Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 47, page(s) 615-617

OBITUARY SKETCH OF HENRY WHITE

HENRY WHITE, of New Haven, died on October 7th, 1880, at the age of seventy-seven years.

His name seldom appears among the counsel in cases reported in these volumes, but he probably tried during the half century of his active professional life more causes as a committee, auditor, or arbitrator, than any other member of the bar.

Mr. White was born and bred in New Haven, where his father, Hon. Dyer White, was a lawyer before him, and a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas.

He was graduated at Yale College in 1821, taking the highest honors of his class, and after spending a year or two in the Divinity School, returned to the Academical Department as a tutor, holding this position from 1823 to 1825.

The next two years were spent at the Yale Law School, and in 1828 he entered the New Haven County Bar.

He had been, from boyhood, of a singularly gentle, modest, and retiring disposition, with none of the gifts of oratory, and little ambition for public distinction.

The only son of a family in easy circumstances, he and they were more anxious that he should make himself a good lawyer, than that he should strive to acquire at once a paying practice.

He comforted the writer of this sketch, when he found himself with little or nothing to do soon after his admission to the bar, by telling him that his own professional income during his first year was precisely six dollars.

The indexes to the land records of New Haven, at this time, were often untrustworthy. In 1832 Mr. White was left executor of a considerable estate, consisting largely of landed property, and his attention was particularly called to this and other difficulties in searching titles. The result was ten years of patient labor, often carried far into the night, in copying and bringing together in convenient form all the grants, devises, distributions and conveyances of land in the town, from the first settlement to the year 1800. This mass of material derived from the town, colonial and court records, was carefully digested and indexed, and, from that time forward, he was able, without going out of his own office, to trace the title to any land in New Haven down to within a few years, if not days. This soon became, in connection with the settlement of estates, the main business of his life, and the same system of investigation was, in several instances, extended to the records of neighboring towns.

He was probably the first Connecticut lawyer who deliberately selected a special line of professional practice as most suited to his tastes and circumstances, and pursued it almost exclusively. It was a bold undertaking in so small a place as New Haven then was, but the result showed that he was fully justified in believing that whoever did this one thing well would find it enough. A certificate of title from his office soon came to be required, as a matter of course, in almost all considerable real estate transactions, and though his customary charges were not predicated on the value of the property, and would seem absurdly small to a New York practitioner, he was so often called upon as to be for many years in receipt of a handsome professional income from this source alone.

For a long period of years Mr. White acted as executor, administrator, guardian, and trustee, more frequently than any other member of the profession in the city. There was probably hardly any large estate settled in the probate district of New Haven, between 1835 and 1875, with which be had not something to do. Two of the leading testamentary cases in this series of reports bear his name--White v. Fisk, 22 Corm., 31, and White v. Howard, 38 Conn., 342--in both of which he sued as executor for the construction of a will.

To these special branches of practice he confined himself closely, never taking part in the trial of contested cases except as a committee, auditor or arbitrator, in which capacity, as has been already said, his services were often sought, and in all parts of the state. His mind was eminently a judicial one, and whoever appeared before him felt that his case had been heard patiently and candidly, and that no pains would be spared to arrive at the right conclusion.

For a short time after the death of Professor Townsend Mr. White gave instruction in the Yale Law School. His style as a writer was clear and simple, and his lectures are spoken of with commendation by those who were then students there.

Mr. White was well known throughout the state as an authority in all matters of local history and family genealogy. He was for many years a Vice-President of the Connecticut Historical Society, and became, upon its formation, the first President of the New Haven Colony Historical Society, contributing two of the most important articles in the first volume of its published Papers. The map of New Haven in 1641, which is prefixed to Atwater's History of the Colony of New Haven, was made up, to a large extent, from data furnished by him. In 1876 he was requested by the Common Council of New Haven to prepare, as one of the memorials of the centennial year, a topographical history of the town, but failing health compelled him to decline.

In one way or another he was identified with most of the older institutions of the city in such positions as President of the Corporation owning Long Wharf, Chairman of the Committee of Proprietors of Common and Undivided Lands, Trustee of the Old Town Farm, and of the Hopkins Grammar School, and Auditor of Yale College.

Mr. White was one of those who, so far at least as human eye can see, seem to be Christians from their cradle. For more than half his life he was a Deacon of the First Church in New Haven, and his religion was an unmistakable part of his daily life. He was also a member of most of the national charitable societies, in which the Congregationalist denomination are especially interested, and long the President of one of them--the Society for promoting Collegiate and Theological Education at the West.

In 1830 he was married to Martha Sherman, a grand-daughter of Roger Sherman, the signer of the Declaration of Independence, and their golden wedding was happily celebrated a few months before his death. Four of his sons are members of the New Haven bar, and during the last few years of his life he left the active business of his office wholly to them, and except in closing up estates with which he was still connected, attempted nothing more serious than such light literary labor as his tastes inclined him to, in pursuing historical researches in his ample library.

At the time of his death he was the father of the bar in his county, a bar numbering a hundred and eighty-four members. When he entered it there were but nineteen lawyers in New Haven, four in Waterbury, and eight in other parts of the county. He long outlived all these, and he outlived also the next professional generation which came after them. He habitually worked late, often till past midnight, never was an early riser, and never took bodily exercise for the sake of exercise, but he probably survived his contemporaries because, without doing less labor, he took life more easily than they. He had not the ordinary conflicts of the bar or the excitement of the public platform to disturb the native serenity of his disposition. He was never in a hurry, and seldom had occasion to be. Kindness and courtesy, gentleness and moderation, belonged to his nature, and there was nothing in his professional life to make him ever forget them. It was a life quiet and peaceful, even in its flow, tranquil in its close.