Anthony Colby

Anthony Colby is known in his native state as a typical "New Hampshire man." Born and bred among the granite hills, he seemed assimilated to them, and to illustrate in his noble, cheerful life the effects of their companionship. His great heart, sparkling wit, fine physical vigor, and merry laugh made his presence a joy at all times, and welcome everywhere. His ancestry, on his father's side, was of English, and on his mother's, of Scotch-Irish, origin. The first member of his father's family that removed to this country settled in the town of Salisbury, Mass., in 1740. He bore the name of Anthony Colby, and was a member of the so-called "Test Association."

Joseph Colby, the father of Anthony, was born in Hopkinton, N. H., near Beech Hill, in 1762. He died in 1843. Of his brothers, two, James and Nathaniel, settled in that town, and another, David, in Manchester, near the sea, in Massachusetts. During the last century, Joseph bought a portion of land under the "Masonian Grant" from Mr. Minot. Then the restriction of ownership in the state was that "all the white-pine trees be reserved for masting the ships of His Majesty's royal navy." Each town was required to set apart a portion of land for a meeting-house, and the support of the gospel ministry; for a school-house and the support of a school, as well as a military-parade ground.

In the organization and settlement of the town named New London, and in the needs of the settlers, both civil and religious, Joseph took an active part. He began clearing land in that part of the town now called Pleasant street, at the north end of Pleasant pond. He early established trade for himself with Newburyport and Salem. The state legislature then held its sessions in Portsmouth. Of this, he was for fourteen consecutive years a member. He was a political leader, and an uncompromising Federalist. For fifty years he was a stanch member of the Baptist church, of which Rev. Job Seamans was the first pastor, and he was for some time president of the Baptist state convention.

He married Anne Heath, a direct descendant of the Richard Kelley family, of which Judge Kelley, of Exeter, was a member. Her immediate relatives took part in the Revolutionary war. Members of the family live in Newbury, Mass. The family of Joseph Colby consisted of two sons and two daughters. The eldest daughter, Sarah, married Jonathan Herrick; the second, Judith, married Perley Burpee. Both of these daughters were settled beside him. Mrs. Burpee still survives. The two sons of Joseph Colby never left their father's household. Joseph, the eldest, spent the most of his life in the gratification of his literary tastes, and a species of journalism. Anthony, born in 1795, was of a lively disposition. A pleasant vein of humor ran through his character, making him enjoy a joke, while a native prescience led him to project himself into every kind of progress. A keen insight into the character of men gave him an almost unlimited influence over them. He never passed through college, but his faculties were broadly developed by the condition into which his genial and vivid nature led him. His father's home was so guarded and in every way provided for, that ample opportunity was afforded him to follow the pursuits and activities that were congenial to him. He married, at an early age, Mary Everett, whose modest and refined Christian character greatly influenced him. A more favored home could hardly be imagined than that in which his three children were born, and which is still held sacred by them. The steady support of a grandfather's established character, the stimulus of a popular father, joined to the affection of a devoted grandmother and the delicate influence of a lovely mother, created an atmosphere, of solid content and peace as blissful as is to be found this side of heaven. His eldest son, Daniel E. Colby, graduated from Dartmouth College in 1836. He married Martha Greenwood, and now lives in the paternal home. His daughter married, in 1851, James B. Colgate, and lives in New York, as does her brother Robert, who married Mary Colgate. Robert also graduated from Dartmouth College, and studied law with Judge Perley, at Concord, N. H.

The prominent characteristics of Anthony Colby were manly self-reliance and intrepidity, joined with quick sympathy and faithfulness in friendship, which made men trust and love him. His father's identity with the state gave him a wide knowledge of its resources, industries, and inhabitants. He was interested in the affairs of the entire state, and was always ready to sacrifice the interests of his private business for those of his townsmen. There was no neighborhood or personal difficulty in which he did not willingly take the responsibility of bringing help or reconciliation. His tender sympathy, benevolence, and personal authority were sufficient to adjust the differences and rights of all who sought his assistance. He was strictly and absolutely a temperance man, never tasting spirituous liquors, and always using his influence to save young men from the use of them. His nature was many-sided enough to find some points of agreement with men whose habits differed from his own.

He established a line of stages through his native town before any system of railroads had been extended through the state. He afterwards became president of the Concord & Claremont Railroad. He possessed, in an unusual degree, an ability to create in his own brain and carry into practice business activities. He saw and felt how labor could be well applied, and, while a young man, built himself, in a part of the town then almost a forest, a grist-mill, carding and fulling mill. In 1836 he was instrumental in establishing a scythe-factory which was carried on by the use of the same water that had been used for the mills. In this enterprise he was associated with Joseph Phillips and Richard Messer, both of whom had learned the trade of scythe-making. In the vicinity there grew up directly a flourishing village.

