Archive:The Glassboro Story 1779-1964

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Bole, Robert D., and Walton, Edward H., Jr., The Glassboro Story 1779-1964 (York, PA: Maple Press, 1964).


The Whitneys

The Stangers were Glassboro's founders, the Hestons and Carpenters its saviors, and the Whitneys its builders. Throughout the nineteenth century, the little village was built and sustained by glassmaking. And it was the Alger-like Whitneys who made glass products and community growth go hand in hand.

An aura of distinctiveness clings to the Whitney family, starting with the landing of John and Elinor Whitney in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and, for all practical purposes, ending, in 1882, with the tragic death of Thomas H. Whitney in a Glassboro mud puddle. Historians, seeking candidates to a New Jersey nineteenth century capitalists' hall of fame, must give consideration to the Whitneys. Here are the details.

In 1630 the stern, theocratic-minded Puritans endeavoring to escape the economic depression brought to England by the Thirty Years' War in Europe and seeking to avoid the persecutions of religious non-conformists by Charles I, landed in Massachusetts and established settlements in Weymouth, Salem, and Boston. Just five years later, in 1635, John and Elinor Whitney sailed from London on the good ship, "Elizabeth and Ann", for a new life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Ebenezer and Bathsheba Whitney

From John's seed four generations of Whitneys sprang forth and germinated on New England soil. It was the fifth generation that tied itself to the Glassboro Story. For on March 17, 1780, Ebenezer Whitney was born, the youngest of Samuel and Abigail Whitney's sixteen children. This youngest child of a large brood became the first Glassboro Whitney, and the manner in which Ebenezer made his entry onto the Glassboro stage lends a touch of adventure and romance to the Borough's history.

Like many another New England youth, Ebenezer Whitney became irresistibly drawn to the sea and sailing. In 1806 he captained his brother Joseph's schooner on a voyage to the Madeira Islands, located in the Atlantic Ocean, 450 miles west of Morocco. Ebenezer's crew loaded a cargo of choice Madeira wine into the holds of the schooner, and then cast anchor bound for Philadelphia and its wholesale wine merchants. Disaster struck the ship off the New Jersey coast in the vicinity of Cape May; the vessel was wrecked, much cargo lost, and Captain Whitney was injured. Solicitous hands placed Ebenezer on a Philadelphia-bound stagecoach, but the pain of his injury and a high fever forced him to stop at the Heston's Tavern in Glassboro. Here he paused to recuperate from his injuries, and here he was nursed back to health by Bathsheba Heston. Within a year Nurse Heston changed her name to Mrs. Ebenezer Whitney. With this event a new chapter in the Glassboro Story began to unfold.

It is said that Captain Ebenezer was a restless and at times a reckless man. Perhaps he found a landbound existence rather irksome. In any event, he did not stay in any one place too long. We know, for example, that his peregrinations found him, in 1810-13, operating the Cross Keys Tavern; in 1814, the Captain was a tavern operator at Mullica Hill, and from 1817-1819, the restless Ebenezer placed his tavern-operating talents at the disposal of his mother-in-law, the redoubtable Widow Heston. Before consenting to run the Heston Tavern, Ebenezer had purchased four and one-half acres of Glassboro land, with the apparent intention of settling down. But the Captain's itchy feet, in 1820, took him to Cooper's Ferry (Camden), where he ran still another tavern. After a year or two in this venture, Ebenezer returned to Glassboro to operate a general store at the corner of present-day West and Main Streets. It was while he was engaged in this business enterprise that he died, in 1823, at the early age of forty-three.

There is little question that the first Glassboro Whitney was a mobile person. He had his share of the family's urge to be on the move; a later-day member of the Whitney family noted that Ebenezer . . . "like his father's family generally, possessed great energy and restlessness of character, and he also had a large share of recklessness. He never could be satisfied when doing well, and as a natural result, gathered together but little of this world's goods."

In short, for all his wanderings, Ebenezer died something less than a rich man. His will, when probated, showed assets of $1509--not a large sum to leave a widow and five young children. Measured in monetary terms, Captain Ebenezer's legacy was distressingly small, but measured in human beings it was tremendously large. For the Captain left to Glassboro a family which was destined to be among its most illustrious.

