|Families of Whitesboro|
|Father's Congressional Biography|
|Poem by Henry|
Judge Jonas Platt
On the 8th of October  the first canal boat will pass into the Hudson at
this place, and a celebration will take place under the direction of the citizens
and corporation of Albany, correspondent with this auspicious event. Your signal
services in initiating, and promoting, our great system of internal navigation will
be remembered to your honour when we are no more.
[It was Jonas Platt who first proposed that the Erie Canal be created.]
Letter from DWC to Jonas Platt|
The following narrative, drawn up at my request, and with which I have been favoured by Judge Platt, will afford high gratification to all who feel an interest in this subject, as containing not only an accurate outline of the public measures which have successively taken place in the internal navigation of this state, but as exhibiting a plain and unaffected statement of all the circumstances which led the Judge, when a member of the senate, to introduce the memorable resolution of the 13th March, 1810.
The following tribute, from his friend Governor Clinton, inviting him to participate in celebrating the completion of the Erie canal, bespeaks the extent had importance of the services Judge Platt has rendered, and the high sense entertained of them by his fellow-citizens.
Letter from De Witt Clinton to Jonas Platt, Esq. At Utica.
ALBANY, Sept. 29, 1823.
MY DEAR SIR,
On the 8th of October the first canal boat will pass into the Hudson at this place, and a celebration will take place under the direction of the citizens and corporation of Albany, correspondent with this auspicious event. Your signal services in initiating, and promoting, our great system of internal navigation will be remembered to your honour when we are no more.
Your presence at the celebration will be highly gratifying to your numerous friends, and to none more than to
Yours sincerely and respectfully,
DE WITT CLINTON.
JONAS PLATT, Esq.
Letter from Jonas Platt, Esq. to David Hosack, M.D.
NEW-YORK, May 3, 1828.
It affords me great pleasure to comply with your request, in furnishing some particular facts, within my own knowledge and personal observation, relating to the origin and progress of the Erie Canal.
The operations during the war of 1756, and particularly the transportation of the army and military stores in two expeditions, the first under Colonel Bradstreet, and the other under General Prideaux, on the route of the Mohawk and Wood Creek, Oneida Lake and its outlet, to Lake Ontario, demonstrated the practicability and importance of inland navigation from Schenectady to Oswego. The same channel of conveyance was in constant use by the fur-traders, from the peace of 1763, till the revolutionary war of 1775. - It was then also well known, that with slight impediments, there was an easy communication for batteaux, from the outlet of Oneida Lake to the Cayuga and Seneca Lakes. That any person, since that period, should arrogate the merit of discovering or projecting that channel of inland navigation, is absurd and ridiculous.
The efforts of Christopher Colles, immediately after the peace of 1783, to improve that navigation by means of dams and locks, were highly commendable. And the subsequent operations of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company, in following up that plan of improvement, by canalling around the Little Falls, and in connecting the Mohawk and Wood Creek, by a short canal link of one mile and a half, were evidence of patriotic zeal for public improvements. But it is a truth which ought not to be disguised, that the gross errors which were committed by the advocates of that scheme, in their estimates of the expense, and of the profits and advantages of those improvements, resulted in a complete failure of the benefits promised by its projectors. The whole operations of the Northern Inland Lock Navigation Company, were condemned and abandoned as utterly useless. Certain I am, that instead of facilitating, and encouraging subsequent canal operations, the history and experience of the Northern and Western Inland Lock Navigation Companies, were powerful impediments to the enterprise of the Erie Canal. I shall never forget my embarrassment, in answering the appalling argument of the venerable John Tayler in the senate. "General Schuyler and Mr. Weston," said he, "were as wise and skilful as any of the new projectors. We know, and the fact is upon record, that all their calculations of expense and of tolls were not only erroneous, but they erred more than 200 per cent. in their estimates. What confidence, therefore, can we place in the opinions and estimates of the new projectors, who recommend a canal over mountains and valleys of 360 miles in extent?"
