Martin Van Buren Edgerly by H. H. Metcalf

In these days of varying fortune in business life, and in this country especially, where property is accumulated or lost more readily and frequently than in any other land, the beneficent nature of the institution of life assurance has come to be very generally appreciated. This institution, which, so far as its general establishment is concerned, is peculiarly an American one, is indeed a natural outgrowth of our social and business system, and is coming to be more fully recognized, from year to year, in one form or another, as the only medium through which men in general business, or most of the avocations of life, may make substantially sure provision for the support of their families or those depending upon them, in case of their own removal by death before acquiring a competency, or after the loss of the same through business reverses or adventitious circumstances. The man who stands before the public as a leading representative of an institution of such importance becomes properly a person of note in the business community; and when he is endowed with those powers and qualities of mind which naturally bring him into prominence in social and political circles and the general activities of life, he may well be classed among those who are esteemed representative men of the times in the state and section wherein he resides, and which is the field of his active labor. Such a man is the subject of this sketch.

Martin Van Buren Edgerly is a native of the town of Barnstead,—a town, by the way, which has sent out its productions into the world in the form of able, energetic men,—men of strong minds in strong bodies, who have made their mark in the world, and stand at the front in the various fields of activity in which they have engaged. In the domain of law, of theology, of politics, and of general business, the sons of Barnstead hold high rank, as is abundantly demonstrated by reference to the names of Lewis W. Clark, Rev. Alonzo H. Quint, John G. Sinclair, and John P. Newell. Mr. Edgerly was the fifth of nine children—five sons and four daughters—of Samuel J. and Eliza (Bickford) Edgerly, born September 26, 1833. Samuel J. Edgerly was a man of far more than ordinary intelligence and mental activity, who, but for the misfortune of disease, which impaired his physical powers in early life;, would have become unquestionably a leading spirit in public affairs. As it was, he was recognized by all with whom he came in contact in life as a man of strong mind and decided character. He was a descendant, upon the maternal side, and was named in honor of that Col. Samuel Johnson who was one of the early settlers of the town of Northwood, and of whom it is said, in sketching the history of that town, that upon the first night of his abode within its limits he slept upon the ground between two rocks, with a quilt or piece of canvas for covering.

When a lad of twelve years, Col. Edgerly removed with his parents to Manchester. He attended the public schools for a time, but at an early age entered the service of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, being engaged at first in the mills and afterwards in the machine-shop; but, after several years, becoming dissatisfied with the dull routine of mechanical labor, and desirous of testing his powers in the field of business, in October, 1856, at the age of twenty-three, he embarked in trade as a joint proprietor of a drug-store with Mr. Lewis H. Parker. He was thus engaged but a short time, however, removing the following year to the town of Pittsfield, where he soon established himself in the insurance business, taking the agency of various companies, fire and life. This, it may be truly said, was the actual starting point in his career. He found in this business a field of labor congenial to his tastes, and peculiarly adapted to the development and exercise of the distinctive powers of mind and body with which he is endowed; and he entered into his work with heart and soul. He was not long in discovering the special line of effort to which he was best adapted, and which gave the best promise of substantial success in response to such effort; nor were the managers of the business in question long in ascertaining, from the character of the work already accomplished, the direction in which their own advantage lay; and so it came about in a short time, that after a visit to the company's office in Springfield, made upon the solicitation of the president, Col. Edgerly became exclusively the agent of the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, relinquishing all other agencies, and devoting his entire efforts to the interests of the company.

So thorough and satisfactory was the work which he accomplished, that a year later he was given the general agency of the company for the state of New Hampshire, with headquarters at Manchester, to which city he removed with his family, when, in 1863, he was given charge of the business for Vermont and northern New York in addition to this state. Under his efficient management and supervision the business of the company increased to a remarkable degree in the entire territory of which he had control, until the net annual receipts in premiums upon new policies, in New Hampshire alone, had risen from substantially nothing in 1859, when he first commenced work, to nearly seventy-five thousand dollars in 1866, representing the proceeds from the issue of a thousand policies, covering an aggregate insurance of more than a million and a half of dollars. This remarkable success was due, not simply to the work of personal solicitation, in which line Col. Edgerly has no superiors, but more especially to the keen discernment and ready knowledge of men with which he is endowed, enabling him to select proper agents and judiciously supervise their work.

In 1868 he accepted the position of superintendent of the company's agencies throughout the country. For two years he labored as none but a physically robust and mentally active man can, establishing agencies and working up the business of the company throughout the West, while retaining and directing his own special work in the East. This double labor was too arduous, even for a man of his powers, and in 1870 he resigned the position of superintendent, and confined his work to his former field in New Hampshire, Vermont, and northern New York. In September, 1874, however, he was induced to accept charge of the company's agency in Boston, in addition to his other duties, and since that date he has divided his time and labor between the two positions, efficiently directing the work of both, and largely increasing the business at the Boston office. In January last he was made a member of the board of directors of the company which he has so long and faithfully served, and which owes its prosperity, in no small degree, to his intelligent efforts.

Col. Edgerly has been a Democrat from youth, and has ever manifested a lively interest in political affairs, although he has had neither the time nor inclination to enter, to any extent, upon the duties of public position, even had it been in the power of his party to confer the same. He has, however, in such time as he was able to command, done a great deal of party work in different campaigns; and in 1874 was elected a member of the board of aldermen, although his ward was strongly Republican at the time, thus demonstrating his personal popularity and the esteem in which he is held in the community where he resides. He has frequently served as a member of the Democratic state committee, and as treasurer of the same, and a member of the executive committee; also, as chairman of the Democratic city committee in Manchester. He was a delegate from New Hampshire to the Democratic national convention at Baltimore, in 1872, which nominated Horace Greeley for the presidency, and was the New Hampshire member of the Democratic national committee from 1872 to 1876. Again, in 1880, he was chosen a delegate-at-large to the national convention of his party. In 1871 he was appointed, by Gov. Weston, chief of staff; and in 1873 and 1874 he held the position of commander of the Amoskeag Veterans, of which organization he has long been an active and popular member. In 1874 he was appointed, by President Grant, an alternate commissioner to represent New Hampshire at the centennial exposition and celebration in Philadelphia.

Actively and closely as he has been engaged in his chosen line of business, Col. Edgerly has lent his aid and judgment to some extent to the encouragement and direction of other business enterprises. He has been many years a trustee of the Merrimack River Savings Bank and a director of the Suncook Valley Railroad, of which latter enterprise he was among the active promoters. He was also, for a time, a director of the City National Bank. In his religious associations he is an Episcopalian, and is an active member and officer of Grace church in Manchester. He is also a member of the Odd Fellows and Masonic bodies in the city of his residence.

March 7, 1854, Col. Edgerly was united in marriage with Miss Alvina Barney of Danbury, by whom he has had three children, two of whom are now living, a son and daughter,—Clinton Johnson, born December 16, 1857, and Mabel Clayton, born October 18, 1859.

Col. Edgerly is a man of fine personal appearance, genial manners, and a ready appreciation of the demands of friendship and society, as well as those of business. There are few men of greater personal popularity in his city or state, and none who command more fully the confidence of those with whom they are brought into relationship, whether in business or in social life. Yet under fifty years of age, he has, it may naturally be assumed, many years of successful effort yet before him, and many more in which to enjoy the substantial reward of his labor.