Biography of Levi H. Brown


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LEVI H. BROWN, senior active member of the Jefferson county bar, and unquestionably one of the most widely acquainted lawyers in northern New York, was born in Lorraine, March 27, 1818, and was the third of the children of Aaron and Betsey (Burpee) Brown who grew to maturity. Aaron Brown was the son of Ebenezer Brown, who came from Killingsly, Conn., during the early years of the century and settled in Adams. From that town the family drifted with the tide of emigration to Lorraine, where Aaron was a pioneer and also one of the foremost men of the region, as may be seen by reference to the history of that town.

The young life of Levi H. Brown was spent on his father’s farm or in his mills when not attending the district school. When he had attained his eighteenth year, Levi was sent to the Florence (Oneida county) Academy, where he remained about three months, and then attended one or two terms at the Union Academy at Belleville. Later on he attended the Hamilton (Madison county) Academy, followed by something like a year’s course at the old Oxford (Chenango county) Academy. In 1841 he entered the junior class at Union College, and was graduated in 1843. In October of the same year he began reading law in the office of Calvin Skinner, at Adams, but previous to that time, and while in college, our young student had devoted his leisure to reading law under the direction of Counselor Jones, a prominent lawyer of Schenectady. In 1845, at Watertown, Mr. Brown was admitted to practice in the Common Pleas Court, the examining committee of the occasion comprising Lawrence J. Goodale, Charles D. Wright and John H. Dutton, all of whom were prominent members of the Jefferson county bar. In July, 1846, Mr. Brown was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court, and during the same month was also admitted by the old and honored Chancellor Walworth to practice in the Court of Chancery. Incidentally, in this connection it may be mentioned that in June, 1855, Mr. Brown was admitted to practice in the United States Circuit Court; in May, 1865, was admitted to practice in the United States District Court, and in March, 1879, became a practitioner in the United States Supreme Court.

In 1846 Mr. Brown began law practice in Adams and was a resident in that thrifty village until 1852, when he removed to Watertown and formed a law partnership with Joshua Moore, jr., under the style of Moore & Brown, a relation which was maintained to the time of Mr. Moore’s death in April, 1854. In May following the old and well known firm of Brown & Beach (Allen C. Beach) was formed, and was thereafter known in legal circles in northern New York for many years; and if all current report be true, the members comprising this firm were not wholly unknown in political circles in this part of the State, for in the councils of the Democratic party each of them was widely and favorably known. Mr. Beach in fact retired from the firm in January, 1869, although a formal dissolution of the partnership was not made until 1871. Mr. Brown’s next partner was Henry Gypson (a former student in the office) the firm being Brown & Gypson. This partnership was continued until about 1878.

Since the firm of Brown & Gypson was dissolved Mr. Brown has practiced without a partner, and despite his more than half a century of hard, active work in the profession, he apparently still retains all the mental and physical vigor of earlier years, when Moore & Brown and Brown & Beach were acknowledged to be among the strongest law firms in this part of the State. Indeed, Levi H. Brown has lived to see nearly all the members of the old bar one after another drop out of the professional ranks, while he, almost alone, has practiced under three State constitutions. This practice, too, has been general to the profession, no special class of cases having the preference, yet the study and interpretation of the law and the preparation of causes and their trial appears to be his strongest forte. He is also a shrewd cross-examiner and often displays remarkable genius in exposing the rascality of dishonest witnesses. He always had an especial contempt for knavery and sham, and utterly despises all that is mean and narrow and low. In the course of his practice Mr. Brown has been associated with many of the most important cases brought to trial before the courts of Jefferson and adjacent counties, and has in the same manner been retained, as attorney of record or as counsel, in several litigations of statewide interest and importance. We refer only to one class of cases. Under Chapter 598 of Laws of 1869 authorizing “the Canal appraiser to hear claims of owners of property on the Black River for damages caused by the escape of the waters of North Lake Reservoir in April, eighteen hundred and sixty-nine,” two hundred and sixty odd claimants filed claims for damages amounting in aggregate to more than $639,000. The claimants were represented by more than thirty different attorneys and counsel, including Francis Kernan, Charles H. Doolittle, Waterman & Hunt, James F. Starbuck, Lansing & Sherman, Charles D. Adams and Nelson J. Brach. Mr. Brown, Charles Rhodes, of Oswego, and Samuel Earl, of Herkimer, defended the State against said claims, the former having main charge of preparing and conducting the defense.

