Edward Henry Rollins by Hon. Daniel Hall


The Rollins family is one of the oldest and most numerous in the state. In southeastern New Hampshire, from the seaboard to Lake Winnipesaukee, the Rollins name is prominent in the history of almost every town. Most, if not all, the representatives of the name in this region, and among them the subject of this sketch, are the descendants of James Rollins (or Rawlins, as the name was then and for a long time after spelled, and is now by some branches of the family), who came to America in 1632, with the first settlers of Ipswich, Mass., and who, ten or twelve years afterwards, located in that portion of old Dover known as "Bloody Point," now embraced in the town of Newington, where he died about 1690. The representatives of the family suffered their full share in the privations and sacrifices incident to the firm establishment of the colony, and performed generous public service in the early Indian and French wars, and the great Revolutionary contest. Ichabod, the eldest son of James Rawlins, and of whom Edward H. is a lineal descendant, was waylaid and killed by a party of Indians, while on the way from Dover to Oyster River (now Durham), with one John Bunker, May 22, 1707. Thomas, the second son of James, who subsequently became a resident of Exeter, was a member of the famous "dissolved assembly" of 1683, who took up arms under Edward Gove and endeavored to incite an insurrection against the tyrannical royal governor, Cranfield. For this attempt, Gove and others, including Thomas Rawlins, were presented for high treason. Gove was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, but was subsequently pardoned. We do not learn, however that any of the others were tried. Others of the family fell victims to the murderous malignity of the Indians.

There were from twenty-five to thirty descendants of James Rawlins, of the fourth and fifth generations, engaged in active service, and several of them in distinguished capacities, in the patriot cause during the Revolutionary war.

Among the first settlers of that portion of Dover which afterwards became Somersworth, was Jeremiah Rollins, the only son of Ichabod, heretofore mentioned as slain by the Indians. He was one of the petitioners for the incorporation of Somersworth as a separate parish. He died a few years previous to the Revolution, leaving several daughters, but only one son, Ichabod Rollins, who became an active champion of the Revolutionary cause, was a member of the conventions at Exeter in 1775, and served as a member of the committee appointed to prepare a plan of providing ways and means for furnishing troops, and also as a member of the committee of supplies, the principal labor upon which was performed by himself and Timothy Walker of Concord. He was a member of the convention which resolved itself into an independent state government. January 5, 1776, and served in the legislature in October following. He was the first judge of probate under the new government, holding the office from 1776 to 1784. He was subsequently a member of the executive council, and died in 1800. From this eminent citizen, the town of Rollinsford, formed from the portion of Somersworth in which he resided, received its name. He stands midway in the direct line of descent from James Rawlins to Edward H.,—the great-grandson of James, and great-grandfather of Edward H. He had four sons, of whom John, the oldest, was the grandfather of Hon. Daniel G. Rollins, who was judge of probate for the county of Strafford, from 1857 to 1866, and whose son, Edward Ashton Rollins, was speaker of the New Hampshire house of representatives in 1861 and 1862, commissioner of internal revenue under President Johnson, and is now president of the Centennial Bank at Philadelphia; and another son, Daniel G. Rollins, was recently district attorney, and is now surrogate of the city and county of New York. James Rollins, the third son of Ichabod, and grandfather of Edward H., settled upon the farm in Rollinsford which has since remained the family homestead. He was the father of thirteen children, seven sons and six daughters. Of these, Daniel Rollins, the eighth child, born May 30, 1797, and who married Mary, eldest daughter of Ebenezer Plumer, of Rollinsford, was the father of Edward H. He succeeded to the homestead, but sold out and went to Maine with a view to making his home there. He soon returned, and repurchased that part of the homestead lying east of the highway, and erected a dwelling opposite the old family mansion, where he lived a life of sturdy industry, rearing a family of six children, four sons and two daughters, and died January 7, 1864.

