Ray, as agent for the Chassanis tract; this purchase covering all the water-power of the north side, which was Mr. Poor’s chief inducement in making the selection of this spot. He had been an early settler in Rutland, whence he removed to this new purchase in Le Ray on Christmas day, 1829. During the preceding summer he had, with some assistance from other residents of the place, built the first bridge across the river at the point where it is crossed by the present iron bridge. The first grist-mill was built about 1836 by A. Horton, a little distance above the bridge. It became the property of Christopher and Peter Poor, and was destroyed by fire about 1842-43. The first saw-mill was built at the time of the construction of the dam in 1831, and was destroyed by fire at the time the grist-mill was burned. A second mill was built a short distance below the first, and was also destroyed with the grist-mill. It was rebuilt, and was carried away by the flood which destroyed the first iron bridge. In 1848 a planing-mill and wood-working shop was erected, which was afterwards converted into a chair factory, and still later into a box factory. A machine shop, located upon the lower side of the iron bridge, was carried on for several years by Isaac and Joseph Howe, who sold to Thomas Mathews, who used the building as a joiner’s shop. It was subsequently used as a store-house.
The first merchant on the Le Ray side of the village was Robert H. Van Shoick, who opened a store on the western side of the main street about 1832. The building afterwards became the property of P. Thurston, who converted it into a hotel, about 1848, the first public house in the village. S. L. Mott opened a store here in 1852, which became the property of Matthew Poor in 1866. The village is a station on the Utica division of the R., W. & O. Railroad, which follows the course of Black River through the town of Rutland. It has telephone, telegraph, and express offices, one church, a newspaper, three general stores, one hardware store, a flour and feed store, two hotels, a pulp-mill, two chair manufactories, a steam planing-mill, several shops, about 80 dwellings, and a population of 400. It is a thriving village and is growing rapidly.
January 20, 1890, it was decided by a vote of 44 to 27 to incorporate the village. Since then those opposed to the scheme have not been idle in their efforts to defeat the project, and the incorporation is not yet completed. Judge McCartin has recently decided that the meting of January 20 was illegal and void. On February 20, 1890, the village was visited by a most disastrous fire, in which $50,000 worth of property was destroyed, including the following buildings: Poor’s Opera house and block, Parkinson’s store, Whipple & Hadsell’s store, postoffice, Arthur House, F. H. Dillenbeck’s block, two dwellings, D. H. Scott & Son’s block, A. W. McDowell’s store, John Burke’s dwelling, and George Graham’s barber shop. John Hall, N. L. Martin, Charles Lyon, George Lyon, C. H. Burke, G. E. Sheldon, and John Burke lost their household goods. Odd Fellows hall was also destroyed. The fire was stopped by the use of the pulp-mill pump and hose, which saved the Black River Bending Company’s factory. The Jefferson House was saved with difficulty. Watertown was appealed to for aid, but before the firemen started word was sent that the flames had been checked.
SANFORD’S CORNERS is a postoffice and station on the R., W. & O. Railroad, in the southwestern part of the town, about five miles from Watertown. It contains a church, store, large cheese factory, several shops, and about 50 inhabitants. The first settlement was commenced here in 1804, by Roswell Woodruff. The hamlet has been known as “Jewett’s Corners,” “Jewett’s School-House,” and “Capt. Jewett’s” from Ezekiel Jewett, who purchased the farm of Mr. Woodruff, and became, in that particular, his successor. Mr. Sanford, in whose honor the place was named, erected here a stone building, with the intention of opening a store, but this was never done. The postoffice was established in 1828, and was kept in a brick tavern, which was afterwards used as a Limburger cheese factory. This hamlet claims the honor of having the first school-house in the town of Le Ray.
