Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Brief Biographies of Henry Waters Taft and Horace Dutton Taft of Pelham Manor (and Other Family Members)

On May 30, 2006, I posted a brief biography of Horace Dutton Taft to the Historic Pelham Blog. Taft founded what became one of the nation's premier college preparatory schools, The Taft School (now located in Watertown, Connecticut) in Pelham Manor in 1890. See Tue., May 30, 2006: A Biography Published in 1906 on the Life of Horace Dutton Taft, Founder of the Taft School for Boys in Pelham Manor.

On February 14, 2006, I posted a brief biography and reminiscenses of Henry Waters Taft, Horace D. Taft's brother, who also lived in Pelham Manor for a time. See Tue., Feb. 14, 2006: An Account of the Blizzard of 1888 by Pelham Manor Resident Henry W. Taft.

Today's Historic Pelham Blog posting transcribes genealogical and biographical data of Horace Dutton Taft and Henry Waters Taft (as well as other members of their families) that appeared in a book published in 1907. The material appears within genealogical data regarding the Taft family of Worcester County, Massachusetts. The text that follows includes all of the pertinent information, as well as a citation to the source.

"THE TAFT FAMILY, of Worcester county, Massachusetts, trace their ancestry to Robert Taft, who was a housewright by trade, and settled in Mendon, Massachusetts, in 1669, to which place he came [from] Braintree, which was then a province. His wife, Sarah Taft, bore him five sons: Thomas, born 1671; Robert, 1674; Daniel, 1677; Joseph, 1680; and Benjamin, 1684. The father, Robert Taft, died in February, 1725; the mother, Sarah Taft, in November of the same year.

Captain Joseph Taft, fourth son of Robert and Sarah Taft, was born in 1680, died in 1747. He married, 1708, Elizabeth Emerson, granddaughter of the first minister of Mendon, Massachusetts. They were the parents of nine children, among whom were the following: Moses, born 1713; Peter, 1715; Joseph, 1722; and Aaron, April 12, 1729.

Captain Peter Taft, second son of Captain Joseph and Elizabeth (Emerson) Taft, was born in 1715. He was a farmer in Uxbridge, Massachusetts. He married Elizabeth Cheney, and the sons born of this marriage were: Henry, Gershom, Aaron and Peter.

Aaron Taft, third son of Captain Peter and Elizabeth (Cheney) Taft, was born May 28, 1743. His early education fitted him for Princeton College, but the exigencies of the family called him home before he had established a good reputation as a scholar. He then turned his attention to farming in his native town of Uxbridge, from which, after a residence of thirty years, he removed in March, 1799, to Townshend, Vermont, where he died March 26, 1808. About 1768 he married Rhoda Rawson, daughter of Abner and Mary (Allen) Rawson and great-great-granddauther of Edward Rawson, secretary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony from 1650 to 1686. Mrs. Taft, who was a woman of superior intelligence and ability, died June 9, 1827. Their children were: Milley, born July 29, 1769; Selina, February 20, 1771; Cynthia, August 17, 1773; Rawson, October 15, 1775, died 1776; Nancy, August 20, 1777; Jeremiah, November 21, 1779; Mary, July 12, 1783; Peter Rawson, April 14, 1785; Sophia, December 3, 1787, died 1843; Judson, Novembe 6, 1791, died 1794; Samuel Judson, October 4, 1794.

Peter Rawson Taft, third son of Aaron and Rhoda (Rawson) Taft, was born April 14, 1785. In 1810 he married Sylvia Howard, and settled in Townshend, Vermont, where he taught school and later was admitted to the bar. He was judge of the court of Windham county, also one of the commissioners of the county and for many years a member of the legislature of Vermont. In 1841 he removed to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he died in 1867, aged eighty-two years, leaving one son, Alphonso Taft.

HON. ALPHONSO TAFT, son of Peter Rawson and Sylvia (Howard) Taft, was born in Townshend, Windham county, Vermont, November 5, 1810. Through the hard work and self-sacrifice of his parents, who possessed a large amount of ambition for their son, and the boy's own intense desire for a thorough education, he entered Yale College in 1829, and graduated therefrom with high honors in 1833. For two years thereafter he taught in Judge Hall's Academy, in Ellington, Connecticut, and was afterward tutor at yale. He studied law in the Yale Law School, and was admitted to the bar of Connecticut in 1838. The following year he began the practice of his profession in Cincinnati, Ohio, rose steadily and rapidly in his profession, was engaged in many important cases and became a leader of the bar of Ohio. In 1857 he argued successfully before the United States supreme court the claim of the city for the bequest of Charles McMicken, whoch secured the fund forming the nucleus of the endowment of the University of Cincinnati.

