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Full text of "A discourse commemorative of the life and character of Mr. Joseph Earl Sheffield : delivered at the Battell chapel, June 26, 1882 / by Noah Porter"

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A c cessions No. _3 _^_/^_<f^_ ' Shelf No 




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June 26, 1882. 


Commemorative of the Life and Character 



June 26, 1882, 


President op Yale College. 

Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

Microsoft Corporation 


Within the last college year, death has removed 
from our University the most liberal of all its 
numerous benefactors, whose name will be forever 
attached to one of its most prominent and impor- 
tant departments. It. seems eminently appropriate 
that on this anniversary some public recognition 
should be made of his distinguished generosity, 
and some formal expression should be given to 
our feelings of honor and gratitude. These duties 
have been assigned to myself as in some sort an 
official service. I must however discharge them in 
another spirit. Our deceased benefactor was my 
neighbor and friend. As such he was familiarly if 
not intimately known to me as a man of peculiar 
and marked characteristics founded on positive and 
earnest principles and aims. As such he was 
fully understood by but few of the many who 
wondered at his enterprise and were blessed by 
his generosity. I deem it therefore a privilege to 
be allowed to recite tlie history of his life and to 


delineate his character, and thus to discharge the 
obhgation of private friendship to his pubHc repu- 
tation, which is imposed by his striking career of 
public usefulness. Fortunately, the materials for 
this delineation are more than usually abundant and 
trustworthy. The records of the more important 
events of his life are generally exact and minute, 
and the expression of his purposes and principles 
has been given by himself with more tlian usual 
frankness and fullness, for reasons that are honor- 
able to his judgment and his heart. The external 
incidents of his life have already been made known 
to the public so fully and variously as to preclude 
the necessity of repeating them all. I shall there- 
fore take the liberty in this discourse to limit myself 
to such as will best illustrate the principles and 
character of the man. 

Joseph Earl Sheffield was born in Southport, 
then a part of Fairfield, Conn., June 19, 1793, of 
a ship-building and ship-owning stock, his father 
having taking part in the war of Independence, 
and with his brothers built, equipped and sailed 
a privateer, and having been several times engaged 
in hard-fought battles. After the war was over his 
father removed to Fairfield and embarked in the 
Cuban trade, with good success till before and 
during the war of 1812 his accumulations were 

swept away by a series of misfortunes, under the 
operation of the Berlin and Milan decrees, and in 
consequence of the unfaithfulness of one of his 
captains. Till the age of fourteen he faithfully 
attended the village school, except that meanwhile 
he showed the adventurous spirit of the family by 
going twice to Carolina as a cabin-boy, with the 
consent of his mother, as he is careful to add, and 
also that he was thus cured of going to sea. In 
1807, at the age of fourteen he was taken as clerk 
to Newbern, N. C, by Mr. Stephen Fowler, who 
had been a schoolmaster to the elder Professor 
Silliman, and in the year following was transferred 
to the drug-store in the same town of his brother- 
in-law, the late Dr. Webb; continuing there till 
the spring of 1812, when as he was on a visit to 
his parents, war was declared against Great Britain. 
It may be remarked that in that early period great 
numbers of young men from New England found 
at the South, on the coast and in the interior, fields 
of active enterprise in the way of trade, and occa- 
sionally laid the foundations for large fortunes. 
The following year, at the age of twenty, he was 
solicited to act as supercargo of a vessel bound 
for North Carolina, which should run the British 
blockade at Sandy Hook, and provide itself with 
a return cargo of pitch and other naval stores then 
bringing a high price in New York. Being suc- 


cessful in both enterprises lie was made a partner 
of the house before he was 21; commencing his 
ahnost uniformly successful, and always sagacious 
career. In two years he showed his self-reliance 
and sagacity, when finding his house at the close 
of the war in possession of a large stock of goods 
bought at war prices and under heavy liabilities, 
he sold them at low rates as rapidly as pos- 
sible "contrary to the judgment but not to the 
consent of his partners," and rapidly converted the 
returns into naval stores which still continued high 
at New York; "much to the joy of his associates 
and surprise of his more timid and tardy neighbors 
who had not believed in the rapid decline of goods 
and had looked on these bold operations with no 
little misgiving and astonishment, many of whom 
(and very worthy men I recollect they were) had 
finally to follow in the stream of wide-spread 
failures and ruin that overtook the trading com- 
munity after the peace of 1815." 

