Dexter Richards by Joseph W. Parmelee

From the twelve immigrants of the name of Richards that originally came from England to this country, at different times, in the years from 1630 to 1728, have come, as may be seen by the records of the New England Historic-Genealogical Society, in Boston, a great number of descendants, who, from the beginning, have borne a royal part in the toils and trials and hardships of our early time, and who are to-day represented in the learned professions, the arts, commerce, and manufactures, and general business of this great country.

The sixth of these immigrants, in point of time, was Edward Richards, a passenger in the ship Lion, from London, who landed in Boston, September 16, 1632. His brother, Nathaniel, was also a passenger. Nathaniel afterward joined the party of Rev. Mr. Hooker,—a memorable expedition,—and with it traversed the then howling wilderness to the valley of the Connecticut, and was among the founders of Hartford.

Edward Richards was, for a time, resident at Cambridge, Mass., where he married, September 10, 1638, Susan Hunting. He was afterward one of the sixty-two original proprietors of the town of Dedham, near Boston, where he lived, and died in 1684, and where many of his descendants are to be found at this time. We follow the descent of the line from Edward (1), through John (2), John (3), John (4), Abiathar (5), to Sylvanus in the sixth generation, who, about the beginning of this century, moved, with his family, to Newport, N. H., where he settled on a large tract of land in the western part of the township, on what is known as the old road to Claremont. The place is now (1882) in possession of Shepard H. Cutting.

Mr. Richards was, for some years, one of the largest land-holders and tax-payers in the town. In connection with his farming business he kept a way-side inn, where rest and refreshment awaited the dusty and chilly traveler,—man and beast. This was nearly three-quarters of a century before the scream of the locomotive was ever heard in this part of New Hampshire, a time when the people were mostly dependent upon their own resources, in regard to methods of travel and transportation.

About the year 1812, Sylvanus Richards moved to Newport Village, and became the proprietor of the "Rising Sun" tavern, a house originally built and occupied as a public house by Gordon Buell, the father of the late Mrs. Sarah J. Hale, of Philadelphia, the accomplished writer and editor of the Lady's Book. It was in this house that Dexter Richards was born.

Of the four children, all sons, born to Sylvanus and Lucy (Richardson) his wife, was Seth Richards (7), born in Dedham, Mass., February 20, 1792, who grew up to aid him in his business, and ultimately succeeded to the proprietorship of the "Rising Sun." The writer remembers Capt. Seth Richards as a man of great personal activity and tact in business, of irreproachable integrity in all his transactions with his fellow-men through a long and busy life, genial and benevolent, a downright gentleman of the old school, and in his departure leaving a place in the social and business affairs of this community exceedingly difficult to fill. He was often called by his fellow-citizens to fill town offices and places of trust and responsibility, and was chosen as a representative to the state legislature in 1833.

After leaving the hotel he turned his attention to the mercantile business, and was for some time a clerk in the store of Erastus Baldwin, one of the earlier merchants of the town. In 1835, when the Cheneys retired from Newport, he purchased their stock and trade, and the "old stand," and continued the business successfully for many years, or until about the year 1853, when he became interested in the Sugar River flannel-mills,—of which we shall have more to say hereafter,—and finally retired from active life about the year 1867.

Captain Richards married, April 8, 1817, Fanny Richards, of Dedham, Mass., and to them were born, in the years from 1818 to 1834, two sons and six daughters. In regard to the family of Seth and Fanny Richards, we may say that no more pleasant and hospitable home ever opened its doors in Newport. They died in the faith and communion of the Congregational church. Fanny died August 11, 1854. Seth died October 30, 1871.

Of the children of Seth and Fanny Richards, was Dexter, born September 5, 1818, who is more particularly the subject of this sketch. Tracing his genealogy, we find him in the eighth generation from Edward in the line of the American Richardses. To say that Dexter Richards was born with a silver spoon in his mouth would belie the facts in the case; but to say that he comes through a worthy line of ancestors, and that he inherits their good and noble qualities and best abilities, will meet our case at the threshold. He has some time said that he never had any childhood or youth, in the common acceptation of the term; that in his early years his parents were in moderate circumstances, and, being the eldest son of a family mostly daughters, he was called to work, and think of ways and means for promoting their welfare. While other lads of his age were engaged in their sports and pastimes, or enjoying public occasions like the old-fashioned trainings and musters, Fourth-of-July celebrations, or town-meetings and court days, he early manifested a natural tact for business, by engaging in some juvenile enterprise by which to turn an honest penny with the crowd.

The public school in district number two afforded him an opportunity for learning the rudiments of knowledge, which was eagerly improved, summer and winter, as he could be spared from other duties. When about eighteen years of age he finished his education, so far as schools are concerned, with a term or two at a high school in Lebanon, under the tutelage of the late eminent Prof. Edmund R. Peaslee. Mr. Richards has, therefore, never been through with what is termed a regular course of study, and comes to us with no diploma from college or hall. The most important part of his education has been acquired outside the schools, in the great university of active life, and is of the most practical character.

