James H. (James Hadden) Smith.

History of Duchess county, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

. (page 90 of 125)
Online LibraryJames H. (James Hadden) SmithHistory of Duchess county, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 90 of 125)
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efficiency. While the civil war was in progress and
during his administration a fund of $10,000 was
raised, at his suggestion, for the support of soldiers'
families in the city. The city also through him
issued fractional paper currency to the amount of
$50,000, which not only increased the circulation
throughout the whole country, but was also a source
of profit to the treasury of the city.

In religious and moral movements Mr. Bowne
has been one of the most useful of men. The
Presbyterian church of Poughkeepsie is largely
indebted to him for its growth and prosperity; as
he was an active mover in its organization in 1826,
became a member in 1828, and an elder in 1830,
which office he still holds, while for fifty-five years
he has been a teacher in the Sabbath school, and
for many years a prominent trustee of the church.

As a temperance man his history is one of
peculiar interest and especially worthy of record.
In May of 1829, Mr. Bowne was in New York for
the purchase of goods, hquors among the rest, for
then merchants sold and the multitude drank in-
toxicating liquors. In the providence of God,
Mr. Bowne was led, during this trip, to the old
Brick Church, where the National Temperance
Society was holding its anniversary. ' Among the
speakers were Rev. Dr. Hewitt, Rev. Lyman
Beecher and Hugh Maxwell, then District At-
torney of New York City. Mr. Bowne became
deeply interested in the presentation of the sub-
ject by these distinguished men and he resolved
to make a smaller purchase of liquors than he had
intended. From this time till the first of January,
1830, his conviction as to the wrong of dealing in
liquors for the purpose of drink was strengthened.
On New Year's day he determined to put his
liquors in the cellar and by this suppress, in a
measure, their free use by customers and others.
This was done, still he was not satisfied with his
position and practice in regard to the matter. At
last, in the following May, the crisis was reached
and Mr. Bowne resolved to rid himself altogether
from the traffic. One Sabbath evening, on his re-
turn from church service, without the knowledge
of any one, with lighted candle he descended into
the cellar and deUberately turned open the faucets
of the several liquor casks, allowing the contents
to flow out and waste upon the cellar bottom.

Thus, under the constraint of conscientious con-
viction, Mr. Bowne broke away from the sale and use
of intoxicants, at a sacrifice of several hundred dol-
lars. The act was a noble one,indicating a Christian
spirit and principle. This action was followed by



the formation of the first temperance society of
Poughkeepsie, the first three persons to become
members being David B. Lent, Isaac Tice and
James Bowne, in two weeks there was a member-
ship of sixty men and the late Hon. N. P. Tallmadge
became its first president. Not only in the tem-
perance reform has Mr. Bowne been interested,
but in all benevolent and philanthropic work. He
is a life member of the Bible Tract, Seaman's
Friend, American Board of Commissioners for
Foreign Missions, and Home Missionary Societies.
The good he has wrought is incalculable as evi-
denced by respectful and loving mention of his
name by multitudes, who have been in his Sunday
school class while at school in Poughkeepsie, and
through his eiforts have begun a Christian life. By
all that know him Mr. Bowne is considered an
honest, upright and thoroughly good man; his
ripening years are those of honorable and consider-
ate regard by his fellow citizens. Modest and
unobtrusive in his manner, he has been a positive
force for good in all his relationships. In hale
and hearty age, the years have crowned him with
their glory, and multitudes ask that he may late be
removed from the present field of his activiti'es.

The long and continued connection of Mr.
Bowne with the Sabbath school work, makes it
eminently proper that we should give his reply to
remarks of Gen. A. B. Smith at a commemoration
meeting on the anniversary of the fiftieth year of
his Sabbath school service, held May lo, 1877.
Gen. Smith had been commissioned by the teachers
of the Sabbath school, to present to Mr. Bowne a
beautiful copy of the Bible, the cover of which
bears the following inscription: —

"James Bowne, from his fellow-teachers in the
Sabbath school of the First Presbyterian church,
of Poughkeepsie, N. Y., 1827 — April 18th— 1877."
Mr. Bowne responded in the following words : —
" I thank you for your pleasant words, your kind
wishes, and for the very acceptable gift you bring.
Nothing could be more gratifying to me than this
beautiful copy of the word of God. I shall prize
it for itself, and especially value it as coming from
the members of the Sabbath school in which for
half a century I have labored as a teacher, with
delight and profit.

