Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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JAMES GRISWOLD was born at Old Lyme, Connecticut, on the 8th day of February, 1828, and died at his home in that town, after a brief illness, on the 7th day of May, 1892.
He was the son of Col. Charles Griswold of Lyme, and the grandson of Hon. Roger Griswold, one of the most distinguished judges and governors of Connecticut. He could trace his lineage direct through the honored names of Griswold and Wolcott back to that historic stock which, it has been stated by a historian of Connecticut, "furnished forty-three judges of the highest courts and sixteen governors of the respective states." He graduated from Yale in the class of 1848, was admitted to the bar of New London County in 1856, and soon after commenced the practice of law in his native town and the home of his ancestors.
There is something in the atmosphere or in the associations of this quiet New England village which seems peculiarly adapted to the production of great lawyers and judges. It was here that Roger Griswold, one of the greatest judges and governors of Connecticut, as well as a distinguished member of Congress, was born, of whom it was said by another great judge "that he was the most brilliant man that Connecticut ever produced." It was here that Gov. Matthew Griswold, Chief Justice of Connecticut, was born, lived and died. Here Henry M. Waite, another of Connecticut's great lawyers and chief justices, lived and died. This too was the birthplace of Morrison R. Waite, late Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Here also was the birth-place and home of Charles J. McCurdy, one of the judges of the Supreme Court of Connecticut and minister of the United States at the court of Vienna, who was recently gathered to his fathers, ripe in years and crowned with honors. It was amid such associations, surrounded by the traditions of these great names, in the quiet of this typical New England village, near the tomb of Lady Fenwick and in sight of the ever-flowing Connecticut, the very air laden with memories of the historic past, that young Griswold commenced the practice of the law. He had the gift of a charming personality. He was of medium height, graceful figure, light wavy hair, blue eyes, and an address at once reserved and persuasive, which bespoke confidence and trust at first sight. His conversation was replete with a quaint humor which gave an added charm to the pure and vigorous Anglo-Saxon in which he clothed his thought. He had a certain air of high breeding about him, easily distinguishable, but difficult to describe, which the biographer of Erskine compares to "the look of a blooded horse." He was neither by temperament nor taste fitted for the stormy arena of conflict in the courts - those battles of the bar, where blows are given and received, and where all the energies of mind and body must be marshaled whether for assault, for parry or for defense. He was by nature modest and undemonstrative, and his sensitive soul shrank from the "sound of the trumpets, the thunder of the captains, and the shoutings."
His tastes were cultivated and refined. He loved music and books, pictures and fields, trees and flowers, and above all his family and friends. He was at one with nature, and held with her congenial converse - whether in the sweet scented woods, or amid the daisies and lilies of the field, or along the banks of the silent river, ever flowing past his door to the bosom of the ocean, or beneath the unspeaking heavens, spangled with stars. He was fond of reading, and his memory was stored with the choicest productions of both English and classic literature; and from this source, aided by a sparkling originality of his own, he drew forth treasures new and old, which gave a piquant zest to his conversation and made him a most delightful companion.
Nor was he a mere idle dreamer of dreams. To his sweet and gentle nature were added some of those masterful gifts and qualities by which leadership amongst men is compelled. His mind was vigorous, clear, penetrating and judicial. He easily mastered the learning of the law, and explored its primal principles to their deep foundation. He knew when and how to insist upon their application in all their rigor, and when to adapt their flexible conditions to the ever-varying requirements of social life and human affairs.
He was endowed with that supreme gift of common sense, which has an intuitive perception of the relations of things, which distinguishes between the sham and the real, the false and the true, and which is greater than genius because it is more useful. It was for the possession of this rare faculty, and the absolute probity of his character, that it came to pass that he was more frequently selected by the judges and by his brethren for the hearing of those causes which are tried out of court, than any other member of the bar.
His temper, his tastes, his leisure, his patience, his impartiality, his supreme love of justice and truth, all conspired to make him a model arbitrator, committee, or referee. And in the decision of the many important questions which came before these tribunals, his judgment was rarely at fault and seldom overruled.
With such qualities of mind and heart he soon came to be to all his neighbors and towns-folk, not only their oracle, but their guide, their counselor and their friend. He was the composer of strife and the promoter of peace to the entire community in which he lived. His sense of honor was as lofty as that of any knight-templar who ever set a lance in rest; his word when once passed was as a sacrament; to him a stain was like a wound; his measure of courtesy to rich and poor alike was "noblesse oblige." He had an instinctive aversion to the whole brood of shams, hypocrisies, subterfuges and lies.
"Finally, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report," all these were garnered up in this man's life.
And so he went in and out among his people, doing faithfully and lovingly what his hands found to do. "None knew him but to love him, none named him but to praise." To young men and maidens, old men and children, his daily presence was as a daily benediction.
