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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
General Richard Updike Sherman

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[This information is from Vol. III, pp. 10-16 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Portrait of Richard Updike Sherman

Portrait: Richard Updike Sherman

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Men of noble character and high purpose pass from earth but the influence of their lives remains and bears fruit in the lives of others. Of this type was General Richard Updike Sherman, who left the impress of his individuality upon the history of the Empire state and also figured in national affairs. He possessed a strong sense of duty and honor and in contemplating his many rare qualities in the bright light which things of good repute ever invite, his name and character stand revealed. Success, and honors were his, each worthily won, and there is in his history an element of inspiration for others and an example of high purpose nobly achieved.

General Sherman was born in Vernon, Oneida county, New York, June 26, 1819, and traced his ancestry to the Colonial epoch in American history. The records of the early settlement of New England show that there were two distinct families of this name, between whom there existed no blood relationship, so far as is known, and one used the more common form of Sherman, while the other was known as Shearman. William Sherman journeyed to Plymouth, Massachusetts, with the Pilgrims in 1630 and Philip Shearman arrived in that colony in 1633, subsequently settling in Rhode Island. A number of his descendants, among them General Richard U. Sherman, have changed the name to Sherman. Many bearing the name of Sherman, not related to the two families above mentioned, have since migrated from the Old World to the New and their descendants have become quite numerous in this country. Among the descendants of Philip Shearman was Robert Shearman, who was born in Rhode Island in 1752 and after reaching years of maturity married Honor Brown. They had ten children, nine sons and one daughter. Of the sons five came to Utica between 1800 and 1820, namely: Ebenezer B., Robert, Willett H., William Pitt and Daniel C. Shearman. Mrs. Charles H. Doolittle, the wife of Judge Doolittle of Utica, was a daughter of William Pitt Shearman. The Doolittle family is one of the most prominent in Utica and its members are highly respected by the residents of the city. Willett H. Shearman was twice married and had eight children by each wife. Of the sixteen, twelve lived to mature years.

General Richard U. Sherman was the third child by the first marriage and his mother's name was Catherine Schoolcraft. She was a sister of Henry R. Schoolcraft, whose researches and notable contributions to the history of the Indians of North America excited the interest of the whole scientific world. Willett H. Shearman was widely and favorably known in Oneida county and for more than a half century was a positive force in the commercial, manufacturing and agricultural life of the county. His son, Richard U. Sherman, was born in Vernon, Oneida county, June 26, 1819, and there attended the public schools, completing his education in the Utica Academy, from which he was graduated at the age of fourteen. On reaching his majority he turned his attention to newspaper life, having a distaste for mercantile pursuits, for which his father had trained him. The Harrison and Van Buren campaign in 1840 found him conducting a campaign paper in Utica with ability and success and owing to the prestige which he won in that connection the Gazette, the first daily in that city, engaged his services the following year. For ten years thereafter he was actively engaged in editorial work. The Herkimer Journal was under his management in the campaign of 1844 and in 1846 he was editor of the Oswego Daily Times. In 1847, in association with Erastus Clark, he brought out the Rochester Daily Evening Gazette, the only daily in the state which supported Zachary Taylor for the presidency of the whig party. Later in the same year he returned to Utica, and with R. W. Roberts established the Utica Morning Herald, which for many years was one of the strongest papers published in the state.

General Sherman's connection with public affairs dates from 1851, when he was elected clerk of the assembly in the state legislature, and he held the office continuously with the exception of one year, until 1857. Many reforms in the business of the desk were instituted under his administration in the Clerk's Manual, which he wrote during this period, and which has been of greater practical use than any of the more pretentious treatises on parliamentary law. In 1857 he was elected a member of the assembly by the republican party. In 1860 the twenty-nine members of congress who then constituted New York's representation, united in a request that he be appointed assistant clerk of the house of representatives. That office he held for ten years, adding yearly to the reputation which he had established at Albany. No member of the Constitutional convention of 1867, to which Mr. Sherman had been elected, made more valuable contribution to the measures finally adopted. When he resigned his position as assistant clerk of the house of representatives in 1870 there were none of his official associates who did not regret the loss of his eminent executive qualities and the severance of a uniformly agreeable companionship.

