Chicago Beers (J.H.) & Co..

Commemorative biographical record of New Haven county, Connecticut, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and of many of the early settled families .. (Volume 1, pt.2) online

. (page 1 of 95)
Online LibraryChicago Beers (J.H.) & Co.Commemorative biographical record of New Haven county, Connecticut, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and of many of the early settled families .. (Volume 1, pt.2) → online text (page 1 of 95)
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833 00826 1890

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Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens.
AND OF Many of the Early Settled Families.




J. H. Beers & Co.




maternal line was Rev. Joseph Fish, a graduate of
Harvard College, and for fifty years the pastor of
a church in North Stonington, Conn., whose repu-
tation as a man of exemplary piety is sustained by
his letters. His eldest daughter, Mary Fish, the
mother of Professor Silliman, was first married, in
ijqS, to the' Rev. John Noyes, son of the pastor of
the First Church in New Haven. Mr. Xo}es died
in 1767. Her marriage with Gen. Silliman took
place in 1775. He had been previously married, and
a son, William Silliman, the fruit of this earlier mar-
riage, was now a youth. Three of her children also
survived, Joseph, John and James Xoyes, the last
two of whom ultimately became faithful ministers
of the Gospel, and died at an advanced age. In
1804 she was married a third time, to Dr. John
Dickenson, of Middletown, who died in 181 1. Her
own death occurred in 1818. "She combined in her
nature a woman's tenderness with a remarkable
fund of energy and fortitude."

Benjamin Silliman w^as prepared for college un-
der the tuition of his pastor. Rev. Andrew Elliot.
He entered Yale College in 1792. and was graduated
in 1796, and passed the following year at the home
of his mother in Fairfield, which had betn the place
of residence of the Sillimans from the early Colo-
nial days. He then taught school in Wethersfield.
and was a resident there the greater part of the
year 1798. In that same year he returned to Xew
Haven, and began the study of law in the oilfice of
Simeon Baldwin; and in September, 1799, when he
had reached the age of twenty, he was appointed a
tutor in Yale. This he held until his admission to
the Bar, in 1802. One of his classmates and a tutor
in Yale with him was Charles Denison, and both
were admitted to the Bar at the same time. Denison
became a lawyer of high repute. Among his fellow-
pupils were two with whom he- was destined to be
intimately associated for nearly the whole of his
long life, Jeremiah Day and James L. Kingsley.

At this period in young Silliman's life natural
science was beginning to attract the attention of
educators. The corporation of Yale had, several
years before, at the recommendation of President
Dwight, passed a vote or resolution to establish a
professorship of Chemistry and X'atural History
as soon as the funds would admit it. The time had
arrived when the college could safelv carrv the reso-
lution into effect, and at the solicitation of President
Dwight Mr. Silliman abandoned the profession of
the law and devoted himself to the profession of
science. The circumstances of this change of plan
he describes as follows : "The president then did me
the honor to propose that I should consent to have
my name presented to the corporation, giving me
at the same time the assurance of his cordial sup-
port, and of his belief that the appointment would
be made. I was then approaching twenty-two vears
of age — still a youth, or only entering on early man-
hood. I was startled and almost oppressed by his
proposal. A profession — that of the law — in tjie