In 1816, prices having fallen in North Carolina 
to a ruinous point, and his firm having still on 
hand a large stock of goods, he set ofP on horse- 
back upon a solitary journey of exploration of a 
thousand miles, much of it through the then Indian 
territory. His destination was the new settle- 
ments in Alabama to which emigrants were then 
rapidly flowing. After visiting several infant 

towns, he fixed upon Mobile as his future home, 
then containing 1,000 inhabitants, and ordered at 
once his entire stock of goods worth some $50,000 
to be shipped to this port. They did not arrive till 
the spring of 1817, when pursuing the policy 
already adopted he sold them very rapidly at low 
prices, investing the proceeds in cotton and peltries, 
in what was almost the first cargo that was sent 
directly from Mobile to New York. In view of 
what was regarded by many as the unfortunate 
location of Mobile as a sea-port, Mr. Sheffield in 
connection with several enterprising merchants 
undertook to locate and build up another port on 
the other side of the bay. The enterprise proved 
unsuccessful, and after five years of hard labor he 
returned to Mobile in 1822 no better in* his for- 
tunes than when he began. Here he remained 
prosecuting a very extensive and lucrative business 
till the spring of 1835, when he removed from 
Mobile to New Haven at the age of forty-two. 
His reasons for this course were thus expressed in 
a letter to a friend under date of July 20, 1834 : 

" I have made up my own mind positively to leave Mobile 
early next spring and settle somewhere north of the Potomac." 
* * * "My great object is to live in a community where I 
can give such education to my children as will fit them for a 
rational ^nd religious course in this life and prepare them for 
a better. These considerations have far greater weight with me 
than all the money I might accumulate here at the expense of 

them, and in selecting a residence for life, T shall have this 
object constantly in view without regard to personal consid- 
erations or business." 

In 1876, in reviewing his political life, he writes 
thus : 

"In the spring of 1835 I removed from Mobile and took up 
a permanent residence in New Haven. The ill health of Mrs. 
Sheffield in tliat sickly climate and the rapid increase of my 
family — which we were unwilling to have educated in a slave 
community — and above all an abhorrence of slavery made this 
course necessary." 

His career in business during his residence at 
Mobile for about twenty-two years was eminently 
sagacious, enterprising and honorable. He very 
early formed most advantageous connections with 
eminent merchants in New York, Liverpool and 
Havre, for whom large operations were undertaken 
and to whom large consignments were made. For 
several years he was one of the largest shippers in 
Mobile. In the year 1830 when he was thirty- 
eight years old, he was selected by Nicolas Biddle, 
then president of the United States Bank, as the 
confidential director of \\\e Branch United States 
Bank in Mobile -and charged with duties of an 
especially delicate character in very hazardous 
times, having been told on receiving his appoint- 
ment that " the Board of the Branch Bank at Phil- 
adelphia would rely on his watchfulness, pru- 

dence and independence in giving" them early nd«v^^ . 
of irregular business or favoritism." His adminr^ '^ 
tration of this trust during several very critical 
months was such as to be followed by the offer of 
the presidency — which he declined, and also, from 
considerations of delicacy, resigned his place as 
director. His experiences up to this time w^ere 
regarded by himself as having constituted and com- 
pleted his education as a man of business. His 
own reflections upon the lessons which he derived 
from this discipline are at once so characteristic of 
the man and so valuable in themselves that I quote 
:them at length. 

The following was written from Dresden at the 
age of sixty-four, in a familiar letter to his sons: 

" But you must bear in mind that I was then young, espe- 
cially when I was called upon, in 1815 in Carolina and in 1817 
in Mobile, to exercise my own judgment in important matters, 
in which not only my own credit and future prospects were 
concerned, but the interests and credit of my associates, who 
were too distant to be consulted. Of course my reflections 
and decision as to the proper course of action, being in a meas- 
ure responsible to others, made a deep and lasting impression 
on my mind, of the necessity of mature and earnest reflection 
in forming one's judgment, and after thus arriving at a con- 
clusion, of then acting with energy in carrying out your plans. 
My decision and prompt action then^ no doubt gave some 
direction and tone to my luture business course and standing; 
and I now recommend you never to decide hastily, and without 
mature and honest reflection in important matters ; but earn- 
estly seek in your own judgment the right course, and when 
you have decided, then to act with energy and promptitude — 


taking care in all public matters or enterprises to throw your 
own interests and your own feelings to the winds rather than 
suffer them to have any, the least, influence in your actions or 
decisions. Swerve not from your convictions of right and 
duty ; learn to say 7io with decision, yes with caution. No 
with decision when it meets a temptation ; yes with caution 
when it implies a promise ; — and however things may event- 
uate, you will have the satisfaction of having acted honestly, 
and may sleep quietly." 

The following was written at the ag-e of eighty- 
three : 

*'When I embarked in commerce, the most interesting of all 
business occupations, my mind was called to a higher plane 
and tone, for then it became incumbent on me to seek knowl- 
edge and correct information ; and whether it was cotton or 
coffee, in the former of which I was for many years chiefly 
and largely engaged, it was all-important to success that I 
should make myself fully and accurately acquainted with the 
j)roductions of all climates and countries, and to carefully 
watch and note the probable causes which were likely to ^ 
increase or diminish production, not only in one's own country 
but in all parts of the world where cotton was grown, and at 
the same time watch and carefully consider all the causes 
which were likely to increase or diminish consumption." 

