Memorial of James Russell Webster
Waterloo, Seneca County, NY
The following was written by James Webster at age 86. The document is at the Terwilliger Museum in Waterloo. Mr. Webster lived on Main St. This transcription is provided by Jerry Withers.
To my Relatives of the Great Family of Websters and other Friends:
It has seemed good to me, being now in the 86th year of my life, and still in the enjoyment of a sound mind in a sound body, to prepare the following sketch of my life. I have not written it for publication, but simply to have it printed for myself, that I might send it, with my warm regards, to the large circle of Websters so far as I know or may learn their address, and to such other friends as might enjoy the reading of it.
Young men look forward on life, old men look backward: as we draw near to the earthly end, it is natural and praiseworthy to take pride in our family connections, who have made a good record, and left behind them an honorable name. We, the Websters, congratulate ourselves on being connected with such a man as Noah Webster, L.L.D., the author of Webster's Spelling Book and Webster's Dictionary.. He was a descendant of John Webster, and on his mother's side of William Bradford, both Governors of Plymouth Colony under the British Crown. We also count among our member, Daniel Webster, "The Great Expounder of the Constitution, "and the most distinguished statesman and orator which America has produced. Such men have shed luster on our family name.
Our fathers have passed away; we, are passing after them, and will soon leave to our children our name and heritage. "In place of the fathers are the children, whom God makes princes in the earth." It is my earnest hope and prayer that those who come after us may be true patriots and supporters of our free American Institutions, and also that they may be the true followers of Him who was born in Bethlehem to be the world's Redeemer.
With these words of greeting I send you this modest little pamphlet, with my best wishes for your prosperity on earth, and my hopes that we may all meet in a better world.
JAMES RUSSEL WEBSTER.
The subject of this sketch was a native of Connecticut, belonging to the noted New England family of Websters, of whom Noah, the lexicographer, and Daniel, the orator and statesman, were distinguished representatives. In 1800, James, the grand-father, with one son, Russell and three daughters, moved to from Litchfield County, Connecticut and settled in Catskill, New York; the other four sons emigrated from Connecticut in 1810-12, Lyman located in Hudson, N.Y., Jarvis in Philadelphia, Chester in Troy and James in Phelps, N.Y. All had large families and their decedents scattered over the Northern and Western States.
James Russell Webster, son of James and Sabina Catlin Webster, was born in Litchfield, Conn., January 20, 1806. Six Years later (1812) has parents joined the westward stream of emigration, taking up their residence in the town of Phelps, Ontario County, N.Y., where the subject of this sketch grew to manhood and followed his father's occupation of farming. He early enjoyed the advantages of a common school, and later a select school under Rev. S.W. Brace, D.D. he was a pupil of the late Judge Marvin of the Supreme Court and attended the Academy at Litchfield, Conn. He early enlisted in the local Rifle company, was appointed Adjutant of the regiment by Col. Sutherland of Geneva and later by Col. VanAuken of Phelps, and served in the same position under Col. (later Judge) Bowen Whiting of Geneva, N.Y. He attended the best Military schools of the day and became very proficient in handling his regiment, the last general parade being at Canandaigua, at which time over 1,000 men were mustered, in full uniform. He was present and participated in a review of the Military on the occasion of Lafayette's visit to Geneva, during his trip through the country. Before his majority he spent considerable time in Canada and the Northwest, purchasing furs and trading with the Indians.
July 2nd, 1827, he married Elizabeth Nicholson Mullender, who was born two miles north of Geneva, Ontario County, third farm from the State Experimental Station. Her parents were natives of Scotland, coming to this country about 1800, being party of a colony which included her uncle Hon. Charles Cameron, and his brother, Dugold, who was a grand-father of Hon. Ira Davenport. Charles Williamson, the general land agent was also in the company. Soon after their marriage the young couple went west and settled in Perry, Wyoming County, owning about three acres in the heart of the village, and on which the church was located, where they remained some fifteen years, engaging in farming, and real estate transactions. He built several fine stores in Perry, purchased large tracts of land in the Western States, owning at one time 640 acres, which is now the centre of the thriving city of Kalamazoo, Mich. He first attended the Baptist church in Perry, the pastor there being "Elder Arthur," father of Chester A. Arthur. The latter was then a little boy, and Mr. Webster, once calling at his house, put upon his head of the lad, remarked, "this little boy may yet be President of the United States." Years after, calling at the White House, he related the circumstances to President Arthur, who replied that he well remembered the incident although the name of the man who thus predicted his future had long since passed from his memory; then standing up he added. "You may place your hand upon my head again."