study of which I was already far advanced, was to
be abandoned, and a new profession was to be ac-
quired, preceded by a course of study and prepara-
tion, too, in a direction in which in Connecticut
there was no precedent. The good President per-
ceived my surprise and embarrassment, and v.ith
his usual kindness and resource proceeded to remark
to this effect : T could not propose to you a course
of life and of effort which would promise more u:fe-
fulness or more reputation. The profession of the
lav/ does not need you ; it is already full, and many
eminent men adorn our courts of justice; you may
also be obliged to cherish a hope long deferred, be-
fore success would crown your eft'orts in that pro-
fesion, although, if successful, you may become rich-
er by the law than you can by science. In the pro-
fession which I proffer to you there will be no rival
here. The field will be all your own. The study
will be full of interest and gratification, and the pre-
sentation which you will be able to make of it to the
college classes and the public will atford much in-
struction and delight. Our country, as regards the
physical sciences, is rich in unexplored treasures, and
by aiding in their development you will perform an
important public service, and connect your name
with the rising reputation of our native land. Time
will be allowed to make every necessary preparation ;
and when you enter upon your duties vou will speak
to those to whom the subject will be new. You will
advance in the knowledge of your profession more
rapidly than your pupils can follow you, and will
always be ahead of your audience.' " Mr. Silliman
in 1802 was chosen to this professorship, and as a
means of preparation for it he passed two winters
m Philadelphia in the study of chemistry under
Prof. James Woodhouse, Professor of Chemistry in
the University of Pennsylvania. On April 4, 1804,
he delivered his first lecture to the senior class in a
public room, hired for college purposes, in Mr. Tut-
tle's building on Chapel street, on the history and
progress, nature and subjects, of chemistry. "I con-
tinued to lecture, and I believe in the same room
until the Senior class retired, in July, preparatory
to their commencement in September. My first
efiforts were received with favor, and the class which
I then addressed contained men who were afterward
distinguished in life. On the 4th of April. 1804, I
commenced a course of duty as a lecturer and pro-
fessor, in which I was sustained during fifty-one
years." In the following year he gave a complete
course of lectures, and in March, 1805. he went
abroad to purchase scientific books and apparatus,
and spent about a year in study in Edinburgh and
London. He also visited and met many distin-
guished men of science. Returning to this country,
he devoted himself to the duties of his professorship,
which included chemistry, mineralogy and geology,
until 1853, when he was made professor emeritus,
hut at the special request of his colleagues continued
his lectures on geology until 1855. when he was
succeeded by his son-in-law, James D. Dana. The



latter, in his inaugural discourse, delivered Feb. i8,
1856, in part said :

"In entering upon the duties of this place, my
thotights turn rather to the past than to the subject
of the present hour. I feel that it is an honored
place, honored by the labors of one who has been
the guardian of American science from its child-
hood, who here first opened to the ccuntn,- the won-
derful records of Geology ; whose words of elo-
quence and earnest truth were but the overflow of
a soul full of noble instincts and warm sympathies,
the whole throwing a peculiar charm over his learn-
ing, and rendering his name beloved as well as illus-
.trious. Just fifty vears since. Professor Silliman
took his station at the head of chemical and geologi-
cal science in this college. Geology was then hardly
known by the name in the land, out of these walls.
Two years before, previous to his tour in Europe,
the whole cabinet of Yale was a half bushel of un-
labelled stones. On visiting England he found even
in London no school, public or private, for geologi-
cal instruction, and the science was not named in the
English universities. To the mines, quarries and
clififs of England, the crags of Scotland, and the
meadows of Holland, he looked for knowledge, and
from these and the teachings of Murray. Jameson,
Hall, Hope and Playfair, at Edinburgh, Professor
Silliman returned equipped for duty, and creating
almost out of nothing a department not before rec-
ognized in any institution in America."

While in Edinburgh, Professor Silliman became
interested in the discussions, then at their height,
between the Wernerians and Huttonians. and attend-
ed lectures on geology ; and on his return he began
the studv of the mineral structure of the vicinitv of
New Haven. 'T arrived in Xew Haven from Scot-
land on the first of June, 1806. and on the first day
of September I read to the Connecticut Academy of
Arts and Sciences a report on the mineral structure
of the environs of Xew Haven, which was printed
in the first volume of the Transactions of the Acad-
emy. This report occupies fourteen pages, and hav-
ing been published more than fiftv-two vears ago —
when I was twenty-seven vears of age — I have been
gratified to find that an attentive re-perusal yester-
day (Jan. 6, 1859) — after I know not how many
years of oblivion — suggested very few alterations,
and I have not discovered anv important errors."

About 1807-08 the corporation of Yale was per-
suaded by Professor Silliman to purchase the cabi-
net of minerals belonging to Mr. Benjamin D. Per-
kins, of Xew York. It was transferred to Mr. Silli-
man's chamber, and was the starting point for more
extensive collections added afterward. A few years
later Mr. Silliman secured the loan of the magnifi-
cent collection of George Gibbs. which in 1825 be-
came the propertv of the college.

Professor Silliman's scientific work, which was
extensive, began with the examination in 1807 of
the meteor that fell near Weston, Conn. He pro-
cured fragments of this, of which he made a chemi-

j cal anaylsis, and he wrote the earliest and best au-

j thenticated account of the fall of a meteor in Amer-
ica. He began, in 181 1, an extended course of ex-

' periments with the o.xy-hydrogen hydric, a com-
pound blow pipe, invented by Robert Hare, and he

I succeeded in melting many of the most refractory
minerals, notably those containing alkalies and alka-
line earths, the greater part of which had never been
reduced before. After Sir Humphrey Davy's dis-
covery of the metallic bases of the alkalies, Profes-
sor Silliman repeated the experiment, and observed
for the first time in this country the metals sodium
and potassium.

