Biography of Cicero G. Peck
Chittenden County, VT Biographies





PECK, CICERO GODDARD. Cicero Goddard Peck was born in the village of Hinesburg, Vt., on the 17th day of February, 1828. His father, Nahum Peck, was one of the most distinguished lawyers of Chittenden county, and was the eldest son of Squire Peck and Elizabeth Goddard. Nahum Peck was born in Royalton, Mass., on the 5th of October, 1796. He was descended from Joseph Peck, who was the twenty first generation from John Peck, of Belton, Yorkshire county, England. Nahum was the seventh generation from Joseph Peck, the American ancestor who, with other Puritans, fled from the persecutions of the church in England to this country. They came from Hingham, England, to Hingham, Mass., in 1638, sailing in the ship Diligent, of Ipswich, John Martin, master. Thus the genealogy of the Pecks has been traced as far back as, and probably farther than, any other family in Vermont. At this place it will be well to give a brief mention of the career of Nahum Peck. His father was a farmer, and removed from Royalton, Mass., to Montpelier, Vt., in 1803, finding his way by means of marked trees. There young Nahum received as good an academical training as the capital of the State could afford in those days, studied law, and was admitted to the bar of Washington county at the September term of the County Court for 1823. He immediately came to Hinesburg and opened an office, where he continued a large and ever growing practice to about the time of his death, which occurred on the 8th day of June, 1883. At the time of his death he was the oldest practicing lawyer in the county. As a lawyer he was best appreciated for the judicial accuracy of his opinions, his wide acquaintance with legal literature, and his utter contempt for the emoluments of his profession. He practiced law from the love of it, and accepted money in payment for services only as a means of livelihood, not of accumulation. He was public spirited, and in the course of his long life in Hinesburg was honored with many positions within the gift of his townsmen, whom he represented in the Legislature a number of terms. He was a fair though not a fluent speaker, his diction being characterized rather by correctness than readiness. His political opinions were as decided as those connected with his profession. He was one of the earliest, most determined and aggressive antagonists of slavery, at a time when men of that opinion were liable to abuse and opprobrium. He was an early advocate of temperance reform. After the formation of the Republican party he allied himself with it, and always supported its measures with ear nestness and consistency.

He was twice married. His first wife, whom he married in October, 1825, was Lucinda, daughter of Benjamin I. Wheeler, of Montpelier, a prominent citizen, who represented Montpelier several terms in the Legislature. She was the mother of Cicero G. Peck. She died January 14, 1854. His second wife, to whom he was wedded in May, 1857, was Marcia Wood, of Keeseville, N. Y., who died in August, 1875.

Cicero G. Peck was educated in the old Hinesburg Academy, in which institution he prepared for a collegiate course of study, but just as he was about to enter upon such a course, ill health deprived him of the opportunity, and he was forced to a life of outdoor work, as expedient against permanent sickness. He has consequently remained on a farm all his life, and with commendable diligence has added to his patrimony and other inheritances, so that without them he would be possessed of a handsome property. He came to his present residence in 1857, and by repeated purchases has enlarged the original area of the farm to 250 acres. He also owns a very large and valuable dairy farm in Jericho, which was left to him by his uncle, Hon. Asahel Peck, who is mentioned at length in the latter part of this article. Mr. Peck devotes his attention principally to dairying, though he has done considerable work in general agriculture. He owns a number of fine Holstein cattle, his herds on both farms numbering about too head. When the Valley Cheese Factory Company was formed in 1865 he was elected treasurer, and has held the office continuously ever since. Although the business established by that company is not now conducted by a stock company, Mr. Peck still owns a large interest in it, and continues to act as treasurer.

He is a firm advocate of Republican principles in politics, and has been placed by his fellow townsmen in almost every office within their gift. He was county senator in 1878-80, and previous to that held the office of selectman seven consecutive years. He has always taken a profound and active interest in educational matters, and was town superintendent of schools from 1877 to 1884 inclusive, besides being a member of the school board three years previously and two subsequently. He has been repeatedly called upon to act as executor or administrator in the settlement of estates, some of them among the largest in the vicinity. He is an active member of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and has for many years taken a leading part in the conduct of its affairs.

