Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Judge Samuel Hopkins Sedgwick

Yesterday I promised you more about Samuel Hopkins Sedgwick, and you shall have it in abundance. Reproduced below are some impressive tributes to Judge Sedgwick which were entered into the court records shortly after his death on 25 December 1919. This is the stuff that makes genealogy interesting. Lots of biographical and family history in these remembrances.

I spent quite awhile looking for a photo of Judge Sedgwick. I thought surely there would be one, but I had no luck searching Google Images. If there's a picture of him at Sedgwick Genealogy Worldwide, I couldn't find it. Back to my new best friend, Google Books. In addition to the portrait above, I found... well, suffice it to say, tomorrow's post!




Copyright, A. D. 1921

December 25, 1919, Associate Justice Sedgwick died.
April 18, 1920, Associate Justice Cornish died.


At the session of the Supreme Court of the State of Nebraska, March 1, 1920, there being present Honorable Andrew M. Morrissey, Chief Justice, Honorable Charles B. Letton, Honorable William B. Rose, Honorable Albert J. Cornish, Honorable James R. Dean, Honorable Chester H. Aldrich, and Honorable George A. Day, Associate Justices, the following proceedings were had:

In these commemorative proceedings, the committee have sought to avoid altogether merely conventional eulogy, and, in its stead, to place of record here a just and accurate estimate of the character and worth of Honorable Samuel H. Sedgwick, whose earthly career was brought to a close at his home in this city on December 25, 1919.

Judge Sedgwick was born at Bloomingdale, Illinois, in the year 1848. He was a law student at the University of Michigan from 1871 to 1872, and held a master's degree from Wheaton College, Illinois. In 1878 he went to York, Nebraska, where he practiced law until elected judge of the fifth judicial district in 1895, taking his seat January 4, 1896. He held this office for four years. In 1901 he was appointed a supreme court commissioner and served in that capacity about two years, when he was elected to the office which he held at the time of his death. He served as a member of this court continuously, with the exception of two years, for a period of fifteen years.

He was widely recognized as an able lawyer, entirely trustworthy and reliable in the business and affairs of his clients, and was ever honorable and just in his dealings with them and with his adversaries.

As a trial judge, he was industrious, prompt and unusually accurate in his conclusions, whether of law or fact. He had a frank, open way about him, and, because of his strength of mind and evident fairness, he was a power for right and justice, easily dominating the court in which he presided, and holding always the respect and confidence of both counsel and jury.

The reports of this court tell best of his worth as a judge; they tell of his industry and painstaking research. They are rich in demonstrative proof of his ability, sound judgment and accurate reasoning; of his lucid exposition, and of his admirable directness in reaching and stating conclusions.

As a citizen, the simplicity of his life, his sobriety of thought and conduct, the fairness of his dealings in all matters, his insistence upon integrity in private and public life, prove him a citizen of the highest and best type. His life was an inspiration to others, and his death, un- foreshadowed, so calm, so devoid of pain, seemed but like the passing of a great soul from one tranquil state to another. His death was the end of a full and well spent life; he had kept good company; he communed much with the best philosophers and jurists of the present and past. He cherished no resentments; he was in harmony with the world. "His ways were ways of pleasantness; his paths were paths of peace." He drained life's goblet to the dregs and knew naught of its bitterness. And, now that he is gone, that he has passed beyond the bourne that divides the finite from the infinite, it is to us and to this court and to his bereaved family a source of deep consolation to know that he leaves behind him a judicial record unclouded and a character unstained.

We deplore the loss this court, this community, and the state have sustained in the death of Judge Sedgwick; and, to his family, in their sorrow, we tender our sincere sympathy.

We ask that this memorial be preserved in the permanent records of this court and that a copy of it be furnished to Mrs. Sedgwick and her daughters.



May It Please The Court: The report of the committee fairly and accurately outlines the life and work of our departed brother, Judge Sedgwick, but I feel I do not want to let this occasion pass without adding a word of personal tribute to this splendid man and judge.

In November, 1895, Judge Sedgwick and I were elected as district judges in our respective districts. At that time we were not acquainted. In 1897 I was called away from home to be gone a week, and Judge Sedgwick kindly consented to take charge of my docket during my absence. I met him for the first time on my return home. The members of the Omaha bar who had tried cases before him during the week of my absence all expressed themselves in unmeasured terms of commendation of the ability, fairness and promptness of Judge Sedgwick during the week he had been representing me.

