Archive:The Descendants of John Whitney, page 516
The Descendants of John Whitney, Who Came from London, England, to Watertown, Massachusetts, in 1635, by Frederick Clifton Pierce (Chicago: 1895)
Transcribed by the Whitney Research Group, 1999.
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the mother of Hon. Henry L. DAWES. The early education of James S. WHITNEY was such as he was able to obtain at home from the teaching of his parents. At an early age he entered the store of his father, in the capacity of a clerk, and by his industrious habits, his strict attention to his duties and his ready tact in dealing with customers, soon established a good business character. In 1832, when at the age of twenty-one years, he became, by purchase from his father, the proprietor of the business and carried on the same at South Deerfield till about the first of January, 1838, when he removed to Conway. In that period of his life, though actively em- ployed in his private business, he took a deep interest and active part in public affairs, and especially in the movement at the time in which his father also took an efficient part, for the organization, or the reorganization of the militia of the state, which, in the words of a journal of the day, "was in deplorable condition." He entered into this work with that zeal and energy, and with such good judgment and success as gave him a marked prominence in military circles, and in 1835, when only twenty-four years of age, he was honored with an election and commission as brig- adier-general of the second brigade and fourth division of Massachusetts militia. By that title of general thus early and honorably earned and worthily conferred, he was known in all the following years of his life. He was an efficient and popular military officer. One who well remembers him says: "He was a superb horseman," and was never seen on a poor horse. One interesting incident in his militry experience is worthy of mention. He commanded the infantry escort that headed the proces- sion at the celebration of Capt. LOTHROP's battle at South Deerfield, Sept. 30, 1835, and it is said that Hon. Edward EVERETT, who delivered the oration on that occasion and was a candidate for governor, was so favorably impressed by his soldierly deportment and the efficient performance of his duty, that soon after his inauguration as governor and of his own motion he forwarded to Gen. WHITNEY a commission as justice of the peace. The fact that the General qualified by taking and subscribing the oath of office on the 10th day of May, 1836, tends to corroborate the statement. Gen. WHITNEY removed from South Deerfield about the first of January, 1838, and then engaged in business in Conway, in company with his brother-in-law, Mr. Anson SHEPARD, under the firm name of SHEPARD & WHITNEY. They soon gained an extensive and profitable country trade. There are those yet living who remember well that good old-fashioned country store, and the old stove around which the good citizens of Conway discussed and settled, in their own minds, the most important questions and measures affecting the destinies of their town, state and country, and around which, as one who well remembers it has recently said, "selectmen, assessors and constables were made and unmade." The firm of SHEPARD & WHITNEY was in time followed by WHITNEY & Wells, Mr. Charles WELLS being the junior partner, and that by "WHITNEY, Wells & Co." The enterprising public spirit of Gen. Whit- ney, his general intelligence, his capacity for business, and his superior tact in the management of men and affairs soon established his position as one of the leading business men and citizens of the town. In 1843 he was chosen town clerk, and was kept in that office till 1852. That was the only town office he held, although he was frequently chosen as agent for the town in important matters, and in all cases he was vigilant for the interests of his constituents. Gen. WHITNEY represented Con- way in the legislature of 1851, and again in 1854. The legislature of 1851 was con- trolled by that memorable coalition of the Democaratic and Free-soil parties of the state which placed Charles SUMNER in that seat in the senate of the United States which he held until his death in 1874, and passed many important measures in the line of reform and progress. Among those measures may be mentioned the act to establish the bank commissioners; an act relating to joint stock companies, known as the general corporation law, which was especially advocated by Gen. Whit- ney; "an act to change the organization of the board of overseers of the University at Cambridge;" an "act to provide for the better security of the ballot," known as the "secret ballot" law of 1851, a law quite as effectual and more simple than the present law for the same purpose; and "act to amend some of the proceedings, practice and rules of evidence of the courts of the commonwealth;" an "act relating to the calling a convention of delegatges for the purpose of revising the constitu- tion;" an act to exempt from levy on execution the homestead to the value of $500, of a householder having a family, known as the homestead law; an act to secure to mechanics and laborers their payment for labor by a lien on real estate, known as the mechanics' lien law; and an act providing for the election of presidential electors by a plurality instead of a majority vote and extending the same provision to the elec- tion of representatives in congress, after a failure to elect on the first trial. In the discussions concerning these measures, and all the proceedings of the house, Gen.
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