He was united in marriage on the 29th day of March, 1854, to Maria Coleman (daughter of Selah Coleman, of Hinesburg), whose grandfather, Zadock Coleman, was at an early day major general of the State militia of Vermont, and a prominent resident of Williston. He was of Irish descent, and emigrated to Vermont from Connecticut. Mrs. Peck's mother's father, Charles Russell, was an early settler in Hinesburg and participated in the battle of Plattsburgh. He was of Dutch descent and came to Vermont from White Creek, N. Y. At his death he left the largest estate ever settled in Hinesburg up to that time. Mrs. Peck was born in Williston May 27, 1836. Their family consists, besides themselves, of an adopted niece, born April t4, 1858, and adopted by them on the t4th of August following. She is now the wife of Rev. Marvin R. France, a Methodist clergyman of Cobleskill, Schoharie county, N. Y.

Mention having been made of Hon. Asahel Peck, it is well to add in this place a brief sketch of his life, because he was an honor to his county and State, and a memorial sketch of his deeds can be given in no better connection. He was the third son of Squire and Elizabeth (Goddard) Peck, and was therefore a brother of Nahum Peck. He was born in Royalton, Mass., in September, 1808, and came to Montpelier with his parents two or three years later. Receiving the discipline of farm life until he was of age, in connection with a preparation for college at the Washington County Grammar School, he entered the University of Vermont, but in his senior year left that institution for a course of study in the French language in Canada. The embryo eminent judge and governor entered upon the study of law in the office of his elder brother, Nahum Peck, of Hinesburg. His name as attorney first appears in Walton's Register (for Hinesburg) in 1833, when he was thirty years of age. In that year he removed to Burlington, where all his professional life was spent. Doubtless his progress at the bar was slow, as he was not a man to push his way, but to honestly win it by merit. Indeed, a characteristic of him was that he was slow in everything, though in the end he was almost sure to be right, and that he regarded as the only point worth gaining. He was a thorough and patient student and became a conscientious lawyer and judge. Possessing a tenacious memory, he held all that he had secured in years of study, and could instantly bring his great store of learning to bear upon any legal question presented to him. Touching his abilities as a lawyer, we cite an incident that occurred a number of years ago:

The late Rufus Choate, of Massachusetts, met Mr. Peck as an antagonist in the trial of a very important case in the Supreme Court of the United States, and at its conclusion was so astonished to find "such a lawyer in Vermont" that he went to Mr. Peck and urged him cordially to remove to Boston, assuring him that both fame 'and fortune would there be at his feet. No inducement, however, could move Mr. Peck; having once made up his mind, he would not change it. Burlington he had selected as the theatre for the practice of his profession, and Burlington it must and should be. An eminent member of the bar, speaking of Mr. Peck's abilities as a lawyer and a judge, declared that no man in New England since Judge Story has equaled him in his knowledge of the common law of England and the law of equity.

Mr. Peck represented Chittenden county in the Senate in 1851, at the same time with Hon. George F. Edmunds. He was judge of the Circuit Court from 1851 until it ceased in December, 1857, and of the Supreme Court from 1860 to 1874, when, it being understood that he would retire from the bench to his farm to renew the employments of his youth, he was elected governor for the term 1874-76. In speaking of the probable action of the Republican State Convention of 1874, at which Judge Peck was nominated, the Watchman, a leading paper of the State, recommended him in the following terms, which his subsequent conduct in the gubernatorial chair fully vindicated:

"The State would be honored by selecting his name as its candidate. So long as Vermont designates such men as he is for its highest offices it is not liable to the old Tory reproach against Republican government, which condemned republics not because the people elected their officers, but because they elected unworthy and ignoble men to office. He would be a worthy successor in the executive chair to Moses Robinson, Galusha, Palmer, Tichenor, Skinner, Williams, Van Ness, Royce and Hall, who were his predecessors on the bench. His nomination is not merely unobjectionable, it is in every respect honorable and fit to be made, and would be followed by a triumphant election."

As a governor it is the testimony of all that he was one of the best that Vermont ever had, thoroughly independent, prudent in every act, and carefully inspecting the minutest details of every question presented for his official approval. He received the degree of A.B. from the University of Vermont many years after leaving it as a student, and was made LL.D. by Middlebury College in 1874. After the dose of his term as governor he was often employed as counsel in important cashes; and doubtless had his life been spared would for many years more have shown himself a grand master of the law.

He was never married. He spent most of his leisure time, after leaving the executive chair, with his friends in Hinesburg, and at his farm in Jericho, where he died May 18, 1879. He was buried in the family lot in the cemetery at Hinesburg.

From:
History of Chittenden County, Vermont
Edited by: W. S. Rann
D. Mason & Co., Publishers
Syracuse, New York. 1886


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