Archive:Baltimore Biography

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Clayton Coleman Hall, ed., Baltimore: Its History and People (New York, Chicago: Lewis Historical Publishing Co.), vol. II, Biography, pp. 267-271.

[p. 267]


More than half a century ago the arrival of a little steamer in the port of Baltimore marked one of the important incidents in the history of the Monumental City, making it one of the great ports for coastwise traffic and aiding it in becoming one of the greatest commercial centres in the country. To-day Baltimore numbers among her foremost citizens Joseph C. Whitney, president of the Merchants' and Miners' Transportation Company, the organization which sent that little steamer as the herald of a long line of noble vessels which were to constitute the greatest independent coastwise line in the United States.

Mr. Whitney is descended from the Whitneys of Whitney, a knightly [p. 268] family of considerable distinction, the history of which is traced through the following generations:

The name Whitney signified a place long before it was used as a personal name. The parish of Whitney is situated in the western part of Herefordshire, in the beautiful valley of the Wye, not far from a mountain torrent subject to frequent floods. It is thought that the name was suggested by this torrent, being composed of two Anglo-Saxon words signifying "white" and "water," hence, "white water." The name occurs in Doomsday Book, showing Whitney to have been one of nine tracts of land granted by William the Conqueror to Sir Turstin, known as "Turstin the Fleming," and Turstin de Wigmore, the son of Rolf. Sir Turstin married Agnes, daughter of Alured de Merleberge, one of the great barons of the realm, who settled on her, with other lands, the estate of Penscombe. Sir Turstin and his wife had two sons, Eustace and Turstin, the elder of whom, in accordance with the law of primogeniture, succeeded to the estates. The son or grandson of Eustace, some time between 11oo or 1200, engaged in border wars, built a stronghold at Whitney, and made that his home, taking the name of the place for a surname, according to an old custom, and prefixing de, de Whitney. The first mention of a de Whitney, Robert de Wytteneye, occurs in the Testa de Nevil, 1242. There are numerous records of his son, Sir Eustace de Wytteneye, and thenceforward we find authentic accounts of each head of the family. As sheriffs, as knights of the shire in parliament and as justices of the peace, the family can be traced in Herefordshire from the twelfth century, when the name originatd, to 1799.

The descendants of Turstin the Fleming through Thomas Whitney, mentioned below, display the following arms: Azure, a cross chequy or, and gules. Crest: A bull's head couped sable, armed or, the points gules. Motto: Magnanimiter crucem sustine.

Thomas Whitney, on May 10, 1583, obtained from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster a license to marry Mary, daughter of John Bray. In this document he is described as "Thomas Whitney, of Lambeth Marsh, gentleman," and the marriage took place May 12, at St. Margaret's church. The name Lambeth Marsh is still applied to a place near the Surrey end of Westminster bridge. In 1611 Thomas Whitney was appointed executor of the will of his father-in-law, John Bray, and in April, 1637, he died. He and his wife were the parents of the following children: Margaret, Thomas, Henry, Arnwaye, John, mentioned below; Nowell, Francis, Mary, Robert.

(II) John Whitney, son of Thomas and Mary (Bray) Whitney, was born in 1589, and was baptized in St. Margaret's Parish Church, July 20, 1592, under the shadow of the famous Abbey. He was educated at Westminster School, now St. Peter's College, and on February 22, 1607, was apprenticed by his father to William Pring, of Old Bailey. March 13, 1614, he became a member of the Merchant Tailors' Company, the most famous and prosperous of the great trade guilds, numbering among those associated with it the Prince of Wales and members of the nobility. Soon after his admission John Whitney married Elinor, born in 1599,

