Tag Archives: Legal History

Chicken Theives: History’s Low-Down Dirty Crooks


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NYH ChickThief 01 1931Among the several dozen correctional institutions in New York State, Dannemora (officially Clinton Correctional Facility) is the largest maximum-security prison. It is located in northern Clinton County, where the cold winter weather led to a variety of nicknames incorporating the word “Siberia.” It is also known as home to the worst of the worst, housing many of our most dangerous criminals.

For more than 160 years, the North Country’s famous lockup has confined inmates guilty of the most heinous crimes: murder, rape, arson, assault, bank robbery, serial killing … and chicken theft.

Chicken theft? About now, you might find that cool Sesame Street song going through your head: “One of these things is not like the others ….” But any crime is serious, especially if you’re the victim, and the seriousness of stealing chickens was once elevated in stature for a few reasons. Continue reading

45 Years a Slave:
Westchester Case Confirmed Story of Enslaved Man


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Westchester Slave Case 1857 (New York Times)On the 12th day of August in 1857, a young girl was brought before Judge William H. Robertson in his chambers at Katonah in Westchester County, New York. Over 30 years after slavery had been legally banned in the state, the matter before the judge was whether she should be set at liberty.

Local constable Zeno Hoyt had found the 5-year-old girl, named Ellen, at the home of David A. Griffin in Ossining, where she was in the charge of two ladies. One of them, Louisa Kerr, was present at the hearing, which came about because Ellen’s grandfather, with the assistance of attorney John Jay, had instituted proceedings to have her placed in his custody. Continue reading

1860: Married Women As Wage Slaves


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cotton-mill-workers1As the national debate over the extension of chattel slavery into the territories heated up in February and March of 1860, women’s rights advocates were storming the capitol in Albany demanding an end to what they felt was another form of slavery—wage slavery for married women.

Under the law in effect until March 20, 1860 in New York State, married women did not have legal control over any money they earned working for themselves or others. All of it belonged to their husbands! As Lucy Stone explained it to the National Women’s Rights Convention in 1853, “unless by cunning she can keep her earnings away from him, he can and does take them to pay the drunkard’s bill, and to squander upon abandoned women.”

According to women’s rights supporters, there were tens of thousands of these kinds of ne’er-do-well husbands, most of whom were cigar-smoking drunkards and/or womanizers, who paid their bills with money they took from their wives’ bank accounts without their permission. Continue reading

Saratoga County:
A Future Black Congressman Faces Discrimination


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langstonportraitJohn W. Fowler’s law school, called the State and National Law School, was ahead of its time in the field of legal education in the 19th Century. He founded the school in Cherry Valley, New York, in 1847, and moved it to Ballston Spa a few years later, where it was housed in the former Sans Souci Hotel.

Contrary to the normal practice, at that time, of lawyers being trained by “reading law,” Fowler’s school offered courses in extemporaneous speaking and debating, and utilized mock trials to allow students to hone their courtroom skills. The school received much positive attention from the legal community, including South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. Continue reading

Joan of Arc’s Birthday: Reflections On NY Suffrage History


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Inez MilhollandPosterJanuary 6 is Joan of Arc’s 602nd birthday. Not many historical figures, very few of them women, are celebrated 600 years after their birth. But the French teenager who led her country to victory after a century of war, changed its history, and was captured and killed by her enemies is an exception. Inspired by angels and saints, she has become an inspiration to many others, and New Yorkers are no exception.

When New York suffragist Inez Milholland, for example, led the women’s March for the Vote in Washington, DC in March 1913, clad all in white and astride a white horse, she didn’t overtly claim to be impersonating Joan of Arc. The electrifying figure she presented was called “the Herald” or simply “the Woman on a Horse,” an evocation of women in the West who already had the vote or a nod to the moral purity of American temperance leaders who frequently dressed in white. But everyone knew who she really was.  Continue reading

Book: Dutch Law and Jurisprudence in Colonial America


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Rosenblatt_Opening_9781438446578.inddNo society can function without laws, that set of established practices and expectations that guide the way people get along with one another and relate to ruling authorities. Although much has been written about the English roots of American law and jurisprudence, little attention has been paid until recently to the legacy left by the Dutch.

