San Francisco County
Stephen J. Field.—This distinguished jurist was born in the town Haddam, Connecticut, November 4, 1814. His father, David Dudley Field, a clergyman of note, was born at East Guilford, Connecticut, May 20, 1781, died at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, April 15, 1867, at the ripe old age of eighty-six years. At the age of thirteen years Stephen J. Field was sent to Greece, in order to give him a better opportunity to study that and other modern languages of the East, and he remained nearly three years at Athens and Smyrna, prosecuting these studies. He returned in the winter of 1832-33, and in the following autumn entered Williams College, at which he graduated in 1837. His eldest brother, David Dudley Field, Jr., was an eminent jurist, also a graduate of Williams College, and was then practicing in New York; and the younger brother, having selected the law as his profession, entered the office of the elder as a student, and there laid the foundation of a legal experience which has resulted in placing him upon the highest plane of American jurisprudence. After being admitted to the bar, he entered into copartnership with his brother, and the connection was maintained until the spring of 1848, when he again visited Europe and spent nearly a year in traveling. On his return, in the fall of 1849, the excitement caused by the discovery of gold in California was at its climax, and Mr. Field decided to seek a new sphere of operation in the “Land of Gold.” Upon his arrival in California he proceeded to Marysville, and was elected the first Alcalde of that already thriving town, which position he held until the organization of the judiciary under the constitution of the State. Although the jurisdiction of alcaldes’ courts, under the Mexican law, was limited and inferior, yet in the disorganized state of society at that time in California, unlimited jurisdiction, both in civil and criminal cases, was claimed and exercised by them. In October, 1850, Judge Field was elected to the Legislature, and during the session of 1851 was an active and efficient member of that body. He introduced and succeeded in getting passed the several laws governing the judiciary and regulating the civil and criminal procedure in all the courts of the State. He was also the author of that provision of law regulating and controlling the customs of miners in the determination of their respective claims and in the settlement of controversies among them; a provision which solved a very perplexing problem and has ever since remained undisturbed. In 1857 he was elected a Justice of the Supreme Court of California for six years, from the 1st day of January, 1858. A vacancy occurring previous to the commencement of his term, he was appointed to fill it, and took his seat on the Supreme bench on the 13th day of October, 1857. The law relative to the titles to real estate in California was placed on a solid basis while he was on the bench, and principally by decisions in which he delivered the opinions of the court. In September, 1859, he became Chief Justice of the State, and in 1863 President Lincoln appointed him an associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, which position he still holds. In 1873 he was appointed one of a commission, by the Governor of California, to examine the code of laws of this State, and to prepare amendments to the same for legislative action. In the summer of 1889 he was arrested for complicity in the killing of the notorious Judge Terry at Lathrop, California, but the charge was promptly dismissed, on the ground that the deed was in self-defense and really a necessity to sustain the Government. Cyrus W. Field, well known as the promoter of that magnificent enterprise, the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable, which placed Europe and America in almost instantaneous communication; and Rev. Henry Martyn Field, of New York, a popular clergyman and editor of the Evangelist, are brothers of Judge Field, and are men of exceptional ability in their respective stations in life. The name of Judge Field has often been mentioned in connection with the presidency of the United States, and his elevation to that exalted position is among the possibilities of the future.
Transcribed Karen L. Pratt.
Source: "The Bay of San Francisco," Vol. 1, pages 654-656, Lewis Publishing Co, 1892.
© 2005 Karen L. Pratt.