Monday, February 11, 2008


Born May 1, 1817 in the Town of Minisink; second son, third child of Stephen Whittaker and Esther Stephens Fullerton. Died March 15, 1900. He studied law with William C. Hasbrouck in Newburgh and was admitted to the bar in 1839.

He had all the elements of a great nisi prius lawyer. Other members of the Bar of Orange County of that day surpassed him in eloquence of speech beyond a doubt, but in the management of litigated business he had no superior and probably no equal. He was surpassingly keen, quick and adroit; very energetic and industrious; more a "man of the people" than most of his competitors and a smooth, ready and forcible speaker. As a cross-examiner he became famous so much so that he was known as "the great American cross-examiner."

In the year 1852 he was pitted against Charles O'Connor, of New York City, who was then one of the leading lawyers of this country, in some litigation involving the construction of the Hudson River Railroad. The matter had been argued at considerable length before Judge Emmot at Poughkeepsie. A the close of the argument both attorneys asked leave to submit briefs. The judge seemed to feel that briefs should have been prepared before the argument and said that they might have until Saturday, which was then two days off, for submitting printed briefs. O'Connor deemed it impossible to get the work done in the alloted time and made no attempt to do so but Fullerton got Judge McKissock to help him and together they went to the printing office of E.M.Ruttenber. There the three worked nearly all night, McKissock stating the points of law and naming the cases which covered the point; Fullerton looking up the case as reported and stating the language in which the proposition should be briefed and Ruttenber setting the type. In the morning the brief was on the press and the next morning it was in the judge's hands, and was a winning argument. O'Connor was so impressed by Mr. Fullerton's management of this case that he offered him a partnership. This was accepted and Mr. Fullerton removed to New York in the year 1853 and a co-partnership was formed then or about that time under the firm name of O'Connor, Fullerton & Dunning,- the last being also an Orange County man, viz., Benjamin F. Dunning.

From this time on Mr. Fullerton's connection with Orange County affairs may be said to have ceased, though he retained his residence at Newburgh as long as he lived. It need only be added that he was thenceforth engaged in most of the important lawsuits tried in the metropolis and his standing as one of the great trial lawyers of this country was universally conceded.

During his earlier years in New York he was sometimes spoken of there among the court attendants as "the Orange County cyclone" and his methods were watched with much interest and some curiosity.

It is told of him that soon after going to the city he was employed to try a case in Admirality. The hangers-on about court assumed that he didn't know anything about a sea-going vessel and they gathered to watch the trial and enjoy the sight of the country lawyer's discomfiture. But they were doomed to disappointment. Mr. Fullerton spent the entire night preceding the day of the trial on board the vessel to which the action related and before morning he had learned the name and use for every spar and rope and was completely armed and equipped for the fray.

In a number of cases in which he was the plaintiff's attorney, Mr. Fullerton has been known to call the defendant as his first witness and then by a careful and skillful examination get this witness to commit himself to a theory which could be destroyed later by plaintiff's other witnesses. The delicate treatment required in such a manoeuvre will be appreciated by those who may have ventured to try it.

In 1873 one of William's younger brothers, Stephen Whittaker Fullerton, removed from to Newburgh to join him in New York. They formed a partnership with two other lawyers under the firm name of Fullerton, Knox & Crosby. The connection was an unfortunate one because of the misconduct of one of the junior partners; and at the end of four or five years of hard work the firm was dissolved and the Fullertons found themselves saddled with a heavy indebtedness which it took them several years to discharge.

William Fullerton's most conspicuous participation in any Orange County litigation after he removed to New York was in connection with the Berdell cases. These cases disrupted every social circle in Goshen. The Fullertons were opposed to Mr. Berdell in those actions and their management of them was masterly. Mr. Berdell was a man of wide business experience, - an ex-president of the Erie Railway Company and well able to defend himself when on the witness stand. His cross-examination by the Fullertons, first by Stephen W. and then by William on the trial of one of those actions was one of the most striking examples of cross-examination ever witnessed in this country. In three different instances Mr. Berdell was driven from point to point in attempting to explain some of his transactions until finally he was compelled to say, "I cannot explain that." Taking into account the mental equipment of the witness and his business experience this was a very remarkable exhibition of the ability and ingenuity of the men who were questioning him.

The only public office ever held by Mr. Fullerton was that of a Justice of the Supreme Court, to which he was appointed in August, 1867, to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Judge Scrugham. Under the arrangement which then prevailed in this State by which certain of the Supreme Court Judges became members of the Court of Appeals during the last year of their official term Mr. Fullerton was for a short time member of the highest court of this State.

Mr. Fullerton was married and had two children. William Jr. died at age 34 in Heidelberg, Germany where he was completing his music studies. He was an accomplished musician and a published composer as well. (The parlor was most likely designed to showcase his musical talent.) The daughter's name is a bit of a mystery but she married a Mr. Rudd; her daughter, Alice, married into the Otis (of elevators) family. William and his wife lived the last of their years in the house in Newburgh. A large memorial stain glass window to William(Sr) is in the main chapel of St. George's Episcopal Church on Grand Street. Fullerton Avenue in Newburgh was named in honor of brothers William and Stephen (a Civil War hero) Fullerton.

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