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Our Hall of Fame: Joseph Christopher Yates (1768-1837)

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[This information is from pp. 10-11 of Our Hall of Fame, a booklet produced in 1938 by what was then called the Schenectady Public Library. It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 920 S324, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

Portrait of Joseph Christopher Yates

Portrait: Joseph Christopher Yates

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One-time governor of New York State, Joseph Christopher Yates was born in this city November 9, 1768. His father, Christopher Yates, was one of the principal figures in Schenectady before the Revolution and served in that war as well as in the French and Indian War which preceded it.

Young Joseph received his early education from a private tutor ond afterwards attended an academy. He then studied law in the law office of his father's cousin in Albany and finally returned to Schenectady to open his own office after having been admitted to the bar.

The Yates family, ever since its founder, an enterprising English yeoman of Leeds in Yorkshire, had emigrated to New York at the time of Charles I, had been accustomed to further any movement or improvement which would benefit the people. Adhering to this family trait, Joseph Yates was one of the founders of Union College.

He was an able lawyer and a public spirited citizen, being Schenectady's first mayor when it was incorporated as a city in 1798. In 1805 he was elected to the state Senate and in 1808 he was appointed one of the judges of the state Supreme Court. As a judge he was noted for his common sense, uprightness, and clear, accurate decisions.

Joseph Yates became governor of New York State in 1822. The new constitution, adopted the year before, caused him great difficulty in the appointment of a great many officers whose tenure of office had become changed by the law. The city of Albany was thronged with these place-hunters and their appointments were a serious trouble to the new governor. As a result of this and for other reasons, among them his view of the proposal to change the electoral law of the state, Governor Yates fell into disfavor and at the expiration of his term of office retired to private life and again made his home in Schenectady.

In person Joseph Yates was a tall, fine-looking man with a large, shapely head, a prominent nose, full lips, and a face cleanly shaven and rosy. His bearing was excellent and his voice and manner bespoke the gentleman. He was a man of boundless industry and his courtesy and square dealing were only a few of his many fine characteristics. He died March 19, 1837.

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