F. X. Baumert’s cheese factory, at Sanford’s Corners, was established in 1853. Previous this date there had been several unsuccessful attempts to manufacture Limburger cheese here. In this year Mr. Baumert did a small experimental business, which proved unsatisfactory. In 1854 he continued the work with better results. At this time, it is said, this was the only Limburger cheese factory in the United States. His business gradually increased, until during the late war he had three factories in operation in this vicinity. In 1882 F. X. Baumert died, leaving his vast business interests in the hands of his widow, at the time of his death having 10 factories in successful operation in various localities. After her husband’s death Mrs. Baumert, with the assistance of her sons, extended the business. She sent her son Charles to Europe, in 1883, to be instructed in the various methods of manufacturing European cheese, and he is now master of the art of making 22 kinds of cheese. A large brick factory, 105 by 34 feet, three stories high, has recently been erected at Sanford’s Corners, where the greater part of this extensive business is now located. They now manufacture here various kinds of cheese, among which are Limburger, Munster, Fromage de Brie, Fromage D’Isigny, Camembert, Livarot, and double Creme de Suisse. An office for the sale of their cheese is in New York city, where the principal portion of the products of their factories is disposed of, some kinds at the extravagant price of 45 cents per pound. Mrs. Baumert has six sons, all of whom have an interest in the business, which is conducted under the name of F. X. Baumert, the founder of the first Limburger cheese factory in Jefferson County, and perhaps the first in America.
Black River Bending Company, located at Black River village, was started in 1860 as a manufactory of bent chair stock, which in 1885 was merged in the present concern. In 1889 the works were enlarged by the addition of a building 130 by 30 feet, four stories high, in which a large business is conducted, giving employment to from 50 to 60 men.
The Wolcott Company (incorporated), at Black River village, was organized in 1889, with E. R. Wolcott, president; A. E. Cory, secretary and treasurer; and G. H. Wolcott, superintendent. They do a general business in building, and are dealers in lumber, sash, doors, blinds, etc. They employ 10 men and do a business of $16,000 annually.
As has been previously stated the first permanent settler in the wilderness now comprised within the limits of the town of Le Ray was Benjamin Brown, who first visited the town in the autumn of 1801. In 1803 and 1804 several other hardy pioneers arrived. Among those in 1803 were Joseph Child, with his three sons, Daniel, Samuel, and Moses, from Pennsylvania, Thomas Ward, Daniel Coffeen, John Petty, and Robert Sixbury. The Childs settled in the southwestern part of the town, in the neighborhood which still bears their name, and the Ward (sic) located between Le Raysville and Evans Mills. Coffeen settled a mile southeast of Evans Mills, but the next year removed to near Sterlingville. Sixbury was one of the surveying party who, in 1804, accompanied Cadwallader Child to Alexandria Bay, and thence back to Great Bend. In the same year he, with John Hoover, of Herkimer County, purchased the improvement of D. Coffeen, when the latter moved to Philadelphia. Sixbury afterwards settled on a farm two miles north of Evans Mills, where he spent a good portion of his long life. He became widely known and famed as a skilled hunter, for which his iron constitution and great powers of indurance eminently fitted him. He died in Le Ray in the fall of 1875, having passed the extreme age of 112 years. John Petty removed to Philadelphia in 1804-05, being one of the first settlers in that town.
Guillaume Coupart, better known in Le Ray as William Cooper, or “French Cooper,” was one of the comers in 1803. He was born in Normandy, France, June 24, 1773, and about 20 years later fled from his native country to escape conscription. He went to Newfoundland, was there taken prisoner, and carried to Halifax, whence he escaped, and went to Connecticut, where he remained for some time. In 1798 or ‘99 he located in Pamelia, and in 1803 settled in Le Ray, west of the village of Le Raysville. He became a large land-owner, and died here January 19, 1851. In 1804 Roswell Woodruff settled at Sanford’s Corners. He afterwards sold his property there and removed to New Hartford, Oneida County, where he died. Benjamin Kirkbride also settled in 1804, about a mile southeast from Evans Mills.
The first general agent from abroad, sent by Mr. Le Ray to look after his lands, was M. Pierre Joulin, the cure` of Chaumont, in France, who was one of the faithful few would not take the constitutional oath, and was sent to America by Mr. Le Ray to save him from the guillotine, and to have a fair prospect for providing the means for a comfortable subsistence. After the troubles in France had subsided he returned. Moss Kent was early appointed to the agency of lands, and continued in that capacity several years, living in Mr. Le Ray’s family until the departure of that gentleman from Europe in 1810, when he remained with his son Vincent. When Joulin first met Kent they would have been unable to communicate had it not been that both being classical scholars, they were enabled to converse in Latin.
