HISTORY OF NEW LONDON COUNTY, CONNECTICUT,
WITH BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF MANY OF ITS PIONEERS AND PROMINENT MEN.
COMPILED UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF D. HAMILTON HURD
J. W. LEWIS & CO., PHILADELPHIA, 1882
PRESS OF J. B. LIPPINCOTT & CO., PHILADELPHIA
[transcribed by Janece Streig]
David SMITH was born in Norwich, September, 1796. He began his active business career in Windham, organizing a company there for the manufacture of paper. His success in this then comparatively new line of industry, his practical understanding of the business, together with his high personal character, procured him the invitation to the Chelsea Paper-Mill of this town, which he accepted in 1833. Here, associated with J. C. RIVES, formerly publisher of the Congressional Globe at Washington, D. C., Mr. SMITH was for many years a prominent proprietor of the mill, and during his direction it achieved a marked success. While thus engaged in the manufacturing of paper he resided in Greeneville, and by his public spirit and benevolence did all in his power for the building up of that part of the town. He was an active member of the Congregational Church there, and is still gratefully remembered for his generous contributions in its behalf, as well as in aid of every good cause that appealed to him through the church.
In 1856 he removed to the city, having built the fine residence in which he continued to live up to the time of his decease. In 1858 he retired from the manufacturing business, having through his successful management of the business accumulated a handsome property. From this time onward he was connected for a longer or shorter period with various business enterprises here. He was a prominent director in the Norwich Water-Power Company, and was president for some twenty years of the Jewett City Bank. In the organization of the Norwich and New York Transportation Company, Mr. SMITH was among the first movers, and succeeded Capt. Joseph J. COMSTOCK as its second president, serving with ability as such until 1873, when he declined a re-election. Interested in all that promised to promote the general growth of Norwich, he was identified with both the Norwich and Worcester and the New London Northern Railroads, being a director in each. He was the second president of the Second National Bank of this city, and by his personal interest in its affairs and his good business judgment contributed not a little to its prosperity. The Chelsea Savings-Bank also had him as one of its vice-presidents, and found in him an able and wise friend. Mr. SMITH had no taste for political life and studiously abstained there from, departing only once from this settled performance to represent the town for one year in the State Senate.
The Norwich Bulletin, in speaking of him, says, "He was widely known for his benevolence, and many are the institutions and charitable societies which recon him amongst their most generous contributors. Uniting with the church while in Willimantic, just prior to his removal to Greensville, he till the day of his death maintained a consistent and universally respected Christian life. He aided in building the churches in both the above places, was a liberal donor to the Second Church in this city when it was remodeled, and made his last contribution in this line to Park Church. Missed in all the walks of business, in which he maintained an integrity unsullied; missed by the great causes he was prompt and liberal to assist with his personal gifts; missed by the poor, to whom he was a thoughtful and open-handed friend, the valued citizen and honored Christian has gone from us. None will name him but to speak kindly of him; none will recall his genial face, his kindly speech and spirit, but to bear witness to his genuinely good life. Quietly and faithfully he lived, beloved and trusted by neighbors, citizens, churchmates, and by his death are all these bereaved of a tried and generous friend. The memory of his guileless, useful life will long be cherished, and Norwich will write him down amongst her noblest and most worthy sons." [Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. SMITH in the book.]
Henry B. TRACY was born in Bozrah, Conn., and died in Norwich, Dec. 18, 1878. Mr. TRACY was one of the leading and influential citizens of Norwich, and was honored by his fellow-townsmen with various positions of trust and responsibility in political and financial circles. Year after year he held the office of postmaster at Norwich Town, and many town offices were his townsmen only to glad to honor him with. He was for many years secretary of the old Norwich Mutual Assurance Company, and until a short time previous to his death was president of the Merchant Bank in this city. At the time of his death he was vice-president of the Norwich Savings Society, and until June, 1878, was director o the same, when his resignation was pressed upon and reluctantly accepted by the society. In his early life Mr. TRACY was connected with the Yantic Manufacturing Company The character of Mr. TRACY was distinguished by sterling uprightness, and it was said of him by those who placed business transactions in his hands that he discharged the trusts assigned to him with the same promptness, energy, and fidelity that he would in the conduct of his own affairs. Socially he was loved and esteemed by a large circle of friends and admirers, who valued him not less for his genuine personal qualities than for his integrity, justness, and high-minded business habits. Politically he was a Democrat.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. TRACY in the book.]
Henry Barker NORTON, born in the town of Branford, State of Connecticut, county of New Haven, Mary 5, 1807, came to the town of Norwich, county of New London, in the month of April, 1824. From then to the present time he has been continually occupied in merchandise, commerce, and manufactures.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. NORTON in the book.]
Hiram P. ARMS was born at Windsor, Conn., June 1, 1799, a descendant in the fifty generation of William ARMS, of Deerfield, Mass. Fitted for college under the tuition of the Rev. Nathan PERKINS, of Amherst, Mass., class of 1795, and at Phillips Academy, under John ADAMS, LL.D., class of 1795. After graduation taught a private school in New Haven, and pursued theological studies under the instruction of Profs. TAYLOR, FITCH, and GIBBS. Took charge of the Kingston Academy, N. &., for a year or two.
After preaching a few years in Sing Sing, N. Y., and in Longmeadow, Mass., was ordained at Hebron, Conn., June 30, 1830. Dismissed at his own request, Oct. 10, 1832. Installed pastor of the Congregational Church in Wolcottville, Conn., Feb. 6, 1833. Dismissed July 6, 1836, to accept a call from the First Church in Norwich, Conn., where he was installed Aug. 3, 1836.