Soon after locating in Perry he joined the Presbyterian Church, their place of Worship then being at Perry Centre, two miles away. A house of worship being much needed in the village, the organization of a new congregation having been suggested, he proposed to donate the land and aid in the erection of a church, provided his wife would consent to remove to his farm, for the sole object of enabling him to commence the manufacture of brick for the church, having a clay bed and good stone on the premises. His wife readily consented to go, and in addition to the labor, and the care of five children, she cared for six men who were employed in making brick. This church still remains, and is now one of the most flourishing. He fully appreciated the great labor of his as it enabled him to provide the material for the new church erection. Rev. Samuel H. Gridley, pastor of the congregation, afterward went to Waterloo, Seneca County, and for forty years was pastor of the Presbyterian church in the village. In 1842 Mr. Webster also removed to Waterloo. The church there was found to be largely in debt and the early membership mostly passed away. The younger men of the came in about that time and paid the debt. In after years the erection of a new church was determined upon, and a meeting was called to see how many would contribute $1,000. Five names were obtained, viz.: Peleg Pierson, Dr. A. Childs, John McAlister, Platt Crosby and James R. Webster. Additional subscriptions were made in smaller amounts, which were supposed to be sufficient for the work, but it was found when the church was completed it was largely in debt, and many were obliged to double their subscriptions. Of the building committee of six, of which Mr. Webster was one, he alone survives.
He engaged in the milling and mercantile business in Waterloo, and extended his operations into the Canadas, engaging extensively in the purchase of wheat and wool which was imported into the United States, subject to a duty of 12 cents per pound on wool and 10 cents per bushel on wheat. In 1858 he went to Illinois, where his son James was engaged under the late George B. McClellan as superintendent of the Illinois Central Railroad. At their request he went there for the purpose of engaging in the sale of salt and the purchase over the Illinois Central and Terre Haute & Alton railroads, handling during the time he was in the State, about two years, over 500,000 bushels of wheat and some 400,000 barrels of salt. While in the State he became personally acquainted with Abraham Lincoln, Listened to many of the noted debates of Lincoln and Douglas, and was furnished by William H. Seward with a quantity of his own speeches to be handed Mr. Lincoln for circulation about the State during his canvass, who thus endorsed Mr. Seward as candidate for the Presidency, little thinking that he would himself be the choice of the Republican National convention which convened the following year. Almost this time the murderer of Lovejoy, editor and proprietor of a daily paper in Alton, occurred. He had declared that "freedom was better than slavery." His action was the death blow to Alton. At this time St. Louis and Alton were about equally prosperous, but after this occurrence emigration to Alton ceased and went to St. Louis, which rapidly increased in population and importance.
Mr. Webster was a partisan of Seward and Weed, and took a leading part in the lively campaign following the abduction of Morgan, being familiar with most of the noted actors in that semi-political tragedy. The most talented lawyers were engaged in the trial, prominent among whom were Wm. H. Seward, Francis Granger. Gerard Wilson, Mark H. Sibley, John C. and Joshua A Spenser, Worden (brother-in-law of Seward) Dudley Marvin, and others. The trial resulted in the conviction of Cheesbro and Lawson for kidnapping Morgan and they were sentenced to imprisonment for years.
The following are a few of the numerous press articles which have appeared in reference to Mr. Webster.
From the Seneca County Courier.
