Joseph Christopher Yates was born on November 9, 1768, in Schenectady, New York. Taught by tutors, he received an excellent education and went on to study law in the office of Peter W. Yates in Albany. Admitted to the bar in 1792, he set up a law practice in Schenectady and was described as a prudent and sagacious counselor, an able and skillful advocate, familiar with the rules which control real property and with the doctrines which govern the creation and devolution of estates.1
When Union College was chartered in 1795, Joseph Yates served as one of its first trustees. He became the first mayor of Schenectady when the city was chartered in 1798, a position that he held until 1808. In 1806, he was elected to the New York State Senate and, on April 3, 1807, he was appointed by the Legislature to a commission to settle the boundaries of New York and New Jersey.
In 1808, Yates was again elected to the State Senate but soon afterward, Brockholst Livingston, then a Justice of the Supreme Court of the State, was appointed to the United States Supreme Court and, on February 8, 1808, Joseph C. Yates was appointed to the New York Supreme Court of Judicature in Justice Livingston's place.
Justice Yates wrote a dissenting opinion in the 1809 landmark case concerning jurisdiction of the common law and chancery courts, In Re John V. N. Yates. He also authored a majority opinion in the steamboat monopoly case of Livingston v. Van Ingen. Justice Yates resigned on September 19, 1822 and was sworn in as Governor of New York on January 20, 1823. Yates County was named in his honor following his approval of legislation establishing the county.
Joseph Christopher Yates died in Schenectady on March 19, 1837. A marker in his honor was installed at 29 Front Street in the historic Stockade district of Schenectady, the first Historic District established in New York.
Rossiter Johnson and John Howard Brown. The Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans.
George Rogers Howell and John H. Munsell. History of the County of Schenectady, N.Y., from 1662 to 1886.