Biography of Milton H. Merwin
Oneida County, NY Biographies





One of the most respected and honored citizens of New York state is Milton H. Merwin, of Utica. For two terms, covering a period of twentyeight years, he occupied a seat upon the bench of the supreme court of New York, retiring on account of limitation as to age, since which time he has performed service as counsel or referee in many important causes. A lawyer ranking among the ablest in the state, it may also be said of him that few have achieved such distinction upon the bench, and today he is accorded an enviable position among his fellow citizens, not only for his professional qualifications but for every trait that marks the true gentleman and man of honor.

He was born at Leyden, Lewis county, New York, June 16, 1832, a son of Alanson and Amauda (Kimball) Merwin, and is descended from Miles Merwin who came from the north of England and settled near Milford, Connecticut, about 1640. James Merwin, the grandfather of our subject, moved to Leyden from Haddam, Connecticut, in 1800, and served as a soldier at Sacketts Harbor in the war of 1812. Milton H. Merwin attended the Oneida Conference Seminary at Cazenovia, New York, and later matriculated at Hamilton College from which he was graduated in 1852, being then twenty years of age. He studied law in the office of Joseph Mullin, at Watertown, New York, who was afterward justice of the supreme court, and was admitted to the bar in 1853. He practiced in the office of his preceptor until 1857, when the latter took his seat upon the supreme bench, after which Mr. Merwin continued in practice alone, having become well established with a lucrative and growing elientage. He was elected special surrogate of Jefferson county in November, 1854, and served for three years. In November, 1859, he was elected surrogate of the county and served until January 1, 1864. In 1867 he was elected as a delegate to the state constitutional convention, proving one of its most active and efficient workers. He was a member of the Committee on the Legislature, which was composed of seven members, the others being: Edward A. Merritt, Erastus Cooke, Richard U. Sherman, Claudius L. Monell, George Barker, and James Brooks. The committee recommended to the convention in its report upon the plan of organization of the state legislature, that the senate should consist of thirty three members to be elected in eight senatorial districts, each district to have four delegates except the fourth district, New York, which was to have five. With regard to the lower house the committee recommended that it should consist of one hundred and thirty nine members and should be elected by counties and not by separate districts. Mr. Merwin dissented from this part of the report and wrote a strong argument in support of his position. He advocated that members of the lower house should be elected by districts and not by counties. The convention accepted his view of the subject, refused to adopt the report of the majority of the committee, and provided that there should be thirty two senatorial districts and that senators should be elected by separate districts, one senator from each district. The legislature also agreed that the lower house should consist of one hundred and twenty eight members; that members should be elected by separate districts; and that a board of supervisors, in the respective counties, should divide each county into assembly districts. This system existed until changed by the constitutional convention, in 1894.

On the 21st of May, 1874, Judge Charles H. Doolittle, of Utica, justice of the supreme court of the fifth judicial district of the state of New York, lost his life by being swept overboard from an ocean steamer at sea. He was a great judge and one of the ablest lawyers the state has ever produced. It was generally conceded in the district that the vacancy occasioned by his death should be filled by some one residing in Oneida county, and Governor John A. Dix announced that he would appoint to the judgeship any lawyer whom the republican lawyers of the county should agree upon. A meeting for this purpose was held at the office of ex Judge William J. Bacon, of Utica. There were several candidates for the position but the real contest was between Charles M. Dennison and Ward Hunt, Jr., of Utica, and Milton H. Merwin, of Watertbwn, Jefferson county. Mr. Merwin was supported by the younger members of the bar while the others favored Mr. Dennison or Mr. Hunt. There being no nomination the meeting was adjourned and in the meantime an effort was made to agree upon some other candidate. A petition selecting Addison C. Miller as the candidate was signed by many members of the bar, but he declined to accept the office. The attempt to agree upon a candidate was finally abandoned, it being understood that Governor Dix would make no appointment until the republican judiciary convention had made a nomination. This convention was held at Utica, September 23d and 24th, 1874. There were fourteen delegates present; four from Oneida county; three from Onondaga; two from Jefferson; three from Oswego; one from Herkimer; and one from Lewis county, the required number of votes to make a nomination being eight. Milton H. Merwin received the required eight votes on the fifty third ballot and was declared duly nominated. Governor Dix appointed Mr. Merwin to the position October 17, 1874, and he took the oath of office two days later, opening his first term of the circuit term at Lowville, October 20. At the ensuing November election he was elected over Albertus Perry, the candidate of the democratic party, and entered upon his fourteen year term of office, January 1, 1875. After his election he removed to Utica and has since made his home in this city. He gave such satisfaction that when his first term of office expired he was unanimously reelected by the republican judiciary convention, and as there was no nomination by the democratic judiciary convention, he was elected without opposition. One who knows him well says: "It may be said that from the first day to the last of Judge Merwin 's service upon the bench, he presided, both in the trial courts, the general term, and in the appellate division of the supreme court, with modesty, unusual ability, perfect fairness, and won the confidence and admiration of the bar of the entire state." During the first term Judge Merwin 's services were given to the trial and special terms of the supreme court and he discharged his duties to the entire satisfaction of the public and the members of the bar of the district. On December 31, 1888, he was appointed one of the justices of the general term of the supreme court and held this position until January 1, 1896. Under the judiciary article of the constitution adopted in November, 1894, the appellate division of the supreme court was created and Judge Merwin was appointed one of the members of that court for the third judicial department. He served in this capacity until January 1, 1901, when he returned to the trial terms and there continued until by age limit and also by the expiration of his term he retired from the bench, January 1, 1903. Since that time he has frequently been appointed by the courts and called upon by litigating parties to serve as referee, and has also appeared in a number of important causes as counsel.

On the 15th of November, 1858, Judge Merwin was married to Miss Helen E. Knapp and five children were born to this union, namely: Helen M., the widow of Harry Burrell and the mother of one son, James Kirby; Rev. Milton K., who married Lillian Avery, now deceased, and has three children, Helen L., John Avery and Allan K.; Kate, who is the wife of Rev. James Eels by whom she has two children, James Jr. and Milton; Mary; and James H., who married Mabel A. Metcalf.

In private life Judge Merwin is greatly beloved by all who know him. He is a man wholly free from ostentation, frank, genial and kindly. His great success in life has in no way changed his original simplicity of character and this is one reason for his popularity. Always industrious, true to the noblest aims, and the very soul of earnestness and sincerity, he is a worthy example of the ideal American citizen and is fully entitled to the honor in which he is held by the people of the Empire state.

From:
History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1912


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