If you live in Upstate New York, your history is our history. A great many of the formative historical events of this area, and the nation, are linked to the history of Cooper Erving and Savage LLP, which traces its origin back to 1785.

1785

Abraham Van Vechten

Abraham Van Vechten

Our founder Abraham Van Vechten, born in 1762, was the first lawyer admitted to practice in New York after the adoption of the State Constitution. This occurred in October 1785, and, as a result he was forever known as “The Father of the New York Bar.” Initially, he practiced in Johnstown, but soon came to Albany, where he rose to prominence. He had several matters with Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, Daniel Webster and the other leading lawyers of his generation.

In the early part of the 19th century he partnered Anthony Van Schaick, another prominent Dutch lawyer. He trained many young attorneys including his nephew and protégé Teunis Van Vechten who joined and later succeeded to his practice.

Throughout his career he represented Stephen Van Rensselaer III, the Dutch “Patroon,” who was the major landholder in upstate New York, and one of the wealthiest individuals in United States history. He is the founder of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Rensselaer, New York.

Abraham Van Vechten participated in several significant cases, including the famous US Supreme Court precedent Gibbons v. Ogden.  At the same time as he practiced law, Van Vechten held a number of pubic offices, including State Assemblyman, State Senator, and Attorney General. He was one of the first directors of the Bank of Albany. He died in January, 1837

Abraham Van Vechten’s portrait hangs in the home of New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals Building in Albany.

1790

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper’s family was originally from New Jersey. The family bought former Iroquois lands in what is now Cooperstown and moved there in 1790 to a mansion called Otsego Hall.

Cooper went to Yale but was expelled for a dangerous prank that purportedly involved blowing up another student’s door. He previously locked a donkey in a recitation room. Cooper then joined the Navy.

At 20, Cooper inherited a fortune from his father and was living the life of a country gentleman. In 1821, at the age 30 or so, his wife bet him that he could not write a book better than the one she was reading. Cooper then began his career as a novelist.

The Last of the Mohicans is one of the most widely read novels throughout the world. Mark Twain criticized Cooper’s romanticized version of the American frontier, which has remained etched in the American collective consciousness for generations. The frontiersman, Natty Bumppo, was portrayed as strong, fearless, and ever resourceful. Chingachgook, the last of the Mohicans, was portrayed as stoic, wise, and noble. On the other hand, Magwa, a rival Huron chief, was a hard and vengeful man. These are certainly characteristics evident across the spectrum of human beings of all races and nationalities. Yet, in choosing to portray Chingachgook in that manner, Cooper’s work certainly evoked sympathy for the declining Native American population.

Cooper’s son Paul Fenimore Cooper and his grandson James Fenimore Cooper were both attorneys and partners in the law firm that eventually came to be called Cooper Erving & Savage.

1806

Teunis Van Vechten

Teunis Van Vechten

Teunis Van Vechten,was  born in 1785. He graduated from Union College in 1802, and studied law with his uncle Abraham Van Vechten. After being admitted to the bar in 1806, he joined his uncle and later succeeded to his practice, representing the Van Rensselaer patroonship. He had a long and distinguished legal and civic career, spanning nearly five decades.

In addition to his uncle, Teunis Van Vechten practiced with several other noted attorneys, including Ebenezer Baldwin, John Davis, Judge Daniel Cady, Samuel Wilkeson, Col. Duncan Mc Martin and Charles M. Jenkins. He was known as a strong practical lawyer of sound judgment and scrupulous integrity. Van Vechten possessed a deep sense of civic duty in his native city, having served as Mayor of Albany for four terms. He also served as Alderman. He was the trustee of Albany Academy, director of the Bank of Albany and the Albany Insurance Company.

In 1850, he was disabled by a severe stroke and retired from the practice of law.  He died in 1859, and was eulogized by Rev. E. P. Rogers in the published treatise “The Strong Staff Broken: a discourse in memory of Hon. Teunis Van Vechten: pronounced Sunday February 13, 1859.

Anthony Van Schaick

Anthony Van Schaick was born in 1779 to a prestigious upstate New York Dutch family. He graduated from Union College in 1803 and, shortly thereafter, studied the law with Abraham Van Vechten, the firm’s founder. After being admitted to the bar in 1806, he formed a partnership with Van Vechten with whom he practiced until his untimely death in 1822 at age 43.