We return again to our narrative. We had fol- 
lowed Mr. Sheffield to the removal of his family to 
New Haven, at the age of forty-two. This removal 
did not terminate his business relations with Mobile. 
For some nine years afterwards he regularly spent 
his winters in that city for the purpose of buying 
and shipping cotton, and was brought into still 
closer connection and higher reputation with the 
merchants and capitalists of New York. 


The next most important event of his life, so far as 
liis subsequent history is concerned, was the pur- 
chase of the majority of the stock of the so-called • 
Farmington Canal, the legal title of wliicli was the 
New Haven & Northampton Co. The most of this 
stock had falle'n very largely into the hands of Mr. 
Sheffield at a low price, and for several years it 
yielded a moderate proftt to Mr. Sheffield and Mr. 
Henry Farnam, its principal owners, the latter gen- 
tleman having been connected with it as an engineer 
from the beginning of its construction. 

The purchase and operation of this canal led to 
an intimate and unbroken friendship with Mr. Far- 
nam in which . both found the greatest satisfaction. 
This friendship grew out of the most intimate busi- 
ness relations in which each admirably supplemented 
the other, and to the perfect confidence and the 
united strength which attended this union should 
be ascribed the inception and the early completion 
of some of the most impoi-tant enterprises of the 
present generation. The management of this canal 
naturally brought Mr. Sheffield into intimate con- 
nections with the capitalists and merchants of New 
Haven, and into active zeal for the promotion of its 
interests by other ^public works. 

Few people know how prominent and influential 
was Mr. Sheffield in the first conception and actual 
construction of the railway to New York. In the 


summer of 1843, being a fellow director with 
Judge Samuel J. Hitchcock, of the railway from 
Hartford to New Haven, Mr. Sheffield suggested to 
him the project of a railway to the great metropo- 
lis. It was only after much persuasion that he 
induced him to consider it, and by many and re- 
peated arguments that he convinced him that it 
was both desirable and practicable. On leaving for 
Mobile for the winter he employed the Judge to 
procure a charter at the ensuing session of the Leg- 
islature for a railway to the west line of Connecticut 
This was accomplished in the spring of 1844. A 
survey of the route was made immediately at Mr. 
Sheffield's expense by Professor Alexander C. 
Twining, and books for subscription were opened. 
To interest the house of Baring Brothers in this 
new, and at that time very doubtful, enterprise', 
Mr. Sheffield went in person to London, in 1845, 
on his first visit to England and for this single 
object, and after much effort received, a favorable 
response to his proposal on condition that Judge 
Hitchcock should be the president. The next 
steamer brought to England the news of liis 
death and for a while interrupted these plans. Mr. 
Farnam had, in the meantime, during Mr. Shef- 
field's absence, at his own expense, negotiated the 
right of way with 360 out of 420 claimants on the 
line which had been fixed. As the result of these 


movements the subscriptions were made, and the 
road put under contract, Mr. Sheffield being in the 
direction, and giving up the most of his time for two 
years to the enterprise. But while this was going 
on he with Mr. Farnam had embarked in the enter- 
prise of constructing another railway along the line 
of the Farmington canal, Mr. Sheffield having pur- 
chased at an enhanced price the stock which he 
had previously sold. T^his was completed for 
twenty-eight miles to Plainville with great rapid- 
ity and almost entirely at Mr. Sheffield's expense, 
Mr. Farnam and himself being the sole shareholders 
with the exception of $2,000. Subsequent com- 
plications in several directions sprung up which 
were perseveringly adverse to this road, many of 
w^hich were exceedingly vexatious to Mr. Sheffield. 
These effectually interrupted the contemplated con- 
nection of this road with Springfield, broke off 
entirely his personal relations with the road to 
New York and very soon induced both Mr. Shef- 
field and Mr. Farnam to transfer their interests 
and activities to another and distant field, not, 
however, without leaving upon Mr. Sheffield a 
series of burdensome and expensive responsibili- 
ties for the remaining thirty years of his life in 
extending and completing the Canal railway. 

His new enterprises in the west, however, were 
inspiring and full of hope, and their splendid and 


most honorable success were most gratifying to his 
ambition. They were also largely remunerative. 
The first of these undertakings was the connection 
with Chicago of one of the great western lines, by 
the construction of the last 100 miles that had long 
been delayed. This was easily accomplished by 
the credit of Mr. Sheffield and the energy of his 
associate, and the day after Chicago was connected 
for the first time by rail with New York, the price 
of real estate was doubled in the great city of the 
lakes. The next movement was still bolder in its 
proposal and more successful in its achievement. 
It was another movement towards the Pacific by 
the construction of the Chicago and Rock Island 
R. R. This was finished in five-eighths of the time 
contracted for, and with scarcely the least friction 
or delay, by reason of the confidence which was felt 
in the financial ability and honesty and the skill and 
energy of the two contractors. At its completion, 
in 1854, 1,000 guests were invited by Messrs. Shef- 
field and Farnam to a holiday excursion, which 
was one (j)f the most memorable and instructive that 
was ever celebrated in this country. The next 
movement westward was the bridging of the Missis- 
sippi. Other and important interests arrested this 
enterprise and serious legal difficulties w ere inter- 
posed which were finally set aside by the highest 
tribunal of the nation. This being accomplished, 