The First Baptist Church of Le Ray,located at Evans Mills, was organized in 1810 by John McCumber, A. Robinson, C. Wilkie, and others, and at the time of its organization consisted of 20 members. Their first pastor was John Blodget. Their house of worship is a stone building, and was erected in 1828 at a cost of $2,000. It will comfortably seat 30 persons, and is valued, including grounds and other church property, at $3,000. The church now has 26 members, and A. B. Sears is the present pastor. The Sunday-school has a membership of about 30.
The Free Methodist Church, located at Black River village, was organized December 11, 1870, by R. C. H. Southworth, with five members. Charles Southworth was the first pastor. Their house of worship, a wooden structure, was built in 1873, at a cost of $1,500. It will comfortably seat about 300 persons, and is valued, including grounds and other church property, at $3,000. The present membership of the church is about 35, under the pastoral charge of Rev. Orville Frink. The Sunday-school has a membership of 25 scholars and teachers. Before the church was fairly established it lost by death two of its members who contributed largely to its support. It is not in a flourishing condition financially, and is struggling hard for existence.
Black River Baptist Church, located at Black River village, in the town of Le Ray, was organized as a branch of the Watertown Baptist Church, March 26, 1878, and as an independent church May 11, 1880. Its organization was effected by Rev. James W. Putnam, the first pastor. In 1878 it had 15 members, and in 1880, 18, its present membership being 22. The present pastor is F. H. Richardson, of Great Bend. The society has no house of worship, but rents one with a capacity for seating 150 persons.
The Friends Society, at Le Raysville, was organized in 1805 by David Howland, Elihu Anthony, David Gardner, and others, and Joseph Child was the first minister. The first house of worship was erected at Philadelphia village, then a part of Le Ray, in 1811, of wood. In 1816 a stone meeting-house was erected on road 57, and the present structure, of wood, in 1876, at Le Raysville, at a cost of about $2,000. It will comfortably seat 175 persons, and is valued, including grounds and other church property, at $1,200. Joseph Child, the first acknowledged minister of the Le Ray monthly meeting, was a half-brother of Cadwallader, the grandfather of this publisher of this work. The meeting was reorganized in 1876 by Stephen Roberts, Jonathan Powell, Thomas Anthony, and others, and in 1885 the Le Ray monthly meeting became a component part of the Canada yearly meeting, having previous to that time been a part of the New York yearly meeting. The present membership is about 30, and Sarah A. Wood is the minister.
Evans Mills monthly meeting of Friends had the same organization as the Le Ray monthly meeting, about 1805, of which it was originally a part. Their present meeting-house was erected in 1816, of stone, at a cost of about $500. It will comfortably seat 200 persons, and is now valued at about $1,000. The present membership is about 45, and Warren Gardner and Margaret Wilbur are ministers. Madison S. Gardner is superintendent of the Sunday-school, which has a membership of 25.
St. Andrew’s Protestant Episcopal Church, located in the village of Evans Mills, was organized in April, 1872, by Revs. Dr. Babcock J. Winslow, and H. V. Gardner, and at the time of its organization consisted of three communicants, the first rector being Rev. H. V. Gardner. Their house of worship, a gothic structure of native blue and gray limestone, was built in 1880, at a cost of $4,000. It will comfortably seat 150 persons, and is valued, including grounds, etc., at $5,000. This beautiful structure, with its ivy-covered tower and beautiful interior, is the pride of the people, and a fitting place in which to hold the impressive services of the church. The parish numbers 34 communicants, and at present is without a rector, but one will doubtless soon be engaged. The Sunday-school connected with the church has six teachers and 30 scholars.
The Methodist Episcopal Church at Evans Mills was organized November 20, 1824, the first trustees being Henry Churchill, Parker Chase, John Y. Stewart, Daniel Smith, P. S. Stuart, James Ward, Wilson Pennock, Elijah Smith, and William Taggart. Their first house of worship, a stone building, was located on the Le Raysville road, about two miles from Evans Mills. This was sold, and in 1833 the present edifice was completed at a cost of $3,000, on a lot in the village donated by Judge Evans. The present pastor is Rev. Fred W. Thompson.