On the 20th of February, 1873, being then seventy-four years of age, he resigned the active duties of his pastorate, but continued to reside among his people as pastor emeritus.
He has been twice married, first to Lucy Ann WADHAMS, of New Haven, Sept. 12, 1824. She died July 3, 1837, leaving five children. His second wife was Abby Jane BAKER, of New York, to whom he was married Sept. 12, 1838.
The evening of his uneventful life he is passing pleasantly in a quiet home, among a kind and affectionate people.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Rev. Hiram P. ARMS D.D. in the book.]
Rev. David Niles BENTLEY was born in North Stonington, Conn., July 27, 1785. He was the third son of Mr. Ezekiel BENTLEY, who died Feb. 4, 1834, in the ninety-seventh year of his age. His mother was Miss Anna CHAPMAN, eldest daughter of Deacon Joseph CHAPMAN, of Groton, now Ledyard. She died Oct. 25, 1853, aged ninety-seven years.
On the last of April, 1799, young BENTLEY was hired as a chore-boy to Mr. Barzillai DAVISON, of this city. He, with the family of Mr. DAVISON, attended the old Episcopal Church, of which Rev. John TYLER was pastor. He obtained the English Prayer-Book then in use, and read the lessons and prayers with the congregation, and made the responses as audibly as Deacon WARREN. At the expiration of six months he went home, where he spent most of the winter in attending the district school. The intermissions were passed with the teacher in study. In the spring of 1800 he was "bound out" as an apprentice to Mr. Barzillai DAVISON, of Norwich, to learn the trade of goldsmith. Soon after he went with a fellow-apprentice, Mr. Nicholas CHEVALIER, several years older, to the Methodist meeting, where the latter, who was very wicked, soon professed to be converted, quit his business, and went about holding meetings. About this time Capt. William DAVISON, brother of his employer, ran a packet from Norwich to New York, and coming home sick with the yellow fever, and dying, with his mate, the citizens became alarmed and many families went into the country. Among them was the family of Mr. Barzillai DAVISON, leaving Mr. BENTLEY to take care of the house and shop. He had now but little to do other than reading the Bible, watching with the sick, and attending prayer-meetings. Just at this time the eccentric Lorenzo DOW came into the place and preached in a room then occupied by the Methodists, in an old wooden building on the north side of Water Street. In his unsettled and gloomy state of mind he went to hear, taking a seat directly behind him, partially concealed by the door. During his discourse the preacher described the condition and feelings of a sinner under conviction for sin. After he had very clearly portrayed to the congregation his condition, he turned himself squarely round, and laying his hand on the head of Mr. BENTLEY, said, "Young man, is not that the truth, and you can't deny it?" He was baptized in the Yantic River, near the New London depot. By Rev. Peter VANNEST, in the same year, and began the practice of fasting on Friday, which he continued nearly three years (when he was taken with the yellow fever1) and still continued it until he was instructed by his physician that the habit was injurious to his health. After convalescence, becoming free from the indentures of his employer, and being at leisure, he traveled on horse the New London Circuit with Rev. Nathan EMORY. Believing that he could be more useful in local than itinerant ministry, he commenced business and a plumber and brass-founder in 1805. In the fall of this year he married Miss Letitia GARDNER, daughter of David GARDNER, Esq., of Bozrah. She was an earnest Christian, an affectionate mother, an obliging friend, and a devoted wife. Eleven children lived to realize and return her undying love, and four died in infancy. (1 1804) Mr. BENTLEY began business with nothing but his hands, the respect of the community, and His blessing "that maketh rich;" yet by honesty and integrity in his transactions, despite the expenses of numerous family, he amassed property, and has presented a noble instance of generosity which should lead others to emulate his heaven-deposited charity. Chiefly by his liberality and indemnification the church was built upon the Wharf Bridge, previous to which a large part of the expenses accruing from the rents of religious conventicles - "keeping" the preachers' horses, fuel, and lights - was met by his unstinted charity. The Sachem Street, Main Street, Central, and Greenville Churches were all early indebted largely to his contributions, both of money and exertions. In order to prosecute the erection of the church that was lost by the flood, after suffering it to absorb his ready means, he mortgaged his house to furnish the requisite deficiency, making it a security for a note of six hundred dollars. His name, in gold, at least, is inscribed on the pillars of the above churches, and the memory of his munificence can hardly be less than "apples of gold in baskets of silver." In 1817 he was solicited to remove to Zanesville, Ohio, and taking the precaution to go and become fully apprised of the position before concluding the agreement, he passed most of the journey in a single team, and decided to emigrate by the 25th of December following. He was prevented from going by a fall from a horse, and was disabled for three months, the effects of which have never been fully removed. His peculiar experience in 1827 is transcribed from his own pen: "It was the commencement of the great 'anti-Masonic excitement,' which extended all over the country, from one end to the other, entering every circle, domestic, political, and religious. If any one did not take sides with either party he was despised by both. I was a Free-mason; had passed through every degree with the institution from an Entered Apprentice to the Council, but had not met with the lodge since the laying of the corner-stone of the Sachem Street Methodist Episcopal Church, not because there was anything wicked in the institution, but because my time was required by duties to my family, the church, and the salvation of my fellow-men. After a while it became known that I had not renounced the institution, and a committee was appointed to wait on me and inform me that I must renounce Masonry or be renounced as a preacher. I wrote to them that I did not understand what they meant by 'renouncing.' If they meant that I must expose or divulge any secret, mark, or sign, I never should do it. They said there were to 'secrets' now, that they had been all revealed and published to the world. 'Then," I replied, "I can't reveal that which is already exposed to public view.' So they let me alone, threatening to raise a mob and pry out the corner-stone of the church which the Freemasons had laid." As will be remembered from the previous references, Mr. BENTLEY commenced his labors as a local preacher soon after conversion, and continued in this unremunerative field as long as his health would permit. In 1811, and for several succeeding years, he alternated with the traveling ministry at the Landing and Bean Hill, except at such times as an exchange was effected with other local ministers. He also at this early date began to preach at the almshouse.
