John C. French

Prior to 1870, New Hampshire had no reliable fire insurance company. That she now has one that is "sound, solid, and successful," firmly established in the confidence of the country, and steadily growing in strength and stability, is mainly due to John C. French, who, in spite of much prejudice and distrust, laid the foundations of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company, and has since been its leading spirit and manager.

Mr. French came of sturdy stock. His grandfather, Abram French, was a native of Stratham, where he spent his boyhood and learned the trade of a carpenter and builder, in which he soon became known as a skillful and thorough workman. In this capacity he went to Pittsfield to complete the interior of the first meeting-house in that town; and, when this was finished, erected the buildings upon the parsonage lot for Rev. Christopher Paige, step-father of the "beautiful Grace Fletcher," the first wife of Daniel Webster. Some years later, Mr. Paige removed from town, and the young mechanic bought the place, and in 1796 married Hannah Lane, of Stratham, and established the French homestead, in which he reared to maturity twelve children, and dispensed for many years the hospitality which his prosperity enabled him to provide for a wide circle of relatives and friends. His numerous children and grandchildren ranked among the reliable and thrifty people of that town.

Enoch, the oldest son of Abram French, who married, in 1823, Eliza Cate, of Epsom,—a most estimable woman,—and settled on an adjoining farm, was the father of five children. The only survivor of this family is the subject of this sketch, John C. French, who was born March 1, 1832, and spent his boyhood upon one of the rocky farms in Pittsfield. His opportunities for obtaining an education were very limited, but his ardent desire to learn impelled him to supplement his common-school privileges by reading at home, and afterwards to obtain, by working on a farm summers and teaching winters, the money to pay his expenses for several terms at the academies at Pittsfield, Gilmanton, and Pembroke. What he learned at these institutions only fed his ambition to know more; and, as there was little opportunity for him to gratify his tastes and aspirations at home, when he became of age he made an arrangement with J. H. Colton & Co. to solicit orders for their mounted maps. The tact and activity which he showed in this work led his employers, a year later, to give him the Boston agency for "Colton's Atlas of the World," then in course of preparation; and in this he won another success, selling over twelve hundred copies of this large and expensive work. In 1855 he was appointed general agent for the house for New England, and subsequently gave considerable time to the introduction of Colton's series of geographies into the public schools; and was afterwards employed by Brown, Taggart, & Chase, and Charles Scribner & Co., in bringing out their school publications. While thus engaged he was able to gratify his fondness for travel, observation, and reading; gained an acquaintance with the leading authors, teachers, publishers, and other prominent educators, and a knowledge of the local history, industries, and resources of all the principal towns in New England. He also learned thoroughly the art of advertising, and of putting books upon the market in a way to command popular favor.

During the eight years he was thus employed, he made frequent journeys to Pittsfield, and spent a portion of each season there with his parents, to whom he was devotedly attached; but in May, 1866, having been appointed state agent of the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company, he established his residence in Manchester, which has since been his home, though he still retains possession of the beautiful homestead farm upon which he was born.

Three years later, having become interested in and familiar with the insurance interests of the state, he conceived the idea of establishing a stock fire insurance company, and by untiring persistency and zeal overcame the almost universal prejudice against such an organization, enlisted in its support some of our most prominent citizens, secured a charter and the capital stock, and began the business which under his energetic and prudent directions has since grown to great proportions. To this company he still gives his undivided time and efforts, refusing to accept political office, declining all inducements to go elsewhere, resting entirely content with the success he commands in and from the company's office. His wide and varied experience has given him a great insight into business affairs and productive industries, and also an extensive and invaluable knowledge of men, and these acquirements and all his native abilities he is bringing to the service of the company in the enlarged and enlarging sphere of his official duties. That he does not labor in vain is shown by the fact that the New Hampshire company, so recently established, has increased its capital stock from one hundred thousand to five hundred thousand dollars, and its cash assets to nearly a million, that it commands the countenance and assistance of many of our most prominent men, and enjoys a national reputation for prudent management and financial success.

Mr. French has always taken a lively interest in his native town, and, when the project for building a railroad which would promote its growth and prosperity took shape, he gave himself heartily to the support of the enterprise, and it was largely through his efforts that the three hundred and fifty thousand dollars necessary to build the Suncook Valley road was secured, by subscriptions to the capital stock and gratuities from the towns along the line. As one method of helping this work to a successful completion, he established the Suncook Valley Times—a weekly paper—at Pittsfield and for two years contributed regularly to its columns a series of historical and biographical articles, which attracted much attention in the locality, and were widely copied and read elsewhere. He also at one time published and edited at Manchester a journal devoted to insurance interests; and in these publications, as well as in those of the New Hampshire company, has established a reputation as a vigorous, versatile, and popular writer.

The zeal, fidelity, and success with which he has managed the various interests intrusted to him have been highly appreciated, and numerous testimonials have borne witness to the satisfaction of his employers. The records of the New Hampshire company contain a resolution passed unanimously by the stockholders, in 1871, in which the unparalleled success of the company is ascribed mainly to his zeal and efficiency; and a similar resolution is inscribed upon the books of the Suncook Valley Railroad.

Mr. French, while not a politician, takes a deep interest in public affairs, and his help can always be depended on for whatever promises to promote the public good and the well-being of the community in which he lives. He is a genial companion, a stanch friend, and a man who wins and holds the good opinions of a very large circle of acquaintances. He is a member of Trinity Commandry, Knights Templar, and a director of the Merchants National Bank.

Mr. French married, in 1858, Annie M., daughter of L. B Philbrick, Esq., of Deerfield, and has three children,—Lizzie A., Susie P., and George Abram,—who reside with their parents.