McKean County, Chapter 5, Courts and Bar

Created: Saturday, 13 March 2010 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email


THE first court of McKean county was held at Smethport, September 25, 1826. Edward Herrick presided, with Joseph Otto and Joel Bishop associate judges. Prothonotary Timothy Newell and Sheriff Wright were present, while the bar of the circuit was represented by Anson Parsons* a young lawyer from Lycoming county (deputy attorney- general), subsequently judge of the Philadelphia courts; Ellis Lewis,* of Wellsboro, later a judge of the supreme court; William Garretson,* and Peter R. Adams,* of Tioga county, later judge of the Peoria circuit, in Illinois; Simon Kenny,* of Towanda, Penn.; Henry Bryan* and Chauncey J. Fox,* of Olean, N.Y. In December of this year Orlo J. Hamlin* and John W. Howe* were admitted to the bar. Mr. Howe died in 1873, and his wife,. Sallie Howe, died April 17, 1880. In February, 1827, Clarendon Rathbone, of Tioga county, was admitted, but no record is made of the May, September and December terms of that year. On the order book of 1826, however, there are no names of jurors given, but in May, 1827, the following named citizens were paid small sums for jury service:

William Brewer, E.J. Cook, Levi Coats, Oliver Felt, John Smith, Jacob Minard, Jonathan Colegrove and William Bell. The other members, it is to be presumed, did not call for warrants. In September, 1827, the grand jury served two days. The members were William Housler, Robert King, George Jackox, Gideon Irons, Jacob Knapp, Simeon M. Morris, Jacob DeWitt, William Rice, Hugh Moore, Harvey Abbey, Benjamin Billins, William Moore, Henry Garlick, Levi Davis, John R. Spencer, Ira H. Curtis, John Applebee, Ralph Hill, Ebenezer Burbanks, Smith Wolcott and Essek Smith. In February and May, 1828, court was regularly opened, and in September Horace Williston, of Bradford county, Robert Fleming, of Lycoming, George Miles, of Allegany, N.Y., and George A.Y. Crocker, of Cattaraugus, N.Y., were admitted.

Court was also held in December, 1828, and four terms were held in 1829, James Lowrey,* of Tioga county, being admitted in September. In February, 1830, Judges Otto* and Bishop* were present; Richard Chadwick* was prothonotary; S. Sartwell, Jr., sheriff; George Darling, coroner; Levi Bennett, crier. Judge Herrick* presided; Justus Goodwin,* of Tioga, and D.C. Bryan,* of Cattaraugus county, N.Y., were admitted, and the former accepted the office of deputy attorney- general which O.J. Hamlin declined. In September William Lowe,* of Cattaraugus county, was admitted, and also Abner C. Harding,* of Union county. Robert G. White,* of Tioga county, was admitted in December, 1830.

Regular terms of court were held in 1831, with the judges and the lawyers of the old bar present. In February, 1832, Messrs. N.H. Purple* & Maynard* were admitted; in May, John E. Niles, ex gratia; in December, L.B. Cole,* of Coudersport, and S.M. Russell,* of Olean, became members of the bar. In May, 1833, Asa Sartwell signed the record as prothonotary; in September, James Armstrong, of Lycoming, and Josiah Emery, of Tioga, signed the roll, and in March, 1834, W.S. Oviatt and E. Patterson. P.B. Depew was admitted in June, also Horace M. Bliss. Lawyer White was present in September. Hiram Payne and Dr. W.Y. McCoy were appointed school inspectors for Keating township, and L.R. Hawkins was then deputy clerk. T.M. Keeler and Eli Rees were appointed school inspectors for Wharton township, in March, 1835. In September C.B. Curtis, of Warren, was admitted to the bar, and also Benjamin Bartholomew, A.S. Tiven and James D. Bryan. In December Judge N.B. Eldred presided. Joseph P. King was appointed crier, and Thomas Struthers, of Warren, signed the attorney's roll. The May term of 1836 was held before Judges Otto and Bishop. Messrs. Hamlin and Niles were present as attorneys; F.B. Hamlin was admitted to the bar; tavern licenses were granted to P.W. Beach, of Smethport, and David Benson, of Ceres. In September Judge Eldred was present, with Attorneys Hamlin, Niles, Payne, Johnson, Bartholomew, Curtis, Wetmore, F.B. Hamlin and L.B. Cole. George Weimer, a German, was naturalized at this time. A few insolvent petitions were presented, and the property of the debtors assigned for creditors' use. Probate business was also transacted. In February, 1837, Attorneys Johnson, Purple, Maynard and Bryan, with those hitherto named, were present.

