Chester Pike

Chester Pike was born July 30, 1829, in the town of Cornish, N. H. Mr. Pike may be said to be possessed of prescriptive rights in the township of his nativity and residence, for, planted of others, it was by blood of his blood nurtured into permanence and prosperity.

As the traits of the parent re-appear in the qualities of the child, so the annals of the stock from whence he sprang mingle inseparably with the chronicles of this many-hilled town by the Connecticut. His great-grandfather and great-grandmother Chase were the first white persons to settle in Cornish, and in every mention of early citizens will be found the names of Pike, Bryant, and Chase, whose blood blends with his. The friendship arising from nearness of residence and a common industry, which from the first had bound these families together, was soon strengthened and made permanent by the stronger tie of intermarriage.

In 1827, Eben Pike, who was the eldest son of Ebenezer and Mary Marcy Pike, of Cornish, was united in marriage with the daughter of Capt. Sylvanus Bryant and Sarah Chase Bryant, of the same place. This lady, on her mother's side, was a cousin to the statesman, Salmon P. Chase, who for many years represented Ohio in the senate of the United States, and at the time of his death, as chief-justice of the supreme court, wore with undiminished honor and dignity the mantle of the great Marshall.

The earliest fruit of this union was Chester Pike, whose life we are now tracing. A later son, John B. Pike, a mail-route agent between Boston and St. Albans, an efficient officer and courteous gentleman, is now a resident of Lebanon, in this state. The oldest son still resides in his native town and not far from the spot where his grandparents first settled, in the broad, picturesque valley of the Connecticut, hard by the village of Windsor, and under the shadows of Ascutney. To one so located, the relics of the past are objects of enduring interest. The very hills and valleys must awaken memories of the olden time and kindle associations of the ancestral home, which will perpetuate the virtues and the aspirations of the dead. He can but experience something of the feeling of the descendants of the old families of England, who live upon their ancient estates, and saunter in the halls of old castles, or under the shadows of gnarled trees that were planted centuries ago by the founders of their line, whose ashes long since mingled with, and became a part of, their inalienable homesteads. The remembrance of the brave fathers and fair mothers who lived in the heroic past is their richest inheritance.

In his earlier years, obedient to the custom of the fathers, Mr. Pike attended the district school. This institution, original to New England, discharges a function in the training of the young which, to our mind, some of the methods and more ambitious inventions of modern educators fail to fulfill. In the district school, if properly taught, are secured habits of faithfulness and diligence, and a permanent knowledge of elementary branches, which are of daily practical use in the life of the people. There, too, the silly conceits and factitious distinctions of society are broken down, as children see that success is achieved by brains, not money; by industry, not social standing. In this, sometimes rough but general intercourse of youth, democratic ways and independence of thought are acquired, and the seeds of a true manhood and womanhood are planted. Our system of public schools is in harmony with the organism of the state, and in them our children imbibe a spirit of obedience to wholesome, legitimate authority, and so become conservative of public discipline and order. Men learn to rule by learning to obey. It was here that Mr. Pike laid the foundations of character.

Later, he was for a time a scholar in the academy at Hartland, Vt. After a season of study there, he matriculated in that long-time famous and still existing center of pro-collegiate education, the Kimball Union Academy at Meriden, N. H. The principal, at that time, was the Rev. Cyrus Richards, and under his guidance several terms were passed in the acquisition of the more abstruse learning of the books. But the months drift by, and at the age of fifteen Mr. Pike graduates from the schools and passes on to the sterner duties of manhood and of life. The winter months of the six ensuing years are filled up with the active work of the pedagogue, and the summer seasons in constant, laborious work upon the home farm.

During this period he was ripening the lessons of his pupilage and maturing plans for the future. At the age of twenty-one, Mr. Pike, though he still spent his winters for some years in teaching, became a trader in cattle and a merchant in the products of the soil. By his enterprise in this, his chosen vocation, he reached the position of a foremost man of a notable class among the farmers of New England. Familiar from youth with the harvest capabilities of the rich levels and the sun-warmed hills of Sullivan county, and gifted with a quick sense to perceive the wants of modern markets, he has, by unusual energy and sagacity, fitted means to ends, and, with a Midas-touch, turned his agrarian resources into gold. His success teaches the lesson that the New England farm has no less potential wealth at present than in times past, if skill but holds the handles of the plow. Let the modern farmer cling to the old homestead and the paternal acres, and take counsel with the progressive science of soil-enrichment; let him employ the same skill in the cultivation of his farm and the management of his stock, let him use the same enterprise in utilizing markets, and the same economy in the disposition of his funds, which are necessary in other employments,—and his success is sure.

We would here quote from a leading paper of the state a few lines pertinent to our narrative:—

"Capt. Chester Pike, of Cornish, has one of the largest, if not the largest, farm in the state. It contains about one thousand acres of land, divided into wood, mowing, tillage, and pasture land; forty acres in corn, and seventy acres in wheat, rye, oats, barley, and potatoes. Last season he raised six thousand eight hundred baskets of corn. He has one hundred and thirty head of cattle, three hundred sheep, thirty-seven horses, and forty hogs, and raises hay enough to keep his stock through the season, or about three hundred tons. Capt. Pike's farm lies in the town of Cornish, on the east bank of the Connecticut river, immediately opposite the farm of the Hon. William M. Evarts, late secretary of state, situated in Windsor. Vt., which is of about equal dimensions, and, in fact, the largest farm in Vermont. Mr. Evarts raises about the same amount of stock, hay, and produce as Capt. Pike. On both of these farms may be found all the modern appliances, such as mowing and reaping machines, seeders for sowing grain, two-horse cultivators for hoeing corn, most of the work being done by machinery, the same as upon the largest farms of the West."