In politics, Mr. Colby was always conservative. He was first elected a member of the New Hampshire legislature, in 1828, and afterwards held nearly every higher office of trust in the state. Daniel Webster was his personal friend. Their fathers, who lived in the same county, only about twenty miles apart, were many years associated in the legislature, of which they were members, from Salisbury and New London. The friendship between himself, Judge Nesmith, of Franklin, and Gen. James Wilson, of Keene, was more than simple friendship,—they were delightful companions; of essentially different characteristics, the combination was perfect. Daniel Webster was their political chief, and his vacation sometimes found these men together at the Franklin "farm-house," and at the chowder parties up at the "pond." The Phenix Hotel, under the charge of Col. Abel and Maj. Ephraim Hutchins, was the central rendezvous, where a great deal of projected statesmanship, a great deal of story telling and fruitless caucusing were indulged in, down to the revolution of 1846, when the Democrats lost their supremacy by the admission of Texas as a slave state, when John P. Hale went into the senate. Anthony Colby was then elected governor. Mr. Webster wrote him earliest congratulations. With the usual backsets of a radical change, the Whig party held the front until Mr. Webster made his Seventh-of-March speech in 1850, on the fugitive-slave bill. Following up that speech by another on the Revere-House steps, favoring the enforcement of that law, and addressed to New England men, in which he said, "Massachusetts takes no steps backward," he placed his friends in a most trying predicament.

Mr. Webster and his Boston body-guard made an effort to hold the Whig party solid to his position. It could not be done. The Abolitionists stood forth in full panoply, indiscriminately and precipitately aggressive, thanking God for the fugitive-slave law, and that Daniel Webster was its promoter and defender. He wrote to Gov. Colby, urging him to stand firmly by him and help bring the public mind to this new standard. The governor was perplexed. Privately he expressed himself after this fashion: "New Hampshire men vote for the fugitive-slave law! This whole business is like crowding a hot potato down a man's throat, and then asking him to sing 'Old Hundred.'" He wrote Mr. Webster that he would do all that he could for him as a friend, although the law was odious to him.

There was held, that summer, a Baptist state convention. It was a full convention, for the churches were in a ferment, and many of them disintegrating upon the slavery issue. He was sent as a delegate from the church of which he was a member. A set of resolutions was reported, of a very violent and denunciatory character, directed against the fugitive-slave law, Mr. Webster, and both political parties, threatening expulsion and disfellowship to those members of churches who did not come out with an open and square protest upon this subject. The discussion was all one side until the advocates of the resolution had aired their opinions to their own satisfaction. Then, the governor, seeing his opportunity, quietly arose and moved an amendment to the resolution inveighing against Mr. Webster personally. He felt the fight to be a single-handed one, and would go through it alone if necessary. Presently, a candid brother seconded his amendment with a few suggestions. Other brethren applauded. Then the storm set in from the other side, and the convention became disorderly. It was as if the better elements of New England life were in one grand convocation. This was the first public discussion of the situation. The contest was as brilliant a one, on a modified scale, as any intellectual and emotional contest that we read of. The governor's only hope of reconciliation was by settling down on his own popularity with the members of the convention, and, avoiding the principles involved, appealing to their generosity as a personal favor. With tears in his eyes and in faltering, grieving tones, he besought them most solemnly to spare his life-long friend the denunciation contained in that one resolution, and accept his amendment. The convention agreed to it. He sent a report of the proceedings, with an explanatory letter, to Mr. Webster: but he was not satisfied. There the matter dropped. These true-hearted friends saw, silently, the scepter of leadership declining in Mr. Webster's hand, and sadly lamented, what they could not prevent.

No Whig had held the office of governor, until the election of Anthony Colby, since the election of Gov. Bell, an interim of seventeen years. Gov. Colby being rallied upon his one-term office, said he considered his administration the most remarkable the state ever had. "Why so?" was asked; when with assumed gravity he answered: "Because I have satisfied the people in one year, and no other governor ever did that."

His spirit attached him to military life. He was early promoted to the rank of major-general. This experience turned to his account, when, during the trying years of our late war, in 1861 he was appointed adjutant-general, and subsequently provost-marshal, of New Hampshire. At this time his son Daniel E. Colby was appointed adjutant-general. The governor always alluded to this service as the saddest of his life,—to encourage and send forth to almost certain death the young men of the state whom he loved as a father. This was his last prominent office in state affairs; and so faithful was he in it, that, although nearly seventy years of age, he went often to the front to acquaint himself with the condition of the soldiers and share their hardships with them.

In 1850 he received from Dartmouth College the degree of A. M., and the same year was chosen one of the trustees of the college. He was interested in the best possible educational advantages of the young, and in every way promoted them. Through his energy, in a great degree, the academy in New London has arisen to its present flourishing condition. His son-in-law, James B. Colgate, of New York, has generously endowed it, and aided in placing it upon a solid basis. The trustees have conferred upon it the name of Colby Academy.

Gov. Colby's second wife, Eliza Messenger Richardson, of Boston, by her accomplishments and true Christian character embellished and enlivened his declining years, while the devotion of his children cheered the seclusion of his last days.

Said an illiterate woman, to strangers discussing his character in the cars, "Governor Colby carries the very demon of honesty in his face."

It was his unfailing sense of duty and trust in God that won for him the vast respect of the public, and esteem of a large circle of private friends.

Sunday evening, July 20, 1875, he died, peacefully, in the home of his father, at the age of eighty years, and was buried in the cemetery of his native town, by the side of his parents.