George Alfred Pillsbury by Frank H. Carleton

New Hampshire is a small state, yet her sons and daughters are scattered far and wide. They have not only built up a prosperous and influential commonwealth at home, furnishing a talent and genius too great to be circumscribed by territorial lines, but they have greatly aided in laying the foundations and building up the newer sections of our country. Let any person pass through the mighty West, and thence to the great Northwest which to-day is doing vastly more than any section to supply the world with bread, and he will be surprised to find the great number of sons of New Hampshire who have attained reputation, position, and influence. In the highest ranks of commerce, at the bar, and from the pulpit, they wield a great influence. Their names are too numerous to be enumerated, yet it is to but few that the distinction is given of being distinguished in two states, and these as far apart as Minnesota and New Hampshire. To this small but honored class belongs the subject of this brief sketch, George Alfred Pillsbury, one of a family whose name suggests high qualities.

The family history has been traced as far back as Joshua Pillsbury, who settled a grant of land at what is now Newburyport, Mass., in the year 1640,—a grant which for over two hundred and forty years has been in the possession of the Pillsbury family. Following him, next came in the line of descent Caleb Pillsbury, who was born January 26, 1717, for several years and at the time of his decease a member of the Massachusetts provincial legislature. Caleb Pillsbury left a son Micajah, who was born in Amesbury, Mass., May 22, 1763, and married Sarah Sargent. The result of this union was four daughters, and four sons—Stephen, Joseph, John, and Moses. With this family Micajah Pillsbury removed to Sutton, N. H., where he remained until his death, in 1802, occupying various positions of town trust. His wife survived him several years. Of these sons, Stephen Pillsbury was a Baptist clergyman, who died in Londonderry. The other brothers, including John Pillsbury, the father of the subject of this sketch, were all magistrates of the town of Sutton. The youngest sister married Nathan Andrews, a gentleman well known in the annals of Sutton.

John Pillsbury was born in 1789. He was prominent in the town affairs of Sutton, being a selectman for several years, and representing the town in the state legislature. He was also a captain in the militia in those days of the fife and drum, when a commission had a significance. On April 2, 1811, he married Susan Wadleigh, daughter of Benjamin Wadleigh, a settler in Sutton in 1771. Benjamin Wadleigh was a descendant of Robert Wadleigh of Exeter, a member of the provincial legislature of Massachusetts. On the maternal side the ancestry was good. The maternal grandmother was the daughter of Ebenezer Kezar, who, it is related, concealed the girl whom he afterwards married, under a pile of boards, at the time Mrs. Duston was captured, in 1697. He was identified with the early history of Sutton in many ways.

As we have said, John and Susan Pillsbury were the father and mother of the subject of these lines. They were a hardy, vigorous, and exemplary parent stock. To them were born five children, to wit: Simon Wadleigh Pillsbury, born June 22, 1812; George Alfred, August 29, 1816; Dolly W., September 6, 1818; John Sargent, July 29, 1827; and Benjamin Franklin, March 29, 1831. All of the children received the common-school education of those days; but Simon W., whose natural fondness for study distinguished him as a young man, gave his attention to special branches of study, particularly mathematics, in which he became known as one of the best in the state. He delivered the first public lecture in Sutton on the subject of temperance. But too much study wore down his health, and he died in 1836, cutting short a promising future.

Of the other brothers, John Sargent is too well known to need mention. When a boy of sixteen he became a clerk for his brother, George Alfred, at Warner, N. H. In 1848 he formed a business partnership with Walter Harriman in Warner, neither of these two men in those days dreaming that in the future one would be the governor of a state on the Atlantic seaboard, and the other of one on the banks of the great Mississippi. In 1854 John S. settled in Minnesota, at the Falls of St. Anthony, around which has grown up the beautiful city of Minneapolis, with a population of sixty thousand. He shortly entered into the hardware trade, in which he built up the largest business in the state, acquiring a fortune, serving for a dozen years or more as state senator, and finally being elected governor for three successive terms of two years each, being the only governor of Minnesota accorded a third term. His entire administration, which ceased in January, 1882, was a remarkable one, characterized by many acts of wisdom, chief among which was the adjustment of the dishonored state bonds issued at an early day for railroad purposes.

