Ohio Biographies

George B. Holt

This gentleman was born in the town of Norfolk, Litchfield county, Conn., and is now in the 74th year of his age. With fine talents, more of a practical than of a showy kind, he has been enabled to leave his mark, broad and deep, on the early legislation of Ohio, and the future historian, in giving to the public that desideratum, a history of that state (for it has yet to be written), must give the name of Mr. Holt a place among the patriotic and far-seeing statesmen of the commonwealth, who, a quarter of a century ago, planted the seed which made Ohio the third, if not the second in rank among the states of the Union.

The parents of Mr. Holt, early designed him for the legal profession, and his inclinations nothing averse to the course marked out, he entered the law school of Judges Reeve and Gould in Litchfield, and in 1812, underwent an examination, and being found qualified, was licensed to practice law. Ohio, at that time, was in the far west, and the hardy emigrants who had sought its wilds, after the close of the war, were loud in their praises of its vast fertility, and of the magnificent wildness of its scenery. The ambition of young Holt was fired he wished to see the country to become a part and parcel of it, and to share the privations of its settlers; in 1819 we find him a citizen of the then small village of Dayton, and the following year he raised his sign as an attorney at law.

The profession of law, at that time, was no sinecure. The circuits extended over many counties, in most of which roads were but bridle paths, and house of entertainment few and far between. Bridges, there were none in the country, and when the streams were swollen with angry floods by the spring freshets, the members of the bar had to brave the torrent, and trust to a frail canoe, after driving their horses across, or else to plunge in, and trust to their horses to carry them safe across; and then, wet, chilled and weary, to traverse the woods for miles before they could espy the blue smoke of the log cabin, by whose hospitable hearth they could dry their clothes. The history of the early bar of that state, would be among the most readable of books, for many were the mishaps and adventures of these disciples of Blackstone and Chitty, which still live in memory, and are cherished by the younger members of the profession, as the child cherishes the legends in which his father bore a part.

During the administration of Mr. Monroe, party politics measurably died away, nevertheless there were times, places and occasions in which the spirit of party was temporarily aroused. Such was the fact in Dayton, in the year 1822, when Mr. Holt established, and for three years conducted, the Miami Replublican; a newspaper devoted to news agriculture and the dissemination of democratic doctrines.

In the fall of 1824, Mr. Holt was a candidate for, and elected to the legislature of the state, and deeply participated in the passage of the laws which made that session the most important ever held in Ohio. The lands of the state were then divided into first, second and third classes, and taxed accordingly the improved farms as high as the wild lands of the same class. The injustice of the system, and the gross inequality of the classification, by which the sterile hills of eastern Ohio, in many cases, were taxed as high as the rich alluvian of the Miami and Sciota valleys, called loudly for amendment, yet it was not until the session of 1824-25 that the evil was abated by the adoption of the ad valorem system, which, from that time, became the settled policy of the state.

New York, under the auspices of De Witt Clinton, had commenced her canal policy, by which the waters of the Hudson were united with those of Lake Erie, so as to have a direct water communications between the inland seas of the northwest and those of the Atlantic. The necessity of similar communications between the lakes and the Ohio river, sweeping through Ohio, had excited public attention, and with it, an opposition of a bitter kind. Judge Holt stood forward as a prominent advocate of the work, and employed the columns of his paper to favor the measure, and this fact brought him forward more prominently as the man for the crisis. He was elected to the legislature, and during the session which followed, the first canal law was passed, and under which the Ohio and the Miami canals were commenced, and the policy of the state in favor of internal improvements, from that moment was considered settled.

Ohio, at that time, had no school system. Parents in the thinly settled portions of the state, were forced to rely on chance for teachers, who were themselves better fitted to be taught, than to be the instructors of embryo men, and who mainly relied upon the birch and ferule, to beat learning into the heads of their pupils. Money at the time was scarce but little produce was exported, and many men who had a farm they could call their own, were yet in circumstances too straitened to allow them to give their children that schooling so much needed, to make them useful citizens of community. To remedy this evil to give all, the rich, the poor, the high and the low, the same benefits of a common school education, was a matter which excited much attention. Fortunately for the state, the legislature of 1824-25 was composed of men of more enlarged philanthropy than any which preceded it. Mr. Holt was appointed a member of the committee to whom the subject was referred, and that committee reported a bill which passed into a law, and which established the common school system of Ohio. To us, at this day, it seems a matter of astonishment, that such a system should meet with opposition; yet such was the fact. It was deemed as a daring infringement on the rights of property as a tyrannical and unjust law, which drew money from the pockets of the wealthy to educate the children of other men. The poor were appealed to, and were told by those who opposed the law, that their children were to be educated at pauper schools, and their pride was thus aroused to resistance; and, at the next election, the clamor became so great that many of the friends of the school system were sent into retirement. The colleague of Mr. Holt went down in the contest, and the judge was reelected, chiefly from the fact that his services in securing the passage of the law for the construction of the Miami canal, in which his constituents felt a deep interest, gained him a popularity which ill-founded clamor could not shake. He was reelected to the legislature at the next section.

