Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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William Henry Ely was taken ill on Saturday, May 22nd, and passed away early on the morning of Wednesday, May 26th, 1909, at his home in New Haven.
He was born in Hartford, November 27th, 1856, where he received his early education. He was graduated from the Hartford High School in 1873, and from Amherst College in the class of 1877. He studied law with Briscoe & Maltbie of Hartford, and was admitted to the bar in that city May 27th, 1879.
Commencing the practice of his profession in Winsted, Connecticut, Mr. Ely continued there until June 28th, 1884, when he moved to New Haven and formed a partnership with William C. and William S. Case, under the name of Case, Ely, Case. This firm was succeeded by the firm of Case, Ely & Webb. Upon the death of William C. Case, this firm was succeeded by that of Ely & Barclay; and on July 1st, 1907, the partnership of Ely, Zacher & Ely, of which he was senior member at the time of his death, the junior member being his only son and child, William Brewster Ely, was formed.
After his admission to the bar, Mr. Ely's lot was not an easy one. With no one to create business for him, his hard work and his success alone brought clients to him. His cases were carefully and well prepared. In reading the law applicable to his cases, the underlying principles and questions were studied and understood, so that the beginning of a trial found him master of the facts and law. It was a delight to hear him argue questions of law. Involved points became so plain that a layman could understand them. He was an aggressive, but a fair, fighter. To be associated with Mr. Ely in a case was to have the aid of a lawyer thoroughly equipped, and one who knew how to use the equipment. To have him as an opponent was to know that no trickery would be used, but every possible legitimate aid to win the fight would be employed. As a cross-examiner Mr. Ely had few equals, and certainly no superiors, among his associates at the New Haven County bar. There was no noise; no splurge. He achieved his object. The testimony sought was given, before the witness, yes, at times even before his adversary, realized it. Gradually his great ability as a lawyer and his rugged honesty were recognized and became generally known, and he was retained in very many of the most important cases brought in the county. He was about to reap what he had sown, to realize the financial reward for his labor, when he was so suddenly and unexpectedly called away.
Mr. Ely hated, and never lost an opportunity to denounce, all sham and hypocrisy. At no time and at no place did he fail to expose them. He was also keen to detect them. Necessarily he made some enemies, but this did not deter him, and necessarily this quality made men respect him and made loyal friends of those who shared this hatred with him.
Mr. Ely had sociable qualities. He loved to entertain and be entertained. Surrounded by those with whom he loved to be, he was the life of the gathering, and was indeed "a good fellow" among good fellows.
Mr. Ely became identified early with the Republican party and was an active worker. He was no office seeker. In January, 1895, he was elected corporation counsel of the city of New Haven, and a unanimous re-election in 1897, irrespective of party lines, was his reward for effectively performing the duties of that office.
Mr. Ely was the son of William Brewster and Elizabeth Smith (Morgan) Ely, descending on his mother's side from the Morgans of Stonington who figured in the war of the Revolution, and also from Thomas Seymour, who was King's Attorney before the Revolution, while on his father's side his descent was no less illustrious. Among his ancestors are Elder William Brewster, of "Mayflower" fame, and Nathan Ely, who came from Kent, England, in 1625. Nathan Ely was made a freeman in New England, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1635, and went to Hartford, Connecticut, with Rev. Thomas Hooker in 1636, and became one of the original proprietors of the town in 1639. From this ancestor, William Henry Ely was a descendant in the eighth generation, his line being through Samuel, Deacon John, Caleb, William, Eli and William B.
On October 18th, 1881, Mr. Ely was married to Miss Mary Gertrude Little, a native of Sheffield, Massachusetts, who survives him.