The remaining brother, Benjamin F. Pillsbury, remained in Sutton until 1878, where he filled many places of trust, being elected selectman, treasurer, and state representative. In 1878 he removed to Granite Falls in western Minnesota, where he is extensively engaged in the real estate, grain, and lumber business, and is reckoned one of the leading citizens of his section.

But we have been drawn somewhat from the subject of this article. As we have stated, George Alfred Pillsbury was born in Sutton, N. H., August 29, 1816. He received a thorough common-school education in the rudimentary branches. Of a very quick and active temperament, he very early in life had a strong determination to enter business for himself. At the age of eighteen he became a clerk to a Boston merchant. After a year's experience there, he returned to Sutton and entered into the manufacture of stoves and sheet-iron ware, in company with a cousin, John C. Pillsbury. He continued in this business until February 1840, when he went to Warner into the store of John H. Pearson, where he remained until the following July, when he purchased the business on his own account, and continued in it for some eight years. In the spring of 1848 he entered into a wholesale dry-goods house in Boston, and in 1849 again returned to Warner and engaged in business there until the spring of 1851, when he sold out his interest and went out of mercantile business entirely. During his residence in Warner he was postmaster from 1844 to 1849, was selectman in 1847 and 1849, town treasurer in 1849, and a representative to the general court in 1850 and 1851. He was also selected as chairman of the committee appointed to build the Merrimack county jail in Concord, in 1851-52, with the general superintendence of the construction of the work, which was most faithfully done.

In November, 1851, Mr. Pillsbury was appointed purchasing agent of the Concord Railroad, and commenced his duties in the following December, having in the meantime moved his family to Concord. For nearly twenty-four years he occupied this position, and discharged its duties with rare business ability, showing wise judgment in all his purchases, which amounted to more than three million dollars, and settling more cases of claims against the corporation for alleged injuries to persons and property than all the other officers of the road. He had great quickness of perception and promptness in action, two wonderful business qualities, which, when rightly used, always bring success.

During his residence of twenty-seven years in Concord, he gradually acquired a position which all may envy. Various positions of trust, both in public matters and as a private adviser, were discharged by him most faithfully. He was one of the committee appointed by the Union school-district to build the high school and several other school buildings. He was also interested in the erection of several of the handsome business blocks and fine residences in the city.

In the year 1864, Mr. Pillsbury, with others, established the First National Bank of Concord. From the first he was one of the directors, and in 1866 became its president, which position he held until his departure from the state. He was also more instrumental than any other person in organizing the National Savings Bank in 1867. Of the savings bank he was the first president, and held the position until 1874, when he resigned. During Mr. Pillsbury's management of the First National Bank, it became, in proportion to its capital stock, the strongest bank in the state. Up to December, 1873, when the treasurer was discovered to be a defaulter to a large amount, the savings bank was one of the most successful in the state; but this defalcation, with the general crash in business, required its closing up. Its total deposits up to the time mentioned exceeded three million dollars. The bank finally paid its depositors nearly dollar for dollar and interest, notwithstanding the large defalcation by its treasurer.

Mr. Pillsbury was elected a representative to the general court from ward five, in 1871 and 1872, and was appointed chairman of the committee on the apportionment of public taxes during the session of the legislature in 1872. For several years Mr. Pillsbury was a member of the city councils of Concord, and his intimate knowledge of public affairs led the people to twice elect him as mayor, a position the duties of which he discharged with that rare ability which had characterized all his other affairs; and it was during this time that he decided, after much consideration, and with deep reluctance, to leave Concord and move to Minneapolis, Minn., where he had already acquired large interests. When this resolution was made public, it drew forth strong and wide-spread protests from the citizens and neighbors whom he had served so long, for they felt the state could illy afford to lose such a man. But of this we will speak later.