1843

Daniel Cady

Daniel Cady

Daniel Cady was born in 1773 and admitted to the bar in 1795. He was one of the leading lawyers of his generation, having cases with Aaron Burr, Thomas Emmett and the firm’s founder Abraham Van Vechten. He argued many important cases, including the landmark case People v. Godfrey in 1819.

In 1843, Daniel Cady joined the firm as a partner of Teunis Van Vechten.  He left in 1847 to become a New York State Supreme Court Judge, and, in 1849, was an ex-officio Judge of New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals. He trained two of his son’s-in-law, Samuel Wilkerson and Duncan McMartin, who were also members of the firm.

Judge Cady had a strong belief in public service.   In addition to his judicial posts, he served as District Attorney, New York Assemblyman and United States Congressman. He is the father of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the famous women’s rights pioneer. In 1855, after a long and distinguished career he retired. He died in 1859.

His portrait hangs in the Court of Appeals Building.

Samuel Wilkeson Jr.

Samuel Wilkeson Jr.

Samuel Wilkeson Jr. was a partner from 1843 to 1846. He was trained by his father-in-law, Judge Daniel Cady, another firm partner.

Wilkeson’s first love was journalism. He left the firm to pursue his ambition. He purchased the Albany Evening Journal newspaper and, later, wrote famous reports on the Battle of Gettysburg for the New York Times. Wilkeson’s son Lt. Brayard Wilkeson led a famous charge in the battle. Left in a farmhouse after having his leg destroyed by a cannon ball, Bayard amputated his own leg, but died soon thereafter. The Wilkesons are mentioned in Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War. Wilkeson wrote the following words at the conclusion of his article concerning the end of the battle: “Oh, you dead who at Gettysburg have baptised with your blood a second birth of Freedom in American, how you are to be envied.” Some that have suggested that these words inspired Lincoln’s words at the end of the Gettysburg address: “. . . that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that his nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In his later years Wilkeson went west and became heavily involved in the development of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Samuel Wilkeson’s portrait by photographer Mathew Brady is on view at the Smithsonian Art Museum.

 

1882

James F. Tracey

James F. Tracey

James F. Tracey a partner of the firm from 1882 to 1925.

Tracey, born in 1854, was the firm’s first partner of Irish descent, mirroring the large growth in Albany of this immigrant population since the mid -nineteenth century. Tracey graduated from Georgetown University, and Albany Law School, and was admitted to the bar in 1875.  Like James Fenimore Cooper, Tracey trained with noted Albany lawyer Marcus T. Hun.

In 1882, he partnered with James Fenimore Cooper and his father Paul Fenimore Cooper (senior counsel) and the firm became known as Tracey & Cooper. As new partners were added, the firm successively became known as Tracey, Cooper & Rathbone; Tracey, Cooper and Townsend and Tracey, Cooper & Savage.

Tracey was an expert in corporate law. He served as the examiner of corporations for the New York Secretary of State, and taught corporate law for many years at his alma mater, Albany Law School.

In 1902, President Roosevelt named Tracey as a justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. He served there until 1905, when he resumed his law practice with the firm.

He was actively involved in Democratic politics.

Judge Tracey died in 1925 at the age of 71.

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper

James Fenimore Cooper was the son of Paul Fenimore Cooper, a partner in the firm, and grandson of the famous author James Fenimore Cooper. He was a partner of the firm from 1882 to 1938. Cooper trained in the law with the noted Albany lawyer Marcus T. Hun, and was admitted to the bar in 1882. He then joined his father in the firm Jenkins & Cooper. After his father’s death in 1895, the firm became known successively as Tracey, Cooper & Rathbone; Tracey, Cooper and Townsend; Tracey, Cooper & Savage, and, in 1925, Cooper Erving & Savage by which it is known today.

During Cooper’s tenure the firm became known for its expertise in banking law, for which it remains to the present day. Cooper was a director of several banks. The major clients of the firm were First Trust Company (now Key bank) and Albany Savings Bank (now RBS Citizens Bank). Cooper was a director of First Trust Company, and his mentor Marcus T. Hun, and partner Frederick Townsend II, both served as president of Albany Savings Bank. This began a long line of Cooper Erving partners serving as bank directors and officers.

Cooper authored a book about his native Otsego County entitled Legends and Traditions of a Northern County and complied two volumes of correspondence of his namesake grandfather. James Fenimore Cooper died in 1938 having been a member of the firm for 56 years.