Natt Head

Natt Head is of Welsh and Scotch ancestry. John and Nathaniel Head, brothers, emigrated from Wales and settled in Bradford, Mass. Subsequently they removed to Pembroke. Although of Welsh birth, they were thoroughly English in their views and general characteristics, as tradition and other testimony amply prove. Nathaniel, the great-grandfather of the subject of this sketch, became an influential and patriotic citizen of his adopted town. Early in the period of trouble with the mother country he was selected by the members of the committee of safety in Pembroke to go through that town and hunt up and make a list of the Tories. Hostilities having been inaugurated, he enlisted in the military service, and served with fidelity and bravery throughout the war. After the return of peace he became actively identified with the state militia, and rose to the command of the third brigade. He represented the town of Pembroke in the legislature.

Gen. Head had three sons, of whom Nathaniel, born in Bradford, Mass., March 6, 1754, was the grandfather of Gov. Natt Head. When a young man the son paid his addresses to Miss Anna Knox, daughter of Timothy Knox, of Pembroke. She was of Scotch-Irish blood, and one day, as the father and son were plowing, the former remarked, "Nathaniel, do you intend to marry that Irish girl?" The son respectfully but emphatically answered in the affirmative; whereupon the father added, "Then, understand, you can never share in my property." Young Nathaniel's answer was: "Very well; I will take care of myself." And, in accordance with his declaration, he dropped the goad-stick, and in a few hours left the paternal roof to take up a farm in the wilderness and build a home. The father made good his threat, and at his death Nathaniel received one dollar and his brothers the remainder of the property. Nathaniel located in that portion of Chester now Hooksett, and, building a log house, carried to it Anna Knox, his wife. The site of the primitive cabin was the identical spot where Gov. Head's beautiful residence now stands. As would be expected, the young man, who with no fortune but strong arms and a stout heart had the bravery and determination to establish his forest home, soon rose to position and influence. The report of the battle of Lexington made him a soldier at once, and the record shows him to have been a second lieutenant in the ninth company of volunteers from New Hampshire at Winter Hill, in the cold season of 1775-76; ensign in Capt. Sias's company, Col. Nichols's regiment, in the expedition to Rhode Island in 1778; and captain in Col. Reynold's regiment in 1781. Returning to his home, he added to the pursuit of agriculture the establishment and operation of a lumber-mill. He was early commissioned a justice of the peace, and held frequent courts, at the same time performing a large amount of probate business, including the settling of many estates, while his acknowledged sense of justice and marked integrity often caused him to be chosen arbiter in important questions of dispute in the neighborhood. With the close of the war, his martial ardor was not extinguished, and he became prominently connected with the state troops,—the old roster showing him to have been a brigade inspector, and also colonel of the Eleventh Regiment.

Col. Nathaniel Head, Jr., had nine children, the seventh, John, born May 30, 1791, being the father of the subject of this sketch. He remained at the old homestead, and after arriving at manhood was associated with his father in the work of the farm and the mill, and after his death succeeded to the estate by purchasing the interests of the other heirs. The military spirit again appears in John Head, who rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the Seventeenth Regiment.

Col. Head married Miss Anna Brown, whose home was near his. Before her union with him she was a school-teacher, and a woman of great energy and executive ability. She was a member of the Pembroke Congregational church, and took a deep interest in the religious and educational affairs of her neighborhood. She was a grand-daughter of William Brown, one of the three brothers who came from Scotland and settled in the upper part of Chester, near what is now Suncook. Her father, William Brown, was a sea captain, who made numerous voyages around the world. Captain Brown's sister married Ezekiel Straw, grandfather of Gov. Ezekiel A. Straw, of Manchester, making the latter a second cousin of Gov. Head. The three Brown brothers already mentioned were men of ability, and had high family connections across the Atlantic. Their English coat of arms was the "hawk and the bird" the design showing the former diving towards, and in the act of catching, the latter. On the maternal side, Gov. Head's great-aunt, Betsey Brown, daughter of Rev. Joseph Brown, M. D., of the Church of England, married the distinguished Hon. Samuel Livermore, of Holderness, who was chief-justice of the superior court of judicature.

