Biography of Hon. Ransom H. Gillett


History of Columbia County, New York

By Captain Franklin Ellis

Published by Everts & Ensign

Philadelphia, PA



Facing Page 305


     A truthful representation of a worthy life is a legacy to humanity.  As such we present an outline of the life and character of Ransom H. Gillet.  He was born in New Lebanon, in this county, January 27, 1800.  When two years of age his father removed to Saratoga county, where he lived until 1819, working upon his father's farm in the summer, and lumbering in the pine forests during the winter.  When he was nineteen years of age he removed to St. Lawrence county, where he was employed to teach school during the winter, while he attended the St. Lawrence Academy during the summer.  In 1821 he engaged in the study of the law with the late Silas Wright, at Canton, still continuing to teach for his support.  He was soon admitted to the bar and established himself in the practice of his profession at Ogdensburg, where he resided for about twenty years, devoting himself mainly to the practice of his profession.  In 1825 he was married to Miss Eleanor C. Barhydt, of Ogdensburg.  She was born August 18, 1806, in Schenectady.  In 1827 he was appointed brigade-major and inspector of the Forty-ninth Brigade of Militia, and for ten years drilled and inspected six large regiments in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties.  February 27, 1830, he was appointed postmaster of Ogdensburg, which office he filled about three years.

     In 1832 he was a member of the first Baltimore convention which nominated General Jackson for the Presidency.  He was elected in November of that year to Congress, re-elected in 1834, and served while in Congress as a member of the committee on commerce.  In 1837 he was appointed by President Van Buren a commissioner to treat with the Indian tribes in New York, and continued in that service until March, 1839.  In 1840 he was a member of the Baltimore convention which renominated Mr. Van Buren.  He then engaged in the practice of the law, in which he continued until 1845, when President Polk appointed him register of the treasury, in which office he served until 1847, when he was promoted to the office of solicitor of the treasury; he filled this position until the autumn of 1849, when he resumed the practice of the law in New York.  In 1855 he became assistant to the attorney-general of the United States, and continued in that office until he resigned in 1858 to accept the office of solicitor of the court of claims, tendered him by President Buchanan.  In 1864, wearied by the demands of public life, and drawn by the charms of early association, he left Washington, and took up his residence near Lebanon Springs.  Here his active mind sought to make useful his large experience and store of knowledge by engaging in literary pursuits.  In 1868 he issued his work on "Democracy in the United States;" four years later his volume was completed on the "Federal Government."  In 1874 the crowning result of his labor appeared in "The Life and Times of Silas Wright."  Twenty years of close companionship as law partner and intimate friend had well fitted him to prepare this able biography, which is an important contribution to the history of our country.  From his spacious library in New Lebanon there frequently issued newspaper editorials and articles on the great subjects of the day.  This habitual use of his pen was continued while suffering from severe physical infirmities, and even until within a few months of his death, which occurred October 24, 1876.  Mr. Gillet was a friend of education.  The benefits of his liberal purse and active efforts in every interest that advanced its cause are already felt in his native town and county.  Mr. Gillet was a representative of the old school of Democratic thinkers.  In character he possessed the soundest integrity and indomitable energy; his mind was clear and comprehensive, his memory a ready and timely servant of his will.  These qualities, united with the habit of untiring industry, were the secret of his social and professional prominence.  As a lawyer he spared no labor in thoroughly mastering his case, and presented a plain and convincing argument.  In the local courts of St. Lawrence county, in the Supreme Court and Court of chancery, and the United States Supreme Court, he had a large and profitable practice.  As a writer he was simple and concise in style, and a correct and faithful portrayer of person and events in history and biography.

     Mr. Gillet was a man of commanding presence and kindly manners.  The memory of the good he did will be an inspiration to every generous and earnest endeavor.  Future generations will regard him as a liberal, upright, and influential citizen, an able writer, an eminent lawyer, and one who had gathered well-earned honors and trust as a public official.