Thursday, June 17th witnessed at Concord, New Hampshire, a simple yet impressive ceremony in which the whole United States was interested. It was the unveiling of a statue in honor of one of New Hampshire's sons. "whose fame the ocean and the skies do bound" Hon. Benjamin Pierce Cheney of Boston, himself and old acquaintance and admirer of Webster, had caused a bronze statue of the statesman and orator to be prepared and had presented it to the authorities of his own and Webster's native state. The State had prepared the pedestal of native granite. The base is nine feet square, the height of the plinth is four feet and the die four and one-half feet; the statue itself is 8 feet high, making a total of seventeen and one-half feet. The face of the statue is that of Webster speaking. It is said to be perfect in its representation and as a work of art attracted the attention of the authorities of Munich, where it was cast.
The ceremonies were befitting the occasion; the governors of every New England State and of New York were there. Speeches were made and poems were sung and a banquet in the evening crowned the occasion.
The ceremonies have a local interest for us in the presence there was one of our citizens, the venerable James R. Webster of Waterloo. He is of the same family as Daniel and Noah Webster, having been born in Litchfield, Conn., in 1806. All trace their lineage to John Webster, one of the first settlers and earliest governors of the colony of Connecticut.
Mr. Webster, on account of his age and the distance he had traveled to witness the ceremony, was made quite a hero. He was assign to comfortable rooms as the hotel, was handsomely entertained and not allowed to pay any of the bills. He was given a seat with governors and ex-governors and other notables. On one side of was Hon. N. E. Berry, the war governor of New Hampshire, known locally as the old "Warhorse." On the other side was Fletcher Webster a son of Daniel Webster. He had quite a chat with Mr. Cheney, the donor of the statue who gave him many incidents in Webster's life. Cheney commenced his business career as a stage driver, and next as owner of the stage line. He had carried Daniel Webster thousands of miles. Now he is one of the Rich Men of Boston.
Our friend, Mr. Webster was introduced to all the New England governors.Gov. Robie of Maine introduced him to Chief Justice Field of Massachusetts, mentioned that he was a native of Connecticut and now in his 80th year, and had come 500 miles to attend the ceremonies. Justice Field remarked that he was well preserved for that age; and then spoke of the great addition to the fame of New England made by the Websters. Representatives of the family can be found in every State, and as a rule they are everywhere intelligent, industrious and thrifty.
At the Banquet Mr. Webster sat by Gov. Nesmith who owns 300 acres of the original Webster farm. He urged Mr. Webster to remain over and visit him at his house, promising to show the identical on which the young Daniel got the "hang" of the scythe that suited him. He also has an extended conversation with Gov. Robie of Maine, telling him that the Websters were true to their Whig ancestry, and that members of the family in New York State gave Blaine not less than 4000 votes in 1884.
From the Seneca County News.
Like the veteran farmer at Gettysburg who reported for the first days fight and with his own arms and ammunition aided in obtaining the glorious Union victory, James R. Webster, a veteran from the days of Tippecanoe, was vigilant, energetic in the late campaign, and contributed no small part to the glorious result.
Of Whig ancestry, and convictions like all the Websters, it has been his fortune to vote three times for a Harrison for President. In 1836 his candidacy was defeated, but in 1840, and again in 1888, Mr. Webster rejoiced with the victors. He was always earnest and enthusiastic in his preferences, giving time and money in the old Whig and Republican campaigns. In 1884 he took it upon himself to make a canvass of the Websters in this state. He found 4,000 Republican voters among the name and blood relatives. His effort to secure this vote for Blaine developed the knowledge that 1,400 voted for St. John. During the four years following the canvass was continued, and he now proudly believes that these 1,400 Prohibition votes were cast for Harrison, Morton, and Miller.
In the local campaign Mr. Webster has been unceasing in his activity. He attended most of the political meetings at Waterloo and Seneca Falls, and his individual exertions in both these villages and other places, doubtless secured many for the ticket. At the congressional convention in Watkins, he was introduced as a Harrison man from 1836, and was received with enthusiasm. He attended as delegate the convention of the republican state league in Saratoga in June. Early in the campaign veterans of '36 and '40 organized a "Tippecanoe Club" in this country. Mr. Webster was chosen president and D. B. Lum, of Seneca Falls, secretary. The club held numerous meetings and did grand work for the republican cause. Several members of this organization were present with Mr. Webster at a rousing Whig meeting at Saratoga in 1840 and listened to one of the greatest efforts of Daniel Webster on the subject of protection to American industries and for Harrison. This club has made careful estimates of the number of Republican voters in the State in 1888 that cast their votes for W. H. Harrison in 1840 and they aggregate over 35,000. It is plain to be seen that the voters of 1840 were the saviors in the present campaign. On the night of the election he got up at two o'clock and went to the hall where the boys were receiving returns, and his presence was greeted with an enthusiastic ovation. At a late hour his house was illuminated and serenaded along with other houses in the wide awake town of Waterloo.