" In all these years I have endeavored to lead
my class to the Blessed Jesus, so distinctly revealed
in that book of all books, and to-day I have no
greater joy than the knowledge that some of my
pupils have given their hearts to that Jesus, and
are now doing good service for him.

" This Sabbath school work has been a pleasant
one, and it is in my heart to follow it as long as
God shall give me strength so to do.

"There are many pleasant memories of the past
from which were there time I could discourse for
the encouragement and comfort of those who are
prosecuting this blessed work, but I forbear. Again
I thank you all for your kindness, and my prayer
shall be that God the Father, God the Son, and
God the Holy Spirit, may bless and keep you all.
May I exhort you all my dear fellow laborers, with

the privilege allowed to age and experience, to
faithfulness in your calling, that many souls may be
won by you for your Master. By and by there
shall be a sweeter gathering on the shore beyond
God grant that we all there shall meet, where there
shall be no shadows, forever to be with that Tesus
whom we here teach and love."

On the fly leaf of this beautiful volume signed
by his pastor, the Rev. F. B. Wheeler, D. D., and
by all the teachers, appears a request that Mr
Bowne will accept their gift as a "token of their
love and esteem," and some highly complimentary
remarks expressive of their appreciation of him as
a teacher and a christian, and requesting him to
accept their best wishes and earnest prayers that
the Master will prolong his days and finally welcome
him to his rest with "Well done good and faithful
servant, enter into the joys of thy Lord."


The subject of this sketch was born June 15,
1796, on Quaker Hill, town of Pawling, Duchess
County, N. Y. He is the son of Nehemiah and
Phebe ^Thorne) Merritt. The father who was the
son of Daniel and Sarah Merritt, was also born on
Quaker Hill, April 26, 1772, and died March 10,
1863. The mother, who was born in the town of
Washington, Duchess County, N. Y, April 13, 1773
and died January 30, 1823, was the daughter of
WiUiam and Jemimah Thome. Nehemiah Merritt,
the father of Daniel Merritt, and the great-grand-
father of our subject, came from Long Island and
settled on Quaker Hill at a very early period in the
history of Duchess County. It is supposed that
he came as the agent of owners, under Letters
Patent, of lands in this locality. He selected a
spot on Quaker Hill, protected from the west winds,
just where the morning sun first touches the land-
scape and wakens man to its enjoyment; and here
was the paternal home where the subject of our
memoir was born. There are those now living who
love to visit this spot, endeared to them by many
hallowed associations.

It is supposed that the Merritts are of Welsh
origin, and that three brothers of that name emi-
grated to this country, one of whom settled in
Nova Scotia, and whose descendants are still found
in Canada, the Hon. Wm. Hamilton Merritt being
one of them. One of the brothers settled in
Westchester county, and the other on Long Island.

WiUiam T. was the second of a family of eight
children, all now dead but three; our subject resid-
ing in the city of Poughkeepsie, Jacob T. residing
in Tuckahoe, N. Y., and M. Franklin, of Stan-
ford, Conn.

In the year 1800, when Wm. T. was four years
old, his parents removed to New York City, which
then had a population of but 60,000. At an early
age our subject was placed in the famous Nine
Partners Boarding School, in the town of Wash-



ington, Duchess County, and here remained several
years. He afterwards attended school in New
York, where he finished his education, and in the
year 1817 he entered into business there and con-
tinued thus engaged until 1845, when he moved to
Harts Village, Duchess County, and carried on
business until 1855. He then came to Pough-
keepsie and was engaged in the real estate and
insurance business until 1873.

Mr. Merritt remembers many interesting events
of the early part of the present century, one of
which was his visit in company with his father to
the wharf on the North River side of New York
City, to witness the trial trip of Fulton's first
steamboat, the " Clermont." There was a large
crowd present to witness what was generally be-
lieved would be a failure, and many who were
interested in sailing-vessels hissed and otherwise
manifested their hostility toward the undertaking
when a momentary delay in her departure was
made, but presently when she moved gracefully
out into the stream a great shout went up, and the
noble little craft went on her way to Albany, which
point she made in about thirty-six hours.

