Biography of Daniel Roberts
Chittenden County, VT Biographies





ROBERTS, DANIEL. Daniel Roberts is the son of Daniel and Almira Roberts, who were natives of Litchfield county, Conn., and came to Wallingford, Rutland county, Vt., early in the century. Daniel, sr., was the son of a Revolutionary soldier and was early left an orphan. After serving a seven years' apprenticeship to the clothier's or cloth dresser's trade he became a wandering schoolmaster for five or six years, when, with his young wife, he came to Wallingford and took up his trade, which he followed for thirty years or more, and then removed to Manchester, in Bennington county, where he purchased and cultivated a farm. He died at the age of seventy nine years and his wife at the age of eighty four. They lie buried at Manchester. They were both fond of good reading, more than commonly intelligent, and friends of all good and right things in society. Both were musical; the mother was a most charming singer. A relic of the father's taste in this direction is a book of familiar airs, arranged for the flute, written in his hand with a quill pen and India ink, after the fashion of those days, in a beautiful schoolmaster's script and style now obsolete. The son naturally inherited the musical temperament of his parents.

The subject of this sketch was the fifth of ten children born at Wallingford, Vt., May 25, 1811. He entered Middlebury College at fourteen years of age, graduating in the class of 1829; studied law with Hon. Harvey Button, of Wallingford, still surviving at the venerable age of eighty six years, and was admitted to the bar of the Rutland County Court at the September term, 1832. In November he started out " to seek his fortune," with ninety dollars in his pocket. He went by stage to Schenectady, took a canal boat for Buffalo, got frozen in near Rochester, went by stage to Ashtabula, and across the State of Ohio to Beaver, Pa., on the Ohio River, took deck passage among a throng of German emigrants down the Ohio and Mississippi. He stopped awhile at Grand Gulf and at Natchez, where he was admitted to the bar on public examination in court. Robert J. Walker was then a prominent lawyer at that bar. After spending the month of February, 1833, in New Orleans, the young traveler went up the Mississippi on the steamer Yellow Stone, one of the boats of the St. Louis Fur Company, which passed its winters in the lower Mississippi trade and made its annual trip to the Yellow Stone in the Indian fur trade. He endeavored to secure a chance in the spring voyage, but could not. His disappointment was his good fortune, as was prob.ably his departure from New Orleans, for the cholera prevailed severely there during the season of 1833 and made sad havoc on the steamer on her mountain trip. Stopping at St. Louis and straying into the courthouse there, he was charmed by the eloquence of Edward Bates (afterwards United States attorney general and member of President Lincoln's cabinet) in the defense of a half breed Indian girl who had stabbed and killed her lover. The jury wept and, having under Missouri law the right of determining the punishment, they gave her, "poor Indian Margaret!" three months in the county jail. Landed at Naples, on the Illinois River, then in Scott county, Ill., he sought out his kinsfolk at Winchester. He spent that season in the woods mostly, hunting squirrels and wild turkeys, and getting the ague as compensation. He then went to Jacksonville, Ill., where he encountered his class-mate, now Rev. Dr. Truman M. Post, of St. Louis, then a tutor in Illinois College. He formed a business connection with Murray McConnell (long afterwards murdered in his office). Stephen A. Douglas taught the winter school in Winchester in 1833-34, came in the spring to Jacksonville, and was admitted to the bar before he was of age, and started at once for the presidency of the United States. He took to politics as a duck to water, bought him a suit of Kentucky jeans, hob nobbed with the border Democracy like one "to the manner born." Elected district attorney, Mr. Roberts remembers him as he started out on his circuit, astride of a three year old colt, his short legs reaching hardly below the saddle skirts, and in his saddle bags his whole library, consisting of a book on criminal law, which young Roberts had loaned him.

In the summer of 1835 Mr. Roberts came home on a visit, which he has never finished. In the spring of 1836 he took the office and business of Milo L. Bennett, of Manchester (afterwards a judge of the Supreme Court), and remained in practice at Manchester until the spring of 1856 (twenty years), when he removed to Burlington, where he formed a law partnership with Lucius E. Chittenden, afterwards register of the treasury and now a practicing lawyer in New York city. He has been in practice in Burlington for thirty years and over, it being now nearly fifty four years since his admission to the bar, and making more than fifty years of active law practice in this State. His name first appears in the State reports in the case of Kimpton vs. Walker, Ninth Vermont Reports, 191 (February term, 1837), and appears in every volume since, up to and including the fifty seventh.