On the 4th February, 1808, on motion of Joshua Forman, a joint resolution passed the legislature, directing the surveyor-general to cause a survey "of the most eligible and direct route for a canal to open a communication between the tide waters of the Hudson River and Lake Erie; to the end that congress may be enabled to appropriate such sums as may be necessary to the accomplishment of that great national object." And the surveys were directed to be transmitted to the President of the United States: and there, as might have been expected, the matter ended. That effort evinced much patriotic zeal, but the state of New-York has reason to rejoice that the effort proved abortive. Next to the surrender of state sovereignty, it would have proved the greatest sacrifice which the state could have made.
As to the merit of the first design of a canal directly from Lake Erie to the Hudson, it belongs, in my opinion, exclusively, to no person. It was gradually developed to the minds of many who were early acquainted with the geography and topography of the western region of this state. I knew, in common with thousands, at an early period, that there was a remarkable gap in the continental ridge of high lands, at the summit of the Mohawk at Rome. I knew, from the estimates of Charlevoix and others, that Lake Erie was elevated about three hundred feet above Lake Ontario; and from Mr. Weston's levels and estimates from Albany to Oswego, I knew that Rome was about 140 feet lower than Lake Erie. And these grand outlines led the inquiring mind to the conclusion, that a canal directly from Lake Erie to the Hudson was practicable, if a sufficiency of water could be obtained upon every intervening summit. My knowledge of that region rendered it probable, that the remarkable succession of small lakes, throughout the western district, known to be at a great elevation above Lake Ontario, and discharging into it, might be used to feed a canal from Lake Erie; and the general surface and conformation of the country seemed favourable to such an operation. I saw the general capabilities of the natural features of the country; and if practicable, my mind and heart were expanded with a glow of sublime enthusiasm, in contemplating the magnitude and importance of the work, as a channel of commerce, and as a ligament of union between the eastern and western states.
In this state of mind and opinions, I was elected to the senate of this state, in 1809; and early in the session of the ensuing winter, my friend Thomas Eddy, called on me at Albany, to solicit my aid in the passage of a law, to employ commissioners to explore a route for a canal, from Oneida Lake to Seneca River, with a view to authorize the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company to make such a canal. After hearing a full exposition of his plan, I told him, I rejoiced to find him moving in that field of inquiry; that I feared he would consider my ideas visionary and extravagant, but that I had much to say to him on that subject. I then unfolded to him the plan of instituting a board of commissioners (without reference to the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company,) to examine and survey the whole route from the Hudson to Lake Ontario, and to Lake Erie also; with a view to forming a canal, independent of the beds of rivers, and using them as feeders merely. Whether the canal should be made directly to Lake Erie, without descending to and ascending from Lake Ontario, must depend on the result of the surveys, and the estimate of the comparative expense and advantages. I also expressed to him my decided conviction, that no private corporation was adequate to, or ought to be entrusted with, the power and control over such an important object. I also told him, that the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company had disappointed public expectation; and that it would be inauspicious to present any projèt which should be subject to that corporation.
The mind of that prudent and excellent man seemed startled at the extravagance of my proposal. His first impression was, that it would be thought so visionary and gigantic, that the legislature would not even deem it worthy of consideration or inquiry. We spent nearly the whole night in discussing the subject, and at the close of our interview, it was agreed, that I should prepare a resolution conformable to my views; and that he should call on me again early next morning, and consider of it. He did so; and his mind then fully embraced the subject. He expressed his cordial approbation of the plan, and assured me of his support.
Mr. Eddy and myself then designated for commissioners, Gouverneur Morris, De Witt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Simeon De Witt, Benjamin Walker, Peter B. Porter, and Thomas Eddy. Our object was to balance the opposing political parties as nearly as possible, and to combine talents, influence, and wealth in constituting this board; and as De Witt Clinton was then a member of the senate, possessing a power influence over the dominant party in the state, it was considered by Mr. Eddy and myself, of primary importance to obtain his co-operation. We accordingly requested an interview with Mr. Clinton, and unfolded to him our plan, and the prominent facts and considerations in support of it: and I distinctly remember, that in showing him the names of the persons we had proposed as commissioners, I stated to Mr. Clinton, that we had selected men of wealth and public spirit, with an expectation, that they would bestow their time and services without compensation; so that we might then only ask an appropriation for the expenses of the engineers and surveyors, who were to be employed by the commissioners.