In 1865 Mr. Taft was appointed by the governor of Ohio to a vacancy in the superior court of Cincinnati. He was afterward twice elected to the office by the people, the second time having the unusual honor of being chosen by the votes of both parties, no opposing candidate being presented. He was considered a model judge. It was said of him that 'no young man was ever turned away with the impression that his case was too small for the judge's patience; no experienced lawyer ever felt that his case was too large, or the questions involved too intricate, for the judge's capacity and learning.' Perhaps the most important case which came before him as judge of the superior court was that of 'The Bible in the Public Schools.' The Catholics and Jews, who formed a large proportion of the citizens of Cincinnati, complained of the introduction of religious instruction in the schools as violating the spirit of the Constitution, and doing them an injustice. The school board stopped the reading of the Bible in the schools. The court was appealed to on the ground that the board had no power to take such a step. A violent contest arose on the question. Feeling ran high, and it was evident that the judge who dared face the storm must incur great unpopularity. To Judge Taft, however, there seemed absolutely no question of the right of the school board to take such action. His mind clear on that point, it was not in the nature of the man to consider for a moment the popular clamor or the effect of the decision on his own career. The other two judges decided against the school board. [Page 1 / Page 2] Judge Taft delivered an elaborate dissenting opinion. When the case was taken to the supreme court of Ohio, this opinion was sustained in every point by a unanimous court of five judges, and has since beome the law throughout the United States. 'The Bible in the Public Schools' case arose in his path several times later and probably prevented his being governor of Ohio. When, however, the storm of prejudice and bigotry had subsided and people had time to consider the matter, Judge Taft's reputation as a judge who knew neither fear nor favor was inevitably increased. In 1872 he resigned from office in order to join his two sons in the practice of law under the style of A. Taft & Sons.

In 1876 Judge Taft was appointed secretary of war by President Grant, succeeding General Belknap, and the following May was transferred to the office of attorney general, which he held until the end of the administration in March, 1877, when he resumed the practice of his profession in Cincinnati, Ohio. In April, 1882, he was appointed by President Arthur, United States minister plenipotentiary to Austria, and in 1884 was promoted to the Court of Russia, remaining until August, 1885. In the spring of that year he had a sever attack of pneumonia, followed by typhoid fever, being one of the numerous Americans who have fallen victims to the Russian climate. The disease broke down his extraordinary rugged constitution and he returned, shattered in health, to private life. He sought relief in southern California, but his death occurred in San Diego, May 21, 1891, aged eighty years.

Judge Taft was exceedingly fond of historical and genealogical research, and gave considerable attention to tracing the lineage of the Taft family. He delivered the historical address at the Taft family re-union at Uxbridge, Massachusetts, August 12, 1874. Judge Taft took an active interest in all educational matters, and served more than twenty years as a trustee of the Cincinnati high school. he was a member of the corporation of Yale College and was honored with its degree of LL. D. in 1867. His five sons graduated from that well-known institution, and his grandsons keep up the family tradition. In politics Judge Taft began life as a Whig and an ardent supporter of Webster. He joined the Republican party at its formation, and was always a warm supporter of its principles. In 1856 he was a delegate to the National Republican Convention, which nominated John C. Fremont for president. In the same year he was nominated by the Republicans of Cincinnati for congress, but was defeated by the Democratic candidate, George H. Pendleton. In every position to which Judge Taft was called he rendered most able, effective and loyal service. He was a gentleman of scholarly attainments, of the highest personal character, and a kindliness and sweetness of disposition which endeared him to all who came in contact with him.

Judge Taft was twice married. He married (first) in September, 1841, Fanny Phelps, daughter of Judge Charles Phelps, of Townshend, Vermont. She died in 1851. Of their five children three died in infancy; the surviving children were . . . . . . . . . .

Judge Taft married (second), December 26, 1853, Louisa Maria Torrey, daughter of Samuel D. Torrey (see sketch of Samuel D. Torrey), of Millbury, Massachusetts. They had five children:

1. Samuel Davenport, died in infancy.

2. William Howard, born September 15, 1857, [became U.S. President and Chief Justice of U.S. Supreme Court] . . .

3. Henry Waters, born May 27, 1859, in Cincinnati, Ohio. After his graduation from Yale College in the class of 1880, he studied law in Cincinnati and Columbia, and established himself in practice in New York city, being now a member of the firm of Strong & Cadwalader. One of his ablest and most important arguments recently was in the United States supreme court, where he was employed by the government to prosecute its suit against the Tobacco trust. The decision of the court was a complete triumph for principles which have far-reaching consequences. This important case is reported as Hale vs. Henkel in volume 201 of the United States Supreme Court Reports. In 1905 Mr. Taft received the honorary degree of Master of Arts from Yale. He married in 1883, Julia Walbridge Smith, daughter of Hon. Levi Smith, of Troy, New York, and their children are: Marian Jennings, died in infancy; Walbridge smith, of the class of 1907 at Yale; William Howard, class of 1909 at Yale; Louise Witherbee.

4. Horace Dutton, born in Cincinnati, Ohio, December 28, 1861. He graduated from Yale College in 1883, studied law and was admitted to the bar, but decided to pursue the vocation of teaching. He was for three years a tutor of Latin in Yale College. In 1890 he established the Taft School for boys at Pelham Manor, New York, but in 1893 moved the school to Watertown, Connecticut. The school has prospered and has now about one hundred pupils. The catalogue announces that 'the object of the school is to give boys a thorough preparation for the best colleges and scientific schools, and to make them strong, healthy and manly men.' In 1893 Mr. Taft received the honorary degree of Master of Arts from Yale. He married in 1891, Winifred Shepard, daughter of Mrs. Helen Bierstadt Thompson, of Niagara Falls, New York.

5. Fanny Louise, the only daughter, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 18, 1865. She was educated in Cincinnati and at Farmington, Connecticut, completing her studies abroad in music and the languages. In 1890 she became the wife of Dr. William A. Edwards, a physician and surgeon, formerly of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, now resideing in Los Angeles, California.

HON. WILLIAM H. TAFT . . . . . "

Source: Crane, Ellery Bicknell, ed., Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personl Memoirs of Worcester County Massachusetts with a History of Worcester Society of Antiquity, Vol. II, pp. 1-2 (NY Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company 1907).

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