Connecticut State Library with state seal

Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 67, page(s) 595-598

OBITUARY SKETCH OF TILTON E. DOOLITTLE

Tilton Edwin Doolittle was a descendant of the seventh generation from Abraham Doolittle, who was a resident of Massachusetts soon after the settlement of Salem, and removed thence to New Haven prior to 1642, and became a householder there. He was one of the committee appointed to establish a new colony in Wallingford, and took up his residence in that place about the year 1669. During King Philip's War he was a member of the vigilance committee and held military rank among the defenders of the town. Often chosen as deputy from New Haven and afterwards from Wallingford, to the General's Court, he was a man of repute, esteemed and respected by his fellow townsmen.

Mr. Doolittle was born at Riverside, Connecticut, July 31st, 1825. His father, Ambrose E. Doolittle, and his grandfather, Benjamin Doolittle, were natives of Cheshire and farmers by occupation. His mother was Elizabeth A. Benham of Cheshire, Connecticut, a descendant from Joseph Benham who removed from New Haven to Wallingford in 1670.

He prepared for college at the Protestant Episcopal Academy in Cheshire, and in 1840 entered Trinity College, Hartford, and graduated there in 1844. He then entered the Yale Law School and graduated thence in 1846. He was admitted to the bar at Middletown in August 1846, within a day or two of his twenty-first birthday.

Mr. Doolittle established his first law office in Cheshire where he remained until 1850. In 1848 he married Mary A. Cook, daughter of John Cook, of Wallingford. In 1850 he removed to Meriden and in 1858 to New Haven, where he thereafter resided. In 1861 he entered into partnership with Judge Samuel L. Bronson and was associated with him until 1870. In 1874 he formed a new partnership with Judge Henry Stoddard. In 1876 William L. Bennett was admitted to this firm, which was then known as Doolittle, Stoddard & Bennett. In 1882 Judge Stoddard left the firm to go upon the Superior Court bench. The business association between Mr. Doolittle and Mr. Bennett continued until the death of the former, having existed more than twenty-five years.

In the spring of 1859 Mr. Doolittle was appointed United State District Attorney by President Buchanan, in the place of Judge William D. Shipman who had been appointed judge of the United States District Court. He held this office until 1860. In 1866, 1867 and 1870 he represented New Haven in the lower house of the legislature. In 1874 he was again one of the representatives from New Haven, and was elected Speaker of the House. In 1879 he was appointed State's Attorney for New Haven County, succeeding the Hon. O. H. Platt. He held this office until January, 1896, when at the opening of the January term of the Superior Court in New Haven County, he resigned. For more than a year before that time he had been aware that the work of his life, if not life itself, was nearing its end; and on the 21st day of March, 1896, after a few weeks' illness from which he seemed about to recover, he died suddenly and without pain.

At a largely attended bar-meeting called to take action upon Mr. Doolittle's death, Ex-Governor Charles R. Ingersoll, in presenting resolutions which were unanimously adopted, spoke substantially as follows; - "I confess that it is very difficult for me, here in this assemblage of the lawyers of New Haven County, to speak of Tilton E. Doolittle as no longer among living men. He has been for so many years a living, actual and vigorous presence in this court-room, at these tables, before this bench, and among the many busy men who daily come and go through the offices and halls of this building, that I cannot yet easily bring myself to think of him in any other association. It seems to me that he must still live as our courts live, so thoroughly has he been identified with them. Nor can it be necessary for me to tell any one here who Tilton E. Doolittle was. His personality was so individual that the youngest lawyer at this bar knew him as he actually was. He wore no mask. He never posed for what he was not. He never posed, indeed, for anything that he was. In all his ways, in all his moods, under all circumstances, he was simply himself, - he was Doolittle. I never knew a man more content to let the world put its own valuation upon his worth. This forcefulness of character was certainly born with him, but it was greatly strengthened by his career at this bar. He came into practice a half-century ago, and with the exception of a few months when he was out of the State, I do not think there has been a term of the Superior Court for this county at which he has not been present, and generally an active participant. Looking at that long career in all its aspects of a much varied and hardworking practice, so largely in the court-room, it is not easy to find the parallel in our State. And in this practice the individuality of which I have spoken was conspicuous. That voice even, so familiar to these walls, had its tone characteristic of him. His methods of trial, his vigor of attack, his skill of defense, his promptness to use every weapon of the thoroughly equipped lawyer which he was - were all manifested in a manner that was his own peculiarly, and impressed upon every one his strong personality. And he has gone through these fifty years of professional life with all the burdens and heat of conflict that are inseparable from it, with respect and esteem and friendship of his fellow members of this bar.