This abbreviated account of his life cannot be better concluded than in his own language: "It is now (1859) more than sixty-two years since I received my first license to preach, although the world called my labors 'preaching' two or three years before. During all those many years I never have pocketed a dollar beyond my expenses of traveling to and from my appointments. More than half of that time I kept a team of my own. It may truly be said that I have been the poor man's minister. For more than sixty-three years I have held meetings at the almshouse in this city regularly once in three weeks, and when sick or absent I have supplied a substitute. During that length of time I have attended two hundred and three funerals at the almshouse.
"I began the world with nothing but my hands. I have literally labored seven days in the week for fifty years. Quite a number of times when I have been at work casting brass a messenger has called for me to go and attend a funeral three or six miles off. Such calls, or something not altogether dissimilar, I have answered in all the towns within twenty miles of my residence. And now, if I can but see weeping prevents inquiring what they shall do to be saved, and hear then shout the praise of a sin-forgiving God, I think I shall feel like exclaiming, with Simeon, 'Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.'" Mrs. Betsey BENTLEY, the venerable consort of Rev. David N. BENTLEY, was the fourth child of Mr. James ROGERS, of Montville, Conn. Her mother's maiden name was Miss Elizabeth HOWARD. She was born Aug. 9, 1790.
Mr. BENTLEY is now one of the oldest, if not the oldest, living natives of the county, being ninety-six years of age.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. BENTLEY in the book.]
Franklin NICHOLS, one of the successful business men and leading bankers in Connecticut, was born in Thompson, Conn., Aug. 11, 1805. His boyhood was passed in his native town, sharing the advantages of the schools of those days. At an early age he commenced business for himself in the improvement of extensive farming lands inherited from his father, which honorable vocation he continued, with an older brother, until May, 1840, when he removed to Norwich and became a member of the firm of NICHOLS & EDDY, wholesale grocers. The firm subsequently changed to NICHOLS & EVANS, and later to NICHOLS, EVANS & ALMY.
In 1844, Mr. Nichols retired from the firm, and engaged in the cotton business in company with the late Leonard BALLOU. He, however, remained in the business but about two years, and then engaged in banking operations.
In the spring of 1833 he assisted in obtaining the charter for the Thompson Bank, which was organized in the fall of the same year with eleven directors, all of whom are deceased except himself.
He has been prominently identified with the Thames Bank since 1846. He was chosen president in 1851 and has officiated in that capacity to the present time. When he entered the bank as a director it had a capital of two hundred thousand dollars, with little or no surplus. It has made dividends all this time of from six to twelve per cent, per annum, and now has a capital of one million dollars, with about three hundred and fifty thousand dollars surplus.
Mr. Nichols has been a director in the Norwich Savings Society since 1851, and its president since 1879. He was also one of the incorporators of the Thames Loan and Trust Company in 1869, and for several years its president. He was chosen a director in the Gas Company upon its organization, and is now the president and only surviving member of the original board of directors. He assisted in the organization of the Bank of Mutual Redemption in Boston, and in this institution also he is the only original member left in the board. Mr. NICHOLS was also a director in the Norwich and Worcester Railroad. Politically he is a Republican; was formerly a Whig.
Mr. Nichols is a public-spirited citizen, and all measures for the development of either the material, religious, or educational interests of his adopted city find in him an earnest supporter. He is a prominent member of Park Congregational Church, and was active in the organization of the society and the erection of the church edifice. He was chairman of the first meeting of the church and society.
Oct. 17, 1839, he united in marriage with Hannah P. FAIRFIELD, a native of Pomfret, and their family consisted of one child, a son, Franklin NICHOLS, deceased.
Franklin NICHOLS' life has been one of steady and active devotion to business, and his success is the natural result of his ability to examine and readily comprehend any subject presented to him, power to decide promptly, and courage to act with vigor and persistency in accordance with his convictions.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. NICHOLS in the book.]
Hon. Lorenzo BLACKSTONE dates his ancestry in this country to William BLACKSTONE, to whom is accorded the honor of having been the first settler in Boston. William BLACKSTONE came to America prior to 1828, and first located in Charlestown, where he remained until 1635, when he removed to lands which he had purchased near the present junction of Beacon and Charles Streets. He is also of the same stock as the great English legal commentator of the last century, Sir William BLACKSTONE.
