|Essex County was set off from Clinton County by an act of legislature on March 1, 1799. There was an immediate need for a courthouse. Prior to 1807, when the county seat was moved from the town of Essex to Elizabethtown, court was held in a block house which was erected for protection from the Indians. On October 6, 1809, Simon Frisbee and his wife, Lucy, sold to the supervisors of Essex County for the sum of $150.00 one acre of land in the town of Elizabethtown “for the use of a courthouse and Gaol forever.” This deed is recorded in Liber A of Deeds at page 450 of the records of the Essex County Clerk’s Office. The first courthouse was built on a very modest scale, but it burned soon after its construction, and it was rebuilt at once. In 1823, the courthouse was again burned, and this time (1824) rebuilt with brick, the first installment being a one story structure. In 1843, the second story was added and the court room was changed into one big room, with a balcony over the entrance to the court room.The courthouse is of colonial design as are the other County buildings. Directly in front of the courthouse and the other County buildings is a park approximately one-half acre in size. The Board of Supervisors of Essex County has always taken great pride in keeping it in the best state of preservation. When new buildings and additions have been built, they have followed the same style of architecture as the courthouse. The park and the maple trees that are planted in it are cared for by the Essex County Department of Public Works.|
|Mounted on a wall in the courthouse is a life-size portrait of John Brown’s trial for the failed raid at the Harper’s Ferry armory. This portrait is most appropriate in that John Brown’s body lay in state in this courtroom on the night of December 6, 1859, when it was on its way to burial at his farm in North Elba. The man standing to the left of John Brown is prosecutor Andrew Hunter, with Brown’s attorney Claiborne Greene seated next to him. Sheriff James Campbell is seated in front, to the left, and the man seated to the right of Brown is William Fairfax, a slaveowner. Justice Richard Parker presided; the three figures seated behind Brown are fictitious. Behind John Brown is a bed, provided during the trial because he was quite ill. John Brown’s farm is now an historical site in Essex County.|
|Directly across the room from the portrayal of John Brown’s trial is a painting of Champlain’s battle with the Indians at Ticonderoga. The two paintings are the work of David C. Lithgow of Albany. Decorating the wall are many smaller portraits of eminent judges of Essex County. Numbered among them are paintings of Daniel Ross, first Essex County judge; Chester B. McLaughlin and Augustus Hand, both judges of the Court of Appeals; Matthew Hale and Orlando Kellogg, members of Congress and close friends of Abraham Lincoln; and George A. Simmons and Robert Hale, who were also members of Congress. All of the men were Elizabethtown residents, except McLaughlin and Simmons. In the judges’ private chambers there are pictures of nearly all of the Supreme Court justices who have presided over the Court in recent years.|
Essex County is proud of its historic courthouse.
An excerpt from a speech made by John Brown:
“I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done; as I have always freely admitted I have done, in behalf of His despised poor; I do no wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my blood for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say ‘let it be done.'”
John Brown’s statement is framed in the Essex County courthouse as a tribute in the memory of John Brown. With his blood, he blazed a trail of freedom for the slaves.
John Brown’s Farm Historic Site, photos by Bernard P. Roy