Politically, he was reared in the Democratic faith; but, when the union of the states was assailed, the action of the Democratic party in regard to the great questions of that day not being in accord with his views he withdrew from it, and affiliated with the Republican party, just then commencing its career. The ranks of this great party, that has for more than twenty years dominated in this country, were greatly augmented and strengthened by such acquisitions from the Democratic party; men who arose in their might, declaring the patriotic sentiment of their old leader and hero, Andrew Jackson,—"The Union must and shall be preserved."

In regard to his public career, Mr. Richards was many times, when quite a young man, elected to serve on the board of selectmen. In the years 1865, 1866, and 1870, he represented the town in the state legislature. In 1871 and 1872 he was a member, from this district, of the executive council, and about that time a delegate to the Republican national convention at Philadelphia, that nominated General Grant for his second term of the presidency. In 1876 he was a delegate to the convention for revising the constitution of the state; and, so far as his official course is concerned, from the beginning it has been distinguished by eminent ability and the strictest integrity. The "spoils," so-called, have never been his object in accepting offices of trust at the hands of his constituents. He has found his reward more in the faithful and conscientious performance of his duty.

In regard to the business career of Mr. Richards, we may say it has been characterized by great industry and enterprise, on a basis of good judgment, and in a spirit of fair dealing throughout. We have already alluded to his early inclination to buy and sell and get gain in a small way, as a boy, and in this respect the child foreshadowed the man. During the years of his minority he was the faithful and efficient coadjutor of his father in all his plans and purposes, and particularly so when Capt. Seth Richards succeeded to the mercantile business at the old Cheney stand, about the year 1835. In the management of this business the son was a most important factor, and on coming of age became a partner with his father. The business was well managed and profitable, and with it came prosperity to the Richards family, and to Dexter Richards the foundation and assurance of future successes in life. About the year 1853, Richards & Son came to be interested in a flannel-mill in Newport, that, possibly, had not heretofore been very successfully managed. The history of this concern may be briefly stated as follows:—

The Sugar River mills were built in 1847, by Perley S. Coffin and John Puffer. About the year 1853, Richards & Son (Dexter) succeeded by purchase to the original interest of John Puffer, then owned by D. J. Goodridge. On the retirement of the senior Richards, in 1867, changes were made by which the entire establishment came into possession of Dexter Richards, Mr. Coffin retiring from the concern with a handsome fortune.

In the prosecution of the business up to this time, the parties interested had been singularly favored by circumstances that brought disaster to many other firms and business men throughout our northern towns and cities. We have reference to the great civil war that about this time (1861-65) so much disturbed the commerce of the country. Of the gray twilled flannels produced by the Sugar River mills, a large stock had accumulated at this time. The goods were well adapted to the wants of laborers, and particularly the soldiers in the Union army. The war created a demand; prices appreciated; the machinery was kept running night and day; the flannels found ready sale as fast as they could be produced; and the success of the Sugar River mills was henceforth assured. In the mean time, the establishment had been greatly enlarged and improved, and was turning out about eight hundred thousand yards of flannel yearly.

In 1872, Seth Mason Richards, the eldest son of Dexter Richards, a young man just entered upon his majority, was admitted to a partnership with his father. Enlargements and improvements have continued from time to time, and the condition of the establishment at this date (1882) may be stated as follows: Dexter Richards & Son, proprietors; capital stock, $150,000. S. M. Richards, superintendent; Arthur R. Chase, secretary. It gives steady employment to eighty-five operatives; runs eight sets of cards, forty-four narrow looms, fifteen spinning-machines; works up two hundred and eighty thousand pounds of cotton and wool, and turns out annually nearly one million yards of gray twilled flannel. The trade-mark (D. R. P.) of these goods is well known, among dealers and others, throughout the country, and the products of the factory find market and ready sale through commission merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

Up to the year 1871, the manufacturing and agricultural interests of Newport and the towns adjoining had achieved all the prosperity it was possible for them to attain without railroad facilities to enable them to compete successfully with other places in the enjoyment of such facilities. As early as 1848, the Concord & Claremont Railroad Company had been incorporated, and in 1850 the road had been put in operation to Bradford. From Bradford to Claremont the rugged nature of the route was appalling to engineers and contractors, and particularly so to capitalists who were expected to construct the road. The enterprise here came to a stand. Further efforts, legislative and otherwise, to continue the work, were made without success, and for twenty-one years the heavy-laden stages and teams continued to toil on over the weary hills, to and fro, waiting for some able and friendly hand to establish a new order of things, and deliver them. In the meantime, the war of the rebellion, that had absorbed the thought and labor and capital of the country, had come and gone, and "enterprises of great pith and moment," that had long slumbered, were again revived,—day dawned again upon the Sugar River Railroad.