In 1903 Judge Sedgwick was elected a member of this court, taking his seat in January, 1904. At the same time I became one of the supreme court commissioners to fill out the term for which Judge Barnes had been appointed. During that short term I became well acquainted with Judge Sedgwick. A warm friendship sprang up between us, which continued to the moment of his death. He retired from the court in January, 1908, and returned in January, 1910. For the six years following that day I was associated with him on this court. During those six years our friendship strengthened, and I came to know perfectly his devotion to his work, the care with which he examined, not only the cases assigned to him, but all cases submitted to the court. He was fearless and firm in his convictions. His associates sometimes thought that he was a little more than firm. We at times chided him with being so, but this did not anger him. With a weak man it is a dangerous thing to be positive in his convictions, but with Judge Sedgwick the redeeming feature was that, while he reached positive convictions which it was sometimes difficult to get him to change, he was usually right. He was not alone, however, in his characteristic of firmness. Similar charges were sometimes made against other members of the court, myself included. I speak of this characteristic for the purpose of calling attention to the fact that firmness is not a fault in a supreme judge. It is far better to be firm, and occasionally be wrong, then it is to be vacillating and never sure of whether you are right or not.

The Judge was an honest man, of broad education, a good lawyer, an able judge, and a splendid citizen. His honesty was never questioned. What more can be said of a judge? He was an untiring worker. He desired to get at the bottom of every case that came before the court. He felt the responsibility resting upon judges of the court of last resort; a court from which there is no appeal, except in the very few cases coming before it in which a federal question might be involved. He realized fully the importance of being right in order that litigants in the last stages of their litigation might be sure of obtaining a careful examination of their cases and a correct application of the law thereto.

Judge Sedgwick was not only my associate for the years mentioned, but he was my personal friend. I honored and respected him in life. I shall ever cherish his memory in the years to come.


May It Please The Court: May I ask the indulgence of the Court to add to the formal tribute of your committee my personal offering in affectionate memory of our brother, Samuel H. Sedgwick.

I first knew him at Wheaton College, when I was seventeen and he twenty years old, and from then for four years was intimate with him and his family, and am indebted to him for many acts of friendly assistance in student days. The venerable father, Samuel Parker Sedgwick, and his estimable wife, two daughters, then graduates of the college, Miss Clara, later Carscadden, and Miss Emma, later Brown, and two brothers, David E., afterward a well known physician at York, and Theron E. Sedgwick ("Tim"), long editor of the Daily York Times, were the other members of the family still at home. The father, Dr. Sedgwick, was a man of unusual character and marked ability in his profession. He was author of a work upon family medicine, a copy of which, in my family, has been, by forty-eight years of use, greatly worn, and is still highly valued.

Born of such ancestors, and in such surroundings, it was foreordained that Samuel H. Sedgwick should be of note in the world and that the world would be better for his life in it. I think I can say with assurance that there was never a time from his sophomore year when he had other purpose than the study of the law, and, with his usual capacity for successful achievement, he made his studies and activities converge to that purpose. I was with him in visiting different law schools. We cut classes to hear cases of special interest in the circuit court in Dupage county. We went to the moot court in the old schoolhouse where "Elbert" Gary, now the head of the American Steel Corporation, was then preparing for his career. Consistently with this fixed purpose Sedgwick took his college degrees, and the law course at Ann Arbor, and, fully equipped, began his work, practicing for a short time in Illinois, and later in Depere, Wisconsin, and then, in 1878, is my recollection, came to Harvard, and almost decided to locate there with me, but, before deciding, he visited York, which was a dry town, while Harvard was wet, and, while at York, some lawyer intimated to him "that there was no room for another lawyer at York." I believe Sedgwick took that as a challenge. At any rate, he said, after some time given to consideration of the matter, "he believed he would make room there." and he did.

Resulting from that decision came with him to Nebraska a most estimable lady, his wife, and two sisters, efficient social workers, and their husbands, a physician one, the other, a minister of the gospel, and the two brothers before mentioned, every one a gain for the new state of Nebraska.

As a lawyer, none gave a client better service, and never was a client of his led into needless litigation that his counsel might gain thereby.

As a trial judge, the law was his guide, and no consideration but just and impartial administration thereof moved him. His court impressed all coming therein as a Temple of Justice. And his quick and accurate comprehension of the facts and the law applicable thereto made easy the labors of counsel appearing' before him. I cannot recall his using the phrase "Substantial Justice," but his decisions proclaimed as his aim "Justice to All and Equality before the Law," and write him down a just and fearless judge.

As a justice of the supreme court, his colleagues upon the bench are more entitled to speak than I, but, can we not all of us recall opinions, especially dissenting opinions, that "made our hearts burn within us?" Can we doubt that the wonderful interpretation of the facts shown in his opinions in many cases will make them of lasting service? and his accurate analysis of the law be a guiding star over the sea of jurisprudence in years to come?