the work of moving farther westward was, after 
some hesitation, finally left by both to other hands. 
In all these movements and the transactions incident 
to them, Mr. Sheffield made large additions to his 
estate, although he was till nearly the end of his life 
vexed and burdened by the many calls which were 
made upon him to save and make sure his first rail- 
way investment. It was most gratifying to him 
and his friends to find that this enterprise, which 
had been so long a drain upon his estate, and a 
constant trial to his patience, by an unexpected 
event a few months before his death, had at last 
made good the confidence, the pledges and assur- 
ances which he had embarked in it. To those who 
knew how keenly he had felt this long delay, the 
relief was almost as grateful as it was to himself 
who had suffered so long in his patience, his per- 
son and his pride. 

I have already given in Mr. Sheffield's own 
words the principles which he had early adopted 
for the direction of his business life. From these 
principles he never deviated, and he held them if 
possible with greater warmth and tenacity at the 
end than at the beginning. They were a part of 
his manhood, the expression of his living self, the 
application of sound ethical and practical principles. 
They will always hold good in the acquisition and 


protection of property, in the ambitions and com- 
petitions of exchange, in the hopes of enterprise, in 
the projects that build cities and people deserts, that 
tunnel mountains and open highways for nations. 
These principles are simple and yet easily under- 
stood, as applicable on the one hand to the commerce 
of two children as on the other to the adjustment 
of the claims of two nations which rule the world. 
Separate from these principles trade is the meanest 
huckstering, enterprize is but selfish aggrandize- 
ment, bargains solemn farces, and contracts instru- 
ments for legal knavery. From the earliest days 
of trade and commerce down to the present, there 
have been merchants and bankers who were not 
only princely iij their state and splendor but also 
princely in their honor and truth, not only princely 
in the reach of their plans and aims but princely in 
their methods of fulfilling them. There have also 
been merchants and bankers who have been the 
meanest and the most cruel of their kind. To which 
of these classes Mr. Shefiield belonged 1 need not say. 
Whatever else might be said of him it was always 
true that as a man of business his sense of honor 
was as quick as the blush of a maiden and hence it 
was that whenever he gave his word, no matter 
how largely or speedily any credit was needed, 
credit and money were always at his command. 
I need not say that he abhorred from the bottom of 


Ills soul sharp practices of every sort — that he was 
never content to fulfill his word or bond merely to 
the letter if he could by any means evade its spirit. 

There are eminent men ot business who say of 
their associates that every man is to be presumed a 
knave, thereby confessing that this is true of them- 
selves. There are also lookers-on who sometimes 
conclude that the artifices of modern exchange and 
the enormous opportunities of capital are such that 
w^hat men call honor and high-toned sentiment 
must soon be forever dismissed from the transactions 
of traffic and the lawful competitions of enterprise 
and exchange must end in violence and robbery. 
To Mr. Sheffield such utterances were simply blas- 
phemy against his guild and against his manhood. 
He was not honorable simply from the traditions ot 
his guild, but he was honorable from the convic- 
tions of his conscience and the sentiments of his 

Thus far have we followed Mr. Sheffield in the 
transactions of business and the accumulation of 
wealth. We should naturally follow him next in 
the use of his property and the exercise of benev- 
olence. The most conspicuous and widely known 
of his benefactions were made to the Scientific 
School which will always be known by his name. 
These benefactions began the year after tlie suc- 
cessful completion of the Rock Island Railway, in 

2 IT 

1855, and continued till his death, with an unre- 
mitted flow for a period of twenty-seven years. His 
attention had previously been favorably directed 
to the college by the personal interest and sym- 
pathy in his early railway operations of two or three 
members of its Faculty, at a time when personal 
sympathy was especially grateful. After the mar- 
riage of his daughter in 1854 to Professor John A. 
Porter, the Professor of Analytical and Agricultural 
Chemistry, 1852-1864, in the then infant and 
struggling ^'Department of Philosophy and the 
Arts," he had made his first donation to this de- 
partment of some five thousand dollars. This Avas 
just before he went abroad in 1856 for an absence of 
two years or more. Professor Porter was a broad- 
minded and sanguine scholar, of varied know- 
ledge and culture in both literature and science, 
who was well fitted to inspire a man like Mr. 
Sheffield with interest in the prosperity and plans 
of the then infant institution. It was a time when 
tile so-called New P]ducation was beginning to be 
talked of, and when varied projects were devised 
and discussed for promoting an education which 
should be at once more technically scientific and 
more positively practical than had been provided 
in the colleges. To meet these wants in a tenta- 
tive way one section of the department already 
spoken of was organized, and its friends soon be- 


came convinced that for its successful development 
it needed a separate building and apparatus as also 
a fund for the endowment of professorships. All 
these were in part provided for by Mr. Sheffield 
about the time of his return from Europe in 1858. 
The old Medical College was purchased for 
$16,500, then enlarged and refitted at an expense 
of $35,000, and completed as Sheffield Hall in 
time for the opening of the school in September, 
1860. In October of the same year, Mr. Sheffield 
perceiving that an additional endowment was 
essential to its success added $40,000, making 
according to his statements an expenditure of 

