Cornelius Van Ness Dearborn

Early as 1639, and only nineteen years after the landing of the Pilgrims, John Wheelwright, a dissenting minister from England, gathering a company of friends removed from Massachusetts bay to Exeter in the province of New Hampshire. Among the thirty-five persons who signed the compact to form a stable and orderly colony is found the name of Godfrey Dearborn, the patriarch of the entire Dearborn family in this country.

Forty years before, he was born in Exeter, England, and in 1637 landed at Massachusetts bay. He lived at Exeter ten years, and in 1649 moved to Hampton, built a framed house which is still standing, became a large land-holder and town official, and died February 4, 1686. Few men of the early settlers have left a family name so widely represented as Godfrey Dearborn. His descendants are numerous in every county of New Hampshire, and are to be found in every part of New England.

It is worthy of note, that among the descendants of Godfrey Dearborn the practice of medicine has been a favorite occupation. Benjamin Dearborn, of the fifth generation, graduated at Harvard in 1746, and, entering upon a successful practice at Portsmouth, died in his thirtieth year. Levi Dearborn had for forty years an extensive practice at North Hampton, and died in 1792. Edward Dearborn, born in 1776, was for half a century the medical adviser of the people of Seabrook, and acquired a handsome estate. Gen. Henry Dearborn, who gained a national reputation by his brilliant services in the Revolutionary war, and as the senior major-general of the United States army in the war of 1812, was a practicing physician in Nottingham when summoned to join the first New Hampshire regiment raised in 1775. To-day several of the ablest physicians of the state bear the name.

Toward the middle of the last century the Dearborn family had been quite generally distributed through Rockingham county. Peter Dearborn, the great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch, was born in Chester in 1710. Of his children, Josiah, born in 1751, married Susannah Emerson, the daughter of Samuel Emerson, Esq., a substantial Chester farmer. He learned the trade of a shoemaker, but, on the breaking out of the Revolutionary war, entered the army as a private, and was stationed at Portsmouth under Col. Joseph Cilley. Afterwards he did honorable service, first as a private, and then as lieutenant in northern New York, and finally closed his enlistment by an expedition to Newport, R. I., in 1778.

Returning from the war, he and his family found a new home thirty miles westward in Weare. It was not an unfitting location. With its sixty square miles still mostly covered with a dense forest of oak, maple, and beech, with its uneven surface nowhere rising into high hills, it had a strong soil, which, when cultivated, yielded large crops of hay and grain. It was already a growing township, and thirty years later became one of the four leading farming towns of the state. Here Josiah Dearborn passed his life, raising a family of eleven children, nine of whom were sons. Samuel, the fifth son, and father of the subject of this sketch, was born in 1792. The district-school system was not organized in New Hampshire until 1806, and the children of that time had scanty opportunities for instruction. Young Dearborn and his brothers were reaching manhood, when farming in the eastern states was depressed by the recent war with England and the occurrence of several cold summers. Migration westward had commenced, and the Dearborns for a time debated the expediency of a removal to the Western Reserve. They at length decided to locate in Vermont, and in 1816 five of the brothers and a sister removed to Corinth, a town in the eastern part of Orange county. Here Samuel Dearborn settled upon a farm, soon after married Miss Fanny Brown, of Vershire, whose parents were natives of Chester, N. H., and here he passed a long and useful life. He died December 12, 1871, in the eightieth year of his age. His wife had died in 1836. Of scholarly tastes, he was for many years a teacher of winter schools. An active member of the Freewill Baptist denomination, his religion was a life rather than a creed.

Cornelius Van Ness Dearborn, the son of Samuel and Fanny Dearborn, was born in Corinth, Vt., May 14, 1832. His name was in compliment to the then ablest statesman of the state, who had filled the offices of governor and minister to Spain. Cornelius was the youngest but one of seven children. His childhood was passed in a strictly agricultural community. Corinth, lying among the foothills of the Green Mountains, is one of the best farming towns in eastern Vermont. Without railway facilities, with scanty water power, its inhabitants depend for a livelihood upon the products of the soil, from which by industry they gain a substantial income. Few in Corinth have ever accumulated more than what is now regarded as a fair competency, and very few have encountered extreme poverty. A more industrious, law-abiding, practically sensible people would be difficult to find.

When four years old, young Dearborn met with the saddest loss of childhood—a mother whose intelligence, forethought, and womanly virtues had been the life and light of the household. He early joined his older brothers in the labors of the farm, attending the district school for a few weeks in summer, and ten or twelve weeks each winter. When fifteen years old, he attended the spring term of the Corinth Academy, and continued at intervals for several terms later. In the winter of 1848-49, his seventeenth year not yet completed, he taught the school of a neighboring district. His success warranted his continuance as teacher in the vicinity for the five following winters. Continuing his farm labors in summer, he in the meantime developed a mechanical capacity in the making of farm implements and the designing of buildings,—a natural aptitude which has been of great service in maturer years.

Soon after attaining the age of eighteen, Mr. Dearborn determined to enter upon a course of study preparatory to a professional life. Before leaving Corinth he commenced the reading of law with Rodney Lund, a young man who had commenced practice in the vicinity. In March, 1854, at the suggestion of his maternal uncle, Dr. W. W. Brown, he came to Manchester, and renewed his law studies in the office of Hon. Isaac W. Smith, with whom he remained till his admission to the bar in the fall of 1855.