The Le Ray Presbyterian Church, at Evans Mills, was organized January 13, 1814, by Rev. Nathaniel Dutton, of Champion, with 12 members. Up to 1820 there had been no stated minister, services being conducted by Dea. Ruel Kimball, who afterwards studied for the ministry and became the first regular pastor of the church. The first place of worship was at Ingerson’s Corners, subsequently in the frame school-house at Evans Mills, and still later in the stone school-house at Evans Mills, located where the present school-house stands. In 1826 a stone church was erected, which gave place to the present structure in 1869, which cost $2,600. The present pastor is Rev. John J. Jones.
Among the oldest and most respected members of the judiciary, in the state of California, is Hon. Lorenzo Sawyer, United States circuit judge for the ninth circuit. For the last 40 years he has occupied a prominent place either at the bar or on the bench of his adopted state. He belongs to a family of pioneers. Descended from English ancestors, who emigrated to New England about 1636, each generation of whose descendants became pioneers in the settlement of some new state further west, and himself trained amid the hardships of pioneer life, he has developed a character as firm and inflexible as the granites which environ his boyhood’s home. Three of his ancestors, Thomas Sawyer, John Prescott*, and Ralph Houghton, were three of the first six successful and permanent settlers of the town of Lancaster, Mass., in 1647; and three of the first five Prudential Men of the town on its organization, in 1653. They and their descendants took an active part in all the Indian wars that followed; in the French war, the war of the Revolution (during the latter of which 19 Sawyers of the Lancaster family are known to have been in active service), and in the War of 1812.
Lorenzo Sawyer was born on road 111, in Le Ray, this county, May 23, 1820. His father and grandfather were among the earliest of the pioneers, who, in the first year of the present century, occupied the wilderness in that portion of Northern New York then known as the Black River country, and scarcely
*John Prescott, father of Mary, wife of Thomas Sawyer, was the ancestor of Colonel Prescott, who commanded the Americans at Bunker Hill, Judge William Prescott, and William H. Prescott, the historian.
more accessible at that day than was California at the time of its settlement. His father, Jesse Sawyer, on February 11, 1819, married Elizabeth Goodell, also of a pioneer family, and cousin of the celebrated missionaries, William Goodell, of Constantinople, and Lucy Goodell Thurston, one of the first missionaries to the Sandwich Islands; and they celebrated their golden wedding at Belvidere, Ill., February 11, 1869. Lorenzo, the eldest of a family of six children, was born and reared on a farm till 16 years of age, attending the district school during winter, and working on the farm in summer. At an early age he enjoyed the advantage of a well-selected public library, of which he availed himself to the fullest extent compatible with his arduous daily labors---his evenings, Sundays, and spare moments being largely devoted to books. To this library, doubtless, is due the formation of those tastes which ultimately determined his choice of a profession. At 15 he attended for a short time a High school at Watertown, N. Y., called the Black River Institute. The next year he removed with his father to Pennsylvania, where he assisted in clearing up a new farm.
Having years before, while accidentally present at an important trial at Watertown, formed a determination to adopt the profession of law, which was never afterwards abandoned, with the consent of his father, but without any pecuniary aid, he at the age of 17 left home, and relying on his own resources for support entered upon a more thorough course of education, preparatory to commencing the study of law. The next eight years were devoted to preparation for the bar, at first in New York, and afterwards in Ohio. During this period he earned the means for defraying his expenses by teaching, at first in district schools, and afterwards in academies and as tutor in college. In 1840 he emigrated to Ohio, and pursued his studies, first at Western Reserve College, and afterwards at or near Columbus. Having completed his preparatory studies he entered the law office of Hon. Gustavus Swan, the ablest land lawyer of his day in Ohio. Judge Swan retiring soon after from practice, he entered the office of Judge Noah H. Swayne, then one of Ohio’s most prominent lawyers, and now a distinguished justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, under whose instruction he remained till he was admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Ohio, In May, 1846. He afterwards went to Chicago, Ill., where he passed a year in the office of the late Senator McDougall, of California. Soon after this he entered into a law partnership with the late Lieutenant-Governor Holmes, at Jefferson, Wis., where he was rapidly acquiring a lucrative practice for that region.