Mr. Webster called on Blaine at his rooms in Rochester, and the confident assurances of the great Republican leader inspired him with new hope. To his congratulations to the president elect he has a pleasant reply bearing the autograph of Benj. Harrison.
Whether because of the politics of their great relative, Daniel Webster, or because of their New England ancestry, the Websters have always been Whigs and Republicans. A careful canvass made in 1840 showed that the family cast 10,000 votes for the elder Harrison. Not less than 28,000 ballots were cast by this name and it's near kindred, in the late election for "Our Ben".
A report sent to Washington in 1888 showed that there were 4,000 Webster and kindred votes for Harrison, and that they secured 12,000 other votes making 16,000 votes for the ticket and that they expended $32,000 for the campaign.
From the Seneca County Courier
The name J. R. Webster as one of the vice-presidents of the Republican convention was graceful compliment to a veteran who had assisted in the election of two Harrison's. Mr. Webster is now in his eighty-fourth year, but as hale and vigorous as a man of seventy, and as earnest in his Republicanism as he was for the Whigs when in the pride of youthful he worked for.
From the Daily Saratogian, 1887
Among the delegates to the Republican State convention today is James R. Webster of Waterloo, Seneca County. Mr. Webster voted for DeWitt Clinton for governor and has been an active Republican ever since the Republican Party was organized.
In 1889 at the time of the commission of the postmaster at Waterloo was about to expire, there was a general movement on the part of the Tippecanoe men and the Webster family that Mr. Webster should receive the appointment, and he was urged to present their petitions and endorsements to the President and postmaster general. By both Mr. Webster was very cordially received, but as the congressman of the district had recommended another they could not make his case an exception to the rule that had been adopted; but the President asked him to name any other place, as he would be glad to recognize his many years of service for the party, in some other way. Mr. Webster declined by saying that he had never sought any office. When urged to accept the position of Postmaster in his village he pledged himself to give the proceeds of the office to charity, if he was appointed.
About the year 1850 he made the acquaintance of Ezra Cornell, the founder of Cornell University, who was at the time a clerk in a Woolen factory at Ithaca, who then related his trials and poverty. They soon after went into the telegraph business together, constructing a line from Ithaca to Waterloo, crossing Cayuga Lake on the old toll bridge. This line was in operation about three year, Mr. Cornell having charge at Ithaca and Mr. Webster at Waterloo. This was the Beginning of Mr. Cornell's career in the Telegraph business and the foundation of his great wealth.
As a tribute of respect to his father, he wishes to mention the fact that he was never refused a favor from the time he was eighteen years of age. That during his business career his father was his only endorser, who became surety on his paper in the aggregate of at least one million dollars, and during sixty years he never in a single instance allowed a note to be protested.
Mr. Webster had three brothers, Catlin, now deceased, Chauncey, now a resident of Phelps and Wallace B., a resident of Hastings, Neb.; also two sisters, Julia, deceased, wife of Oscar Heartwell, Armenia, wife of John Youngs of Phelps, N.Y. Their decedents are mostly residents of Nebraska; some forty are living the in the city of Hastings, prosperous and influential citizens. James Heartwell being the founder, donated $10,000 to the Presbyterian college at that place, and his cousins, Edwin, Charles and Jerome, organized the Nebraska Loan and Trust Co., with a paid up capital of $500,000.