Mrs. John Head had four brothers, one of whom, Hon. Hiram Brown, was the first mayor of Manchester, and now resides at Falls Church, Va. By the death of Col. Head, August 7, 1835, the widow was left in the management of a large and valuable property, to which was added the care of her family. All those responsible duties she discharged with great fidelity and conscientiousness until her death, which occurred April 3, 1849. She left five children, of whom four are now living. They are Mrs. Hannah A., widow of the late Col. Josiah Stevens, Jr., of Manchester; Natt, born May 20, 1828. John A., of Boone county, Io., and William F.,—the latter the business partner of Gov. Head.

The picturesquely located home farm of three hundred acres is owned by Natt and William F. Head. It extends from the house to the Merrimack river, and follows the same for the distance of half a mile, embracing many acres of the fertile intervale lands of that stream. The farm is particularly adapted to grass, and yields about two hundred and fifty tons of hay annually. There are kept on it one hundred head of neat stock and thirty horses. In addition to the homestead, the brothers own large tracts of outlying wood and pasture lands. The lumber operations which were begun by Col. Nathaniel Head have assumed large proportions in the hands of his descendants. Under the firm name of Head & Dowst, in Manchester, the brothers do a heavy lumber and building business. On the home farm are the famous Head clay banks, where some eight million or more of brick are produced each year. The firm employs, in Hooksett, from seventy-five to one hundred men.

Gov. Head had the advantages of the common school and of the Pembroke Academy. His room-mate at the latter was Mark Bailey, now a professor at Yale College, and between whom a close friendship has since existed. Being only seven years of age when his father died, he soon learned to assist his mother in managing the work of the farm and the mill; and to such an experience, joined with her kindly influence, may be attributed the formation of those principles of character which led to the eminent success that he achieved in later years in business and in political life. After the death of his mother, he settled the estate, and with his brother William bought out the other heirs and formed a joint partnership, under the firm name of Natt & W. F. Head, that has continued to the present time,—there never having been any division of their income, or of the large amount of property that they own. On the score of integrity and promptness in meeting every business obligation, it will not be invidious to say that no firm in the state has a higher standing.

From boyhood allied to agriculture, Gov. Head's interest in it has never diminished, notwithstanding the many military and civil honors that came to him in later life. For five years he was a director, and for eleven years the president, of the New Hampshire State Agricultural Society, an officer of the Merrimack County Association, a trustee of the New England society since its organization, and an ex-trustee of the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts at Hanover. For many years he has been a popular speaker at agricultural fairs and farmers' meetings. While president of the state society he inaugurated the first farmers' convention ever held in New England, and which called out many of the ablest agricultural speakers in the country.

Inheriting military taste and enthusiasm from three generations, we find him following in the footsteps of patriotic and distinguished ancestors. He was one of the active spirits in the formation, and was one of the first member, of the famous Hooksett Light Infantry, which was a crack company in the old state forces. September 1, 1847, he was commissioned drum-major of the Eleventh Regiment, third brigade, first division, of the state militia, and served four years. He was an original member of the famous Governor's Horse-Guards, and drum-major and chief bugler during the existence of the corps. He was a charter member and four years commander of the Amoskeag Veterans, of Manchester; is an honorary member of the Boston Lancers, and is a member, an ex-sergeant, of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery, of Boston. He was chief on the staff of Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore, and is an honorary member of several other military organizations. The Head Guards, of Manchester, one of the oldest companies under the present militia system, was named in his honor.

In this connection it may be stated that when the Soldiers' Asylum near Augusta, Me., was burned, Gov. Head was appointed to the charge of that institution during the illness of the deputy-governor, and subsequently rebuilt the establishment. He had previously, as a contractor, built several miles of the Concord & Portsmouth Railroad between Suncook and Candia, and also the road-bed and bridges from Suncook to Hooksett, and the branch line from Suncook to Pittsfield.

In early life he was elected to various town offices; was commissioned a deputy-sheriff, and was a representative in the legislature from Hooksett in 1861 and 1862.