In December the divorce suit of T.B. Shepperd vs. L. Shepperd was entered, and also a similar suit by W.B. Otto vs. Lucy O. Otto, but the latter was granted her petition in 1838. Testimony regarding the death of Elihu Chadwick, a Revolutionary soldier, showed that he died August 30, 1837, leaving his widow, Rebekah. In February, 1838, Attorney DePue was present, and Anson Gibbs, of Cattaraugus county, N.Y., was admitted. In May S.P. Johnson was appointed deputy attorney- general for McKean county. J. Lowry practiced in this court during the fall term. D.C. Woodcock was admitted in December, and prosecuted the indictment for murder against Joseph and Sarah Brush. In this case the jury, comprising Erastus Cowles, Simeon Morris, David Crow, John Brockham, Richard Renshaw, Joseph O. Coleman, Samuel Holland, Jr., Walter Brush, Amos Flatt, William Smith, A.P. Barnaby and Joseph Rhodes, found the prisoners not guilty on the 22d. At this time a horn was used in calling court. In February, 1839, tavern licenses were granted to J.S. McCall, William Gibbs and Samuel Eastey. In May William A. Wiliiams* was admitted to the bar. In September a lawyer named White appeared, and in December Judge McCalmont presided. Crosby W. Ellis was admitted an attorney, also L.P. Williston and J.C. Knox, and in 1841 Alexander McDougall. In February, 1841, The Tomahawk was declared a nuisance by the grand jury. President Judge McCalmont, with associates, W.P. Wilcox and S. Sartwell, were present in May. Sheriff Richmond took McCoy's place, while Smith still held the office of coroner. M. Gallaher was admitted to the bar in September, and in November, 1842, H.W. Smith and G.W. Scofield; In 1843 N. White replaced Wilcox on the bench. In 1844 the name of Attorney Brown appears, and in September, 1845, N.W. Goodrich and John McCalmont were admitted, and Isaac Benson permitted to practice. Nelson Richmond was appointed deputy sheriff, and in May, 1846, John K. Williams was admitted to the bar, and in September Byron D. Hamlin was examined and admitted, and resolutions on the death of Judge White adopted. C.B. Curtis was appointed deputy attorney- general in December, 1846; Ford was sheriff. Joseph Morse was associate judge in 1847, succeeding I.S. Holmes, and A.S. Arnold held over. Attorney Knox's name was enrolled here in September, and also that of J.S. Mann. In June, 1849, Horace Williston was president judge and W.A. Williams, prosecutor. H.W. Souther was admitted to practice here, and Bard was sheriff. In January, 1850, the old court- house was considered unsafe, and court was held in the Methodist church. There the trial of Uzza Robbins was commenced, with O.J. Hamlin, Isaac Benson and N.W. Goodrich, prosecuting; S.P. Johnson, C.B. Curtis, C.W. Ellis and L.D. Wetmore, defending Uzza Robbins was hanged August 30, 1850, and buried, but during the night the earth was removed, the murderer's head cutoff, and carried to a carpenter's shop, where it was found next day, and replaced in the grave by a committee of citizens. Isaac G. Gordon was admitted in January, 1850, and C.C. Green and Arthur G. Olmsted, in October. A.D. Hamlin qualified as county surveyor. In 1851 Colegrove was sheriff, and Corwin, coroner. George R. Barrett was admitted to the bar in June, and J.C. Backus, M.W. Aldrich and A. F. Frazer, in October. In January, 1852, Judges R.G. White, R. Chadwick and O.L. Stanton, with Sheriff Bennett, were present. F.W. Knox and Charles B. Curtis were permitted to practice here. S.F.C. Hyde took Richard Chadwick's place as prothonotary. In February, 1853, the court refused tavern license to eleven applicants. A year later E.B. Eldred practiced here. In September, 1854, Warren Cowles was admitted, and in February, 1856, Oliver Payne was examined and enrolled as an attorney, while H.B. McKean and E.A. Brooks were permitted to practice here. In December Samuel C. Hyde signed the records as prothonotary, Judge White was president of the court, with S. Holmes and J. Darling, associates. In March, 1858, the bar petitioned for the removal of H. B. King, the old court crier, and for G.C. DeGolier's appointment. This petition was granted. In June, 1858, Judge John Galbraith, of Erie, presided. H.G. Rogers and John H. Boyle were admitted to the bar, and in December William A. Nichols' name appears as a member of the bar. C.B. Curtis presided, vice White, in June, 1859. In September of that year Joseph J. Robbins was tried for firing John Dexter's house, and acquitted. B.D. Hamlin and Prosecutor Cowles represented the State, while L.D. Wetmore and W.A. Williams defended, twenty witnesses being called for the defense and twenty for the State. The trial of James Dunn, for the murder of James Stocker, in Ceres township, July 1, took place at this time, and resulted in a verdict of guilty in the second degree, in June, 1860; W. Cowles and L.D. Wetmore prosecuted, while B.P. Hamlin and S.P. Johnson defended. He was sentenced by Judge White to a fine of one dollar costs, and to twelve years solitary confinement. A.B. Armstrong, Philetus Ford and Samuel C. Hyde were admitted in 1860. In December, 1861, Attorney Struthers' name appears. Judge Peabody took the place of Judge Holmes. Fred. E. Smith was admitted in July, 1862, and J.W. Ryan, J.W. Conley and W.W. Williard, in December. In February, 1863, J.B. Newton and G.W. DeCamp were admitted.

