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Below is a family biography included in the Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania published in 1904 by T. S. Benham & Company and The Lewis Publishing Company; Elwood Roberts, Editor.  These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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COLONEL JAMES BOYD. The bar of every county in Pennsylvania has its oldest member, the honor being handed down from one to another as each in turn departs from the scene of his earthly labors and triumphs. Colonel James Boyd enjoys special distinction in this respect. He is not only the nestor of the bar of Montgomery county but he is the oldest attorney in active practice at this time in the state of Pennsylvania.

James Boyd, grandfather of Colonel Boyd, was a native of County Tyrone, Ireland. Emigrating to this country, he settled at Connellsville, in the coke region of Pennsylvania.

Colonel Boyd is the son of Jeremiah and Elizabeth (Long) Boyd. He was born in the old homestead in Fayette county, Pennsylvania, March 29, 1821. He was educated in the common schools of that vicinity in his earlier boyhood days, and when he was eighteen years of age his father and the family removed to Germantown, in Philadelphia county, where the son completed his education at the old academy conducted by Professors Green, Smith and Collum. The family then removed to Norristown, where the question of a profession for the son arose, he being upon the threshold of manhood. It was the father’s wish that his son should become a druggist, and, without consulting with him, the elder Boyd purchased a drugstore in Norristown at the corner of Main and Cherry streets then owned by Dr. Huddleson, an early practitioner of medicine who is long since deceased. The son entered the store and, after a trial of business for three months, came to the conclusion that he was not fitted by nature for that occupation, and so disposed of it to another person. He then went to his father, who was greatly displeased at the turn of affairs, and informed him that he had decided to go west. The mother of Colonel Boyd prevailed on him, however, to remain at home.

At that time debates in the public school-houses were very common, and young Boyd soon became talked about for the forcible arguments which he advanced for the side which he happened to take, whatever might be the subject of dispute. Being six feet three inches in height and endowed with a clear voice and pleasing mode of address, he invariably commanded attention when he spoke. The father, hearing of the success of his son’s efforts in this line, at once made the suggestion that he enter the legal profession through the usual course of preliminary study. The idea was acceptable to the young man and he acted upon it at once, entering the office of Daniel H. Mulvany, a Norristown lawyer of great learning and ability. In response to a request of the elder Boyd, Mr. Mulvany engaged in conversation with the son, the result of the conference being that Mr. Mulvany accepted him as a student, and he immediately started in to read law.

Mr. Boyd applied himself to his legal studies with his habitual earnestness and diligence and he soon mastered the intricacies of the law, being admitted to the bar August 16, 1842, by Judge Fox. He then opened an office for himself in the same building in which he is now located, and waited, as is the custom, for his first client. Mr. Boyd made a success for himself in his profession from the start. Attorney Freedley, who soon gained a lucrative practice, was thought to have done exceedingly well by securing four hundred dollars in fees for his first year’s work, but Mr. Boyd outstripped all his competitors by his perseverance and attention to business. His fees for the year in which he began practice, amounted in the aggregate to seven hundred and sixty dollars, a sum which has never before or since been, equaled by a beginner in the course of his first year.

The successes of Attorney Boyd rapidly increased and he soon became known far and near as a prosperous and popular lawyer. His business grew rapidly and he was generally recognized as one of the most prominent members of the Montgomery bar, which then, as now, had a high reputation among the legal fraternity of the state.

In railway management Colonel Boyd has long held a very prominent place. In 1845 he was appointed counsel in Montgomery county for the Philadelphia, Germantown & Norristown Railroad Company. In 1852 he received a similar appointment for the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company, which he still holds, although Montgomery Evans is associated with him. He still travels frequently to Philadelphia where he is summoned to confer with the president and other officials of the Reading Railway Company, who have the greatest confidence in his judgment, which in matters of legal business, is unequaled. In 1884 he was elected president of the Perkiomen Railroad Company, a few years later of the Stony Creek Railroad Company, and a short time afterwards of the Philadelphia, Newtown & New York Railroad Company, all of which positions he still holds. He has been a director of the Montgomery National Bank of Norristown since its organization, and also counsel for the institution. He is a director of the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Company and also of the Plymouth Railroad Company. He was one of the organizers of the Norristown Insurance & Water Company and also of the Norristown Gas Company, and was for many years president of both, holding the office until recently.

Colonel Boyd has always been a careful investor. He holds stock in many of the prominent corporations of Philadelphia and is the owner of valuable property in Montgomery and other counties of the state, being generally regarded as one of the wealthiest men in Norristown.

In politics Colonel Boyd was a Whig during the existence of that party but later became a Democrat. He was elected burgess of Norristown many years ago. At that time there was no regular police force. After asking the town council to provide police protection and being refused, he appointed a policeman, and, later, an additional one, and, there being no public funds available from which to pay them, he met the expense from his own resources. It was quite common in those days for the youngest member of the bar to be elected burgess for one year, but at the end of Colonel Boyd’s term, he had conducted the borough government so successfully that there was not the slightest difficulty in securing him a re-election, the rule being set aside for the time being.

