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Full text of "A Brief Memoir of John Barstow, of Providence, R.I."

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HARVARD COLLEGE 
LIBRARY 




THE BEQUEST OF 

EVERT JANSEN WENDELL 

(CLASS OF 1882) 
OF NEW YORK 



1918 




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MEMOIR 



OF 



JOHN BARSTOW. 



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BRIEF MEMOIR 



JOHN BARSTOW, 



PROVIDENCE, R. I. 



ALEXIS CASWELL. 




ALBANY, S. Y. : 
PEINXED BY J. MTINSELL, 

' >0B PBITATI DISTBlBiraiDX. 

1864. 



(M 14+71. r 



H\8VASD COLLEGE LIBRARY 

FROM 

THE BEQUEST OF 

IVtRT imitiN HIMiUi 

till 



J 



MEMOIB 



OP 



JOHN BARSTOW. 



It is the dictate of wisdom, no less than the impulse of friendshipi 
to perpetuate the memory of an honorable and useful life. It is for 
these reasons that the following brief memoir has been prepared. 

John Barstow was born in Scituate, (now South Scituate,) Mass., 
on the 11th of February, 1791. He was the oldest son of John 
Burden Barstow, of Scituate, and Betsey Eells, of Hanover, Mass. 
He was a descendant of the sixth generation from William Barstow, 
who, with his brother George, left England in 1635 and came to this 
country in the ship Truelove. William, as appears from the public 
records of Bedham, Mass., was a resident in that town, in 1636. It 
is probable that he soon removed to Scituate where his descendants 
have continued to reside to the present time. The parents of the sub- 
ject of this memoir, while he was but an infant, bought an estate in 
the town of HanoVer, known as the ** Broad Oak,'* where they built 
a spacious and, for those times, a very handsome and sightly house, 
which has continued to be the family residence for nearly three- 
quarters of a century. They were both of them persons of large 
capacities for business, of great energy of character, and of untiring 
industry; and, of course, were always *' well to do in the world." 
The father, Colonel Barstow, (by which title he was generally known,) 
following the example of two or three of his immediate ancestors, for 
many years carried on the business of shipbuilding in connection with 
the cultivation of the soil. He long held a prominent place among 
the citizens of his town and county. His house was always open 
and noted for its hospitality. It was often the resort of men in the 
pursuit of business and participated largely in the social intercourse 
of the place. It was here, under the fostering care of the best of 
mothers that the son spent all the earlier years of his youth. He 
watched the progress of shipbuilding from the laying of the keel to 
the bolting on of the last plank and the rigging of the last sail ; he 
listened to the conversation and narratives of shipmasters and 
voyagers ; he gathered Up unheeded many items of information 



respecting commerce and trade, the perils and successes of a sea- 
faring life; he looked out almost daily upon the ocean and was 
familiar with its calms and storms. It is not easy to say how much 
the early bent of his mind and the predilections of his later life were 
determined by these circumstances. They eridently were not with-' 
out a marked influence. 

Of the occupations of his youth he himself has said that his " time 
was divided between farming, study and teaching until the twentieth 
year of his age." His first preceptress was Miss Priscilla Mann, 
who taught the town school at *' Broad Oak," and who, as another 
pupil of hers remarks, '* for more than half a century had been dis- 
tinguished in that capacity.'* He has been heard to refer to her with 
great respect except that she once punished him without just cause* 
I mention this to show how early he was accustomed to govern him- 
self and judge others by the principle of justice. After enjoying the 
benefit of such schools as the vicinity afibrded he was sent to the 
Academy in Fairhaven, then under the charge of a Mr. Gould. In 
the autumn of 1806, he was sent to the Academy at Sandwich and 

E laced under the instruction of Mr. Elisha Glapp, who appears to 
ave possessed eminent qualifications as a teacher, and who, during 
the period of his preceptorship, about twelve years, placed the Sand- 
wich Academy among the best classical schools in the State. Mr. 
Clapp was a graduate of Harvard College, and had been a tutor 
there; and, from the testimony of more than one of his distinguished 
pupils must have carried with him to the Academy a rare ability and 
a genuine love for teaching. 

