James Adams Weston by H. H. Metcalf

Much has been written in praise of Manchester, the foremost city of the state in size and importance, in the extent and variety of its manufacturing establishments and in the energy, activity, and public spirit of its citizens. It has been called, also, the "city of governors," and four of the nine living ex-chief-magistrates of the state have their residence within its borders; while still another, residing in the immediate vicinity, is reckoned as substantially a Manchester man. Yet, after all, but one native of Manchester has ever held the office of governor of New Hampshire. What is far more remarkable is the fact, that of twenty men who have been chosen mayor of Manchester, one alone was born within its limits. He and Manchester's only native born governor are one and the same,—the subject of this sketch,—a man who, from the work he has accomplished, as well as from the distinction he has received at the hands of his fellow-citizens, has long been accorded a conspicuous position among the representative men of his city and state.

James Adams Weston was born in Manchester, August 27, 1827. He is a descendant of the seventh generation from John Weston, of Buckinghamshire, England, who aided in establishing the colony at Weymouth (then Wiscasset), Mass., where he went into mercantile business, being among the first to engage in the colonial trade. Returning to England a few years subsequently, he suddenly died there; but in 1644, John Weston, a young son of the deceased, made his way to America, where he joined some of his kindred who had emigrated in the mean time. He finally settled in Reading, Mass., and was the progenitor of the family of which James A. Weston is a representative.

In 1803, Amos Weston, a descendant of John, removed from Reading, with his family, and settled in Manchester, then Derryfield. He was a farmer by occupation, and located in the southeastern part of the town. This Amos Weston was a man of character and influence, and was a member of the committee, chosen in March, 1810, to petition the legislature to change the name of Derryfield to Manchester. A son of the above, Amos Weston, Jr., removed with his parents to Derryfield, and located upon land adjoining that of his father, clearing up from the wilderness the farm since well known in Manchester as the "Weston place." He married Betsy, a daughter of Col. Robert Wilson, of Londonderry, a leading citizen of the town, whose father, James Wilson, came from Londonderry, Ireland, more than one hundred and fifty years ago, and settled at the place now known as Wilson's Crossing. Amos Weston, Jr., was a man of strong mind and sound judgment, and was much in the public service. He officiated as town clerk five years; as selectman, fifteen years, being eleven years chairman of the board; was three times the representative from Manchester in the legislature; and a member of the constitutional convention of 1850. From his union with Betsy Wilson—an estimable and exemplary woman—five children resulted. Of these, the youngest, James A. Weston, is the sole survivor.

Like most sons of New Hampshire farmers, Mr. Weston passed a considerable portion of his time in youth in tilling the soil; but secured a substantial education at the district school and the Manchester and Piscataquog academies. With a strong aptitude for mathematics, he soon determined to apply himself to the study of civil engineering, with a view to making that his avocation in life, teaching school winters in the meantime. So rapidly did he prepare himself for his chosen occupation that at the age of nineteen years he was appointed assistant civil engineer of the Concord Railroad, and immediately (in 1846) commenced work in superintending the laying of the second track of that road. In 1849 he was promoted to the position of chief engineer, which he held for a long series of years. For several years, also, he discharged the duties of road master and master of transportation of the Concord and Manchester & Lawrence railroads. As chief engineer of the Concord & Portsmouth Railroad, he superintended the construction of a considerable portion of the line, as he subsequently did that of the Suncook Valley Railroad. As a civil engineer, he occupies a place in the front rank in his profession in New England; and his services have been in demand far beyond his ability to respond, in making surveys for proposed railways, water-works, etc. Prominent among the public works with which he has been connected in this capacity, may be mentioned the Concord water-works, supplying the capital city with water from Penacook lake, for which he made the survey, and whose construction he superintended.

In his political convictions and associations, Mr. Weston has been a Democrat from youth. Never a machine politician, or even a zealous partisan, though a devoted supporter of the principles and policy of his party, he has won and held the personal respect of both friends and opponents in political affairs; so that, when a candidate for public office (which he has never been except at the urgent solicitation of those who regarded his candidacy essential to party success), he has never failed of strong popular support, measurably exceeding that of his party strength alone. In 1861 he was persuaded to accept the Democratic nomination for mayor of the city. Previous to this time Manchester had almost universally been regarded as a Republican or Whig city. The year previous to Mr. Weston's nomination the Republican candidate had been elected by nearly four hundred and fifty majority. He was defeated, however, by a majority of about two hundred and fifty; while the following year he came within eighteen votes of defeating the opposing candidate, ex-Mayor Theodore T. Abbot, who received on a former occasion a larger vote than had ever been cast for any other candidate.

Again, in 1867, Mr. Weston was pressed into service by his party associates in the city, as a mayoralty candidate against Hon. Joseph B. Clark, then mayor, and Republican candidate for re-election. This canvass resulted in his election by a majority of two hundred and seventy-two, and by a larger vote than had ever been received by any previous candidate except that for Mayor Abbot, in 1855. At the next election the Republicans made a strong and determined effort to regain their ascendency in the city; but, although they had carried the city for Gen. Grant for president, at the election but a few weeks previous, by about six hundred majority, the ward returns at the municipal election gave Mayor Weston a majority of seven votes over his Republican opponent, Hon. Isaac W. Smith. The "revising" process was resorted to, however, and the latter declared elected by twenty-three majority. In 1869, Mr. Weston defeated Mayor Smith by a good majority, and was re-elected the following year.