In 1865 Judge Williams, with Associates Darling and Peabody, presided. The petition for the incorporation of Kane was reported on favorably. Attorneys Laurie J. Blakely and Beardsley were admitted, and Wallace W. Brown appointed district attorney, vice Cowles, resigned. Judges A.T. Barden and A.N. Taylor were present in December, 1866, with Judge Williams, presiding; William J. Milliken was admitted to the law circle, and William K. King was appointed county surveyor. In February, 1868, Nelson Medbery was appointed crier of the court, vice King, but the latter was reappointed. Henry King was admitted to the 'bar in June of that year, and Charles R. Saunders, in February, 1869. The petition against the election of C.C. Melvin as treasurer was received in December, 1870, and was considered and reconsidered until the subject was dropped. Manley Crosby was admitted to the bar in June, 1871, and Delano R. Hamlin's* name appears on the records in August of that year. Associate Judges W.S. Brownell and Loyal Ward qualified in December, H.W. Williams presiding, and in February, 1872, S.F. Wilson, the additional law judge, was present. At this session the name of E. Brown appears as attorney. D.C. Larrabee* was admitted in April, and George A. Rathbun in June, when the charge of murder against the Burns brothers was tried, one of whom was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to twelve years solitary confinement. Messrs. King, Williams and Clark prosecuted, while Backus and Milliken defended. In September F.W. Paine was admitted, the death of Warren Cowles announced, and H.E. Brown, of Warren, permitted to practice here, and later John G. Hall,* of Elk county. In June, 1873, Andrew Tracy signed the roll of attorneys. J.R. Clark was present as an attorney in the fall, and Robert H. Rose was admitted to the bar. At this term the celebrated hunter, Leroy Lyman, was indicted for killing deer out of season. In June, 1874, Charles Dinsmore, of Warren, was admitted to practice, S.W. Smith in September, also F.D. Leet, of Cameron county; R.B. Power qualified as stenographer. The grand jury declared the jail and outbuildings nuisances; in December P.R. Cotter and C. Hollenbeck appeared as attorneys, and W.M. Lindsey was admitted. Edward Crow was indicted by a coroner's jury of killing Calvin H. Hobar, at Port Allegany, August 3, 1874. The same year he was tried for this offense and sentenced to a five- years' term. He was defended by A.G. Olmsted, W.A. Williams and Charles Dolan. Charles H. Noyes was enrolled in September, 1875, and in December the contested election case - C.K. Sartwell vs. John B. Chadwick - in re office of prothonotary, was entered.