Young Barstow entered the Academy with the intention of prepar- 
ing for admission to Harvard College. He remained there probably 
about two years. Several of his fellow students with whom he 
formed lasting friendships, have risen to honorable distinction in pro- 
fessional and public life. He was in the same class with Peleg 
Sprague, the distinguished District Judge of the United States Court, 
in Massachusetts, and of Jonathan M. Wainwright, late Bishop 
of the Episcopal Church, in the State of New York. The Hon. 
Albert Smith and the Hon. Francis Bassett, both of Boston, were 
members of the Academy at the same time. Concerning his character 
as a student, I venture to offer the following testimony, extracted 
from a recent letter of a schoolmate, whose judgment is entitled to 
high respect. He says, *^his character and habits were then as in 
afterlife: — the former being noted for the high qualities of truth, 
honor, and unswerving integrity, and the latter for gentlemanly 
bearing and circumspection under all circumstances. In these respects. 
be was acknowledged to be one of the models of the school* As a 
student he was persistent, never succumbing to difficulties. He was 
particularly distinguished in the mathematics.*' And, from other 
testimonies I infer that he scarcely fell behind the foremost of his 
class in the Latin and Greek languages. From my own observation 
I can well credit the statements of his early proficiency in these 
studies. Through life he retained a far better knowledge of Latin 
and especially of geometry, algebra, and trigonometry than most 
students, whose after lives like his, were thoroughly engrossed with 



business. Ceaseless industry, and a determination to master what- 
eyer study he undertook marked his character as a student. With his 
high appreciation of scholarship, his love of study, and his aptitude 
in learning, a noble career was open before him. The best results of 
intellectual culture might well have been anticipated as the reward of 
bis labor. But a sendentary life was found not to be conducive to his 
health, and in his twentieth year, as before stated, he turned his 
attention to more active pursuits. Brought up almost within sight 
of the ocean and familiar from his boyhood with ships and shipbuild- 
ing it was not unnatural that his predeliction should be for a seafar- 
ing life; and upon this he soon entered, commencing at the lowest 
round of the ladder and working his way up to the summit. In the 
progress of a few years he became the master and owner of several 
merchant vessels engaged chiefly in the European trade. 

In the meantime his love of study did not forsake him, and his 
intercourse with the commercial business of foreign^ ports probably 
suggested to him the importance of being able to speak the French 
language, then, as now, the common language of Europe. Accord- 
ingly, in 1814, as nearly as I can determine, he repaired to Paris where 
he spent a year in perfecting himself in the French language and in pur- 
suing at the Free College of France such other studies as were suited 
to his tastes and subservient to his progress in life. This was during 
the closing period of the reign of the Emperor Napoleon I. He often 
saw the great captain whom no one, it seems, ever saw without 
carrying away a deep impression of the dignity of bis personal pres* 
ence. He was in Paris during the eventful Hundred Days, in the 
spring of 1815, and was present when Napoleon reviewed his grand 
army, — the grandest, perhaps, which Europe had ever seen, — before 
leaving his capitoi to measure himself with Wellington on the field 
of Waterloo. His studies at the College of France were turned to 
excellent account. Besides several branches of more general know- 
ledge pursued, at the same time, he acquired such a ready use of the 
French language as to be of the greatest practical service to him on 
many occasions in after life. 