Like her mother, the Widow Heston, Bathsheba Whitney experienced the early death of a husband and the prospect of raising a large family with a small income. Bathsheba's plight was even more difficult than her mother's had been earlier, for Ebenezer's estate was smaller than the one Colonel Heston had bequeathed to the Widow Heston. At the time of her husband's death, Bathsheba must have felt that her world had come crashing down, but Heston blood flowed in her veins; and the Heston fiber was tough and resilient. Phoenix-like, out of the ashes of her despair, she fashioned a new way of life for herself and her family. She began immediately to augment the meager funds her husband had left her with sales of land willed her by Colonel Heston, but the income from these was pitifully meager. She sold, for example, twenty acres for $80 to a Thomas Coles; another sale of fifty-six acres brought her $230. Altogether Bathsheba realized but $370 for the six tracts of land she had inherited from her father, Colonel Heston.

But, despite her financial difficulties, she presented a brave front to the community, apparently rejecting the luxury of brooding and self-pity. Instead, Bathsheba threw herself wholeheartedly into church work; on occasion she offered her home as a place where services were held. Her interest in and concern for the little St. Thomas Episcopal Church was such that a grateful clergy and congregation bestowed upon her the unique and delightful title of a mother in Israel. Equally important, Bathsheba gave unstintingly of her time and energy in raising her fatherless brood with the result that her three sons, Thomas, Eben, and Samuel became three of Glassboro 5 most influential citizens. Moreover Mother Bathsheba had the quiet satisfaction that comes to mothers whose daughters marry well. The Widow must have been proud when Abigail wedded Woodward Warrick, an outstanding Glassboro citizen and businessman, and when Harriet married Dr. Myles Synnott, Glassboro's first physician. By brooding little and working hard, the widow had done all right by herself, her family, and the Glassboro community.

Glassboro owes much to the courageous Widow Bathsheba; it also owes a great deal to her three famous sons. These three boys, particularly Thomas and Samuel, might well have been characters out of a nineteenth century Horatio Alger book. Like many an Alger hero, the Whitney boys, by dint of hard and honest toil, rose from "rags to riches." Theirs was a real American success story.

Thomas H. Whitney

Consider first Thomas H. Whitney, the oldest of the brothers. Probably because of the family's dire financial straits, Thomas went to work in the local glass factory while a mere boy, not yet in his teens. He was paid the munificent wage of one dollar per week, a sum he handed over to his mother. At age eighteen, he had advanced to a clerk's position in the Harmony Glassworks. By the time he was twenty-two years old, Thomas had gained enough capital to purchase a one-third ownership in the Harmony Works; two years later, in 1838, he bought the entire plant. For the ensuing forty years, Thomas Whitney and his two brothers, Samuel and Eben, were the glassmaking kings in Glassboro. They ruled their glass empire from the main Whitney Brothers Plant in the center of town, and, in collaboration with Woodward Warrick, a brother-in-law, the Whitneys guided the destiny of the Temperanceville Plant in south Glassboro. Whitney control of the latter factory was not absolute over the forty-year Span, for they permitted Warrick and Thomas Stanger to operate the Temperanceville Glassworks for a period of time. However, one has the feeling that Thomas Whitney's guiding influence made its presence felt. Thomas Whitney was first and foremost a businessman and he was a competent one, earning a state-wide and to a degree, a national reputation. He climbed to the top quickly and he stayed at the pinnacle for a long time, largely because he had inherited the happy combination of the Heston capacity for leadership and stability, and the Whitney willingness to take controlled chances rather than to stand still. Blessed with this genetic makeup, Thomas Whitney expanded glassmaking production eight-fold from 1836 to about 1878. Expansion of this magnitude brought workmen to Glassboro; the town really began to grow and expand. But glassmaking was by no means Thomas Whitney's only business activity; his commercial interests spilled over Glassboro's boundary lines. In 1853, for example, we find him on a committee of prominent Gloucester County businessmen engaged in planning the county's first bank. In 1866 we learn that he was President and a director of the Glassboro-Millville Railroad. And, in the late 1860's, we read that he owned a large farm and he had the sagacity to employ John Repp as its manager. Repp's job was to make the earth yield fruit, an assignment we shall later discover he carried out with great success.

With his multitudinous business activities and responsibilities, Thomas Whitney might have been content to let other less busy men assume the citizenship duties of a growing town. But the record shows that the eldest Whitney brother was not so inclined. On the contrary, he more than carried his share of the civic load. Not long after Thomas had taken over ownership of the Harmony Glass Works, he agreed to serve as a township committeeman; his terms of office covered the years 1837-38. In 1841 he donated his services and time in the effort to build the Glassboro Academy. On that occasion he served as a member of the School Building Committee. Six years later, in 1847, the lovely, stone-built St. Thomas Episcopal Church was erected, and much of Thomas Whitney's time and money went into its construction. In addition, he volunteered his services to this church as a vestryman, in 1850. During the Civil War, the oldest Whitney brother did his bit, particularly by working on committees charged with encouraging young men to enlist in the Union Army. Then, in 1864, he served on a county committee whose responsibility was to plan West Jersey's participation in the Great Sanitary Fair held in Philadelphia. Throughout the War, great fairs were held to raise money for the feeding, clothing, and medical care of Northern soldiers. The Sanitary Commission was the Civil War's counterpart to the modern-day Red Cross.