In 1873 Colonel Boyd was elected a member of the constitutional convention of Pennsylvania on the Democratic ticket and became a prominent member of that body which framed the constitution under which the people of the state are now living. He was one of three members who refused to attach his signature to the instrument after it was drafted and accepted by a majority of the convention. There were some provisions in the document of which his conscience did not approve and he decided that he would not sign. It is characteristic of him that, having once made up his mind, he cannot be swerved from his decision. Colonel Boyd’s speeches at the time the constitution was discussed in the convention were considered models of good sense and elegant diction, and they added very much to his reputation as an orator. At this time an amusing episode occurred, being a mock trial of Colonel Boyd for the offense of impersonating a Methodist minister. During the existence of the constitutional convention, E. C. Knight invited its members to be his guests at Cape May. On the trip Colonel Boyd was introduced to a Methodist clergyman, and, being an inveterate joker, succeeded in making him believe that he belonged to the same profession, much to the amusement of the other members of the convention. Later the mock trial was arranged by ex-Governor Andrew G. Curtin, Colonel Boyd being arrested as the defendant in the case of the Commonwealth vs. James Boyd, on the charge of impersonating a minister. Men of note from all parts of the state being members of the convention, including many prominent lawyers, the trial proceeded in due form, the testimony being carefully recorded by a court reporter. The speeches of counsel on both sides caused much merriment, and some of the rulings were absurdly funny, Colonel Boyd adding much to the general amusement by his witty sallies. The trial was printed and the demand from the legal fraternity all over the country greatly exceeded the supply.

Colonel Boyd was and still is a strict disciplinarian, severely rebuking familiarities. He counted among his personal acquaintances, Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and many other notabilities of their time. Few men in Pennsylvania were better or more widely known than he during the more active years of his life. His after dinner speeches are renowned for their wit, and several bar dinners recently held in Philadelphia have been greatly enlivened by the scintillations of his dry humor.

As a lawyer Colonel Boyd owes much of his success to his keen wit and to superior management, especially in the handling of witnesses on cross-examination, in which he is an adept, leading those of his opponent to contradict themselves in their statements and thus to ruin their case.

Colonel Boyd has long been president of the Montgomery County Bar Association. He has won the respect and esteem of all with whom he came in contact. He is exceedingly kind-hearted and genial. Many a young man in the legal profession has come to him for advice, and he has given them advice that has been of the greatest benefit to them in the trial of their cases. Struggling lawyers have been very much aided by his friendly suggestions.

Colonel Boyd often relates with much gusto the practical joke which he once played on Daniel Dougherty, the “silver-tongued orator” of Philadelphia, who was very popular with the ladies because of his fine Shakespearean renderings and other accomplishments. He had at one time built up quite a practice in the courts of Montgomery county, and was very often in Norristown. At his parlor in the leading hotel, the old Montgomery House, now the Hotel Montgomery, he entertained delighted audiences in the evenings. When he had occasion to deliver a speech in behalf of a client in the courthouse, his admirers usually made it a point to be present. Colonel Boyd decided, when he had an opportunity, to head off the brilliant Philadelphia lawyer, whom no one else had ever been able to match, and the opportunity was not long in presenting itself. The two were pitted against each other and the followers of Dougherty had gathered in force to witness his triumphs through his brilliant oratory which was supposed to be irresistible when he addressed a jury. On this occasion, however, Colonel Boyd had the right to speak first, and he made the most of the privilege. He knew that Mr. Dougherty would be obliged to leave on the 5:30 train in the evening, and, launching into his address at 3 o’clock, he contrived to consume the time so that it was 5:20 o’clock when he concluded his speech, to the utter discomfiture of Mr. Dougherty and his friends. The great orator made no attempt to speak at all. Colonel Boyd has often been pitted against Wayne MacVeagh and other eminent lawyers, whose fame was world-wide, and he proved himself equal to any of them in fertility of resources and skill in handling his case. Wayne MacVeagh said of Colonel Boyd on one occasion that he was the most forcible and convincing speaker he had ever heard; stern and unbending at times, but with a heart as mellow and kind as could be desired when occasion required it.

Colonel James Boyd married Sarah Jamison, who died in 1884. She was the daughter of the late Samuel Jamison, a prominent manufacturer of Norristown. Their children were Howard (deceased), who married Miss Mary, daughter of William H. Slingluff, they having one child, James S. Boyd, Jr., a student at the University of Pennsylvania, where he takes much interest in athletics; and Wallace J., who served in the house of representatives, and is long deceased, leaving one child who died in infancy.

Colonel Boyd is widely known for his charity to the needy, his benevolence being unostentatious but none the less prompt and generous. He is universally esteemed by his fellow members of the bar and by all who know him. The dinner given to him by the members of the bar on the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of his admission, was an event long to be remembered. Eminent associates in the legal profession vied with each other in paying deserved tribute to their guest and friend. Hon. Wayne MacVeagh left an important case in Washington to be present and add his word by way of testimony to the splendid qualities of the grand old man.

Mental power and self control are the qualities which have given to Colonel Boyd his pre-eminence in the profession in which his success has been so great. With a jury he has been almost irresistible, carrying its members with him by his mental force. Independent in his bearing, his humor and sarcasm are powerful weapons against his adversaries in legal contests. His invective, when he feels called upon to use it, is terrible. His varied and wide experience, his legal knowledge, and his attainments in his profession have long given him fame and reputation that have not been approached by any of his contemporaries in the practice of law. Had he cared for preferment of that kind he might have occupied a seat on the bench where his great learning and the force of his intellect would have made him a shining light in the judiciary of the state and country.

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This family biography is one of more than 1,000 biographies included in the Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania published in 1904 by T. S. Benham & Company and The Lewis Publishing Company.  For the complete description, click here: Biographical Annals of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania

View additional Montgomery County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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