In 1865-6, after the State grant of $135,000, he 
again enlarged Sheffield Hall at an expense of 
$46,739.38, and added a Library Fund of $10,000. 
Later through his influence Mrs. Higgin gave 
£5,000 to endow a professorship, and at her death 
added a legacy of £1,000 for the same purpose. 
In 1870-1 he gave the land and contracted for 
the erection of North Sheffield Hall at a cost of 
$115,360. Other large gifts are not named, which 
included liberal contributions for specific objects, 
and frequent additions to its income. All these gifts 
may be estimated as something over $450,000. 
By his will he directed that his handsome residence 
and the grounds attached should eventually become 


its property, and that the school which bears his 
name should share equally with each of his chil- 
dren in the final distribution of his large estate. 
All these gifts may be safely estimated as consider- 
ably more than $1,000,000. It is worthy of notice 
that whenever anything was contributed to the 
school by others, Mr. Sheffield was inspired to add 
a liberal gift of his own. The gift of the State 
Fund induced him to enlarge Sheffield Hall and to 
add to its apparatus and library. The efforts for 
endowment in 1869-71 which were responded to 
to the extent of some $90,000, including the gift of 
Mrs. Higgin, led him to add some $76,000 to the 
endowment previously given by himself. 

It also deserves to be noted that the relations 
of Mr. Sheffield to the trustees and officers of the 
College and Scientific School have uniformly been 
most pleasant and friendly. Every one of his gifts 
was inspired by an intelligent and unshaken con- 
fidence in the theory of the school and in the 
wisdom of its managers. It is most noteworthy 
that he never manifested the desire or made the 
effort to direct its policy or interfere with its admin- 
istration. When elected a member of the Corpora- 
tion of the College by the votes of the graduates, 
he took his seat at a single session in acknowledg- 
ment of the compliment, but forthwith resigned his 
place. He never attended the Commencement of 


the College or the Anniversary of the Sc 
School. Whenever any enlargement of 
sources was needed he was glad to be informe 
he was content to understand the reasons for 
opinions of those in whom he confided, without at- 
tempting to alter 'them or advancing a theory of his 
own. It was enough for him to confide in the judg- 
ment of men whom he believed to be honest, and 
knew were competent. In these respects he was a 
model worthy of imitation, and presented a striking 
contrast to many patrons of schools of learning and 
institutions of beneficence. While in some relations 
he manifested a sensitive distrust of men, he was 
slow to withdraw his confidence from those whom 
he had learned to trust. In respect of intelligent, 
cheerful, abundant, untiring, and modest liberality 
to institutions of learning, Mr. Sheffield was an ex- 
ample to the men of wealth in all this land. His 
liberality of this description has been surpassed by 
few in respect to the amount of his gifts. Here and 
there indeed one has given larger sums with the 
express purpose of founding an institution which 
should be called after his name. Mr. Sheffield 
began his benefactions with no such intentions or 
expectations, but from a personal conviction of the 
value and promise of a tentative school which was 
then regarded only as an offshoot of a great uni- 
versity. It grew in his esteem and confidence as 

3 21 

he witnessed its well-earned success by honorable 
methods, on a basis of honest work. It also grew 
in his affections, and before he knew it, it was 
adopted as his child. His opportunity was a rare 
one indeed ; but it is perhaps more rare that such 
an opportunity finds a man sagacious enough to 
understand and improve it. 

Mr. Sheffield did not limit his public benefactions 

to the Scientific School. He was for many years a 

"Trustee of Trinity College and warmly interested 

in its prosperity, and gave to it, from time to time, 

donations amounting in all to $16,800. 

The Berkeley Divinity School, of Middletown, 
also had his warm and active sympathy, which 
was manifested by liberal gifts from time to time, 
to meet its pressing wants, amounting in all to 
$75,000, and by a generous legacy at his death 
of $100,000. 

Mr. Sheffield did not limit his benefactions to in- 
stitutions of higher education. The earliest object 
of any distinguished liberality after he became a 
resident in New Haven was the Parish School of 
Trinity Church. He found this school, in 1854, in 
a straitened condition, and at the instance of a few 
well-known ladies of the parish, he gave $5,000 as 
a fund for the support of a teacher, and a second 
$5,000 after his return from Europe in 1858. About 
this time the necessity for a Parish Home was 

pressed upon his attention by the same ladies. As 
the result of tliis solicitation and of his own delib- 
erate and serious thoughts, he provided for the ex- 
cellent and interesting suite of buildings on George 
Street, which include a Parish School- house, an Old 
Ladies' Home, and a Chapel, with accommodations 
for a minister at large, at a cost of some $168,000, 
all of which were given, in trust, to the Parish of 
Trinity Church, and solenmly consecrated on the 
24th of July, 1869. 

