As I’ve recently begun working on my maternal grandmother’s side, I discovered my 3rd great uncle, George Silas Peters, was not only once mayor of Columbus, Ohio, he was also appointed by President Grover Cleveland to head out West to the Utah territory and serve as a U.S. Attorney prosecuting government cases.¹ Color me intrigued! I half considered law school myself at one point.
George was the son of William Peters and Susannah Hoffines and lived on a quiet farm in Pickaway County, Ohio. He taught school for awhile, as did his brothers Francis Jerome and Joseph Pierce. While Francis later took up farming like their other brothers John and Edward, George left the farm to work in Columbus as a law student and was later admitted to the bar association in December of 1873. After his partnership in the law firm Byrne & Peters ended in 1881, George was elected mayor of Columbus, serving one term until 1882.
Following his stint as mayor, George practiced law by himself until he was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as U.S. Attorney for the Utah Territory in 1887. His obituary states that “he did much to bring about a better order of things in that country in the early years of lawlessness.”² As a testament to his character in court, it was said that he was a “very attentive auditor.” He definitely had some moxie; his most prominent case that I’ve found so far is an interesting and large lawsuit against the Latter Day Saints church in Salt Lake City.³ On behalf of the government, he was suing them for a total of $4,000,000 … and that was way back in 1887! Can you imagine that total in today’s money? George must have been quite a formidable individual in the courtroom to go up against the Church like that. He returned to Ohio in 1889 and became a member of several firms until he retired in 1917.
George wasn’t just a lawyer; he left his imprint on prison reform as well. He was appointed a member of the Ohio penitentiary board by former Governor Hadley, and later, when he came president of the board, he was at the forefront in putting parole laws into effect. He wrote the rules and regulations for granting paroles and is thought to have been the first real steps towards prison reform in America.
¹ “Presidential Appointments,” Tombstone Daily Epitaph (Utah), 19 April 1887, p. 3, col. 2: digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 3 March 2017).
² “Death Claims Aged Pioneer of Pickaway,” Circleville Herald (Ohio), 28 August 1928, transcription, GenealogyBug (http://www.genealogybug.net/franklin_county/colmayors/peters.htm : accessed 3 March 2017).
³ “Government Wants Church Property,” The Salt Lake Herald (Salt Lake City, Utah), 31 July 1887, pg. 8, col. 2, digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www. newspapers.com : accessed 3 March 2017).
“Peters, George Silas,” Columbus Metropolitan Library, digital images, Columbus in Historic Photographs, (http://digital-collections.columbuslibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/ohio/id/6322/rec/3 : accessed 10 March 2017).