In 1821, the 1 2th of April, Mr. Merritt was
united in marriage with Hannah, daughter of John
and Mary R. King, of New York City. She was
born April 13, 1802, and died December 22, 1876.
They had six children, named in the order of their
birth as follows : — William Henry, born February
24, 1822, died April i, 1873 ; Mary R., born Feb-
ruary 10, 1824, died April i, 1873 ; Caroline, born
September 22, 1827, died May 8, 1863 ; Phebe,
born May 24, 1830, died October 28, 1831 ;
Thomas Jenkins, born May 10, 1833, died Sep-
tember 19, 1833, and Rodman, born January 16,
1 841 and died October 23, 1873.

In the death of the two former the parents of
these children were visited with a terrible affliction.
William Henry, who was married on the 2d of
April, 1872, to Miss Louisa Scrymser, daughter
of James and Ann Scrymser of New York
City, soon after his marriage, accompanied
by his bride, set out for a tour of Europe.
On reaching the other side, they sent for Mary R.
and the sister of the bride, both of whom joined
them, and they all visited many places of interest
and attraction, enjoying themselves in the fullest.
Business affairs at home soon demanded the at-
tention of the husband, and they took passage in
the ill-fated steamship " Atlantic," which, while at-
tempting to enter the port of Halifax, on the early
morning of April i, 1873, struck on a rock, and
sinking, these four, together with many other
precious lives, were lost. The remains of the
husband and his sister Mary R. were recovered, but
those of the wife and her sister were never found.
We give an extract from a letter from the rector of
the Episcopal church at Carthage Landing, Duch-
ess County, to a friend which gives a vivid picture
of one of the many incidents of family desolation,
caused by that awful catastrophe: " Just now we
feel bruised, depressed, overwhelmed with a dis-
aster, which is without one mitigating circumstance.

Our neighbor's, our friend's whole family, whom
we awaited with so much pleasure and anticipated
so much enjoyment from having them with us,
have all perished in the ' Atlantic' On the 2d of
April, a year ago, I went to the city to assist at the
marriage of William H. Merritt with Miss Louisa
Scrymser. The scene is as fresh to my memory
as if it had occurred but yesterday. On the 2d of
April this year he and his lovely wife, his own
sister and his wife's sister lay dead in their cabins
or were floating about among the rocks near Hali-
fax. Mr. Merritt lived near us for the greater part
of the year, was very wealthy, and his hospitality
was most genial. His little entertainments, fre-
quently given, were of that peculiar exquisiteness,
so often distinctive of such tasteful and refined
bachelors. He was in every way a most kind-
hearted and friendly gentleman."

Caroline married Samuel T. Keese, of New
York, a son of Peter and Mary (Thome) Keese,
of Peru, N. Y. ,

Rodman married Amanda Maria Lanning, of
Wilkes Barre, Pa., who is now the wife of Wm. J.
Harvey, and is residing at the last named place.

The Merritts of that branch of the family to
which our subject belongs, were generally mem-
bers of the Society of Friends or Quakers ; consci-
entiously performing all duties, social and religious,
in a way that left but little for the historian to
chronicle. Certain it is they never did anything to
dishonor the name. With them " a good name "
was more to be desired than great riches. Always
believing in an inward light to guide them in the
right, and which, if followed, would make them
truer and better men and women, and help to
build them up in honesty and integrity.

And now our venerable subject, the only living
member of his own immediate family, in the quiet
autumn of his life, surrounded with the comforts of
a pleasant home, with friends ready to minister to
his every wish, finds his greatest pleasure and com-
fort in remembering the unfortunate and in deeds
of charity; modestly and unostentatiously using
the means at his command, as one who has to
answer as a steward for their right use. May his
days be lengthened that he may be enabled to do
more good and receive the blessings of those who
have, and may continue to be, recipients of his
bounty and kindness.


John Thompson was born in the town of Rhine-
beck, Duchess County, July 4, 1809 ; his father,
Robert Thompson, then living on a farm about a
mile south of the village of Rhinebeck. His
mother was the eldest daughter of the Rev. Robert
Scott, who for many years kept a boarding school
for boys. It was at this school that the subject of
our sketch received the rudiments of his education,
with such lads as the Stokes, the Colgates, the


Mn^i'iyii.tiirc'lS S;iiiJJ3iirclmj Slr.XZ



Dubois, of Hudson, the Schells, — Richard, Augus-
tus, and Edward, of Rhinebeck, and others
who have since become well and widely known.
The school was discontinued when Mr. Thompson
was about thirteen years old; at which time his
grandfather gathered the Baptist Society of Rhine-
beck into a church, and becoming their pastor, and
doing himself much of the work upon the new
church edifice erected by them. For the next four
years Mr. Thompson spent most of his time in
establishing his health, always extremely delicate,
in the light work about the farm, in horse-back
riding, in reading and study.