He has not had much to do with public office. His earliest politics were strongly anti slavery, as a Liberty party man, Free Soiler, etc., for which reason, if for no other, offices did not seek him. However, he was bank commissioner during the years 1853 and 1854, and from the spring of 1865 to the spring of 1866 was a special agent of the United States treasury department, and for one year, 1868-69, was State's attorney for Chittenden county. In 1869, during the first term of President Grant's administration, he was offered the position of solicitor of the United States treasury department, but declined the offer; from 1870 to 1872 he was city attorney, and again in 1880.

Although never in the Legislature, Mr. Roberts has been of marked influence in shaping the laws of the State. His hand is clearly seen throughout the general statutes by those familiar with their history and development. In particular, he has been instrumental in securing by statute simplification of the ancient rules of criminal pleading and in enlarging the property rights of married women.

His views upon law reform he developed at length in an address before the Vermont Bar Association, as president thereof, in 1880. In 1878, under a contract made with the judges of the Supreme Court, by authority of the Legislature, he completed a digest of the decisions of the Supreme Court down to and including Volume 48 of the Vermont Reports, entitled Roberts's Vermont Digest. This work is accepted among the profession in Vermont as a model digest for its terseness and accuracy of statement and for bringing out the very point of the decision. It is not uncommon for the judges of the Supreme Court to cite it pear se, instead of the cases, as authority.

At the Vermont centennial celebration at Bennington, August r6, 1877, he was appointed orator of the occasion. The oration is inserted among the published proceedings of the day. It is a valuable historical document and a good specimen of Mr. Roberts's impressive and scholarly style.

In 1879, at the semi centennial gathering of his college class at Middlebury College commencement, he received the degree of LL.D.

In July, 1837, he was married to Caroline, daughter of Rev. Stephen Martindale, of Wallingford, who died on the 14th of June, 1886. There are four children - Mary, Caroline M., Stephen M. and Robert. Of the sons, Stephen is a physician in New York city and a professor of diseases of children in the University of Vermont, and Robert is a lawyer, associated with his father in practice, under the firm name of Roberts & Roberts.

Besides his engagements in the United States Circuit Court Mr. Roberts's practice has been mainly in the counties of Chittenden, Rutland, Addison and Bennington. Although his cases have been of the infinite variety that fall to the docket of most attorneys outside of the large cities, they have been chiefly such as seek the aid of counsel who have a reputation for legal scholarship and eloquent advocacy. Among the criminal cases in which Mr. Roberts appeared, and which have some dramatic interest or involve some interesting legal principle may be named the following: State vs Archibald Bates, Bennington county. Mr. Roberts and Harmon Canfield, then both fresh at the bar, were assigned by Chief Justice Williams to defend Bates for murder by shooting his brother's wife through the window at night while she was sitting nursing her child. They achieved all the success possible in the case by a verdict of guilty. Bates was hung on Bennington Hill, in the presence of a great multitude on the 8th of February, 1839. This was the last public execution in Vermont. Since that time, by a change in the law, all executions have been within the walls of the State prison. Mr. Roberts has said of this trial, that although he defended the prisoner with all the earnestness possible, he never spoke to him before or during or after the trial, nor even went to see him hung.

Purcell and another were indicted jointly for the murder of a brother Irishman by stabbing him at night on the way down from the Dorset Mountain quarries. They were all drunk. Purcell demanded and was allowed a separate trial, and was defended by Mr. Roberts. It was absolutely certain that one of the two committed the murder, but it was uncertain which, and there was no evidence of a combination to kill. Purcell was acquitted because of this uncertainty, and because on that trial it appeared most probable that the other respondent did the stabbing. The other defendant was tried at a subsequent term and acquitted for like reasons, by making it appear as most probable that Purcell was the guilty party. Each verdict was clearly right, and yet the result of the two was the acquittal of a murderer; but which was he ?

State vs. McDonald, 32 Vermont Report, 49r, is a leading case involving the law of homicide. Mr. Roberts's brief in the case is particularly pointed, and the opinion of Chief Justice Redfield is worth study. On a second trial of McDonald he was very properly convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to State prison for life, where he died of consumption.

Any extended citation of civil causes, in which Mr. Roberts has been engaged, would have but little interest to the unprofessional reader. Such as went to the Supreme Court and were reported are scattered through nearly fifty volumes of State reports, and the record is to be found there.

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


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