In December, 1855, he opened an office at Francestown. The town afforded a safe opening for a young practitioner, but not one for large profits. There was a time, after the close of the war of 1812, when the trade of Francestown village exceeded that of any other locality in Hillsborough county. But the opening of the railroad to Nashua, and soon after to Manchester, entirely changed the centers of trade and business, and left Francestown to become a respectable and very quiet village.

Hitherto, Mr. Dearborn, while entertaining positive views, had not actively participated in political discussion. But the year 1856 witnessed the consolidation of the anti-slavery sentiment of the country. It had already so far concentrated its strength in New Hampshire as to have secured the state government and a unanimous representation in Congress. The nomination of John C. Fremont for president, in the summer of that year, hastened the organization of the anti-slavery elements of the entire North under the name of the Republican party. In common with a majority of the intelligent young men of the state, Mr. Dearborn entered into this contest with all the zeal, vigor, and enthusiasm of one whose action is untrammeled by personal or partisan ends. The campaign which followed was the most brilliant and far-reaching in its results of any in the political history of the nation. No idea ever agitated the American mind to which calculating selfishness was more foreign. Even the great uprising which brought about the war of Independence was less free from selfish motives. And, though the general result in the presidential election of that year was adverse, yet in New Hampshire, as in every state north of Pennsylvania, the returns clearly showed that the cause of freedom had acquired an over-ruling strength.

In June, 1857, Mr. Dearborn was united in marriage with Miss Louie Frances Eaton, daughter of Moses W. Eaton, of Francestown, and grand-daughter of Dr. Thomas Eaton, a physician of long and extensive practice, and one of the most enterprising farmers of his time. In 1857 he was elected county treasurer, and re-elected in 1858. It was the first public position he had held, and its duties were satisfactorily discharged.

In 1858 he removed to Peterborough, occupying the office of E. S. Cutter, Esq., who had recently been appointed clerk of the courts for Hillsborough county. He resided in Peterborough till 1865. During this time he was in partnership with Charles G. Cheney, and afterwards with Albert S. Scott, both of whom have since died. He represented the town in the legislature in the years 1861 and 1862, being a member of the judiciary committee.

In the summer of 1865 he removed to Nashua, for the purpose of continuing the practice of his profession. An accidental purchase led to a change of occupation. The Nashua Telegraph had for many years been edited by Albin Beard, a genial, witty, and, withal, accomplished writer. Under him, the Telegraph had acquired a marked local popularity. He died in September, 1862. Its present publishers were inexperienced writers, and illy qualified to satisfy the admirers of its former editor. The Telegraph was rapidly deteriorating in value and influence. The senior proprietor inquired of Mr. Dearborn what he would give for his half of the establishment. A somewhat nominal price was offered, and much to the surprise of Mr. Dearborn was accepted. He at once entered upon the duties of editor and financial manager. Under his direction the Telegraph was rapidly recovering its patronage and influence, but at the end of two years his health failed, and a change of occupation became a necessity. He disposed of his interest to the present editor, Hon. O. C. Moore, and resumed the practice of law.

Since his residence at Nashua. Mr. Dearborn has contributed largely to the improvement of real estate, to the erection, of improved school-buildings, and in his capacity as member of the board of education to the reconstruction and greater efficiency of the public schools. He was appointed register of probate for Hillsborough county in 1868, and held the office till 1874.

For several years he was treasurer of the Nashua & Lowell Railroad, and is still one of the directors. In his official action he aided largely in sustaining the measures which have placed that corporation in front rank of profitable railways.

Nearly twenty years ago, while a resident of Peterborough, he was appointed, by the governor, one of the Bank Commissioners of New Hampshire. In that capacity he became acquainted with the extent and peculiarities of the financial institutions of the state. In 1864 and 1865, he actively superintended, in his official capacity, the converting of the state banks of discount into the national banks of the present system. In March, 1866, he was appointed Examiner of the National Banks for the state of New Hampshire, a position which he still holds. He is the only person who has filled this position since the organization of the national banking system.

In the discharge of the duties of Bank Examiner, official fidelity requires that the investigation shall be thorough and exhaustive. That during the past sixteen years but a single instance of defalcation has occurred resulting in loss among the forty-nine national banks in the state, is pretty conclusive evidence of a diligent and careful supervision. From the length of time he has held the position, he has become familiar with the indications of laxity, lenity, negligence, not to mention recklessness, which mark the first steps of danger to a banking institution; and his suggestions and warnings to bank officials have not infrequently been of advantage to the public generally as well as to stockholders, where no publicity has been gained through the press or otherwise.

Personally, Mr. Dearborn is not an ostentatious, obtrusive, aggressive man. He has no fondness for newspaper notoriety, no solicitude lest he shall be overlooked by the public. In politics and religion he is liberal and tolerant, conceding to others the utmost freedom of opinion. Attending to his own duties, it is not his habit to interfere with the personal affairs of others. But when attacked without reason or provocation, no matter what his pretensions, his assailant will speedily find that he has need for a prudent husbandry of all his resources.

Mr. Dearborn is a member of the Congregational church. His two children are sons. The older, John Eaton, born November, 1862, is acquiring a business education. The younger, George Van Ness, born August, 1869, is attending the public schools. His house is pleasantly situated on Main street, and is one of the desirable residences in the city. Still in the prime of life, his many friends have no reason to doubt that in the future, as in the past, he will be adequate to any responsibility which may devolve upon him.