JUDGE CHARLES NELSON FOX


One of the eminent corporation lawyers andlegal practitioners at the San Francisco bar is Charles Nelson Fox, who has also been a member of the supreme court of California. He was born March 9, 1829, in Wayne county, Michigan. His father, Benjamin F. Fox, was a native of New York, but was of English descent. The family was established in America in early colonial days. Representatives of the name took an active part in the colonial and Revolutionary wars, patriotism being ever numbered among the salient characteristics of the Fox family.

The father was a farmer by occupation and in the year 1850 came to California attracted by the discovery of gold on the Pacific coast. He located in the mining regions, where he remained until 1851, experiencing severe hardships incident to the early settlement of the state. He then returned to Michigan in the fall of 1852, but in the spring of 1853 again made his way to California, this time accompanied by all the members of his family with the exception of his son Charles. On reaching the Pacific coast he secured a ranch in San Mateo county and began its development and improvement. He was a member of the vigilance committee in the early days before the institution of a state government or the election of officers to maintain law and order. The best element in the citizenship of California were no longer willing to endure the lawlessness and crime which were then prevalent, and established the system known as the vigilance committees in different parts of the state. This committee took the law into their own hands and administered justice according to the conditions of the time and the necessities for prompt and immediate action. At a later day Mr. B. F. Fox served as county judge of San Mateo county. Prominent and influential in the early development of his section of the state, he left the impress of his individuality upon public progress and his name is deeply inscribed on the records of the honored pioneers. He died in the year 1869 at the age of sixty-four years. His wife, who bore the maiden name of Elizabeth Craine, was a native of New York and was of German and English descent. She represented an old American family founded in the new world at an early epoch in its colonization. Her brother, Alexander D. Crane, was one of the circuit judges of Michigan. Mrs. Fox passed away in 1887 at the age of seventy-seven years. In the family were four sons and four daughters, all of whom have passed away with the exception of Judge Fox and his sisters, Mrs. Sarah E. Quigley, of Plumas county, California; and Mrs. Nancy L. Palmer, of Santa Clara, California.

Judge Fox spent his early life amid rural environments, being reared upon his father's farm in Michigan. He attended the little district school near his home, but desirous of benefiting by more advanced instruction he left the parental roof at the age of sixteen years and became a student in the Ann Arbor University. Not long after this, however, owing to illness, he was ordered by his physicians to abandon his studies at that time. When he had sufficiently recovered his health he accepted a position in a printing office and completed an apprenticeship at that trade on the paper which was called the Michigan Argus. He worked his way upward and eventually became a member of its editorial staff.

About the time he attained his majority Judge Fox was elected recorder of the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, having previously served as chief deputy recorder for County Recorder Washtenaw. In 1853 he served as mayor ex-officio of Ann Arbor and was actively connected with public affairs in that city. During his service in the recorder's office he entered upon the study of law under the direction of Olney Hawkins, and at the close of his term of official service he entered the law office of Kingsley & Morgan, with whom he remained up to the time of his arrival in California. In 1856 he was admitted to practice in all of the courts of the state of Michigan, but did not long remain a member of the bar there.

Judge Fox started for California in 1857, arriving at his destination on the 14th of August, of that year. He immediately entered upon practice in San Mateo county, and in November, 1857, was appointed district attorney to fill a vacancy. At the next regular election he was elected and served for two successive terms, holding the office altogether for five years. He came to San Francisco in 1862 and opened a law office here, but continued to make his home in San Mateo. Prior to his arrival in San Francisco, he was attorney for the San Francisco & San Jose Railroad Company and secured the rights of way for that line in surrounding counties. After his removal to this city he was attorney for the Western Pacific Railroad Company and acted as its president up to the time of the transfer of this line to the Central Pacific Railroad Company. In 1860 he became attorney for the Spring Valley Water Works Company, whichobtained the greater bulk of its water and water rights in San Mateo county. Soon after his removal to San Francisco he was made the general attorney of this company and continued to act in that capacity ntil he was appointed by Governor Waterman to fill a vacancy in the supreme bench of California. He thus served until the next general election in the fall of 1889, when he retired from the bench and resumed the practice of law. He was then re-engaged as attorney for the Pacific Mutual Life Insurance Company and has continued as such to the present time, while also conducting a general law practice of large extent and great importance. During his term in the supreme court Judge Fox handed down a notable decision on the Jessup case involving the methods by which an illegitimate child might be made legitimate. The decision has been approved wherever the question has arisen in the courts of the civilized world. During his service he also decided upon private relations, and questions of constitutional and cororation law, which decisions have since been recognized and quoted as authority. Of recent years Judge Fox has given much attention to the laws on irrigation and his ideas concerning these carry weight in professional circles. He is remarkable among lawyers for the wide research and provident care with which he prepares his cases, his legal learning, his analytical mind and the readiness with which he grasps the points in an argument, all combining to make him one of the strongest and most effective members of the California bar.

Judge Fox was married in Michigan, but lost his first wife in that state. In 1864 he wedded Mrs. Mary Schwartz Rive, a native of France, who came to California in 1857 and lost her first husband soon after her arrival. To the Judge and his wives have been born eight children, but only two are now living: Mrs. Mary Gray and Miss Ida Frances Fox.

When twenty-one years of age the Judge became a member of the Odd Fellows socity, in which he has since been active and influential. He was grand master for the state of California in 1867-8, was grand patriarch in 1868-9 and was representative to the grand lodge of the United States in 1869-70. He was the first president of the Odd Fellows' home, which was founded under his administration, and acted in that capacity from 1893 until 1898. He has also been a member of the Masonic fraternity since 1866, belonging to Oakland Lodge No. 188, F. & A. M., and also to the commandery of Oakland, but his labors have been chiefly in the path of the Odd Fellows society. He has made a lasting impression upon the bar of the state for both legal ability and of a high order and for the individuality of a personal character which impresses itself upon the community. Such have been his force of character and natural qualifications that he has written his name upon the keystone of the legal arch of California.

Source: History of the New California Its Resources and People, Volume II

The Lewis Publishing Company - 1905
Edited by Leigh H. Irvine


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