The influence of the New Netherland settlement has created enduring characteristics of New York. In Albert and Julia Rosenblatt’s Opening Statements: Law, Jurisprudence, and the Legacy of Dutch New York (2013, SUNY Press), a broad spectrum of eminent scholars examine the legal heritage that the Dutch bequeathed to New York in the seventeenth century. Continue reading

Westchester: The Prophet Matthias and Elijah the Tishbite


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MatthiasLong before the fictional and shocking “Peyton Place” of TV and film fame came along in the late 1950s, and early 1960s there was an actual suburban community where its residents were roiled by rampant scandal, moral and religious hypocrisy and a sensational a murder in their midst.

The year was 1834 and the place was the normally tranquil and bucolic Village of Sing Sing, now called Ossining. Actually, the extremely bad behavior took place just outside of the Village, on nearby farmland where a high-end condominium called “Beechwood” now stands in the Village of Briarcliff Manor, on the southwest intersection of Route 9 and Scarborough Station Road. Nonetheless, due to its proximity, it was the Village of Sing Sing that got the headlines in the “penny press,” and crowds of curious and outraged Villagers flocked to the “New York Road” in front of the farm hoping for a glimpse of the sequestered souls residing in the house. Continue reading

A Hamilton County Murder (Part 2)


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Though Ernest Duane had eventually admitted killing popular Lake Pleasant guide Eula Davis, there was no guarantee he would be found guilty in court. The defense focused on proving Duane’s supposed mental abnormalities, which they claimed had been exacerbated by the lonely life of a woodsman who often spent long months alone. It seemed a weak argument at best, but then came the kicker: Duane’s epilepsy, seized upon by his attorneys in a strategy described as the “dream defense.” Continue reading

Supreme Court: The Age of Holmes and Brandeis


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The influence of two men—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Louis Dembitz Brandeis— will be examined in this seminar on American constitutional development from 1902 to 1939. Although the phrase “Holmes and Brandeis dissenting” led many people to believe that they shared a common jurisprudential philosophy, the differences between them are as important as the areas in which they agreed. Continue reading

Adirondack History: A Dogged Pursuit of Justice


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If you like a little humor mixed in when reviewing events of the past, you’ll love this Saranac Lake story from a century ago. It had all the earmarks of a spectacular trial: bitterness between neighbors; a vicious, bloody assault; a fearless victim who nearly beat his attacker to death; two very wealthy opponents; and a pair of noted New York City attorneys handling the prosecution and defense. It was potentially a North Country showdown of mammoth proportions.
Court proceedings were held in the boathouse of Dr. Samuel B. Ward, a founder of the Upper Saranac Association. Ward was famous in his own right as past president of the NYS Medical Society; dean of Albany Medical College, and a 40-year faculty member; and regular Adirondack fishing and hunting companion of President Grover Cleveland.

