Edmund Norman Leslie: Genealogical Maniac

Image from Skaneateles: History of its Earliest Settlement and Reminiscences of Later Times –  by Edmund Norman Leslie (HATHI TRUST Digital Library)

COMMITTEE FOR LESLIE

HAD A MANIA FOR LOOKING UP ANCESTRY OF HIS NEIGHBORS.

Skaneateles Man is 92 Years Old and Has an Estate Valued at $100,000 — Petition Filed to Have Him Declared Incompetent.

Edmund Norman Leslie, a well know Skaneateles nonagenarian, is said to have a mania for looking up the genealogical history of his acquaintances. Skaneateles people, as a rule, are proud of their ancestry, therefore, there is nothing significant in proceedings which have been started to have the aged man declared incompetent and a committee appointed to care for his property or person.

Of course, there are some people who send their family skeleton back into its hole the moment any effort is made to bring the bony creature from its closet. Not that it would make any difference, perhaps. A black sheep or two among a long line of ancestors is more the rule than the exception, but there are some who favor not some outsider delving into the family secrets.

Nothing like that in Skaneateles. No objection was made to Mr. Leslie’s publishing a book, which was a historical review of Skaneateles with a sketch of some length of some of the more prominent families. The book was well received and Mr. Leslie was encouraged to continue his research into family histories.

Whatever Mr. Leslie discovered will not reach the public, however, because proceedings have been started to have the aged Skaneateles historian declared incompetent and a petition for the appointment of a committee has been made to County Judge W M. Rose by Attorney Martin F. Dillon of Skaneateles.

Mr. Leslie is 92 years old and has an estate valued at $100,00. He is part owner of the Mansion House at Buffalo. The committee for him has not been named.

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Jul 4, 1908

Skaneateles, May 17. — The last chapter of the old Mansion House in the city of Buffalo was closed last Monday when Martin F. Dillon as executor and trustee under the last will [and testament of Edmund Norman Leslie] conveyed the same to the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad company. For nearly sixty years one half of the same was owned by Edmund Norman Leslie of the village of Skaneateles.

Edmund Norman Leslie was the son of Captain and Mrs. David Leslie. Captain Leslie was born in Scotland in September, 1780, in the parish of Monimail, Fishire. He became a noted ship captain and upon his retirement took up his residence at New Bedford, Mass. He had two children. Henry and Edmund Norman Leslie. Captain Leslie died in New York in 1835.

Edmund Norman Leslie also became a ship master and many time sailed around the  Horn. He retired from business and came to Skaneateles in 1851. He married Millicent A. Coe, who died March 15th, 1890. Mr. Leslie was a sturdy Scotchman and believed in doing right to all his fellowmen. He took a great deal of interest in village affairs and political battles were waged by him. He was president of the village of Skaneateles in 1895 and 1896. He prevented the Skaneateles Water Works company from forcing the sale of its property on the village and in the face of its opposition guided the village while it constructed a new system. During his term of office, he also granted the franchise to the Syracuse & Auburn Electric Railroad company, preparing the franchise himself. He was also identified with the establishing of the Lake View cemetery, the Skateateles Library association and other enterprises identified with the village. He was good to the poor and each year would call upon the coal dealers to ascertain whether or not there were any poor people on their list in need of fuel.

After the death of his wife, Millicent A. Leslie, he acquired an additional interest in the Mansion house in the city of Buffalo. Mr. Leslie died at his home in Genesee street in the village of Skaneateles November 30th, 1908, at the age of 94 years. His only relatives were distant cousins, one of whom married Lieutenant Edward F. Qualtrough; another married Lieutenant Harrison, U.S.A., who at the time of his death had charge of Forrtress Monroe, and another married Lieutenant Mann who was killed in the Indian war.

The history of the same is quite romantic.

Image from The History of Buffalo

History of Mansion House.

In the early “forties” Belah D. Coe owned and operated many mail and stage routes, which terminated in Buffalo. To accommodate his passengers, he built the Mansion house, which contained 285 rooms. It was a brick building and substantially fireproof, the partitions also brick, extending from the cellar to the garret. For many years, it was operated by W.E. Stafford, who became famous as a hotel man, and who went to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York.

Belah D. Coe was a bachelor, and at his death in 1854, by his will, this property went to two nieces and a nephew, being Millicent A. Marshall of Buffalo, Millicent A. Leslie and Edward B. Coe of Skaneateles, and to the heirs of their body. In the event of the death of any of these people with out issue, the share was to be divided between the Buffalo Orphan asylum and the Auburn Theological seminary.