Edward Henry Rollins, the oldest of the children, was born October 3, 1824. He lived at home, laboring upon the farm in the summer season, attending the district school in winter, and getting an occasional term's attendance at the South Berwick Academy, and Franklin Academy in Dover, until seventeen years of age, when he went to Concord and engaged as druggist's clerk in the well known apothecary store of John McDaniel. He retained his situation some three or four years, industriously applying himself to the details of the business. He then went to Boston, where he was engaged in similar service until 1847, when, having thoroughly mastered the business, he returned to Concord and went into trade on his own account, soon building up a large and successful business. Having bought and improved the land on Main street, just north of the Eagle Hotel, the great fire of 1851 destroyed the building which he had but recently finished. He rebuilt the stores known as "Rollins's Block," one of which was occupied by his own business for so many years. This property he sold a short time since to the New Hampshire Savings Bank.

In politics, Mr. Rollins was originally a Webster Whig, but voted for Franklin Pierce in 1852, and for Nathaniel B. Baker, the Democratic candidate for governor, at the next March election. The aggressions of slavery, however, culminating in the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill and the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, dissolved his brief connection with the Democratic party. Strongly opposed to the extension of slavery, or any measures rendering its extension possible, though he had previously taken no active part in politics, he enlisted in the American or Know-Nothing movement, in the winter of 1854-55, with the hope that it might, as it did, prove instrumental in the defeat of the Democracy.

From this time Mr. Rollins was an active politician. He labored effectively in perfecting the new party organization, taking therein the liveliest interest. At the March election, 1855, he was chosen to the legislature from Concord, and served efficiently in that body as a member of the judiciary committee. The next year witnessed the merging of the American party in the new Republican party, which object Mr. Rollins was largely instrumental in securing. Re-elected to the legislature in March, 1856, Mr. Rollins was chosen speaker of the house, ably discharging the duties of the office, and was re-elected the following year. The talent which he had already developed as a political organizer made his services eminently desirable as a campaign manager, and he was made chairman of the first state central committee of the Republican party, a position which he held continuously until his election to congress in 1861, and in which he exhibited a capacity for thorough organization,—a mastery of campaign work, in general and in detail,—seldom equaled and certainly never surpassed.

He was chairman of the New Hampshire delegation in the Republican national convention at Chicago, in 1860, having been chosen a delegate at large by the state convention, with but a single vote in opposition. In the close contest between the friends of Lincoln and Seward in that convention, the New Hampshire delegation, under his lead, supported Lincoln from the first, and was strongly instrumental in securing his nomination.

In 1861, Mr. Rollins was elected to congress from the second district, over the Democratic candidate, the late Chief-Justice Samuel D. Bell. He was re-elected in 1863, over Col. John H. George, and in 1865 over Hon. Lewis W. Clark, now associate justice of the supreme court. Mr. Rollins's congressional career covered the exciting period of the late civil war, and subsequent reconstruction, and he was throughout a zealous supporter of the most advanced Republican measures, such as the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, and the thirteenth and fourteenth amendments to the constitution, abolishing slavery throughout the Union, conferring citizenship and civil rights upon colored men, fixing the basis of representation in congress upon all citizens, without regard to color or previous condition, imposing political disabilities upon such civil and military officers of the government as had violated their oaths by engaging in the rebellion, declaring the inviolability of the public debt, and prohibiting forever the payment of that incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States. To this entire policy Mr. Rollins gave a most earnest support, and took part zealously and efficiently in all the important legislation of those days. He was an industrious member of the committees to which he was assigned, serving on the committee on the District of Columbia, as chairman of the committee on Accounts, and a member of the committee on Public Expenditures, by which latter committee, during his service, a vast amount of labor was performed, especially in the investigation of the management of the New York and Boston custom-houses, involving the operations of the "blockade runners" during the war. He was also, on account of his well known parliamentary knowledge and skill, frequently called to the chair to preside over the house on turbulent occasions.

