Judge Edwin Adolphys Burlingame

An early carte de visite (approx. 1860-1868) on thin cardboard stock with square corners. A simple photo mount, blank on the reverse, with no clues about location or the photographer. A dedication “Truly .. Yours” written in beautiful cursive by a gentleman named Burlingame. I suppose this elegant man was in his 30s, when he had his picture taken. His initials E. A. could mean anything! So at first, this looked like another “find a needle in a genealogy haystack” situation to me. And I did get side-tracked a bit by all the different options the initals E. A. offered. Until I came across this newspaper photo of Edwin Adolphys Burlingame on FindaGrave.com:

Despite the different hair style, I thought there were uncanny similarities between the two images. The lower lip under the bushy moustache, the shape of his nose and forehead. But I also had my doubts. I asked my Instagram community if this was the same man and the vote came back 67% for Yes and 33% for No. I blended one photo over the other, and I was almost convinced.

I knew I needed another image of better quality to be completely sold. From the information available on him, I learnt that he had been a Judge of the Superior Court of Grand Rapids in Michigan. So this is where I looked, and I got lucky! Grand Rapids History Center showed me two photos of him and we agreed this was definitely our Judge! Yesss, another lost photo is not lost anymore and can now tell its story to you!

Edwin Adolphys Burlingame was born on September 19, 1832, in Sterling, Windham county in Connecticut, to Harriet née Dean and her husband Peter M. Burlingame. In 1850, Edwin was helping out his father on the farm in Plainfield, Windham county, together with his brothers, Harry G., James M. and Charles C., of whom the oldest, Harry, was a school teacher.

Edwin married Sarah A. née Snell on April 22, 1857, daughter of a prominent local farmer, and the couple had 3 children:

–Clara C. (1858-1945), married James Lee Hamilton. Possibly no children.

Ada (1868-1875)

–Laila L. (1870-1947), married lawyer William Patch Belden. They had a son, William Burlingame Belden.

As the American Civil War broke out, Edwin, now residing in Wyoming, Michigan, joined the Union Army under Norman Bailey, the Provost Marshal of the 4th Congressional District. I know nothing about his war experience, but he managed to come out of it alive and on the right side of American history. Maybe the injustice of that history motivated him to enroll in the law faculty of the University of Michigan, once the war had ended. I suppose our photo was taken during the years leading up to that decision. After his graduation, he worked as a prosecutor in Kent county for several years.

In 1887, he was elected to the bench of Judges to the Superior Court of Grand Rapids. He served for 2+ terms as a judge, and those two terms have gone down in the history of Grand Rapids as the time of “terror to evildoers” :-)! Judge Burlingame sure seems like he was a man no-one could intimidate or corrupt! Or as he was characterised in the Detroit Free Press of March 27, 1893, article below: “able, just and fearless”!

After he retired from the bench in 1899 (or in 1903 according to his obituary below), he partnered with his son-in-law William P. Belden in a law firm for a few years. Judge Burlingame passed away on February 12, 1909, in Ishpeming, Marquette county in Michigan. Surviving were his wife Sarah (1838-1914), and his two daughters Clara and Laila. One of the most prominent lawyers of western Michigan was laid to rest at the Oakhill Cemetery in Grand Rapids.

A fantastic summary of his life has also been published to FindaGrave.com with little deviations in dates (I wish I knew who added that text!):

Judge Edwin A. Burlingame as he is now universally known in Grand Rapids, and throughout Michigan, was born in Sterling township, Windham county, Conn., in the year 1832. The farm on which the future judge did the ordinary work of a farmer’s boy until reaching the age of fourteen is located near the Rhode Island border, and Providence, R. I., was the first large city visited by young Burlingame. His education during this period was obtained from traditional “little red school house” of New England, in the intervals of farm work. The next four years of his life were spent in the cotton mills of his native town, where he proved himself so efficient as operator that he rose to the position of foreman. Seeking a wider field, he completed a course of studies in the New York Central college. Until 1855 he taught schools in central New York, removing in that year to Madison, Wis., as the representative of an eastern publishing house, afterwards representing the same firm at Ann Arbor, Mich., and Jamesville, Wis. It was in the latter city that he became associated with the law firm of Bennett, Cassody & Gibbs, and it was on the recommendation and solicitation of Mr. Cassody, subsequently chief justice of the supreme court of Wisconsin, that the young man began his legal studies with that firm. He did not complete his legal course at once, however, being engaged in newspaper work for some years, first with the Ohio State Journal, afterwards with the News and Advertiser of Ann Arbor, and several other papers. On the 22nd of April, 1857, he married Sarah A. Snell, a daughter of Anson Snell, a prominent farmer at Plymouth, Mich. They have two daughters living, who are married and now reside near the home of their parents at Grand Rapids. In 1863, he located in Kent county, purchasing the farm just south of the city which he still owns, and, again turning his attention to legal studies, entered the law department of the university of Michigan, and, having graduated with the class of 1869, commenced the practice of law in Grand Rapids, Mich. Before his election to the bench of the superior court in 1887, he was twice elected prosecuting attorney of Kent county. He made an enviable record as prosecutor, but it is his record during two terms, or twelve years, as judge of the superior court, of which all good citizens of Grand Rapids are more justly proud. The business of the superior court is largely criminal, and the name of Judge Burlingame, during his incumbency of the office, became truly ” a terror to evil doers.” It has been reliably estimated that the state’s prison sentences imposed upon criminals by Judge Burlingame amount to more than 1,200 years; and the amounts of fines collected from evil doers, as a matter of record, amounted to the sum of $20,000. With all his firmness and decisiveness in dealing with hardened criminals, many a young man has traced his reformation to the wisdom and good counsel given him by the judge and the leniency accorded his first error. A democrat and greenbacker since the early greenback days, he has never been guided by political sentiments in his official or private life, and many of his warmest personal friends have been of an opposite political faith. It is these qualities, with his cool, unimpassioned judgment, which have made the judge’s career as an attorney even more successful than upon the bench. Upon retiring from the bench in May, 1899, Judge Burlingame formed a law partnership with William P. Belden, his son-in-law, with whom he has since been associated.

Before I close, I also want to say thanks to all the helpful contacts in the different Michigan libraries and archives I sent my inquiry to. Their suggestions led me to Grand Rapids History Center that will be the keeper of this photo of Judge Burlingame in the future.

What a legacy! Husband, father, grandfather, farmer, veteran, journalist, teacher, student, lawyer, judge – it must have been such a fulfilling life! Researching Judge Burlingame has been a blast. I have added a digital copy of his photo to FindaGrave and FamilySearch.

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