Mr. Clinton listened to us with intense interest, and deep agitation of mind. He then said, that he was in a great measure a stranger to the western interior of our state; that he had given but little attention to the subject of canal navigation, but that the exposition of our plan struck his mind with great force; that he was then prepared to say, that it was an object worthy of thorough examination; and that if I would move the resolution in blank, (without the names of the commissioners,) he would second and support it.
Stephen Van Rensselaer and Abraham Van Vechten were then members of the House of Assembly. I immediately called on them, and showed them the proposed resolution, and the names intended to be inserted in it as commissioners: but Mr. Van Rensselaer requested that his friend William North might be added as a commissioner, or substituted for one of the others. I then went to the senate chamber, and moved the resolution of the 12th March 1810, (as the journal will show) with an introductory speech. Mr. Clinton seconded and supported it; and the resolution (in blank) was unanimously agreed to. Next morning, I moved to insert the names of Gouverneur Morris, De Witt Clinton, Stephen Van Rensselaer, Simeon De Witt, William North, Peter B. Porter, and Thomas Eddy, who were unanimously agreed to in the senate, and the concurrent resolution was on the same day, unanimously adopted in the Assembly.
Mr. Colden in his Memoir, (page 34,) has omitted the names of De Witt Clinton and Simeon De Witt; and he says that the resolution moved by me was brought forward "on the suggestion of Thomas Eddy." If he had conferred with Mr. Eddy, he would not have fallen into that error. An interesting Memoir of the Canal, left by Mr. Eddy, never published, but now in the possession of his family, substantially accords with the statement I have here given. Mr. Eddy's suggestion to me was, to appoint commissioners to examine and report a plan for extending the navigation from Oneida Lake to Seneca River, with a view to enlarge the powers of the Western Inland Lock Navigation Company for that object. My answer was, that the survey and inquiry should be extended from the Hudson to Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, with a view to a canal independent of the beds of rivers; and that the enterprise if practicable, should be undertaken by the government, for the benefit and at the expense of the state. Mr. Eddy abandoned his project and adopted my suggestion.
From that period Mr. Clinton devoted the best powers of his vigorous and capacious mind to this subject; and he appeared to grasp and realize it, as an object of the highest public utility, and worthy of his noblest ambition.
The commissioners all entered with zeal, upon the duties assigned to them; and during the summer of 1810, they explored, with scrutinizing observation, the surface of the country, with the lakes and rivers connected with the design; and in the winter of 1811, they made a unanimous report in favour of a canal from Lake Erie to Hudson's River, with an estimate of the expense. That splendid report was from the pen of Gouverneur Morris, and is before the public.
General Morgan Lewis came into the senate in 1811, and then, and ever afterwards, gave his warm and decided support to the canal; and during the session of 1811, Robert R. Livingston and Robert Fulton were added to the board of canal commissioners, which brought a powerful reinforcement of talent and influence in aid of the contemplated work.
During the summer of 1811, the commissioners prosecuted their labours of surveys and levels; and in the course of a written correspondence between Mr. Morris, as president of the board, and myself, during the years 1811 and 1812, it was agreed that I should introduce a bill into the senate at the next session, authorising the canal commissioners to borrow five millions of dollars in Europe, on the credit of this state, as a fund for prosecuting the work. In the extra session of June, 1812, such a bill was accordingly introduced by me, and was carried into law, by a small majority, in each house. But in consequence of the war between the United States and Great Britain, of which the duration and consequences could not be foreseen, the bold measure of borrowing five millions for the canal, was deemed inexpedient; and by a nearly unanimous consent of both houses, the law for that purpose was repealed in April 1814; and during the war, the projèt of the canal was utterly abandoned.
