Henry Oakes Kent by H. H. Metcalf

Among the best known of the representative men of New Hampshire, Col. Henry O. Kent of Lancaster is conceded a prominent position. The Kent family is of English origin, the first of the name in this country being among the settlers of old Newbury, Mass., in 1635. John Kent, a scion of this stock, died in 1780, at Cape Ann, Mass., aged eighty years. His son, Jacob, born at Chebacco (now Essex), Mass., in 1726, settled in Plaistow in this state. In 1760, a regiment commanded by Col. John Goffe was raised in New Hampshire for the invasion of Canada, one company of which was officered by John Hazen, captain; Jacob Kent (above named), first lieutenant; and Timothy Beadle, second lieutenant. This regiment marched to Number Four (Charlestown), cutting a road through the forest to the Green Mountains, and thence to Crown Point on Lake Champlain, where they took water transportation. After a successful campaign they returned through the wilderness, via the Newbury meadows or the "Cohos country," with the fertility of which region Lieut.-Col. Jacob Bayley, Capt. Hazen, and Lieutenants Kent and Beadle were so favorably impressed that they determined to return and found a settlement. The project was soon carried out, Bayley and Kent locating on the western, and Hazen and Beadle on the eastern, side of the river, from which settlements sprang the towns of Newbury and Haverhill. Jacob Kent died at Newbury, in 1812, at the age of eighty-six years. He was a noted man in his section, commander of the first company of militia in the towns of Newbury and Haverhill "in our province of New Hampshire," as says his commission, signed in 1764 by Benning Wentworth, which, with his sword, borne in two wars, is now in Col. Kent's possession. During the Revolution, while burdened with the cares of the infant settlement, he was an earnest actor in the scenes which gave us our independence. He was colonel of the forces in his vicinity, and on the advance of Burgoyne started with his regiment for the field, and was present with it at the capitulation at Saratoga. The original homestead is still in the family, Col. Jacob Kent—a gentleman through a long life well known in the political, military, and social circles of Vermont—being the present owner.

Jacob Kent, first named, left three sons,—Jacob, John, and Joseph. John Kent, grandfather of the subject of this sketch, settled in the town of Lyman, where he died in 1842, leaving four sons and one daughter. The father of Col. Kent—Richard Peabody Kent—was one of these sons, his mother, Tabitha Peabody, being a daughter of Lieutenant Richard Peabody of the Revolutionary army. He is still in active business in Lancaster, where he settled and engaged in mercantile pursuits in 1828. During this long career his affairs have been transacted with scrupulous integrity, exactitude, and honor. Though never in public life, he has always taken a deep interest in the material and educational welfare of the community. On the maternal side the ancestry of Col. Kent is traced to Richard Mann, "a planter in the family of Elder Brewster," who was one of the colony of the Mayflower. From him descended that John Mann, born December 25, 1743, who was the first permanent settler of the town of Orford, N. H., October, 1765. To him were born fifteen children, of whom Solomon Mann was well known in the state. Emily, second daughter of Solomon Mann, married Henry Oakes, an active and well known business man at Waterford and Fairlee, Vt. To Henry and Emily (Mann) Oakes were born three daughters and a son. One of the daughters, Emily Mann Oakes, was married to Richard P. Kent at Littleton, June 5, 1832. To this union there were born three children—sons—Henry Oakes, Edward Richard, and Charles Nelson.

Henry Oakes Kent was born in Lancaster, February 7, 1834. He attended the district school and Lancaster Academy, and graduated from Norwich Military University in the class of 1854, receiving later the degree of A. M. He studied law with Hon Jacob Benton, and was admitted to the bar at Lancaster in May, 1858. Soon after, he became the proprietor of the Coos Republican, and assumed the editorial and business management of that paper, his strong interest in political affairs and the fortunes of the Republican party, with which he was actively indentified, impelling him to this step, in taking which he relinquished the prospect of a successful and distinguished career at the bar. In the management of the Republican, both financial and editorial, he displayed rare skill and ability. His leading articles were always strong, vigorous, earnest, and secured for his paper, notwithstanding its remote location from the Capital, an influential position among the party journals of the state. It is safe to say that from the time when he assumed its management until 1870, when he sold it,—a period of twelve years,—no paper in the state rendered more efficient support to the party with which it was allied, or advocated more heartily all measures tending to advance the material prosperity of the section in which it was located, than did the Coos Republican under the direction of Col. Kent.