Judge Newell Lee of Santa Clara was saddled with handling court opponents who were famous, wealthy, and certainly accustomed to getting their way. The defendant, Emil Ernest Gabler, was heir to and CEO of the Gabler Piano Company, one of the top players in the industry for the previous fifty years. The plaintiff was Mrs. Edgar Van Etten, whose husband was a vice-president of the New York Central, president of the Cuban Eastern Railway, and had partnered with John Jacob Astor and W. Seward Webb in other enterprises.
There was no shortage of cash among the participants, and each side hired some of the best legal representation available. Defending Gabler was New York City’s George K. Jack, who had spent many hours arguing cases before the NYS Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. Prosecuting on behalf of Van Etten was Lamar Hardy, Corporate Counsel from New York City and a partner in the firm of Bothby, Baldwin, and Hardy.
The makeshift courtroom was filled with an unusual mix of spectatorschauffeurs, maids, groundskeepers, guides, touristsand tongues wagged as the tale was told. Oddly enough, the only one absent from the proceedings was the attacker. By US law, that just didn’t seem right. After all, a defendant has the right to face his accuser.
But this was no ordinary case. Incredibly, the bloody attack had come from the side of the accuser, Van Etten, and it was the defendant, Gabler, who had been attacked. And, despite all those interesting details, the focus of all the attention was on the sole non-attendee, the insidious attacker, identified as … a dog.
In 1911, Gabler and the Van Ettens were not-so-friendly neighbors among the luxurious camps along Hoel Pond near Upper Saranac Lake. For all their wealth, it apparently didn’t occur to them to build a fence. On October 4, Van Etten’s prize French bulldog entered the grounds of Gabler’s camp and attacked his dog.
The chauffeurs from both camps managed to separate the combatants, and Van Etten’s chauffeur retrieved the bulldog to return it to its owner. Gabler, without pause, grabbed the dog, which firmly latched onto his thumb and refused to let go. He reacted by beating the dog over the head.
When Mrs. Van Etten was told of the incident, she went to Gabler’s camp and reportedly said, “I hope you get hydrophobia.” She then filed a complaint with the SPCA, and Gabler was arrested for cruelty to animals.
A few days later the celebrated trial was helda serious case among the wealthy, but conducted to the great bemusement of many spectators. The combatants doggedly argued over points of law as if it were a life-and-death homicide case. And the bitterness that had developed between the two families surfaced frequently during testimony, despite many admonitions from Judge Lee to do nothing more than stick to the issue at hand.
Among the evidence entered was the cudgel (a stick or club) used to hit the dog (it was charged that the dog was “cudgeled”); the dog’s collar; and the extent of Gabler’s hand injuries. An important witness for the defense was the fetching Mrs. Gabler, who testified for nearly an hour.
The prosecution was best served by Van Etten, who was on the verge of tears as she described her prize dog when she saw it, “ … unconscious, with his tongue black and protruding, his body apparently stiffened in death.” The dog did, in fact, survive, but did not appear in court because, as the dog’s attorney stated, “It was feared he might attack his old enemy, Mr. Gabler, in court.”
But alluring as she was, Van Etten’s conduct otherwise did little to help her case, and she was soon in the judge’s doghouse. Her lawyer, Hardy, tried to keep her on a short leash, but to no avail. Displaying little regard for court etiquette, she constantly hounded the judge and witnesses, prompting constant warnings by Judge Lee and both attorneys to remain silent.
Finally, frustrated with the entire process and sensing she was about to lose, Van Etten put her tail between her legs and left the courtroom. She was still absent an hour later when Gabler was acquitted of “cruelly and maliciously beating a prize French brindle bulldog” (brindle refers to the lightly striped fur).
With great interest among the higher breeds of society, the full story was reported on the social pages of the New York Times. Despite all the wealth and fanfare, the case boiled down to common-sense justice voiced by Judge Lee, who said Gabler did, in fact, beat the dog, but only after he was bitten. The entire incident lasted 23 days, which translates to several months in dog years.
Photos: Mrs. Edgar Van Etten; Emil Ernest Gabler; a French brindle bulldog.
Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Political History: A Hamilton County Write-in Campaign


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It’s relatively rare for a write-in candidate to win an election. A recent, high-profile example occurred in Alaska’s senate race when Lisa Murkowski bested Joe Miller, the Tea Party candidate.

Miller took to the courts, claiming that misspellings of Murkowski’s name on many ballots disqualified those votes. The ridiculous charge—it’s an election, not a spelling contest—was dismissed. Otherwise, candidates with easy-to-spell names (like Miller, as opposed to Murkowski) would enjoy a considerable write-in advantage.

A precedent for that situation had long been established, but it wasn’t always followed. More than a century ago, an Adirondack election was decided based on the electorate’s inability to spell a candidate’s name and to record it with consistency. The result? Across the state, headlines of potential bloodshed made the news. It was a year before the issue was finally resolved.

