Charles A. Peabody

Hon. Charles. A. Peabody, of New York city, was born in Sandwich, in Strafford (now Carroll) county, N. H., on the 10th day of July, A. D. 1814, and was the son of Samuel and Abigail Peabody, who were natives of Boxford, Essex county, Mass. His paternal grandfather was Richard Peabody, of Boxford, an officer in the war of the Revolution, who had a command at Ticonderoga and elsewhere. His mother, whose maiden name was Wood, was the daughter of Jonathan Wood, also of Boxford. His maternal grandmother's name was Hale. Her family claimed to be descended from a branch of the family of Sir Matthew Hale. On his father's side he is descended from Welsh ancestry. The name of Peabody (as tradition of heraldry has it) is composed of two words,—pea, meaning mountain, and boadie, meaning man,—and signifies mountain man, or man of the mountains. It was first borne by a chieftain of a clan in the mountains of Wales. After the battle between Nero and Boadicea, about the year 61, the Queen's forces, although routed, refused to surrender, and such of them as escaped the sword of the Romans fled to the mountains, and there maintained a wild independence under a chieftain, who, from that fact, acquired the name of Peabody, or man of the mountains.

The father of our subject, who was a lawyer of fine talents, and much respected as a gentleman of high moral and social qualities and much general culture, was graduated from Dartmouth College in the class of 1803. He was a college-mate of Daniel Webster and Ezekiel the cherished brother, whose name Daniel desired always to have associated with his own. An intimacy between himself and Ezekiel, contracted in college, continued throughout their lives. He lived and practiced law in Sandwich, Epsom, and Tamworth, N. H., at different periods of his life; and, after retiring from business, moved to Andover, Mass., in his native county, for the better education of his younger children, about 1843, where he died in 1859. His wife survived him, and died at Andover in 1872.

The subject of this sketch—the oldest of ten children—was educated partly by private tuition at his father's house, partly in Massachusetts, and partly in the classical schools (academies) in the northern part of New Hampshire,—at Wolfeborough, Gilford, Sanbornton (now Tilton), and Gilmanton. He fitted for college with the intention of entering Dartmouth, the alma mater of his father. Failure of health at the critical time defeated that purpose, however, and had almost unlimited control over his movements and destiny for a time much longer than the term of a college course. In the years 1832 and 1833 he lived most of the time in Beverly, Mass., where he taught and studied as health and circumstances permitted. In 1834 he went to Baltimore, attracted by advantages of climate over northern New Hampshire, and the greater facilities afforded there for his temporary occupation of teaching, by which to support himself and render needed pecuniary aid in the education of younger members of the family. There he pursued the study of law in the office of Nathaniel Williams, at that time attorney of the United States for the district of Maryland. He remained in Maryland a little more than two years, when he returned to New England and entered the law school of Harvard University. He remained there until 1839, when he went, in November of 1839, to the city of New York, where he has since resided. There he entered an office as a student, introduced by the late Rufus Choate, of Boston. But he soon commenced business as a practitioner at the bar. In 1846 he married Julia Caroline Livingston, daughter of James Duane Livingston, of the city of New York.

Mr. Peabody continued the practice of law in the city of New York, taking no active part in politics, but always observing with interest the course of events in the general government, and especially those connected with slavery and the slave power. He was an unconditional Whig, and his residence at the South in early life had given him such knowledge of slavery, in its effect on the slave, the owner, the free population, white and colored, and on general prosperity, that he early formed very positive opinions concerning it and its very great evils. On this, as on all other subjects, he was conservative and temperate in his opinions and feelings, taking no part in extravagant denunciations of those engaged in it, but always deprecating such courses as being, to his mind, not only inexpedient and unwise, but also unjust. With the strongest possible convictions against slavery on all grounds, moral and economic, he counseled moderation in the treatment of it. He was ever opposed to intemperate agitation, as tending to no good, but liable to lead to great evil. He was for years prior to the formation of the Republican party an active member of the Union Safety committee in New York, a body of conservative gentlemen of the highest character, organized to repress acrimonious treatment of the subject, as tending to alienate the different sections of the country, and to imperil the peace and possibly the integrity of the nation.

When the Republican party was organized, adopting as its principles on the subject of slavery that it might remain undisturbed where it then existed, but should on no condition be extended into territory where it did not then exist, he accepted those views as the best terms for freedom to be obtained peaceably, and perhaps the best the lovers of freedom were warranted under the constitution in demanding. In 1855 he was a member of the convention which organized the Republican party of the state of New York. In the same year he was the candidate of the Republican party for election as justice of the supreme court of the state, to succeed Robert H. Morris, but his party was in the minority. In the same year (1855) he was appointed, by the governor of the state, justice of the supreme court, as the successor of Henry P. Edwards, deceased. In 1856 he was appointed justice of the supreme court of the state to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of James R. Whiting. In 1857 he was again the candidate of the Republican party for justice of the supreme court, but the party was not sufficiently strong to elect him. He served on the bench of the supreme court the terms for which he was appointed, and received more than the votes of his party at the times he was nominated for election.

