Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
|Skip Navigation Links|
Roger Averill was born in Salisbury, in this state, on the 14th of August, 1809. He came of good New England stock, of hard-working, God-fearing ancestors, among whom were some of the earliest settlers of the state. His grand-parents, Samuel Averill and John Whittlesey, were natives of Washington, Conn., from which town his parents, Nathaniel P. Averill and Mary Whittlesey, removed to Salisbury in 1805.
One of a family of seven children, reared on a small farm, his education had of course to be mainly of his own earning. By the aid of the common school and a public library, by farming in summer and teaching in winter, he prepared for college under the guidance of his brother Chester, a much esteemed professor in Union College, and was graduated from that institution with honor in 1832.
Of the early surroundings of the two brothers, and the inspiring influences of the old homestead, Prof. Reid gives a pleasant picture in his discourse on the character of the elder brother. Their boyhood was spent in the picturesque valley of Wetogue, on the bank, of the Housatonic, near the blue hills of Berkshire. The paternal acres were bounded by the beautiful Twin Lakes and the meadow-bordered river. A fairer spot there is not in the state, and the home was a jewel worthy of its setting. Here the sons grew up helpful, thoughtful and conscientious. Their mother's long life of cheerful activity and bright intelligence was a constant benediction of sunshine and gentleness. Their father's generous good-fellowship and racy shrewdness would afford another of the thousand refutations of the popular modern misconception of the old-fashioned Puritan. Around such a hearth clustered all social, domestic and patriotic virtues. The characters launched from such beginnings were not to be stranded on the shallows of dissipation or idleness.
The subject of this sketch was admitted to the bar in 1837, after studying law with Judge (afterward Chief Justice) Church, in his native town, where he opened a law office, after teaching in its academy. In 1849 he removed to Danbury, and at once attained a wide and successful practice.
Of fine personal appearance with a ceremonious courtliness of the old school-a ready man of business, industrious by instinct, sound of judgment, and careful in advice, seizing and presenting in a effective way the strong points of a case to a jury, and securing in the confidence of the court by the general justness of his legal propositions, he always stood well in the ranks of his profession, to which he was greatly attached, and whose honor and welfare no one had more nearly at heart. A man of instant impressiveness, his native power was constrained by a caution so guarded and ingrained that he sometimes failed to give in expression the full force of his thought. His methodical mind, rarely disturbed by the flashes of impulse, loved the best the safety of considered courses and predetermined conclusions. But his formalism was based on the wisdom of experience, and his sense of justice was often a match for the most erudite opponent. Wary, and slow to begin litigation, when war was once declared he fought to the last battle of his clients, as many a report of re-contested cases bears witness. Conservative by nature, and apt to keep his own secrets well, he was open, candid and thorough in his dealings with his clients, whose life-long fealty he grappled to himself with "hooks of steel," when they realized the virtue of his wise and peace-loving counsels.
In the public service he filled many functions, beginning with all the various and useful apprenticeships of the country lawyer. As town clerk, judge of probate, school visitor, trustee of the State Normal School, member of the State Board of Education, member of the Legislature, presiding officer in the Senate, and in other offices of trust, he discharged his official and fiduciary duties with acceptance.
It was his good fortune to be of good service to the republic in its peril. In the spring of 1861 he was as prominent a leader of the political party which opposed the election of President Lincoln as any in western Connecticut. Constitutionally cautious as he was, the instant the news came of the assault on Fort Sumpter, he hastened to fling his flag to the April breeze, first of his townsmen, waiting for no following, and burning at once all bridges of compromise or surrender. Thenceforth he devoted himself enthusiastically and unsparingly to the success of the Union arms. His words of cheer and counsel on many a public occasion, his untiring efforts in the enlistment of the soldiers and the care of their families, and his conspicuous services as Lieutenant Governor during the four years of the war, have linked his name with the imperishable memories of that heroic struggle, and constitute his worthiest claim to remembrance among the public men of his time.
After the war his participation in public affairs and the care of private trusts prevented that devotion to strictly legal studies and pursuits so essential to the highest success in his profession. His interest however in everything tending to its purity and welfare remained unabated. He was one of organizers of the American Bar Association, and as active participant in its proceedings up to the year of his death. He was for several years acting chairman of the bar of his county. A good parliamentarian, prompt, decided, and dignified, he was often chosen to preside in public assemblages.
His domestic life was one of almost unbroken felicity, as son, brother, husband, and father. He married in October, 1844, Maria D. White, of Danbury, who died in February, 1860 leaving four children now living, his sons following their father's profession. In September, 1861, he married Mary A. Perry, of Southport, who survives him.
He died at Danbury, December 9th, 1883, at the ripe age of seventy-four, untouched by the infirmities of old age. At seventy he had the erect form and ruddy look that characterized him at sixty.
His life had been one of such perfect health that the last year's confinement from heart disease and his long struggle with the inevitable tried his courage and resignation to the utmost. "But," to use the words of his neighbor and pastor, "he became at last wholly resigned to the Divine will, and the Christian hope sustained his last hours." For the last twenty years of his life he was an active and faithful member of the Congregational church of his fathers, and an unfailing attendant on its ministrations.[footer.htm]