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William B. Hagins
Obituary & Biography
April 15, 1891 - Vernon Journal

    William B. Hagins born near Mount Sterling, Kentucky, Dec., 9th, 1815, died at Portland, Indiana, March 31st, in the 76th year of his age. He was the eldest of a family of 11 children, five boys and six girls. His parents immigrated to Jennings County in the year 1833 and settled in the town of Paris. Soon after coming to this county his father enlisted in the army and did duty in the Florida war. While crossing the Gulf of Mexico on his return he sickened and died and was buried at sea. The widow survived him many years and was well known to many of our people now living.

    William B. Hagins attended the private grammar class and was an active leader in the literary society and debating clubs maintained at Paris in his boyhood and early manhood, and there was nurtured that love of literature which characterized his mature years and he was fired with a laudable ambition to enter upon a professional career. He was compelled to earn his support and to assist his widowed mother in rearing and educating the younger members of their family, but he had the fixed determination to make something of himself and to follow pursuits congenial to his tastes.

    He came to Vernon in 1839 and after a few years of labor, during which he was acquiring a means to support himself while prosecuting his studies, he became a law student in the office of the late Hon. W. A. Bullock was a graduate of Williams College, Mass., a man of considerable literary taste and the preceptor of many of the young men who entered the legal profession in this county between the years 1825 and 1850. None of his students, he often declared, gave greater promise of future success and eminence in the law than did Wm. B. Hagins. He readily mastered legal principles and quickly entertained true perceptions of what the law ought to be and this added to his thirst for general knowledge, and his literary tast bade fair to place him in the highest walks of his chosen profession, but alas; in a few short years, almost total deafness destroyed to a great extent his usefulness as an advocate and blighted the bright promise of an early and what might otherwise have a brilliant career. After completing his studies with Mr. Bullock he went to Bloomington and entered the law school of the State University February 28th, 1844. He graduated in the law department there in 1845. The law professor at that time was Hon. David McDonald, afterwards U. S. District Judge for the District of Indiana. Mr. Hagins before going to college had at the Sept. 1843 session of the Board of Commissioners of Jennings county procured an order from the Board appointing him a student and entitling him to attend the law school at Bloomington. The law gave each county in the State the right to appoint two students to attend the State University free of charge. On entering the college he presented a certified copy of this order, but the college authorities declined to honor it, claiming that this law did not apply to students who enter the law department and in this claim they were backed and reinforced by the opinion of Judge McDonald. The tuition in the law department was fifteen dollars per session, paid in advance and The Board of Trustees of the university had passed an order requiring each professor, receiving into his department a student who had not paid the tuition in advance, to pay it himself. Not many young men could be found who would have so much confidence to their own opinion as not to be thoroughly convinced by the learning arrayed against him, or so much tenacity of purpose as not to be completely overwhelmed by the opposition our young law student how encountered. He believed his interpretation of the law was correct and rather than yield a principle, he determined to resist what he believed to be an illegal demand. On the one side were arrayed the trustees and faculty of a great institution of learning who were fortified by the opinion of one of the ablest lawyers of the State, and they must win or suffer a material diminution in the receipts of the institution; on the other was a poor law student, small of stature, but he had undaunted courage and was firmly entrenched in what he deemed was the right, and he must win or simply vindicate his own opinion. At each session he presented the order of the Commissioners of Jennings county and refused to pay the fifteen dollars. Judge McDonald paid it himself and so confident of the legality of their contention were he and the Board of Trustees that they threatened Hagins with expulsion if he did not pay the tuition. His answer was that an attempt to adopt that measure would be met with a suit to enjoin. He was permitted to remain, and the attempt was mad4e to coerce payment by declining to permit him to graduate. To this threat he announced himself ready to mandate them in the proper court and compel them to grabuate him, but to settle the legal question involved he invited his law preceptor to sue him for the $30 the professor had paid for his tuition, and this the professor did. He brought an action in assumpsit against Hagins in the Monroe Circuit Court to recover the thirty dollars. Hagins Appeared to the action and pleaded his appointment as a student in the university from Jennings County by the Board of Commissioners of that county in bar of the action. The plea was sustained, but professor and trustees were not going to be put down so easy and had no idea of submitting to have their opinions of the law set aside by a circuit judge. Hence the case was appealed to the Supreme Court of the State. It was heard at the November 1845 term of the Supreme Court and in an opinion pronounced by that Nestor of Indiana jurists, Judge Blackford, the contention of Wm. B. Hagins was again sustained at the professor's cost.

    In 1846 William B. Hagins married Esther Jane Kirk of Shelbyville, Ind., a lady teacher whose acquaintance he had made while a student at Bloomington. They came to Vernon to live, and on the 7th day of April 1847, with Jonathan W. Gordon, Guliford D. Eggleston and J. W. Chapman , (afterward judge of the circuit) he was admitted to the bar of the Jennings Circuit Court. Hon. C. Cushing was then president judge of the Circuit and Samuel Read and Joseph Ewing were the associate judges. Here Wm. B. Hagins with varied fortune continued in the practice of law until the infirmities of age and his inability to hear drove him into retirement. The records of the county for a period of more than forty years bear evidence to his learning, labor and skill. His wife, a most estimable and Christian lady, died during the war, and after that for a considerable period his aged mother cared for his household. He had a family of several children. His daughter Mary, a young lady and his son George who had almost arrived at man's estate, died several years ago. Joseph N. Hagins Esq. Attorney of Chicago Ill., Wm. B. Hagins Jr., Trader, who resides somewhere in the west, and Samuel K. Hagins, Jeweler, of Portland this State. When he retired from the practice of the law he removed from Vernon after a continuous residence there of 40 years and went to reside with his son Samuel K. Hagins at Portland, Ind. After a lingering illness of many months duration, he died there of Consumption, and his remains were interred in the Vernon Cemetery by the side of his loved ones who had preceded him to the grave.

    He was a great reader of the classics, both modern and ancient. Not being able to read Latin and Greek he procured translations of the great masters and studied them with avidity and pleasure. He loved the poets and no citizen of Vernon oftener or more deeply communed with them. Fruits and flowers were his delight, and he introduced into this community many and valuable varieties of both. He would scan the catalogues for rare and promising fruits, and for new and beautiful flowers, and his means were sorely tempted by the allurements that were presented, often no doubt to his subsequent loss and chagrin. No doubt had he devoted his life and energy to the science of botany he would have risen to great distinction. His taste for the beautiful in mature and art was acute. He selected for his home, a village noted all over the State for its romantic site and it's magnificent scenery, and here he erected a beautiful home on the spot from whence is presented on every side the most lovely views to be found in all the country round. His familiar figure has faded from our sight forever, but those who knew him most and best will cherish his memory. T.C.B (Thomas C. Batchelor)

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