Though more than two decades have passed since James Roberts was called to his final rest, he is still
remembered by many of Utica's older residents as one of the city's most prominent and respected men.
His birth occurred in the town of Steuben, Oneida county, New York, on the 26th of August, 1837, his parents being
John O. and Janet (Owen) Roberts. He spent his early life on a farm but felt that commercial pursuits would be
more congenial and, becoming identified therewith, soon proved that his choice was a wise one. In association with
a friend, he carried on business at Remsen under the firm style of Jones & Roberts until 1869, when he disposed
of his interest and went to New York city on a visit. During his absence and without his knowledge, his friends
and neighbors nominated him as a candidate for member of the assembly for what was then the fourth district. He
accepted the nomination, was elected and ably served his constituents at Albany. With the exception of a short
period of service as town clerk, this was the only public office he ever held.
In the fall of 1870 he took up his abode in Utica and became a member of the firm of Griffits, Roberts & Butler,
successors of the firm of Charles H. Yates & Company, engaged in the manufacture and sale of clothing. This
firm carried on the business very successfully for about ten years at No. 54 Genesee street. In 1881 its personnel
was changed by the introduction of Russell H. Wicks and John Peattie as partners. The following year Mr. Griffith.
the senior member, withdrew and the firm of Roberts, Butler & Company was formed. Mr. Roberts applied himself
with unusual assiduity and in the face of sharp competition built up the largest business in clothing in the city.
He was systematic, methodical and attentive to detail. His judgment in matters of business as well as of men and
their actions was accurate and trustworthy, was freely sought and as freely given. Sharp in trade and quick to
see where an advantage was to be gained, he was nevertheless open and generous, not easily offended and averse
to giving offense. His social qualities were as marked as his business traits, and in this respect he was one of
the most companionable of men. Loyalty to the friendships of his early days was characteristic of the man. He manifested
signal power in his relations with his employes, whom he treated always with extreme courtesy and whose respect
he uniformly commanded. One of his partners said of him: "If he had a failing as a business man, it was that
he would not or could not throw upon others responsibilities and cares which he had no right to carry." He
was a director in the Shenandoah Yarn Mill and a stockholder in the Eureka Mower Company and the Mohawk Valley
In 1875 Mr. Roberts was united in marriage to Miss Delia Campbell, the youngest daughter of Hon. Samuel and Agnes
(Sinclair) Campbell, of New York Mills. To her he was ever most tenderly attached, finding his greatest enjoyment
at his own fireside in her companionship. In the winter of 1888, accompanied by his wife and members of her family,
Mr. Roberts visited Europe, where he passed most of the season in the delightful atmosphere of Italy and southern
France. In the spring he went to Great Britain, paying while there a visit to the home of his ancestors in Wales.
An American by birth and education, his Welsh ancestry was to him a source of pride and pleasure. He was proud
of the industry, thrift and integrity which characterize that people.
Mr. Roberts was always a stanch republican in politics and stood high in the councils of his party. He kept well
informed on current events and matters of public import and never withheld his aid from any movement or measure
instituted to promote the general welfare One of the last occasions on which he appeared in public was the inauguration
of the movement to establish the Conservatory of Music. He was well known and very popular in the northern tier
of towns in Oneida county. His charities he kept to himself; his modest, engaging demeanor was not so easy of concealment,
and this, with his cheerfulness, frankness and straightforward integrity, caused the regret that was felt at his
death to be widespread and sincere. He passed away on the 4th of July, 1889, while yet comparatively young, honored
and respected by all who had known him. Mrs. Roberts, who makes her home at No. 293 Genesee street, in Utica, has
an extensive circle of friends here, having won and retained the regard and esteem of all with whom she has come
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
Oneida County, NY
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