Biography of John Gaul, Jr., Esq.


History of Columbia County, New York

By Captain Franklin Ellis

Published by Everts & Ensign

Philadelphia, PA



Pages  215 & 216


      This veteran member of the bar of Columbia county is a native of the city of Hudson, N. Y.  He is of German ancestry on his father's side, and on his mother's of Dutch extraction, being the son of John Gaul and Rachel Miller, daughter of the late Cornelius C. S. Miller, of Claverack.  He was born on the 13th day of February, 1809, and has ever since resided in the city of Hudson, where he has practiced law since 1830.

     Possessing naturally a vigorous constitution and great strength and acuteness of intellect, he began early in life to manifest those traits of mind and character which in their maturer development have rendered him eminent as an advocate and jurist.  His rudimentary studies were pursued in the excellent public schools of his native city, and were followed by a good academical education, which he completed at the age of fourteen, and in the same year (1823) he began reading law in the office of Campbell Bushnell, Esq., a distinguished lawyer of the city of Hudson.  During the period of his academic and legal studies he also possessed, in common with the professional men of Hudson and their students, the advantages of an excellent lyceum, known as the "Hudson Forum," which combining literary exercises and the discussion of a wide range of topics, afforded the young men of that day a superior opportunity, in connection with their seniors and the best talents of the place, to develop their mental powers and train themselves in the art of public speaking.  This institution was of great educational advantage, and by none was more highly prized and improved than by young Gaul, whose talents soon became conspicuous in its debates.

     While pursuing his legal studies he was invited, at the age of eighteen, by a committee of the citizens of Hudson, to deliver the Fourth of July oration on the occasion of the national celebration.  On this occasion the Declaration of Independence was read by Colonel Elisha Jenkins, one of the most accomplished gentlemen of his day, and former secretary of state.  It was a high compliment to the young orator to be called out amidst such associations, in a community abounding with able and experienced public speakers, and shows in what estimate of promise his talents were held by his fellow-citizens even at that early age.

     Mr. Gaul continued to study law seven years in the office of Mr. Bushnell, and was admitted to practice in all the courts of the State at the January term in 1830.  On the 8th of February of the same year he opened a law-office in the city of Hudson, and continued to practice with unexampled success till the 1st of May, 1831.  He had by this time gained a recognition of his legal talents, and a client-age rarely attained by an attorney of his age and experience.  The brilliant advocate, Elisha Williams, was his personal friend and adviser, than whom no father ever extended to a son a more cordial hand of encouragement and assistance.

     On the 1st of May, 1831, Mr. Gaul entered into a law partnership with Mr. Bushnell, becoming a member of the firm of Bushnell & Gaul, which continued until February, 1835, when Mr. Bushnell removing to New York, Mr. Gaul purchased and succeeded to his interest and to the ownership and occupancy of his residence and office in the city of Hudson.  He has thus occupied continuously the same office in which he was a student-at-law since 1828 (the year in which the office was built), with the exception of fifteen months, when he was practicing in the office first opened by himself in the city.  He has occupied with his family the residence purchased of Mr. Bushnell since the 1st of November, 1835.  These facts, unimportant, perhaps, of themselves, are significant as showing how permanently Mr. Gaul has been rooted to the spot where he began his professional career.  And, like the tree whose branches are shaken by the storms of many winters, he has taken deep root in the confidence and affection of the community. [p. 216]

     In 1837, Mr. Gaul was appointed by Governor William L. Marcy surrogate of Columbia county, his name having been presented for that office by a county convention of the political party to which he belonged.  The office of surrogate at that time was one of much greater responsibility than at present, and the appointment was an unusual compliment to a young man of twenty-seven years of age, whose predecessors had been Hon. Martin Van Buren, Judge James Vanderpoel, Jame I. Van Allen, Abraham A. Van Buren, and others of like recognized character and ability.  Mr. Gaul devoted himself to the duties of his office with untiring assiduity, and the signal ability with which he discharged them is shown by the fact that, during the four years of his administration, but two appeals were taken from his decisions, and in both cases they were affirmed by the chancellor.  During this period the duties of his office as surrogate engrossed nearly his whole attention, but at the expiration of his official term he resumed active practice, which he continued by himself till June, 1855, when he took, into partnership Cornelius Esselstyn, Esq., who had graduated from Rutgers College, and from the law school at Albany, with the highest honors  These two gentlemen, constituting one of the strongest law firms in this section of the State, have continued to practice together ever since.

     The practice of Mr. Gaul, both in his individual capacity and as a member of the firms with which he has been connected, has been varied and responsible, and his experience greater, perhaps, than that of any of his contemporaries.  He is the oldest surviving native member of the Columbia county bar, William H. Tobey, Esq., lately deceased, having been by a few years his senior prior to his death.  He is, and has been since its organization, president of the Columbia County Bar Association.  In the course of his long and successful practice he has had charge of large pecuniary interest and various important trusts, the duties connected with which he has discharged with the most unswerving fidelity, industry, and care.

     His legal information is extensive and his abilities as a practitioner of the first order.  He is eloquent and effective as an advocate, having a fine command of fitting and appropriate language and a thorough mastery of the subjects he discusses, and as a counselor he is safe, judicious, and conscientious.

     Mr. Gaul has been intimately identified with the best interests of the city of Hudson, and both by precept and example has cast his influence on the side of morality and religion.  Besides being president of the "Law and Order Association" of the city, he has been for over thirty years an elder of the First Presbyterian church, and has represented it in various church judicatories.  He was a delegate to the general assembly of the Presbyterian church in 1860, and has served in a similar capacity in other assemblies and synods from time to time.

     He was married to Clarissa Hall, daughter of Elias Hall, Esq., a prominent citizen of Berkshire Co., Mass. on the 20th of May, 1834.  She is a lady of superior intelligence and character.  Of their children, the eldest, Colonel Edward L. Gaul, was a graduate of Yale College, in the class of 1860, served during the late war, first in the navy, and subsequently as colonel of the 159th N. Y. V. Infantry.  Miss Catharine Bushnell Gaul, their only daughter, is a lady well known for her devotion to benevolent and Christian work, in which sphere she has few equals among women of the present day.