B.A. Green was admitted to the bar at this time. In February, 1876, A.W. Barry, M.F. Elliott and George A. Berry were admitted attorneys, and H.N. Gardiner appointed stenographer. Eugene Mullin signed the roll in June, 1876, and Roger Sherman, C.J. Curtis and G.W. Kelly in December. During the year a number of divorce cases were presented, and the records of the court began to assume large proportions as the population increased. In February, 1877, Associate Judges Brownell and F.N. Burnham were present; among the members of the bar were *O.A. Hotchkiss, R.B. Stone, L.H. Cobb and C.H. Sherwood. Julius Byles was admitted a member. In September Sheridan Gorton, David Sterrett and H. McClure were admitted; in October H.C. Dornan, and in December P.E. Dufton, J.C. Sturgeon, and C.L. Peck. In February, 1878, A.F. Bole was admitted and C.P. Longfellow was enrolled; in April J.C. Johnson, W.I. Lewis and W.B. Graves were enrolled as members, and E.B. McCleery was admitted. Edward McSweeney's name appears upon the records of 1876, and also that of W.B. Boggs.

Andrew Tracy, a young lawyer of Smethport, was tried in February, 1879, for the murder of his cousin, Miss Mary Reilly, at Smethport. District Attorney S.W. Smith, M.F. Elliott and W.W. Brown represented the State, while C.B. Curtis, A. B. Richmond, George A. Jonks, A.G. Olmsted and N. McSweeney defended. He was found guilty of murder, and, in April, sentenced by Judge Williams to death. The Judge, in passing sentence, said: "The victim was a friend, not an enemy; a relative by blood; a modest and lovely woman, whose only offense was that she had struggled to overcome her affection for you, from a sense of duty toward the church to which she belonged, and toward her parents whom she honored," Every effort was made to save this unfortunate man, but the board of pardons refusing to interfere with the sentence the, ]aw was carried into effect in December, 1879. This tragedy of September 18, 1878, may be said to have broken up one of the most hospitable homes of McKean county.

The trial of Robert Butler for murder took place in March, 1880, resulting in a sentence of eight years solitary confinement. In December, 1886, the trial of John Thompson for the murder, on previous July 24, of John Yohe at Mount Jewett was heard. Messrs. Koester, Cotter, Mullin and McClure represented the State, while Morrison, Apple, Elliott and Hastings defended. He was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to imprisonment.

Anthony Anderson Oaks, a Swede, was tried in May, 1889, for the murder of Henry Robinson, in Long Hollow, Annin township, February 12, 1889, Messrs. Sturgeon and P.R. Cotter prosecuting, and Messrs. Mullin and McClure defending. In October, 1889, one of the heaviest cases ever brought before this court was presented - The McKean & Elk Land & Improvement Company vs. Elizabeth P. Kane. Plaintiffs originally owned 120,000 acres of land in this section of country, of which Gen. T.L. Kane was agent. The case involved the title to a large portion of this territory. A brilliant array of legal talent was employed in the litigation. F.B. Gowan and William W. Wilbank, both of Philadelphia, and B.B. Stone, of Bradford, were' for the prosecution, and C.H. McCauley, of Ridgway, J.G. Johnson and E.W. Hanson, of Philadelphia, B.D. Hamlin, of Smethport, and M.F. Elliott, of Wellsboro, represented the defendant. Judgment was rendered in favor of Mrs. Kane, and the title to the lands and lots thereby settled.

In February, 1890, a salvation Army case was presented to the grand jury. Three of the bills, ignored by that body, were brought by Capt. Charles Lockyer, the commander of the Salvation Army in Bradford. He charged two boys with disturbing one of the meetings at their barracks. In addition to ignoring the bills the grand jury placed the costs upon the prosecutor. The costs of the three cases amounted to $93.88. Neither the captain nor the members of his army who were present in court had the money, and the captain was committed to jail in default thereof. The parting scene between the captain and his followers was an emotional one. He kissed the weeping sisters amid a chorus of "God bless you," and the prison door closed. The inmates of the jail, upon seeing the badge of their new comrade, welcomed him with a shout and a rapturous medley of "war cry" choruses.

