A well known jurist of Illinois said: "In the American state the great and good lawyer must always be prominent, for he is one of the forces that move and control society. Public confidence has ever been reposed in the legal profession. It has ever been the defender of popular rights; the champion of freedom, regulated by law; the firm support of good government. In times of danger it has, like a rock, breasted the mad passions of the hour and finally resulted in quieting tumult and faction." No political preferment, no mere place can add to the power or increase the honor which belongs to the pure and educated lawyer. Hocking l-I. Hunter was one of the most distinguished attorneys that has ever practiced at the Ohio bar and his life record forms an important chapter in the annals of the state. He won marked distinction because of his unimpeachable character, his unusual intellectual endowments and his thorough understanding of jurisprudence.


Mr. Hunter was born in Lancaster, August 23, 1801. Only a few years had passed since the foundation of the city was laid and through almost three-fourths of a century he continued to make his home here. His parents were Captain Joseph and Dorothy (Berkshire) Hunter, the fonner a native of Virginia and the latter of Maryland. The Captain was in command of a company in the Revolutionary war and at its close he removed to Kentucky, whence in 1798 he came to Fairfield county, Ohio, being its first settler. Here he owned a large tract of land, living the life of a farmer, and now he sleeps in the old city cemetery at the corner of High and Chestnut streets, while his wife is also interred there. In their family were six children, but the only surviving one is Mrs. Sarah Cassel, who, at the age of ninety-two years, is still living in Lancaster.


Hocking H. Hunter, of this review, was the second in order of birth and was reared upon a farm, where he spent the days of his childhood and youth, assisting in the cultivation of the field and meadow. On the 30th of November, 1823, when a young man, he chose as companion and helpmate for life's journey Miss Ann Matlack, a daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth (Lynch) Matlack, wlio came to Fairfield county about 1810.


The educational privileges which Mr. Hunter had received were very limited. He attended the country schools near his home for a short time, but not content with that he managed to become a student in the Lancaster Academy, being at first under the instruction of Professor Stephen Whittlesy, a graduate of Yale College, and afterwards under Professor John Whittlesy, a brother, of the same college. He began the study of law under the direction of Hon. William W. Irvin, formerly judge of the supreme court of the state of Ohio, and distinguished among his generation of lawyers practicing in the state. With him Mr. Hunter continued his reading until the spring of 1824, when he was admitted to the bar, and with remarkable constancy he devoted his energies to his professional duties to the exclusion of everv other kind of employment or business activity. In 1825 be was appoiinted to the position of prosecuting attorney of Fairfield county and for six consecutive terms received the appointment, continuing in that position through 1831. Early in that year he became asociated as a partner with the Hon. Thomas Ewing and when Mr. Ewing was serving in tlie United States senate Mr. Hunter had almost entire charge of their extensive and important practice. In 1863 he was prevailed upon to allow his name to be placed on the ticket as candidate for the office of judge of the supreme court of Ohio, and was elected by the almost unprecedented majority of one hundred thousand. In time he was commissioned to the office, but becoming convinced that he could not discharge his judicial duties and at the same time look after the important litigated interests which had been entrusted to his care, he resigned his position before taking his place upon the bench. During the early years of his professional life, the legal bar of Lancaster numbered not a few of the men who have become distinguished throughout the nation as leaders of public thought and action. It was a severe task for a young man to enter upon a professional career here, yet he was destined to rise to an honorable and prominent position. He began the work for which the previous years of study had been a preparation, becoming a member of a bar where sham and reputation and empty pretenses were of no avail in the forensic contest. The young lawyer, in his contest with older and experienced men whose reputation and patronage were already assured, found it a hard school, but it afforded excellent training and as he measured his strength with the best his mind was developed, his intellectual forces were quickened and strengthened and he acquired a readiness in action, a fertility of resources and a courage under stress that were essential factors in his successful career. He became a well known praclitioner before the supreme court of the state and of the circuit court of the United States at Cincinnati and was widely acknowledged to be one of the leaders of his profession in Ohio. He also practiced before the United States supreme court in Washington, D. C. At the time of his death the bar of Lancaster—his native town—of which he had been a member for more than forty years, and the representatives of higher courts, met in their respective forums to pay tribute to the memory of one whose career had reflected honor and credit upon the judicial history of the state.


His wife outlived him a number of years, passing away in 1889. She was a member of St. Mary's Catholic church and was a woman of exceptionally beautiful character, loved by all who knew her. They were the parents of nine children, but only three are now living: Mrs. Cornyn, and Mrs. Graffe, who reside at the corner of Chestnut and High streets, and Judge Edward F. Hunter, of Seattle, Washington. Another son, John A., had served as chief justice of Utah, but is now deceased. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter lived together for forty-nine years and upon the 4th of February, 1872, were separated by death, the husband being called to his final rest. Faultless in honor, fearless in conduct, stainless in reputation, such was his life record. His scholarly attainments, his citizenship, his reliable judgment and his charming powers of conversation would have permitted him to ably fill and grace any position, however exalted, and he was no less honored in public than loved in private life.

 

From A Biographical Record of Fairfield County, Ohio, J. S. Clarke Publishing, New York and Chicago, 1902