Soon after the war ended, a consultation was held between Mr. Clinton, Thomas Eddy, and myself, in the city of New-York, for the purpose of reviving the enterprise of the canal, and for organizing and animating its friends throughout the state. It was agreed that cards of invitation should be addressed to about one hundred gentlemen of that city, to meet at the City Hotel to consult on measures for that object. A meeting was held accordingly, at the City Hotel, in the autumn of 1815, of which William Bayard was chairman, and John Pintard was secretary. According to previous arrangement, an address was made to the meeting by myself, in which I endeavoured to show that the object was identified with the best interests of the state; and that the city of New-York was peculiarly interested in its accomplishment. In that address, I also pointed at the stupendous project of a canal, on an uninterrupted inclined plane, which had been unfortunately proposed in the first report of the commissioners, and I urged the expediency of a formal and public abandonment of that plan, for the simple mode (afterwards adopted) of following the general surface of the country in its undulations. After discussion, a resolution was then passed, approving the object, and appointing a committee, consisting of De Witt Clinton, Thomas Eddy, Cadwallader D. Colden, and John Swartwout, to prepare and circulate a memorial to the legislature in favour of the Erie Canal. A memorial was drawn and published accordingly. It was from the pen of Mr. Clinton, and evinced a perfect knowledge of the subject, with a sagacious discernment of its beneficial results to the state and to the nation. If Mr. Clinton had left no other evidence, that memorial alone is sufficient to entitle him to the character of an accomplished writer, an enlightened statesman, and a zealous patriot.
The friends of the canal throughout the state, rallied under the standard of that memorial, and meetings were soon held in Albany, Utica, Geneva, Canandaigua, and Buffalo, to second and support the efforts of the meeting in New-York; and a vigorous impulse was given to the public mind in favour of the arduous enterprise.
Powerful and appalling obstacles, however, were presented, in the honest doubts and fears of many sensible and prudent men; in the rival and hostile local interests of various sections of the state; and in the political cabals, and personal hostility to Mr. Clinton, who had boldly identified himself with the canal, and staked his public character on the issue of the experiment. The leading advocates of the canal, were objects of ridicule throughout the United States: hallucination was the mildest epithet applied to them.
The year 1816 was employed in the examination of physical obstacles, and the modes of obviating or surmounting them; in conciliating public opinion in favour of the object, and in devising a system of finance, to meet the vast expenditures which it involved. The full force of Mr. Clinton's mind was devotedly applied to these objects.
In April 1817, the first decisive act of the legislature was passed for commencing the work. By this act, the commissioners were directed to make the middle section of the canal, from Seneca River to the Mohawk, and a suitable appropriation of funds was made for the purpose.
The bill passed each house by a very small majority. But after its passage through the senate and assembly, it was subjected to another severe ordeal in the council of revision. Lieutenant-Governor Tayler, as acting Governor, was then president of the council, and had ever been distinguished as one of the ablest and most formidable opponents of the canal. The other attending members of the board were, Chancellor Kent, Chief Justice Thompson, Judge Yates and myself. After reading the bill, the president called on the chancellor for his opinion. Chancellor Kent said he had given very little attention to the subject; that it appeared to him like a gigantic project, which would require the wealth of the United States to accomplish it; that it had passed the Legislature by small majorities, after a desperate struggle; and he thought it inexpedient to commit the state, in such a vast undertaking, until public opinion could be better united in its favor.
Chief Justice Thompson was next called on for his opinion. He said he cherished no hostility to the canal, and he would not inquire whether the bill had passed by large or small majorities, and as the legislature had agreed to the measure, he would be inclined to leave the responsibility with them; but, he said, the bill gave arbitrary powers to the commissioners over private rights, without those provisions and guards, which, in his opinion, the spirit of the constitution, and the public safety required; and he was therefore opposed to the bill.
Judge Yates was a decided friend of the canal, and voted for the bill. My heart and voice were ardently engaged in support of the measure, which now seemed at a fatal crisis.
The president of the council panted with honest zeal to strangle the infant Hercules at its birth, by his casting vote in the negative. A warm and animated discussion arose; and afterwards a more temperate and deliberate examination of the bill and its provisions, obviated in some measure, the objections of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice. Near the close of the debate, Vice-president Tompkins came into the council chamber, and took his seat familiarly among us. He joined In the argument, which was informal and desultory. He expressed a decided opinion against the bill; and among other reasons, he stated, that the late peace with Great Britain was a mere truce; that we should undoubtedly soon have a renewed war with that country; and that instead of wasting the credit and resources of the State, in this chimerical project, we ought immediately to employ all the revenue and credit of the state, in providing arsenals, arming the militia, erecting fortifications, and preparing for war. "Do you think so, sir?" said Chancellor Kent. "Yes, sir," was the reply; "England will never forgive us, for our victories on the land, and on the ocean and the lakes; and my word for it, we shall have another war with her, within two years." The Chancellor then rising from his seat, with great animation declared, "if we must have war, or have a canal, I am in favour of the canal, and I vote for this bill." His voice gave us the majority; and so the bill became a law.
