The life record of John Trafford Brasee covered almost eighty years. He was distinctively a self-made man, with no extraordinary family or pecnniary advantages to aid him at the outset of his career, with many difficulties and obstacles in his path that would have discouraged a man of less resolute spirit, he worked his way steadily upward. commanding not only success, but the honor and respect of all with whom he was associated. His early years were a period of arduous and unremitting toil but as the years progressed he won a place among the foremost members of the Ohio bar and was at one time a leading member of the state senate.


Mr. Brasee was born in Hillsdale, Columibia county, New York, December 24, 1800, on a farm then owned by his grandfather. He was only seven years of age when his mother died. His father soon afterward met disaster in business and Mr. Brasee and his sister, Jane, went to live with their maternal grandfather, with whom they remained until the 19th of October, 1809. After the grandfather's death on that day, they continued on the old home until the spring of 1810, living with their uncle, Benjamin Snyder. At that time, however, John T. Brasee was placed by his guardians in the service of John Lane, a man who had recently moved into the neighborhood. He received from Lane most inhuman treatment. He had to work very hard, was scantily supplied with clothing and was often sent to bed without his supper. He did not complain, however, for he did not know that he might have received different treatment under other care. After two years, however, his guardians took him away from the man Lane and placed him in the home of Isaac Foster, a blacksmith, whom he found to be a very humane man and in whose family he found a pleasant home. He assisted in the duties of the household and in the blacksmith shop. He became interested in the trade, found it congenial and often said that the ring of the anvil was music to him throughout his remaining life. When fifteen years of age he left Mr. Foster and entered the employ of Jonathan Turner, who was proprietor of a hotel and tannery at Hillsdale. There he performed manifold duties, acting as clerk, manager, hostler and barkeeper, and also engaged in breaking bark in the tannery. frequently he was in charge of the entire establishment, which he managed most satisfactorily to his employer. His first independent venture was made in the spring of 1819 when he arranged with Zadock Newberry, of Hudson, to bake for him all the gingerbread that he could sell at the general muster to be held in the county, and from the transaction he netted twenty-five dollars, which was considered a large sum at that time. In the winter of 1817 he first attended school and there became a good penman and thoroughly mastered Daball's arithmetic so that never afterward did any arithmetical problem trouble him. In February, 1818, he located in Canandaigua, New York, and was employed in J. W. Beale's tin and leather store, having a pleasant home with his employer's family. In that year his attention was also directed to matters religious. The family with which he lived were Episcopalians, and he attended that church under the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. Onderdonk, who afterward became a bishop of the church.


In July of the same year, Mr. Brasee determined to seek a home in Ohio thinking that upon the western border where there was less competition he would have better opportunities for advancement. Accordingly he made his way to Olean, New York, where he embarked on a small flat boat for Pittsburg. Journeying at that time was far different from the manner of travel at the present diay. This was eight years earlier than D. Tallmadge undertook the same trip. He was accompanied by two others and when they came to the Alleghany river it was too low for any kind of navigation by the usual boats, and after waiting until patience became exhausted, they had a square boat built, upon which they placed their trunks and thus embarked for Pittsburg. At night they would haul up their little craft to a bend in the river, and picking up boarrds along the beach would use these for a bed with dry weeds for a pillow. The banks of the river were a wilderness, containing many friendly Indians from whom they bought meat. Becoming wearied by this mode of travel, they afterward put their trunks on a family boat to be taken to Pittsburg and started on foot for that place, arriving at their destination in three days. Soon after the river arose so that navigation was possible and they took passage on a family boat bound for Cincinnati. Upon reaching the latter city, Mr. Brasee started on foot forWilmington, Ohio, where he met his old teacher, Mr. Truesdell, and Jacob Basworth, a friend whom he had formerly known in New York and who afterward bccame a leading and wealthy citizen of Wilmington. Seeking employment in that place he entered the service of Isaac Morris, clerk of the court, who gave him fifteen dollars per month during the six months in which he remained in his employ. It was there that he first met Judge Dunlevy and Thomas Corwin and was greatly charmed with the eloquence of the latter. It was largely this that induced him to become a law student and engage in practice at the bar. Realizing his need of education he went at once to the Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, walking all the way from Chillicothe, a distance of sixty miles. He arrived on the 5th of July, 1819, and at once entered upon a course of study that required seven years to complete. During the entire time he boarded with General John Brown and in order to meet the expenses of his education he worked in the clerk's office and taught school during the periods of college vacation. He possessed determined purpose, strong resolution and energy and these qualities enabled him to overcome all the difficulties in his path and lay the foundation for a successful future as a member of one of the learned professions. In 1824 he served for six months as principal of the Lancaster Academy and for his services received two hundred dollars. Returning to Athens he took charge of the clerk's office as deputy and also entered the office of Joseph Dana as a law student. In the spring of 1826 he was admitted to the bar by Judges Hitchcock and Burnett, and immediately afterward located in Gallipolis. Those were the old days when lawyers traveled the circuit, making their way from place to place as court was in session in different towns. Mr. Brasee soon acquired a good clientage.


