Childhood and family history
Stephen Grover Cleveland was born on March 18, 1837, in Caldwell, New Jersey, to Ann (née Neal) and Richard Falley Cleveland. Cleveland's father was a Congregational and Presbyterian minister who was originally from Connecticut. His mother was from Baltimore and was the daughter of a bookseller. On his father's side, Cleveland was descended from English ancestors, the first of the family having emigrated to Massachusetts from Cleveland, England in 1635. His father's maternal grandfather, Richard Falley Jr., fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and was the son of an immigrant from Guernsey. On his mother's side, Cleveland was descended from Anglo-Irish Protestants and German Quakers from Philadelphia. Cleveland was distantly related to General Moses Cleaveland, after whom the city of Cleveland, Ohio, was named.
Cleveland, the fifth of nine children, was named Stephen Grover in honor of the first pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Caldwell, where his father was pastor at the time. He became known as Grover in his adult life. In 1841, the Cleveland family moved to Fayetteville, New York, where Grover spent much of his childhood. Neighbors later described him as "full of fun and inclined to play pranks," and fond of outdoor sports.
In 1850, Cleveland's father moved to Clinton, New York, to work as district secretary for the American Home Missionary Society. Despite his father's dedication to his missionary work, the income was insufficient for the large family. Financial conditions forced him to remove Grover from school into a two-year mercantile apprenticeship in Fayetteville. The experience was valuable and brief, and the living conditions quite austere. Grover returned to Clinton and his schooling at the completion of the apprentice contract. In 1853, when missionary work began to take a toll on his health, Cleveland's father took an assignment in Holland Patent, New York (near Utica) and the family moved again. Shortly after, he died from a gastric ulcer, with Grover reputedly hearing of his father's death from a boy selling newspapers.
Education and moving west
An early, undated photograph of Grover Cleveland
Cleveland received his elementary education at the Fayetteville Academy and the Clinton Liberal Academy. After his father died in 1853, he again left school to help support his family. Later that year, Cleveland's brother William was hired as a teacher at the New York Institute for the Blind in New York City, and William obtained a place for Cleveland as an assistant teacher. He returned home to Holland Patent at the end of 1854, where an elder in his church offered to pay for his college education if he would promise to become a minister. Cleveland declined, and in 1855 he decided to move west. He stopped first in Buffalo, New York, where his uncle, Lewis F. Allen, gave him a clerical job. Allen was an important man in Buffalo, and he introduced his nephew to influential men there, including the partners in the law firm of Rogers, Bowen, and Rogers. Millard Fillmore, the 13th president of the United States, had previously worked for the partnership. Cleveland later took a clerkship with the firm, began to read the law, and was admitted to the New York bar in 1859.
Early career and the Civil War
Cleveland worked for the Rogers firm for three years, then left in 1862 to start his own practice. In January 1863, he was appointed assistant district attorney of Erie County. With the American Civil War raging, Congress passed the Conscription Act of 1863, requiring able-bodied men to serve in the army if called upon, or else to hire a substitute. Cleveland chose the latter course, paying $150 (equivalent to $3,052 in 2018) to George Benninsky, a thirty-two-year-old Polish immigrant, to serve in his place. Benninsky survived the war.
As a lawyer, Cleveland became known for his single-minded concentration and dedication to hard work. In 1866, he successfully defended some participants in the Fenian raid, working on a pro bono basis (free of charge). In 1868, Cleveland attracted professional attention for his winning defense of a libel suit against the editor of Buffalo's Commercial Advertiser. During this time, Cleveland assumed a lifestyle of simplicity, taking residence in a plain boarding house; Cleveland dedicated his growing income instead to the support of his mother and younger sisters. While his personal quarters were austere, Cleveland enjoyed an active social life and "the easy-going sociability of hotel-lobbies and saloons." He shunned the circles of higher society of Buffalo in which his uncle's family traveled.