Aldrich History Project

Chapter LII

George Rodden Barrett

Barrett, George Rodden, was born at Curwensville on the 31st day of March, 1815, being the third child and oldest son of Daniel Barrett, who was married to Rachel Rodden, the daughter of Isaac Rodden of Clearfield. When old enough, George attended a private school taught by Miss Ann Reed, this being the only school in that neighborhood. This was the only opportunity furnished him to acquire an education. At the age of fifteen years, he was apprenticed to the late Governor John Bigler of California, to learn the printing trade, in the town of Bellefonte, Centre county. After two years service he removed to Brookville, Jefferson county and edited and published a paper named the Jeffersonian. Although at this time but eighteen years of age, he took and active and prominent part in the political discussions of the day. He continued the publication of that paper for about one year. In the month of September, 1834, he was married to Sarah Steadman, the daughter of George Steadman of Lewisburg, Union county. The next year, 1835, he moved with his family to Lewisburg, and entered the office of James F. Linn, esq., as a student at law. While engaged in the study of law, he established and edited the first Democratic paper ever published in Lewisburg, the Lewisburg Democrat. In the following year, 1836, having been admitted to the bar, he moved with his family to Clearfield and established himself in the practice of the profession he had chosen.

In the year 1837, he was appointed deputy attorney-general for the counties of Clearfield and Jefferson. While Clearfield county at that time was sparsely settled, and afforded but a narrow scope for a young lawyer to develop himself in the performance of the duties of his office, yet the young deputy attorney-general had hardly entered upon the duties of his office, when he was enlisted in one of the most exciting cases ever tried in Jefferson county, and know as the "Green murder trail" the result of which was to establish firmly the reputation of George R. Barrett, and place him at the head of the bar in his own county, which position he maintained until he retired from the practice of the profession to assume his judicial office.

In 1840, he was elected from the district composed of Clearfield, Clinton and Lycoming counties to serve in the Legislature and re-elected the succeeding year. While a member of the Legislature, he served upon the judiciary committee, and among his colleagues upon that committee were the late Thaddeus Stevens, the late Chief Justice Sharswood, and Judge Elwell, of Columbia county. During his service the law abolishing imprisonment for debt was passed. It caused, at the time, great excitement, and engendered intense and bitter feeling. Mr. Barrett was the consistent steadfast and earnest advocate of the measure and was regarded and looked upon as its champion.

At the close of his second term, he returned to Clearfield with the fixed determination to abandon politics and adhere strictly to his profession, which he practiced unvarying success; but, being a ready political debater and of such strong convictions, he found it impossible to keep out of the political discussions of the day; every succeeding fall found him upon the stump. His friend and neighbor, Governor Bigler having become a candidate for the Chief Magistracy of Pennsylvania, found a ready, earnest and active supporter in Mr. Barrett, in conventions, caucuses and before the people. This fact perhaps, more than anything else had the effect of drawing him back into politics and keeping him in its turmoil. In 1852, he was placed upon the ticket and elected presidential elector, and cast his vote in the electoral college for Franklin Pierce for president of the United States. In May of the following year, he was appointed by Governor Bigler, president judge of the twenty-second judicial district, composed of the counties of Wayne, Pike, Monroe and Carbon, which office he held until the succeeding December, then declining to be a candidate for election.

In the winter of 1852, Congress enacted a law authorizing the president to select and appoint a suitable person, learned in the law, to systematize and codify the revenue entered upon the duties of his position and in a little over one year, he completed the work to the satisfaction of the government. He then returned to Clearfield and resumed the practice of his profession.

In the fall of 1855, never having visited the district in which he had temporarily presided, he was nominated by the Democratic party, without his solicitation, as their candidate for president judge. At that time the Democratic party was opposed by a secret oath-bound organization known as the "Know-Nothings." The latter placed in nomination, Thomas S. Bell, an ex-supreme judge of the State. During the exciting contest that followed Judge Barrett never visited the district, nor wrote a letter concerning his candidacy, but received most of his news of the canvas through the press. The result was his election by over three thousand majority, which was largely in excess of the party majority that year. He held the office and performed its duties during the entire ten years following. In 1865, he as renominated by both political parties and elected unanimously. In 1869 having tired of the monotony of judicial life, he resigned the office. Governor Geary, having trouble in selecting a successor, induced him to accept and appointment for one year to enable the people, in the mean time, to elect his successor. In 1870 he retired permanently from office. In 1872, he returned to the practice of his profession at Clearfield and in adjoining counties, forming a partnership with his son, Walter Barrett, who was then engaged in practice. This was continued until 1884, when on account of ill health, Judge Barrett was compelled to retire permanently from the profession. During the twelve years of his practice, he was interested in all the leading cases, civil and criminal, tried at the bar of the county, as well as many in Bedford, Huntingdon, Centre and Montour counties, also in trying important cases in the United States Circuit Court in Pittsburgh. During this time it was a matter of pride with him that he never lost a case in the Supreme Court, and that, during the sixteen years of his service upon the bench, he was reversed but thirteen times, although reviewed in hundreds of instances.

What greater compliment can be paid, or what more fitting tribute can be written upon the professional career of this man than by the statement of fact; a lawyer profound and deep in the knowledge of the law; a counselor prudent and careful, ever ready, but never over hasty; shrewd and able to see quickly and grasp every point in the trail of a case; using strong argument rather than eloquence in his presentation to the jury, nevertheless a fluent and effective speaker; ever respectful and submissive to the rulings of the court? Possessing, as he did, those qualities that place him high in the profession as a lawyer, he was eminently fitted for the more exalted station in professional life---the bench. Self-possessed, dignified, courteous, easy and graceful in his bearing, firm in his rulings, logical in his reasoning, kind and forbearing toward the profession, generally, and the younger lawyers in particular, Mr. Barrett during his presidency, acquired the deserved honor of being one of the ablest and most popular judges upon the bench. Outside of his long and active professional life, Judge Barrett was engaged in many enterprises, having at one time, large lumber interest, and connected with several mercantile establishments; but more especially did he exhibit a fondness for agriculture and never was he so happy, apparently, as when superintending his farms. He was also active in promoting railroad enterprises, and spent a great deal of time and money in endeavoring to establish a railway route through Clearfield county, connecting with trunk lines.

He raised to maturity a family of ten children, and although never a rich man, he always had sufficient to live in affluence and maintain large, charitable dependencies. In no way do the qualities of the man appear so strongly as in the citizen, friend and neighbor, in the more private walks of life. His commanding personal appearance, agreeable manners, and his scrupulous attention to the common civilities of life, endear him alike to the old and young. No appeal to his charity was ever made in vain, and now, bearing upon him the weight of advanced years, he recognizes in all fullness of his strength, the divine command, "Bear ye on another's burdens."


Source: Pages 676-678, History of Clearfield County, Pennsylvania, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich, Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., Publishers, 1887.
Transcribed August 1999 by Gloria Gloss for the Clearfield County Aldrich Project
Contributed for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy Project (

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