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HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL REGISTER
Vol. XXIV. APRIL, 1870. No. 2.
HENRY MATSON WAITE.
Hon. Henry M. Waite, late chief justice of the supreme court of Connecticut, died at his residence in Lyme, in that state, on the fourteenth day of December, 18G9. He was born in Lyme, on the ninth day of February, 1787, and had he lived two months longer would have completed his eighty-third year.
He commenced his classical studies at Bacon Academy, in Colchester— then the most flourishing institution of the kind in Connecticut—in 1805, and had as his associates the late Gov. William W. Ellsworth, and his brother Henry L. Ellsworth, Henry R. Starrs, John Breed, and others, who subsequently became prominent and successful in professional or mercantile pursuits. He entered the sophomore class of Yale College in 1806, and graduated in 1809, with marked reputation for scholarship.
Early in 1810, he commenced the study of the law, at Blackball, under the instruction of the Hon. Matthew Griswold, then chief judge of the county court for the county of New London, and his brother, Gov. Roger Griswold, then a leading advocate at the Connecticut bar. William Hungerford, his classmate in college, and Ebenezer Lane,* subsequently chief justice of the supreme court of Ohio, were students with him. He was admitted to the bar at the December term of the county court for the county of NewLondon, in 1812, and embarked in the practice of his profession in his native town, which place he ever after made his residence.
From 1812 to 1834, Judge Waite was a prominent practitioner before the courts in the eastern counties of Connecticut, adorning his profession by his legal acquirements and admitted ability as a counsellor and advocate, and winning the confidence and respect of his clients and the community by his unbending integrity and the spotless purity of his private life.
January 2ii, 1810, he married Maria Selden, daughter of Col. Richard E. Selden, of Lyme, and granddaughter of Col. Samuel Selden, of the same town, a distinguished officer of the army of the Revolution—a lady who ever admirably discharged the many and delicate duties of wife and
• See portrait and memoir of Judge Lane, ante, vol. xxi. p. 301.—Ed. Vol. XXIV. 10
mother, and whose cultivated intellect and refinement of manners have left their imprint upon her children. They were permitted by Providence to live together in the marriage relation for half a century. To them, their descendants and their friends, the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding was a most interesting occasion.
The children and grandchildren of the aged couple joyfully gathered around the family hearth-stone; and the few remaining companions of their younger days, with whitened hair and tottering step, came once more to grasp the hands, listen to the voices, and look upon the faces of the couple, who had been their friends and associates through the trials and pleasures of fifty years.
In 1815, Judge Waite was first elected a representative from Lyme, to the lower branch of the legislature, and after that repeatedly re-elected; and in 1832 and 1833, he was chosen a member of the state senate. As a member of these bodies he exhibited a character marked for consistency and integrity; and the respect entertained for him and confidence reposed in him by the prominent public men, with whom he was then associated, are honorable testimonials of the leading position that he occupied.
In 1834, on the retirement of Judge Daggett from the bench, Judge Waite was elected an associate judge of the superior court and supreme court of errors. In 185-1 he was elected, by an almost unanimous vote of the two houses of the general assembly, chief justice of the supreme court, and entered upon the duties of that office on the thirteenth day of September of that year, upon the decease of Judge Church. He occupied that very honorable position until the ninth day of February, 1857, when he became seventy years of age, the constitutional limit for judicial office, when he retired to private life, having held the office of judge of the superior court and the supreme court of errors, more than twenty-two years.
No one ever occupied a seat on the bench of the highest court in Connecticut, who possessed in a greater degree the confidence, respect and esteem of the entire bar. For nearly a quarter of a century Judge Waite discharged the high responsibilities of his office with distinguished ability, and retired at the close of his public life, universally respected as a worthy and patriotic citizen, an able and honorable lawyer, and an upright and impartial judge. In the language of one who knew him well—" He contributed his full share to the character of a court, whose decisions are quoted and opinions respected in all the courts of the United States, and in the highest courts of England."
