Hon. John Bird

Information on this page is from Reminiscences of Troy from Its Settlement in
1790 to 1807
by John Woodworth. It was submitted to this website by Joan Howe.

The Hon. JOHN BIRD, of Litchfield, Connecticut, graduated at Yale College in 1786; was admitted to the Bar in that State; came to Troy in 1794; and practiced in the Courts of this State until his death in 1805. Mr. BIRD terminated his brilliant but eccentrick career in 1806, at the age of 38. He was a son of Dr. SETH BIRD. [Note from the submitter: A handwritten note was added here reading, "He built the house corner of Congress and Second Street, north east, which was sold in 1810, and resold in 1863, for $7,500, at which time it was known as the Wiswall Place.]

His wife was a daughter of Judge PORTER of Salisbury and a sister of the late Gen. Peter B. PORTER; [she was] a lady of great intelligence. The temperament of husband and wife were not calculated for conjugal happiness; the consequence was a divorce in Connecticut. My impression is that Mr. BIRD was not well fitted for the quiet scenes of domestick life; [he was] always impatient under restraints and sometimes vehement without sufficient cause.

His integrity was never questioned; his genius was of a high order, yet generally restless, when necessity imposed on him the task of making laborious research or intricate questions of law; [he was] always, however, when called to the discussion, remarkable for a display of acute reasoning and talent. I have heard him in the Court of Common Pleas, when perhaps the subject in litigation did not exceed $50, delight the Profession by profound reasoning, and occasionally by a burst of eloquence, not often equaled at the Bar of any Court.

And here I may mention that either in 1897 or in 1798, there was a warmly contested election in the City of Albany, for Charter Officers; on the return of the votes, there were several questions to be decided by the Mayor and Aldermen, one of which was whether under the Charter, resident aliens were entitled to vote. A Resolution passed, that these questions be argued by Counsel in the Supreme Court room, in the Old City Hall. Mr. BIRD and myself were employed by one of the candidates for a seat in the Board, to argue the questions on his behalf. The Counsel on the other side were the late Hon. JAMES EMOTT, of Poughkeepsie, and JOSIAH OGDEN HOFFMAN, then Attorney-General of the State. The questions were argued; Mr. BIRD closed the argument; he was almost in a feverish state when he commenced, so intensely were his feelings excited: his powerful reasoning and eloquence were much admired; it was equal in point of eloquence to anything uttered by the late Chancellor LIVINGSTON in the same hall, some twelve years previously, on the trial of an ejectment cause, wherein he was plaintiff to recover lands in Duchess County, parcel of his patrimonial estate, unjustly, as he supposed, withheld by the defendant.

The Hon. JOHN LOVETT was present at the trial; he is my authority for the following:

The eloquence of the Chancellor produced a powerful effect on the Court and Jury and delighted every hearer; the venerable PETER SCHUYLER, long since deceased, had been a witness on a former trial, giving evidence strongly in favour of the Chancellor's claim; his testimony was read to the Court and Jury; Mr. LOVETT stated that in commenting on this evidence, the Chancellor, urging its force with great power, and remarking on the additional weight it would acquire if the witness, whose intelligence and character he described, had been living and present to testify on that trial, exclaimed, "Methinks I see that venerable man entering yon door." The appeal was so powerful, the audience immediately began to open a passage for his reception.
In another part of the Chancellor's argument, Mr. LOVETT observed [that] his eloquence in our Court had never been surpassed. When he came to comment on the evidence respecting the possessions of the litigants, to establish a possessory right, Mr. LOVETT recollected the beautiful conclusion "that this possessory right was not, like the defendant's, marked by saplings of a few years' growth but [was instead marked] by venerable oaks, whose roots grasp the centre of the Earth, and whose topmost boughs stand waving to the heavens."

Mr. BIRD seldom wrote on political questions; I have, however, in my possession, an article written by him in 1796, over the signature of Nestor, which would be creditable to EDMUND BURKE. He was a great admirer of HUME, especially his essays. Although I never conversed with him on religious subjects, my belief is that he early inclined to Scepticism - perhaps not to the avowal of infidelity, yet so far as to unsettle his mind on the most important of all questions, our destiny after death. I have never been satisfactorily informed [as to] whether his doubts were removed, or [whether] the state of his mind changed previous to his dissolution.

This impression, which may have been acquired by an anecdote often related of Mr. BIRD while a student, but which will not very well admit of repetition here, is believed to be erroneous. The anecdote rather tended to prove the reverse of what is here represented. It was not Mr. BIRD but a fellow student who admired HUME, and the remark of Mr. BIRD on the occasion was as scathing as his mother tongue would admit of. Mr. BIRD built the house on the north-east corner of Congress and Second Street, which in the early part of the century was one of the best houses in Troy, now converted into law offices.

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