Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Distinction Never To Be Matched

Dear Friends,

Every once in a while I'll come across a bit of trivia that I find interesting. I hope you find this sort of interesting as well.

I know that this didn't take place in the Old West, and it in fact takes place back East, but it is a story about a man who has one distinction that will never be matched among his peers --never ever again.

He was born on March 18, 1837, hailed in Caldwell, New Jersey, and his father was a Connecticut Yankee Presbyterian minister.

In 1841, his family moved to Fayetteville, New York, where he spent much of his childhood.

Neighbors later described him as "full of fun and inclined to play pranks", and was fond of outdoor sports.

At the age of 13, Hard times forced his father to remove him from school and put him into a two-year mercantile apprenticeship in Fayetteville.

He later returned to school and received his elementary education at the Fayetteville Academy and the Clinton Liberal Academy.

After his father died in 1853, he again left school so as to help support his family.

Later that year, his brother William was hired as a teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind in New York City, and William obtained a place for him as an assistant teacher.

He returned home to Holland Patent at the end of 1854 and an elder in his church offered to pay for his college education if he would promise to become a minister. He declined, and instead in 1855 decided to move west -- to Buffalo, New York.

He stopped first in Buffalo, New York, where his uncle, Lewis W. Allen gave him a clerical job. Allen was an important man in Buffalo, and he introduced his nephew to influential men there, including the partners in the law firm of Rogers, Bowen, and Rogers.

He later took a clerkship with the firm, began to read the law, and was admitted to the bar in 1859.

He worked for the Rogers firm for three years, then left the firm in 1862 to start his own practice.

In January 1863, he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie County.

With the American Civil War raging, Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1863, requiring able-bodied men to serve in the army if called upon, or else to hire a substitute.

He chose the latter course, and paid George Benninsky, a thirty-two year-old Polish immigrant, $150 to serve in his place. Typical for a Democrat.

As a lawyer, he became known for his single-minded concentration and dedication to hard work. In 1866, he successfully defended some participants in the Fenian raid free of charge.

In 1868, he attracted professional attention for his winning defense of a libel suit against the editor of Buffalo's Commercial Advertiser.

During this time, he lived a lifestyle of simplicity, taking residence in a plain boarding house while he dedicated his growing income instead to the support of his mother and younger sisters.

While his personal quarters were considered austere, he nevertheless enjoyed an active social life and "the easy-going sociability of hotel-lobbies and saloons."

It's said he shunned the circles of higher society of Buffalo in which his uncle's family traveled.

From his earliest involvement in politics, he aligned himself with the Democratic Party.

He had a decided aversion to Republicans John Fremont and Abraham Lincoln, and the heads of the Rogers law firm were solid Democrats.

In 1865, he ran for District Attorney, losing narrowly to his friend and roommate, Lyman K. Bass, the Republican nominee.

The Sheriff of Erie County

In 1870, with the help of his friend Oscar Folsom, he secured the Democratic nomination for Sheriff of Erie County.

He won the election by a 303-vote margin and took the office of Sheriff on January 1, 1871 at age 33.

While this new career took him away from the practice of law, it was rewarding in other ways. Fact is, the fees were said to yield up to $40,000 -- which is about $800,000 in 2014 dollars -- over the two-year term.

He service as County Sheriff was fairly uneventful as he carried out the basically mundane duties of office.

He was aware of graft and corruption, officers getting bribes and such for favors, in the sheriff's office during his tenure. But frankly, he chose not to confront it.

One notable incident of his term took place on September 6, 1872, and involved the execution of Patrick Morrissey, who had been convicted of murdering his mother.

As sheriff, he was responsible for either personally carrying out the execution or paying a deputy $10 to perform the task.

Despite his own reservations about hanging a man to death, he carried out his duty and hanged the man. Later he hanged another murderer, John Gaffney, on February 14, 1873.

This man, who was the fifth of nine children, was named Stephen Grover in honor of the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell  where his father was pastor at the time.

He became known simply as Grover in his adult life.

Because of doing his duty, Grover Cleveland is the only President of the United States who has the distinction of ever having hanged two men.

Grover Cleveland, 
24th President of the United States 
And yes, I find that interesting.

Tom Correa

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