During his residence in Concord he was identified with all measures to promote the public good. Both by his business judgment and his ready purse did he aid the benevolent and religious organizations. He was actively engaged in establishing the Centennial Home of Concord, for the aged, making large contributions and serving at a trustee. He was also a generous giver to the Orphans' Home at Franklin, and was a trustee from the time of its foundation until he left the state. In 1876 he was appointed, by the city councils, chairman of a committee of three to appraise all the real estate of the city for taxation purposes. Several objects attest his generosity and public spirit, among which might be mentioned the gift to the city of the fine bell in the tower of the Board of Trade building, and the handsome organ in the First Baptist church,—a joint gift from himself and his son, Hon. Charles A. Pillsbury, of Minneapolis. He also made several large contributions towards building and endowing the academy at New London.

Upon his preparing to leave Concord for the West, in the spring of 1878, expressions of regret came to him from all sources. Complimentary resolutions were unanimously adopted by both branches of the city government, and by the First National Bank, the latter testifying most emphatically to his integrity and superior business qualities. The First Baptist church, of which he was an active member during his residence in Concord, and its society also passed similar resolutions. The Webster club, composed of some fifty of the leading citizens, also adopted resolutions regretting deeply his departure. A private testimonial signed by over three hundred of the leading citizens of all branches of business, all the members of the city government, all the banking officers and professional men, was presented, and on the eve of his departure an elegant bronze statue was presented to himself and wife by members of the First Baptist church. In church affairs and acts of private charity he had always shown a strong interest, which drew him friends from all classes of people.

Coming to Minneapolis he was at once recognized, and from the moment he established himself there he took an assured position. He at once entered actively into the milling business (in which he had long been interested) in the firm of C. A. Pillsbury & Co., composed of himself, his brother, Gov. J. S. Pillsbury, and his two sons, Hon. C. A. Pillsbury and Fred C. Pillsbury,—to-day the largest producers of flour in the world, operating five large flouring-mills with a capacity of seven thousand five hundred barrels per day. The business of this firm, while selling a large amount of flour in the United States, has been gradually directed to the European trade, supplying the foreign markets with the very best brands of breadstuffs. To-day there is not a European market in which their flour is not sold extensively and given the highest quotations.

Mr. Pillsbury, much against his wishes, has been crowded again into public life in Minnesota, and only a few weeks since, while on a trip to the Pacific coast, in company with President Villard, to look after the interests of the Northern Pacific Railroad, he was elected a member of the city council of Minneapolis. He is also president of the Board of Trade, vice-president of the Northwestern National Bank, president of the Minneapolis Free Dispensary, and president of the Minnesota Baptist State Association.

Despite his years, Mr. Pillsbury has all the activity and impulses of a man of forty. He is a great friend of young men, aiding them not only by advice but in a practical manner, and, without seeking popularity, finding himself beloved by all. In the city of his adoption he has built himself a handsome residence with spacious grounds. His love for his old home manifests itself in all his tastes, and in his residence he has wrought in the beautiful New Hampshire granite brought from his old home in Concord.

In 1841, Mr. Pillsbury married Margaret S. Carleton, a lady beloved by all, who has always busied herself in acts of goodness and benevolence. No one has ever known her but to love her. From this marriage three children were born, two sons and a daughter,—Charles A., born October 3, 1842; Mary Adda, born April 25, 1848; and Fred C., born August 27, 1852. Mary Adda died May 11, 1849. Charles A. graduated at Dartmouth College in 1863; has been an active and successful business man in Minneapolis for the past twelve years, for the last four years has been a member of the state senate, and is a man greatly respected by all. Fred C. is a practical business man, possessed of sound judgment, and is rapidly making his way in the world.

It is needless to speak of the qualities which have given a gentleman like George A. Pillsbury the position and influence of which we have spoken. They are apparent to all. Starting with integrity and great strength of purpose, possessed of a keen perception, a shrewd judge of men, and an impressive bearing, he has attained an eminence which all may admire. Well may New Hampshire point with pride to such a man.