Soon after his return from France, Mr. Barstow purchased a vessel 
and sailed for Stockholm, where he disposed of vessel and cargo 
and spent a large portion of the season in travels in the North of 
Sweden. After a second brief visit to Paris, he again returned home. 
Not long after this, probably in 1817, he formed a business connection 
with Mr. Jacob Barker, of New York, then extensively engaged in 
shipping, banking, and general business. During this connexion Mr. 
Barstow spent three years in New Orleans, devoted chiefly to the 
management of Mr. Barker*s banking and commission business in 
that section of the country. It was also, I think, during this period 
that he spent a year in the West Indies and one in Bermuda. Cir- 
cumstances, it is believed, not altogether agreeable to him, led him 
to close his business connection with Mr. Barker; and he again turned 
his attention to commerce. He was again for several years engaged 
in the European trade, sailing for the most part in vessels built for 
him in his native town. 

During this whole period of Mr. Barstow's early career his 



knowledge of business, and generial character, were such as to 
command the confidence of the mercantile community wherever 
he was known. The war of 1812 had gone far to impoverish 
the country. Capital was scarce and difficult to be obtained, 
yet Mr. Barstow's credit was always sufficient to command all the 
capital which he deemed it wise to employ in his business. A gen- 
tleman of high standing as a merchant, and, at that time, member of 
a large commercial house in New York, says in a recent letter, speak- 
ing of Mr. Barstow: •* I remember that such was the entire con- 
fidence of myself and partner in his integrity, ability and energy that 
we did not hesitate to advance him whatever capital he wanted for 
building or buying vessels." It is hardly necessary to add that during 
the ten 01^ twelve years in wbich' he was engaged in these various 
pursuits his success, if not equal to his wishes, was at least equal to 
all reasonable expectations; and placed him in a position to enter 
upon a wider field of business under the most favorable auspices. 

On the first of January, 1828, he formed a copartnership with his 
friend and relative Caleb Barstow, of New York, and embarked in 
the general shipping and commission business under the firm of C. & 
J. Barstow. In the autumn of the same year he was married to 
Sarah Swoope, second daughter of Edward K. Thompson, of Provi- 
dence, R. I.; and added the interesting and agreeable cares of the 
household to those of the counting room. In his new business con- 
nection opening as it did an extensive field of operations, he soon be- 
came prominent among his commercial associates. His knowledge of 
business on a broad scale, his sound judgment and his uniform cour- 
tesy made him welcome in every circle where the interests of trade 
were under consideration. A commercial friend speaking of him at 
that time says, *' there was a high toned sense of honor about him 
and a dignified presence that commanded the respect of all with 
whom he had intercourse.'* He was soon elected a member of the 
Chamber of Commerce, and a Director in the Bank of America, one 
of the first banks in the city. He discharged the duties of both of 
these trusts with high credit, the former for several years, the latter 
until he left New York, in 1838. The firm of C. & J. Barstow was 
continued for ten years with gratifying success. They were largely 
interested in the first line of packets that sailed regularly between 
New York and New Orleans. The tastes of the partners determined 
their respective departments of business. The former took the 
supervision of the counting room and the sale of merchandise; the 
latter had charge of the shipping and of the outdoor business gen- 
erally. It may be added that during the entire continuance of the 
firm the warmest friendship subsisted between the partners, and was 
severed only by the hand of death. 

In the autumn of 1838, partly perhaps, from a desire to change his 
line of business and partly in deference to the known wishes of some 
of his friends, Mr. Barstow withdrew from the firm, closed his busi- 
ness connections in New York and removed to Providence, R. I. This 
removal involved not a cessation of activity, but only a new sphere 
of action. We shall merely glance at some of his more important 
business connections subsequent to this removal. 