It all began prior to the election of fall 1901 in Hamilton County, where the Republicans chose B. Frank Kathan as their candidate for sheriff. The Democrats offered no opposition, yet Kathan lost the election. Say what? Yep, it’s true. He lost, even with no opponent on the ballot.

Leading up to November, a few dedicated Democrats, including some deputy sheriffs (led by William Osborne), felt the party should have offered a candidate. They began urging voters to support a certain write-in candidate, the very popular Jim Locke.

By all accounts, it came as a total shock on Election Day when the ballots were examined and Jim Locke had triumphed by 40 votes (326–286). He was declared the winner and was issued a Certificate of Election, verifying the outcome.

When Locke took over the office of sheriff, Kathan took off for court. Despite opposition, he obtained a show-cause order requiring the Board of Canvassers to recount the votes (Kathan’s claim was that some ballots were “defective”). The judge ordered that the votes be counted exactly as they were cast, and that presented a problem for James Nathan “Jim” Locke.

Though the voters’ intentions were clear, Locke’s name had been written in many forms. In some settlements he was known as Jim, and in others as Nat. On the ballots, there appeared Jim, James, James N., James Nathan, J. N., Nat, and other variations. The recount revealed new totals: Nat Locke–223; J. N. Locke–32; James N. Locke–24; and a number of other smaller groupings.

Since Frank Kathan had garnered 286 votes, he was declared the winner and was issued a Certificate of Election. Hamilton County now had a new sheriff. Well … let me rephrase that. Hamilton County now had two sheriffs. Jim Locke had already taken up residency in the county jail at Lake Pleasant, and he wasn’t going anywhere. Suddenly, the county had a big problem, and the entire state was waiting to see how it would play out.

It wasn’t pretty. Locke soon made his position clear—he expected to remain sheriff. To that end, headlines from Albany to Buffalo proclaimed that the Hamilton County Jail was under siege, and that violence might well play a role in the outcome. As one article noted, “Kathan demanded possession of the keys to the jail, but Locke had three guards on duty, armed to the teeth with revolvers and Winchesters. Kathan’s demands were refused.”

Adding drama to the situation, it was noted that Arietta sharpshooter Jim Higgins was among those defending the jail. A set of Albany headlines in mid-February said it all: “Crack Shot Guards Jail at Lake Pleasant—Supreme Court Defied—May be Necessary to Call Out Troops to Oust Locke.”

With the state militia already mentioned, Kathan turned again to the courts. A few days later, Locke was ordered to show cause why he should not be punished for contempt of court.

Next week: 2nd of two parts: High drama and a jailhouse coup at Lake Pleasant.

Photo: At Lake Pleasant, old jail and courthouse on left, modern courthouse on right.

Lawrence Gooley has authored 11 books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 24 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Henry Markham: New York’s Governor of California


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The section of Wilmington referred to as Haselton was once known as Markhamville. The name came from settlers who arrived prior to 1800, and it was more than a century before the change was made to Haselton. Among the early-nineteenth-century residents was Nathan Markham, who earned a living in iron manufacturing before turning to farming. He and wife Susan raised six sons and four daughters. The Markham work ethic served them well.
Three daughters and two sons were teachers in area schools. Several sons became prominent businessmen in different cities, and four of them were successful attorneys. George became the president of Northwest Mutual Life, an insurance company that is now 153 years old and holds more than $1 trillion in individual policies. And Henry became the governor of California.