Lorenzo BLACKSTONE was born at Branford, Conn., June 21, 1819. His boyhood was passed in his native town, where he attended the district school and academy. After spending a number of years in acquiring a knowledge of accounts, he resolved to engage in business for himself, and in 1842 left America for Liverpool, England, where he established an agency and commission-house for the sale of American merchandise. He entered into the business with energy and perseverance, and it rapidly increased, until he had branches in London and Manchester, and his transactions reached every part of Great Britain and even extended to the Continent and Australia. In about the year 18-he added to his business the sale of rubber overshoes, being the first to introduce the Good-year rubber goods into Great Britain. He had built up a large trade in the particular line of business when he was notified by Charles Mackintosh & Co., the great rubber manufacturers of Manchester, that he was infringing on their rights as owners of the patents of Thomas HANCOCK, who was in litigation with Charles GOODYEAR. And just here the business tack and characteristic foresight of the man displayed itself. He at once entered into an arrangement with Messrs. Mackintosh & Co. which gave him the exclusive right to sell rubber boots and shoes in every part of Great Britain, and the same time secured himself against the competition of American manufacturers and their English agents. For a time he purchased goods indiscriminately of various American Companies, but in 1846 he began to see the goods of the Hayward Rubber Company, of Colchester, Conn., and soon after invested in the stock, which he holds at the present time. His sales of rubber boots and shoes amounted to several hundred thousand dollars per year. He continued in this business until 1855, when he returned to Branford, continuing, however, the business of his house, with its branches in England.
His intimate relations with his brothers-in-law, the Messrs NORTON, who had been for several years prominent merchants in Norwich, Governor BUCKINGHAM, and other officers of the Hayward Rubber Company resident in Norwich, decided him to make that thriving city his permanent home, and removed thither in 1857, where he has since resided.
Mr. BLACKSTONE soon after closed his business in Europe, and in 1859 embarked in the cotton manufacture, in which he has since continued with great success. In three years he purchased the property formerly known as the Blashfield Factory, one of the earliest enterprises in the State. The mill had been burned prior to the purchase of the property by Mr. BLACKSTONE, and he at once erected a substantial brick building, which is supplied with all the modern improvements and has a capacity of then thousand spindles. The mill received the name of the Attawaugan Mill, the name being of local Indian origin. Additional machinery to the capacity of eight thousand spindles was soon after added, making twenty-eight thousand in all. In 1865 he enlarged his business by the purchase of the privilege next above that of the Attawaugan Mill, owned by Leonard BALLOU, and erected a new mill with a capacity of eighteen thousand spindles. Soon after the erection of this mill he purchased the Amesbury privilege and erected a mill for weaving subsidiary to the BALLOU Mill. The Attawaugan Manufacturing Company, owning and operating these mills, consists of Mr. BLACKSTONE, together with his brothers-in-law, Henry B., Timothy P., and William T. NORTON. In 1870 this company purchased the Potokett Mills (built in 1868 for a woolen-mill), in the town of Norwich, with a capacity of fourteen thousand spindles, and in 1877 built the Pequot Mills, Montville.
Mr. BLACKSTONE is also largely interested in other corporations, and is a successful and progressive capitalist. He is a director and one of the executive committee of the Ponemah Manufacturing Company, the largest cotton manufacturing company in Connecticut, and one of the largest in New England; is president of the Chelsea Savings-Bank, and director of the Thames National Bank of Norwich, and in the Chicago and Alton Railroad Company of Illinois, and also has large interests in other railroads, mostly in the West.
Mr. Blackstone is a public-spirited citizen, and has ever labored earnestly to advance the interests of his adopted city. He is a trustee of the Norwich Free Academy; has been alderman of the city a number of years; mayor four years; represented his town in the Legislature in 1871, and in 1878 he was elected State Senator on the Republican ticket, and in the session of 1879 served on the Committee of Finance with marked ability and success.
Oct. 17, 1842, he united in marriage with Emily, daughter of Asa NORTON, of Branford, Conn., and their family has consisted of three children,--James de Trafford, Harriet Belle, Ellen Frances, William NORTON, and Louis Lorenzo, all of whom reside in Norwich.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. BLACKSTONE in the book.]
John MITCHELL was born in Stonebridge, near Birmingham, England. He remained in his native land until eight years of age, when he emigrated with his parents to America, settling in New York city, and three years later in Wareham, Mass.
The iron business seems to have been an heirloom in the Mitchell family, as his grandfather was engaged in the same business, and his father cam to this country in the employ of the Sterling Iron company, whose works were located on the ground now occupied by the dry-goods establishment of Lord & Taylor, on Broadway, New York. Mr. MITCHELL remained in the iron business at Wareham, a portion of the time in the employ of his father, who was conducting the Washington Iron-Works, until 1845, when he came to Norwich with his father, the latter taking the management of the Cold Spring Iron-Works. Upon the failure of these works the property was purchased, in 1850, by Mr. MITCHELL, his father, and in 1852 the late J. M. HUNTINGTON also became a partner in the business, under the firm-name of J. M. HUNTINGTON & Co. This firm continued until 1862, when Mr. HUNTINGTON withdrew, and it was continued by Mr. MITCHELL and his next youngest brother, under the firm-name of MITCHELL Brothers. His brother was killed in May, 1864, and soon after Mr. MITCHELL's eldest son, Albert G., and Mr. Azel W. GIBBS became associated with him, and in 1879 his youngest son, Frank, also became interested in the business. This enterprising firm added to their already large operations the Thames Iron-Works, which were purchased in 1879. Mr. MITCHELL is also president of the Richmond Stove Company. The annual product of the three mills amounts to about half a million dollars.
Mr. MITCHELL is a public-spirited citizen, and all measures tending to advance the interests of his adopted city receive his earnest support. He has held many positions of trust and responsibility in financial circles. He is a director in the Thames National Bank, in Norwich Savings Society, and also in the Thames Loan and Trust Company. Politically he is a Republican, and attends the Second Congregational Church. In 1841, he united in marriage with Joanna Dexter GIBBS, and they have two children living, Albert G. and Frank A.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. MITCHELL in the book.]
