Jeremiah Wilson White by Hon. John H. Goodale
On the head-waters of Suncook river, in the central region of New
Hampshire, is the town of Pittsfield. It is limited in extent,
undulating in surface, rich in the quality of its soil. Its earliest
settlers were sturdy farmers, men and women who from infancy had been
accustomed to the hardships and privations of pioneer life.
Among these settlers was Josiah White, who, with his wife of Scottish
origin, in the spring of 1775 took up his abode in the outskirts of an
unbroken forest. Years of hard labor followed, which at length brought
to him and his family the comforts of a rural home. Of his sons,
Jeremiah White, the father of the subject of this sketch, succeeded to
the homestead. He was born March 4, 1775, and, passing his life amid the
scenes of his earlier days, died December 5, 1848. He is still
remembered by the older residents of Pittsfield as a citizen who was
useful, influential, and respected. Of great personal activity and tact
in business, genial and generous, an enterprising farmer of the old
school, a safe and sagacious adviser, his departure left a place
difficult to fill in the business affairs of the vicinity.
Jeremiah Wilson White was born in Pittsfield, September 16, 1821. The
active habits and pure atmosphere of his early rural life laid the
foundation of a sound physical constitution. His opportunities for
education during childhood were limited to a few months at a distant
district school. At the age of fifteen he entered the Pittsfield
academy, under the instruction of James F. Joy, a graduate of Dartmouth,
and in later years well known as president of the Michigan Central
Railroad. Pittsfield village had a thrifty and vigorous population, and
among her ambitious and talented young men were several who have since
been conspicuous in public life. One became United States senator;
three, judges of the supreme court in their respective states; and one,
founder of the system of public instruction now in successful operation
on the Pacific coast. Remaining at the academy two and a half years, Mr.
White, then in his seventeenth year, decided to prepare himself for
mercantile and active business life. Adopting the plan which appeared
most feasible, he went to Boston, and entered upon an apprenticeship in
a drug-store. Forty years ago a mercantile apprenticeship in that city
was not a sinecure position. But the young man was not averse to toil,
and by assiduous and systematic attention to his duties was preparing
the way for future success. Added to his other duties he began the study
of medicine in all its branches, and continued it for several years
after, until he was qualified for, and, if occasion had required, could
have entered upon, professional service.
Finishing his engagement at Boston, he engaged as clerk to Luther
Angier, postmaster and druggist at Medford, Mass., with the agreement
that with proper notice he could leave to engage in business for
himself. Early in the summer of 1845, Mr. White believed that that time
had arrived. He had never visited Nashua, but had heard of its
reputation as a growing manufacturing town. A few hours' inspection
settled the question, and before leaving he hired the store which he
afterwards occupied for nearly thirty years.
Mr. White, in engaging in trade for himself in Nashua, was aware that a
young man and a stranger must encounter severe difficulties in entering
upon mercantile life. Many before him had succumbed to the obstacles
which he was now to encounter. He did not hesitate. Laying out his plan
of business, he examined into the most minute details of its management.
He was never idle. No man was more thorough and painstaking in the
discharge of obligations to his customers. His labors often extended far
into the night. In fact, he lived in labor, and thought no plan complete
till its execution was secured. With these habits added to sound
business judgment and foresight and a rare knowledge of men, the record
of the business life of Mr. White has been an uninterrupted success; and
it is in this department of consistent and persistent effort that his
example is worthy of imitation.
In many of the business enterprises of Nashua, Mr. White has taken an
active, and in some of them a prominent, part. Engaging in the
transportation and sale of coal on his arrival, he has always been the
leading dealer in the trade. After the close of the war he originated
the project of, and gave his attention to, the construction of the large
block of stores on Main street, known as the "Merchants' Exchange,"
retaining for himself and son the corner store, which he still occupies.
Early in 1875 he conceived the idea of establishing a new national bank,
and in the April following obtained a charter. The people of Nashua and
vicinity believing in his financial ability immediately subscribed for
the stock and elected him president, a position he continues to hold to
the satisfaction of the stockholders, and the advantage of the
In addition to the presidency of the Second National Bank. Mr. White is
now recognized by the public as a sagacious and influential railroad
manager. Since 1876 he has been prominently connected with the affairs
of the Nashua & Lowell Railroad as a director and large stockholder. For
many years this road had been connected with and used by the Boston &
Lowell Railroad corporation, and, as Mr. White clearly saw, on terms
greatly disadvantageous to the stockholders of the Nashua & Lowell
company. The stock had gradually declined much below par. To resist so
great and powerful a corporation required pluck and energy. To be
successful against such odds demanded a leader daring, prompt,
aggressive. Mr. White was the man for the emergency. How well his
measures succeeded is realized not only by every stockholder, but in all
railroad circles throughout New England.