Henry Harrison Markham was born in Wilmington on November 16, 1840. At the age of 19, he was still working on the family farm, but extended his education by attending Vermont’s Wheeler Academy, from which he graduated in 1862. Shortly after, he moved to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on the western shore of Lake Michigan.
An overriding concern at the time was the war, and just as his young father (only 18) had fought in the Battle of Plattsburgh, 23-year-old Henry enlisted, joining the North’s Civil War forces in December 1863. Tracking the movements of Company G, 32nd Wisconsin Infantry reveals their role in Sherman’s infamous March to the Sea. Henry survived that campaign, but for him, the war ended soon after.
In January 1865 in South Carolina, the troops of the 32nd had slogged their way for days through the muddy morass of Whippy Swamp, sometimes waste deep in cold water. At a place known as River’s Bridge, the Confederates released a hellfire in defense of their position, but a relentless push forward by Union troops forced the rebels to fall back.
Dozens died in the battle, and Henry was badly wounded. After a period of recovery at Beaufort, S.C., he was mustered out in May 1865 as a 2nd Lieutenant. Returning to Wisconsin, Henry took up the study of law with a well-known firm, and within a few short years, he was admitted to legal practice at various levels, including the US Supreme Court.
When his brother Charles arrived, they formed a very successful law partnership in Milwaukee. Henry was joined in marriage with Mary Dana at Waukesha, Wisconsin, in May 1876, and from outward appearances, life was good.
But illness and the nagging effects of his war injuries took an increasing toll, compelling Henry to seek a more healthful climate. Catching his eye was a magazine advertisement: “To Health Seekers—A Beautiful Home in a Beautiful Land—A Fruit Farm in Southern California.” With 22 acres, 750 fruit trees, and a vineyard, Henry was sold. In the late 1870s, Pasadena, California, became the new Markham homestead.
In addition to operating his fruit orchard, Henry kept busy pursing civic and business interests in California. Besides investing in various mines, he helped found the Pasadena Public Library and served on the school board, assuming a position of prominence in the community.
In 1884, the Republican Party in southern California was searching for a strategy to defeat the Democrats, who had long wielded power. A few interested candidates seemed lackluster at best, and Henry was approached as a dark horse possibility. He consented, and then did what he had always done in any endeavor: worked hard. Success followed, and for the next two years, the interests of southern California were looked after in Washington by Congressman Markham.
At re-election time in 1886, he seemed a sure bet to win again. But, just as he had reluctantly surrendered his law practice in Wisconsin, Henry said “Thanks, but no thanks” in declining the opportunity. The east-coast climate had again diminished his health, and he opted for civilian life in Pasadena rather than another term in Washington.
Aware of his leadership capabilities and his interest in the plight of war veterans, Congress elected him as a manager of the National Homes for Disabled Soldiers. The position was unpaid, and Henry frequently used his own money to finance related expenditures. In that regard, the home in Santa Monica greatly benefited from his largesse.
In 1887, Henry commissioned a magnificent three-story home to be built on his property (the cost in 2010 translates to well over $1 million). The huge mansion would easily accommodate his growing family (three young daughters), but Henry wanted more for them. He began building a playhouse, specially constructed to also accommodate Dad, who was 6 feet 2 inches tall. It was a beloved structure that the children shared for years with many friends.
Next week: Markham’s career rises to new heights.
Photos: Top―Henry Harrison Markham, circa 1864. Bottom―The Markham Mansion, once a landmark in Pasadena, California.
The story of Henry Markham is one of 51 original North Country history pieces appearing in Adirondack & North Country Gold: 50+ New & True Stories You’re Sure to Love (352 pp.), a recent release by author Lawrence Gooley, owner of Bloated Toe Publishing.

Civil War Legal Issues Conference Planned


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A conference entitled “Civil War on Trial-Legal Issues That Divided A Nation” will feature a three-day program over June 7-9, 2012, include some of the foremost Civil War and Constitutional scholars in the nation on the subjects of the Civil War and the law, and will look at this iconic period in American history in a way unique from virtually all other conferences nationwide. The conference is being chaired by nationally prominent Civil War scholars Paul Finkelman and Harold Holzer.

The conference will be held on the campus of Albany Law School in Albany, New York from June 7-9, 2012. For more information on the conference agenda and registration, go to www.nysarchivestrust.org or call (518) 473-7091.

The New York State Archives Partnership Trust and the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, in cooperation with the Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York, the New York State Bar Association, and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation are organizing the conference. Principal financial support has been provided by History Channel and the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation.