Soon after Judge Waite left the bench, his bodily health became broken, but his intellect remained unclouded, and to his many friends, who occasionally saw him, he shew himself as ever the intelligent, courteous and dignified gentleman of the old school. Mrs. Waite died soon after the fiftieth anniversary of their wedding.
The degree of doctor of laws was conferred upon him by his alma mater in 1855.
At a meeting of the members of the bar of the county of New-London, held at the Court Room, at Norwich, on Wednesday, the 15th day of December, A.D. 1869, to express their respect for the memory of the late Chief Justice Waite, John T. Wait was called to the chair and George Pratt appointed secretary.
On motion of James A. Hovey the chairman appointed Messrs. J. A. Hovey, A. C. Lippitt, W. Crump, G. Pratt and H. Appleman a committee to draft appropriate resolutions expressive of the feelings of the bar. At a subsequent meeting of the bar, Mr. Pratt reported the following resolutions,
which were unanimously adopted :—
Whereas, The providence of God has removed by death the Hon. Henry
M. Waite, a member of the bar of this county, and lately chief justice
of the supreme court of errors of this state, therefore,
Resolved, That we owe the highest respect and veneration to his memory as one who, in every relation of life, was an example of the high purpose and spotless integrity which adorn the model lawyer, and of the kindliness of heart and true courtesy which distinguish the christian gentleman.
Resolved, That we recognize in his life one to whom may be accorded the best of all eulogies, that of one who in all the round of public offices he was called upon to fill, discharged every duty honestly, fearlessly and well; as a legislator sound and discreet, as a judge painstaking, careful and accurate, following his honest convictions with fearless and unswerving purpose.
Resolved, That we tender to his family our sincere sympathy with them in their loss, and while we cannot assuage the bitterness of their grief, we hereby signify how great that loss is, not only to them, but to all that knew him.
Resolved, That a committee from the bar attend the funeral of Judge Waite, and that a copy of these resolutions be published, and be entered upon the minutes of the court, and also that a copy be transmitted to his family.
The ancestors of Judge Waite were of English origin. Very little is definitely known of the family, prior to the removal of Thomas Wait from Sudbury in Massachusetts, to Lyme in Connecticut, about the commencement of the eighteenth century. There is a tradition, however, resting upon no reliable foundation, that John Wait came from England, with his three sons, born there, and settled in Sudbury. One of these sons, Thomas, remained at Sudbury, another settled in South Kingston, R. I., and the third in the northern part of New-England. The tradition further says, that Thomas,1 of Sudbury, had four sons and three daughters, viz.:—1, RichArd,* died while young; 2, Thomas,* b. 1GG7, who removed to and settled in Lyme, Conn.; 3, John; 4, Joseph, who settled in Brookfield, Mass. Of the daughters—one married an Allen, another a Temple, and the third a Hadley.
The name, anciently, was generally written Watte, in some instances Waite, in others WAiT.f In the life of Cromwell, it is said that Thomas Wayte was a member of parliament, and was one of the judges who signed the warrant for the execution of Charles I.—Jan. 29, 1648. In Farmer's Genealogical Register of the first settlers of New-England, is the following statement, viz :—"waite Gamaliel, Boston, 1G37—d. Dec. 9, 1685— aged 87." He had a son, Samuel, b. 1661; John, Maiden, freeman, 1665; representative from 1066 to 1684, was speaker of the house in 1684; Return, member of art. co., 1662; Richard, a tailor of Boston, member of the church in 1633, freeman 1667, member of art. co. 1638. In the N. E.
• For further data relating to this familv see ante, vol. i. pp. 137, 193; vol. il. pp. 39, 62, 93, 95, 191, 286, 329, 347-8, 400, 403; vol. iii. pp. 34, 93, 191, 347, 348; vol. iv. p. 66.
t lu Burke's General Armoury will be found the blazon of the arms borne by two of the name of Wait, one of the name of Waite, and four of the name of Wayte. Judge Waite added the letter e to his surname after he came of age.