Department of New York

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Grand Army
of the Republic

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John S. Maxwell
Department of New York

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John S. Maxwell was born on February 4, 1845
in Cohoes, NY and died in May of 1929, at the
age of 85. His parents came to the US from
Harwick, Scotland in 1840. John Maxwell was a
pioneer knitting mill operator in Amsterdam, NY
and was married, in Amsterdam, on May 16,
1867 to Frances Vedder (died June 24, 1910).
He later married Helen M. Francis.

John enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a Landsman.
He served on the Vermont, A.D. Vance, North
Carolina, Genessee, Baltic and the Morgan.
He served on the A.D. Vance at the Battle of
Fort Fisher.

He was elected as the Commander,
Department of New York, Grand Army of the
Republic, 1906.

Amsterdam Record, May 19, 1929

Click Here
to read excerpts from
some of
John S. Maxwell's letters home
from the US Navy.

Click Here
to read from the Proceedings of the
New York Department, G.A.R.,
41st Annual Encampment
at which John S. Maxwell's served as Department Commander.


Veteran of Civil War and Citizen of Amsterdam Whom All Honor, Dies at Hospital in Fullness of Years----Widely Known and Loved

Judge John S. Maxwell died 3 o’clock Sunday afternoon in the Amsterdam City hospital in the
eighty-fifth year of his age.

Judge Maxwell was the oldest lawyer in the city and also enjoyed the distinction of having been
admitted to the bar at a more advanced age than any other, for it was in middle age that he
decided to abandon business and enter the legal profession. He was one whom his fellow men
delighted to honor.

The latter part of his life was marked by four successive elections to the office of Amsterdam
City Judge, which office he still held when he died. He was three times elected Recorder of the
City of Amsterdam, District Attorney of the county, and at one time might well have been the
candidate of the Republican party for Secretary of State had he cared to press the effort further.

As a member of the G. A. R. he held every office that both the local posts and the state
organization could confer and was at one time Postmaster in Stittville (a town founded by his

All of these public positions came to him during a period of 36 years, and in all that time there
was never a question as to his honesty and ability. Scorn and suspicion, rightfully or otherwise,
were almost invariably the lot of men in public office, but such was the dignity and fine loyalty to
the highest ideals of John S. Maxwell that no ill word from any quarter was ever directed against
his life, public or private. Leaders of all political parties endorsed him, and all men approved.
A life so filled with good works, ended so gracefully in the fullness of years, must have built
something into the municipal structure of the city that will be felt when the name of
John S. Maxwell is but a dim memory.

Judge Maxwell was born in Cohoes February 4, 1845, being the second son of John Maxwell
and Elizabeth Davidson, who came to the United States from Hawick, Scotland, in 1840.
The Maxwell family moved in 1857 to Rock City, now the eighth ward of Amsterdam,
John S. Maxwell being then 12 years of age. His father entered the knit goods business in a
partnership with the late Adam Kline. The little red schoolhouse on the hill and later the
Amsterdam academy gave John S. Maxwell the fundamentals of education, and he also attended
college at Poughkeepsie, NY.

At age 19 years he enlisted in the United States Navy. After the war he worked at his father's mill
and then entered business life on his own account.

He operated knitting mills in Amsterdam, Stittville, Oneida, St. Johnsville and Toronto, Canada.
It was while he was in Stittville that his appointment as postmaster came from President Grant.

It was in the year 1889 that Judge Maxwell decided to abandon business and study law, and on
February 4, 1892, the forty-seventh anniversary of his birth, he was admitted to the bar. The
following year he was the candidate of the Republican party for Recorder and was elected by a
majority of 550, the term being for three years.

He was re-nominated at the expiration of that term and again endorsed by the voters by an
increased majority, and there was no opposition to his election for the third term. One year
following the completion of his third term as recorder he was elected District Attorney, and upon
the completion of the three-year term he declined re-nomination.

It was during his service as Recorder and as District Attorney that Judge Maxwell demonstrated
those fine attributes of human character, kindly understanding, toleration and mercy. It was his
conception of his duty that society was to be protected by law rather than that revenge be
administered for wrongdoing. He was reluctant to punish or prosecute bitterly when he felt that
justice to all might be the better served by leniency. Those associated with him know that many a
man has been spared the shame of public disgrace and prison record, to go clean and straight
afterward. Yet his clarity of vision and sense of true justice were always with him. He could carry
on with quiet insistence to stern culmination when convinced that the facts warranted such a

It was not long after the expiration of Judge Maxwell's term as District Attorney that the office of
City Judge was created, and to this office he was elected in the year 1916, having at one time (the
year of 1908) been prominently mentioned as the candidate for Secretary of State. No one
knows of anyone of his own party that desired to oppose him at any primary, nor did any other
party wish to enter a candidate against him.