"If that bill had been rejected by the council, it could not have been carried by two-thirds of the Senate and Assembly; and from the personal hostility to Mr. Clinton, the great champion of the canal, combined with other causes of opposition, it is probable, that this magnificent enterprise could never since have obtained the sanction of the legislature. At no future period could the work have been accomplished at so small an expense of land, of water, and hydraulic privileges. Rival routes, and local interests, were daily increasing and combining against the projèt: and in my estimation, it was one of the chief grounds of merit in the advocates of the Erie canal, that they seized on the very moment most proper and auspicious for that immortal work.
As to the subsequent measures and operations, till the successful completion of the Erie and Champlain Canals, with the firm, bold, and efficient support, uniformly given by Governor Clinton, they are matters of history and of public record.
Whether the early projectors adopted and pursued the means best calculated to promote and effectuate the object, the public must judge. My humble efforts have been rewarded, by seeing the great work accomplished with complete success: and I have also the proud satisfaction of reflecting, that my name has never appeared among the clamorous competitors for fame or public gratitude.
I have only to beg you, to excuse the egotism of this memoir. My apology is, that a compliance with your request, seemed to render it indispensible.
With great respect,
Your friend and obedient servant,
Lafayette Entertained at Judge Platt's
Of the married daughters, Elizabeth (dau of Lewis F. Berry) was the fifth daughter, and the first one married. Those who remember her in her beauty and prime, as she was fifty years ago, tell me she was bright, fascinating, beautiful, cultivated, and the belle of society. She was one of the thirteen white-robed maidens who joined in the procession that gave welcome to LaFayette when he visited Whitesboro in June, 1825. The introductions to citizens were on the grounds of Judge Platt, the reception by the committee at the house of her father.
JUDGE JONAS BRANCH|
JONAS PLATT, second son of Judge Zephaniah Platt, and Mary Van Wyke, was born in Po'keepsie, N. Y., June 30, 1769. After he had finished his preparatory studies at a French academy in Montreal, he entered the law office of Richard Varick, in New York, and under his able guidance prosecuted his legal studies. He was admitted to the bar in 1790.
The same year he married Helen, the youngest daughter of Henry Livingston, of Po'keepsie, a sister of Dr. John H. Livingston, President of Rutgers College, N. J. Soon afterwards he was made clerk of Herkimer County. He made his home in Whitesboro', near Utica, in 1791.
Oneida was set off as a county in 1798, and he was made the first county clerk. He had previously, in 1796, represented this district and Onondaga in the Legislature at Albany. He was General of Cavalry in the State militia. He was two years a member of Congress, from 1799. He was four years in the State Senate, from 1809.
In 1814 he was made Judge of the Supreme Court, with Judges Kent and Spencer as associates. He filled this high office with distinguished ability upwards of eight years. He was a member of the Convention which framed the State Constitution of 1821. Under its amended provisions he lost his judicial position. He returned to the practice of his profession, and opened a law office with his oldest son, Zephaniah, at Utica.
In three or four years he removed to New York, where he prosecuted his profession with assiduity and success. But warned by coming infirmity, he retired in 1829, to his farm, seven miles from Plattsburg, on the shores of Lake Champlain.
It should be recorded that in 1810, he was the popular candidate of his party for the governorship of the State, and though beaten by his opponent, Daniel D. Tompkins, he made a well-contested canvass.
