Memorials of Connecticut Judges and Attorneys
As Printed in the Connecticut Reports
volume 54, page(s) 596-598


GEORGE CATLIN WOODRUFF was born on the first day of December, 1805, in that portion of the town of Litchfield known as South Farms, which has since been incorporated under the name of Morris. The eldest son of Major General Morris Woodruff and Candace Catlin, he was the fruit of the union of two of the oldest families of Litchfield County, families on both sides illustrious in the annals of that county.

His early education was pursued at the then famous Morris Academy, where he fitted for college. Entering Yale in 1821, he graduated four years later among the foremost scholars of his class. After graduation he studied his profession under Judge Gould at the Litchfield law school. Wishing to select a favorable place for the practice of his profession he took, for those days, an extensive journey through the Ohio valley, but finally deciding upon Litchfield as his home, he opened an office there in 1827. From that time on Mr. Woodruff took a leading position at the bar of Litchfield county, gradually rising until he became its acknowledged head. This of itself is no small praise when speaking of a bar that was second to none in the state, where in early life he was daily thrown into conflict with those giants in our profession, the two Churches, Huntington, Bacon, Smith, and others of their able contemporaries. Early sought out by his fellow citizens for offices of public trust almost every official duty that could be performed by an American citizen was at various times confided to him-justice of the peace, grandjuror, postmaster, town treasurer, town clerk, bank director and president, clerk of the Superior Court, colonel in the militia, member and clerk of the General Assembly, judge of probate, member of congress-the duties of each in turn performed with that rigid exactness and scrupulous integrity which marks the perfect man. As a member of the thirty-seventh Congress he served with distinction on the committee on public lands, his exact legal training fitting him to be of special use to the country in legislation affecting the lands and titles of our public domain. As chairman of the judiciary committee in our own state legislature his legal talents had a wide range of topics and more clearly demonstrated his varied learning. To him the state at large owes many of the best features of the revision of our statutes adopted in 1875. In 1873 he was elected by the senate a judge of the Superior Court, but owing to the influence of "King Caucus" his election was not concurred in by the House, and a life devoted to the legal profession was denied this crowning honor.

As a lawyer Mr. Woodruff was prominent in those branches where certainty is possible. The law of real property, of descent, of construction of statutes, was to him an exact science. He searched the books for principles and authorities with an industry that never tired till the end was reached. He began the trial of a cause with every point guarded, and if the evidence sustained his theory, or an adversary inadvertently granted his premise, then his law, his authorities, his logic were incontrovertible. It was in the trial of questions of law, the drier and more abstruse the better, that his most consummate skill was shown. In the Supreme Court of Errors not infrequently his entire argument was written out with the most pains-taking care.

That all classes of people should implicitly trust Mr. Woodruff was natural. That confidence was begotten of an honesty, a faithfulness, a zeal that was unswerving. No better proof of this could exist than the fact that at some time he was not only the counsel for every town in Litchfield county but of many of the towns in adjoining counties.

It need hardly be said of Mr. Woodruff that he was a religious man; few gain the highest rank in our profession without being such, so firmly are the everlasting principles of law and equity based on the justice and love of God. In his personal character he was the embodiment of the best elements of Puritanism-a democrat in politics because he believed not only in man's ability to govern himself, but in the absolute duty of self-government, he carried the same principle into his religion and his worship. A Congregationalist by instinct and education, he not only believed in the principles of Congregational government, but his sturdy manhood could brook no interference with its exercise. The liberty of worshipping God after the dictates of his own conscience was to him no meaningless phrase. To him the fatherhood of God was man's proudest claim to manhood. In his intercourse with his fellow men he was quiet, unobtrusive, reserved; he was of that honesty that loathes dishonesty, of that truth that hates a lie, of that manliness that despises a sham. To him life was duty, duty life. Even his pleasures were tinted in that hue. Fond of nature, it was after all in his garden and orchard, gathering their fruits, rather than skeptically examining the mysteries of nature's laboratory, that his greatest pleasure was found. His favorite reading was history, and he was himself the author of a history of Litchfield; genealogies delighted his leisure hours.

Of Mr. Woodruff's domestic life, pleasing a picture as it presents, crowned as it was by a golden wedding, this is not the place to speak, and yet there is one feature of it so intimately connected with his professional life and which had so powerful an effect upon it, that a word may not be amiss. Early in life he married a sister of the late Chief Justice Seymour, and Judge Seymour married the only sister of Mr. Woodruff. Side by side these gentlemen lived and practised their profession. Sometimes as associates, and again as opponents, so zealously contended each for the rights of his client, that jealousy itself never harbored a suspicion that all honorable means were not used to succeed. These conflicts were often close and exciting, and yet their friendship was never broken; rather was their esteem increased as their days lengthened. Such contests left each combatant stronger, better able to serve his clients and the state.

Mr. Woodruff died at Litchfield on the 21st day of November, 1885, in his eightieth year. In whatever relation of life one looks at him, as citizen, as neighbor, in private life or public station, as counsellor or judge, he was one of the best products of our American civilization.

Strong and hale up to his last sickness, possessed of the respect and esteem of all, every faculty perfect, he passed away, leaving one more of those noble examples of which our bar and state may justly be proud.