In the spring of 1850 Mr. Sawyer went to California, overland, with a company of energetic young men from Wisconsin, and arrived in California about the middle of July, after an unprecedentedly short trip of 72 days. He wrote some very interesting sketches of the journey across the plains, which were published in the Ohio Observer, and copied from it into several other Western papers. They were used as a guide by many emigrants of the next year. After working in the mines of El Dorado County for a short time he entered upon the practice of law in Sacramento, but in consequence of ill health he was compelled to go to the mountains to recuperate. Accordingly he opened a law office at Nevada City, in October of that year, his law library consisting of 11 volumes, which he had brought across the plains. With the exception of a few months, from February to August, 1851, passed in San Francisco, during which time his office was twice burnt, he remained in Nevada City till the autumn of 1853. All this time he enjoyed a lucrative and successful practice, being employed on one side of every important case. In the autumn of 1853 he returned to San Francisco, where he has ever since resided, with the exception of a short absence in Illinois. In 1854 he was elected city attorney for the city of San Francisco, and served one term with marked success, at a time when the interests of the city involved in litigation were immense. In 1855 he was a candidate before the state convention of his party for justice of the Supreme Court, against the chief justice whose term was about to expire, and was defeated by only six votes. In the spring of 1861 he entered into a law partnership with the late General C. H. S. Williams, and in the winter of 1861-62 they determined to open a branch office in Virginia, Nev.
Mr. Sawyer went to Virginia about the first of January, to open the office and establish the business. While in Virginia, managing the affairs of the firm at that office, Governor Stanford, of California, tendered him the appointment of city and county attorney of San Francisco. The appointment having been declined, Governor Edward Stanley was afterwards appointed. Soon after this Judge Alexander Campbell resigned his position as judge of the twelfth judicial district, embracing the city and county of San Francisco and county of San Mateo, whereupon the governor, by telegraph tendered the appointment to fill the vacancy to Mr. Sawyer, who was still in Virginia. After consulting his family and friends by telegraph the appointment was accepted, and Judge Sawyer on the next morning left for San Francisco, crossing the mountains on horseback, the roads through the deep snow of that winter not having yet been opened for vehicles. He arrived home on Saturday night, and opened court in San Mateo County on the next Monday morning, June 2, 1862. After holding the office several months the satisfaction given was such that at the next election by the people he was unanimously chosen to the position for a full term of six year---both political parties supporting him. Upon the reorganization of the state courts, under the amended constitution, Judge Sawyer was, in 1863, elected a justice of the Supreme Court; and upon casting lots, as required by the constitution, he drew the six years’ term, during the last two years of which he was chief justice.
While he was a member of the Supreme Court, all of whose justices are justly noted for their ability, industry, and unremitting attention to business, no one of them wrote more opinions or gave more attention to the details of the business than Chief Justice Sawyer; and it may be added that the judgments of none of the judges are characterized by greater ability or more thoroughness and elaborateness of discussion than his. No other court in the United States, or elsewhere, was ever called upon to deal with so many novel, intricate, and difficult questions of law as the Supreme Court of California; and none more promptly, ably, and satisfactorily adjudicated the questions presented. The decisions of the Supreme Court of California, rendered while Judge Sawyer occupied a seat on the bench, stand as high in the older states as those of any other state during the same period. They are often cited with the highest terms of commendation by approved law writers, and by the judges of other courts, state and national. A writer in the American Law Review, published at Boston, in noticing vol. XXXII California Reports, in 1868 says: “The history of California is a history of marvelous phenomena and not the least is its jurisprudence. Less than 20 years ago the common law was unknown on the pacific coast; and to-day we find the Supreme Court of California holding it with a comprehensive grasp, and administering it with an ability decidedly superior to that shown by the tribunals of many much older communities.
