Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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William Keeler Seeley was born in the town of Easton, in this state, on the 17th day of September, 1828. He was brought up on a farm, and his early education was obtained in the district school and the Staples Academy of the town of Easton. After deciding to adopt the profession of the law, which he did upon the suggestion of the writer, who was his schoolmate and lifelong friend, he commenced his studies with Daniel Wakeman, an old lawyer then residing in the town of Easton, to whom he recited for several months. He then took a full course at the Yale Law School, and was admitted to the bar in March, 1852. He commenced practice in the town of Westport, but soon after came to Bridgeport, and entered into partnership with the late Judge S. B. Beardsley, for whom he always entertained the highest regard and admiration. During his career of nearly forty years at the bar he applied himself diligently to the practice of his profession, until the last few years of his life, when failing health caused him to relax his energies. He was a hard student during the first thirty years of his practice, and prepared his cases with great care and thoroughness, both on questions of law and of fact. He was not a brilliant advocate, but he addressed court and jury with sturdy common sense, not unfrequently enlivened by flashes of original wit. He was persistent to the last degree, and when convinced in his own mind that he was right he never abandoned a case until the court of last resort decided that he was in error. During his thirty years of active practice he was engaged in cases with Hawley and Belden, Ferris and Loomis, Ferry and Sturges, White and Taylor, Treat and Beardsley, and many others, and he always commanded the respect of his associates. No man at the bar had a more marked individuality than he. He seldom failed to attend a bar meeting and always took an active part in its discussions and deliberations. He was proud of his profession and jealous of its dignity. It was he who inaugurated the custom, which still obtains, for the members of the bar to rise upon the entrance of the judges of the Supreme Court of Errors. Not a few of the laws upon our statute book had their origin with him.
At the bar meeting called soon after the announcement of his death, appropriate resolutions were adopted, and Messrs. Lockwood, Sanford, Olmstead, Middlebrook, Stoddard, Gould and Canfield spoke eulogistic terms of their departed brother. The remarks of Mr. Canfield characterized Mr. Seeley so accurately that we quote from them: "I should be recreant to my duty if I did not join my brothers at the bar in their tribute to the memory of Mr. Seeley, who has just passed from our midst. Entering his office at an early age, first as a clerk, then as student, and afterwards associated with him in his profession,-in all covering a continuous period of seventeen years, I had abundant opportunity to observe his personal characteristics, his strong individuality, his intercourse with his clients, and the practice of his chosen profession. Among his characteristics he has left many worthy of emulation. His unflagging industry and indomitable will, his method and system of doing business, his thoroughness in the preparation of his cases for trial, his inexhaustible resources when engaged in court, his vigor, energy and originality of expression, his scrupulous accuracy and inflexible honesty, and his hatred of shams, chicanery and hypocrisy, are so well known to all of us that they hardly need mention at this time. He enjoyed a large and lucrative clientage, embracing all sections of the county, and in the main I can safely say that to be once his client was always to remain so. And yet with all of his aggressiveness he was never to my knowledge known to encourage litigation or invite controversy leading to the bringing of suits, where there was any possibility of compromise by mutual concession. The bringing of a suit was the last resort after all other efforts had failed. Having once advised a client, after careful examination of his case, that he had no cause of action, he would peremptorily refuse to bring a suit even at the risk of the client going elsewhere, principally for the reason that he would not in court advocate a cause that he did not himself believe in..... He loved his profession, and none knew better than he the unceasing toil and earnest, faithful work which it demanded of those who strove to reach the top and retain the lead. He was a man somewhat misunderstood by many, but as I look back upon the years spent in his office, and the many benefactions he has bestowed upon me, and recall his many hard fought battles and his brilliant victories, my admiration for him as a man, as a lawyer, and as a friend will always remain and grow. He was particularly kind and obliging to the young practitioners, and no one of them ever sought his counsel or advice in vain. Towards Chief Justice Butler, in whose office he studied while attending the law school, he always cherished the most affectionate regard and esteem, both for his qualities as a man and his genius as a jurist; and the bar of this county are to-day indebted to Mr. Seeley for the excellent portrait of Judge Butler which adorns the walls of the Superior Court room. I will remember his drawing up the subscription paper and circulating it among his brethren twenty years ago. Judge Butler left a fund for the benefit of the law library of the county, and made Mr. Seeley one of the trustees of the fund. He was for many years a unique and striking figure at our bar, and by his death we have lost a good lawyer, one true to every trust confided to him, staunch and loyal to his clients and friends under any and all circumstances, of rugged personality and withal an upright honest man."
He married Mary Jennings of Easton, January 23d, 1855, who survives him. He has but one son living, James R. Seeley, a graduate of Yale, and a member of the Fairfield County bar.
In July, 1883, he traveled around the world, going via San Francisco to Japan and China, visiting the cities of Shanghai, Pekin, Hong Kong, Canton, Singapore, Rangoon, Calcutta, Benares, Delhi, Bombay, Suez, Cairo, Alexandria, Smyrna, Constantinople, Naples, Rome, Turin, Paris and London. He returned in June, 1884, and was not thereafter actively engaged in the practice of the law. It was a great treat to hear his graphic relations of his experiences in foreign lands. For the last few years of his life he had his office in his residence, and was seldom seen in the courts.
He died December 21st, 1891, and was laid to rest in Mountain Grove Cemetery.