Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — Judge George Tod

Judge George Tod, by Unknown author – (1909) Twentieth Century History of Sandusky County, Ohio and Representative Citizens, Chicago: Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co., p. 177, Public Domain, via Wikimedia.

Last week, I wrote about Tod Homestead Cemetery. The cemetery was the result of a bequest of George Tod, a Youngstown industrialist and son of David Tod, who served as a governor of Ohio. The George Tod I’m writing about this week was David’s father and George’s grandfather. He was one of Youngstown’s earliest settlers and gave Brier Hill its name. As a judge on the Supreme Court of Ohio, he escaped impeachment by a single vote, fought in the War of 1812 with the rank of Lt. Colonel, returning to Youngstown as a Common Pleas Judge. He lived out his days on Brier Hill Farm, from which part of the land was eventually allocated for the cemetery.

George Tod was born Dec. 11, 1773, in Suffield, Connecticut to David and Rachel Kent Tod. He graduated from Yale in 1795 and studied law at the Litchfield Law School, the first law school in the United States. He was admitted to the bar in 1797 and married Sarah “Sallie” Isaacs. In 1800, he visited the newly surveyed Western Reserve and brought his family to Youngstown in 1801, settling northwest of the Youngstown settlement, establishing a farm that he called Brier Hill farm for the Briers on its hillsides. David Tod was born there in 1805.

George Tod had already been admitted to the bar and appointed a prosecuting attorney for Trumbull County, of which Youngstown was a part at that time. While serving in this office, he was elected clerk of Youngstown township in 1802. In 1804 he was elected to the Senate of the newly formed state of Ohio, representing Trumbull County until 1806. On May 13, 1806 Governor Edward Tiffin appointed him to the Supreme Court of the State of Ohio. He was then elected to a seven year term in 1807.

His near impeachment came when he and Justice Huntington ruled that a section of a state law defining the duties of justices of the peace and constables in criminal and civil cases to be unconstitutional. Some of the legislature was so angered that they brought impeachment charges against Tod on Dec. 24, 1808. Huntington escaped charges because he had by then been elected governor. Todd argued:

“That if this article of impeachment can be sustained, the tenure of the judicial office, will hereafter depend on the will of the house of representatives and the senate, to be declared on impeachment, ungoverned by any established principles, and resting in their sovereign will, governed by their arbitrary discretion.”

In other words, he was fighting for the power of the constitution over the legislature, and for the principal of judicial review at the state level.

The legislature got its revenge by passing the Sweeping Measures reducing the term of justices to four years. Tod stepped down, getting himself elected to the Senate from Trumbull County. Among other things, he helped lead efforts to repeal the Sweeping Measures. Although by this time he was fighting in the War of 1812, the General Assembly repealed this law in 1812.

He was a genuine war hero. He had been elected Captain of the Second Regiment of the Fourth Division of Trumbull County in 1804. These regiments were incorporated into the Army at the onset of the War of 1812, part of the 19th Regiment of Infantry, commanded by Col. John Miller. He was commissioned as a Major in 1812 and promoted to Lt. Colonel in 1814, recognizing his service. He was commended for his courage during the siege of Ft. Meigs, near Toledo from April 19 to May 9, 1813 and in the Battle of Sackett’s Harbor on May 19 of the same year. Subsequently he was awarded the command of Ft. Malden after the British evacuated it.

After the war, he returned to Youngstown, serving as a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for the Third Circuit which encompassed  Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Huron, Medina, Portage, Richland, Wayne and Trumbull counties. He served two seven-year terms between 1816 and 1830. A fellow judge, Rufus P. Spaulding, gave this description of traveling from Warren to Cleveland with Tod:

“We made the journey on horse-back, and were nearly two days in accomplishing it. I recollect the judge, instead of an overcoat, wore an Indian blanket drawn over his head by means of a hole cut in the center. We came to attend court, and put up at the house of Mr. Merwin, where we met quite a number of lawyers from adjacent counties. At this time the village of Warren, where I lived, was considered altogether ahead of Cleveland in importance, indeed there was very little of Cleveland at that day…The presiding judge was the Hon. George Tod, a well read lawyer and a most courteous gentlemen, the father of our late patriotic governor, David Tod. His kindness of heart was proverbial, and sometimes lawyers would presume on it.”

After his second term, he returned to his legal practice in Youngstown and a term as Prosecuting Attorney for Trumbull County from 1833 to 1835. He died at Brier Hill Farm on April 11, 1841 and was buried at Oak Hill Cemetery.

Brier Hill Farm remained just a farm until after George Tod’s death. It was his son David who realized the value of the block coal beneath the surface that fired the iron, and later, the steel industry, making “Brier Hill” synonymous with blast furnaces rather than crops and livestock. All of this was an unenvisioned future to Judge George Tod. He fought for Ohio and country on the battlefield and courtroom, establishing the rule of law and the precedence of the state’s constitution in the Western Reserve and the newly minted state of Ohio. He was one of Youngstown’s founders, whose contribution in law, land, and children would leave its imprint on Youngstown’s future.

To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!