Benjamin Witherell

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Benjamin WitherellServed from 1857 through 1857

Benjamin F.H. Witherell was born on August 4, 1797, in Fair Haven, Vermont, the second son of Judge James Witherell, who came to Detroit in 1808 as a Territorial Judge of Michigan. The Witherell family followed in 1810, only to return to the peace and quiet of Vermont in 1812 when war in Michigan was imminent. For five years, young Ben studied the classics privately with a Dr. Beaman in Troy, New York, and in 1817 the family was reunited in Detroit. For a couple of years Benjamin studied law in his father’s office and in 1819 was admitted to the Bar of the Territorial Court. For the next 12 years, Witherell filled the offices of Probate Judge and Prosecuting Attorney for Wayne County, as well as giving attention to his great love of local history. He was said to have “been better acquainted with the early history of Detroit than any other man in the state.” He often wrote for the Detroit Free Press on local history under the pen name “Hamtramck.”

In 1843, Witherell was appointed to the newly organized District Criminal Court for the counties of Wayne, Oakland, Washtenaw, and Jackson.

From 1857 until his death, Witherell was Circuit Judge for Wayne County, having been appointed to replace Samuel Douglass. It was during the July and October terms of 1857 that he is listed as sitting on the Michigan Supreme Court. A person of more honesty and common sense than learning, Witherell commanded the respect and friendship of all who knew him. “He had a general knowledge of the law, and was a very respectable though not a profound lawyer . . . He had a wonderful memory.”

He married and outlived three wives and by them had a total of five children, three of which were living at the time of his death. Benjamin F.H. Witherell passed away without pain in his sleep on the morning of June 26, 1867. (Biography compiled by Ann Lucas, Serials Librarian of Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Lansing, Michigan, 1998.)