This enterprise of love symbolizes those strong 
though partially concealed sensibilities of his na- 
ture, his tenderness for neglected children, for help- 
less old age, and for wanderers from the Christian 
fold. His sympathizing benevolence and his readi- 
ness to relieve suffering are illustrated by a recol- 
lection from his own childhood which he was im- 
pelled to record on a casual slip of paper at the age 
of 88. I copy some portions only : 

When I was a little boy at the village school, and had 
learned to read, I found on the last leaf of my spelling-book, 
or school-primer, a woodcut of an old man in great-coat, partly 
bent forward, and under it the following : 

' Pity the sorrows of a poor old man, 

Whose trembling limbs have brought him to your door, 
Whose days are lengthened to the latest span, 

Give to the poor and God will bless your store.' 


At this picture I used to look with pity for the " poor old 
man." I recollect distinctly asking my mother if the poor old 
man ever came to our door, and she replied no, but he might 
come some day. " Well," I replied, " if he does I will give 
him all my walnuts." To which she replied that he might 
need food, etc. " Yes, I know you will give him all that, and 
I'll give him my walnuts, too." 

That picture and those lines made an early and deep im- 
pression on my mind and heart. I never have forgotten them. 
I hardly ever meet a beggar at my door without being re- 
minded of them. 

I add a few lines composed on a cold, stormy 
day — Jan. 31, 1878 — ''applications at the door for 
help, money or bread, being constant and urgent." 

Oft called to the door, where shivering and cold 
Stand the poor and the needy, the young and the old. 
" My mother is poorly, my father is dead, 
The children are crying— almost starving for bread." 

I glanced toward the parlor, where health and good cheer 
Most happily reign throughout the whole year ; 
And I said to myself, *' Can I assume a cold heart. 
And say to these beggars, you must hungry depart ?" 

Shall one whom Providence has raised above want 
Shut his eyesjind his ears on the hungry and gaunt? 
Or shall he remember what the good book records : 
" What you give to the poor you lend to the Lord." 

Shiftless fathers and mothers may lie in their bed. 
And send out their children thus begging for bread, 
But the children themselves, all hungry and cold, • 
Have a claim on the wealthy grown old. 


Whatever their faults, whatever their sin, 
Their appealing, sad looks all my sympathy win. 
So I haste to my drawer with a cheerful, kind heart, 
Get them " tickets for bread," and see them depart. 

Some with thanks and loud blessings, some in silence take 

Some with stolid indifference their thanks faintly breathe, 
While others more grateful (and these not a few). 
Show a tear in their eye as they bid me adieu. 

May I always remember whose steward I am. 

And relieve poor distress whenever I can. 

For the rich and the lordly, we are taught in His word. 

Like the poor and the lowly, ascend naked to God. 

The child, in respect to human sympathy, was 
eminently "father of the man." The tenderness 
of childhood never left the inner sanctuary of his 
soul. Prosperity did not harden his heart. Nor 
did his frequent experience of ingratitude from the 
poor, or his occasional disgust at the unw^orthy 
among the prosperous, embitter his feelings toward 
mankind. His earlier charities' were also conspicu- 
ously religious, in consistency with his New Eng- 
land notions and the early associations of his 
religious home. 

The transition is natural to his religious feelings 
and his religious life. Of the growth and charac- 
teristics of this life he has left an interesting memoir 
which is characterized by simplicity, earnestness 
and humility. He was baptized in childhood in the 


Episcopal Church and trained to attend its services, 
and in all his early wanderings was accustomed 
to attend religious worship regularly on Sundays 
at whatever house of worship was convenient. 
When with others he commenced the settlement of 
Blakeley he united with his associates in *' provid- 
ing religious services for the people and almost 
the first money of any amount that I felt at liberty 
to give aw^ay was $500 towards erecting a two 
story building to be used as a school house during 
the week and church on Sundays." "We em- 
ployed the Rev. J. P. Warren, Presbyterian, of 
Massachusetts, and wife, as preacher and teachers. 
She was the sister of Harriet Newell, so celebi-ated 
as the first female missionary." " When Blakeley 
went down and Mobile went up we removed to 
Mobile and I was an early promoter of church 
work there, and subsequently subscribed $2,000 
towards building the Government Street Church." 
" The last two years of our residence there we were 
regular attendants at the Government Street Church, 
Presbyterian, under the charge of Rev. Mr. John- 
son, a most excellent and eloquent preacher." 
"When we removed to New Haven, in 1835, . . . 
a more serious enquiry and examination of our- 
selves occupied our minds and under these good 
influences we became members of Trinity Church, 
and in September, 1836, we were confirmed by 

26 . 

