In January, 1789, the legislature
passed an act dividing Montgomery county, erecting that
portion of the county west of Seneca Lake into Ontario county.
Within seven years the rapid settlement and growth of towns in
that territory compelled another division of the new county, and
Steuben was set off from it
in 1796. At that time Steuben had a population of about one thousand, but within four
years the population had increased to a total of two thousand. After
the erection of the county the complete civil organization was
promptly affected. The first divided Steuben county into two jury districts, the northern
and the southern, and a
court house for the southern district was erected in Corning during the
years 1853 and 1854.
officers were William Kersey,
first judge; Abraham Bradley and Eleazer Lindley, associate
judges; George D. Cooper, county clerk; William Dunn, sheriff; and
Stephen Ross, surrogate.
village of Bath was designated as the county seat, and provision was made for the county
buildings and for other public purposes. In Bath the
court house was completed and occupied for court purposes on
the first of June, 1796. The building was of frame, one and
one-half stories high, with two wings, and served the necessities
of the county until 1828, then being superseded by a more
substantial brick structure, the latter, however, being destroyed by fire
in October, 1859. Following
that disaster the present attractive court house
was erected in 1860. In 1796,
also, the first county jail, a log building, was erected and stood
in the rear of the subsequent stone jail, at the northwest
corner of the square. The next jail was built in 1845, and, in turn,
was replaced with the present brick building, erected in 1882,
at a total cost of nearly thirty thousand dollars. The new clerk's
office was built in 1872, at a cost of about $11,000, and the
surrogate's office in 1886, at an expense of $8,707.75. In July,
1859, an act of the legislature divided Steuben county into two
jury districts, the northern and
Immediately after the organization of the county, the county bar came into existence.
McMaster, the historian of the early period of the county, said "a few
straggling birds of legal feathers had alighted on the Pine
Plains in the preceding year (1795) but were not recognized as
constituting a distinct and independent confederacy." The
first arrival is said to have been George D. Cooper, of
Rhinebeck-on-the-Hudson, who was appointed first clerk of the county.
Following him came David Jones, Peter Masterton, James Morris,
Stephen Ross, David Powell, William Ver Planck and William
the early days the assembling of court in Bath was often attended with perplexing
difficulties, for the people of the village did not find it easy to provide
food for the large number of persons attending the court. Flour was
brought from Northumberland, or on pack horses from Tioga
Point and other distant places. Pork came from
"The Canisteo boy brought
over his bag of wheat, threw it down at the door of the agency house, and
was paid five dollars the bushel. He drove his bullock across the
hills, slaughtered it at the edge of the village and sold everything from hoof to
horn for a shilling a pound. He led over a pack horse laden with
grain, paid all expenses, treated, and took home eighteen dollars. One old
farmer remembers paying two dollars and a half for a hog's head 'and it
was half hair at that.' 'Bath was just like San Francisco,' says an old
settler on the comfortable farms of Pleasant Valley. 'Straw was a
shilling a bunch and everything else in proportion. Money was plenty, but
they almost starved out. They once adjourned court because there was
nothing to eat. If it had not been for the Valley, the Pine Plains
would have been depopulated. After court had been in session two or
three days, you would see a black boy come down here on a horse, with a
big basket foraging. He would go around to all the farms to get
bread, meat and eggs, or anything that would stay life. Bath was the
hungriest place in creation.'
citizens of the county made court week a kind of gathering time,
and the larders of Bath were sometimes speedily exhausted. The
prudent Juryman, before
setting out from home, slung over his shoulder a bag containing a piece of cold
pork, and a huge loaf of bread; for no one knew to what extremities the
ministers of justice might be reduced." 1
leading legal minds of New York State, Steuben has furnished a generous proportion,
and many of them have attained more than ordinary distinction.
Particular note should be
made of Judge Thomas A. Johnson, of the Supreme Court, and of the court of appeals, who,
although a native of Massachusetts, early located near Corning and
afterwards in Knoxville, where he died in 1872. Then there was Judge David
Rumsey, of the Supreme Court, who was born in Washington county, New York, and lived in Bath,
Steuben county, during the greater part of his lifetime. William
Rumsey, of Bath, and George B. Bradley, of Corning, were other incumbents
of the bench of the
Supreme Court who were
residents of Steuben. Other prominent members of the early judiciary
and bar of Steuben were:
George D. Cooper, Vincent
Matthews, Samuel S. Haight, Daniel Cruger, William B. Rochester,
Edward Howell, Schuyler Strong, David McMaster, Samuel H.
Hammond, Guy H. McMaster, George T. Spencer, and William B. Ruggles.
First judges of the county court from 1796 to 1846, with the years of their appointment,
were: Charles Williamson, 1796; William Kersey, 1803; James
Faulkner, 1804; Samuel Baker, 1813; Thomas McBurney,
1816; James Norton, 1823; George E. Edwards, 1826; Ziba A.
Leland, 1838; Jacob Larrowe, 1843 and William M. Hawley, 1846.
County judges after 1847, with the years of their election, have been: David McMaster, 1847;
Jacob Larrowe, 1851; David McMaster, 1855; Washington Barnes, 1859; Guy H.
Mc- Master, vid McMaster, 1855; Washington Barnes, 1859; Guy H. McMaster, 1867;
George T. Spencer, 1871; Guy H. McMaster, 1877; Harlo Hakes, 1893, and
Frank H. Robinson, 1894; William W. Clark, 1902, and Almon W.
Surrogates of the county have been: Stephen Ross, 1796; Henry A. Townsend, 1800; George
McClure, 1805; John Metcalf, 1813; James Read, 1815; Samuel Baker, 1817;
William Read, 1821; James
Brundage, 1823; William Woods, 1827; Robert Campbell, Jr., 1835; David
Rumsey, Jr., 1840; Ansel J. McCall, 1844; Guy H. McMaster,
1883; John F. Little, 1887; M. Rumsey Miller, 1888, and
Monroe Wheeler, 1901.
District attorneys have been: William Stewart, 1802; Daniel W. Lewis, 1810; William
Stewart, 1811; Vincent Matthews, 1813; Daniel Cruger, 1815; Daniel
Cruger, 1818; John Cook,
1821; Henry Welles, 1824; Edward Howell, 1829; B. W. Franklin, 1834; Edward Howell,
1836; Lazarus H. Read, 1840; Andrew G. Chatfield, 1845; Morris
Brown, 1846; Alfred P. Ferris, 1847; Robert L. Brundage,
1850; Joseph Herron, 1853; John Maynard, 1856; Christopher
John McDowell, 1859; Harlo Hakes, 1862; John H. Butler, 1865
and 1868; Alphonso H.
Burrell, 1871; Ellsworth D.
Mills, 1874 and 1877; Daniel L. Benton, 1880 ; Irving W. Near,
1883 ; Frank H. Robinson, 1886 and 1889; William W. Clark, 1892;
Almon W. Burrell, 1902, and
Edwin C. Smith, 1906.
1. "History of the Settlement of
Steuben County, N. Y.," by Guy H. McMaster, p.