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In the early days of Niagara County, many a brilliant youngster turned to the law looking forward to a lucrative career.

But many of them found out the law alone was not enough for prosperity and branched into politics, business and other pursuits.

One of the most prominent in Lockport was Nathan Dayton, who studied law when he was 20 years old in Washington County, N.Y. In those days, many lawyers took on-the-job training by working in an established law firm. Dayton claimed he started his career with just $5 in his pocket.

Later he decided to move to a rapidly growing Lockport due to canal construction. He became a law partner of Lot Clark in 1833, when he was appointed to a local judgeship. In 1836, he became a circuit court judge. In 1838, he formed a law partnership with his brother-in-law Anson Boyce.

Entering politics, Dayton won election as county clerk in 1858. He played a prominent role in the 1846 campaign of Hiram Gardner and James McNitt, who were running against Augustus Porter and Samuel Works, the Republican candidates for delegate positions in a statewide constitutional convention.

Porter and Works favored putting an item in the proposed state constitution to allow Negroes to vote, a hot-button issue in those pre-Civil War days.

Gardner and McNitt put out a circular saying, "Electors! Read these letters and say if Negroes shall vote, if not, vote for Hiram Gardner and James McNitt." They soundly defeated Porter and Works.

A popular lawyer in Niagara Falls of that era was Samuel DeVeaux. He served 30 years as a Justice of the Peace, but otherwise practiced little law. He concentrated on his various business interests.

James F. Fitts, born in Lockport in 1839, received much of his education at the famed Lewiston Academy. He became a brilliant lawyer of that day, but had other interests.

Fitts was a writer of poetry, magazine stories and several books. One of his successful books was "Captain Kidd's Gold."

Fitts was also quite patriotic. On Sept. 21, l861, he joined the 114th New York State Infantry. He survived the war, but was wounded twice. After the war, he returned to Lockport and became associated with Judge Alfred Holmes.

Lawyer Robert H. Stevens, of Lockport, was another multi-faceted character. Besides the practice of law, he was part owner in a grist mill and a saw mill. His office was in the same building that housed the drugstore of George W. Merchant, developer of the world-famed Merchant's Gargling Oil.

In his political career, Stevens became district attorney in Niagara County. In that year, 1845, the DA's salary was $450 a year. Stevens even made an item in the newspaper Niagara Cataract of April 2, 1851.

It seems an itinerant preacher came to town and began calling on prominent people to convince them to attend his meetings as a way of drawing larger crowds.

According to the Cataract article, the evangelist said to Stevens, "Good morning, Mr. Stevens. Understanding that you are one of the leading men of the town and a lawyer of high standing, I have called upon you in hopes to engage you on the Lord's side."

The lawyer replied, "Thank you. I should be most happy to be employed on that side of the case, if I could do so consistently with my other engagements, but you will have to go to some other counsel, as I have a standing retainer from the opposite party."

The article concluded, "The itinerant was amazed, piqued, nonplused and finally, laughing very heartily and calling Bob a sad dog, departed from his presence."

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com June 14, 2011