Bishop Brownell." The thoughts and feelings 
which he expresses in this connection are too sacred 
to be repeated here. They are thoroughly charac- 
teristic of the man and reveal the generous simpli- 
city and yet humble self-distrust which marked 
him as uniformly upright before God and down- 
right before man. He certainly endeavored to 
walk with God by a definite and supreme purpose 
for the last half of his life — although to use his 
often repeated language he was constantly stum- 
bling in his path. Yet still his prayer was renewed 
and most devoutly — '' Lead thou me on." 

I need not say that Mr. Sheffield was a man of 
superior intellect and that this superiority was man- 
ifested in the acuteness, penetration and forecast of 
his judgment, and by the skill and success with which 
he made his business life to become an efficient school 
of training to his plastic mind. He delighted in 
the • use of the pen and he made the practice of 
writing a business and delight. Had he given him- 
self greater leisure and opportunity for the culture 
of literature, for which he had a decided taste, he 
might have become an accomplished writer, as he 
certainly could not but be an able critic. Men of 
letters, technically so-called, are by no means 
aware how much and various a discipline of intel- 
lect is involved in the composition of a good busi- 
ness paper, especially when the relations involved 


are complicated, and the positions are dispnted or 
questioned. Such productions are, for obvious 
reasons, not usually classed among those called 
literary. And yet many such require for their 
composition a great variety of the highest intel- 
lectual qualities and such as can come only by 
training of some sort — either the training of the 
schools or the training of life, more usually the 
training of both. Clear statement, acute analysis, 
exhaustive argument, decisive confutation, orderly 
method, felicitous diction and elevated sentiment, 
are all conspicuous in many a business letter and 
report. Had these qualities been ajjplied in other 
forms of activity, they might have brought to many 
a merchant the laurel which has usually been re- 
served for the philosopher and poet, for the critic and 
orator. These considerations suggest how impor- 
tant the mental discipline and culture of the college 
may become in their relation to the activities of com- 
mercial and practical life, and how essential to suc- 
cess in business is the achievement of a discrimin- 
ating and comprehensive judgment, clear and meth- 
odical statement, and even of eloquent and effective 
diction. Mr. Sheffield set the highest value upon 
these qualifications, and upon the value of a liberal 
education to develop and mature them, and for this 
reason he supported schools of learning with such 
lavish liberality. He may in some respects have 

biiilded more wisely than he knew, but it was alto- 
gether in harmony with his judgment that the 
scliool which bears his name, early became more 
than a school of special skill and limited research 
and was lifted up into a college of liberal culture 
which aims as specifically to discipline the intellect 
and character as it does to impart technical knowl- 
edge and skill. 

It was impossible that a man of such largeness of 
views and of so wide an acquaintance with commer- 
cial and public affairs should not be a man of 
decided political opinions and ardent political sym- 
pathies. Like many of his fellow-merchants at the 
South, especially in those early times, he was 
known as a man of Northern principles during the 
many years in which the questions which divided 
the people of the South were those of Nullification 
and State rights on the one side and Unionism and 
Federal authority on the other. He cast his first 
vote with great energy, at Newbern, N. C, in 1814, 
for what was then called the Federal ticket. Party 
spirit was at fever heat and Mr. Sheffield w^as 
brought into critical relations with dangerous men, 
one of whom made a deadly assault upon his per- 
son. The event was reported through the country 
and made no little sensation. Subsequently, at 
Mobile, during the exciting times of Nullification, 
from 1830 to 1835, he was again very thoroughly 


aroused by the preparations and threats of an active 
resistance to the collection of certain duties on cot- 
ton bagging at Charleston and Mobile, and was 
prominent as a member and promoter of a quasi 
military organization of some sixty or seventy 
northern residents for the purpose of defending the 
United States authorities against violence. 

These excitements were scarcely over when by 
his removal to the North he encountered the rising 
waves of a movement of a very different character 
— the Anti-slavery movement which in varying 
forms and varying fortunes finally led to the mem- 
orable Civil War, in which American slavery per- 
ished forever. With the anti-slavery movement 
as such in any of its phases and organizations, Mr. 
Sheffield never sympathized, much as he had 
learned to dread and abhor slavery. He withdrew 
in silent grief and disdain from all political parties 
when he gave his last vote at any election for Bell 
and Everett. The w^ar was to him an event in 
which he had no complacency in any of its aspects 
except in its assertion of the sovereignty of the 
Union. In any other relation he could not look 
upon it with the least satisfaction. He could not 
sympathize with his own family and many of his life- 
long associates in any hopes or anticipations of pos- 
sible good. His own mind was beset with the 
gloomiest apprehensions as to the final result in 


respect to the integrity and resources of the nation. 
The effect upon his feelings of this almost solitary 
position could not be happy as the sun of liis life 
was beginning to decline and he found himself so 
isolated from many eminent men with whom he 
had been accustomed to agree in opinion, and shut 
up to his solitary forebodings of the manifold calam- 
ities which he feared for his country. But he made 
this position no excuse for the neglect of his social 
duties and continued in the active discharge of his 
accustomed neighborly courtesies and in the admin- 
istration of public and private charities. He con- 
tributed liberally to alleviate the hardships and suf- 
ferings of the soldiers in the field and the hospital. 
The fact deserves notice that many of his most lib- 
eral contributions were made after the war broke 
out — after he was more than seventy years old. 
When the war was well over and the many ugly 
questions which peace brought with itself were in 
some sort settled, he more than acquiesced in the 
extinction of slavery though he never forgot to 
sympathize with the personal sufferings and hopes 
of his old acquaintances at the South. At the same 
time he fell back with more than accustomed loy- 
alt^^ upon his recollections of Clay and Webster, 
and the school of patriots and orators which they 