While engaged in bis prerious pursuits he had often occasion to 
cultivate his mechanical aptitudes. One of the marked elements of 
his mind was that of constructing and organizing. His long fami- 
liarity with the building, rigging, and sailing of ships had made him 
conversant with practical mechanics, as his early studies had taught 
him its scientific principles. Foreseeing the great and growing de- 
mand for steam power in our industrial progress, he soon connected 
himself with the manufactory of steam engines, then scarcely advanced 
beyond its infancy in any part of the country. He at first formed a 
connection and embarked in business under the firm of Clark, Fair- 
hanks & Co., which after a few years, with some change of partners 
was merged in the firm of Corliss, Nightingale & Co. For reasons 
which no one knew so well as himself, his name did not appear in 
either of these firms. He preferred to give the prominency to others, 
while it is well known that his command of capital and his rare 
capacity for business were essential to their progress. Indeed, it is 
not too much to say that the eminent success of the very extensive 
establishment of Corliss, Nightingale & Co., second, as we presume, 
to no other of the kind in this country, was largely due to his finan- 
cial ability and resources and his personal influence. 

He was the second president of the Providence and Worcester 
Sailroad, and during the completion of its construction and in the 
settlement of contested claims for land damages which were numerous 
and often difiicult of adjustment, he rendered most important services 
to the corporation. He was for several years the efficient president 
of the Commercial Steamboat Company, which has done so much to 
facilitate the transmission of merchandise between the cities of Pro- 
vidence and New York. This agency, now seemingly indispensable 
to our commerce, and indeed, forming an era in its history, owes its 
success and present magnitude, to say the least, as much to him as to 
any other single man. Every day at a fixed hour the company des- 
patched a capacious boat ladened with freight to New York, and 
every day, at almost as fixed an hour, another equally ladened arrived 
from thence. In the construction and equipment of the very consid- 
erable number of expensive boats necessary to the service, and in the 
general management of the business, the sound judgment and skill of 
the president were too conspicuous to be overlooked. The marked 
success of the company did not inure to the benefit of the stockholders 
alone, but to the commerce of the city as well. For nearly twenty- 
three years he was a director in the Boston and Providence Railroad. 
No office was with him a sinecure or a mere matter of form. If he 
accepted a position he took it with all its duties and responsibilities. 
As a director of the railroad he gave minute and personal attention 
to every question of importance which came up in the course of busi- 
ness. There was no negociation, no question of policy, no contract 
of any magnitude which did not pass under his examination; and 
few that were not benefitted by his suggestions. Outside of the offi- 
cial corps, who were wholly devoted to the business of the company, 
we think it quite safe to say that there was no one so thoroughly con- 
versant as he, with its condition, its daily working and all its accounts. 
Of these services it is remarked, by a gentleman whose official position 



y 



8 

gives him a special right to speak, *' he discharged ererj dutj 
promptly and faithfully, and the corporation is under very deep obfi- 
gations to him for the energy and sound judgment with which he, for 
so long a period promoted their interests.** For thirteen years prior 
to his death he was the President of the Exchange Bank, one of the 
old and important banks of the city of his adoption. 

These are some of the positions which he occupied with honor to 
himself and benefit to the public. In all of them he showed the same 
soundness of judgment, the same energy, the same dignity of charac- 
ter, the same high sense of just and honorable dealing. His business 
habits were exact, thorough and exhaustive. Whatever once passed 
his examination and approval was seldom altered by subsequent revi- 
sion. He carried to every enterprise in which he was engaged such 
large and versatile capacity for business, and such untiring persever- 
ance as to render success almost a matter of certainty. And it was 
seldom that, in this respect, he had any reason to be dissatisfied with 
the results of his labors. 

Mr. Barstow was well informed on the history and political condi- 
tion of the country, and especially upon its financial condition and 
industrial resources. He had, at the same time, a decided aversion 
to politics and would never consent to be a candidate for any politi- 
cal office. He seldom thought it worth while to discuss party ques- 
tions with those whose opinions differed widely from his own* He 
belonged to the Republican party, was highly conservative, never ex- 
treme. He reverenced the constitution and held to the supremacy of 
law. He had a just abhorance of the institution of slavery. But 
until the breaking out of the present rebellion be held as most sensi- 
ble persons did, that its management and the responsibility of its re- 
moval belonged to the states in which it was established. Tet he 
foresaw and deprecated its malignant and disturbing power upon the 
peace and harmony of the union. On the breaking out of the rebellion 
he felt himself called upon by every principle of patriotism and 
humanity to sustain the government. And though be knew the 
Southern character well and comprehended in a good degree the mag- 
nitude of the undertaking, he never entertained any doubts that the 
rebellion would, at length, be crushed and the supremacy of the con- 
stitution and the laws established in all the revolted states. Nor did 
he doubt that the institution of slavery would go down in the struggle 
never more to rise within the limits of the United States. 

