Cherry Valley, Otsego, NY
W. W. Campbell Biography
By Holice and Debbie

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Hon. W. W. CAMPBELL

When the bloody and bitter persecutions of the seventeenth century were dividing poor Scotia into fragments, and banishing her sons to other and more peaceful climes, the ancestors of the subject of out present sketch took a last, long, lingering look at the lovely purple heather of their native hills of Argyleshire, and fled for refuge into the north of Ireland. The Campbells of Scotland,--there a well-known and honored name, celebrated both in song and story,--trace back their genealogy for more than eight hundred years. Of that portion of the family which fled to the north of Ireland, some emigrated to this country during he earlier part of the eighteenth century; and James Campbell, the great-grandfather of the subject of this present sketch, settled, with a number of his compagnons du voyage, at a place in New Hampshire which they named Londonderry. We find them, however, among the earlier settlers of this Empire State, for this same James Campbell, not satisfied with his New Hampshire home, removed into this state in 1741. The beautiful valley of the Mohawk was at that time a luxuriant wilderness, peopled only by the red man and his prey, save where a few German families were scattered through it. Here he made his home.

Colonel Samuel Campbell, the son of James, was a well-known patriot of the war of the Revolution. He was an active and efficient citizen during the French war, and during the Revolution a garrison reared its protecting head upon his farm. He distinguished himself in the bloody battle of Oriskany. His son, James S. Campbell, the father of the subject of our sketch, lived in more peaceful days. He married a daughter of Colonel Elderkin, of Windham, Conn., with whom he settled amid the lovely surroundings of Cherry Valley, in this state, where, on the 10th day of June, 1806, a son was born to him. His son, now Hon. William W. Campbell, is the subject of this present brief memoir. The subject of our sketch, naturally of a studious disposition, was early placed at the Cherry Valley academy; leaving which he entered Union college, Schenectady, from whence he graduated in 1827. After leaving college he entered the office of the distinguished Chancellor Kent, and upon the completion of his legal studies was admitted to the practice of his profession, which he prosecuted with vigor and success.

In the fall of 1830 a society was formed in Cherry Valley for literary purposes, but especially for collecting the natural and civil history of that section of this country. The subject of our sketch, having been requested to collate and embody the results of these investigations, conceived the idea of writing a history of the town. On examination, however, he found its Revolutionary history intimately connected with that of the whole valley of the Mohawk, that he abandoned his original intention and commenced his work entitled "Annals of Tryon County or the Border Warfare of New York." This is one of his best works, indicated great research, and containing much valuable historical information. Besides this work, the subject of our sketch has also produced the "Life and Writings of De Witt Clinton," "Life of Mrs. Grant," a missionary to Russia, "Life of Robin Hood, of Captain Kidd, etc.

Besides his published works, the subject of our sketch has delivered a large number of orations and addresses equally distinguished for ability and erudition. In 183?, he delivered an address before the historical society of New York city on the life and military services of Gen. James Clinton. On the 4th of July, 1840, he delivered the centennial address at the celebration of the citizens of Cherry Valley. The oration was very fine, and was enthusiastically received by an immense audience. But meanwhile he had by no means neglected the practice of his profession. In 1841 Governor Seward appointed him master of chancery, and in 1842 he was further appointed commissioner of bankruptcy for the southern district of New York. About this time the political interest of the subject of our sketch received an awakening. In 1843 he was elected by the American and Whig vote to a representative seat in the congress of the United States, where he succeeded in effecting great reforms in our consular system. In July, 1845, he delivered an oration before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of his alma mater, Union college. In 1848 he, together with John Dean and John L. Mason, were elected justices of the superior court of the State of New York by a very large majority.

Subsequently, the subject of our sketch visited the Old World; not the least interesting portion of which to him were the misty, purple hillsides and placid cold-blue lakes of the land of his fathers. While there it was his good fortune to be present at a reception of the present beloved sovereign of Great Britain, an occasion which brought together all the Scottish clans, and among the rest the one from which he is descended. They gave him a cordial Scottish welcome. At a grand dinner given by the Celtic society, upon the beautiful lawn of the ancient castle of the duke of Argyle, the following beautiful incident occurred, illustrative of Scottish character:

The president of the society, alluding to the subject of our sketch, sated that there was one among them who had long been a wanderer from the Highland flock; who, indeed, now placed his foot upon the ancestral soil for the first time. He stated that his ancestors, nearly a century and a half since, had been driven out of Scotland by persecution for conscience’ sake, and that he was the first of his immediate race who had returned to the land of his forefathers. Belonging by blood as he did to a very old branch of the powerful clan of Argyle, the president trusted that the society would adopt the motion he had to make, which was that the gentleman should be elected an honorary member of the society. The motion was adopted by acclamation, and the health of the new member drank with Highland honors. Each chieftain, standing with his left foot upon his chair, and his right resting upon the edge of the table, carried his glass slowly round his head with his right hand, repeating in Gaelic, after the president, "Neishm, neish, sheel orra neish!"(now, now, here’s to him, now!); after which the old paper of the Marquis of Breadalbane, who had been an attentive listener, struck up the stirring tune of the clan’s song at the gathering in 1745,--

"Oh, you’re long is coming, but you’re welcome," etc.

In 1857 the subject of our sketch returned to Cherry Valley, where, immediately after and without solicitation, he was nominated and triumphantly elected a justice of the supreme court. The office sought him almost immediately upon his return to his native town. No small tribute this to the legal ability and erudition of the subject of our sketch, and an unanswerable testimony to he warm admiration of his neighbors and fellow-citizens.

The subject of our sketch is possessed of a large and commanding person and fine presence. He has great abilities as a public speaker, with a full and free flow of chaste and eloquent language. He is a kind neighbor, a true and unwavering friend, and above all—that noblest work of God—an honest man. Too old himself to buckle on his armor and mingle in the martial strife of the later Rebellion, he sent his three sons to the army, and also contributed liberally, both of money and effort, top help on the war.

Though somewhat advanced as years go, the subject of our sketch is, by his active and untiring energy, still in the redundant prime of life. Active in every good work, esteemed by all who know him, may he yet add many years of usefulness to those already so honorably spent. (The History of Otsego, NY, by Duane Hamilton Hurd, 1878)

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Transcribed by Holice B. Young

Copyright Debbie Axtman and Holice B. Young

December 23, 1999

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