In view of Mr. Rollins's subsequent intimate connection with the Union Pacific Railroad Company, it is proper to remark that in congress he was a firm opponent of, and voted against, the measure adopted in July, 1864, doubling the land grant of this company, and making the government security a second instead of a first mortgage upon the road. In 1869 he was chosen secretary and assistant treasurer of the Union Pacific Railroad, having for some time previous, after the expiration of his congressional service, acted as agent of the company at Washington in the transaction of business with the government, especially in receiving the subsidy bonds. In 1871 he was elected secretary and treasurer, and officiated as such in the office of the company at Boston until March, 1877, though retaining his residence at Concord, and devoting considerable attention to New Hampshire politics. He had, after retiring from congress, been again called to the chairmanship of the state committee, and served from 1868 to 1871, inclusive, with his usual ability and success. As chairman of the committee, and ex officio commander-in-chief of the Republican forces in New Hampshire for ten years, he was a tireless worker,—the very incarnation of energy and persistent industry. He had a genius for political organization and warfare. His vigor and magnetism surmounted all obstacles and swept away all opposition. His enthusiasm was contagious. Undaunted by suggestions of danger or defeat, he inspired all around him with his own indomitable courage and spirit. This was the secret of his extraordinary power, as it ever is in the world's affairs, and made him master of every field where he contended.

Mr. Rollins's name was presented by his friends for United States senator in 1866, when Hon. James W. Patterson was nominated and elected; in 1870, when Senator Cragin was re-elected; and again, in 1873, when the choice fell upon Hon. Bainbridge Wadleigh. At the expiration of Senator Cragin's second term, in 1879, Mr. Rollins was nominated by the Republican caucus, and elected as his successor for the full term of six years, commencing in March, 1877. He took his seat in the senate at the extra session, in the spring of 1877, and was assigned to the committees on the District of Columbia, Contingent Expenses, and Manufactures, being for a time chairman of the latter. He is now a member of the committee on Naval Affairs, on the District of Columbia, on Retrenchment and Reform in the Civil Service, on Enrolled Bills, and is chairman of the committee on Public Buildings and Grounds. As a senator, he has exhibited constantly his peculiar traits of industry, energy, and fidelity to duty. Engaging in debate less than some other senators, and never parading before the country for effect, he yet speaks on all proper occasions, and always to the business in hand, and with characteristic force, point, and effectiveness. He is seldom absent from his seat, responds to every roll-call, and but few questions have arisen since his service began on which his vote is not recorded. It is a noteworthy fact, that during more than five years' service in the senate he has been absent but two days when both branches of congress were in session, and then was sick in bed with malarial fever. No senator has a clearer or cleaner record in this respect. His devotion to his state and constituents is very marked. Every letter is answered, every call responded to, and every New Hampshire man dwelling in or visiting Washington is treated by him with courtesy, and his business with the government carefully attended to and furthered by his active assistance. Among the measures of special interest to the people of New Hampshire, in which he has taken a leading part, are those for the relief of savings banks from national taxation, and appropriations for the improvement of Cochecho, Exeter, and Lamprey rivers. No senator in the chamber gives more assiduous attention to the work of the committees, where measures are matured, or has a more useful influence upon general legislation; and his friends feel a just pride in the fact that in a somewhat venal and very suspicious age his name is untainted by any schemes of corruption or jobbery, or scandals touching the use of public money.

Such are the outlines of Mr. Rollins's conspicuous public career. His influence may be truly summarized by saying that during the last twenty-five years no man in New Hampshire has been more prominently known in the politics of the state, and well informed men in all parties concede that the Republican party owes more, for its almost unbroken successes in the closely contested elections from 1856 to the present time, to his labors, in the committee, in congress, and before the people, than to those of any other man.

Mr. Rollins was active in the organization of the First National Bank at Concord, a large stockholder, and a member of the first board of directors, but withdrew and disposed of his stock some time since. He sold his drug business at Concord to his brother, John F. Rollins, many years ago, when his congressional and other duties required his entire attention. The latter, also, has since disposed of the business, and now resides upon Fort George island, at the mouth of St. John's river, on the coast of Florida, of which Senator Rollins is the proprietor. This island is a most romantic locality, and is the subject of a very interesting illustrated sketch in Scribner's Magazine, by Julia B. Dodge. It embraces twelve hundred acres of land, and is admirably adapted to orange-raising, and is under cultivation for that purpose. The climate is delightful, far superior to that of the main land, and Mr. John F. Rollins, by a long residence there, finds his health much improved.