Through a long and busy life Mr. Barstow's fondness for books 
never forsook him. He was no reader of light literature, but found 
always a fresh interest in standard works on history, geography, 
scientific travels and explorations, and works on the industrial and 
commercial progress and resources of different nations. On all these 
topics he was well informed. He had found time, or made time for a 
large amount of reading and was gifted with a memory remarkably 
tenacious of whatever he had once known. He brought to the social 
intercourse of life such a storehouse of general knowledge as to make 
him always an interesting and instructive companion. Intellectual 
activity was the habit of his mind, and at the same time a source of 
real enjoyment. If a stormy day chanced to keep him at home be 



imght be found with his table covered with books, settling for him- 
self with the zeal of a professional student some disputed point of 
history, or chronology, or some mooted problem in mechanics, or 
navigation, or astronomy. Night might find him unwearied but not 
satisfied ; and the inquiry would be sure to be resumed at his earliest 
leisure. 

The publication of a large work on English Grammar some years 
since by his friend, Mr. Goold Brown, recalled his attention to that 
subject. Many were the evenings that he gave to the critical exami- 
nation of the rules and principles, the grammatical forms atid con- 
struction of the English language. ' 

He was particularly interested in all the historical researches con- 
nected with the early settlers of New England. He, in some in- 
stances, instituted researches himself at home and abroad to elucidate 
that subject. He was a liberal patron of the Historic-Genealogical 
Society of New England, which has done so much to awaken an in- 
terest in our ancestral history. For several years prior to his death 
he was one of the vice-presidents of that society. 
' One trait of character as noble as it is rare he possesned in an 
unusual degree, and that was his active interest and sympathy in the 
success of meritorious young men commencing business under diffi- 
culties. He spontaneously advised with them, gave them the benefit 
of his own extended observation and experience; and what was more, 
he often added the rarer benefit of giving them credit and pecuniary 
aid till their business relations had become well established. Their 
success was to him a source of sinciere pleasure. M6re than one 
under whose eyes this paragraph may fall will bear grateful testimony 
to the truth of these remarks. 

Another trait of character equally worthy of notice will be recog- 
nized by all who knew him well. It was his unselfish readiness to. 
serve his friends. It was never too early, never too late for them to 
call upon him. He was never too busy to give them an interview 
and do them any favor in his power. His own ease, or comfort, oi' 
indulgence never stood in the way of a kind act that could be of real 
use to a friend. Nor was his benevolence of this kind at all limited 
to those who might be entitled to claim the benefits of friendship. In 
erery community there will be lone persons, widows, and orphans, 
who are left with a little property which is their sole dependence 
for support, and which they are totally incapable of managing to ad- 
rantage. It was the fortune of mjr friend to be the counselor and 
helper of many such. He took the charge of their little business 
and advised them with as much care as if it had been a great business 
of his own. To one he recommended the savings bank, to another a 
life insurance, or a life annuity as the case might be; to a third some 
other investment. Nor did he stop with a mere recommendation, 
which wonld often, practically, be of no use. He saw that the in- 
vestments were made and the legal papers carefully preserved. In 
several cases of this sort, from motives of pure kindness, he went 
so far» as to collect the annual dividends for a series of yearsll 
often at some little inconvenience, and pay them over to the ownv 
ers. 



