One of the Early "Gentry" of the Village---
Anxiety About the Proposed Reduction of Fares on the River Railroad
From Our Special Correspondent.
The name of Maj Henry Smith is inseparably associated with the social and political history of this town and county for nearly half a century, beginning back about as early as 1820. He belonged to that circle of old-timers familiarly known as the ruffled-shirt gentry, and which included some of the brainiest men in Vermont. They were not all residents of Brattleboro, but were scattered throughout the county, though in close sympathy and fellowship. They were not all of the same political or religious creed, yet in turn they seemed to have shared public favors with befitting dignity and honor. It was indeed a notable roll of able and honored men of fine personal appearance and bearing. Maj Smith's strong intellectual face invariably pleasant, together with his dignity of manner, were distinguishing characteristics, and to-day he is spoken of as the handsomest man of his period. He was prominent in Masonic circles, a good auctioneer, and the social event was thought to be incomplete without his attendance, together with that of his friend and associate, Col Chase, his contemporary in the hotel business.
Maj Smith was born in Hadley, Mass., November 23, 1792, and died in Brattleboro August 27, 1865. His father, Windsor Smith, was a native of Hadley, and his mother, Elizabeth Robins of Wethersfield, Ct. Henry was educated in Hadley, as was his wife, Ruth Dickinson. They were married the day after he was 21 and soon his father started him as a merchant in Northampton, where for six years he did a large and prosperous business. His store took fire a few hours after his insurance ran out and he lost everything. He then removed to Albany, N. Y., where he engaged in the wholesale grocery business, having as partners his brother and brother-in-law. Through the unfaithfulness of the latter they failed and soon after Henry moved to Brattleboro. For several years he kept the old Brattleboro house which in those days was widely known as a popular stage house. Col Paul Chase bought him out and he then engaged in several different business enterprises, in all of which he proved himself an upright and esteemed citizen.
He held a number of public offices of trust and responsibility, among them that of high sheriff, judge of probate, justice of the peace, and in 1848 he was appointed postmaster, serving till the following June, when he was succeeded by Franklin Fessenden. He was for several years a director of the Vermont mutual fire insurance company of Montpelier, and for a long period the company's local agent. He again bought the old tavern of Col Chase, which he kept through the prosperous staging days. His genial nature and generous hospitality won for him a valued friendship from all parts of New England.
One day Rev Mr Clapp, who was the beloved pastor of the Congregational church, was sent for by the major to marry a couple at the hotel. After the ceremony, which was very brief, the pastor quietly informed the counteous landlord that it was his first marriage ceremony. "You did finely, Mr Clapp," replied the major with some warmth. "Well," continued the pastor, "when I married that couple I thought it was not worth while to cast pearls before swine, but when either of your remaining daughters are married I shall try to do my best." Maj Smith prided himself on his punctuality in everything, and all who knew him had occasion to note that trait in his character. Late in life he made a public confession of his Christian faith and many of the old settlers of Brattleboro will remember the solemn occasion when he, the then white haired, venerable and always honored man, stood up with two young men and united with the church. He never had a sick day till he was attacked with paralysis which disabled him for several years. He survived his estimable wife four or five years, and died at the home of Frank Fessenden at the age of 72. Three of his seven children are now living, one being Elisha D. Smith of Menasha, Wis., who has recently handsomely endowed the proposed home for aged and infirm. Maj Smith was an affectionate father, and provided well for his family, but later in life the depreciation in Vermont and Massachusetts railroad stock, losses by indorsing for friends, with other losses, left him dependent. Nevertheless he left a more priceless record, alike honorable and just, a character above reproach among those with whom he was wont to associate.
Reprinted from the Springfield Republican April 8, 1893.
Brattleboro correspondent Frederick W. Childs.
Print, Watercolor, Coat Of Arms, Rope Twist Frame, Wood Back, 1821
Abigail, Elizabeth, Obadiah, Belinda Ann, Henry, Electa
Roger Bob, Horace, Charles, Frederic, Miranda
Looking out of the window of our domicil one day last week, we saw quite a jam at the Temple of Justice, the windows thereof being literally crammed with heads, the bodies thereto appended hanging upon the outside like rats caught in a wire trap. We stepped over to the Major's, and lo! there sat his Honor, with six men, grave as the "Bashaw with seven tails," a brace of lawyers chuckling over the anticipated fee, and two men, whom we afterwards learned were plaintiff and defendant, sat opposite looking daggers at each other. We soon gathered from the reading of the plaintiff's writ, which was not quite "twelve feet long," that a gentleman, not having the fear of the law before his eyes, had been so impudent, to use the language of the attorney for plaintiff, as to "kick my client with his great heavy boot," where Hudibrass facetiously places the seat of honor. This was a great indignity, whereby the majesty of the laws had been violated, as well as to the manifest injury of the gentleman kicked; for, as said one of the witnesses, "he limped sometimes with one leg, and sometimes with the other." Here plaintiff rested his case, and defendant introduced a witness to prove, as we suppose, that the damages sustained in the premises should be "on the other leg," as witness seemed to think that defendant's boot, of the two, was the most injured. The attorneys made a couple of thundering speeches, to earn their fees, no doubt, when his Honor summed up the case, and the jury, after retiring a few moments, brought in a verdict of two dollars and fifty cents damages for plaintiff. So the price of one gentleman's kicking another gentleman's "seat of honor," is established at $2.50.
Vermont Phoenix, June 20, 1845.
Written by William E. Ryther.
1827 - 1899
Winnebago County, Wisconsin