Mr. Rollins was united in marriage, February 13, 1849, with Miss Ellen E. West, daughter of John West, of Concord. Her mother, Mrs. West, was the daughter of Gen. John Montgomery, a prominent citizen of Haverhill, well known in public affairs. To this union there have been born five children: Edward W., born November 25, 1850; Mary Helen, September 4, 1853; Charles Montgomery, February 27, 1856; Frank West, February 24, 1860; Montgomery, August 25, 1867. The second son, Charles Montgomery, died at the age of five years. The other children survive. The eldest son, Edward W., is a graduate of the Institute of Technology at Boston, and was for five years the engineer and cashier of the Colorado Central Railroad. He is married, and now engaged in business as a banker in Denver, Col. Mary Helen, the only daughter, is married to Henry Robinson, a lawyer, and prominent member of the present legislature, and resides in Concord. Frank W., the second surviving son, after prosecuting a three years' course at the Institute of Technology, attended the Harvard Law School, and is now about completing his legal studies in the office of Hon. John Y. Mugridge, at Concord. Montgomery, the youngest son, is fitting for college. It will thus be seen that Mr. Rollins believes in practical education for his sons.

Retaining his home in Concord, where he has always lived the greater portion of the year, Mr. Rollins has for several years past had his summer home at the old place in Rollinsford, where he was reared, and which came into his possession after the death of his father in 1864. Here he has made many improvements, and brought the land into a superior state of cultivation. He thoroughly repaired and remodeled the house some six years ago, and made it a very attractive summer residence. In the spring of 1881, however, while he was absent in Washington, the house and all the buildings on the farm, with most of their contents, were completely destroyed by fire. Without delay, Mr. Rollins proceeded to rebuild, and has erected a very large and finely appointed barn and stable, with carriage-house, ice-house, and other buildings; and a fine house, on the old site, is very near completion. The house is in the Queen Anne style, most conveniently arranged, and finished principally in hard native woods, with ornamental fire-places, elaborately carved fire-frames, and frescoed ceilings. It is heated by steam and lighted by gas, has hot and cold water conveniences, spacious halls, and is fitted up with every modern improvement. In a few weeks it will be ready for occupation, and will be one of the most beautiful dwellings in this region, combining all the substantial conveniences of a farm-house, and an elegant home for summer and winter, also. The place is located but little more than a mile from the city of Dover, where Mr. Rollins goes for post-office and other business accommodations, so that in the summer time he is regarded as a Dover citizen. Telephonic communication has been established between his house and the telegraph office in Dover. Mr. Rollins's mother is still living, at an advanced age, at her old home, and her youngest daughter, Miss Elizabeth W. Rollins, resides with her.

In religious faith, Mr. Rollins was reared a Congregationalist, and when in Rollinsford he attends worship at the old First Parish church in Dover, where Rev. Dr. Spalding officiates. Mrs. Rollins is an Episcopalian, and in Concord the family attend upon the services of the St. Paul's Episcopal church.

He has long been a member of the Masonic fraternity, of the Blazing Star Lodge, Trinity Chapter, and Mt. Horeb Commandry, at Concord, of which he has been eminent commander.

Mr. Rollins is very fond of agricultural pursuits, and works on his farm in the haying and harvesting seasons, with great benefit to himself physically. Though constitutionally not very strong, and of a highly nervous temperament, his excellent personal habits, his rural tastes and simplicity of life, have enabled him to do a prodigious amount of work without suffering anything beyond an occasional derangement of health, always restored by relaxation from official duties, and physical labor on the farm, where he was wont to take similar exercise in boyhood. He is now in the full vigor and strength of his powers, and may reasonably look forward to many years more of active usefulness to the state and nation.