In the transaction of business, Mr. White is not only methodical but
positive. He reaches his conclusions quickly and acts upon them with the
utmost directness. Having decided upon a measure he engages in it with
all his might, bending all his efforts to make sure of the desired end.
Selecting his agents, he accomplishes the whole work while many would be
halting to determine whether the project was feasible. A man of so
pronounced opinions and prompt action naturally makes some enemies; but
he has no opponents who do not accord to him the credit of an open and
honorable warfare. In a word, he is essentially a business man in the
full sense of that term. Not only in occupation, but in taste and
aptitude, he is a representative of that class of American citizens who
have won a world-wide reputation for practical sagacity, enterprise, and
Mr. White is in no sense of the word a party politician. Of Whig
antecedents, his first vote was cast for Henry Clay, in 1844, for
president. Before leaving his native town his liberal tendencies had
been quickened by witnessing the unwarranted arrest, in the pulpit, of
Rev. George Storrs, who was about to deliver the first anti-slavery
lecture in Pittsfield. The event justly occasioned an unusual
excitement, and was the beginning of that agitation which reached every
town and hamlet in the Union.
Since the organization of the Republican party, Mr. White has supported
it in all national issues; but is one of the independent thinkers who
does not hesitate to exercise "the divine right of bolting" when unfit
men are put in nomination.
In the winter of 1861, Mr. White and his family left on a southern trip,
and reached Charleston, S. C., the last of February, not long after the
United States troops under Maj. Anderson were shut up in Fort Sumter by
the rebel forces. Mr. White had letters of introduction to several
citizens of the city high in authority, who received him kindly, and,
learning that he was a business man and not a politician, were anxious
to learn from him the state of feeling among the business men and the
middle class of citizens at the North. While the statements of Mr. White
were far from gratifying, they continued their friendly relations.
Previously he had written to his friend, Capt. John G. Foster, second in
command at Fort Sumter, of his intended tarry at Charleston. He was now
desirous of an interview with him. Applying to the Confederate
authorities for a pass to Fort Sumter, it was granted him,—a privilege
not allowed to any other civilian during the siege.
On the following day, March 5, he went on the steamer Clinch to Fort
Johnson, to which point Maj. Anderson was allowed to send his boat under
a flag of truce for the daily mail. Here a new obstacle was encountered,
for the boat was forbidden by Maj. Anderson to bring any person to the
fort. But, with the restriction that he should remain outside with the
boat till Captain Foster could be notified, he was permitted to go. The
interview was a great surprise as well as gratification.
Reaching Washington before the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the
beginning of actual hostilities, Mr. White was taken to the war
department and interviewed by Gen. Scott as to the determination and
strength of the Confederate force at Charleston. Mr. White thought it
would require a force of ten thousand men to relieve Fort Sumter, and
said so. Gen. Scott laughed heartily, and told him that two thousand men
would be ample for the purpose. In common with the most of the leading
men at the capital, Gen. Scott underestimated the pluck and strength of
the rebels. Soon after, when Jay Cooke was appointed government agent to
negotiate the war loans, Mr. White received the appointment of agent for
Nashua and vicinity.
In 1846, the year after coming to Nashua, Mr. White was united in
marriage with Miss Caroline G. Merrill, oldest daughter of Caleb
Merrill, Esq., of his native town. The marriage was a fortunate and
happy one. The young wife was endowed with scholarly and refined
attainments, qualifying her for the enjoyment of social and domestic
life. Added to this, she possessed a sound and discriminating judgment
on which her husband could safely rely. No transaction of any magnitude
was entered upon without securing her approval. Many of his best and
most sagacious moves in business were made at her suggestion. Of their
two children, the eldest, Caroline Wilson, died in infancy. The son,
James Wilson White, born June 10, 1849, fell a victim to the prevailing
disease of this climate, and died in Florida, January 27, 1876. Mrs.
White, having survived her children, died suddenly of apoplexy in 1880.
Her memory is cherished by many who knew her worth.
In April, 1881, Mr. White was married the second time to Mrs. Ann M.
Prichard, of Bradford, Vt., an educated and accomplished lady and the
sister of his first wife. His residence, at the corner of Pearl and
Cottage streets, combines the elements of modesty, taste, and comfort,
and is the abode of a happy home circle.