New Book on Convicts in Colonial America


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Independent scholar Anthony Vaver’s blog Early American Crime has staked-out some substantial ground with what he calls “an exploration of the social and cultural history of crime and punishment in colonial America and the early United States.” Now Vaver has an outstanding volume to accompany his work on the web, Bound with an Iron Chain: The Untold Story of How the British Transported 50,000 Convicts to Colonial America (Pickpocket Publishing, 2011).

Most people know that England shipped thousands of convicts to Australia, but few are aware that colonial America was the original destination for Britain’s unwanted criminals. In the 18th century, thousands of British convicts were separated from their families, chained together in the hold of a ship, and carried off to America, sometimes for the theft of a mere handkerchief.

What happened to these convicts once they arrived in America? Did they prosper in an environment of unlimited opportunity, or were they ostracized by the other colonists? Anthony Vaver, who has a Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, tells the stories of the petty thieves and professional criminals who were punished by being sent across the ocean to work on plantations. In bringing to life this forgotten chapter in American history, he challenges the way we think about immigration to early America.

The book also includes an index and an appendix with helpful tips for researching individual convicts who were transported to America.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

New CT Legal History Research Tool Online


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The Litchfield Historical Society has announces the availability of The Ledger, a new online resource funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Connecticut Humanities Council, and the Seherr-Thoss Foundation.

The Ledger presents the stories of the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy and the founders and students of these institutions. In 1784 Tapping Reeve opened the first law school in America. It attracted 934 documented students from 13 states and territories to study in Litchfield. Graduates formed a network of leadership and influence that encompassed public service, business, and other areas of American life. In 1792 Sarah Pierce founded a pioneer institution of female education in America. Her innovative curriculum of academic, practical, and ornamental courses expanded the world of the estimated 3,000 girls (1681 are currently known by name) who attended the Litchfield Female Academy over its 41 year history.

The words, artwork, and personal belongings of the students and instructors are presented together with biographical and genealogical information. Some documents are displayed individually while others are presented as part of collection level descriptions which link to finding aids. Needlework, portraits, personal effects, and other items associated with the school or its students appear on the pages. The Ledger Studies section contains overviews of Litchfield during this era and histories of each school. The Society will continue to add pertinent essays to this section.

Students traveled from around the country and the world to attend these schools. Their result is that their records and artifacts are scattered across the nation in various repositories and private collections. The Society’s goal was to make this tool available to researchers as soon as possible. Staff have already identified a number of other collections of papers, portraits, needlework, and other artifacts that will be added to the database in the coming weeks and months. The Society anticipates input and suggestions for improvements, and continues to seek information about any related materials which could be included in the Ledger. For further details about the project, a complete list of students, or to submit information to be included contact the curator, Julie Frey, at curator@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org or archivist, Linda Hocking, at archivist@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org.

Photo: Tapping Reeve House and Law School, Litchfield, CT (Courtesy Wikipedia).

New CT Legal History Research Tool Online


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The Litchfield Historical Society has announces the availability of The Ledger, a new online resource funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Council on Library and Information Resources, the Connecticut Humanities Council, and the Seherr-Thoss Foundation.

The Ledger presents the stories of the Litchfield Law School and Litchfield Female Academy and the founders and students of these institutions. In 1784 Tapping Reeve opened the first law school in America. It attracted 934 documented students from 13 states and territories to study in Litchfield. Graduates formed a network of leadership and influence that encompassed public service, business, and other areas of American life. In 1792 Sarah Pierce founded a pioneer institution of female education in America. Her innovative curriculum of academic, practical, and ornamental courses expanded the world of the estimated 3,000 girls (1681 are currently known by name) who attended the Litchfield Female Academy over its 41 year history.

The words, artwork, and personal belongings of the students and instructors are presented together with biographical and genealogical information. Some documents are displayed individually while others are presented as part of collection level descriptions which link to finding aids. Needlework, portraits, personal effects, and other items associated with the school or its students appear on the pages. The Ledger Studies section contains overviews of Litchfield during this era and histories of each school. The Society will continue to add pertinent essays to this section.

