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James Birney III (1817-1888)
Judge, lawyer and politician -- eldest son of James G. and Agatha (McDowell) Birney.
  • by Marvin Kusmierz (March 2003)
  • Eldest son, James  Birney



    - Birth: 07 Jun 1817 - Danville, KY
    - Death: 08 May 1888 - Bay City, Bay Co., MI
    - Burial: Pine Ridge Cemetery, Bay City, Bay Co., MI
    - Spouse: Amanda S. Moulton (1819-1886),
    --- married 1 Jun 1841, Conn.
    - Children: James G. IV; Sophia H.; Arthur M.
    - Residences:
    ... 1866-83, 1005 Tenth, cor. Grant, Bay City
    ... 1884-?, boarded at Fraser House (hotel)

    Judge Birney spent most of his youthful years from 1819 to 1933, on his father's plantation near Madison City, Alabama. This was followed by a short stay in Kentucky before settling in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1835.

    The period following that is covered in his biography of 1873, from the "Making of America" archives of the Library of Congress:

    JAMES BIRNEY is a native of Danville, Kentucky, and the eldest son of the late James G. Birney. His collegiate education was obtained at Centre College, Kentucky, and at Miami University, Ohio. At the latter institution he graduated in 1836. During the two succeeding years he was employed in the University as professor of the Greek and Latin languages.

    During the next two years he attended the law lectures of Judge Stom and Professor Hitchcock, of the law school of Yale College, at New Haven, Connecticut.

    Subsequently Mr. Birney removed to Cincinnati, Ohio, and entered upon the practice of the law. He devoted himself to this business for eleven years, and acquired a desirable position in the profession. Mr. Birney, while in New Haven, married Miss Moulton, step-daughter of Nathaniel Bacon, Esq., of that city. Of this marriage there were five children, the eldest of whom distinguished himself in the army as Captain in the 7th Regiment of Michigan Volunteers, and died while an officer of the U.S. regular army.

    In 1858, Mr. Birney was elected a member of the State Senate for the Saginaw district; was chairman of the committee on public instruction, and a member of the judiciary committee of that body. In 1860, he was nominated by the State Republican Convention to the office of lieutenant-governor and elected by a majority of over 20,000. By virtue of this office he became president of the State Senate, and as a presiding officer received great favor.

    After serving as judge, Mr. Birney returned to the practice of the law. In 1871, he established the Bays City Chronicle as a weekly Republican paper. In June, 1873, he commenced the publication of the Morning Chronice.

    In 1872, Governor Baldwin nominated Mr. Birney to President Grant as Centennial Commissioner for Michigan to celebrate the Hundredth Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876. Mr. Birney is now residing at Bay City, and is devoting himself to the care of his estate and the editorial duties of the daily and weekly Chronicle. His son Arthur M. Birney is associated with him in business.

    Source (reprint): General History of the State of Michigan with Biographical Sketched, Portrait Engravings, and Numerous Illustrations., by Charles R. Tuttle, 1873, (MOA/Library of Congress).

    James was only twenty-one years old when his mother, Agatha, died in 1838. Members of his family still living were: his father James; brothers -- William, Robert Dion, David Bell and George; and sister -- Ellen who died that year.

    In 1841, James successfully courted Amanda S. Moulton while living in New Haven, CT leading to their marriage on June 1 of that year. James and Amanda according the 1873 history above are said to have had five children -- however, only four have been identified as of this writing: James G. (birth 1844), Sophie H.(birth 1848), Arthur M. and Alice (birth unknown). According to the 1871 Polk Directory, Arthur was still living at home and working as the Business Manager of the Chronicle newspaper owned and operated by his dad.