Professor Silliman, in 1830, explored Wyoming
\'alley and its coal formations, examining about 100
mines and localities of mines; in 1832-33 he was en-
gaged under a commission of the Secretary of the
Treasury in a scientific examination on the subject
of the culture and manufacture of sugar, and in 1836
he made a tour of investigation among the gold
mines of Virginia. His popular lectures began in
1808, in Xew Haven, on chemistry. He delivered
his first course in Hartford, in 1834, and in Lowell,
Mass., in'the fall of that same year. He subsequent-
ly lectured in Salem, Boston, Xew York, Baltimore,
Washington, St. Louis, X'ew Orleans and elsewhere
in the United States. In 1838 he opened the Lowell
Institute in Boston, with a course of lectures on
Geology, and in the three following years he lectured
there on Chemistrv. "The series were without doubt
the most brilliant of the kind that were ever deliv-
ered in this country, and its influence in developing
an interest in the young science was very great.
Many of the present leaders of science trace their
first inspiration to those popular expositions of Pro-
fessor Silliman."

Professor Silliman was opposed to slavery, and
during the Kansas l;roubles was instrumental in •or-
ganizing a colony in Xew Haven for that point and
spoke in favor of their being provided with rifles.
Durmg the Civil war he was a firm supporter of
President Lincoln, and exerted his influence in the
abolition of slavery.

In 1818 Professor Silliman founded the Ameri-
can Journal of Science and Arts, and it has con-
tinued to be edited and published bv members of his
family from that time to this, aided more or less by
other scientific experts. For a long time it was
quoted as SilUiiian's Journal. The Journal was con-
ducted by Silliman chiefly alone until 1838, when his
son, Benjamin Silliman, jr., later professor of chem-
istry in the college, was associated with him. and
with the beginning of the second series Mr. Dana,
soon to be made Professor of Geology and Mineral-
ogy, became also one of the editors-in-chief. As
Dana's part in it became more and more important,
it was properly spoken of as the American Journal.
Bowdoin College conferred upon Professor Silli-
man the degree of ^NI. D. in 1818, and Middlebury
that of LL. D., in 1826. He was the first president
of the American Association of Geologists and X'at-


'w^ ;



, Ix^f '<£). - n>i_-'Oc^



uralUts, in 1840, which society later became the
American Association for tlie Advancement of Sci-
ence, lie was one of the corporate members named
hv Congress in the formation of the Natural Acad-
finv of Sciences, in 1863. He was corresponding;-
niember of the Geological Societies of Great Britain
and France. He was also connected with other so-
cieties both in this country and abroad.

Professor Silliman, as referred to in Appleton's
Encyclopedia, edited three editions of William Hen-
ry's "Elements of Chemistry'' (Boston, 1808-1814) ;
also three editions of Robert Bakewell's "Instruc-
tions in Geology-" (New Haven, 1820-33- ^n^' ,'^9) ;
and was the author of "Journals of Travels in Eng-
land, Holland and Scotland" (New York, 1810) ;
"A Short Tour Between Hartford and Quebec in
the Autumn of 1819" (1820) : "Elements of Chem-
istry in the Order of Lectures given in Yale Col-
lege" (two volumes, New Haven. 183031) ; "Con-
-sistency of Discoveries of Modern Geologv-, with the
Sacred History of the Creation and Deluge" (Lon-
<Ion, 1837) ; and "Narrative of a Visit to Europe,
1851" (two volumes, 1853).

An important event in the life of Mr. Silliman
occurred in i8og, about three years after his return
from Europe. This was his marriage to Miss Har-
riet Trumbull, daughter of the second Governor
Trumbull. Jonathan Trumbull, the elder, a graduate
of Harvard College, had distinguished himself bv
refusing to join a part of his colleagues in Council
in administering to Governor Fitch the oath to exe-
•cute the stamp act, and, being chosen lieutenant-gov-
ernor, he had himself likewise refused to take the
oath to carry out the oppressive measures of Parlia-
ment. Chosen governor in 1769, he was re-elected
for fourteen consecutive terms — the only Colonial
■governor who retained his office after the beginning
of the Revolutionarv war. He stood very high, as
is well known, in the esteem of Washington, who
pronounced him "one of the first of patriots," and
whom he sustained with resolute, unfailing patriot-
ism to the end of the great struggle. A sedate Puri-
tan, deeply imbued with the spirit of religion, and
fearless in the discharge of every duty, he stands
among the heroic figures in our national history.
His son, the second governor, and the father of
Mrs. Silliman, was worthy of such a parent. After
filling various important offices he w^as made gov-
ernor of Connecticut in 1798, and held this station
imtil his death, in 180Q.