Since 1870 he has attended to a large and growing general office business, to which he had previously given more or less attention, and also to the interests of the Savings Bank for the County of Coos, for which institution he secured the charter in 1868, and of which he is and has been a trustee and the treasurer. He is also an owner and manager of the Lancaster paper-mill; is treasurer of the Pleasant Valley Starch Company, and is president of the Lancaster and Kilkenny Railroad Company, a corporation organized to develop the resources of the adjoining forest town of Kilkenny. The encouragement of local enterprise and industry has, indeed, always been one of his characteristics.

As has been indicated, Col. Kent entered political life as a Republican, and was an active advocate of the cause and policy of that party, with pen and voice, until after the election of Gen. Grant to the presidency. In 1855, when but twenty-one years of age, he was chosen assistant clerk of the house of representatives, and re-elected the following year. In 1857 he was chosen clerk of the house, discharging the duties of that office, for three successive years, with a readiness and efficiency which have never been excelled by any incumbent. In those days the previous question was not in vogue, and roll-calls were frequent. So familiar did Col. Kent become with the roll, which embraced over three hundred names, that he called it from memory, and it is related that, having called the roll nineteen times in one day, it became so impressed upon his mind that he called it over at night in his sleep, after retiring at the Eagle. In 1862 he was chosen a representative from Lancaster, and served with marked ability, his previous experience as clerk admirably fitting him for the discharge of legislative duties. He served that year as chairman of the committee on military affairs; a position of great importance, considering the fact that we were then in the midst of the war period. His next appearance in the legislature was in 1868, when he served as chairman of the committee on railroads, and again in 1869, when he was at the head of the finance committee. During each year of his legislative service he occupied a prominent position among the leaders of his party in the house, displaying marked ability in debate, and energy and industry in the committee-room.

In 1858 a commission was appointed, by the states of Maine and New Hampshire, "to ascertain, survey, and mark" the boundary between them. The line had been established in 1784, and revised in 1825, when Ichabod Bartlett and John W. Weeks were the commissioners on the part of New Hampshire. The duty of representing this state upon the commission of 1858 was assigned to Col. Kent, and the work was performed during the autumn of that year, through the wilderness, from the Crown Monument, as far south as the towns of Fryeburg and Conway. Col. Kent's connection with this work is perpetuated in the mountain bearing his name, on the northeastern frontier, laid down on the state map of 1860, and in subsequent surveys. In 1864 he was one of the presidential electors of this state, and from 1866 to 1868 inclusive, he was one of the bank commissioners.

At the outbreak of the rebellion Col. Kent volunteered in aid of the Union cause. He was ordered to Concord by Gov. Goodwin, commissioned assistant adjutant-general, with the rank of colonel, and assigned to duty in the recruiting service. Raising a company in a few days at Lancaster, he was ordered to Portsmouth, where he aided to organize and send out the Second Regiment and to fit the garrison at Fort Constitution. He continued on duty as assistant adjutant-general (the only one ever appointed in New Hampshire) until after the earlier regiments had left the state; but when a call was issued for three additional regiments from New Hampshire, in the fall of 1862, he was commissioned colonel of the Seventeenth, which was raised mainly by his personal efforts and upon the strength of his name, and organized and thoroughly drilled and disciplined under his command. Under the exigencies of the service, however, and by orders received from the secretary of war, the regiment was consolidated with the Second, whose ranks had become heavily depleted, the men being transferred and the officers necessarily mustered out, the governor in "general orders," regretting the necessity for this action and complimenting the Seventeenth for its high discipline and soldierly demeanor. As it was, few men, if any, in the state, did more than Col. Kent to promote the efficiency of the service, and to maintain the reputation of New Hampshire for prompt and patriotic effort in the Union cause,—a cause which he sustained by pen and voice and active personal effort throughout the entire struggle. He has been connected with the Grand Army of the Republic since its organization, is past commander of his Post, and is a frequent and popular speaker at the Veterans' reunions and on Memorial-day occasions.