Benjamin DURFEY was born in the town of Griswold, New London Co., Conn. He was one of a family of seven sons and daughters. His father was a sturdy farmer. His acres were like many others common to New England,--well fitted to develop both mind and muscle. The constant problem to be solved by their owners is how to extort from the unwilling soil the necessaries of life. This problem has in numerous instances been solved, and the reluctant earth made to yield to those engaged in its cultivation not a bare subsistence merely, but the means of moral and intellectual culture also, developing by the process a race of men unexcelled for physical and mental endurance.
So great was disparity between the natural capabilities of Mr. DURFEY's farm and the wants of his large family, and so apparent the blessing of God upon his labors in the harvest which followed them, that his neighbors were accustomed to say that "Mr. DURFEY could not have reared his large family from the avails of such a poor farm unless he had been a very good man," thus honoring his industry and piety, two qualifications for success which seem to have descended as rich legacy to his son, who, beginning with no other inheritance, also reared a family of seven children, and accumulated as a surplus a handsome estate. Benjamin DURFEY passed the early part of life upon his father's farm, sharing its toils and availing himself of such educational advantages as the district school afforded. In 1828 he went to Greeneville, now an important part of the city of Norwich, but then without an existence except on the surveyor's map. The waters of the Shetucket River had hitherto flowed uselessly along on their way to the sea, past the sites of the present flourishing villages of Baltic, Occum, Taftville, and Greeneville. But now the time come for turning them into use. A few large-minded men, among whom the late W. P. GREENE and W. C. GILMAN were prominent, conceived the project of throwing a dam across the river about two miles from its mouth. To carry out this project and thus make these waters available, the Norwich Water-Power Company was incorporated in 1828, and a considerable tract of land purchased on both sides of the river. It was at this time that Benjamin DURFEY appeared on the ground, before a stone had been laid, of a street opened, or a spade driven into the earth. In the following year he married, and commenced housekeeping in the only building then standing within the corporate limits. Thus he was literally the "pioneer in the settlement of the large and flourishing village if Greeneville. From the first he manifested a decided interest in all measurers to advance the material and religious welfare of the community, enjoying the confidence and respect of the people. There was scarcely an important civil office or place of trust in the gift of his fellow-citizens which he was not called to fill. He was manager of the Water-Power Company, president and treasurer of the Fire Association, constable, and justice of the peace. He was repeatedly on the Board of Relief and Board of Assessors. He was called to represent the town in the State Legislature. Before a stone in the foundation of the first factory was laid a weekly prayer-meeting was established at his house, a Sunday-school soon followed at the same place, and then public religious worship. He and nineteen others were constituted a Congregational Church by an Ecclesiastical Council convened for the purpose. For thirty-six years he served as chairman of the committee of the ecclesiastical society connected with that church.
Mr. DURFEY was twice married, -- in 1829, to Miss Adelia E. AVERY, who died Jan. 28, 1835; to Miss Harmony KINGSLEY, who survives him. He died April 24, 1875, and was buried from the Congregational church on the following Tuesday. A large concourse of citizens from all classes of society, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, bore testimony to the universal respect in which he had been held and the deep regret which was felt in his death.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. DURFEY in the book.]
E. Winslow WILLIAMS, one of the leading woolen manufacturers in Eastern Connecticut, was born in Norwich in 1830. He prepared for college at Dr. MUHLENBURG's school at Flushing, and graduated from Trinity College in the class of 1853. He soon after became interested in manufacturing, and upon the death of his father, the late Capt. Erastus WILLIAMS, succeeded to the interest of the Yantic Woolen-Mills, and has since continued in that business with marked success. These mills were erected in 1822, and destroyed by fire in 1865. The present stone mills were erected the same year.
In 1858, Mr. WILLIAMS unite din marriage with Miss McNULTY, of New York, and their family consists of four children, two sons and two daughters, viz,: Louis Brinkerhoff, Winslow Tracy, Jessie Huntington, and Lillian Marvin. Politically he is a Republican. He is a churchman, and a liberal supporter of Grace Church (Episcopal), at Yantic, where he resides. Notwithstanding Mr. Williams is the proprietor and active manager of an immense business, he is ever alive to the public good, and all measurers tending to advance the interest of his native town find in him an earnest advocate.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. WILLIAMS in the book.]
Willis R. AUSTIN.-The AUSTIN family, of which the subject of this sketch is a direct descendant, is one of the oldest families in the State. The name appears among those of the earlier settlers of New Haven, and frequently and prominently in the records of the town since.
David AUSTIN, the grandfather of Willis R. AUSTIN, was a prominent citizen of New Haven, for a long time government collector of customs in that city, and the founder and first president of the New Haven Bank. It was he who, associated with James HILLHOUSE, at his own expense planted the elm-trees which now adorn New Haven green. His son, John P. AUSTIN, in middle life removed to Norwich, where the subject of this sketch was born in the year 1819. He married, in 1851, Louisa, daughter of the late E. B. M. HUGHES, of New Haven, well remembered for her personal attractions and true excellence of character, whose death occurred in Philadelphia, where they resided, in 1854, leaving a daughter of two years, who has since died. In 1864 he married his present accomplished wife, Mary McCOMB, daughter of John McCOMB, of well-known and prominent New York family, and granddaughter of John McCOMB, who was identified with almost all the progressive movements of his day.