"But it was not altogether in this court-room that these forceful traits of character were shown. There was a side of his character which those who have known him as long as I have, and particularly in these latter years, have had frequent occasions to recognize. He had a most kindly nature, and it was quick to respond to any appeal to his sympathy or friendship. In his administration of that most responsible and important office which he has held with such marked ability for so many years - the State's Attorneyship for this county - he is to be remembered, nor more for the zeal and vigor with which he has prosecuted crime in courts, than for the wisdom, prudence, humanity and integrity with which he has discharged its great responsibilities outside the court-room."

Ex-Governor Henry H. Harrison, having recalled the names of many brilliant members of the bar at the time Mr. Doolittle began practice - Ralph I. Ingersoll, his brother Charles A. Ingersoll, Roger S. Baldwin, Dennis Kimberly, Clark Bissell, Henry Dutton and Alfred Blackman - "such a galaxy of great lawyers as had never been seen here before and has never been since," proceeded:

"In that school our friend began his professional life, and under the influences which a high-minded and honorable set of great men and great lawyers would necessarily exert upon him, in that school, under the influences, he got his training. The school and its influences would have been no use to him had he not possessed, as he did possess by nature, the instinct, the tastes, the moral character which fitted him to feel the influences, and all the influences of his environment there, and to absorb and assimilate all that was valuable in them.

"Well, in due time these men passed away. The young lawyer continued his course; I will not go over it; continued it always gaining strength by going, until he reached that place here which for many years has been by all of you unanimously accorded to him. He cared little for public life, although he repeatedly served the public well for short periods of time, by the mandate of his fellow-citizens. But the court-room was his place; he was a lawyer down to the quick; he delighted in the contest, the stress and strain and struggle of forensic life in such a place as this. He was here the hero of many battles; he enjoyed victory; always believing he was on the right side; never doubting that; but when defeat came, why, like every manly man, he took it in a manly way.

"And now he has died at last a veteran, as veterans always hope to die, in the very act of laying down his armor. Those who entered this bar contemporaneously with him are few in number. There are in this county only some six or eight of them still living. But they are in the place that nobody else fully occupies, for they stand at this end of his career and they are able to look back for fifty years during the whole of it to its beginning. And they see in that career not one act done by him unworthy of a high minded and honorable generous man. They part with him in sorrow; and so long as they shall live they will remember him with profound respect and sincere affection."

Ex-Judge Henry Stoddard also spoke and said, in part: "It will not, perhaps, be out of place for me to add a few words to what has been so well said by Governors Ingersoll and Harrison. I knew Mr. Doolittle somewhat intimately after I came to the bar, and was his associate in business for several years. In consultation at the office his knowledge of law was intuitive, grounded of course upon a thorough study and appreciation of its fundamental principles; and even in the most intricate causes, arising but seldom in our practice, his unerring sagacity invariably went straight to the marrow of the controversy. In the trial of his causes he was both sagacious and bold in attack, and in defense prudent and wary, a most dangerous antagonist and a most powerful ally. In his examination of witnesses I may say that he was without a peer, and especially so in his cross-examinations. In the discharge of his public duties he was always actuated by the highest motives; and in conduct of that great office which he recently laid down, it may truthfully be said that he not only discharged with entire faithfulness his duty to the public, but to individuals as well. For in the discharge of the duties of that office the public prosecutor owes a duty, not only to the public, but to the unfortunate and erring, and Mr. Doolittle never forgot to protect and assist the unfortunate, so far as it lay in his power to do so.

"While he always brought the highest degree of skill and a very large amount of labor to the trial of all his causes, yet there was one class of cases, or rather of clients, that called forth from Mr. Doolittle a more fervent application of all his powers of body and mind, than any other. I refer to those cases where the weak and the unfortunate applied to him for aid. In such cases he was unsparing of time and labor, and that without hope of any reward other than the consciousness of having done his full duty by a client who could not otherwise repay him.

"As a friend, Mr. Doolittle was the last degree open-hearted and generous, and I know that I express the common sentiment of those about me, who knew him so well, when I say that by this generation of lawyers their departed friend and associate will always be held in the most tender and grateful remembrance."

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