Another bill was presented to this jury asking an indictment for assault against G.W. Kelly. This indictment was the outcome of the trouble between the members of the W.V.R.U. which the national president, Mrs. Campbell, attempted to adjust, and whom Kelly had arrested for the larceny of a charter. Kelly had the costs to pay in that case, when Mrs. Campbell was discharged. The grand jury in ignoring the bill against Kelly placed the costs on the county.

The attorneys admitted to practice here since the May term of 1878 are named as follows:

George A. Allen, 1878; James Addle, 1877; George W. Allen, 1879; Isaac Ash and Harrison Allen, 1880; John N. Apple, 1882, and Fred L. Armstrong, 1884.

John B. Brawley, 1877; Lewis F. Barger, W.D. Brown, C.L. Baker, R.C. Beach, F.L. Blackman, David Ball, W.E. Burdick and M.H. Byles, 1879; James C. Boyce, F.W. Blakeslee and Eben Brewer, 1880; B.T. Ball and W.C. Brown, 1881; Joseph W. Bouton and C. Benedict, 1885; George H. Bemis and Charles E. Boyle, 1887.

W.B. Chapman, 1877; S.E. Cheeseman, E. Crossman, A.A. Craig, F.J. Corbin** and C.L. Covell, 1878; John B. Chapman, S.M. Crosby and J.H. Cunningham, 1879; Mahlon J. Colcord and David Cameron, 1883; A.L. Cole and James Cable, 1889.

M.E. Dunlap and W.M. Dame, 1878; John W. Dunkle, 1881; Joshua Douglass, 1883; W.F. Doyle, 1887, and S.M. Decker, 1889.

Thomas F. Emmens and M.T.H. Elliott, 1880.

John Forrest, 1879; W.L. Foster, 1883; G.N. Frazier, 1886.

W.B. Graves, 1878; James George, F.F. Guthrie and J.T. Gealy, 1879; S.S. Geisinger, 1880; Henry N. Gardner, 1882; Sam. Trumbine, 1885, and S.B. Griffith, 1886.

D.S. Herron, 1878; P.T. Hallock, William C. Holahan and C.A. Hitchcock, 1879; H.D. Hancock, M.J. Heywang, A.P. Huey and George H. Higgins, 1880; Watson I. Hinckley, F.W. Hastings, Jacob Hockley, 1881; T.B. Hoover, 1882; H.J. Hammond, -; J.D. Hancock, 1885, and C. Heydrick, 1889.

H.C. Johns, 1878: David H. Jack, 1880; Charles E. Judd, 1884; A.L. Kinkead, 1878; E. Koester, J.L. Kinkead and E.L. Keenan, 1879, W.C. Kerr, 1880; H.O. Kline, 1881; George C. King, 1882.

W.J. Lewis, 1878; A.H. Low, 1879; William L. Lillibridge, 1881; W.H. Latham, 1884; J.W. Lee, 1886, and George A. Lukehart, 1888.

**B.S. McAllister, A.M. Metzger and C.H. McCauley, 1877; **E.B. McCleery, E.R. Mayo, G.B. McCalmont, H.N. McIntyre and William McSweeney, 1878; W.M. Meredith, Samuel Minor, Graham McFarlane, W.A. Mason, C.H. McKee, H.J. Muse, Henry McSweeney, T.A. Morrison, Robert Mackwood, William E. Marsh, Joseph M. McClure and J.O. Marshall, 1879; J.C. Metzger, Miles S. Plummer and J.V. McIntyre, 1880; Joseph A. McDonald, 1881; H.C. McCormack and J.P. McNarney, 1883; James J. McCarthy, 1884; Charles McCandless, 1885; T.F. Mullin, 1886; J.B. McAllister and R.M. Magee, 1888.

Herman H. North, 1880; Samuel P. Neill, February, 1890.

N.M. Orr and **Omer Osmer, 1878; John Omerod, 1882; J.H. Osmer, 1883; George M. Orr, 1887.