Probably one of Thomas Whitney's last civic contributions took place in 1876. To him was accorded the high honor of serving on the state-wide New Jersey Centennial Commission, a group which planned New Jersey's role in the great commemoration of the Nation's 100th birthday at Philadelphia. On August 24, 1876, Mr. Whitney was present on "Jersey Day" at the Centennial, when the principal speaker, a Mr. Browning . . . "Compared New Jersey to an immense barrel, filled with good things to eat and open at both ends, with Pennsylvania grabbing from one end and New York from the other. He called New Jersey the Garden State and the name has clung to it ever since."

Brief mention should also be made to some other of this active man's extracurricular activities. In the 1840's, he was a participating member in the Glassboro Temperance Society and in the Gloucester County Bible Society. In addition, Thomas Whitney, on more than one occasion, threw his hat into the political ring. The years 1841-42 found him serving two terms in the New Jersey Assembly. Seeking still greater political laurels, he fought for and won the Whig Party nomination to the United States House of Representatives. In the following bitterly contested election campaign of 1850, Whitney went down to defeat at the hands of the Democratic candidate, Nathan T. Stratton. Undaunted, Mr. Whitney stayed in the political wars. In fact, he remained long enough to help organize and promote the cause of the newly-formed Republican Party, serving as a delegate to that Party's convention held, in 1856, at Trenton. The purpose of the convention was to select the Republican Party nominee for governor.

Thomas Whitney did take time out to relax once in awhile, as was evidenced by the European tour he took, in 1847. On this trip he visited Great Britain, France, Italy, and many other European countries. Soon after returning from this Old World jaunt, he plunged into plans for building a new home. From these efforts, the beautiful and spacious Holly bush mansion was erected--a stone-built structure designed to last for centuries. Into it moved Thomas and Samuel Whitney and their widowed mother in the year 1849. Glassborites of 1964 will recognize this strongly-built structure as the home of Dr. Thomas E. Robinson, President of Glassboro State College.

Four years after he built Holly Bush, Thomas Whitney married his second cousin, Josephine Allen Whitney, of New Orleans. Thomas married relatively late in life, if forty years of age can be so considered. Advanced age, however, proved no great handicap, for Thomas, with Josephine's help, produced seven children-six boys and one girl.

Josephine Whitney was no ordinary woman. Among her attributes was a touch of vanity. There are old-time Glassboro residents, for example, who insist that Josephine fancied herself as the town's Queen Victoria, then the proud ruler of the British Empire. In a letter to a friend, a long-deceased Glassborite wrote of Mrs. Josephine Whitney, during her life, was a living duplicate of Queen Victoria of England. She glowed so in this feature that she read widely and well-studied herself on the subject. She copied the dress of the Queen especially in the lavender purple robes that the Queen delighted to wear when out riding. Mrs. Whitney often would appear on the roads of Glassboro, seated in an open Phaeton, drawn by two beautiful white horses and as the people of Glassboro admired she was in her glory.

Glassboro's outstanding business leader, Thomas Whitney, came to the end of life's road in 1882. His death occurred under tragic circumstances. Upon retiring from active work, he formed the habit of taking rides in his wagon, enjoying the beauty of country roads. On one of these rides, at age 69, he suddenly collapsed from a stroke, falling from his wagon to the ground where he was later found face submerged in a pool of water. Somehow one cannot help but feel that the circumstances of his death were out of keeping with the excitement he had found in life. With his departure an era ended, as did a large portion of the Whitney family strength and power.

