John D. Willard
City of Troy

Information on this page is from "History of Rensselaer Co., New York," by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

JOHN D. WILLARD, for a little less than forty years a resident of the city of Troy, was a man of studious, somewhat retiring habits, a close observer of human nature, far-sighted in regard to business operations and political movements, a prominent public man, a Mason of high rank, and a gentleman of fine literary acquirements. He was born at Lancaster, N. H., Nov. 4, 1799, was the son of a clergyman, and a descendant of Mr. Simon Willard, who emigrated to this country from the county of Kent, England, in 1634, and was celebrated in the Indian wars.

Judge Willard was educated at Dartmouth College, where he graduated at the early age of nineteen. He began the study of law in Chenango Co., N. Y., completed it in Troy with Judge McConihe, and was admitted to the bar in 1826. He immediately opened an office In the city, where he had already many warm friends. The next year he was appointed surrogate of Rensselaer County by De Witt Clinton, but the "Bucktail" party in the Senate refused to confirm him on political grounds.

In 1834, Governor William L. Marcy appointed him judge of the court of Common Pleas, an office which he held for six years.

In the mean time his business as a lawyer had been constantly increasing, and at the close of his judgeship he determined to devote himself entirely to his profession, and refused all nomination for election to public office.

Previous to this he had edited the Troy Sentinel for several years, having succeeded Orville L. Holley, and from about 1835 to 1848 he was secretary of a profitable corporation,--the Troy Insurance Company.

In 1829 he married Laura, daughter of Bladeslee Barnes, of Berlin, Conn. She was born May 13, 1808, and survives at the time of writing this sketch. Finding his health failing him, in 1850, accompanied with his wife, he spent a little over a year abroad, visiting most of the countries of Europe, and in 1855, with his son, again visited that country, remaining some fifteen months, during which time he was an interesting correspondent of one of the city papers. The degree of LL.D., conferred by Dartmouth College and the Masonic University, was no empty honor. It was merited by this careful student, graceful writer, and well-read lawyer. Judge Willard held the highest offices in one of the Masonic Lodges of Troy, and also filled the position of Grand Master of the State at the time of the memorable troubles in the order, caused by the succession of some subordinate bodies. With a firm but temperate hand he settled all these difficulties, and restored harmony which is the support of all such institutions.

In 1857 he was elected, as the Democratic candidate, State senator for the twelfth district, comprising the counties of Rensselaer and Washing, and discharged his duties with acknowledged ability. He was a director in the Commercial Bank of Troy, and a member of various literary and scientific societies. He had a taste for literary pursuits, and found time amid the engrossing cares of a laborious profession to give much attention to general literature. In public as in private life he was straightforward, upright, decided, and reliable. Although not a church member, he attended the services of the Presbyterian Church, and for several years was chairman of the board of trustees of the Second Presbyterian congregation in Troy. He was the efficient friend of all benevolent enterprises, and interested in whatever concerned the business interests of the community in which he lived. He died Oct. 9, 1864.

He had two sons: Henry Willard, a graduate of Dartmouth College, now a Congregationalist minister in Minnesota, and Clarence Willard, a Troy merchant (deceased).

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