10 

In bis own numerous circles of relatires there was scarcely one 
who was not the object of his care and many tlie recipients of most 
liberal aid. If any of them failed of the success they aimed at, it 
was not for the want of sound advise and generous assistance on his 
part. 

Mr. Barstow was himself an accurate and expert accountant. He 
has been heard to say that if there was any one department of busi- 
ness in which he felt quite at home it was in bookkeeping and in the 
adjustment of complicated accounts. He often sat down to the exami- 
nation of accounts of this description with all the zest that other men 
sit down to a game of chess. He was familiar with the different 
modes of bookkeeping in use among merchants. So important did he 
deem a knowledge of accounts, that he thought every young man, 
whatever his calling or purpose in life, should be taught the art of 
bookkeeping so far at least as to keep an accurate account of all his 
own pecuniary transactions. He held, and justly too, that it was an 
important element of success. Several of the youths of his family 
circle have received from him special and systematic instruction on 
this subject. The course would, perhaps, be closed by the presenta- 
tion on his part of a set of books prepared for the use of his pupil. 

I refer to these unostentatious modes of doing good, not for their 
individual importance but as indices of character. They ever point 
to one who finds a sincere pleasure in promoting the welfare of 
others. 

In social intercourse, he retained in a great degree the character- 
istics of a refined gentleman of the old school. His manner was 
alwas friendly and courteous, but dignified, sometimes tending to the 
formal. He was generous in his hospitality, generous in the use of his 
property, and specially considerate of the poor and the unfortunate. 
Every object of public or private charity was sure of his support. 
The records of nearly all our benevolent institutions will bear ample 
testimony to his liberality. I refrain from mentioning several dona- 
tions, made unsolicited within a year or two of his death, which do 
great credit to his generosity simply because it was not his wish that 
any special publicity should be given to them. 

In conversation, the subject of this memoir was direct and explicit. 
His opinions, on most subjects, were well formed and definite; and 
when he had occasion to state them he did it clearly with the reasons 
and grounds upon which they rested. His manner was ordinarily 
quiet, but when he became earnest in discussion it was often animated 
and emphatic. His look , attitude and gesture added force to his 
arguments. He was always a most respectfiil and courteous listener 
to the opinions of others. It was apparently a fixed principle with 
him not to interrupt a person while speaking, but to listen silently to 
the end of his remarks. He was no teller of stories and had but 
moderate respect for persons who were occupied in that line of busi* 
ness. He sometimes referred to an illustrative anecdote, but always 
briefly. Jokes and puns sometimes provoked a smile, but they were 
not congenial to the bent of his mind. They subserved no purpose of 
life which bad value in his estimation. His temperament was cheer- 
ful and hopeful. No difficulty brought despondence to his mind, no 



11 

danger brought dismay. He worked on from morning till night as if 
there were no obstacles in his way, and then slept. 

In stature he was of medium height, with full chest, compactly 
built; and, in his early life, as I judi^e, he had more than the ordinary 
share of muscular strength and physical endurance. He was uni- 
formly an early riser. The morning hours were turned to valuable 
account not only in making his toilet, which was always done with 
scrupulous care, but in arranging for the business of the day. 

My lamented friend was for many years an exemplary communi- 
cant in the Episcopal Church and one of its most liberal supporters. 
He made every preparation for his owu departure with the utmost 
composure and serenity of mind. '* The Lord is my shepherd, I shall 
not want,'* was his remark to a friend shortly before his death, and 
failing strength scarce permitted him to say more. After a some- 
what protracted illness, from disease of the heart, he died peacefully 
in the bosom of his family, with his mental faculties unimpaired, in 
the assured hope of a better life beyond the grave. As a son, hus- 
band, and father, his life in every respect was most worthy of esteem 
and commendation. He left a wife and two daughters, — Lydia 
Kinnicutt and Elizabeth Thompson, — and a large circle of friends to 
cherish his memory, while mourning his loss. 

Providence, August 24, 1864. 



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