JOHN WILKINSON WEBSTER was, at the time of his death--which occurred June 4th, 1896--the eldest member of the Waterbury bar, and had been in continuous practice in this State for more than half a century.
He came of Puritan stock, and was born in what is now West Hartford, January 19th, 1817. His ancestor, John Webster, of Worcestershire, England, was one of the original settlers of Hartford, and in 1656 was chosen Governor of the Connecticut Colony. The direct descendant of John Webster was Noah Webster, 1st, who was grandfather of the subject of this sketch. Noah Webster left two sons, Charles, the father of John W., and Noah, the great lexicographer.
The early training of Mr. Webster was received at Wilbraham and Westfield Academies; he entered the Yale Law School in 1842 and graduated in course in 1844. The year of his graduation he entered upon the active practice of law in Waterbury, filling the vacancy in the profession caused by the removal to New Haven of Judge Alfred Blackman. In those early days Waterbury was not one eighth of its present size, and prior to the advent of Mr. Webster there was for many years but one attorney in the place, Norton J. Buel.
For many years Judge Webster was in partnership with Charles W. Gillette, Esq., but in 1865 formed a partnership with his former pupil, John O'Neill, Esq., and in that year was founded the firm of Webster and O'Neill, which lasted to the time of his death.
Judge Webster was the fourth mayor of the city of Waterbury, 1854-55, was twice judge of probate for the district of Waterbury, was many years city attorney, town attorney, and member of the lower and upper boards of the city council. He was a life long Democrat of the old school. He was one of the charter members of the board of agents of the Bronson Library, for over fifteen years a member of the board of education, and for many years its chairman.
His life was steady and active, well ordered and temperate. A wife and daughter (Mrs. George M. Allerton) survive him.
At a meeting of the Waterbury bar, of which Mr. Webster had for many years been the presiding officer and its senior member, Ex-Mayor Greene Kendrick paid the following tribute to his memory:--
"Of that bright legal triumvirate of our city's earlier days--Buel, Blackman and Webster--the last has now been summoned before the final bar, where the judge of all knoweth all. To the brethren of his high profession, to his kinsman, his neighbors and his friends, he has left the sweet memory of a life lived honorably, rounded also by the thoughtful performance of its every duty.
"Though for these many years Judge Webster may be said to have anticipated the virtues which belong to age, he has yet lived long without knowledge of its infirmities. His lengthened life has added a bright ray to the common lustre of the profession which he loved so well. His name has increased not only the number, but the high character of his generation.
"Mr. Webster was wholly self-made. He owed himself to himself. This fact, more than all else, made him the substantial man he was. He was honest, industrious, plain in his dealings, and faithful in his every undertaking. He was blest with rare contentment of mind. In his constancy, fervency and zeal in daily life he had a persistency almost religious. At the performance of a clean deed he never hesitated, nor did he avoid the glad doing of a generous act. To his last days he carried a most genial love of nature, and to him, holding, as was his wont, frequent `communion with her visible forms,' she ever spoke `a various language.' `He lived,' to borrow the quaint words of an old writer, `unto the dignity of his nature, and he left it not disputable at last whether he had lived a man.' He made good the manly principles of his nature. He was exactly what he was made to be.
"Besides all this, the Judge lacked not of the broadest charity. If, as he looked upon them, he saw the imperfections of his fellows, he had for them only an excess of kindness. He gave, without envy, full credit to all that was laudable in the character of those with whose lives he came in contact. If he felt that he had been wronged by anyone, he drew the curtain of night upon his injuries, and let them `be as though they had not been.'
"Judge Webster loved the profession of the law, not so much for its emoluments as for its dignity. He appreciated its wisdom. He was devoted to the principles of pure reason upon which its structure is wholly built. As for wealth, he possessed enough not to be poor. Content he was, if but rich enough to deserve and to attain success in the profession he so long adorned. His life exemplified the rule laid down by the great Latin jurist, for he `lived honorably, injured no one, and gave to each his due.'
"His career had a wide latitude of years. His earthly journey traversed a long stretch of the world's tempestuous ocean. He had a right knowledge of earth. Experience told him what it was, what it could afford and what the living in it signified."