“Weapons of wit” – York County Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin

Today, the York County Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin remembers the celebration on August 26, 1936 and the man they honored.

The Lewiston [ME] Evening Journal printed a short article about the celebration:


In its contribution to the tercentenary program of York County, Alfred today observed “John Holmes Day.”

John Holmes was the first U.S. Senator from Maine after it became a state in 1820.

Adelbert M. Jakeman, Westfield, Massachusetts, teacher playing the role of Holmes, arrived in an ancient coach as the Senator’s return from his first session in Washington was depicted in pageantry.

Other features of the observance was an “1820” parade in which ox-drawn vehicles and fire apparatus participated.

Late today Justice George Emery of the Superior court will deliver an oration on the political career of Holmes.


The Law Reporter of August 1843 printed a lengthy article that was part remembrance, part honor and part obituary announcing the recent death of Mr. Holmes.

The article remembered the wit of the elderly statesman:


On being admitted to the bar, in 1799, he resolved to seek his fortune in the eastern country, a remote and comparatively unknown region, but affording to the enterprising and intelligent adventurer, an eminent promise of success, and an ample field of professional labor.

He established himself in September, 1799, at Alfred, in the county of York, in Maine, then a district of the town of Sandford, and containing but about eight hundred and fifty inhabitants. It was not incorporated until 1808; still it afforded a very favorable opportunity for a talented young man to rise in the profession.

He was for several years the only lawyer in the neighborhood. The titles to land in that part of the county were in an imperfect and unsettled state; the settlers had made their pitches upon vacant spots, in what was called the Fluellen or Phillips grant, and made their improvements without a shadow of title; the proprietors had just begun to make an investigation of their rights.

Mr. Holmes was employed by them for this purpose, and pursued the inquiry and the prosecution of the claims with great industry and success.

Many actions were necessarily brought, and much and exasperated litigation was the consequence, which called forth great legal talent from Maine and Massachusetts, and settled some very important questions in the law of real estate.

The statement of one of these cases, in which Mr. Dane of Beverly appeared as counsel, may be found in 7 Dane’s Abridgment, 697.

The discussion of the points in this case produced some little excitement between Mr. Chief Justice Parsons and the counsel, particularly with Mr. Dane, toward whom the judge expressed himself with some impatience, in regard to the plea of not guilty to a writ of right.

These cases brought Mr. Holmes into extensive practice, and a familiar acquaintance with the law of real estate; and his fees were not inconsiderable.

The counsel upon the other side complained to him that he received all the emoluments, while they had to bear heavy burdens.

The courts in York, beside their own lawyers were attended by the late Mr. Chief Justice Parker, Mr. Symmes, and Solicitor Davis of Portland, some New Hampshire lawyers, and occasionally by professional gentlemen from Massachusetts, and were made the occasion of a great deal of sport and hilarity.

This collection of lawyers, jurors, suitors, and witnesses, filled up the small villages in which the courts were held, and the public houses could not afford comfortable accommodation for the persons that thronged them.

It was quite a privilege, enjoyed by few, to obtain a separate bed, far more a separate chamber.

These meetings were the occasion of much dissipation, in which many members of the bar were no ascetics.

Scenes of frolic and waggery are still remembered which would shock the gravity and sobriety of the present generation.

The gravity and dignity of the bar in that day of the robe and the wig, were very apt to be left in the court room—they were seldom seen in the bar room.

Mr. Holmes contributed his share to the amusement of his associates.

At one time he officiated as the priest in a mock marriage of one of the bar with a lively girl of the village, in which the parties jumped over the broomstick.

The affair was reported by a wag to Judge Cutts, a feeble member of the judiciary, as involving his friend, Mr. Holmes, in a serious dilemma, for having performed a ceremony for which he was not legally qualified.

The judge was only relieved from the pain this intelligence gave him, by the assurance of Judge Wells that the whole matter was a joke.

The number of lawyers in Maine, at the time of Mr. Holmes accession to the bar was forty-three, of whom nine resided in the county of York, which then included Oxford, and was the most populous county in the district.

These all were distinguished in their profession, and most of them in public life.

Of the forty-three, but eight are now living, viz., Mr. Chief Justice Whitman, Judge Wilde, Judge Dana, Judge Emery, Benjamin Hasey of Topsham, Judge Bailey of Wiscasset, and Allen Gilman of Bangor.

Mr. Holmes, although senior in years to several of these, was the youngest at the bar.

Mr. Holmes was a good lawyer, but not of the first order.

He handled the weapons of wit with more skill and effect than those of a severe logic, although he was not deficient in that prime quality of a sound jurist.

The force of his argument was sometimes weakened or at least appeared to be less close and stringent, by the propensity he had, and which he seemed not able to control, of mingling in its texture the gay threads of wit and anecdote.

He was quick of perception, and seized readily upon a weak point of his adversary, which by a great facility of language and infinite good humor, he turned to the best account.

Whenever an opportunity occurred of exhibiting his opponent in a ridiculous position, no person could better avail himself of the occasion.

An opportunity of this kind was furnished him in the discussion which took place in the senate of the United States, on some subject connected with nullification.

Mr. Tyler, we believe, alluding to the satirical remark of John Randolph, some years previous, which designated certain active politicians as partners, under the name of “James Madison, Felix Grundy, John Holmes and the Devil,” inquired, with a view to reproach Mr. Holmes, what had become of that celebrated firm.

Mr. Holmes immediately sprung upon his feet, and said, “Mr. Speaker, I will tell the gentleman what has become of that firm; the first member is dead, the second has gone into retirement, and the last has gone over to the Nullifiers, and is now electioneering among the gentleman’s constituents! and thus the partnership is legally dissolved.”

The laugh produced on the occasion was wholly at the expense of Mr. Tyler.

In his discussions at the bar, Mr. Holmes often carried the exercise of this talent too far for good taste or ultimate benefit to his client; to raise a laugh at the expense of an opponent, is not always to gain a cause; he was yet very successful with the jury and a popular advocate, and became and continued for several years the leader of the York bar.

Wit and humor were the characteristics of his mind; they effloresced on all occasions, at the bar, in the legislature and in private life, and he delighted in their display.


The York County Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin shows beside a portrait of Maine’s Senator John Holmes.

York County Commemorative Silver Half Dollar Coin