While serving as justice of the supreme court, and when his term in that court was about to expire, he was offered, by the governor, the appointment of city judge. This would have made him judge of the court of general sessions, the principal criminal court of the city, having jurisdiction of cases of the highest class. This appointment he did not accept. In 1858 he was appointed, by the governor of New York, commissioner of quarantine, to succeed Ex-Gov. Horatio Seymour, with authority to abolish the then present station and erect a new one elsewhere, as the commission might decide. His associates in this commission were men of the highest character, and the commission was one of importance at the time,—just after the quarantine buildings had been destroyed by a terror-stricken mob, and the wildest fears that contagious diseases might be transmitted from such a station had taken possession of many minds.

In 1862 he was appointed, by Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States, judge of the United States Provisional Court for the state of Louisiana. This court was called into existence by the necessities of the federal government in respect to its foreign relations, after the conquest of New Orleans and other parts of Louisiana by the army of the United States, during the late war of the rebellion, and while that territory was held in military occupation. A large part of the population of New Orleans and Louisiana was persons of foreign birth and allegiance, having claims on their respective governments for the protection of their rights. Those governments, when appealed to, made demands through their ministers, resident at Washington, on the government of the United States, and the number and importance of these claims had become so great that the state department was much embarrassed by them. Mr. Seward, secretary of state, had been more than half his time since the conquest occupied by them, and they had, in some instances, assumed such proportions as to threaten seriously the relations of the government with foreign powers. In this condition of things it was resolved to constitute a tribunal which should be empowered to decide all these questions, and keep them from the department. Accordingly, the government resolved to establish a court at New Orleans, which should have power to hear and determine every question which could possibly arise out of human transactions, and to make the decisions of that court conclusive of the rights of all parties. To effect that purpose, the following order was made by the President of the United States:—



Executive Mansion, }
Washington, October 20, 1862. }

The insurrection which has for some time prevailed in several of the states of this Union, including Louisiana, having temporarily subverted and swept away the civil institutions of that state, including the judiciary and the judicial authorities of the Union, so that it has become necessary to hold the state in military occupation; and it being indispensably necessary that there shall be some judicial tribunal existing there capable of administering justice, I have, therefore, thought it proper to appoint, and I do hereby constitute, a Provisional Court, which shall be a court of record for the state of Louisiana, and I do hereby appoint Charles A. Peabody, of New York, to be a provisional judge to hold said court, with authority to hear, try, and determine all causes, civil and criminal, including causes in law, equity, revenue, and admiralty, * * * his judgment to be final and conclusive. And I do hereby authorize and empower the said judge to make and establish such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the exercise of his jurisdiction, and to appoint a prosecuting attorney, marshal, and clerk of the said court, who shall perform the functions of attorney, marshal, and clerk, according to such rules and regulations as may be made and established by said judge. * * * A copy of this order, certified by the Secretary of War, and delivered to such judge, shall be deemed and held to be a sufficient commission. Let the seal of the United States be hereunto affixed.


By the President:

William H. Seward, Secretary of State.

The powers conferred by this order, it will be seen, are as great as can be conferred by sovereignty itself,—"to hear, try, and determine all causes, civil and criminal, including causes in law, equity, revenue, and admiralty, * * * his judgment to be final and conclusive." Under this commission, Judge Peabody proceeded to organize his court by appointing his prosecuting attorney, marshal, and clerk. Thus organized in New York, the court proceeded, by government transport, to New Orleans, and commenced business. It was immediately filled with causes of the first magnitude, and continued throughout its existence to attract almost all of that class of business. The court held that it had jurisdiction not only of cases originating in it, but that it had power to review on appeal cases originating in other courts. It also ordered causes pending and undecided in other courts transferred to itself, and there decided and ended them. A cause pending in the circuit court of the United States, on appeal from the district court of the United States, was transferred by order of this court and decided. (The Grapeshot. 9 Wallace 129). Mr. Seward, as he and Chief-Justice Chase were dining with Judge Peabody, speaking of the supreme court of the United States, said for the ear of the chief-justice: "His court has some power in time of peace, no doubt, but none in time of war. It is limited to a small class of cases, and in those usually to appellate jurisdiction, and in all cases it is bound by law prescribed for its guidance; in none of which respects was Peabody's court under any limitation;" and (turning to Judge Peabody) he added: "Why, Peabody, all the power of his court is not a circumstance to what you had in Louisiana."

The executive department of this court was no less remarkable than its jurisdiction. The marshal had at his command, by order of the departments of war and navy, all needed aid from the army and navy. A personal escort of soldiers as large as needed on land, and transports and gunboats on water, were always at his disposal, and nothing was needed beyond the exhibition of the process of the court to command their services. Escorts of a thousand and more cavalry were in the service of the marshal at times, and similar facilities were afforded by the gunboats and transports on the rivers, bayous, and lakes of that aqueous state. Even private commercial vessels plying on the Mississippi river and other waters of the state were, by order of the war department, compelled to stop and take on board any deputy of the marshal, at any place where he should demand it by showing his signal, and to stop and land him wherever he demanded it. This they were required to do at all places, however exposed, and where vessels were not otherwise allowed to land for business purposes, on account of exposure to the enemy. The relief to the department of state was complete; for from the time the court commenced business nothing was heard there of controversies which had burdened and alarmed the department previously, and the success of the court in other respects was equally complete, commanding the respect and confidence of the community,—the disloyal as well as the loyal. This office he resigned in 1865, and the court was terminated in July, 1866, on his recommendation, by an act of congress.