Any man might be proud of such a record, but it is only a part of the truth. In single seasons, Mr. Pike often buys, for resale, from seventy-five to one hundred and twenty-five tons of poultry, and between two and three hundred thousand pounds of wool. Besides the above, he has for many years purchased annually, for the Boston market, in the interest of the firm of Lamson, Dudley, & Pike, of which he is a member, great numbers of cattle and sheep. During the thirty years, Mr. Pike has found an outlet for that restless energy and enterprise which these pursuits and the occupation of farming and stock-growing cannot exhaust, in an extensive lumber business. All this, it should be borne in mind, is in addition to the extensive cultivation and stock-growing on his own farm.

Notwithstanding the variety and extent of his purely business transactions, Mr. Pike has also found leisure to fill with efficiency many stations in the public service. At one period of his career, during several successive years he was selectman of Cornish. This led the way to other offices. He who had discharged with faithfulness and skill the responsibilities in the town, was deemed worthy to be honored with higher duties, and Mr. Pike found himself, in 1859, 1860, and 1861, the incumbent of the office of county commissioner for Sullivan county. At the end of his third term, his fellow-townsmen withdrew him from the commissionship, which he had ably filled, and made him their representative to the general court for 1862, and again for 1863. He made an intelligent and active legislator, and soon became familiar with the business of the house. The estimate which was put upon his services and standing in the house is seen in the fact that in his first year he served on the committee on manufactures, and, in his second year, was made chairman of the committee on banks, which at the time was one of the most difficult and responsible positions in the house. If Mr. Pike did not often attempt to influence legislation by debate, he had what Wirt attributes to Jefferson, "the out-of-door talent of chamber consultation," and used it with good effect. The years 1862 and 1863 were two of the most anxious and trying years of the civil war, and perplexing propositions were brought before the legislature for solution. There were sharp antagonisms and earnest debates among the strong men of those sessions; questions of jurisdiction and policy touching the national defense and the rights of states, new to legislation and embittered by party rancor, became the subjects of action; the frequent calls for men and money to meet the demand which the prolonged and sanguinary conflict made upon the state gave to the legislation of the period unprecedented interest and importance. Through it all, no man was more active, more true, or more patriotic, than Capt. Pike.

In 1863, the subject of our sketch was appointed provost-marshal of the third New Hampshire district, and during that and the two succeeding years, when the war-cloud hung heavy and dark on the southern horizon, he discharged the duties of this delicate and difficult office with unusual ability, and received from Mr. Frye, the provost-marshal-general, the highest possible commendation for the integrity and success with which he administered the affairs of his department of the public service. Associated with him in this branch of the military organization, were some of the foremost men of the state: Hon. Francis A. Faulkner, an able lawyer of Keene, was commissioner, and Dixi Crosby, the distinguished head of the Dartmouth Medical College, was surgeon of the board of enrollment; Senator H. W. Blair, Hon. Ossian Ray, and Col. Nelson Converse of Marlborough were the deputy-marshals, and Judge W. H. H. Allen of Newport, C. C. Kimball, Esq., of Charlestown, and Henry C. Henderson, Esq., of Keene, were clerks of the board. To have conducted the office in a way to secure the respect and co-operation of such a body of men is in itself a distinguished honor.

In 1866, Mr. Pike received the nomination for councilor of the fourth councilor district, but declined, and was subsequently appointed United States collector of internal revenue. His administration of the duties of this position was deservedly popular with the department at Washington, and with the people at home, and he remained in it till the districts of the state were consolidated. In 1876 he was a delegate from Cornish in the constitutional convention, receiving every vote cast by his fellow-townsmen.

In addition to these public offices, Mr. Pike has been a director in the Claremont National Bank for fifteen years, and an active member and officer of the Sullivan County, the Connecticut River, the New Hampshire State, and the New England agricultural societies. To have earned and to have enjoyed the popular favor in a republic and in so many and varied places of honorable trust, is to have passed the crucial test of fitness for public life.

Few men of positive character and recognized ability, if in exalted positions, are so fortunate, in this age, as to escape criticism; but it will be acknowledged that in all the state and national trusts held by the subject of our sketch, he has so borne himself as to win the approval of the authorities, the good will of the people, and the respect of his friends.

In 1862, Mr. Pike was united in marriage to Amanda M. Fay, the daughter of Hon. Levi Chamberlain Fay, of Windsor, Vt., a lady of attractive manners and varied accomplishments. Mrs. Pike has been a most loyal wife in all the relations of life, and the beloved mother of four children,—three sons and a daughter,—of whom but one survives, Chester Fay Pike, a lad of twelve years.

In the above narrative, we have done little more than to set down in order the events in the life of a quiet citizen of one of the country towns of our state; but, when we consider how much this gentleman has accomplished and that he is only now at the meridian of life, we realize that his is no ordinary career, and that New England does not furnish a long catalogue of men who have so well illustrated the genius of our institutions, and the possibilities of a sagacious mind that has a fixed purpose to succeed in the race of life. The man who does difficult work and wins the love of friends deserves to be honored of all. In all the relations of public and private life Mr. Pike,—

"By nature honest, by experience wise,
Healthy by temperance and exercise,"

has acted well his part, and so honored his state, and made a name which his descendants will cherish in the years to come.