"That the good we do is buried with us" is not written of justices of the supreme court; as to them, the good is written on the tables of the law and shall ever be read of men.

Personally the members of the bar, and collectively the profession of the law, have suffered a loss. The memory of such a man is a gain to be cherished and preserved. To me, a comforting thought is that he boldly stepped across the dark river with no lingering pains and with his mental vigor at his zenith. Truly a good and useful life well finished, which may well be an inspiration to all men.


May It Please The Court: It was my good fortune to have had an extended acquaintance with the late Judge Sedgwick. Our acquaintance began nearly thirty years ago, and soon ripened into a close friendship that endured until he put aside the mantle of mortality. Our frequent meetings and intimate associations afforded an opportunity to form an accurate estimate of his qualities of heart and mind, and to know his real character and worth. I knew and observed him as citizen and friend, as lawyer and jurist.

Judge Sedgwick was endowed by nature with a superior intellect, which he cultivated by persistent, continuous study and serious reflection. He seldom, if ever, indulged in light or frivolous conduct or conversation. He did not know the language of those who indulged in small talk. His mind was always occupied by serious and weighty matters. To those who knew him but slightly he may have seemed cold, unsympathetic and austere, but not so to those who knew him well. While he was modest and unassuming, he was, to his intimate friends, a genial, whole-souled man; a veritable wellspring of helpful information and kindly suggestions, and was an inspiration to high ideals and right living.

As a citizen he had no divided allegiance. He knew but one flag and one country, and was ever foremost in supporting men and measures for the welfare of his country, state and community. He never indulged in any questionable or underhanded conduct, and, while he was charitable to the faults of others, he was intolerant of cant, hypocrisy and chicanery.

As a friend he was true and loyal, sympathetic and helpful. He never betrayed a confidence, and his word or promise needed no indorsement or guaranty. To those who knew him his simple word was all sufficient.

Early in life he adopted the law as a profession. He made the law his mistress and was ever devoted to her. By his tireless and energetic study of the law he came to possess a profound knowledge of it. His great knowledge of the law and his rugged honesty and high sense of honor made him a valuable counselor and one in whom a client could entrust his legal affairs and feel secure that his rights would be protected and safeguarded, and also feel an abiding faith that he would not be involved in useless or fruitless litigation.

The lawyers who practiced before Judge Sedgwick while he was on the district bench admired him for his wide knowledge of the law and his fearless and correct application of its principles. He presided with great dignity, and his absolute fairness and candor won the esteem of all. So highly did he stand in the estimation of lawyers and litigants that few appeals were taken from his decisions, and a reversal of his decision on appeal was indeed rare.

When he was called to the supreme court he came with a rich store of knowledge and ripe experience. As a justice of this Honorable Court he labored unceasingly; he never shirked a responsibility that was rightfully his; he was not content to dispose of any case along the lines of least resistance, but believed in going to the bottom of every case, and was satisfied only when he had mastered the case and found the very right of the controversy.

In my opinion no greater jurist has ever adorned the bench of this Honorable court than Samuel H. Sedgwick. 'No one has ever wielded a greater influence in this court while a member of it than he; none have made a deeper and more enduring impress on the jurisprudence of the state.

He was a kind and generous friend; an able, conscientious lawyer; an honest, fearless, upright judge. He is gone, but his influence for good will live for generations to come.


The court is convened this morning to pay a last tribute to the memory of our late associate; but how vain it is to attempt to portray the worth of this man, who gave the major part of his mature manhood to the development of the jurisprudence of our state.

Though a prominent figure—a leader—for nearly two score years, his finest and best qualities were known only to those who were privileged to be closely associated with him. To the lawyers he was known as a profound jurist; to the people generally as a just and fearless judge; but the power of his intellect was known only to those who sat with him at the consultation table. Many are the opinions that bear his name, and they will help to light the judicial pathway so long as our jurisprudence endures. But they give no adequate account of the prodigious labor he performed. The lawyer of the future who turns the pages of the Nebraska Reports will little know how much of the very spirit of Judge Sedgwick is written into them. To every case that came to the court he gave the same painstaking care he bestowed upon the record when he wrote the opinion himself. He held himself responsible for the result of every decision, even to the phraseology in which rules of law for future guidance were announced. Nor were his wonderful powers of analysis, his compelling logic, and his high character, his only contributions to the court. He would be just; but justice he would administer with mercy. Quiet and reserved, almost to the point of austerity, the gentleness of his nature and the warmth of his friendship were known only to the few whose good fortune it was to know him in those intimate relations of life where the ermine was laid aside, and the man whom God made was permitted to function in his own way.

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Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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