The appointment which brought him most conspicuously before the public was that of adjutant, inspector, and quartermaster general of the state, which he received from Gov. Gilmore, March 26, 1864. He was called to that office at a period when the republic was in one of the most serious crises of the great civil war, and when the loyal people of New Hampshire were putting forth every effort to enlist the men called for under the President's proclamation of the preceding month. On entering the office he found every department lamentably incomplete, but little matter having been collated in relation to the equipping of the troops or their achievements in the field, although the state had, up to that time, furnished twenty-six thousand soldiers. In truth, not a full set of muster-in rolls of any regiment was found in the office. Notwithstanding these obstacles, and with no appropriation to draw upon, Gen. Head promptly entered upon the duties of his position, procuring the necessary outfit for the office, and upon his own responsibility employing clerks. He did this trusting in the legislature for re-imbursement, which it not only cheerfully made, but made all additional appropriations that were called for. The faithful manner in which all the clerical work was performed, the method and persistency shown in hunting up and placing on file the records of our soldiers, and the system exhibited in preserving and filing the valuable and extensive correspondence,—were all worthy of the greatest praise. The reports issued during Gen. Head's administration not only give the name and history of every officer and soldier who went into the service from our state, but they embrace biographical sketches of all the field officers who fell in battle or who died of disease during the war, together with a brief history of all the organizations, giving their principal movements from their departure to their return home. These books also include the military history of New Hampshire from 1623 to 1861, the data for which were gathered with great perseverance and under many discouragements from various sources in this and other states and from the rolls in the war department at Washington, thus making the united reports a work of inestimable value to the present and coming generations, and, at the same time, constituting an invaluable contribution to the martial history of the nation. He was the first adjutant-general in our country who conceived the idea of having handsomely engraved on steel, with attractive and appropriate symbols and of a size adapted to framing, a memorial certificate to be presented to all surviving officers and soldiers from our state, and to the widows or nearest relatives of those who gave their lives in the great struggle for the preservation of the republic. This testimonial was filled up with the name and rank, and also the regiment and company with which the men were connected, and the nature and length of their services. It will not be invidious to say that no other state had during the war an abler or more efficient and patriotic adjutant-general than New Hampshire, or one who was more devoted to the men on their way to the field, while there, or on their return after peace was declared. Many a veteran will remember with gratitude his fatherly care of them after their discharge, and his good counsel and assistance in saving them from the hands of sharpers who were always in waiting to take advantage of the necessities of soldiers. From his own private means Gen. Head extended aid to all soldiers needing it; and to the credit of New Hampshire "boys in blue" it should be recorded that he never lost a dollar by such confidence and generosity. It seems almost unnecessary to add that his constant and unwearied devotion to them secured for him not only their highest respect and warmest esteem, but won for him the enduring title of "the soldier's friend."

In 1875 the celebrated controversy occurred in the old second senatorial district over the spelling of his name on the ballots, upon which technicality his votes, he having a plurality, were thrown out. His constituents, however, were determined that justice should be done him, and they gave him a handsome election the succeeding year, and re-elected him in 1877, when he was made president of the senate, discharging its responsible duties with rare efficiency and acceptability.

For some years Gen. Head had been mentioned in connection with the Republican nomination for governor, receiving votes in successive conventions. In that which nominated Gov. Benjamin F. Prescott, in 1877, Gen. Head's vote was a flattering one, and ranked second only to that of the successful nominee. At the convention in September, 1878, which was the first to select candidates for a biennial term, Gen. Head was nominated upon the first ballot by a decided majority. By reason of the third-party or "Greenback" movement, it was not expected by his most sanguine supporters that he would be elected on the popular vote, yet the result was that he was chosen over all by a majority of four hundred and eighty-eight. His election to the executive chair being for two years, he was, according to the custom of the party regarding the tenure of this office, not a candidate for renomination. In the brief review which the limits of this sketch allow of his gubernatorial administration, we find that it was throughout eminently successful; creditable alike to his own ability and fidelity, and to the fair fame of our state which he so honorably served.