It should be stated, too, that he was the earliest of the promoters of the Erie Canal enterprise. When Thomas Eddy applied to him as a leader in his party, for his influence to authorize the building of a canal from Oneida Lake to the Seneca River, he said: No; a canal should be constructed from Lake Erie to the Hudson. The Senator persuaded him that this was the true plan. At Mr. Platt's suggestion they invited to their counsels De Witt Clinton, a prominent leader of the democracy. He approved the project. Senator Platt then moved the first resolution, preparatory to building it, which was seconded in the Senate by Clinton; and this was finally passed by both houses of the legislature. Renwick, the biographer of De Witt Clinton, says of Judge Platt, "he was well entitled to the merit of having made the first efficacious step towards the attainment of the great object of uniting the lakes with the Atlantic."
His honors and his public positions show how he was appreciated, as a man, a jurist and a statesman. He had a well-trained intellect, a well-stored mind and a well-balanced character. A strict regard for what was just, eminently distinguished him. His life, public and private, is without spot, and his distinguished career still sheds honor upon those who bear his name, and those who are numbered among his kindred. He died at his home near Plattsburg, February 22, 1834, in his 65th year. Helen Livingston his wife, died at the residence of her son Zephaniah, at Yonkers, N. Y., April 8, 1859, aged 93.
It is with reference to Judge Jonas Platt and his father's family that the N. Y. Genealogical Record justly says: "Few families have furnished so many distinguished names, and all in close proximity to each other, to the civil service of the State." Every one of the nine sons of Judge Zephaniah Platt and Mary Van Wyck, with one exception, held prominent positions in public life. Mrs. Bayard Boyd, n‚e Manetta Lansing, has very valuable portraits of Judge Jonas Platt, and his wife Helen Livingston, painted shortly after their marriage. Another one of the Judge, painted later by Trumbull, is in the possession of her sister, Mrs. Judge Willard. These paintings are at the residences of the grand-daughters in Washington, D. C. There is an interesting incident about the last portrait. Trumbull's wife was an English lady, and he petitioned the New York Legislature to allow her to own property in this country. On the final vote, (it was in the midst of the excitement just before the war of 1812), Senator Platt stood alone in favor of granting the petition. He deemed it just, and though it periled his popularity when he was in nomination for the governorship of the state, yet he strenuously defended his position. Trumbull put on the back of his portrait of the Judge the date of this vote, and this motto--"Justum et tenacem propositi virum, non civium ardor prava jubentium mente quatit solida." A just man and tenacious of the right, no popular passion shakes him from his firm purpose. This is an admirable estimate of his character. Trumbull, who had been an aid to Washington, was indignant at the refusal, and highly appreciated his friend's wisdom, justice and courage.
PLATT, Jonas, 1769-1834|
PLATT, Jonas, (son of Zephaniah Platt), a Representative from New York; born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., June 30, 1769; attended a French academy at Montreal, Canada; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1790 and practiced in Poughkeepsie; county clerk of Herkimer County 1791-1798 and of Oneida County 1798-1802; member of the State assembly in 1796; elected as a Federalist to the Sixth Congress (March 4, 1799-March 3, 1801); chairman, Committee on Revisal and Unfinished Business (Sixth Congress); resumed the practice of law; general of Cavalry in the State militia; was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor [of NY] in 1810; member of the State senate 1810-1813; member of the council of appointment in 1813; served as associate justice of the supreme court of New York 1814-1821; delegate to the New York Constitutional Convention in 1821; resumed the practice of law; died in Peru, Clinton County, N.Y., February 22, 1834; interment in Riverside Cemetery, Plattsburg, N.Y.
Mr. Platt was the son of Hon. Zephoniah Platt, and was born at Poughkeepsie, N.Y., June 30th, 1769.
The father was a member of the Continental Congress, the Committee of Safety, the Provincial Congress of New York and later,
State Senator and first Judge of Dutchess County. He was a very wealthy man and a very extensive landholder,
including among his possessions a one fourth interest in the Sadequada or Saquoit patent of six thousand acres,
located in Whitestown.
Jonas Platt had not been trained to a life of ignoble ease and very early turned his attention to the study of law, which he prosecuted under Richard Varick, the Attorney General of the State.
He was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court, July 27th, 1790, and in the following month located in Whitesboro, where with his young wife he was soon installed in a log cabin.
He was County Clerk of Herkimer and Oneida Counties and in 1799 was elected to Congress. In 1810 he was elected to the State Senate, remaining for two terms.