Samuel Whitney

This was the youngest of the three nineteenth-century Whitney brothers; he also became the wealthiest and best educated one of the trio. As is frequently true with younger brothers in financially distressed families, Samuel had advantages which of necessity were denied his older breadwinner brothers. To him, for example, were provided opportunities to obtain a formal education in his early years, a chance Thomas Whitney never had--the family treasury was far too low. Measured by modern practice, however, Samuel Whitney became gainfully employed at an early age; he was fifteen when he obtained a position in Samuel Reeve's store in Haddonfield. After a few years in this job, he returned to Glassboro where he became an apprentice in his brother Thomas' glass factory. In this role, Samuel learned the practical aspects of making glass. In a short time, his brother increased Samuel's glass business know-how by making him an assistant in the Whitney-owned store. He was an apt pupil, learning quickly the mysteries of operating a glass works, an achievement which won him the position of plant general manager. The thorough Thomas Whitney added further to his brother's glass works all-around competence by sending him to Philadelphia to take charge of the company warehouse operations. His education in the company business complete after the Philadelphia sojourn, Samuel came back to Glassboro as a full partner with Thomas in The Whitney Works. Samuel Whitney's nineteenth century style of vocational education in glassmaking was worth the time and money Thomas Whitney had invested in it. Like his brother Thomas, Samuel Whitney had all of the tools which made him a success in the highly capitalistic nineteenth century business world a willingness to work around the clock, a drive to get things done, and an adroitness in handling finances. In fact, it was evident that Samuel was an even better financier than his highly-regarded brother. At least, he was more successful in conserving his wealth. Whereas Thomas Whitney left about $120,000 by the terms of his final will, Samuel's heirs inherited about one-half of a million dollars.

Evidently, Samuel Whitney knew how to make money and how to hold on to it. This skill at times mystified his brother, Eben. According to a story which went the rounds in Glassboro, Eben got the answer to the puzzle one day in Paul's Tavern. The unraveling went something like this:

"Sam, how is it that while I have been careful and saving with my money all my life, yet you are so much richer than I am, with all the money you have spent?" "Well, Eben," replied Samuel, "you have always been walking around looking for pennies, and have stepped over dollars."

Yes, Samuel Whitney made dollars, while others were content to make pennies. He was to the capitalist-manor born. In fact, his skill in operating the Whitney Brothers Glass Plant became so great that brother Thomas felt he could safely take the time to meddle in politics over a long period of time. Brother Samuel kept the business booming. Apparently, Samuel had a single- minded devotion to business. Unlike his brother, Thomas, he eschewed active participation in politics, and had little time or inclination for civic responsibilities, for evidence of his citizenship roles is scant. However, he did take time out to become a vestryman in the St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and, probably actuated by patriotism, helped recruit volunteers for the Union Army in the Civil War. This degree of participation did not begin to compare with the civic activities of his older brother.

Eben Whitney

In terms of age, this was the second of the nineteenth century Whitney Brothers; Eben was younger than Thomas but older than Samuel. As his more prominent brothers had done, Eben entered the glassmaking business early in life. And, like his brothers, he mastered the fundamentals of glassmaking before embarking on a managerial and ownership career.

The record seems to show that Eben Whitney preferred to go it alone, choosing not to tie himself completely to the coattails of his brothers. Thus, in 1842, he and his brother-in-law, Woodward Warrick, purchased the Temperanceville Glassworks; the two partners operated the plant until 1849 when Eben bought out Warrick's interest in the firm, continuing as sole owner until 1858. In that year Eben decided it was time to retire; he, therefore, sold the Temperanceville Works to Woodward Warrick, his former partner, and to Thomas Stanger.

One has the feeling that Eben Whitney was not cast in the same mold as his two energetic, driving brothers. His relatively early retirement, for example, indicated that life held out more for him than the mere acquisition of money. Apparently Eben was not interested in emulating his brother Thomas drive for power and wealth or his younger brother Samuel's single-purpose devotion to business affairs. In other words, Eben Whitney was never the capitalist that either of his two brothers was. His estate when probated on his death amounted to $14,752--a sum dwarfed by the money his brothers left to their heirs.

Eben Whitney s career, however, by no means can be adjudged a failure. Compared to Thomas and Samuel Whitney, Eben lived a quieter, more restricted, and a more conservative life. He never set his sights as high as his brothers did, but, measured by normal standards, they were high enough. In terms of worldly attainments and recognition, Eben s achievements appear modest. But this was because he was the brother of Thomas and Samuel.

The Later Whitneys

Upon Thomas Whitney s death, in 1882, John Perkins Whitney, his son, and Thomas W. Synnott, his nephew, assumed control and ownership of the Whitney Glass Company. Under their leadership, the Company continued to prosper for the remainder of the nineteenth century. But the Whitney fortunes began to decline in the early twentieth century and died out altogether, in 1916, when the proud Whitney name disappeared as a glassmaking designation. The famous Big Three Whitneys of the nineteenth century had failed to produce among their ten sons, offspring who had the interest and drive to compete with the new developments automation brought to glassmaking.

These were the Whitneys. How can their contributions to the Glassboro Story be assessed? Without question this group has to be recognized as among the top families in the Borough s history. And the three remarkable Whitney brothers of the nineteenth century deserve the major credit for this accolade. By their energy, astuteness, and drive, they made glassmaking a big business in Glassboro. By this achievement they laid the economic base upon which the community built and grew.

Copyright © 2002, 2006, The Whitney Research Group

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