Served from 1852 through 1857
Joseph T. Copeland was born in New Castle, Maine, on May 6, 1813. Copeland’s family was not well off, but his grandfather left him five hundred dollars to attend college. Copeland attended and graduated from Harvard University, and later read law with Daniel Webster. While with Webster, Copeland was sent to Michigan on a “secret mission” by President Andrew Jackson. He must have liked what he saw of the state, because he returned and settled in St. Clair in 1844. He was always very interested in business and profitable ventures. Lumbering in Michigan was very active at this time, prompting him to build the first saw mill in Bay City.
In 1846, Copeland was elected County Judge and served until 1849. Two years later he was elected Judge of the St. Clair Circuit Court, which also placed him on the Michigan Supreme Court where he served until 1857.
Sometime after his tenure on the Bench, Copeland moved 24 miles northwest to Orchard Lake and built what was always referred to as “the castle” on the lake. However, around 1870, he and some Pontiac businessmen went into partnership to turn the castle into a hotel. At first they prospered, but by 1873 they were out of business, due, it is said, to “poor management.”
We may think of Copeland primarily as a judge, but to everyone who knew him he was “General” Copeland. He came by the title honestly, as he had a long career as a gentleman soldier. In Maine he had commanded a company of militia; when the Civil War broke out, he raised a Michigan Cavalry Regiment and drilled under McClellan on the Potomac. He lost command of his regiment when McClellan was removed, and was forced to watch while General Custer led his regiment at Gettysburg. He resigned his commission on November 8, 1865.
In 1878, Copeland moved to Orange Park, Florida, serving as Judge of Clay County. He died on May 6, 1893, 80 years to the day after his birth. (Biography compiled by Ann Lucas, Serials Librarian of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, Michigan, 1998.)