At last the summons came for him to appear before the all-wise, all-seeing, all-powerful Judge. "Sustained and soothed by an unfaltering trust" he met the call
"Like one that wraps the drapery of his couch
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams."
To the foregoing admirable sketch of Mr. Griswold by Mr. Brandegee the reporter adds a more full statement which has been sent him by one of the family relatives, of the remarkable number of leading public men connected with his family. It repeats to some extent what has already been stated on the subject, but goes much more into details; and is a paper not only of much interest, but well worth preserving for its historical facts.
The recent death of James Griswold calls our attention to the inheritance of legal talent in his family since the early settlement of this country. Hon. Daniel Clarke, who came to Windsor, Conn., from 1636 to 1639, and one other person admitted by Andros, were the earliest admitted attorneys in the colony of Connecticut. He was secretary of the colony for many years, an attorney and a magistrate. He married for his second wife Mrs. Martha [Pitkin] Wolcott, sister of the famous lawyer William Pitkin of Hartford. She was the widow of Simon Wolcott, Esq., and cousin of five judges of the Pitkin family, of whom three were chief justices of Connecticut, and one was a judge in Massachusetts. She was mother of Gov. Roger Wolcott, a lawyer and judge of the Superior Court, whose wife was a granddaughter of Hon. Daniel Clarke. Among her Wolcott relatives of other names there have been Gov. William Wolcott Ellsworth, judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, Josiah Hawes, judge of the Circuit Court of Michigan, and Henry Baldwin, a justice of the United States Supreme Court. It may also be added that Henry Matson Waite, chief justice of Connecticut, and Morrison Remick Waite, chief justice of the United States, descended from her own and her husband's ancestor, Henry Wolcott, the first Wolcott in this country, and from Matthew Griswold, also the first of his line in America. We are glad to say also that our honored legal friend, Hon. John Turner Wait, was of the same remote Wolcott and Griswold descent, as was also the late Daniel Chadwick. Ursula, daughter of Gov. Roger and Martha [Pitkin] Wolcott, had three brothers and a Wolcott nephew, who were judges of Connecticut. Her husband, Gov. Matthew Griswold, was chief justice of Connecticut. Two sons of Gov. Matthew and Ursula [Wolcott] Griswold were judges of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, one of whom, the famous Gov. Roger Griswold, was declared by the late Chief Justice Henry M. Waite to have been "the most brilliant man this state had ever produced." Among the descendants of Gov. Matthew and Mrs. Ursula [Wolcott] Griswold were Marian Chandler, their granddaughter, who married James Lanman, judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, and her daughter, Joanna Lanman, who married Lafayette S. Foster, judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut, distinguished as a lawyer, senator, and acting vice-president of the United States. Other descendants were Ebenezer Lane, their grandson, chief justice of Ohio, and their great grandson, Charles Johnson McCurdy, judge of the Supreme Court of Connecticut. Among their grandchildren who were lawyers were Roger and Col. Charles Griswold, sons of Gov. Roger Griswold, of whom Col. Charles was father of James Griswold. One daughter of Gov. Roger Griswold married Major Thomas Perkins, who will be remembered as a prominent lawyer in New London; one married her cousin Chief Justice Lane of Ohio; a third married Charles Leicester Boalt, a lawyer of high standing in Ohio, and their son John Henry Boalt is now a distinguished lawyer in California. Simon Greenleaf, the eminent law professor and legal author of Harvard University, was a grand-nephew of Gov. Matthew Griswold. We stop here. A descendant of Gov. Matthew Griswold has traced among the family connections, by birth or marriage, forty-three judges of the high courts, and sixteen governors of states, one of the last of whom is now the president of the United States.
With such an ancestry and family connection as James Griswold had, another man, taking for his motto "Noblesse oblige," might have been ambitious to reach the heights of his profession and of political life. No one who knew him could doubt that he possessed the industry, calm dispassionate judgment, the clear insight, bright intellect, thorough knowledge of the law, and the ready and witty use of the best language to convey his ideas - in brief, the thoroughly furnished "legal mind," which might have brought to him distinguished success. But with his sensitiveness, modesty, and habit of undervaluing himself, his ancestral honors depressed rather than stimulated him. This in a great degree accounts for the undemonstrative and quiet course which he pursued through his life. Not attempting to do great things, he filled so full of duty and daily kindness the narrower range which he had laid out for himself, that he is missed and mourned in his own sphere as few men in any sphere have the privilege to be. He had time for much reading in many lines of thought, for the study and practice of music of the highest class, and for the use of his keen wit, gentle humor, and knowledge of books, and of colonial and contemporary history, and wide practical information, in intercourse with the few friends who had the privilege of his intimate acquaintance.