He was the executive manager in the erection of the New York City Hall and other public buildings, and as appears from the publications and records of the day, was one of the most active promoters of those public improvements which have been so instrumental in the prosperity of that city, and in all his varied public trusts his name was a synonym of strict integrity.
One child, a son, named Willis AUSTIN, was born to this union in 1878.
The marked character and enterprise of the AUSTIN family not only stamped itself upon the State of their nativity, but have stretched out to the distant domain of Texas, then a part of Mexico, in the persons of a cousin of the subject of this sketch. Stephen F. AUSTIN, and John AUSTIN, his eldest brother who established a colony, and after whom was named the city of AUSTIN.
Mr. AUSTIN was educated for the bar, graduating at the Yale College Law-School in the year 1849.
Shortly after graduating he visited Texas, and it was his intention to have located there in the practice of the law, but after some successful operations in cotton, concluded to return North, and locating in Philadelphia, engaged in the banking business. In this he was also successful, and having gathered in a few years a fair amount of this world's goods, he determined to retire from business and take relaxation in travel. He first traveled extensively in this country, visiting all the most interesting sections of the West and South, including his former abode in Texas. He then went abroad and traveled over Europe and Asia, spending three years in his tour. Upon returning to the United States he fixed upon Connecticut, the State of his ancestors, and Norwich, his native city, as his future home, and here he has since resided, preferring the enjoyment of social private life to the harassing cares of business.
Mr. AUSTIN has never sought political preferment. Personally popular, however, he has often been urged to accept of office, but steadily refused until, at the urgent solicitation of his fellow-citizens of Norwich, he consented to be one of their representatives in the General Assembly of 1874.
In 1875 he was re-elected a representative in the General Assembly, and in 1876-the centennial year of our national independence-he was elected senator from the Eighth District of the State.
Mr. AUSTIN's service in the Legislature was characterized by the most constant and faithful attendance and attention to his duties. His quiet and unobtrusive dignity of manner and bearing gained for him the respect and confidence of all to whom he became known. During the sessions of which he was a member he served upon the Committees of Finance, of Railroad, and of Constitutional Amendments. During his various terms of service in the Legislature of the State he took a prominent and active part in all important measures both in the House and Senate, and, as the public records and journals of the day fully indicate, the results obtained in favor or against the laws and measures before the Assembly were greatly influenced by his careful and conscientious attention. After Mr. AUSTIN's term of service in the Senate he determined not to pursue a further political life. Nevertheless, he was induced to serve as a member of the Republican State Central Committee for five years, and during the years 1877-80 he was president of the New London County Agricultural Society. These four years the society experienced marked prosperity. The grounds were enlarged, new buildings erected, premiums and expenses all paid, and a considerable sum of profit remained each year. He is at present chairman of the Connecticut State Board of Charities, and in Norwich (his own city) he has been for many years an active member of the board of directors of the Second National Bank, also a trustee and vice-president of the Dime Savings-Bank from its beginning. Though not impelled to the pursuit of business as a means of support, Mr. AUSTIN is a confirmed believer in the maxim that occupation and usefulness are requirements for the health and happiness of mankind; hence he selected his home with ample grounds that he might see the growth of various objects of ornament and necessity. He always holds himself ready to discharge all the duties of friend and citizen. The various offices of which he has been appointed or elected to fill occupy a very large portion of his time and attention, yet he enters upon these duties with the same zeal, and discharges them with the same fidelity, as though they were productive of emolument.
Mr. AUSTIN, though himself a native of Norwich, is a descendant of a long line of New Haven ancestry. The founder of the AUSTIN family in America was John AUSTIN; he came from England in the ship "Hercules," with his wife, Constance, from Sandwich, County Kent. He died in Greenwich, Conn., Sept. 5, 1657.
His son, John AUSTIN, was born in Greenwich, removed to East Haven, and married Mercy ATWATER, 13th of May, 1667, and died in 1690.
His son, David AUSTIN, was born in New Haven, Feb. 23, 1670.
David (2), his son, was born in New Haven, Oct. 25, 1703.
His son, David AUSTIN (3), was born in New Haven, May 6, 1732; died Feb. 5, 1801.
This David AUSTIN, the grandfather of Willis AUSTIN, was a collector of customs when New Haven was the chief port of entry in this section of the country; also the founder and first president of the New Haven Bank. He had thirteen children, and at his death left a large estate to his surviving children. He lived on the southwest corner of Church and Crown Streets, and built two large houses on the opposite corners for his two sons, David and John P. AUSTIN. His eldest son, Rev. David AUSTIN, then settled over the first Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, N. J., was executor of his father's estate. But in the midst of a distinguished career he was stricken by scarlet fever, from which, though physically restores, his mind remained dimmed for the greater portion of his succeeding years.
Unfortunately for the estate, he expended large sums of money in building "Long Wharf" and erecting a block of houses for the return of the Jews; also purchased a vessel, and sailing himself as supercargo to England, there loaded the vessel with costly articles, mostly musical instruments. ON the return voyage the vessel was lost without insurance.
It is related of him when a theological student, while taking a walk early in the morning, during the siege of New Haven, he encountered a British soldier, who ordered AUSTIN to surrender. Young AUSTIN seized the musket from the guard and marched him a prisoner of ware into New Haven.
In the annals of New Haven it is recorded that young David AUSTIN and his two uncles, John and David, were wounded in the battle for the defense of New Haven against the British, July 5, 1779.