Naturally enough, Mayor Weston's remarkable success as the standard-bearer of his party in the city of Manchester, and the increased popularity he had secured by wise and efficient administration of municipal affairs in that large and prosperous community, suggested him to the Democracy of the state at large as a most fit and available candidate for the gubernatorial nomination; and at the state convention, in January, 1871, he was made the nominee of the party for governor. The election resulted in no choice of governor by the people, though Mr. Weston received a decided plurality of the votes cast, and was chosen governor by the legislature in June following,—the Republicans thus losing control of the state government for the first time since their advent to power in 1855. Determined to retrieve their fallen fortunes, the Republican leaders, in 1872, brought to the front, as their standard-bearer and gubernatorial nominee, Hon. Ezekiel A. Straw, agent of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, a man of great resources and unparalleled influence in manufacturing circles, not only in Manchester, but throughout the state. His defeat of Gov. Weston in the following canvass was a matter of no surprise to either party; and his re-election the subsequent year naturally resulted. The Democracy, however, insisted on continuing Mr. Weston as their candidate; and in 1874 he secured a handsome plurality, and was again elected governor by the legislature. In December previous he had received the unusual distinction of a fourth election as mayor of his city, being chosen by a majority much larger than he had ever before received, reaching some six hundred votes. Although there was great partisan excitement in the state during Mr. Weston's second administration, his official integrity and thorough devotion to the welfare of the state were conceded even by his most determined political opponents; and no man holds in fuller measure the respect and esteem of the people, regardless of party, than does James A. Weston, the only living Democrat who ever occupied that position.

In the prosperity of his native city, in every material direction, Mr. Weston has manifested a deep and abiding interest, and no man has labored more zealously or efficiently for the promotion thereof. In illustration may be cited the fact that to his efforts, individual and official, more than those of any other man, the city is indebted for the projection and completion of its superior water-works, by which an ample supply of pure water is secured from Lake Massabesic. Various sources of supply had long been considered, but he had been, from the first, an advocate of the Massabesic project, and his influence had done much to secure its favorable consideration. In 1871, while mayor of the city, he had the satisfaction of seeing definite action determined upon in that direction. Having been actively engaged in securing the necessary legislation, and becoming ex officio a member of the board of commissioners established to carry out the work, he devoted his efforts heartily to its inauguration, and no day of his life, probably, ever brought him more sincere gratification than that which witnessed the completion of this important work,—a source of daily blessing to the people of his city, and of just pride to those under whose advice and direction it was projected and executed, among whom he is properly regarded most prominent. He is still a member of the board of water commissioners; is chairman of the board of trustees of the Manchester cemetery fund, a member of the committee on cemeteries, and has long served as its clerk and treasurer.

Gov. Weston served as chairman of the New Hampshire centennial commission, was appointed by congress a member of the centennial board of finance, and his efforts contributed largely to the excellence of the New Hampshire exhibit and the general success of the exposition. He also served as chairman of the building committee of the Manchester soldiers' monument, and has recently been appointed a member of the state board of health, established under the act of the last legislature.

With all his public and professional work, Gov. Weston has been for several years actively and prominently connected with important business interests. He was for some time one of the trustees of the Amoskeag Savings Bank, and some three years since was chosen president of the City National Bank, which was changed to the Merchants National Bank in October, 1880, at whose head he still remains. He was also the prime mover in the organization of the Guaranty Savings Bank of Manchester, which commenced business in December, 1879, of which he is clerk and treasurer, as well as one of the trustees. This institution, under his administration, has been almost unprecedentedly prosperous, and is one of the most solid financial establishments in the city and state. He is treasurer of the Suncook Valley Railroad, and a director and clerk of the Manchester horse railroad, a corporation in whose establishment he was actively engaged. He has been chairman of the finance committee of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company from its organization until the present time; vice-president also until the resignation of the presidency by Gov. Straw, in January, 1880, since when he has been president. This flourishing corporation—the only one of the kind in the state, whose capital stock is about to be increased to half a million dollars, and which already ranks with the most prosperous in the country—owes its success, in no small degree, to Gov. Weston's sound judgment and careful management. When, in August, 1880, after protracted litigation, the supreme court appointed trustees for the bondholders of the Manchester & Keene Railroad, who assumed control of the road, Gov. Weston was selected as chairman of the board by which the road has since been operated.

In 1871, Gov. Weston received from Dartmouth College the honorary degree of Master of Arts. He has long been a member of the Masonic order, has taken all the degrees conferred in the Manchester bodies, and is now serving his eighteenth term as treasurer of Trinity Commandry, Knights Templar. For ten years past he has been a member of the well known military organization, the Amoskeag Veterans. His religious associations are with the Franklin-street Congregational church, of which society he has long been an active member and treasurer. His residence has been in his native city from his birth until the present time, with the exception of seven years at Concord, from 1849 to 1856.

February 23, 1854, he married Anna S., daughter of Mitchel Gilmore, Esq., of Concord, a cultivated lady of strong domestic tastes, by whom he has an interesting family of five surviving children,—the eldest born, a son (Herman), having died at the age of four and a half years,—Grace Helen, born July 1, 1860; James Henry, July 17, 1868; Edwin Bell, March 15, 1871; Annie Mabel, September 26, 1870; Charles Albert, November 1, 1878. Their home, at the corner of Maple and Myrtle streets, is a spacious yet modest and tasty dwelling, the abode of domestic comfort and social enjoyment.

Other men in New Hampshire have attained greater wealth and more varied public honors; but when all the elements of substantial success are considered, there are none, certainly, who outrank the subject of this sketch. Cautious, sagacious, and methodical; with a well balanced mind, and executive ability of a high order; scrupulously exact in the performance of every duty and the discharge of every trust, public or private; uniformly courteous in his intercourse with others, and mindful of every obligation to society and humanity,—the ample measure of success he has attained, and the general esteem in which he is held, are but the legitimate outcome of his life and conduct.