One of Professor Silliman's dauehters, Maria,
married John B. Church; another. Faith, married
Oliver P. Hubbard, professor of Chemistrv at Dart-
mouth College, who died in 1900, when ninety years
old, in New York ; another daughter. Henrietta, mar-
ried the distinguished scientist, James Dwight Dana,
late professor in Yale University: Julia married
Rev. Edward W. Gilman, Secretary of the .Ameri-
can Bible Society: and Benjamin, Jr., '\l. D.. LL. D.
(1816-1885), was a distinguished chemist and scien-
tist, a professor in Yale University. The elder

Silliman was married a second time, Mrs. Sarah J.
Webb becoming his wife, Sept. 17, 1857, in Wood-
stock, Connecticut.

Professor Silliman was styled by Edward Everett
the "Nestor of American Science." His person was
commanding, his manners dignified and attable, and
his general traits of character such as to win uni-
versal respect and admiration. He died at New Ha-
ven Nov. 24, 1864. A bronze statue of Professor
Silliman was erected on the Yale grounds in 1884.

CURTIS. This family is one of the oldest in
New England, and the branch in which ran the line
of the late Hon. George Redfield Curtis, a promi-
nent manufacturer and leading citizen for many
years of >Meriden, where his widow and son still
reside, is one of the oldest of Connecticut. The
late George Redfield Curtis was seventh in line
from his first American ancestor, John Curtis, the
line of his descent being through Thomas, Nathan-
iel, Benjamin, Benjamin (2) and Asahel.

(I) John Curtis, born in England, a son of
Widow Elizabeth Curtis, was at Stratford, Conn.,
in 1639, among the first settlers there with his
mother and brother William.

(II) Thomas Curtis, son of John, born in 1648,
settled in Wallingford, Conn, (one of the original
settlers), in 1670.

(III) Nathaniel Curtis, son of Thomns, born in
1677, married (second), in 1702, Sarah Howe.

(IV) Beniamin Curtis, son of Nathaniel, born
in 1703, married in 1727 Miriam Cooke.

(V) Benjamin Curtis (2), son of Benjamin,
born in 1735, married Mindwell Hough in 1763.

(VI) Asahel Curtis, son of Benjamin (2), and
the father of George R. Curtis, born Tuly 2, 1786,
married in 1812 Mehitable Redfield. She was from
Clinton, Conn., born in 1790, and was a descendant
in the seventh generation from her first American
ancestor, William Redfield. He was from England,
and came to the Colony of Massachusetts at an early
day, locating on the Charles river, six miles from
Boston. The line of Mrs. Curtis' descent is through
James. Theophilus, Daniel, Roswell and Augustus.
The last named married Anna Grinnell, through
whom Mrs. Curtis was a descendant of Tohn Alden.
The children of ]\Ir. and Mrs. Asahel Curtis were:
Tennett, Phebe A., Benjamin U., Asahel and George

George Redfield Curtis was born Dec. 25,
1825, in Meriden. in which place in the main he
received' his education. He began life for himself
at the age of eighteen years, as clerk in a dry-goods
store in Middletown, remaining so employed four
years. In 1847 he went to Rochester, N. Y., and
for a year was occupied in teaching school in that
vicinity. The following year he mirsued the same
occupation in Meriden, and in 1840 he became a
bookkeeper for Julius Pratt & Co., of Meriden, with
which firm he remained until October, 1850. when
he was made teller of the Meriden Bank. On Jan.

i ■'• Hv




7, 1853, the month followinpf its org-anization, he
entered the employ of the Meriden Britannia Co..
and in April following was elected its treasurer, a
position he held until his death, May 20, 1893, a
portion of the time serving also as secretary of the
company. For manv years of his life his best
efforts, energy and ability were given to the great
and growing interests of that company, and his la-
bor and care contributed largely to its prosperity
and success.