    The first trip into the Bay City area by James is believed to have taken place in 1846. Still living in Connecticut at the time, he decided to visit his father and step-mother, Elizabeth (Fitzhugh) who were also married the same year that he and Amanda consumated their vows. Bay City was still a primitive community at this time and getting here was no easy matter. The following excerpt from Les Arndt's book, "Bay County Story - from Footpaths to Freeways", provides a sense of the difficulties encountered by travelers during these early days,

    "His journey from Flint to Saginaw was via stagecoach, a springless wagon drawn by two ponies, over a road of corduroy and mud, with trees and roots adding jolts to the ride. He was stranded for two days in Saginaw waiting for a boat, and blasting the delay he hired an Indian for 75 cents to bring him here by canoe. He surprised his dad while the latter was working in mud and water up to his ankles on a line fence for his property where St. Joseph's Catholic Church stands today, then quite far into the wilderness."

    In spite of these rough conditions, James apparently grasped the potential opportunities of this wilderness land, he moved his family here around 1850 and began buying up parcels of land. In 1856, he published the first local newspaper called the, "Bay City Press" which last only a few short weeks. In 1857, Bay County was organized as a county by the state and he participated in bring this about -- a year later he became a state senator from the Saginaw district. That year, he lost his father who died while on a trip to the east. Living here at this time besides his step-mother Elizabeth was his brother Robert Dion and his wife Sarah Irwin (Crawford) of Saginaw.

    When Austin Blair became Michigan governor in 1861, he picked James as his lieutenant governor, but James resigned the position after only three months related to a conflict he apparently had with the Republican party. Following this he was appointed Circuit Judge and maintained this position until 1865 when he returned to his law practice. In 1876 he was chosen as U.S. commissioner for the nation's Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia, and in 1876 he was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as minister to The Hague in the Netherlands which he held until 1881.

    James was deeply involved in the early growth of Bay City, some of these activities were:

      As a senator, he introduced legislation the opened up local salt businesses.

      As an alterman, he was directly involved in the city's first water works and a leading advocate for construction of roads.

      In 1858, he founded the Pine Ridge Cemetery on Ridge and Tuscola roads.

      In 1865, as president of the Bay County Agricultural Society, he helped organize the county's first fair held in Washington Park off 2nd street.

      In 1867, he joined with other businessmen to construct the East Saginaw and Bay City Railroad through swamp lands, an unthinkable task at the time but made a realty by A.S. Munger who had a channel dredged through the swamp using the clay soil to create an embankment for the rail system.

    The 1870 Michigan Census taken 29 June 1870 in Bay City by census taker, John M. Knaggs, lists:


      James G. Birney of Kentucky, age 52, Lawyer, Real Estate value of $100,000, Personal property $20,000.
      Amanda of Pennsylvania, age 50, keeping house.
      Sophia of Connecticut, age 23, without occupation.
      Maggie Eteu of Michigan, age 18, domestic servant.
      Frederick Filton of Michigan, age 17, laborer.

    On May 8, 1888, James died. He was buried at the cemetery he founded, Pine Ridge, along side his wife, Amanda who preceeded him in 1886.

    Article on son Arthur contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - June 2014.

    Bay City Times, Saturday November, 3, 1906.

    The name Birney is now appearing in dispatches about the Ute and Cheyenne Indians. It is a place in Custer county, Montana, and was named for J. Arthur Birney of Bay City, son of the late Judge James Birney, and grandson of James Gillespie Birney at one time abolition candiate for president of the United States. After his father disposed of the Bay City Chronical to the late Theordore C. Phillips, J. Arthur went to Montana. He was taken sick there and his remains were brought to Bay City. There were interred in Pine Ridge cemetery, where they now rest.


    Additional Notes.

    1850 Census - Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio.

    • BIRNEY, James - age 32, lawyer, born Ky.
    • Amanda - wife, age 30
    • James G. - Son, age 7
    • Sophia H. - daughter, age 3, bor Ky.
    • Arthur M. - son, sage 1
    • BIRNEY, James G. - father, age 58, lawyer

    1860 Census Bay City, Mich.

    • BIRNEY, James, age 42, Kentucky, lawyer
    • Amanda, age 40, Penn.
    • James, age 16, Conn.
    • Sophia, age 12, Conn.
    • Arther, age 7, Ohio

    1880 Census Bay City, Mich.

    • BIRNEY, James - b. 1820 Kentucky
    • Amanda S. - wife, b. 1822 Pa.
    • Sophia H. - daughter, b. 1848 Conn.