In 1827, during the palmy days of the militia system, Mr. Holt was elected brigadier general, and for some years commanded one of the finest brigades in the state.

At the annual election in 1828, Mr. Holt was elected to the state senate, and served during the sessions of 1828-29 and 1829-30. He was chairman of the committee on internal improvements, then one of the most important in that body. During the last session of which Mr. Holt was a member of the legislature, he was elected president judge of the circuit court, in which he had practiced law, and served during the constitutional term of seven years. At the commencement of his term of service on the bench, the circuit was composed of the counties of Montgomery, Clark, Champaign, Logan, Miami, Darke, Shelby and Mercer. The counties of Allen and Putnam were subsequently attached to the first circuit, over which Judge Holt presided, in lieu of Clark, Champaign and Logan, which were transferred to the seventh circuit.

At the end of his service as president judge, Judge Holt partially resumed the practice of law, and, during which time, under appointment of the court, he served on year as prosecuting attorney of Montgomery county, one year in the same office in Mercer, and two terms in the same station in the county of Van Wert.

At the session of the legislature of 1842-43, Judge Holt was again called to the bench, by a reelection to the office of president judge of the same circuit, and served out his constitutional term. During the interval between his first and second term as presiding judge of the common pleas court of his circuit, Judge Holt divided his time between his practice and agriculture, and stock growing, of which latter he was always passionately fond, and spent large sums in improving the breed of cattle he having introduced into the counties of Miami, Mercer and Montgomery, the first thorough bred short-horned Durham cattle part of which time he filled the honorable station of president of the agricultural society of Montgomery count.

At the breaking out of the cholera in Dayton, during the summer of 1849, it became an object of much concern, to have an able and energetic board of health, that the fell ravages of the disease might be stayed; Judge Holt having been among the earliest and constant volunteers to visit and minister to the relief of the sufferers was made president of the board; in which capacity his services were constant, efficient, and highly valued by the citizens.

During the spring of 1850, in casting around for a man, at once available for his personal worth and popularity, and with an enlarged mind, to be the candidate of the democratic party, in a county where the tide of popular favor runs in a contrary direction, Judge Holt was found to possess all the requisites, and he received the nomination, and was elected to the important station of delegate to revise, amend or change the constitution of the state. On his arrival in Columbus, he met Jacob Blickensderfer, of Tuscarawas, who had participated as a member from the county he represented in the house of representatives during the important session of 1824-25. From the adjournment of that legislature, Judge Holt and Mr. Blickensderfer had never met, until they came together as delegates to form a new constitution for the state, for which they had aided, a quarter of a century since, in giving a canal policy and a school system, which have stood the test of time, and have aided much in bringing Ohio to its present proud position.

As president judge of the first judicial circuit, Judge Holt gained an enviable reputation. He ranked, before his election to the bench, as a sound lawyer, and to that we soon added the highest reputation of an able and impartial judge. During a service of fourteen years, in the service of the state, as presiding judge of a circuit distinguished for the legal talent of its bar, it is a high compliment to say, that he gave entire satisfaction, and that, popular as he ever has been as a man, his popularity as a judge exceeded it.

For forty-four years past, Judge Holt has been a member of the Presbyterian church, and although far from being a bigot in his religion, has ever been recognized as a sincere Christian. While on the bench he saw, in worst form, the evils of intemperance, and he was among the early, and he has ever been the steady friend of the temperance cause.

The mind of Judge Holt, as we before intimated, is less showy than solid. The distinguishing traits are a subjection of all questions to a philosophic test; industry in investigation, and a persevering pursuit of and rigid adherence to the just and true. In his domestic attachments, ardent and constant; ready and reliable in his friendships; and an active philanthropist. In politics he is a democrat, with a strong tendency to radicalism. In the convention he was at the head of the committee on jurisprudence, and though a silent member, yet if we mistake not, his impress for influence and utility, in the result of its deliberations, will be found deep and enduring.


From Genealogical history of the Holt family in the US; particularly the descendants of Nicholas Holt of Newbury & Andover, Ma., 1634-1644, & of Wm. Holt of New Haven, Ct., by D.S. Durrie. 1864.