During his term of office there arose many important measures and questions whose consideration demanded practical good sense, wisdom, and impartial judgment. The well known Buzzell murder case, which finally became one of the most celebrated in the criminal records of the world, had been twice tried when Gov. Head entered the executive chair. Buzzell was then awaiting execution, and thousands had petitioned for a commutation of his sentence. His Excellency and his official advisers gave a long and patient hearing to counsel for the state and for the defense, and to all others who desired to be heard, and then, after mature deliberation, refused the prayer on the ground that no new evidence had been presented that would warrant the changing of the decision of the court. Buzzell suffered the extreme penalty of the law, and the conclusion in his case was sustained by legal and public opinion. The project of a new state-prison which had been successfully inaugurated under his predecessor, was carried forward to its completion. The commissioners selected to superintend the work consulted with the governor at every step, and without even a whisper of extravagance or jobbery the building was finished, dedicated, and opened for use, and stands to-day, in thoroughness of structure and excellence of arrangement, second to no other penitentiary in the country. There came before Gov. Head many judicial and other appointments, all of which were made with the single aim of serving the highest interest of the state. During his term he made many official trips, and wherever he traveled he received those assiduous attentions which he personally and as chief executive of the state merited. He attended the inauguration of President Garfield, the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary exercises at Boston, the Newtown, N. Y., centennial celebration, and military encampments in various states. It was also his pleasure to receive Governors Talbot and Long, of Massachusetts, Governor Van Zandt, of Rhode Island, and many other distinguished dignitaries. His administration took its rank in history as one of the purest, wisest, and best that New Hampshire has ever had.

In the financial world, Gov. Head has been chosen to many responsible positions. He is a director of the Suncook Valley Railroad, in which enterprise he was one of the most active workers; is a director of the First National Bank of Manchester, and of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company; president of the China Savings Bank at Suncook, and a trustee of the Merrimack River Savings Bank, of Manchester.

In Masonic and kindred organizations he is one of the most conspicuous and influential members in New Hampshire, and, in fact, in the country. He is on the rolls of Jewell Lodge, of Suncook, of which he is a charter member, and is a member of Mount Horeb Royal Arch Chapter, Adoniram Council, and Trinity Commandry, of Manchester. He is a member of the Supreme Council, having taken all the degrees of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, including the thirty-third, and all in the Rite of Memphis to the ninety-fourth; is an honorary member of the Boston Consistory, the largest Masonic body in the world, and ex-Illustrious-Grand-Chancellor of the Sublime Consistory of New Hampshire. He was a charter member of Howard Lodge of Odd Fellows, and also belongs to the Hildreth Encampment, both of Suncook, and is now a charter member of Friendship Lodge, of Hooksett, and is a member of the Oriental Lodge of the Knights of Pythias of Suncook. He has been for a long time a member of the New Hampshire Historical Society, and is now its vice-president.

Although his own opportunity for mental improvement was somewhat limited, yet he has always been a stanch advocate of our public-school and higher educational systems. He is not a member of any church, but from youth he has been a regular attendant upon religious services, and has always given freely of his time, and contributed generously from his means, to the building up and advancement of Christian work.

Gov. Head was married, November 18, 1863, to Miss Abbie M. Sanford, of Lowell, Mass. They have had three children, of whom Lewis Fisher and Alice Perley are dead, while Annie Sanford, who is now at school in Bradford, Mass., is nearly fifteen.

The old log cabin to which reference has been made gave way a long time since to a framed structure, which, in turn, a few years ago was supplanted by an elegant brick mansion with French roof and attractive architecture, and whose interior has all modern appointments, with rich furniture and works of art. The house is surmounted with a tower, from which is obtained a delightful view of the Merrimack valley, and of distant mountains. It was built under Gov. Head's personal supervision, and in making so great an outlay he had in view the hope that after the period of business activity he might be permitted to spend there in happiness the closing years of his life.

Gov. Head is of commanding personal appearance, while in his bearing he is exceedingly courteous and agreeable. In him English and Scotch blood have united to form a character distinguished by strong and sound practical sense, diligence, determination, perseverance, and, above all, a high standard of honor and unswerving integrity. In the proud record of the eminent public men of our state, the name of Gov. Head has high and creditable rank.