Mr. Curtis was always interested in what affect-
ed the prosperity of his native town, and his con-
nection with the financial and manufacturing con-
cerns of Meriden is indicated by the following list
of offices held by him. He was treasurer of the
Meriden Britannia Co. ; president of the Meriden
Silver Plate Co. ; Meriden Horse Railway Co. and
Meriden Gas Light Co. : was director of Planning,
Bowman & Co., the Home National Bank, [Meriden
Trust & Safe Deposit Co., R. Wallace & Sons ]\Ianu-
facturing Co. of Wallingford, Rogers & Brother of
Waterbury, and the William Rogers Alanufacturing
Co. of Hartford. He was a trustee of the Meriden
Savings Bank, and of the Curtis Home for Orphans
and Old Ladies.

In his political views Mr. Curtis was a Repub-
lican, but never a politician. He served the city as
councilman and alderman, and from 1879 to 1881 as
mayor. He was intellectual in his tastes and widely
read in general and historical literature. Socially he
was a most genial and responsive companion and ac-
quaintance. As a husband and father he was most
loving and indulgent ; as a son most filial in his de-
votion to his mother, whose life almost reached a
century of years. His religion seemed to be innate.
For almost forty-five years he was an officer of St.
Andrew's parish and for many years either senior
or junior warden. As the years went on and his
means increased, he gave to his beloved church mu-
nificently. In 1891 his sister, Mrs. Hallam, died and
left the bulk of her property to build a new church
in Meriden as a memorial to her husband: Mr. Cur-
tis supplemented this gift largely, and two days
before his death added to his generosity by pre-
senting to the new parish a house and lot for a
rectory. Mr. Curtis was elected, on Easter Monday
prior to his death, lav delegate to the diocesan con-
vention, and he attended the General Episcopal Con-
vention at Baltimore in the fall of 1892. He was a
member of several committees on the diocesan board.
His gifts to St. Andrew's were bestowed with the
characteristic modesty that always distinguished

On May 22, 1855, Mr. Curtis was married to
Augusta Munson, youngest child of Jesse and
Sophia (Talmadge) Munson, of Bradford, in west-
ern New York. The marriage was blessed with
three children, namely: George Munson: F"rederick
Edgar, who died in childhood: and Agnes D., Mrs.
Allan B. Squire, of Meriden, who died May 20,
1900. The mother of these was born June 17, 1833,

and was in the eighth generation from her first
American ancestor, Thomas Munson, a pioneer of
Hartford and New Haven, Conn., the line of her
descent 'being through Samuel, Joseph, Ephraim^
Jared, Rufus and Jesse.

On the death of Mr. Curtis- one of the Meriden-
papers thus referred editorially to his life :

One by one the pioneers in the great work of building
up Meriden are passing from the stage of human activities.
The latest to go is (ieorge R. Curtis, so long a prominent
figure m the prosperity of his native town. The news of
Mr. Curtis' death, while not a surprise, owing to the feeble
state of his health for some time past, was never-the-less a
severe shock to the community, for none of his colleagues
or contemporaries in the larger sphere of Meriden busmess
life was more generally respected. Those who knew him
. intmiately loved him, and his death came to them as a per-
sonal loss. Of a peculiarly refined and sympathetic nature,
I Mr. Curtis was always courteous and kind, under the most
i trying circumstances of a busy career. His love for his
; native town was only equalled by his unflagging interest in
everything that pertained to its welfare and his unostcn-
1 tatious efforts to assist in every way possible, even at per-
! sonal sacrifice, the growth and advancement of the commu-
I nity alont; the right lines. Like all our leading ciitizens
j Mr. Curtis began life at the bottom of the ladder, and by
! his ability, pluck and integrity worked his way up round by
I round. But he was never so absorbed in his own advance-
ment as to refuse an encouraging word or a helping hand to
others on the same toilsome journey who stood in need of
1 both. His business associates had the most implicit conh-
dence in his judgment, and his relations were always infused
with that spirit of refinement and gentleness which was a
dominant part of his nature. In the rush and complications
of modern business life it was a genuine pleasure to find a
man like Mr. Curtis with that old-school faculty of smoothing
rough surfaces, rounding off sharp edges and bringing har-
mony out of discord.

Nir. Curtis held many positions of honor und trust. His
business connections were wide and varied, but he also-
found time for other relations necessary to round out a suc-
cessful career. He served the city as a member of the
council and as its chief magistrate, and zealously devoted
to the performance of his public duties the same character-
istics that were the secret of his business success. Long an
honored member of St. Andrew's church, Mr. Curtis will be
missed by every member of the parish. His lite was emi-

Online LibraryChicago Beers (J.H.) & Co.Commemorative biographical record of New Haven county, Connecticut, containing biographical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and of many of the early settled families .. (Volume 1, pt.2) → online text (page 1 of 95)