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Hon. John Newton Rogers


Posted By: Annette Lucas (email)
Date: 7/12/2021 at 07:05:44

SOURCE: Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County, Iowa. American Biographical Publishing Company, H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. Proprietors. 1895


JOHN NEWTON ROGERS was born in the City of New York, on the seventh of November, 1830. His father, Edmund J. Rogers, was a native of Southampton, Long Island, and a prominent merchant in New York City up to the time of his death. His mother, Rebecca ( Platt) Rogers, removed to Northampton, Massachusetts, soon after her husband's decease, where the remaining eighteen years of her life were spent. She died in 1853. She was a woman of rare qualities of mind and heart, and many of the noble and exceptional qualities for which Judge Rogers was distinguished were doubtless inherited from her. The preparatory studies of Judge Rogers were pursued at Fairfield, Connecticut, where the family resided at the time, and afterward at Northampton, Massachusetts. His father, though continuing his business in New York, was one of the most prominent and influential citizens of Fairfield during the years of his residence there. entered the University of the City of New York in 1844, and was graduated from that institution in the class of 1848 with the first honors of his class. Soon after leaving college he went to Augusta, Georgia, where his elder brother, Rev. E. P. Rogers, D. D., afterward for nineteen years one of the leading pastors of the Reformed Church in New York City, then resided. This brother was then pastor of the First Presbyterian Church at Augusta, Georgia , at that time and received his degree of D. D. at Oglethorpe University at Milledgeville, Georgia. John N. Rogers taught school in Augusta one year, and in the meantime he determined on the profession of the law as his vocation, and returning to Northampton in 1849 began the study of his chosen profession in the office of Hon. Osmyn Baker and Hon. Charles Delano, then the most prominent members of the Hampshire County bar. Mr. Rogers was admitted to the bar of Massachusetts in February, 1852, and soon afterward removed to New York City, and in the autumn of the following year accepted a position as professor of pleading, practice and evidence in the State and National Law School at Poughkeepsie, New York, which chair he occupied two years, when he returned to New York City and engaged actively in the practice of his profession.

One of his fellow students at the law school was W. H. F. Gurley, who had come west and located at Davenport, Iowa. Through his representations Mr. Rogers was induced, in the autumn of 1856, to make a visit to this city. This visit resulted in a determination on his part to locate here, which he did in 1857, forming a law partnership with his friend Gurley, which continued three years and was then dissolved.

In 1860 he formed a partnership with Charles E. Putnam, under the firm name of Putnam & Rogers, which firm afterward took a leading rank at the bar of Iowa for a period of a quarter of a century. They were engaged in some of the heaviest suits, involving some of the most important questions of law that came before the State and Federal Courts during that period, and with the most flattering results. Mr. Rogers was equally powerful in any department of the law. He had no specialty. One of the most notable instances, illustrating his ability as a lawyer, was the case of the United States, on the relation of Hall and Morse, against the Union Pacific Railroad Company, begun in the United States Circuit Court of Iowa, and carried thence to the Supreme Court of the United States, in which Mr. Rogers, as attorney for the citizens of Council Bluffs, Iowa, succeeded in establishing, against the ablest talent this powerful corporation could employ, the fact that the eastern terminus of the line was Council Bluffs instead of Omaha, and consequently that the bridge between the two cities was a part of the railroad and must be operated as such . The case involved several new and interesting questions of law as well as the construction of several acts of Congress. Judge Dillon, of the United States Circuit Court of Des Moines, and finally the Supreme Court of the United States, sustained Mr. Rogers throughout the exciting struggle.

Judge Rogers devoted his entire time and energies to his profession, and only on one occasion did he consent to accept office, viz : that of State Legislator ( 1866-67). In 1875 he was offered by the Governor of Iowa the position of Judge of the Seventh Judicial District of Iowa, but declined it . For two years ( 1876-77) he filled the chair of lecturer on constitutional law in the law department of the Iowa State University, a position on which he reflected high distinction.

* In September, 1886 , he was nominated for District Judge by a convention of the bar of the Seventh Judicial District, and was elected , opening the first term of his court in Davenport on the eighth of February following, and continuing through a term of five weeks with an ability and correctness in rulings, and clearness in statement of decisions that won the encomiums of the bar. On the nineteenth of April he opened the spring term of court in Muscatine, but at the end of the second week he was compelled to return home on account of illness. His ailment was regarded as heart disease and proved fatal, his death occurring on the twenty - second of May, 1887.

Judge Rogers had never been of strong physique, and his sedentary
and studious habits were not calculated to build up his constitution.
For many years before his death he was very frail, and it was the wonder of all who knew him , how he managed to sustain the severe strain which he imposed on his frail system . He was a tireless and indefatigable worker, and his earnestness and idea of duty were such that he seemed to feel himself personally obligated to every client to win every case intrusted to him . He would not undertake a case in which he did not believe his client in the right, and so believing he always thought there had been something wrong in his conduct of a case if he chanced to lose it . To a nature so earnest and sensitive it is easy to understand how anxiety would wear on a body so frail.

He was an earnest student of books outside his profession, and possessing a most retentive memory, he could recite at will long passages from his favorite authors. This he often did for the entertainment of a select circle of friends. He was the most modest and unassuming of men, and those who did not know him intimately were apt to mistake for cold reserve that which was only shyness of nature.

His honor and integrity were never questioned by any man . He was of that high -strung nervous temperament which is always intense in whatever may be undertaken . He united distinguished ability with absolute purity of thought, and at the time of his death undoubtedly ranked as the leading lawyer of Iowa. In a historical sketch like this it is the purpose to avoid everything like eulogy, but it is difficult if not impossible to write of a man like Judge Rogers without using language that must savor of hyperbole to those who knew him not. If the united testimony of all who knew him , in whatever way, can be believed , he was one of the very noblest of men. After his decease the members of his profession, the newspapers, his friends and acquaintances throughout the country seemed to vie with each other in paying loving tribute to his memory. He left no children to bear adown the years his honored name. He was married in 1857 to Miss Mary Norman , daughter of Rev. E. H. Vandeveer, of Warwick, New York. This union was terminated by her death in 1867. They had one son, Ferdinand V., whose sad death doubtless had much to do with hastening that of the devoted father. He was drowned in the Mississippi river, April 6, 1885. He was a bright and promising young man, and the idol of the Judge, as he was also of the Judge's sister, Miss Harriet Rogers, who, when the wife of Judge Rogers died, leaving this infant son, came and made her home with her brother, devoting her life to the care of them as long as they lived.

In personal appearance Judge Rogers was of medium height, slender in build, rather delicate than robust, with a well- shaped head and pleasing countenance, one that inspired trust and confidence at first sight. ** He was a man who accomplished much in life under circumstances that would have discouraged a spirit less brave and noble, and it is safe to say his memory will be held in loving reverence by all who knew and could understand and appreciate him.

* About 1870 he was earnestly solicited to accept the nomination for Judge of the Supreme Court of Iowa, but declined the honor.
** He was one of the organizers of the Reformed Protestant Church of Davenport, and was one of the elders, and its most staunch friend and supporter as long as the organization continued. His Christian character was as marked and distinguished as was his legal career.


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