Taking of evidence commenced August 27, 1869, and continued at Utica, Lowville and Albany, on numerous days each month to December 30, 1869, being taken and written out by a stenographer. Prior to December 21 about 1,200 pages thereof had been printed, and on December 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29 and 30 evidence making near 400 printed pages was taken and had not been printed at close of the evidence on the 30th, on which day oyer forty public documents were put in evidence. Appraiser Watson was not present that day and most of the 29th at the giving of the evidence, and had not been present at some of the previous hearings. At close of the evidence on December 30 Appraisers Brockway and Brooks were present and an application of counsel for the State for time to January 10, 1870, to submit brief, on one class of the the claims and to January 20 on the other class, was announced by Appraiser Brooks, who had acted as president of the Board of Appraisers, as granted, Appraiser Brockway suggesting no objection thereto and said Brooks left Albany for his home in Elmira that day. At close of the evidence it was ordered that all the evidence on each claim should, so far as applicable, be applied in every other claim.

On January 10, 1870, the counsel for the State appeared before the appraisers and furnished them with their brief in the one class of the claims. Before January 20th it was ascertained that prior to January 1, pretended awards upon about two thirds of the claims filed had been made and signed by Appraisers Watson and Brockway without consultation with or the knowledge or approval of Appraiser Brooks, which awards aggregated the amount of $461,957.62. At meeting of counsel for the State and some of those for claimants, including Mr. Kernan, who had not been present at most of the hearings, it was agreed that said awards were illegal and void, and that the claimants should severally enter into a written stipulation consenting to an appeal therefrom and a reversal thereof, and such stipulations having been executed by the claimants and filed, a return was made by the canal appraisers to the Canal Board, which at its meeting, held June 30, 1870, as appears at page 182 of the record of its proceedings in that year, ordered reversal of said awards and a rehearing of the cases, on the ground that it appeared from said return “That no legal awards had been made on either of said cases or in respect to any or either of said claims; that the canal appraisers never met and deliberated upon the same, but that the acts and papers purporting to be awards were the acts of two of the appraisers, made and done when the appraisers were not in session, and had not been notified to meet as a board, and when all were not present. This board does, therefore, adjudicate and decide that said cases have not been legally decided, or the claims passed upon by the said appraisers.” The cases were reheard before new canal appraisers upon the same and new evidence, and awards made on all the claims were for $327,536.60 only, including interest on those allowed, showing the State relieved from payment of nearly $400,000 of the amount claimed.

Mr. Brown devoted a large part of two and a half years’ time to those cases and received less pay therefor than, within the last few years, has been given to lawyers employed by State and Legislature for oneeighth as much and as valuable services.

Throughout the long period of his career Mr. Brown has always applied himself diligently to the labors of the profession, and many years ago he gained, and to the present time has maintained, an enviable position among its ablest members. In the conduct of his legal business he is cautious and methodical, but never laborious. He will discourage rather than promote litigation, and in his intercourse with clients mature deliberation always precedes counsel. He rarely in dulges in rhetoric and never in ostentatious display, but addresses himself to the understanding of his hearers and approaches the subject in hand with dignity, self possession, and in the light of principle and common sense.

In character Mr. Brown is a man without reproach, and neither in professional nor private life has there been any imputation of wrong to mar his fair name; a good classical scholar, a profound lawyer, a blameless citizen, an upright public servant, a faithful friend, and a trusted counselor; these attributes are his by the frank expression of his fellow men and associates at the bar. In politics he has always been a firm and unyielding Democrat, standing high in the councils of the party in the county and State. During the greater part of his life, the principles he has advocated have not been in accordance with the majority party in the county, yet he has occasionally been pressed into political contests where it was hoped professional and personal influence might turn the scale of doubtful contest. In 1844 he attended the Democratic State Convention that nominated Silas Wright for the governorship, and from that time he has been an active figure in State politics. He was the candidate of his party for the district attorneyship in 1853; for State senator about 1868, and later on for Congress in a district which was strongly and hopelessly Republican. He was elected mayor of Watertown in 1876, and otherwise has taken an earnest interest in the welfare of the city.

In addition to his legal business, which has always been large, Mr. Brown has been interested in several manufacturing and industrial enterprises in the city and elsewhere. He has been a director of the Jefferson County Bank more than thirty years, and president of the Watertown Spring Wagon Company since 1876. He has equally extensive interests in other localities, and his investments as a whole have been profitable and brought to him a fair share of this world’s goods. His social and domestic life have also been pleasant, and nothing is more agreeable after the day’s work is finished, than the companionship of friends at home or the exchange of pleasantries at the club. Mr. Brown was a bachelor until somewhat late in life. His wife, with whom he married November 27, 1861, was Delia M. Cole, of Palmyra, Wayne county. Mr. Brown was reared under Baptist influences, but since it was founded in the city, he has been one of the vestrymen of St. Paul’s (formerly Grace) Episcopal church.

Our County and it's people
A descriptive work on Jefferson County, New York
Edited by: Edgar C. Emerson
The Boston History Co., Publishers 1898

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