Edward B. Coe left home in 1840. He was declared judicially dead in 1857, and the share of his portion in the Mansion house went to the Buffalo Orphan asylum and to his sister, Millicent A. Leslie, as the Auburn Theological seminary could not, by its charter, take and hold real estate. After the disappearance of Edward B. Coe in 1849, he became a sailor and drifted into South Africa, where he was sold as a slave. His brother-in-law, Edmund Norman Leslie, never believed him dead. He obtained from the Department of State of Washington, the name and location of all the United States consuls and commercial agents in all parts of the world. He had a circular printed in red and black letters offering a reward of $200 for any information of Edward B. Coe, at the same time giving a minute description of his person, particularly that he had his name tatoed on his left arm. These circulars were mailed to every United States consul in all parts of the world.

Edward B. Coe Returns.

In 1891 Edward B. Coe returned and then began the fight to recover the property left him by his uncle’s will. During the argument in court, the presiding judge intimated that, having been declared judicially dead, he had no standing in court, to which his counsel, the late William H. Seward, replied: “If such a decision is to be law in this case, Edward B. Coe, who is sitting here in the presence of this court, can go into the street and commit murder and you cannot punish him, because he has been declared judicially dead.” This argument restored the property to Edward B. Coe. He lived here for several years, but meeting business reverses, he mortgaged his property to the late Charles Pardee, who afterward acquired the same by mortgage foreclosure. IN 1875 Charles Pardee committed suicide, and this property went by his will to his daughter, Mary E. Moses.

Edward B. Coe left Skaneateles for Philadelphia at which time the steamer “Queen of the Pacific” was about to leave for San Fransisco by the way of Cape Horn. After a voyage of about six weeks he reached San Francisco. The “Queen” then commenced regular trips from San Francisco to Portland, Oregon, carrying freight and passengers. He remained on this vessel until September 5th, 1883, at which time he became despondent and fastening a large heavy lantern to his arm jumped overboard and wen to the bottom of the Pacific ocean.

About that time the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad company acquired a portion of the property by condemnation, and the award was paid in court, upon the application to withdraw the same, by Millie Coe, the daughter of Edward B. Coe, then a girl 17 years of age. This indeed was a battle royal. The question raised was that she had an estate tail in this property, and her father, not having the title in fee simple, could not deprive her of it. The opposition contended that the statue of 1786 eliminated the estate tail in this country.

The legal giants of that time were employed on either side, Benoni Lee of Skaneateles, L.R. Morgan of Syracuse, P.R. Cox of Auburn, Spencer Clinton and Charles D. Marshall of Buffalo.

The court finally held that Miss Coe had no interest in the property. A short time after this decision, Edmund Norman Leslie acquired that interest and held the same at the time of his death in his ninety-fourth year. By his will, he devised the same in trust to Martin F. Dillon of Skaneateles, who has for two months been engaged in perfecting the title, and the deed was finally delivered last Monday.

The New York Central & Hudson River Railroad company will tear down the old structure and use the land for a new $10,000,000 terminal. This will be the end of an old landmark, which had stood for nearly three-quarters of a century, during which time guests from all nations of the world have been entertained.

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) May 18, 1913

Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) Jun 18, 1913

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York)  Dec 28, 1914

Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, New York) Apr 14, 1916

*  *  *  *  *

An excerpt from a bio of the “genealogical maniac” posted on an Ancestry.com message board:

Upon his removal to Skaneateles the want of active employment induced him to take up the subject of the early history of the town and village. He obtained two ledgers which had been kept by early merchants of 1805 and 1815 respectively, and from them secured the names of nearly all the earliest settlers, especially those who made their purchases here. He collected and preserved some very valuable historical matter concerning the locality, which was first published in a series of papers in the Democrat, afterward copied in the Free Press, and later printed in book form by Charles P. Cornell, of Auburn, N. Y.

Mr. Leslie furnished entirely from his own collections the only complete list of the names of 364 union volunteers who enlisted from the town of Skaneateles, or enlisted elsewhere, but belonged to this town, giving rank, company, and regiment, in alphabetical order, which list was published in the Free Press. He has also collected some of the most valuable files of original local newspapers, had them bound in volumes, and presented them to the Skaneateles Library Association for preservation. He has erected a beautiful memorial tablet in St. Jame’s church in memory of the sons of that church who lost their lives in defense of the Union. He has also published several series of the lives of early prominent residents of the town, notably of Lydia P. Mott, a prominent promoter of female education, who established ‘The Friend’s Female Boarding School,” which was known as “The Hive.” Many of the ladies of Auburn and surrounding country were educated at this school, which was discontinued about seventy years ago. Mr. Leslie’s labor is of a character that will survive and perpetuate his memory to coming generations. All of his valuable historical work has been done gratuitously.

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