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Willett, George Rice -1826 - 1898


Posted By: Bill Waters (email)
Date: 10/20/2017 at 20:01:38

George Rice Willett was born of American parents in LíAcadie, Province of Quebec, November 11, 1826, and was the son of Mahlon and Margaret (Cooper) Willett. His early education lie received at home, having a private teacher in the family, and later he attended the select school of the Rev. Joseph Braithwaite, a graduate of Oxford, England, and it was here that Judge Willett formed the habit of systematic and diligent study and laid the foundation for the fine legal training that came later. From 1850 to 1855 he was associated with his brother in conducting the woolen mills at Chambly, Canada, after which commenced the study of law at Champlain, New York, under the direction of the Hon. James Averill, as preceptor, and later he took the regular course of the Albany law school. He was admitted to the bar in Albany, N. Y., in the spring of 1856, shortly after which he returned to Champlain N. Y., and practiced there until October, 1857, when he came to Decorah, Iowa. Judge Willett originally intended to locate in Dubuque, but found so many lawyers at that point that he determined to seek a better location. He found it in Decorah, and accordingly brought out his family in November and immediately the law firm of Cooley & Willett was formed, E. E. Cooley being the senior partner, and these gentlemen were together two years. Mr. Willett then took a partner, M. V. Burdick, later judge of the circuit court, the firm being Willett & Burdick. This partnership continued until the breaking out of the war in 1861. Judge Willett was one of the first to respond to Lincolnís call for men, and through his efforts a company was raised and he was made captain and sent to Des Moines to offer it as a part of the First regiment. On reaching there he found both the First and Second regiments with full quotas of men. He offered his men to the Third, and his action was ratified, and they were mustered in at Keokuk as company D. Third Iowa volunteer infantry. This was the first company raised in Winneshiek County and it first saw service in Missouri. Its first battle was at Blue Mills, September 17, 1861. Judge Willett was wounded in the left knee, and after some time in the hospital he rejoined the regiment at St. Louis. He soon found that his wound was a permanent one, and that he could not stand the marches; accordingly he resigned his commission in February, 1862. and returned home. During 1863-64 be served on the governorís staff with the rank of lieutenant- colonel of cavalry, and did recruiting service at Decorah. On returning home Judge Willett resumed the practice of law, and when F. W. Burdick, the county treasurer, enlisted, our subject succeeded him in the office and served out his term, which expired January 1, 1864. In the fall he was elected county judge, and at the end of two years was re-elected, serving four years, all told. In 1872 he succeeded Dr. Bullis in the state senate, filling out the unexpired term of two years. He was then re-elected and served four years. In the winter of 1874 he acted as president pro-tem of the senate. He was chairman of the judiciary committee and the committee on constitutional amendments, and also served as a member on railroads, insurance and judicial districts. In 1877 the firm of Willett & Willett was formed, his son Norman being the junior member of the firm. Judge Willett was married January 18. 1848, at Champlain, N. Y., to Miss Olinda C. Kellogg, and their children were Mahlon, Norman, George, William and Ernest. Judge Willett died December 12, 1898, having practiced law in Iowa for over forty years, and during that time he was a leading character in many forensic battles, and always acquitted himself ably, commanding the love and admiration of his friends and the respect of his enemies. He was a hard student and a deep thinker, and had a sunny and attractive disposition; and this, added to his learning and ready command of language, made him a very agreeable companion.

Source: The Courts and Legal Profession of Iowa, vol.2, by Chester C. Cole, 1907

Phelps Cemetery

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