      1888 - Michigan Deaths: Bay City, Bay, Mich.

    • James Birney, son of James & Agatha Birney, died May 8, 1888.

  • Heritage/Writings: More on Judge James Birney
  • Sources: Included in content.

  • Birney FAmily Menu
    Family Genealogy
    Family Pictorial
    1893 KY News Articles
    * {1948 Saginaw News (pdf)}

    First family:
    Agatha (McDowell), spouse
    James Birney, 1st child
    William Birney, 2nd child
    David Bell Birney, 5th child
    James G. Birney IV, g-son

    Second family:
    Elizabeth (Fitzhugh), spouse
    Fitzhugh Birney, 1st child
    James Birney References

    James Birney - Later years.
    Historic Bio.


    (Click to enlarge.)

    Birney Family Markers
    Pine Ridge Cemetery

    In 1865 James Birney wrote a three page letter to President Lincoln seeking a position with the national government. Along with the letter he included two newspaper clippings as a reference, that were published in the Flint Wolverine Citizen, of Aug. 11, 1860. {View Letter} (pdf file)
    Related Pages:
    Blackwell, Alice - daughter
    Birney, Arthur - son
    Pine Ridge Cemtery
    Names Referenced
    Arndt, Les
    Bacon, Nathaniel
    Balwin, (Gov.)
    Birney, Alice (dau)
    Birney, Arhtur M. (son)
    Birney, David Bell (bro)
    Birney, Ellen (sis)
    Birney, George (bro)
    Birney, James (subject)
    Birney, James G. (son)
    Birney, James G. (father)
    Birney, Robt.(Dion)
    Birney, Sophia H. (dau.)
    Birney, William (bro)
    Blair, Austin
    Crawford, Sara Irwin
    Eteu, Maggie
    Filton, Frederick
    Fitzhugh, Elizabeth
    Grant, Ulysses S. (Pres.)
    Hitchcock, (Prof.)
    McDowell, Agatha (mother)
    Moulton, Amanda S. (wife)
    Munger, A.S.
    Phillips, Theo. C.
    Stom, (Judge)
    Tuttle, Charles R.
    Subjects Referenced
    7th Reg., MI Vols.
    Bay City Chronicle
    Bay City, MI
    Bay City Press
    Bay Co. Ag. Society
    Centennial Expo, US
    Cheyeene Indians
    Cincinnati, OH
    Connecticut
    Centre College, KY
    Custer Co., MT
    Danville, KY
    First fair
    First water works
    Flint, MI
    Hague, Netherlands
    Knaggs, John M.
    Madison City, AL
    Miami Univ., OH
    Michigan, Centennial
    Michigan, Lt. Gov.
    Michigan Senate
    Morning Chronice
    New Haven, CT
    Philadelphia
    Pine Ridge Cemetery
    Republican Party
    Saginaw, MI
    St. Joseph Church
    Ute Indians
    Yale College
    Washington Park
    Pine Ridge Cemetery
    - ABANDONED -
    Pioneer Cemetery

    James Birney founded Pine Ridge Cemetery in 1858 to provide for a decent burial place for his brother, George Birney.
    Prior to this, most people on the east side of the Saginaw River were buried in Potters field which was located south of Columbus ave., between Washington and Saginaw. After James's death, his family inherited it, then sold it to George W. Ames. Ames died in 1931, but none of his descendants claimed the cemetery, which since then has been without an owner. In subsequent years, various volunteer groups has stepped forward to keep it from being completely lost. Charles C. Cuthber., sexton at the time continued to maintain and handle burials at the cemetery until his death in 1952.
    Pine Ridge Cem. History
    {Map: Pine Ridge}
    {Newspapers: Pine Ridge}
    Potters Field History Page
    Cuthbert, Charles C.
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