On October 26, i8r6, he entered the office of
Francis A. Livingston, Esq., then District Attor-
ney of Duchess County. There, at the age of
seventeen he began in earnest, not only the study
of law, but of general literature. Within the first
year of his clerkship he acquired a perfect knowl-
edge of the routine of the duties of the District At-
torney's office and attended with Mr. Livingston
every term of the Court of Oyer and Terminer,
and of the County Court, drew the indictments,
issued subpoenas for witnesses and prepared import-
ant cases for trial. Mr. Livingston was a man of
elegant personal appearance, with a smooth flowing
style of oratory, and a most winning and melodious
voice. He was not fond of detail, and could try a
case with great ability which he found it very irk-
some to prepare. Mr. Thompson soon became
indispensable to him in these respects ; while he
had ample time to pursue his studies in English
literature, history and philosophy. His school-
master was himself, aided by a good library, both
of law and general literature, and stimulated by the
counsel and advice of the Rev. George W. Bethune,
a man of ripe scholarship.

Mr. Bethune was warmly interested in the
progress of his young friend and admirer ; an inter-
est which continued through his life, and exerted
no small influence upon the Ufe of Mr. Thompson.
On the removal of Mr. Livingston to New York,
in 1829, Mr. Thompson, then about twenty years
of age, went into the office of Hooker & Tallmadge,
in the then village of Poughkeepsie, and upon receiv-
ing his license as an attorney was taken into part-
nership by James Hooker, Esq., then Surrogate of
the county. It is not surprising that in such asso-
ciations Mr. Thompson became a Democratic
politician and was soon foremost in all the machin-
ery of caucus, speech-making, and the appliances
of political campaigns.

In the year 1834, he was married to Mary Smith,
youngest daughter of Judge Isaac Smith of Lithgow,
in the town of Washington. Mrs. Thompson
owned a farm received from her father's estate and
much of her husband's time was taken up in its
management, but farming not being much to his
taste he gave it up in 1840 and devoted himself
almost exclusively to his profession. The late
Seward Barculo was then at the bar with several of
the lawyers of earlier days who still linger in prac-
tice : Stephen Cleveland, Henry Swift, Robert Wil-
kinson, Charles Johnson and Gen. John Brush, men '

of acute minds and well versed in all the technical
learning of the old school of lawyers and who gave
the young members enough to sharpen their wits
and bring all their resources into play. Besides
Judge Barculo, the late William Wilkinson, Joseph
Jackson and several others, and a little later Hon.
Joseph T. Barnard, Charles W. Swift and Judge
Emott, made the bar of Duchess County no arena
for indolence or presumption. It is but just to say
that in this array of legal talent Mr. Thompson held
his own place and was engaged in the trial of almost
every important case from 1845 to the present time.
One of the most arduous as well as important
labors of his professional hfe was his employment
by the Hudson River R. R. Co., in the condemna-
tion of land for the use of the road from Pough-
keepsie to Albany, a large part of which had to be
taken and appraised by commissioners ; and after
the road was completed the trial of a great many
cases with contractors and persons sueing for dam-
ages by reason of injuries on the road by collisions
and otherwise. This labor continued until the road
passed into the hands of Commodore Vanderbilt.

In the summer and autumn of 1856 the Repub-
lican party was organized, the great slavery fight
in Kansas was coming on, Buchanan was nomi-
nated for President and his efforts to aid the slave
power were pledged beforehand. New York from
one end to the other was electing members to
Congress to cope with the trained members from
the South. Some of the ablest lawyers in the
state were elected and Mr. Thompson was ten-
dered the nomination from Columbia and Duchess
Counties. The last member from this Congres-
sional district was the Hon. Gilbert Dean, elected
on the Democratic ticket by 1,200 majority. The
present nominee was WiUiam Chamberlain of Red
Hook, a man of large wealth and extended influ-
ence. With such a Democratic majority in the
district the chances seemed dubious, but Mr.
Thompson was finally induced to accept the nom-
ination and at once organized a series of meetings
in the two counties, and by a thorough discussion
of the momentous issues then pending so aroused
public sentiment that he was elected by over 1,200
majority on the side of the Republican ticket.

