Jefferson County Biographies
Names A to B
Names C to E
Names F and G
Names H to K
Names L to O
Names P to S
Names T to Z
New York History
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AZARIAH H. SAWYER, more frequently known in professional and so cial circles as Judge Sawyer, was a native of
Potsdam, born June 19, 1834, and was the son of Rev. George and Mary Ann (Richardson) Sawyer. George Sawyer was
also a native of Potsdam, and was the grandson of Capt. Manasseh Sawyer, a patriot of the Revolution, who entered
the service at the age of seventeen years, and was promoted several times until he was commissioned captain. After
the close of the war Captain Sawyer emigrated to St. Lawrence county, where he was a pioneer. The wife of Rev.
George Sawyer was the daughter of Major Richardson, an officer of the United States army, who served with distinction
during the second war with Great Britain.
Thus it appears that Judge Sawyer is descended from thoroughly patriotic American stock. The ancestor of the family
in America was Thomas Sawyer, a native of Lincoinshire, England, and was one of three brothers (William, Edward
and Thomas), who crossed the Atlantic in 1636, and settled in Rowley, Mass. In 1646 Thomas left Rowley and was
one of the five successful settlers of Lancaster, Mass., and one of its first “Prudential” men. After the town
was burned by the Indians, in 1676, it was rebuilt by the Prescotts, the Sawyers, the Wilders and the Houghtons.
Thomas married (1648) with Marie, the daughter of John and Mary Prescott, and from them descended a large and distinguished
family. John Prescott was the ancestor of Col. William Prescott, the hero of Bunker Hill, and also of William H.
Prescott, the historian. As a matter of historic family interest it may be further stated that from Lancaster there
were eighteen members of the Sawyer family in the Revolutionary service at one and the same time; and one company
raised in Lancaster was officered wholly with representatives of this patriotic family, but not one person bearing
the surname was found among the loyalists of that town.
Captain Manasseh Sawyer, the pioneer of St. Lawrence county, was the great-great grandson of Thomas Sawyer, the
settler in Lancaster; and in the same manner, Captain Sawyer, the pioneer, was great-grandfather of Judge Sawyer,
of Watertown. In Rev. George Sawyer’s family were two children, Azariah H. and George C. Sawyer, the latter a lawyer
and business man of Syracuse. The young life of Azariah and his brother was spent with their parents in the northern
counties of this State, the father being a clergymen of the Methodist Episcopal church, following the customary
itinerary of his various pastorates. Azariah was educated at Lowville Academy and also under private tutors, intending
to enter college, but failing health compelled him to change his course. In 1854 he began reading law in the office
of Amos G. Hull, of Fulton, and at the general term of theSupreme Court held at Watertown in April, 1857, he was
admitted to the bar. The late James F. Starbuck was chairman of the examining committee, and on Mr. Sawyer’s return
home he received, a letter from that distinguished lawyer asking him to locate in Watertown and become his partner
in the general practice of the law. Three months later (July 1, 1857), the firm of Starbuck & Sawyer was formed,
and was continued with gratifying success to both partners until Mr. Starbuck’s death, December 11, 1880.
Since the death of his partner Judge Sawyer has practiced alone. He loves the practice of the law, not because
he loves litigation itself, but because it is a profession in which men of standing and capacity find full scope
for all their powers, and yet can aid in the able and honest administration of justice. His clients, and those
of the firm that preceded, know he will not betray their confidence, his professional associates know him to be
incapable of trick, the bench knows that candor and fairness are his characteristics. Upon all the political issues
of the day he entertains clear and well settled convictions, and is perfectly frank in his expression of them.
His sentiments are emphatically conservative—naturally inclined to adhere to the established order of things, and
not easily drawn into the advocacy of any of the “isms” of the clay. The principles he has maintained have been
in accord with those of the majority party in the county, and naturally he could not well avoid being drawn somewhat
into the arena of politics. In 1861 he was chairman of the Union Republican County Committee, and continued practically
in that capacity until elected county judge in 1867. His nomination for that office was by acclamation, and throughout
the entire ten years of his service on the bench Judge Sawyer was esteemed for his urbanity and fairness, whether
in the civil or criminal branches of the court.
In 1878, soon after leaving the bench, Judge Sawyer was elected general counsel for the Agricultural Insurance
Company, which position he still retains. On May 28, 1898, Judge Sawyer was elected president of the Agricultural
Insurance Company, in place of J. R. Stebbins, deceased, having previously for several years held the office of
vice-president of the company. During this time, and particularly since the death of Mr. Starbuck, Judge Sawyer’s
law practice has been largely devoted to matters relating to corporations, but notwithstanding the constant pressure
of professional duties he has taken an earnest interest in many local affairs and enterprises. He has been one
of the directors of the National Union Bank since 1880, and has been both vice president and president of the bank
In various manufacturing and railroad enterprises he has for the last twenty years been an active factor in their
direction and management.
During the war of 1861—65, he was president of the Union League of Watertown; for nine years he was a member of
the Board of Education, and for two years its president. He became a communicant in Trinity church soon after coming
to the city, and has been senior warden for more than twenty-five years. He was vestryman previous to that time.
For more than fifteen years he has been a member of the standing committee of the Diocese of Central New York,
and is now chancellor of the diocese. In June, 1896, the degree of LL. D. was conferred upon Judge Sawyer by the
faculty of Hobart College.
On November 3, 1859, Azariah H. Sawyer was married with Caroline M the daughter of William Buckley. One child was
born of this marriage, Jenny Starbuck Sawyer, now the wife of Sylvester H. Taylor, of New York city. Judge Sawyer’s
wife died April 16, 1867, and on December 15, 1869, he was married with Frances C. Fox. Josephine C. Sawyer is
the daughter of this marriage.
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