Sterling, John William, 1844-1918

Alternative names
Birth 1844-05-12
Death 1918-07-05

Biographical notes:

John W. Sterling was admitted to the New York bar in 1867, and practiced law in New York City throughout his career. He was senior partner in the firm Shearman and Sterling and was a leading corporate lawyer and advisor to railroad financiers.

From the description of John William Sterling papers, 1858-1918 (inclusive). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702169452

John William Sterling was the son of John William Sterling, a sea captain, and Catharine Tomlinson (Plant) Sterling, and was born May 12, 1844, in Stratford, Conn. His father followed the sea from 1810 to 1835 and his splendid seamanship was in request on both sides of the Atlantic. He was the son of David and Deborah (Strong) Sterling, a grandson of Abijah Sterling, who held a Captain's commission in the Revolution, and a descendant of William Sterling, who came from England and settled at Bradford or Haverhill, Mass Catharine Plant Sterling's parents were David and Catharine (Tomlinson) Plant. David Plant graduated at Yale in 1804 and afterwards studied at the Litchfield Law School. In 1819 and 1820 he was Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives; and in 1821 he was elected to the State Senate, and was twice reelected. He was Lieutenant Governor of Connecticut from 1823 to 1827, and during the next two years was a member of Congress His father, Solomon Plant, was a soldier in the French War of 1760. Among his ancestors was John Plant, who came with Governor Saltonstall to Branford, Conn.

He was prepared for college at the Stratford Academy. In college he was a member of Brothers in Unity, being its president Senior year, and of Phi Beta Kappa. He won a third prize in declamation Sophomore year and a Townsend Premium Senior year. He received an oration appointment at Junior Exhibition and at Commencement, and spoke on both occasions.

The year after graduation was devoted to a course of general reading in the Yale Graduate School. He then entered the Columbia Law School, where he graduated as valedictorian in May 1867. He was then admitted to the bar of New York State, and from August 1867 to May 1,1868, was in the law offices of David Dudley Field and Dudley Field in New York City, after which he became managing clerk in the office of James K. Hill. From January 1870, until the fall of 1873 he was a partner in the firm of Field & Shearman. In 1873 he went into partnership with Thomas G. Shearman under the name of Shearman & Sterling. After the death of Mr. Shearman in 1900, he became senior member of the firm, his partners being John A. Garver (B.A. 1875, LL.B. Columbia 1877) and James M. Beck, at one time Assistant Attorney- General of the United States. Mr. Sterling was recognized as one of the leading corporation lawyers in the country. He had a thorough knowledge of railroad finance and was' an adviser to financiers, and an executor and trustee of large estates. He was a member of the New England Society, the American Arts Society, and the Congregational Church of Stratford.

He died suddenly, of heart failure, July 5,1918, at the castle of Lord Mount Stephen, in Grand Metis, Que., Canada, where it had been his custom to spend an annual vacation enjoying the fishing. Interment was in Woodlawn Cemetery. His bequest of $15,000,000 to Yale is the largest and most important gift in the history of the institution. The Yale Corporation at its first meeting after his death adopted the following resolution: "Voted, to place on record and to extend to the surviving sisters and to the Trustees of the late John W. Sterling, Esq., of the Class of 1864, Yale College, an expression of the President and Fellows' appreciation of his munificent bequest 'to the use and for the benefit of Yale University'---” the largest and most important gift in the history of the institution---and of the deep affection for his alma mater which it manifested, and to assure them of the desire of the President and Fellows to cooperate in full measure in carrying out the terms of the bequest so as to create the most enduring and useful memorials to Mr. Sterling." The Corporation, with the approval of the Trustees, has decided that a Sterling Memorial Library shall constitute the principal memorial to Mr. Sterling at the University.

[Taken from the Yale College Obituary Record

From the guide to the John William Sterling papers, 1858-1918, (Manuscripts and Archives)


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