Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Albion Recorder, December 28, 1998, pg. 4
There are several well-established legal practices that go back several decades, providing their professional services to our community at all levels. How did Albion’s legal profession begin? It began with an attorney who eventually went on to achieve notoriety in the State of Nebraska.
Fenner Ferguson (1814-1859) was a native of Nassau, New York, the son of Stephen Ferguson. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in New York in 1840. He began his practice there in the Empire State in its capital, Albany. While in New York he married Helen Eliza Upjohn in Troy, NY in 1841, a daughter of William Upjohn. The couple had four boys: Arthur N., Alfred G., Stephen W., and Charles Fenner.
For reasons of health, Fenner moved to Michigan and Albion in 1844. He made the trip by way of the Erie Canal and the rest over land. During his eight years here Fenner served as a successful lawyer and was a district attorney for our region. A member of the Democratic Party, he was elected to the Michigan State Legislature. He placed advertisements of his trade in the first issues of the Albion Press newspaper, published in 1849 and 1850.
In 1854 the Republican Party was formed in Jackson, and many Albionites participated in the formation of the Grand Ole Party "under the Oaks." The Republican tide in our area was overwhelming. In the meantime however, U.S. President Franklin Pierce appointed Ferguson as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the territory of Nebraska. This was the result of an act of Congress approved on May 30 of that year providing for such an appointment.
In October 1854 Fenner took his wife and family of three sons and moved to the territory of Nebraska. He arrived in Bellevue, Nebraska on October 11, 1854 to begin his service in that state as Chief Justice the following day.
Ferguson served as the first territorial Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Nebraska, having been appointed to the position by U.S. President Franklin Pierce. One of his first acts in office was to administer the oath of office to the new Governor, Francis Burt, who died just two days later. Ferguson then made his first public speech in that state giving a eulogy at the Governor’s funeral. Fenner organized the first district and supreme courts in Nebraska, and helped write the first code of laws for the territory.
Not forgetting politics, Ferguson was elected as the third Nebraskan territorial delegate to the Congress in August 1857 for one term, beginning on December 7 of that year. While in office he introduced a bill for a bridge across the Platte River, as well as provision for a territorial penitentiary. He gained a reputation of integrity and honesty during his career. At the end of this term (March 3, 1859) he returned to Bellevue to resume his law practice. He became ill, however, and died on November 11, 1859. Burial was in the Bellevue Cemetery. His wife Helena died in 1888 and is buried next to him.
In an 1898 publication concerning Nebraska women in 1855 several paragraphs were devoted to Mrs. Ferguson’s dealings with the native Omaha and Pawnee Indians. It also mentioned recollections of their son, Judge Arthur N. Ferguson, who apparently followed in his father’s legal footsteps.
The November 19, 1859 issue of the Nebraska City News announced his death, and made mention of his years in Albion. The article implied that Fenner didn’t get much financial support while practicing here. It stated, "He occupied a seat in the State Legislature for a term of years, and practiced law in the village of Albion. One day the quiet denizens of that sleepy town were startled, and we suppose Mr. Ferguson was also, with the news that Fenner Ferguson had been appointed Chief Justice of Nebraska. It was in 1854 Mr. Ferguson got his household goods together, his wife and little ones, and started immediately for Nebraska, with a light heart and high hopes, and shedding no bitter tears, we may suspect, over the little village he had left behind, for its half score of families, all industrious and frugal but poor and law-abiding gave but little penniary encouragement to a disciple of Blackstone towards the support of his family and the education of his children. Mr. Ferguson came to Nebraska, as about everybody else has, we might say, poor." The article later concluded, "Last week he was struck with paralysis, and is now in the silent grave with the cold prairie winds to chant his requiem. Peace to his remains!"
There still remains one reminder of Fenner and Helena Ferguson’s presence in our community. In Riverside Cemetery is a nearly vacant family plot in Block 12 just above the "RIVERSIDE" letters on the hill. It contains the grave of their infant son Charles Fenner, who died in 1851 at the age of only seven months and nine days. Pictured here is Albion’s first attorney, Fenner Ferguson.
Fenner Ferguson (1814-1859)
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic