Interesting Historical Paper Read by Judge Baldwin Last Night.


“In his introduction to his paper on, ‘Roger Sherman,’ read before the Connecticut Historical Society last night, Judge Simeon E. Baldwin of the supreme court said that every nation has its heroes and Connecticut, with its 400 years of history, is not deficient. In the seventeenth century she had Hooker, Davenport and others, in the eighteenth Trumbull, Roger Sherman, Ellsworth and others. The nineteenth century was too close for a good perspective, but he thought that Commodore Hull, Admiral Foote, Noah Webster, Eli Whitney and the first President Timothy Dwight should be included in the heroes of the state. We are now in the twentieth century, and he thought the heroes of that period would be mainly men of affairs of state. The great captains of history are in the work mainly for themselves, and the millionaires serve the public not so much because they would but because they must. The time for the heroes of the Paul Jones type has passed, for our ships are but floating arsenals and such characters are not now developed from naval warfare. It is small glory for a nation to sink the inferior fleet of an inferior nation. Words alone do not make a hero.

Connecticut chose Jonathan Trumbull as one of her representative colonial heroes, whose statue was placed in the Capitol at Washington, her first choice, and naturally took Roger Sherman for the other. The latter was not a college man, neither had he the advantage of a common school education. But for all time he would be honored by Connecticut, although not a son of the state by birth, for his sagacity, steady devotion to duty and his sound judgment. His position on the stamp act made Connecticut what she is to-day. He was born to a great opportunity, as was every boy born in America during the colonial period. Franklin in Boston was learning the printer’s trade when Roger Sherman, who was born in Newton in 1721, was learning the art of the shoemaker. They were both apprentices who became statesmen. When only 19 years old Sherman found himself, through the death of his father, with the responsibility upon him of supporting his mother and a numerous family of young children. An elder brother had emigrated from Newton to New Milford, then in New Haven county, and Roger followed with the rest of the family, settling in the Connecticut town in 1743. There he followed his trade, but being studious, used to read books while working at the bench. He thus laid the foundation of a good knowledge of the English language and mathematics, his acquaintance with geometry resulting in his being qualified for the position of surveyor, so that he was appointed by the General Assembly land surveyor for New Haven county, then a very responsible position. In 1742 he joined the church, for he feared God, and in 1749 had so qualified himself in mathematics that he prepared an almanac for the following year which was published in New Haven and was continued for a long series of years. In 1750 he and his brother started a general store at New Milford and an other at New Haven, with a branch at Wallingford.

Judge Baldwin said that the general store at that time was a miniature department store of the present day and described it and the way of trading. Sherman traveled to Boston, New York, Philadelphia and other places, replenishing his stock of goods, and the horizon of his mind was thus broadened. He read books that were of real use and at one time prepared some legal papers so exceedingly well that he was advised to take up the law. There were then no American or English law schools and Sherman began to read law when 30 years old. He was admitted to the bar in Litchfield in 1754 and soon became a justice of the peace and afterwards a side judge of the superior court. Squire Sherman possessed strong common sense and good business judgment, which, added to sound learning, will always lead to success at the bar. He was a deacon of the church at New Milford and clerk of the society. When 40 years old he removed to New Haven and at 45 was appointed a judge of the supreme court, which position he held for nearly a quarter of a century.

Judge Baldwin described Shermans services in the First Continental Congress, his opposition to the stamp act and his study of theology. He was opposed to the Church of England, accepted Calvinism, believed in the Puritan and was bitterly opposed to the scheme of the appointment of one or more American bishops. He took an active part in the Wyoming controversy between Connecticut and Pennsylvania, by which the former state endeavored to sustain its title to a strip of land sixty miles wide right across the country to the Pacific. He was influential in the establishment of the cent as the unit of our currency. Previous to that, money was computed on the basis of ninetieth parts of a dollar. When Madison introduced his tariff bill in the first Congress Sherman filled the blank of the duty of rum by .making it 15 cents a gallon and had to explain what he meant. That resulted in the cent’s becoming a part of our currency. In 1787 Sherman became the first mayor of New Haven: the term of office of mayor was then during good behavior and he remained mayor until his death. He was also treasurer of Yale College, where he accomplished a great deal for that institution.

In 1789 he published a sermon of his own and a year later was engaged in a theological discussion with Dr. Edwards of Newport in which he said that a man ought to be willing to submit to eternal damnation for the glory of God. He was treasurer of Yale College for eleven years. He was a senator in Congress in 1792 and was the author of the clause in the constitution which provides that the Senate represents the states and the lower House the people. He died in New Haven at the age of 72 years in the house which is still standing on Chapel street opposite Vanderbilt Hall. Dr. Edwards preached his funeral sermon in which he accurately described his personality and many eminent qualifications and President Stiles of Yale also delivered a eulogy the same week. Sherman’s parents were English people of the lower class and he can be said to have sprung from what is described as the common people. He had not the same confidence in the people that they reposed in him. He was an effective speaker whose power of debate lay in his never taking the floor unless he had something new to offer. Justice was his great forte and he was a lover of the truth. James Bryce, author of the ‘American Commonwealth,’ places Sherman in the second rank of American statesmen, ‘the first five being Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, John Adams and Hamilton.’

Judge Baldwin was greeted with applause as he finished his interesting address and a vote of thanks was tendered him upon the motion of Rev. Joseph H. Twichell, who said the society was highly honored by Judge Baldwin’s presence and his admirable and thoughtful address. Upon the motion of Charles B. Whiting, Judge Baldwin was requested to deposit a copy of his paper with the society. Judge Baldwin afterwards accepted the invitation of Frederick F. Starr to read the paper before the recently organized Middlesex County Historical Society of Middletown.”
-Excerpt courtesy of, The Hartford Courant, “Roger Sherman,” Wednesday, January 8, 1902. (top) Image courtesy of Yale University Manuscripts & Archives, Digital Images Database, Images of Yale individuals, “Simeon Eben Baldwin,” undated

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