His success as a standard bearer of the Federal party, in a hitherto invincible district of the Jeffersonian Republicans, led to his nomination in 1810 for Governor, but resulted in defeat.
While in the State Senate he drafted the resolution for the appointment of a commission to examine and survey the route from Lake Erie to the Hudson River, which was consummated in the Erie Canal. The passage of the resolution followed the united efforts of Mr. Platt and DeWitt Clinton.
During the more than twenty years since his advent in Whitesboro, he had been an active practioner in the courts. He drew the bill in equity, referred to earlier in this paper, laying due emphasis upon the outrage perpetrated upon his client's rights in the effort to coerce the complainant to become a Presbyterian and though defeated in the trial court, success came to him in the Court of Errors. His opponent was Thomas R. Gold, who, doubtless knew well of the long controversy in which the Rev. Hezekiah Gold, senior, upbore the standards of Congregationalism with the rector of the Episcopal Church in Stratford.
As early as 1807, he had been seriously considered for a seat on the Supreme Court bench, but failed by one vote. In 1814, he succeeded by one vote, though the Federalists were in a minority in the Council of Appointment.
The first three terms of court in Oneida County held by Judge Platt, were December, 1817, at Whitesboro, at Rome in June, 1818, and in November at Utica. At the first term there were two hundred and fifty causes on the calendar and one hundred and one jury trials took place. At the second term, which lasted four days, there were thirty-four jury trials and at the Utica term he presided at seventy-two. He opened the court early in the morning and held the sessions until nearly midnight. Stenographers were unknown in the courts. A voice from the past might well address many of the trial judges of the present days, exclaiming, "Go tot he ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways and be wise."
The influence of Judge Platt, as early as 1820, located a term of the Supreme Court at Utica, thus enhancing throughout the state the importance of the locality, Albany and New York being the only other places where the court sat in bane.
From the first session in 1820, the people became familiar with the distinguished lawyers of the State.
A gentleman long a resident of Utica informed me that he well remembered Col. Aaron Burr in his visits to the city and said that he was much impressed by his dignified bearing. Col. Burr was always followed at a short distance by a negro in his employ, who bore a bag of breen baize, containing the legal documents of Col. Burr.
Judge Platt is perhaps better known to the bar for his judicial attainments, by reason of a vigorous dissenting opinion in Vosburg vs. Thayer, 12 Johnson's Rep. 461. The high sense of morality there displayed undoubtedly forced the majority of the court, in order to defend their action, to take a position on the question of the admissibility in evidence of books of account, which has exhausted the ingenuity of succeeding courts, in their efforts to do justice and sustain that decision.
Upon his retirement from the bench, his personal fortune was nearly exhausted and he at once resumed the practice of the law at Utica, his son, Zephaniah Platt, (Hamilton 1815), being associated with him. Patronage came to him from all parts of the State and he soon located in New York City.
"His morals were perfectly pure, he posessed a high sense of honor and had acquired, apparently, an entire control over his passions. His address was unobtrusive, modest and conciliatory. He had a high regard to courtesy in respect to political conduct as well as in the private and social concerns of life."
In middle life he became interested in religion and was for many years president of the Oneida Bible Society.
In 1830 the condition of his health induced him to retire to a farm in Clinton County, where he died, very suddenly, February 22nd, 1834.
His son, before mentioned, removed to Michigan and became Attorney General of the State and later settled in South Carolina, where he was appointed judge of one of the courts.
Judge Platt, General Kirkland, Thomas R. Gold and Erastus Clark with other members of the bar united in the movement to found Hamilton College and served on its board of trustees.
Jonas Platt was born on June 30, 1769 at Poughkeepsie, NY the son of Zephaniah and Hannah (Saxon)
Platt (his first wife). He was 6th in the line of descent from his immigrant ancestor, Richard and Mary Platt,
who were from Rickmansworth, England to New Haven in 1638, their son, Capt. Epenetus, settling in Huntington,
Long Island, NY.
