Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 55, page(s) 603-607


JOHN SHELDON BEACH was one of the ablest lawyers who ever practiced at the bar of Connecticut.

Differing in noticeable particulars from each one of his professional brethren, he was, in the total force of his peculiar powers, at least the equal of the strongest of them and easily the superior of all the rest.

He was born in New Haven on the 23d day of July, 1819, and died there on the l2th day of September, 1887, profoundly respected by all who had ever known him and greatly lamented by all who had known him intimately.

He was the eldest son of John Beach, formerly clerk of the Superior Court and for some time judge of the City Court of New Haven. And he was a lineal descendant of the Rev. John Beach, who from 1732 until 1782 was conspicuous in Connecticut as a devoted and efficient missionary of the Church of England in the service of the "Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts."

Graduating at Yale College in 1839, Mr. Beach immediately entered Yale Law School, where he graduated in 1842. Being admitted to the bar in 1843, he began the practice of law at New Haven, where for nearly forty-five years, and almost down to the day of his death, he continued in the zealous and highly successful exercise of his profession.

On the 15th day of September, 1847, he married Rebecca Gibbons, of Wilmington, Delaware, who, with three sons and one daughter, survives him.

For twenty-two years he was a most useful member of the Vestry of Trinity Church, and he lived and died in that Christian faith wherein he had been born and nurtured.

A meeting of the Bar of New Haven County, held on the 14th of September, Hon. Tilton E. Doolittle presiding, adopted the following preamble and resolutions :--

"JOHN SHELDON BEACH, the honored leader of the New Haven County Bar and for many years an eminent practitioner in all the courts of this state, having departed this life at his residence in the city of New Haven on the 12th instant, his brethren of the Bar with which his professional life has been most closely associated desire, in their sorrow, to place upon the records of the court so long adorned by his service, their sense of the bereavement sustained by them and by the community in which the labor of his life has been accomplished.

"Wherefore, it is by the members of the Bar of New Haven County, now assembled for the purpose,

"Resolved, that deeply impressed by the great and good qualities and the useful and honorable life of our deceased brother, we render this tribute of our admiration and respect to the high intellectual ability, the professional learning, the wise judgment and rare powers of argument, and the scrupulous integrity and fidelity which, through the forty-four years of his career at the bar, have distinguished his professional character, and which, combined with his signal private virtues, have brought to his life the respect and esteem of all who knew him and made of his death a public loss.

"Resolved, that the president of the Bar be desired to present these proceedings to the Superior Court at its next session in this county, with the request that they be entered on its minutes.

"Resolved, that this Bar will, as a body, attend the funeral services, of our deceased associate.

"Resolved, that a copy of these proceedings be transmitted by the clerk to the family of the deceased, with the respectful assurance of our sympathy in their bereavement."

Those who knew him best will most fully recognize the truthfulness of the portraiture of this accomplished lawyer and gentleman as delineated by Ex-Governor Ingersoll in the address made by him upon the presentation of the resolutions--which address was, substantially, as follows:


It is not easy, Mr. President, it is indeed impossible, to express adequately by formal resolution or, I may say, by any words of man, the sentiments by which you and I are moved upon this occasion. For we are here, in this large assemblage of our profession, alone almost, as the representatives of this Bar as it was in the decade which brought our dead brother into its ranks. For more than forty years, in summer and in winter, we have been by his side in almost constant practice of our profession, and during that long period in the friendly companionship involved in such relations. It is very hard to rupture such a tie. But my personal association with him goes back to an earlier date. Born in the same neighborhood in this town, we were companions in childhood, in school life, in college life, and following him to this Bar after an interval of two years we have ever since been closely associated in many ways not professional. I look back on this long life with which mine has been so connected and it is luminous with qualities that sanctify friendship and go into the making of good men and honored citizens. Mr. President, I cannot venture to dwell at this time upon those personal relations. A single allusion in this connection I will make, for the incident has given me too much satisfaction to be ignored. But a few weeks ago, at a social gathering, the last that he attended, I heard him, in conversation with a brother lawyer upon some of the agreeable characteristics of our profession, say that he had been in practice with me for over forty years, and that this had brought us together in the trial of a great many cases and not often upon the same side, but that during this long experience with its varied occasions for antagonism of opinion, no instance of serious misunderstanding had ever, under any circumstances, arisen between us. And that, Mr. President, was the literal truth.

As to his relations to this Bar and our profession, I will add a word or two. John S. Beach was notably a lawyer; and he was thoroughly a lawyer. His element was the atmosphere of courts. His ambition and his delight was to be active where justice is sought. And, outside of his home with its associations most cherished by him, his life duty was centered here, among judges and lawyers. And, Mr. President, the jealous mistress of the law never found occasion to reproach him for any neglect of her service. No public honor ever allured him from her side. No phantom of popular fame ever led him away in its pursuit. No temptation of quick gains in other paths ever ensnared him. But quietly, unostentatiously, industriously and conscientiously, he has for forty-four years, steadily followed the common routine of the practicing Connecticut lawyer. Followed it, however, as we all know, not as a plodder through a daily task--not in servile toil to heap up riches for he could not tell whom to gather. Far from that. He had a broad nature and his way of life was a generous one. There was noticeably in him, a freedom from anything cramped or cynical in his dealings, with men or his judgment of their conduct or motives. But he devoted himself to this career because he loved it. He was a man of purposes and very firm in them- "justum et tenacem" and I have no doubt that long ago he determined upon this plan of life because of the conviction of his judgment that in no other worldly vocation could his intellectual and moral nature procure higher and fuller satisfaction than in the faithful practice of our profession. Only recently he said that he believed he took as much pleasure in the trial of a case then as he ever did. But his delight was particularly in the presentation of his cases to a court in argument. I do not recall any criminal case in which he was ever actively engaged; and he always avoided if he could the trial of any issue by a jury. But in the open fair field of legal controversy, where principles could be expounded and applied, and in the region of pure fact, as the mechanics of a patent suit, he was always ready and very fond of the discussions involved. His style of presenting a case reminded one of that quaint characterization of an old English judge, "there was no rubbish in his mind." Simple, clear, without rhetorical or any other display, and apparently to an onlooker without special effort, his prepared arguments were nevertheless the result of painstaking care. Their aim was to capture the reason of the trier, and the joints of premise and conclusion were always artistically fitted, and the whole structure polished by a pure and lucid diction, so that the argument not only commanded the attention but required the vigilance of him who had to hear another side.

And this devotion to his profession received the reward that was merited and, doubtless, coveted. I do not think any lawyer of this Bar ever had a stronger clientage. There were few of the representative men of this community during the last thirty years who were not, at some time, familiar with his office. And most of our monied institutions and leading commercial establishments have, in one way or another, availed themselves of his counsel. What secured this confidence? Not alone, Mr. President, the intellectual skill and professional experience I have pointed out. But underlying it all was the primitive bed-rock of private virtue and moral strength, without which it is the glory of our profession that, in the long run of forty years, the cunning of the brain and all the acquired accomplishments of the lawyer avail but little.

Mr. President, I have been led into saying more than I intended. The earth has not yet closed upon the form that seems to have been but yesterday in this room, and it is the hour of lamentation rather than the hour of eulogy. But very soon nothing will be left here save the memory of him. Mr. President, let this Bar cherish that among its jewels. If our generation of its members has any legacy to leave to that generation fast pressing upon us, I know no richer one than the example of John S. Beach.