and lived at Islesworth-on-the-Thames, later moving to Bowe Lane. In April, 1634, he and his wife, with their sons, were registered as passengers on the ship "Elizabeth and Ann," Roger Cooper, master, and they appear to have arrived in June, of the same year, in Massachusetts. They settled in Watertown, where John Whitney purchased a homestead of sixteen acres and made his permanent home. Before 1642 the town granted him nine other lots, making in all one hundred and ninety-eight acres, and he also [p. 269] made several purchases of land and aided all his sons in their settlements. March 3, 1636, he was made a freeman, and June 1, 1641, was appointed by the General Court constable of Watertown. He served as selectman from 1638 to 1655, inclusive, and in the latter year held the office of town clerk. His wife died May 11, 1659, and on September 29, of the same year, he married Judith Clement, whom he also survived, his death occurring June 1, 1673. His children, all by his first wife, were: Mary, John, mentioned below; Richard, Nathaniel, Thomas, Jonathan, Joshua, Caleb, Benjamin.

(III) John Whitney, son of John and Eleanor Whitney, was born in 1621, in London, England, and was fourteen years old when the family emigrated. He passed his life, thereafter, in Watertown, and married, in 1642, Ruth Reynolds. He died October 12, 1692.

(IV) Nathaniel Whitney, son of John and Ruth (Reynolds) Whitney, was born February 1, 1646, and removed to Weston, Massachusetts, where he passed the remainder of his life. He married, March 12, 1673, Sarah Hagar, and died January 7, 1732, having nearly completed his eighty-sixth year.

(V) William Whitney, son of Nathaniel and Sarah (Hagar) Whitney, was born May 6, 1683, and always lived at Weston. He married, May 17, 1706, Martha Pierce, and died January 24, 1720, while still a young man, being less than thirty-seven years old.

(VI) Samuel Whitney, son of William and Martha (Pierce) Whitney, was born May 23, 1719, and at some period of his life removed from Weston to Westminster, Massachusetts. He bore the title of lieutenant, but whether it was gained in service in the French and Indian war or in the Revolutionary army does not appear. He married, October 20, 1741, Abigail Fletcher, and died in Westminster, January 1, 1782.

(VII) Silas Whitney, son of Samuel and Abigail (Fletcher) Whitney, was born October 20, 1752, in Westminster, and as a young man settled in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, which was thenceforth his home until the close of his life. The records designate him as captain, and he probably served with that rank in the Continental army. He married Sarah Withington, January 27, 1774, and his death occurred November 14, 1798.

(VIII) Silas Whitney, son of Silas and Sarah (Withington) Whitney, was born October 1, 1779, and passed his entire life at Ashburnham. As he also was called captain it would seem that he must have served in the War of 1812. He married, December 31, 1801, Hannah Cushing, and died September 4, 1846.

(IX) Joseph Cushing Whitney, son of Silas and Hannah (Cushing) Whitney, was born January 23, 1818, at Ashburnham, but came at the age of twelve or fourteen to Baltimore, where he was for some time employed by his uncle, Joseph Cushing, first president of the Baltimore Savings Bank. Afterward he went into business for himself, opening a stationery and book store on North Howard street, which he conducted successfully for nearly forty years. During the latter part of his life he was in the service of the Merchants' and Miners' Transportation Company. His brother, the late Milton Whitney, was at one time State's Attorney for Baltimore City. Joseph Cushing Whitney married Florence E. Weston, and three children were born to them: Joseph Cushing, mentioned below; and two daughters, Maria Louise, who became the wife of B. T. Stokes, of Baltimore, and Florence W. Whitney, living in Baltimore. Mr. Whitney died March 3, 1886, at his home in Baltimore, having been for half a century one of the most esteemed business men of the Monumental City.

(X) Joseph Cushing Whitney, son of Joseph Cushing and Florence [p. 270] E. (Weston) Whitney, was born May 14, 1857, in Baltimore, and attended different private schools in his native city until reaching the age of thirteen, when he became a page in the Peabody Library, remaining there for two years. He then spent another two years as clerk in a wholesale house on Comas street, and at the end of that time entered the service of the Merchants' and Miners' Transportation Company, beginning as agent's office boy. He was successively promoted to be delivery clerk on the wharf, collector and freight solicitor, remaining in the last-named position until 1889, when he became traffic manager. In March, 1902, he was made vice-president, and on October 18, 1906, was elected president of the company, succeeding Michael Jenkins, who was made chairman of the board of directors.