Rev. David AUSTIN having married Miss Lydia LATHROP, an estimable lady, of one of the most wealthy and respectable families of Norwich, and his sister Sarah having married Rev. Walter KING, also of Norwich, he concluded to remain in that city, and accepted the pastorate of the Bozrah Church.
His sister, Sarah AUSTIN, married Rev. Walter KING, for some time pastor of the Second Congregational Church, Norwich. His sister Rebecca married John SHERMAN, son of Roger SHERMAN, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. His sister Mary married Andrew YATES, of Schenectady, a professor in Union College, and brother of Governor YATES, of New York.
John P. AUSTIN, the father of Willis R. AUSTIN, was born in New Haven, June 28, 1772; died June 24, 1834, in Brazoria, Texas. His remains were removed and placed in the family cemetery, New Haven. He was a graduate of Yale College, a man of culture and refinement. He succeeded his father as government collector of customs, and lived on the corner of Church and Crown Streets, opposite his father and brother.
Being embarrassed by the loss of much of his estate through the misfortunes of his elder brother, who was the executor of his father's estate, was induced by his brother to remove to Norwich with his wife and ten children. Three others were born to him in Norwich, of which Willis Rogers AUSTIN was the second.
The remaining years of his life were spent in retirement, in teaching and rearing his children, until he visited Texas, where de died in the year 1834.
Willis R. AUSTIN's mother was Susan ROGERS, daughter of Dr. David ROGERS, of Greenfield, Conn., born 15th September, 1778, married 11th September, 1797. She was the mother of thirteen children, all of whom grew to years and were married. She died Aug. 24, 1870, in the ninety-second year of her age. She was interred by the side of her husband in New Haven.
Her grandfather, Dr. Uriah ROGERS, died in Norwich, May 6, 1773. Her father, Dr. David ROGERS, died in Norwich in 1831, aged seventy-nine years. He was a physician and surgeon in the regiment of Continentals commanded by Gen. SILLIMAN, of Connecticut.
He was an eminent and successful physician, and retired to spend the last years of his life with his daughter, Mrs. AUSTIN; and from the old doctor's lips Willis R. AUSTIN, when a child, had the history of his dangers and escapes during the contests of the brave and determined Connecticut troops while defending the towns on the Connecticut shore near New York.
This brave old patriot and accomplished physician was buried in the old Up-town Norwich Cemetery.
Willis R. AUSTIN is the twelfth of a family of thirteen children. His eldest brother, John, was associated with S. F. AUSTIN (a relative) in effecting the settlement of AUSTIN's colony on the Brazos, In Texas. During the early period of the settlement of the colony John AUSTIN embarked in navigation, sailing between New Orleans and Texas in vessels in which he was interested. He was twice taken pirates; the last time he only escaped by swimming.
His cousin and associate, S. F. AUSTIN, in whose father's name (Moses AUSTIN) the grant of the colony had originally been obtained, having died before the terms of the grant were completed, the entire responsibility of the settlement of the colony devolved upon John AUSTIN. He having a superior business education, and great experience for so young a man, was elected governor of the colony and general of the army, and through his wife and efficient service the colony was successfully established, becoming a peaceful and prosperous community. In 1833, he died suddenly of cholera, his two children dying the same day.
Two other brothers, William T. and Alfred J. AUSTIN, went to Texas, and died suddenly of one of the malignant epidemics which are inevitable in that country, and especially fatal to settlers from the Eastern States. It was this which deterred Willis R. AUSTIN and others of the family from setline in Texas.
The AUSTIN name is said to have been derived from the sect of Christians who were followers of St. Augustine. It is certain the AUSTINs who came to Connecticut were a devout, Christian people, as is evidenced by the devised of their antique coats of arms, which they brought from England, and is now in the possession of Willis R. AUSTIN.
In looking back to the history of the AUSTINs, two hundred and fifty years in this country, it is noticed that many of the same characteristics have prevailed among them in every age.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Mr. AUSTIN in the book.]
Capt. George W. GEER was born in Norwich, Conn., March 27, 1806. He is the son of Wheeler GEER, who was born Nov. 8, 1773, and grandson of Uzziel GEER, also born in Norwich, Feb. 22,1732. His father was named Oliver GEER, and was the grandson of George GEER, the original ancestor in this country of the present extensive GEER family (see biography of Erastus GEER). Uzziel GEER's mother, Elizabeth NEWBURY, was a lady of culture and education for that day, and taught a number of young men the sciences of surveying and navigation. What education Uzziel received was chiefly under the tutelage of his mother; he became an excellent mathematician, was of an inventive turn of mind, and made quite a number of improvements in machinery, etc. He was the originator of many devices which have since been enlarged upon and have proved of great benefit to the world. He was the patentee of the jackscrew and other inventions which are in use at the present day. His chief occupation in life was the "getting off" or relaunching of castaway vessels, or craft cash ashore by storms, removing buildings, etc., and in originating and perfecting various devices pertaining to that work.