It is not too much to say that Chief Justice Sawyer, by his industry, research, learning, and ability, contributed his full share towards placing the court in the elevated and enviable position which it occupied while he was a member of that tribunal. In 1869 Congress passed an act to amend the judicial system of the United States, by which the United States circuit courts were reorganized---the appointment of a circuit judge for each of the nine circuits being provided for. In December of that year, as the term of Chief Justice Sawyer was about to expire, President Grant nominated him under said act to the position of United State circuit judge for the ninth circuit, embracing all the Pacific states. The nomination having been confirmed by the Senate, Judge Sawyer, early in 1870, entered upon his duties as circuit judge; and he has ever since, now more than 20 years, discharged the highly important and arduous duties of that exalted position with energy, fidelity, and marked ability, as well as acceptably to the people of the entire circuit. The judgments of Judge Sawyer as United States circuit judge, selected from his numerous decisions, and reported in the 14 volumes of Sawyer’s United States Court Reports, and his decisions as a member of the state Supreme Court, reported in the 15 volumes of California Reports, from volumes XXIV to XXXVIII inclusive, it is confidently believed will be found, upon critical examination, to compare not unfavorably with an equal number of reported decisions rendered by any contemporary judge, state or national. His reputation as an able and conscientious jurist has long since ceased to be local, and become national. Recognizing and appreciating his attainments and public services, Hamilton College, In 1877, conferred upon Judge Sawyer the honorary degree of LL. D.
In politics Mr. Sawyer was from boyhood, till it ceased to exist, an earnest member of the Whig party, an ardent admirer and supporter of Henry Clay, and of the other great statesmen of that party. Upon the dissolution of the Whig party he became one of the organizers of the Republican party in California, to which he has ever since steadfastly adhered. He attended the Chicago convention of 1860, though not as a delegate, and from the first did all in his power to secure the nomination of Mr. Lincoln for President. The character of Judge Sawyer is strongly marked. Stern and inflexible in his public acts and relations, he is devoted to all that duty, honor, and patriotism enjoin. He is, however, in private life, of the utmost gentleness, kindness, and simplicity. With strong original powers, early developed by the stirring events of the pioneer life in which he was cast, he had acquired a habit of self-reliance which well fitted him for the great struggle in which the highest honors of his profession were destined to be achieved. He aimed at the right always and at all events, according to his best convictions; and if any questioned his judgment none could impeach his honesty or sincerity. Of a long-lived family, and always temperate, regular, and rigidly correct in all his habits, Judge Sawyer is still in robust health. His mental faculties are at their best, and he bids fair to adorn the bench for years to come.
In 1887 Senator Leland Stanford formed the noble design of devoting the greater part of his immense wealth to the establishing of a great university open to both sexes, and designed to promote in the best and most thorough manner the cause of liberal, moral, and practical education. To effect this he devoted an enormous estate, or several estates aggregating some 85,000 acres of the best and most improved land in California, worth millions of dollars, to founding and endowing the “Leland Stanford Junior University,” so named for his only son, who first suggested such a disposition of the immense wealth to which he was heir. Senator Stanford selected 24 of the eminent men of the state to act as trustees. Justice Field, of the United States Supreme Court, is one of these, as is also the subject of this sketch. At their first meeting they conferred on Judge Sawyer the high honor of president of the board, and at the laying of the corner-stone, May 14, 1887, he made the address. From the vast resources at its command, and from the broad, liberal, and enlightened views of its founders and trustees, it is confidently expected that the Leland Stanford Junior University will eventually become second to no institution in the land, or perhaps in the world. Judge Sawyer’s legal decisions are so carefully and intelligently made that they almost invariably meet the approval of the higher court. His decision in the famous Neagle-Terry affair of 1889 is still fresh in all minds. He has the enviable reputation of unspotted integrity and great legal intelligence. In Oscar T. Schuck’s Bench and Bar of California are given many anecdotes of the Judge’s legal practice, which the limited space here allotted forbids us to relate.
Note: The family sketches followed. Those are presented on Nan Dixon's NYGenWeb site for Jefferson County, N. Y.