Under Mr. Whitney's able management the company has continued to prosper and expand and offers the shipping and traveling public a means of transportation excelled by no other line. The company was chartered in April, 1852, and it is worthy of note that the little steamer which arrived in Baltimore on New Year's Day, 1855, bore the name of Joseph Whitney. That steamer and one other were the only vessels the company then had in operation, and they plied only between Boston and Baltimore. To-day the several lines of the Merchants' and Miners' Transportation Company extend from the rock-bound coast of New England to the shores of the Sunny South, and while much may be said of those who, in the early days, had the foresight, energy and ability to establish and foster the organization, and whose efforts were crowned with success, there is one to whom the prosperity of later years is due to a degree which it is difficult to estimate, Joseph C. Whitney, president, to-day, of this great line of coastwise steamers. To the solution of the many and perplexing problems constantly presented to him as chief executive, he brings the intellectual vigor and promptness of action of the true man of business, always clear-headed and prepared for any possible emergency.

Great as are Mr. Whitney's business responsibilities, he does not allow himself to be absorbed by them, but is prominently identified with a number of social organizations, being one of the governors of the Maryland Club and a member of the Baltimore Country Club, the Elkridge Fox Hunting Club, the Baltimore Club, the Merchants' Club, the Green Spring Valley Fox Hunting Club, the Baltimore Yacht Club, the Oglethorpe Club of Savannah, Georgia, the Hope Club of Providence, the Seminole Club of Jacksonville, and the Virginia Club of Norfolk, Virginia. He is a Republican in politics, and his religious affiliations are with the Protestant Episcopal church.

Mr. Whitney married, January 24, 1882, at Christ Church, Baltimore, Caroline Lee, daughter of William Albana Clark, of Howard county. The only child of this marriage was a son, J. Clark, who died May 28, 1909, leaving unfulfilled the fond anticipations and bright hopes of his parents, anticipations and hopes which were well founded, for he was a lad of great promise, but bequeathing to them the rich legacy of priceless recollections. Mr. and Mrs. Whitney are both extremely popular for their many genial social qualities, and their home is a center of gracious and refined hospitality. Mr. Whitney is fond of outdoor life, and when residing at his delightful country seat situated in the beautiful Green Spring Valley loves to be surrounded by his friends and at the same time to indulge his rural tastes. He is a devoted son of Baltimore, and has thus far spent his whole life in his native city, where all his interests, business, social and domestic, are centered. He never wearies of endeavoring to benefit in any way possible [p. 271] to him the beloved place of his birth, and no cause which tends to promote her welfare or further her best interests appeals to him in vain. He is a transplanted scion of New England stock firmly rooted in the genial soil of Maryland.

Mr. Whitney is one of those men whose lives are object lessons to the youth of our land. Always ambitious and eager to improve every opportunity, he began at the bottom of the ladder and slowly but surely worked his way upward. One important factor in his success was the genial, obliging disposition which won friends for him under all conditions and which now renders him one of the most popular men, personally, in the Monumental City. The great organization of which he is the head is constantly advancing under his able leadership and all its undertakings rest upon the sure foundation of unimpeachable honor and incorruptible integrity. In the contemplation of such a career as his comment seems superfluous and praise becomes idle, if not impertinent. It is seldom that we meet a man of whom it can be truthfully declared that the record of his deeds constitutes his eulogy. Occasionally, however, such a man appears, a few such men, perhaps, in a lifetime. We all know them when we see them, they are easily recognized, and one of the foremost of them is Joseph C. Whitney, president of the Merchants' and Miners' Transportation Company.

Copyright © 2011, Robert L. Ward and the Whitney Research Group.