Col. Kent was an active member of the organization known as the "Governor's Horse-Guards," which was formed for parade on the occasion of the annual inauguration of the governor, in which he held the office of major in 1860, and rode as colonel in 1863, 1864, and 1865.

In his association with, and labor for, the Republican party, Col. Kent was actuated by his opposition to the institution of slavery, which he regarded as prejudicial to the republic. He maintained his convictions earnestly, yet candidly, in his paper and on the stump. But after the war and the downfall of slavery, he favored the burial of past issues and sectional bitterness, and the restoration of fraternal relations, as essential to the general prosperity of the country. Regarding the policy of the administration as inimical to such result, he was unable to sustain it. He therefore disposed of his paper, which as a party organ he could not conscientiously carry to the opposition, and engaged in the development and organization of the Liberal movement, which resulted in the Cincinnati convention and the nomination of Horace Greeley for president in 1872. He participated in that convention, and was a member of the National and chairman of the State Liberal Republican committee in 1872 and 1873. In 1873 the Liberals ran an independent state ticket, but united with the Democracy on a common platform in 1874. The resolutions of the Liberal convention, announcing such purpose, were presented in the Democratic convention by Col. Kent, whose appearance and announcement elicited strong demonstrations of enthusiasm in that body. The campaign thus opened, ended in the election of a Democratic governor and legislature,—a result to which the earnest labors of Col. Kent largely contributed. In recognition of his efficient services, as well as acknowledged ability, he was accorded the Democratic congressional nomination in the third district in 1875, and again in 1877 and 1878. In each of the attendant canvasses, he spoke continuously, and ran largely ahead of his party vote, especially in his own town and vicinity. In all subsequent campaigns Col. Kent has heartily devoted his energies to the furtherance of Democratic principles, and has been active upon the stump in New Hampshire and outside the state, and always with numerous calls and large audiences.

Col. Kent is now fully engaged in the direction of his business concerns, which furnish an ample field for his energies and talent; yet he has in no degree abated his interest in public and political affairs. As has been said, he has given earnest encouragement to all enterprises calculated to promote the material welfare and prosperity of his section. In the advancement of educational interests he has also been earnestly engaged. He is a trustee and chairman of the executive committee of the corporation of Lancaster Academy, and is also a trustee of Norwich University, and president of the "Associated Alumni and Past Cadets" of that institution. In 1875 he addressed the Associated Alumni at their reunion, and in 1876, by request, delivered an address at commencement which for its eloquence and patriotic sentiments secured hearty and general commendation. He was, last year, one of the corporators of the Yorktown Centennial Association, named by the legislature of Virginia. He has long been prominent in the Masonic order, having passed the chair in North Star Lodge at Lancaster, and frequently been district deputy grand master. In 1868 and 1869 he was grand commander of the order of Knights Templars and appendant orders for the jurisdiction of New Hampshire. In 1880 he was made the recipient of a past masters badge of solid gold, from the Masons of his section.

Col. Kent was married, in Boston, January 11, 1859, to Berenice A. Rowell. They have two children, a daughter,—Berenice Emily,—born October 31, 1866, and a son,—Henry Percy,—born March 8, 1870. His religious associations are with the Episcopal church, and he is, with his family, a regular attendant upon the service of St. Paul's at Lancaster.

Of fine presence, genial and courteous manners, and strong personal magnetism, public spirited, generous, and obliging, his popularity in his section is great, as is evidenced by the large vote which he always receives when his name is upon the ticket, in his own town. Still young, endowed with strong mental powers, well known as a writer and public speaker, ambitious and courageous, it is fair to presume that he will yet attain still greater prominence and usefulness in public and private life.