In the year 1866, mainly through the influence of Dexter Richards, then a member of the legislature, and his enterprise as a citizen, the Sugar River Railroad Company, now known as the Concord & Claremont Railroad Company, was chartered. The means to revive and continue the building of the road through to Claremont were furnished by the Northern Railroad Company, aided by large assessments on the towns on the route of the road. The town of Newport, by official act, became responsible for forty-five thousand dollars, or about five per cent on its valuation. In addition to this amount, the further sum of twenty thousand dollars was required to assure the continuance and completion of the work. Of this amount, Mr. Richards became liable for eleven thousand dollars, and other parties interested made up the remaining nine thousand dollars. The assurance of sixty-five thousand dollars from the town of Newport secured the construction of the road through to Claremont beyond a doubt. The road was soon afterward completed, and the first regular train from Bradford to Claremont passed through Newport, September 16, 1872.

It was also through the instrumentality of Mr. Richards, that in July, 1866, the wires of the Western Union Telegraph Company were extended and in operation to this town. Of the one thousand dollars subscribed by citizens of Newport to secure this great facility of communication, three-fourths of the amount were paid by him.

Mr. Richards has identified himself with the friends of education, and Dartmouth College particularly, by the endowment of a scholarship in that venerable and favorite institution of learning. He has also contributed liberally to the support of Kimball Union Academy, at Meriden, of which he is one of the trustees. He is also one of the founders and benefactors of the Orphans' Home, at Franklin, and a trustee of the New Hampshire Asylum for the Insane, at Concord, benevolent institutions that are an honor to our state.

The Congregational church and society, of Newport, of which Mr. Richards has been for many years a member, are greatly indebted to him for their present substantial prosperity. He has identified himself not only with the ample support of the ministry of this time-honored church, its mission work, its charities, local and remote; its Sunday-school,—of which, up to 1878, when he retired from the position, he had been for more than twenty years the superintendent,—but with the improvements and additions to its buildings and grounds, and the erection of its parsonage. At an expense of some two thousand five hundred dollars, he has placed a large and fine-toned organ in the choir, as a memorial of a beloved daughter (Elizabeth) who died in the year 1868, in the twenty-first year of her age.

To complete the list of interests that wait on Mr. Richards for his attention, we find his name as one of the directors of the Eastern Railroad in New Hampshire; and, also, one of the directors of the N. H. Fire Insurance Company, at Manchester. He is the president of the First National Bank of Newport. He was also one of the founders and the first president of the Newport Savings Bank, chartered July 1, 1868, and now in successful operation.

He married, January 27, 1847, Louisa Frances, daughter of the late Dr. Mason Hatch, a long time highly esteemed physician and citizen of Newport. Of the six children born to them in the years from 1847 to 1867, three only survive: Seth Mason, born June 6, 1850, now a partner with his father in the Sugar River mills establishment, in which he has exhibited superior business qualities, and bids fair to become a useful and influential citizen of the town and state. Josephine Ellen, born October 30, 1855, a graduate of the Female Seminary, at Andover, Mass., and the founder of a scholarship in honor of her alma mater. During the years 1880 and 1881, Miss Richards, with a party of friends, sought entertainment and culture from an extended tour in Europe, visiting Egypt and Palestine in the course of their trip. William Francis, born January 28, 1867, is now (1882) a student connected with Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass.

The Richards family have a delightful cottage at Straw's Point, Rye Beach, where an unaffected hospitality, as well as the breath of the sea, await their friends during the summer months.

There are several instances in the history of Newport of men who, having acquired wealth in their dealings with its citizens, have removed to more important places to enjoy the spending and investing of their incomes, without leaving behind them any visible improvement in the way of buildings, or a public good of any kind,—nothing but a memory of their insatiate avarice, followed by unsparing criticisms. Such a record can never be made of Dexter Richards. With increasing ability in the way of means, he has manifested a corresponding disposition to improve the physical aspect of his native town. He has placed on the street not only his elegant private residence, but houses for rent, and substantial and sightly blocks of buildings for business purposes. He has improved his factory buildings and grounds, built barns, cultivated lands, produced crops, interested himself in improved breeds of cattle and horses, thus giving employment to many working men and hands, and increased the productive industry of the town and its general valuation in many respects, aside from his manufacturing interest, as indicated by the assessment for taxation. He is by far the largest tax-payer in Newport, and one of the largest in Sullivan county and the state of New Hampshire.

He has managed his private affairs and the public business, as far as it has been intrusted to his care, with superior ability; and now in his mature prime of life, should the state require his further service, his past record and present position would afford an abundant guarantee for the able fulfillment of any future or more important trust.