Louis K. Purviance and H.S. Payson, 1819; M.J. Peck, 1887.

A.B. Richmond, 1878; F.D. Heaves, 1879; George L. Roberts, 1880; L. Rosenzweig and Hamlet E. Rossell, 1881; Thomas F. Richmond, 1882; J.E. Rounseville, 1888, and W.E. Rice, October 15, 1889.

G.F. Stone, N.B. Smiley** and J.W. Shaw, 1878; H.C. Scoville, G.A. Sturgeon, William Swanson, F.L. Seeley, William A. Stone and G.J. Stranahan, 1879; O.L. Snyder and M. Sullivan, 1880; H.N. Snyder, 1881, and W.R. Scott, 1884.

E.E. Tait, 1883; C.C. Thompson, 1885.

J.K. Wilson, J.K. Wallace and **C.L. Wescott, 1878; W.P. Weston, 1879; O.H. Wheeler, A. Leo Weil, George J. Wolfe, 1880; Irvine Watson, 1882; M.A.K. Werdner, 1883; S.C. White, 1887.

In the history of Smethport the first night's experience of the pioneer lawyer. Orlo J. Hamlin, at the Willard House is described. Next morning Paul E. Scull and Judge Sartwell, then the only merchants at the county seat, invited him to visit the court- house. Accepting, the trio had to creep along the fence to escape the quagmire then occupying the present main street. To ameliorate matters, the merchants offered the young lawyer a retaining fee of $50, and immediately the cloud of disappointment vanished, and Smethport seemed clad in sunshine. He decided to stay, and was permitted to occupy the west wing of the brick court- house, then completed. Obtaining some rough furniture he ranged "Blackstone," "Peak's Evidence" and a borrowed volume of "Purdonis Digest" on the cross- legged pine table, and in December, 1826, opened the first law office in McKean county. Practice was very primitive then. Prior to his coming a justice of the peace, afterward an associate judge here, rendered a judgment against the defendant for "six yards of calico" (enough then to dress a woman), and in another case for "twenty- five hemlock saw logs." The constable did not know how to execute the judgments legally, and time alone canceled them. The first case, in which Mr. Hamlin participated here was tried in the Willard tavern. An employe of a saw- mill owner sued his employer for assault and battery with intent to kill. Hamlin was retained for the defense, while Counselor T____ prosecuted. The counselor was athletic and illiterate, but naturally a speaker and full of assurance. The bar- room was crowded, and the young lawyer determined to prove his professional training. He was very technical, and the justice was there to listen. Eleek Hall, equally powerful as a counselor, was then bartender, and while the case proceeded, he helped the audience to what drinks were called for. Mr. Hamlin, knowing the physical character of his opponent, called Hall to assist him, and when Hamlin had examined and cross- examined the witnesses and badgered the counselor, he would wink to Hall to answer Counselor T____. Eleek would step forward, smacking his lips and foaming with vehemence, and continue a doggerel speech until exhausted. The sun had set, and the justice had sent the case to quarter sessions, holding the mill owner under bonds. The latter soon drove away his employe, holding his wife as hostage for a small debt. At quarter sessions the banished employe did not appear nor did he ever come to claim the wife he left as a hostage.

About the third week in December, 1826, John W. Howe came to Smethport, ostensibly to seek employment as a school- teacher. His baggage was a small wooden box, which proved to contain only law books. The people soon learned that he was a lawyer and not a teacher. He was something of a wag, eccentric, sensible, honorable and energetic. After a stay of six years he moved to Franklin, Penn., and thence to Meadville. In May, 1827, Thomas Fuller came hither to settle, but after a few months returned to Bethany, N.Y. In the spring of this year Counselor T___ fell into a hornets' nest. It appears Hamlin, Howe and Fuller determined to oust this individual, and their determination succeeded; for the counselor, being unable to make war against the trio, became irritable and sat down, exhausted. Leaving Smethport at once, he never returned to practice here. No doubt he felt like the physician in the drama of Macbeth:

Were I from Dunsinane away and clear,
Profit again should hardly draw me here.



** Removed by death or emigration.

 Source: Page(s) 112-120, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.