After leaving Washington Mr. Sherman's chief business was the care of many large estates which were intrusted to him as executor, administrator or trustee because of his integrity and ability. In 1872 the democratic and liberal republicans of the New York district unanimously selected him as the nominee for congress. He was defeated but ran ahead of his ticket by many hundred votes. The first Oneida assembly district had for many years been strongly republican, but when Mr. Sherman was nominated by the democrats in 1874 his personal popularity enabled him to triumph over a candidate who had never been beaten before. No democrat ever gave a finer illustration of self-sacrifice than did Mr. Sherman in that session of 1874-75. Without a doubt he could have been elected speaker, but fearing that his candidacy for that position might interfere with the election of Francis Kernan as United States senator, he refused to permit the use of his name in connection with the speakership. He was made chairman of the committee on rules and a member of the committee on general laws, and in the framing of the many new general laws required by the amended constitution Mr. Sherman was of conspicuous service. Reelected to the assembly in 1876, he was the only member of a minority who was given a committee chairmanship. He was the choice of his party for the speakership and was a member of many important committees. Appointed in 1879 to succeed Governor Horatio Seymour as a member of the Fish and Game Commission, he continued in that office until 1890, when he resigned. His intimate knowledge of the Adirondack region and his love for forest sports singularly fitted him for the work. He imported from Scotland the first can of Scotch trout eggs, which were placed in the lakes of the Adirondacks, and he afterward caught and preserved a fish weighing four and a half pounds, the largest of the species, which he had photographed. He was the founder of the North Woods Walton Club and in 1878 organized the Bisby Club.

General Sherman spent the latter years of his life in the village of New Hartford, and no citizen possessed the public confidence in so large a measure as did he. In the business life of the village he loomed large. In 1880 he organized the New Hartford Canning Company, of which he was president until his death, and in 1879 became a trustee of the New Hartford Cotton Company, also filling that office until his demise. He was thrice president of the village and when the Butler Memorial Hall was opened he was made president and trustee.

While a resident of Utica, General Sherman was alderman of the fourth ward and in 1849 he was made chairman of the fire department committee, becoming chief of the department in the following year. In 1854, 1855 and 1856 he represented the fourth ward on the board of supervisors and was its chairman in 1854. The seventh ward sent him to the board in 1857. He then removed to New Hartford, spending ten years on a farm in that vicinity, and in 1867 took up his abode in the village.

On January 14, 1848, General Sherman was married to Mary F. Sherman, a granddaughter of Stalham Williams and a daughter of Richard W. Sherman, a well known steamboat captain on Lake Champlain. Although of the same name, the two families were not related. Six children were born of this union, namely: Richard W., a sketch of whom is published elsewhere in this work; Mary Louise; Stalham W., deceased; James Schoolcraft, who was vice president of the United States from March 4, 1909, until his demise on October 30, 1912; Sanford Foster, of Utica; and Willett H., who died in infancy. The daughter, Mary Louise, married Hon. Henry J. Cookinham of Utica, and they have a family of six children. Their sons, Lieutenant Colonel H. J. Cookinham, Jr., and Captain Walter S. Cookinham, served with distinction in the World war. There are now (1924) forty-five living descendants of General Sherman, forty-two of whom reside in and near Utica. These and the members of Judge Doolittle's family are the only descendants of Robert Shearman of Rhode Island, now living in the city.

When a young man General Sherman enlisted in the military service of his state and advanced through the various grades through ability and devotion to duty. On January 6, 1852, he was commissioned brigadier general of the Twenty-first Brigade, Sixth Division, New York National Guard, and served in that capacity for eight years. He rose from the ranks through merit alone and his military record was an unblemished one, of which the family is justly proud. The Oneida Historical Society found him one of its earliest members and one of its counselors. He was identified with the Oriental Lodge of Masons and the Shenandoah Lodge of Odd Fellows. In 1849 he was honored with the presidency of the Utica Building Society, the first organization of the kind in the city. General Sherman's career was unique. In three great political parties he won distinction; as a whig, as a republican and as a democrat. His absolute integrity put him beyond the reach of any suspicion of ulterior motives. Whatever his political affiliations he never failed to command the respect of his party associates and the admiration of his political opponents. He was universally esteemed and stood as the highest type of American manhood and citizenship.

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