In 1862, to meet an emergency, and to avoid having the business of that court interrupted by business of a different character, he was appointed judge of a criminal court in New Orleans, in which for several months he dispensed all the criminal justice administered in the city of New Orleans and the part of Louisiana held by the federal army, excepting only capital cases, which were always tried in the more dignified court held by him. In 1863, while holding the United States provisional court, he was appointed chief-justice of the supreme court of Louisiana,—the appellate court of last resort. In 1865 he was appointed, by the President of the United States and confirmed by the senate, attorney for the United States for the eastern district of Louisiana. That office he declined to accept, and he returned to the practice of his profession in New York as soon as he felt at liberty to retire from the United States provisional court.

In 1870 he was nominated by the Republican party for surrogate of the county of New York, on which occasion he was not elected; but he ran many thousands of votes ahead of his ticket, and lacked less than thirteen thousand of an election, while the majority against the ticket generally, which was headed by Gen. John A. Dix for mayor, himself an honored son of New Hampshire, was more than fifty-four thousand.

He is now, and has been since its organization many years ago, a member of the "Association for the Reform and Codification of the Law of Nations," an association, as its name imports, devoted to the advancement of the law governing nations in their intercourse with each other, composed of publicists and advanced students of the science of government from nearly every nation of Europe, and from some of the most enlightened nations of Asia, as well as America. In the proceedings of that body he has taken an active part, attending its meetings, which occur annually, and are held in the different cities of Europe, as Ghent, Geneva, the Hague, Bremen, Antwerp, London, Berne, Frankfort-on-the-Maine, Cologne, Liverpool. He has always been a member of the executive committee, and is now vice-president of the association for the United States, in which office he succeeds Charles Francis Adams and the late Reverdy Johnson. He has traveled extensively in Europe, having visited it frequently in the summer vacations of business, and last year (1881), after attending the congress of the Association for the Reform of the Law of Nations, at Cologne, he attended an International Geographical congress at Venice, as a delegate from the American Geographical Society. He is now pursuing his profession in New York, as he has always done since he commenced there, except for the times he has been acting as judge.

In his religious preferences he is Episcopalian. While living in New Orleans, in 1863, 1864, and 1865, he was a member of the vestry of Christ church there, and he has been for many years, and now is, senior warden of Christ church, North Conway, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Judge Peabody has married twice. The first time, as before stated, to Julia Caroline Livingston, daughter of James Duane Livingston, of the city of New York, the mother of his children. His second marriage was to Maria E. Hamilton, with whom he is now living. This lady, daughter of John C. Hamilton, is a grand-daughter of Alexander Hamilton, the favorite aid and trusted counselor of General Washington in the Revolutionary war, the first secretary of the treasury of the United States, the organizer of that department, and in large measure of the government of the United States.

By his first marriage he had five children, who are now living,—four sons and one daughter. His sons are all graduates of college and professional schools. Three of them are lawyers, one is a physician, and all reside in the city of New York. One of them bears the name of Glendower (Philip Glendower), after the Welsh chieftain, Owen Glendower, in recognition of the Welsh origin of the family.

As has been said, Judge Peabody was the oldest of ten children, having had five brothers and four sisters, all natives of New Hampshire. Of his brothers, only one survives with him, Dr. William F. Peabody, of San Francisco, a doctor of medicine, a biographical sketch of whom should form a part of this volume. Dr. Peabody was for a time Professor of Languages in Mount Hope College, Baltimore, following thither his older brother while the latter was teaching and studying his profession there. The Doctor studied his profession in Baltimore, and practiced there for a time; but in the very early days of California emigration removed thither, where he still resides, commanding much respect as a gentleman of high moral and social character and much literary taste, as well as an able physician. Two of his brothers, George B. Peabody and Enoch W. Peabody, after the subject of this sketch, the pioneer of the family, had located in New York, became shipmasters of distinction in the "old" or "Black Ball" line of Liverpool packets sailing from New York, in the days when those ships were the pride of the nation, and the command of one was equivalent to a certificate of the highest character for efficiency and reliable qualities. Of the sisters, three survive and live in Andover, Mass., the last place of residence of their parents.

Note.—Judge Peabody's judicial life has been sufficiently varied and uncommon to attract remark. He has been twice justice of the supreme court of the state of New York, by appointment of the governor, and was offered a place on the bench of another court, which he did not accept; he has been appointed judge of three different courts by the federal government of the United States; he has been three times the nominee and candidate of his party for other judicial places,—twice for the bench of the supreme court of the state of New York, and once for surrogate of the city and county of New York.