Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Death of Judge Clinton

On September 7, 1885, the body of an older gentleman in a black suit was found about a quarter mile beyond this bridge in the ravine between the Rural Cemetery's Middle and North Ridges.  A little boy made the discovery and quickly ran to tell an undertaker who had just finished an interment nearby.  The Cemetery's superintendent was also summoned. The man was found with several roots and herbs in his pockets, along with a small notebook and pocket-knife.  A clover was still held in one hand.  He had evidently been collecting botanical specimens somewhere along the Cemetery's Dellwood Avenue.  His pockets also contained a fine gold watch which had stopped at 3:30.  A closer examination of the notebook revealed the gentleman's name - Judge George W. Clinton.

The son of Governor DeWitt Clinton, he was born in New York City on April 21, 1807, but was raised in Albany where he attended the Albany Academy.  After graduating from Hamilton College and Norwich University, he attended Litchfield Law School in Connecticut and admitted to the bar in 1831.  The following year, he married Laura Catherine Spencer, the daughter of John Canfield Spencer (under whom he'd completed his legal studies).  The couple had nine children.

Relocating to Canandaigua, New York, he served as District Attorney for Ontario County before settling in Buffalo.  In 1842, he was elected Mayor of Buffalo.  His long political and public career included service as United States Attorney for the Northern District of New York and Judge of the Buffalo Supreme Court.  At the time of his death, he was also Vice-Chancellor of the Regents of the State University.

In 1882, he moved back to Albany to edit a collection of Clinton family papers.  A founding member and first president of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, Judge Clinton took a special interest in botany and had published a catalog of both native and natural plants of the Buffalo area.  After his move to Albany, he would frequently walk the Rural Cemetery in search of interesting plant specimens.

The Albany Express reported:

The death of Judge Clinton, at the Rural cemetery, was a shock to his Buffalo friends, but the Commercial of that city says, "It was a happy ending for such a life as his, after all.  The good man, whom all Buffalonians  loved to claim as their first and best citizen, while enjoying one of the botanizing strolls in which he delighted, fell back in the lap of Nature and quietly gave up his spirit.  That was all."  At a dinner of the bar of Buffalo some years since, Mr. James O. Putnam, after speaking of Judge Clinton's eminent professional career, said:  "Nature's own child, he has unfolded to us her mysteries as she has revealed them to him from tree and shrub and flower and her myriad schools of life; for to him nature unveils her face, and fills his ear with her music, and his soul with her all-pervading beauty."  It thus appears that the end of his career was peculiarly in harmony with the tastes and characteristics that marked his life."

Judge Clinton's body was returned to Buffalo where he was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

Judge George W. Clinton on Find A Grave

Appropriately, he was laid to rest holding in his hands the clover he had picked in the Rural Cemetery moments before his death.

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