It was in the administration of this office, perhaps, that the human understanding and sturdy
common sense of Judge Maxwell showed to better advantage than during any other part of his
career. He knew the law well enough, he understood the precedents, but he did not allow
verbiage and technicalities to blur the clean-cut outlines of right and wrong as they stood before
him. More than once he has said before contesting attorneys and witnesses, "I do not care what
the law says, In this instance it is not right," and his decisions were rendered in accordance with
right as it was given him to see the right. He did it so gently, yet with such utter finality, that very
few of his decisions were appealed, and those most disgruntled at the moment would say after a
time, "I guess the old judge was right after all." There must yet linger in the memory of
Amsterdam that period of housing shortage when action after action came before the court of
Judge Maxwell to evict tenants. How many may well hold this time in grateful recollection, for no
family ever went into the street by order of City Judge John S. Maxwell, let law and lawyers say
what they would.

The honors bestowed upon John S. Maxwell by the Grand Army of the Republic were as
numerous as those accorded him in political life. He was elected State Commander of the
G.A.R. about 22 years ago, the state convention being held in Saratoga. It was almost entirely
through his influence as New York State Commander that the national convention of the G.A.R.
was held in Saratoga the summer following his election. He was elected Trustee of the Soldiers'
and Sailors' Home in Bath in 1915, and shortly after his election was made president of the
Board of Trustees. He was twice Commander of Post E. S. Young, No. 33, G. A. R., and four
times Commander of A. H. Terry Post, which disbanded in 1909. He was Senior Vice
Commander of the State Department of the G.A.R., being chosen for this office after the
expiration of his term as Commander and was also a member of the Council of Administration
for three terms and chairman of the legislative committee for three years. He was twice President
of the Tri-County Veterans' Association and for the past four years had been Judge Advocate of
the State Department of the G. A. R.

The physical life of John S. Maxwell was in keeping with the high plane of his mental and moral
attributes. Not large in body, he was possessed of a toughness of fiber and a fine organism
which, coupled with moderation in all things, enabled him to attain advanced age with no visible
signs of approaching dissolution and to grow old so gracefully that every appearance,

During the ten weeks that he was at the hospital Judge Maxwell suffered little, or if he did he
concealed the fact with the quiet courage the strong man who does not wish others to suffer
because of his pain. He would ride about the city during such days of his hospital confinement
as the weather permitted and was alert in recognizing and greeting friends, although it could be
seen that he did this by pure power of mind. He wished to - himself completely to the very end
and he had often expressed the belief that a sudden end to any man in full power of mind and
body while at his work or pastime, was the best end and hoped such might be his. This wish was
not quite granted to him, but those who knew and loved him may rest in the solemn satisfaction
that to the last he seemed to believe that his illness was but transient and that his soul departed in
painless peace.

He was a member of Amsterdam lodge, No. 101, B. P. O. E., Artis lodge, No. 84, F. and A. M.,
the Odd Fellows and the Amsterdam Bar association.

The survivors are a son, John Brooks Maxwell of New York city, who has been Amsterdam for
the past three days, a daughter, Mrs. Frederick S. Smith of Seneca Falls, two brothers, Charles
T. Maxwell and Stuart Maxwell of Philadelphia; two sisters, Mrs. Jessie M. Bowman of
Philadelphia and Mrs. Helen M. Browne of Chicago, and two grandchildren, Edith A. Maxwell
and Janet Helen Smith.

It was while he was visiting at the home of his daughter that the final illness of Mr. Maxwell came
upon him, and she returned to Amsterdam with him and has been at the home of Mr. and Mrs.
Fred Pieer, 5 Tryon street, since.

Mayor Salmon today ordered flags on the city building at half mast in respect to the memory of
City Judge John S. Maxwell. The mayor also has issued a call for all city officials to attend the
funeral Wednesday afternoon.



MAXWELL- John S. Maxwell, City Judge, May 19, 1929 at the Amsterdam City hospital. A
prayer service will be held at the funeral house of Johnson & Lindsay Wednesday afternoon,
May 22, at 2 o'clock and at 2:30 at the Second Presbyterian church, the Rev. Frank T. Rhoad
officiating. Interment will be in the family plot at Greenhill Cemetery in Amsterdam.


EDWARD MAXWELL (Brother of John S. Maxwell)

Edward Maxwell, born: April 21, 1841, Jersey City, NJ, Died: March 19, 1915

Parents (John Maxwell and Elizabeth Davidson) came to the US from Harwick, Scotland in
1840. John Maxwell was a pioneer knitting mill operator in Amsterdam, NY. Edward graduated
from Union College in 1864. He enlisted in the Sixty-Third regiment, Irish Brigade and served
until the end of war. He participated in several engagements, including The Wilderness, and was
wounded at Petersburg. He was promoted to the rank of brevet Captain and as senior officer of
his regiment, brought it home to New York July, 1865, after Lees surrender.

He served for several terms as the adjutant of the John A. Dix. Post, G.A.R. of New York City.

Sources for all above:
Michael Horgan, Past New Jersey Dept. Commander, SUVCW and Great Grandson of John S. Maxwell


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