During the sessions of '57-58, Mr. Thompson
entered into the debates on the floor of the House
of Representatives ; a number of his speeches be-
ing drculated throughout the district and county.
One upon the exciting topic of the hour "The
Admission of Kansas," and another on the " Mor-
mon question " were warmly received ; thousands
of copies being circulated by members all over the
Southern as well as the Northern States.

A second nomination was tendered Mr. Thomp-
son but declined by him in a letter saying, that on
account of pressing business duties, and because
he believed the district was sure to elect a Repub-
Ucan in his place, he should be obUged to decline.
Since his Congressional career, Mr. Thompson
has held no public office of a poUtical nature, but
has beside professional duties, given his effiDrts to
the benevolent and philanthropic movements of



society and in the church, with which he was united
while a student at law.

For some ten years in the earlier history of the
organization of Lyceums and Young Men's Asso-
ciations he was called upon to lecture in aid of
these struggUng institutions, often without expecta-
tion or demand of pay, and on these occasions
from ten to fifteen times per season, he furnished
some of the most finished performances of his life;
lecturing frequently at Troy, Albany and through
the western cities as far as Buffalo. In later years
since lyceums have become well established, he has
generally declined such invitations.

He has twice dehvered the oration before the
literary societies at Union College on commence-
ment day— at New Brunswick and at Williamstown
— was elected a member of the Phi Beta Kappa
at Union, and received the degree of A. M. from
Union and Yale.

Mr. Thompson has been a student all his life,
devoting his leisure to the cultivation of general
literature, especially of theology. He delivered a
course of Sunday evening lectures on topics out of
the range of pulpit performances, to crowded
houses; and also published several essays, one on
" Inspiration," another on the "Atonement," and
another the " Inner Kingdom." He al^o published
an article vindicating the miracles of the New

When Matthew Vassar had settled upon devot-
ing his wealth to an institution to promote the
higher education of woman, Mr. Thompson was
among the first persons consulted by him, and
chosen one of the trustees of Vassar College,
which position he still holds, giving the aid of his
time and counsel, and also acting as a member of
some of its most important committees.

He built his residence at the corner of Market
and Church streets, in 1835, and has lived there
since, a period of 46 years, except that for four or
five years past his family have spent the summer
at a cottage owned by Mrs. Thompson, his present
wife, at New Hamburgh, on Wappingers Creek.
Mrs. Thompson was formerly Caroline Bailey,
youngest daughter of James Bailey, Esq., of Pratts-
burg, now deceased.

Mr. Thompson spent a year in Europe not long
since,both for his health and mental improvement.
He was for many years Vice-President of the Fall-
kill National Bank, of Poughkeepsie, but is now
President of that institution.

Thus, has the public enjoyed not only his ability
in his profession, but, also, his superior business
capacities. By a life of strict integrity and perse-
vering appUcation, he has built himself in the
affections and confidence of the people who resort
to him for legal knowledge and judicious advice.

Mr. Thompson has rare forensic and rhetorical
gifts, which give grace to his pen, and beauty and
strength to his utterances. His style is ornate
without weakness, and philosophical without ob-
scurity ; on the platform or at the bar, he is one of
the most effective speakers in the land. Felicitous
both In manner and matter he compels attention

and carries conviction. A diligent student, and
indefatigable worker, he has thought, written and
spoken more than most men of his profession in
the several departments of learning, and has drawn
his sword to good purpose in theological discussion.
Quick and clear in his perceptions, thoroughly
sesthetic in his nature, with a broad and generous
culture, he has been, and is, a recognized power
among men ; having an influence that has gone
far and wide from the city and county in which he
has lived. His kindness of heart,cheerful tempera-
ment, abundant humor and quick repartee, make
him an agreeable companion and the best of

The weight of his character from early man-
hood has been on the side of Christian principle ;
in this regard he has been of vast benefit to the
moral and philanthropic movements of his times.
Altogether, in his history, growth and attainments,
we consider Mr. Thompson as a model man, of

Online LibraryJames H. (James Hadden) SmithHistory of Duchess county, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 90 of 125)