The fact is not to be concealed that in some 
respects Mr. Sheffield's life was more or less isola- 
ted from the most of his fellow citizens in New 
Haven, and that he felt it to be so to a degree 
which was more or less wounding to his sensitive 
nature. It is not difficult to explain how this 
should happen. He came here to reside in middle 
life, a stranger to the many who had been associated 
with one another in their own youth and manhood. 
He came here with the prestige of a large fortune 
and the social elevation and consequent social dis- 
tance which necessarily befal most men of great 
wealth — being withal too sensitive to seem to court 
popularity or conspicuousness of any sort. His 
first important business investment was in an enter- 
prise in which every individual had lost faith and 
hope, and which he shouldered almost alone. The 
conduct of this enterprise would bring him into no 
special sympathy with the younger men who had 
their fortunes to make or with the older who had 
their accumulations to protect. His second move- 
ment, viz., for the initiation of the railway to New 
York, was just beginning to work for the welfare of 
New Haven and his own well deserved reputation 
for his efforts in this direction, when he was again 
painfully disappointed. The railway movement to 
Plainville was felt to be his own for the same rea- 
son as in the purchase and management of the canal 


he had been left to himself. This investment soon 
involved new vexations and responsibilities. Dis- 
appointment seemed to him to attend this as it had 
attended his other honest efforts for the well- 
being of the city ; or rather, the battles for 
which the city as he thought had left him 
to fight alone. One complication succeeded 
another, one delay followed another, one advance 
of a hundred thousand dollars made another neces- 
sary. Meanwhile light was dawning in a distant 
field. A new sphere of hope and enterprise was 
opened, in which he was splendidly successful, and 
in which the reputation for sagacity and energy 
and public spirit which he had earned in his earlier 
life was more than made good. And then how 
nobly did he use much of the wealth thus obtained 
in generous investments which have added greatly 
to the beauty and solid interests of the city. He 
provided first a hospital for the aged, a school of 
charity for the young, a church for the poor, 
and finally with lavish and persevering liberality he 
built up a great school of. science and culture, 
which has widened and enhanced the reputation of 
the college and of the city itself. 

It is not surprising for the reasons which have 
been given that in some sense Mr. Sheffield should 
have failed to see and feel how greatly he was hon- 
ored in this quiet and undemonstrative community, 


that he did not fully appreciate how truly ihe 
solid men among ns regarded him with affectionate 
gratitude and 'honorable pride, and how honestly 
they would honor his memory when he should be 
gone. Among the many inequalities of this une- 
qual life of ours, none is more painful than that so 
many good men should finish their lives not know- 
ing how greatly they were honored and loved by 
those whose love and honor they would have 
prized as the most precious of all their gains in life. 

Those of us who knew Mr. Sheffield as a neigh- 
bor can testify that he was eminently courteous, 
sympathizing and just, and that ihe more intimately 
we knew him the more emphatically did we find 
him a warm and true friend who rejoiced with us 
in our joys and mourned with us in our bereave- 
ments and sorrows. Few of his acquaintances 
knew how warm and tender-hearted he was, how 
sensitive to the singing of birds, to the indications of 
spring, to the beautiful in nature, to the pathos of 
literature and the sorrows and joys of human kind, 
nor how freshly these emotions warmed his heart 
to the end of his life! 

In his own family he was eminently affectionate 
and tender hearted both as husband and father, 
finding in his own home the haven of his rest, and 
looking within it for his most satisfying delights. 
His children look back to many hours of their ear- 


liest childhood as made merry by his cheerful sym- 
pathy, and to the shaded years of their own family 
life as illmnined and hallowed by his 'watchful care, 
his sensitive tenderness and his grave admonitions. 
He died * in peace and gratitude and love and hope 
in the presence of them all. As they watched the 
ebbing of his life they could not but bless their 
Father in Heaven for the goodness which had given 
them such a father on earth, while they could not 
but weep that a blessing so long continued should 
be taken away. 

^'So long continued!" For nearly ninety years 
he lived, and when he died his eye was scarcely 
dim nor was his natural force greatly abated. 

We see him no more, but he lives with God. 
Meanwhile the great school which he almost created, 
the poor whom he blessed with his bounty and his 
love, the city which he enriched by his enterprise 
and beautified by his taste, the Church in which he 
was a devout and humble believer, all unite to hal- 
low and bless his memory. 

* February 16, 1882. 




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