It was during the early years of his professional career that Mr.. Brasee was married, in 1829, to Mary Jane Scofield, a daughter of Judge Scofield. Her only sister became the wife of James R. Stanbery in 1832. Her father, the Judge, found it very lonesome with his two daughters away from home and endeavored to induce Mr. Brasee to remove to Lancaster, saying that his home was large enough for two families. Two children had been born unto our subject and his wife—Ellen and John— and with their children they left Gallipolis in 1833 and took up their abode in the fine house of Judge Scofield, now used as the postoffice. A contemporary biographer, in speaking of Mr. Brasee's career from this date has said: "When he came to Lancaster in 1833, that beautiful little city was well known as a center of culture and refianenieiit alxne its fellows, but its great renown was the distinguished character of its bar, which then numbered among its members Ewing, Stanbery and Hunter, who were in the vigor of intellectual manhood, and were known far beyond the limits of the state as giants in their profession. But Mr. Brasee did not come among them without some prestige in his profession; for although admitted to the bar only in 1826 he had already appeared as counsel in the supreme court. He first appears in the Ohio Reports in the case of Smith v. Bing. 3 O., .33, which was decided in 1827. the year after his admission. And frequently thereafter his name occurs in the reports till he retired from the bar some twenty years ago, and some of the most important questions settled by that court were presaited and discussed by him. In a case in which he was a party as well as counsel (Brasee v. Lancaster Bank. 14 O., 318), he argued with distinguished ability and success what is known among the lawyers of the state as the 'triangular question,' in the contest tor priority of lien between a senior judgment without levy, an intervening mortgage and a junior judgment levied within the year, establishing the paramount lien of the elder judgment, although the statute declared that, as between it and the junior judgment, with levy, the latter should prevail. And this became and remains a leading case, followed in 16 O., 533 (Halliday v. Mendenhall), among other cases.


The Ohio bar, during the time of his active professional life, contained, besides those already named, a great many distinguished men, a few of whom it may be well to mention: Vinton Goddard, Irvin Scott, Dunlevy, Este, Hayward, Hammond, Tappan, Odlin, Murphy, Bond, Douglas, Wilcox, Swan, King, Sloan, Wright, Nye, Grimke, Leonard, Sill, Silliman, Price, McDowell, Hamer, Corwin. Collins, Storer, Wade, Goodenow, Thompson, Fox and Worthington. Among these and others not so well known, but of equal ability, Mr. Brasee stood as a peer and a brother; and he was esteemed, not only as an able lawyer, but also as a highly cultured and agreeable gentleman. He was noted on the circuit for his apt and quaint anecdotes and other companionable qualities. Few of his compeers above named now remain, and none of them, it is believeil are now engaged in the practice of their profession. The few who do remain will join heartily in donig honor to his memory.


"Without being an orator he was a very effective speaker, and was quite successful before juries. His arguments on the facts of a case were remarkable for their completeness in presenting the whole case, showing a mastery of the facts and an appreciation of the strong and weak points of each side, and ability to sift evidence and apply it to build up his theory as to the truth of the matter. He seldom resorted to sarcasm, but on occasion he could use it with startling effect. But his leading characteristic was his knowledge of the law in its most elementary principles. In special pleading and in equity pleading he was a master; and he was ready and proficient in all matters of evidence and practice, which made him formidable in the trial of cases. But his forte was in arguments to the court. His mind was at once acute and logical, and his industry was such that he was always found fully armed and ready for the fray whoever might he the champion of the other side. In these contests he won most of his laurels; and to the student of our judicial history these laurels will still look fresh and bright.


"Though decided in his political views, he could not be called a partisan, and he was never voluntarily a candidate for office. After the dissolution of the Whig party, of which he was a member, and before the formation of the Republican party, while the opposition to the Democratic party was in a transition and somewhat chaotic state, he was, in 1855, elected to the state senate, and he served during the two sessions of 1856 and 1857, and took an active and leading part in the legislation of those two sessions, and pariicularly in perfecting the act for the "Bank of Ohio," which, it is generally understood was the joint product himself and his associate, Alfred Kelly, senator from the Columbus district. The law was drafted with great care, and although it never went into practical effect in Ohio, it had the higher distinction of forming, with the law creating the State Bank of Ohio, the basis and prototype of the National Bank act, passed by Congress some seven years later."


After the removal to Lancaster, other children were added to the family of Mr. and Mrs. Brasee. Their daughter, Ellen, became the wife of T. W. Tallmadge. The other members of the family are Mary J., the wife of Dr. Hammill, of New York; Clara, the wife of Dr. J. H. Salisbury; Alice, the wife of George Witte, of New Orleans; John S., an eminent member of the Lancaster bar; George B., a prosperous farmer; and Morton, who died in the year 1870.


Although Mr. Brasee met with distinction and success in his profession, he gradually gave up his law practice for he became extensively interested in farming and his attention was demanded in the supervision of his agricultural interests. He made judicious investments in farm property and at the time of his death, which occurred at his home in Lancaster on the 27th of October, 1880, he was the owner of about one thousand acres of the best land in Fairfield county. John T. Brasee was a gentleman in the highest sense of the word, polite and courteous to all. He was also of a genial, jovial nature, who enjoyed a good joke and was himself an excellent story teller. He took great pride in his personal appearance and was always well dressed; a man of his word, he was never known to break an engagement and his devotion to his clients' interests was proverbial. Late in life he became a communicant of St. John's Episcopal church, which was always the church of his choice and in harmiony with its principles he lived a true, honorable life. There was a simplicity in his nature that made him very free from ostentation or display, yet there was a force of character that enabled him to overcome the difficulties that surrounded an almost friendless boy without education and without wealth. More than ordinary perseverance and energy were needed under such circumstances to acquire an academic education and professional training, yet his marked energy and natural ability enabled him to advance to a position prominent among the leading members of Ohio's bar in the middle of the nineteenth century. It was the traveling preachers and lawyers of that day who scattered the seeds of education and culture and laid the foundation for civilization. In this way did John T. Brasee accomplish, not only much for himself, but for the state with which he became connected in the early years of his manhood, and Ohio has reason to number him among her honored and distinguished men.

 

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