Cowles, Alfred (attorney)

Born: 1787-07-01 Farmington, Connecticut

Died: 1887-11-16 San Diego, California

Cowles received his primary and secondary education in Hartford County, Connecticut. He commenced reading law in his early twenties, and earned admission to the Connecticut bar. Shortly thereafter, he married Charlotte Gleason Cowles, with whom he had seven children. Cowles practiced law in Connecticut courts for a time, but in 1821, after the death of his fifteen-month old son, he and his wife moved west to Illinois, settling first in Belleville. In September 1821, Cowles earned admission to the Illinois bar and commencing practicing in Belleville. A staunch supporter of John Quincy Adams and the National Republicans, Cowles supported Governor Edward Coles and worked tirelessly to prevent the introduction of slavery in Illinois. In 1825, Governor Coles appointed Cowles state's attorney for the 2nd Judicial District, and he received re-appointment in 1827, 1831, and 1832. As prosecuting attorney, Cowles figured in many important and celebrated cases, including that of Palemon H. Winchester, indicted in March 1825 for killing Daniel D. Smith, who had defamed the character of Winchester's mother-in-law. A Presbyterian, Cowles and his wife in 1833 became charter members of the first Presbyterian church established in Belleville. In 1838, Cowles became involved in the cases arising from the riot in Alton on November 7, 1837, that resulted in the deaths of Elijah P. Lovejoy and Lyman Bishop. Cowles defended the Lovejoy supporters who defended the press and killed Bishop, and he acted as the prosecuting attorney in the case against the leaders of the mob. In 1839, Cowles closed his law practice in Belleville and moved to Upper Alton, where he entered into partnership with John M. Krum. Cowles became one of the wealthiest men in Alton, owning real estate valued at $50,000. The Panic of 1837 and the proslavery riots, however, caused business prospects and the real estate market in Alton to collapse, taking with it much of Cowles' fortune. His partnership with Krum continued until 1844, when they dissolved the firm, and Cowles and his family moved to Chicago, where he entered into partnership with William H. Brown. A Whig, Cowles supported Zachary Taylor in the presidential election of 1848 and, as a reward, Taylor appointed him register of the General Land Office, a position he held until 1853. After his term ended, Cowles dissolved his partnership with Brown, sold his Chicago home, and moved to California to join his eldest son who had relocated to that state. He lived first in San Francisco, then San Jose, and finally San Diego. After the demise of the Whig Party, Cowles joined the Republican Party, and remained active in Republican politics until the end of his life.

Gravestone, Mount Hope Cemetery, San Diego, CA; W. T. Norton, ed., Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People 1812-1912 (Chicago: Lewis, 1912), 1:73; Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1849 (Washington, DC: Gideon, 1849), 135; Register of all Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1851 (Washington, DC: Gideon, 1851), 140; Register of Officers and Agents, Civil, Military, and Naval, in the Service of the United States, on the Thirtieth September, 1853 (Washington, DC: Robert Armstrong, 1853), 138; John F. Snyder, "Alfred Cowles," Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for the Year 1909 (Springfield: State Journal, 1910), 167-78.