Mr. Webster has lived to see six generations of his family, and represents at this time four generations, every voter being Republican. He relates an interesting gathering which occurred as his uncle Lyman in Hudson, N.Y., the occasion being the re-union of a father and five brothers, the first meting all together after an absence of fifty years. The day of the meeting they visited and art gallery where they had their pictures taken in a group. In the evening they held a prayer meeting at the house, where they united their voices in praise and prayer, all being professed followers of Christ. Their united ages at death was about 535 years, being an average of about 90 year; their united weight was some over one thousand pounds. The grandfather's two brothers reached the advanced age of one hundred and one hundred and ten years respectively.
In his early days his strong temperance principles were often a source of trouble and expense. He would not permit liquor in any of his business relations. He found that by refusing stimulants it was often difficult to obtain laborers to help to help in raising buildings without extra expense. During the Rebellion he organized the "Loyal League" in his village, which was supported by all of the loyal citizens, its object to aid soldiers' widows and families. Miss Mary Hunt, a true and loyal woman, generously donated the hall for the benefit of the organization. To rejoice the hearts of the loyal men of his town, he had cannon fired on receipt of the news of every victory by the union army, much to the discomfort of the disloyal.
Since the war he has been a staunch friend to the old soldiers, having made repeated trips to Washington and spending months in that city in their behalf, and aiding the worthy ones to secure pensions, without remuneration or reward. In May 1890 he attended the General Assembly at Saratoga, remaining during all the sessions. He was liberal according to his means in the support of the gospel, having expended over $30,000 during his life for the building of churches and in benevolent contributions.
In the course of his active life Mr. Webster has made many personal acquaintances with distinguished men, and has in his possession an autograph letter from Lincoln, whom he accompanied from Syracuse to Albany while on one of his trips to Washington. He was intimate with Judge Folger, who was an invited guest at his golden wedding; James C. Smith, judge of Supreme Court, was also an old schoolmate. In private and, business life he has been a consistent Christian and a total abstainer from tobacco and intoxicating drinks for sixty years. When a farmer he joined in a pledge with others like minded, not to sell grain for distillation. This was persistently maintained. His domestic relations have been most pleasant. His wife, an estimable and amiable helpmeet remained with him for more than sixty-two years. At their golden wedding in 1877, children and grandchildren gathered with invited guests to the number of 300 or more to extend congratulations and wish them God speed on their further journey of life. His family consists of six children, James, Charles, Daniel, John Mullender, Margaret Sabrina, Ann E., and Mary G. Three of them are with the mother in the silent land beyond; John M. resides in New York, Mary G., now Mrs. J. T. Moore, and Miss Ann E. are residents of Waterloo, the last named presiding in her father's home and caring for him in his declining years. In December 1889, he was grievously stricken in the loss of the life of his joys and sorrows. After a brief illness Mrs. Webster peacefully expired. Though children still minister to him with tender solicitude, the light that for more than three-score years brightened his home has gone out. But he is still hopeful, in the confident assurance that the loved one awaits him on the other shore of the mysterious stream, that now for him has divided to a narrow brooklet, and he serenely awaits the Master's word to step across to a blissful reunion, when his "busy life shall be ended."
1. Additional particulars as to the building of the Church at Perry. In the spring I commenced building the brickyard on my farm; then began the manufacture of brick, made between one and two hundred thousand. In the winter I drew them on the lot. In the spring went to Rochester and obtained the best workmen I could find to commence the building of the church, with an encouraging prospect of putting up a good building. Everything was very dear at that time; brick was worth $10 a thousand and lime 40 cents per bushel. I had sold one of my lots to a man who was about to move out of town; I was anxious as well as the people to obtain that lot on which to erect the church. So I proposed to the man to exchange it for another lot, or he need not pay for it, he accepted the latter proposal, and he deeded the lot to the church which was to my entire satisfaction. A great part of my time for a year and a half was spent in making the brick and building the church. I found it a great undertaking under the circumstances; much means, travel and anxiety were experienced before its completion. Through the efforts of the women much was done to aid in building the church and much credit was due them as otherwise it would not have been built at that time. Toward the entire expense in building I received from others about five or six hundred dollars. All my labor and means I most cheerfully donated to the church and I never regretted what I did.
a. Rochester was a wilderness when I came to Phelps
This transcription provided courtesy of Jerry Withers.
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