George Washington Cotterill

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George Washington Cotterill (b. May 18, 1828 in Montpelier, VT; d. August 11, 1902 in Schroon Lake, NY) was the son of Mahlon and Catherine E. (Couch) Cotterill.  Cotterill was William’s attorney in both business and personal matters, including his divorce, and also represented Steinway & Sons.

William mentions Cotterill numerous times in his Diary, making it clear that William considered him a friend as well as his lawyer.  William often lunched or dined with Cotterill (Diary, 1871-03-17; 1878-11-02; 1883-12-03), and they and their wives socialized.(Diary, 1884-11-22; 1888-03-04)  Once the two families vacationed together at Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks, where Cotterill had a summer cottage. (Diary, 1891-07-31; 08-01)

When Cotterill first appears in the Diary on October 23, 1869, he is working for William, together with another lawyer, James Eschwege, on a case against Ernestine Oaks, the widow of William’s brother Henry.  Eschwege is mentioned 18 times in 1870, but seldom, if at all, in the years following.  Cotterill, however, is mentioned hundreds of times until William’s death.  Clearly, once he employed Cotterill, William selected him as his attorney-of-choice.

Noted as a “Man of Progress” in Vermont(2), Cotterill graduated from the University of Vermont in 1847(7) and was admitted to the Vermont Bar in 1850.  Moving to New York City in 1855, Cotterill associated with Ludwig, Smith & Finke, a law firm that served the German population there.  He subsequently formed a partnership with Jed P. C. Cotterill, his younger brother.  When his brother moved to Milwaukee, George continued in practice alone.  He was an active member of the Liederkranz Society, joining in 1865, and served as its counsel.(1)(2)(4)(7)(8)(12)

As William’s attorney, Cotterill was involved in a multitude of issues throughout the years of the Diary.  Especially significant were William’s divorce from his first wife Regina and the response of William and Steinway & Sons to three suits brought by William’s disaffected nephew Henry W. T. Steinway (referred to throughout the Diary as “Harbuckle”).

In the case against Regina, William relied on Cotterill’s opinion that divorce “is the only solution of the difficulty” (Diary, 1876-03-25) and consulted with him throughout the process.  Cotterill also met alone with Regina as negotiations proceeded.(Diary, 1876-04-12; 1876-05-02)  His bill for securing the divorce was $3500, astonishing William.  The bill was settled at $2000.(Diary, 1877-03-10)

As an estranged member of William’s family, Harbuckle’s ineffectual suits consumed much of the 1890s for both William and Cotterill.  After one initial negative judgment and various appeals, Cotterill, ultimately, won all three suits; in one case, however, both William and Cotterill were dead before the final result.(3)  On some occasions William recorded his satisfaction with Cotterill’s performance: “Cotterill summons [sic] up, having but one hour, does so finely”(Diary, 1877-12-06); “Carefully read through Cotterill masterly array in the will suit of  Harbuckle”(Diary, 1894-06-27); “Cotterill takes him [Harbuckle] in the cross driving him badly into the corner”(Diary, 1895-01-25); “Cotterill is not well and is not in his usual vigor, still he crowds Harbuckle badly.” (Diary, 1895-01-28)

Cotterill also was involved in the preparation of wills for William, his father and his brother C. F. Theodore.(Diary, 1871-04-21; 1870-12-24; 1872-05-10.)  From 1878 to 1884 Cotterill successfully defended Steinway & Sons in the time-consuming suit brought by Herbert Van Dyke, who claimed he had not received all the compensation he was due for services in conjunction with the Centennial Exhibition.(6)  Finally decided in Steinways’ favor in 1884,(Diary, 1884-10-22) both William and Cotterill must have been glad to see the end. William often cited conferences with Cotterill on the subject and again used the term “crowds” to describe Cotterill’s handling of Van Dyke.(Diary,  1880-06-15, 1880-06-18)

Census data for 1850 and 1860 in Vermont(10)(11) show the spelling of Cotterill’s family name as “Cottrill” but in the New York City Directory for 1869 the spelling for George is “Cotterill,” He is listed first at 175 Broadway and then at 32 Nassau.  In 1881, Cotterill married Cordelia Jarvis of New York, an event that William noted in his Diary on July 7. (1)(5)

Cotterill also served other clients, including German banks and most notably the Underwriters’ Agency, composed of four individual insurance companies.  When two of the companies withdrew, litigation ensued; Cotterill represented one of the parties and was said to have done so with “marked ability and success.”(2)

Cotterill died on August 11, 1902, at his cottage in the Adirondacks.(5)

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1. Benedict, G. Grenville, ed. Men of Progress, Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Leaders in Business and Professional Life in and of the State of Vermont.  Boston: New England Magazine, 1898, pp. 276-78.
2. “Cotterill, George Washington lawyer,” Biographical Directory of the State of New York.  New York: Biographical Directory Company, 1900.
3. Fostle, D. W. The Steinway Saga. New York: Scribner, 1995 pp. 360-370.
4. Mosenthal, Hermann.  Varblow, Heidi, translator.  History of the Club German Liederkranz.  New York: F. A. Ringler Company, 1897, pp. 143-61.
5. “Obituary Notes,” The New York Times, August 12, 1902, p. 7.
6. “Suit Against Piano-Makers.” The New York Times, January 23, 1880, p. 3.
7. Triennial Catalogue of the University of Vermont.  Burlington: Free Press Print, 1854, p. 35,36.
8. Trow’s New York City Directory.  New York: The Trow City Directory Company, 1869
9. Trow’s New York City Directory.  New York: The Trow City Directory Company, 1890
10. United States Federal Census. Year: 1850; Census Place: Montpelier, Washington 11. County, Vermont; Roll M432_928;  Page: 181: Image: 351.
11. United States Federal Census. Year:1860; Census Place: Montpelier, Washington County, Vermont; Roll M653_1324; Page: 86: Image: 541.
12. Van Pelt, Daniel. Leslie’s History of the Greater New York.  New York: Arkell Pub. Co., c.1898, v. 3, p 311.