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Genealogical History Of Hudson And Bergen Counties New Jersey

Originally published in 1900
Cornelius Burnham Harvey, Editor

Edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

PETER BENTLEY, Sr., was one of the most illustrious members of the bar of the State of New Jersey, and was peculiarly identified with Jersey City as one of two or three lawyers who first practiced in that municipality. Mr. Bentley was the son of Christopher and Eleanor (Althouse) Bentley, of English descent upon his father's side. His mother's family was one of the ancient Holland stocks of New Amsterdam. Their son was born in 1805 upon a farm in the village of Half Moon, Saratoga County, N. Y.

Young Bentley's services were required upon the farm during the summer season, and he enjoyed only such educational facilities as the crude district schools of that pioneer country afforded. The very excellent education, classical as well as English, which he enjoyed during life was wholly the result of his own application in reading and study. In 1825, after twenty years spent upon the farm, he came to Jersey City and entered the employ of Yates &, McIntyre, who conducted a species of printing business. He remained with them for five years. and during this time determined to adopt the more ambitious profession of a lawyer, which had been his desire from early boyhood. Thus early in 1830 he entered the law office of Samuel Cassedy, whose practice extended throughout the old County of Bergen, from Rockland County in New York to Kill von Kull.

Mr. Bentley read law assiduously, and was soon practicing with unusual success in the justices' courts. He gained the confidence of the old Dutch farmers of Bergen County, and became in a special sense their lawyer. He was admitted to the bar of New Jersey at the May terns of the Supreme Court in 1834, and in the September term of 1839 was admitted as a counselor, with the full privilege of practice in all the higher courts of the State. But in 1833, a year previous to his admission even to ordinary practice, we find him holding the office of City Clerk, or " Clerk of the Board of Select Men of Jersey City," as the title reads, in the rising young municipality which lie had chosen as the scene of his life's work. Nothing could bear more striking testimony than this fact to the universal confidence and esteem which he inspired. Later on, as a full-fledged lawyer, he became the attorney of the selectmen of Jersey City, and represented them in 1842 in the celebrated case of the selectmen against Dummer, in which he triumphantly established the doctrine of dedication by maps.

In 1843 Mr. Bentley was elected to the office of Mayor of Jersey City, which, as has been well said, "was not so much a matter of party success as an expression of confidence and good will among neighbors." During this same year (1843) was inaugurated the famous case in which Mr. Bentley maintained the right of Mrs. Bell to lands under water, on the western shore of the Hudson River, which had descended to her by will and been re-affirmed by an act of the New Jersey Legislature. This controversy was carried from court to court, and contested in all the higher courts in the State during the greater part of a quarter of a century, when Mr. Bentley finally triumphed, to the great surprise of those who had prophesied failure. This case well illustrates the persistence which was so characteristic a feature and such an important element of his success in all his cases throughout his life.

Mr. Bentley also contributed largely toward the commercial upbuilding of Jersey City. Finding the banking facilities wholly inadequate to the needs of the growing city, and having the full confidence of capitalists, in 1853 he organized the Mechanics' and Traders' Bank and became its President. In this position he manifested remarkable business abilities, and to his personal efforts the institution is principally indebted for its prosperity He also became a prominent Trustee of the Provident Institution for Savings in Jersey City, and continued as its legal adviser until his death. Similarly, he was Vice-President of the Savings Bank of Jersey City, a Director and at one time Treasurer of the Gas Company, and Treasurer of the Jersey City and Bergen Plank Road Company. Beginning with an extensive purchase of land in 1854, he was also a pioneer in the development of real estate interests on the western slope of Bergen Hill. Here he built the elegant mansion which still remains the home of his wife. The activity he manifested outside the strict lines of his profession, as shown in these various enterprises, gives us good evidence not only of his unusual business abilities, but of the great confidence which was reposed in him by shrewd business men on every hand.

"Peter Bentley," says Jacob Weart, Esq., of Jersey City, "was one of the active men who laid the foundations and who helped to plan our municipal corporations, and draft our laws and charters, upon which the institutions of this great county have been reared." Mr. Bentley also interested himself in the cause of his fellow-citizens to prevent municipal extravagance and unjust and wasteful tax extortion. Finding that the accumulations of un-paid taxes of many years had imposed burdens upon millions of dollars worth of property which were absolutely unjust and unendurable to the property holders, he conceived the idea of a commission composed of leading citizens which should readjust these burdens upon an equitable basis, advantageous to the suffering citizens and the city treasury alike. Accordingly, in 1873, he brought his plan before the consideration of the Legislature, and had the pleasure of seeing it enacted into law. Under its provisions a commission was appointed with Judge Haines, an ex-Governor and ex-Justice of the Supreme Court, at its head. The work accomplished by this commission has been simply invaluable to Jersey City, and has satisfactorily solved the most formidable problem which ever threatened the welfare of the municipality. The accomplishment of this plan of relief was the last great service which Mr. Bentley rendered to his fellow-citizens ere he passed away, on the 26th of September, 1875.

He was a rare gentleman, peculiarly attached to his wife and children, most gracious and hospitable in his home, sincere and earnest in his religious faith, and so honest and honorable in all the affairs of life that the faintest breath was never raised to question his perfect integrity.

On the 13th of October, 1842, Mr. Bentley was married to Miss Margaret E. Holmes, of Jersey City. the descendant of an ancient English family. Highly cultivated, and of the most kindly disposition, she was the devoted companion of Mr. Bentley, and was a source of strength and inspiration to him until the day of his death. She still survives him, as she does also her son, Peter Bentley, Second, and holds their memory in reverent affection. In addition to this son, a sketch of whose life is also given here, they were blessed with but one other child, a daughter.


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