Jonas Platt was not in the Revolutionary War but his father, grandfather and brother (all named Zephaniah) were. His father, Zephaniah, Jr., served as a Colonel, a Delegate to the Provincial Congress, member of the Dutchess County Committee, and of the Associated Exempts from the State of New York. His grandfather served as a P.S. from New York.
Jonas Platt received his education in a French Academy in Montreal, Canada. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1790. He practiced his profession in Poughkeepsie, NY for a very short time and was in Whitesboro in 1791. He was County Clerk of Herkimer County from 1791 to 1798.
When Oneida County was created he assumed the same post there, where he served until 1802. During this period he also served in the New York State Assembly in 1796.
On April 1, 1793 he was on a Committee of Resolutions in the formation of The Untied Presbyterian Societies of Whitestown and Old Fort Schuyler. On March 23, 1799 he became one of the original members of the Aqueduct Association of the Village of Whitesboro. He also became one of the Trustees of the Presbyterian Church. he was one of the pioneer lawyers in the state of New York west of Johnstown.
His political preference was that of the Federalist Party and he served as a Federalist in the 6th Congress March 4, 1799 - March 3, 1801. He then resumed the practice of law and entered into a partnership with Arthur Breese (q.v.). He was the first Congressman who resided in what is now Oneida County.
He was appointed an associate judge of the Supreme Court in February of 1814 and during his term of office he presided over 250 cases - 101 of which were jury trials. He held this office until 1821 when the new State Constitution legislated the office out of existence. He was a member of the Convention in 1821 which framed the new constitution.
He was elected by the Federalists in 1809 to the New York State Senate where he served until 1813, during which time he was very active in promoting legislation to look into the construction of the Erie Canal.
In 1810 Jonas Platt was the Federal Party's candidate for Governor, but he was defeated by Daniel D. Tompkins. In the year 1811 he became associated with many prominent men, among whom were Seth Capron, Thomas R. Gold, Newton Mann, Theodore Sill and William G. Tracy in the manufacturing of woolen goods. On January 12, 1813 he was appointed a member of the Council of Appointments.
He had a length career in the New York State Militia. Following the erection of Herkimer County, the Governor formed a militia of Herkimer County into a brigade. Jonas Platt was made Captain of a trip of horse in this brigade, which position he held until the formation of Oneida County in 1798, when he assumed a similar position in the Oneida County Militia.
In 1800 he was appointed Brigadier General of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade. He held this position until 1811 when he resigned.
His first home was a log cabin which he erected on the corner of Mohawk and Main Streets.
Evidently at some time during his service in the State Legislature he moved temporarily to Albany, as the records of the Presbyterian Church, Whitesboro, state thusly: Sept. 19, 1817, Jonas Platt and his wife, formerly members of this church, were received again by letter from the First Presbyterian Church in Albany.
Jonas Platt married Helen Livingston in 1790. She was the daughter of Henry and Susan (Conklin) Livingston. Jonas and Helen had eight children, two sons and six daughters.
The wife and daughter of Jonas Platt were evidentally civic minded, as wife Helen, and daughters Susan, and Cornelia are listed as members of the Female Charitable Society of Whitestown.
Upon leaving Oneida County area Jonas went first to New York City where he practiced law for a short time. He later moved to Clinton County where he died in Peru, NY, Feb. 22, 1834 and was interred in the Riverside Cemetery, Plattsburg, NY. This is the city his father, Zephaniah Platt, founded.
PLATT, Zephaniah, 1735-1807|
PLATT, Zephaniah, (father of Jonas Platt), a Delegate from New York; born in Huntington, Long Island, Suffolk County, N.Y., May 27, 1735; received an English education; studied law; was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.; Member of the Provincial Congress 1775-1777; member of the council of safety in 1777; served in the State senate 1777-1783; Member of the Continental Congress in 1785 and 1786; member of the council of appointment in 1778 and 1781; county judge of Dutchess County 1781-1795; founded the town of Plattsburg in 1784; delegate to theState constitutional convention in 1788; moved to Plattsburg, N.Y., in 1798 and continued the practice of law; regent of the State university from 1791 until his death; one of the projectors of the Erie Canal; died in Plattsburg, N.Y., September 12, 1807; interment in Riverside Cemetery.
Copyright © 2003, InterMedia Enterprises