Students traveled from around the country and the world to attend these schools. Their result is that their records and artifacts are scattered across the nation in various repositories and private collections. The Society’s goal was to make this tool available to researchers as soon as possible. Staff have already identified a number of other collections of papers, portraits, needlework, and other artifacts that will be added to the database in the coming weeks and months. The Society anticipates input and suggestions for improvements, and continues to seek information about any related materials which could be included in the Ledger. For further details about the project, a complete list of students, or to submit information to be included contact the curator, Julie Frey, at curator@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org or archivist, Linda Hocking, at archivist@litchfieldhistoricalsociety.org.

Photo: Tapping Reeve House and Law School, Litchfield, CT (Courtesy Wikipedia).

John Jay’s Manhattan Historic Walking Tour


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John Jay’s Manhattan, an historic walking tour sponsored by John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, will take place Saturday, May 21. Participants will meet in lower Manhattan, and step off promptly at 10:00 a.m., rain or shine. The cost of participation is $20.00 per person; members of the Friends of John Jay Homestead can participate for $15.00.

Founding Father John Jay, America’s first Chief Justice, was born and educated in New York City, and spent much of his life there. The walking tour will trace his haunts, visiting the locations of the places where he lived and worked as one of New York’s leading lawyers and politicians, as well as U.S. Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Chief Justice of the United States, and Governor of New York. The tour will recall the time when New York was the capitol city of a young republic, and present a reminder of how the geography and architecture of Manhattan Island have changed since the arrival of the first European settlers in the 17th century.

The walk will cover approximately 1¾ miles and take about two hours, proceeding at a leisurely pace over mostly level terrain. Comfortable footwear is highly recommended. The tour will both begin and end in lower Manhattan, convenient to several subway lines. Attendance is limited, and advance registration is required; payment is due in advance, and is non-refundable. To reserve your place and learn the tour’s initial gathering place, call John Jay Homestead at (914) 232-5651, extension 100.

John Jay Homestead State Historic Site is located at 400 Route 22, Katonah, N.Y. It is regularly open for guided tours Sunday through Wednesday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and at other times by appointment.

Illustration: Portrait of John Jay painted by Gilbert Stuart.

A Livingston Family Secret: Arsenic and Clam Chowder


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Arsenic and Clam Chowder recounts the sensational 1896 murder trial of Mary Alice Livingston, a member of one of the most prestigious families in New York, who was accused of murdering her own mother, Evelina Bliss.

The bizarre instrument of death, an arsenic-laced pail of clam chowder, had been delivered to the victim by her ten-year-old granddaughter, and Livingston was arrested in her mourning clothes immediately after attending her mother’s funeral.

In addition to being the mother of four out-of-wedlock children, the last born in prison while she was awaiting trial, Livingston faced the possibility of being the first woman to be executed in New York’s new-fangled electric chair, and all these lurid details made her arrest and trial the central focus of an all-out circulation war then underway between Joseph Pulitzer’s World and William Randolph Hearst’s Journal.

The story is set against the electric backdrop of Gilded Age Manhattan. The arrival of skyscrapers, automobiles, motion pictures, and other modern marvels in the 1890s was transforming urban life with breathtaking speed, just as the battles of reformers against vice, police corruption, and Tammany Hall were transforming the city’s political life.

The aspiring politician Teddy Roosevelt, the prolific inventor Thomas Edison, bon vivant Diamond Jim Brady, and his companion Lillian Russell were among Gotham’s larger-than-life personalities, and they all played cameo roles in the dramatic story of Mary Alice Livingston and her arsenic-laced clam chowder.

In addition to telling a ripping good story, the book addresses a number of social and legal issues, among them capital punishment, equal rights for women, societal sexual standards, inheritance laws in regard to murder, gender bias of juries, and the meaning of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.