Thursday, July 21, 2011

Experience Estabrook (1813-1894)


   This uniquely named gentleman is Experience Estabrook, a man who gained notoriety as an attorney and political figure in both the Wisconsin and Nebraska territories. Born in Lebanon, New Hampshire on April 30, 1813, Estabrook was the first of five children born to Seth and Hannah Hebard Estabrook. Sporting one of the most unusual first names in the history of Congress, the origin's behind Estabrook's first name have unfortunately been lost to the dustbin of history, and one can only wonder what Seth and Hannah Estabrook had in mind when they were in the process of naming their son!!
   The Estabrook family resided in New Hampshire until 1822, when they removed to the town of Clarence in Erie County, New York. Estabrook attended schools local to the Clarence area and later went on to study at the Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. After leaving this institution Estabrook enrolled at the Chambersburg, Pennsylvania Law School in 1839. After being admitted to the bar in 1840 he decided to seek his fortune in the American midwest, and removed to Geneva Lake, WisconsinSoon after his arrival he established a law practice and briefly returned to New York in the mid 1840s, marrying in Alden in April 1844 to Caroline Augusta Maxwell (1823-1903). The couple would have two children, Cynthia Augusta (born 1845) and Henry Dodge (1854-1917). Henry Dodge Estabrook would follow his father into law, becoming a celebrated attorney and nationally known orator.
   Within a few years of settling in "America's Dairyland" Estabrook entered politics, being elected as District Attorney for Walworth County and later as a delegate to the Wisconsin state constitutional convention of 1847-1848. His time at that convention saw Estabrook chair the committee on Education and School Funds, with the Memorial Record of the Fathers of Wisconsin noting:
"While he made but few speeches, they were uniformly upon the most important subjects pending, and always terse, logical and to the point. Upon the question of suffrage to all alike, without regard to color, he took a position far in advance of his party at that time, and was, indeed, one of the pioneer leaders in breaking from the shackles of mere prejudice, and rising to the real dignity and equality of republican government." 
  Following his service as a delegate Estabrook's political star continued to rise, being elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly. He would serve in the session of 1851 and in the following year began service as Attorney General of Wisconsin, being only the third man to hold that position since Wisconsin had achieved statehood. Estabrook served two years in that capacity (1852-54).
    In 1854 Estabrook was selected by President Franklin Pierce to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Nebraska Territory, becoming the first man to hold that post. Upon receiving notice of his appointment Estabrook and his family struck off for Nebraska, reaching their destination in early 1855. Estabrook's early residency in Nebraska saw him regarded as "the only member of the bar in the territory" and as such was later honored with the title the "father of the Nebraska bar".  
   Estabrook's tenure as U.S. Attorney extended four years (1855-1859) and in November 1858 added another political feather to his cap, being elected as the Nebraska Territory's delegate-elect to the United States House of Representatives. He took his seat in Congress on March 4, 1859 and served until May 1860, as he would lose his house seat to one Samuel G. Daily (1823-1866), who had successfully contested Estabrook's election to Congress.
                                                            
Portrait from "Omaha Illustrated", 1888.

   After his brief stint on the national political stage Estabrook returned to Nebraska and, at the request of Governor Alvin Saunders, set about codifying newly developed Nebraska state laws in 1866. Estabrook would lend further legal knowledge to this project by supervising the publication of the work and its index. In 1867 he was appointed as District Attorney for Douglas County (serving until 1869) and two years later was a delegate to the Nebraska State constitutional convention. In 1875 Estabrook would again serve as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention being held that year, and in an interesting anecdote, the Proceedings of the Wisconsin Bar Association Vol. III denotes that he "had the unusual distinction to have sat in the Constitutional Conventions of two territories." 
    Acknowledged as an "able, aggressive and successful lawyer" and a man of "splendid physique", Estabrook spent the remainder of his life in Omaha, where he died on March 26, 1894, a month short of his 81st birthday. His wife Caroline survived her husband by nine years, dying in 1903 at age 80. Both were later interred at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Omaha.


From the Proceedings of the Wisconsin State Bar Association, Vol. III.

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