Wheeler GEER, father of Capt. GEER, was an active, industrious man, and most of his life was spent in building vessels and various marine craft, and as commander of small vessels plying in the coast trade. He was married in 1799 to Sally ROATH. They had ten children, seven sons and three daughters. Of the seven sons, six of them became masters of sailing-vessels, and when steam-vessels came in vogue five of them became masters of steam-vessels. Of the daughters, one died in infancy. The other two grew up to womanhood, married, and their husbands also became masters of vessels. One of the sons had charge of the steamer "Carolina," which during the "patriot invasion" of Canada went down the Niagara from Buffalo to Claussius, and there the high sheriff (Canadian), with a force of armed men, boarded the vessel, and both crew and passengers were compelled to jump overboard to escape with their lives. The sheriff and his posse afterwards fired the boat, set her adrift, and se went over the falls. During the boyhood of Capt. GEER the facilities for obtaining an education were limited indeed, yet, notwithstanding many difficulties and obstacles, he by diligent study and close application succeeded in obtaining a very fair education. During his early years he was all the time connected in some capacity with river and coast navigation, and became practically and thoroughly familiar with all the details of the business, so much so that on his eighteenth birthday he became master of a small vessel plying in the coast trade. From this time up to 1841 or 1842 he was in charge either as pilot or master of various packets and sail-vessels. He superintended the building of and owned an interest in several vessels during this time.
In 1843-44 the steamer "Shetucket" was built under his superintendence, and when the boat was launched, June 1, 1844, he took command of her. When the vessel was first built she was propelled by the "Ericsson wheel." After a six month's trial this wheel proved entirely unsatisfactory, so its use was abandoned, and the "R. F. LOPER wheel" substituted; this, too proved an entire failure. Capt. GEER being impressed with the necessity of a better wheel for the propulsion of steam-vessels, set his inventive faculties to work, and contrived a screw-wheel upon an entirely new principle, which proved an unqualified success, and all the wheels in use throughout the world today are constructed in accordance with the principle discovered by Capt. GEER. These wheels, as perfected by him, were first put on the "Shetucket," in New York, and on her first or trial trip there was a gain of nearly one-third in time, and a corresponding saving in fuel. After this wheel had been in use a short time the attention of other vessel-owners and navigators began to be attracted by its superior merits, and it was but a few months after its first introduction that a committee, composed of the president, agent, one of the directors, and chief engineer, of the Ericsson line of propellers came to New York to negotiate with Capt. GEER for the privilege of making and using his wheel. With his usual magnanimity he refused to accept any remuneration, but generously granted them the privilege of using his patterns in making the wheels to be used on their own boats without money and without price. After about three year' trial the president of the Ericsson Company informed Capt. GEER personally that the privilege of using his invention had been "the making of their business," as and a memento of his generosity in allowing them the use of his wheel they made him a handsome present.
Capt. GEER unfortunately neglected for some time to apply for a patent on his invention, and it appears that the liberality he exercised towards other ship-owners in allowing them the use of his wheel eventually worked to his disadvantage, as other parties had in the mean time appropriated his idea, and when he did finally apply for a patent some one set up an objection, or rather counter claim that it was an infringement on some part of an invention previously patented by them. Consequently a patent could not be issued until an investigation was made. Capt. GEER, knowing his invention to be his own, and that it was totally unlike any other wheel, deemed it unnecessary to push matter, and so neglected to press the investigation, and to add to the complication of affairs the attorney in charge of his application died, and all the papers in the case were lost or mislaid. By this time the invention had come into general use and regarded as common property, but the matter of the patent was thus postponed, neglected, and delayed to the present time. The invention, however, belongs in right to Capt. GEER, and if the matter were taken up and properly presented many think that Capt. GEER would be granted by the government either a patent or other compensation for his invention. It has worked a complete revolution in steam navigation throughout the world, and yet the inventor has received no compensation beyond a few dollars paid by certain parties to him for the privilege of using his wheel when it was first invented, and when every one naturally supposed it would soon be covered by letters patent.
About 1851 or 1852, Capt. GEER was one of a company1 which purchased the line of steamboats belonging to the Norwich and Worcester Railroad Company. He owned an interest in this company about twelve years, and would occasionally devote his attention to the piloting or command of said boats. During the time he was connected with various enterprises and held different positions of trust. He was a member of Common Council three years, and was appointed by the Governor channel commissioner, which position he held two years. About this time he built the steamer "Charles Osgood," and a few years later sold his interest to Mr. OSGOOD, for whom she was named. In 1855 he built the tug-boat "George W. GEER," which is still in active use at New York. About 1861 he was appointed inspector, weigher, and gauger of Norwich, which position he still holds. The following extract we clip from the New London Day: "Capt. George W. GEER, the inspector of customs at Norwich, in this district, came to this city last Friday in the revenue-boat 'Clarisse' which has been assigned for his use by the collector. Capt. GEER has held the position for more than twenty years, having been first appointed by Collector PRENTIS, and continued in office by Collector MARSHALL and the present incumbent. Although considerably over seventy years of age, Capt. GEER is still in vigorous health. He has discharged the duties of his office to the entire acceptance both of the government and the public." [1 Norwich and New London Transportation Company.] Capt. GEER was married Oct. 22, 1827, to Elizabeth BUTTON (born April 12, 1808), daughter of William BUTTON and Lucy POLLARD. To them were born four sons and four daughters. Mrs. GEER died Aug. 12, 1858. He married for his second wife Mrs. William G. PARSONS, Oct. 22, 1861. She was born March 20, 1813.
Capt. GEER has been for many years a member and liberal supporter of the Congregational Church, and is usually among the first to contribute to any charitable or public enterprise. He has led a very active life, and has always enjoyed the confidence, respect, and esteem of those who knew him. As an evidence of the esteem in which he is held, he has been the recipient of many handsome presents and testimonials, which afford him much pleasure, and which he delights to exhibit as being tangible proofs of the sincerity of the friendship of the donors.
He is kind, affable, and hospitable, and in his old age is surrounded by all that could tend to render happy by his declining years.
[Transcriber's Note: There is a picture of Capt. GEER in the book.]