William P. Riddle

The lives men live and the character of communities lived in are retroactive. Written or unwritten, the good and ill of them swell the tide of human progress, which ebbs and flows by force of individual influences. Time and place are accidental to birth, but often determine conditions that shape fortune. In New England, in the last century, men achieved and wore the iron crown, and their descendants inherited traits of mental and moral character that make material for biography.

The subject of this sketch was of the third generation of his family in the town of Bedford, N. H., the place of his nativity. In origin the family Was of Anglo-Norman extraction. The name of Riddle appears in the English and Scotch genealogies, and is traceable back into the ninth century. Gaen Riddle, of Scotch descent, the head of his branch of the family in this country, came over and settled in Bedford, N. H., about the year 1737, and was one of the original settlers of that town. William P. Riddle, of whom is the present memoir, was the grandson of Gaen Riddle, and the son of Isaac,—a man of prominence in the affairs and events of his time and locality. William P. inherited in a marked degree his father's characteristics. Born on the 6th day of April, 1789, during the period of the formation of our constitutional government, he became early imbued with the ideas of nationality. His youth was passed at the district school, upon the farm, and about his father's business, in which he displayed aptness and activity. At the old Atkinson Academy, in New Hampshire, he ultimately acquired what education it was his privilege to obtain, and for a short time taught school in his native town.

In 1811, Mr. Riddle located in Piscataquog, a village in Bedford, situated on the Merrimack river, and now apart of the city of Manchester. There he took charge of his father's mercantile affairs. Business soon increased in importance, which led to the formation of the partnership of Isaac Riddle & Sons, in 1817. This firm eventually extended its business operations throughout central New England. They owned and carried on stores, warehouses, lumber-yards, saw and grain mills at Bedford and Piscataquog, and also operated cotton and nail factories, and lumber and grain mills, on the Souhegan at Merrimack. At the latter place they erected dwelling-houses, stores, and a hotel, whence it came to be known as Riddle's Village, and was an active and thriving place.

During this time the project of constructing the "Union Locks and Canals," on the Merrimack river, was inaugurated,—an enterprise which rendered that river navigable for boats and barges to the capital of the state of New Hampshire, and opened up water communication with Boston. With this achievement Mr. Riddle became identified, manifesting energy and foresight. Taking advantage of the facilities thus afforded for inland navigation, the firm of Isaac Riddle & Sons established a warehouse in Boston, together with a line of canal-boats, and in connection with their other extensive business entered actively into the carrying-trade. This water transportation was continued by Mr. Riddle after the dissolution of his firm in 1830, and until the opening of the Nashua & Concord Railroad.

At the decease of his father, the old firm was dissolved, and Mr. Riddle assumed and carried on the business in his own name, both at Merrimack and Bedford. He supplied the region round about with merchandise, and furnished lumber largely for the cities of Nashua, Lowell, Newburyport, Boston, and Providence, supplying the navy-yard at Charlestown with spars and ship-timber, Boston, and Lowell, and other large cities with lumber for public buildings and bridges, and the railways of New England with ties and contract lumber, and shipped railroad sleepers to the West Indies. The old "yellow store" at Piscataquog Bridge was the scene of many of these transactions. It was a busy mart. Here were bought and bartered domestic products, wood, timber and lumber from all the outlying country, in exchange for groceries and merchandise, which in turn were transported down the Merrimack to the markets of Massachusetts.

During this latter period of his business activity, Mr. Riddle also dealt extensively in hops, buying them throughout New Hampshire, Vermont, and Canada, and shipping and marketing them in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, and in some instances exporting them. In 1846 he was appointed inspector-general of hops for New Hampshire, the culture of which having become of important concern to the farmers of the state. In this capacity he was favorably known and respected among hop-growers and merchants of New England. In 1848 the Piscataquog steam-mills were erected by him, and successfully operated for several years. Thus were continued and carried on mercantile pursuits and business enterprises until his retirement, about the year 1860, filling up a busy life of upwards of half a century.

Early in life Mr. Riddle evinced a taste for military affairs. At the age of twenty-five years he organized a company known as the Bedford Grenadiers, and was chosen its first captain. Five years afterwards he was promoted to the rank of major of the "Old Ninth Regiment." The next year he became lieutenant-colonel, and on June 15, 1824, was promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment, and was in command for seven years. The "Old Ninth" was then composed of ten full infantry companies, two rifle companies, one artillery company, and one cavalry company, and for discipline and efficiency ranked first in the state. In June, 1831, Col. Riddle was promoted brigadier-general; and on the 25th of June, 1833, was further promoted to the rank of major-general of the division, which military office he held till his resignation. Thus he had filled all the offices of military rank within the state.

Mr. Riddle married, in 1824, Miss Sarah Ferguson, daughter of Capt. John Ferguson, of Dunbarton,—a soldier of the Revolution who fought at Bunker's Hill. Of this union there were seven children. After his marriage he continued to reside in Piscataquog, living on the present homestead till his death.

In civil life, Gen. Riddle also held offices of trust. He was representative at the legislature, county road commissioner, justice of the peace and of the quorum, trustee of institutions, on committees of public matters, and frequently moderator at the town-meetings. In 1820 he was chairman of a committee chosen to build Piscataquog meeting-house, a matter of some church importance to the town of Bedford; and some twenty years later he was on the committee to remodel it into an academy, of which he was made and continued a trustee, and in which he exercised a lively interest. It was his pleasure to promote public education in every way. The common school, the academy, and the college received his patronage and fostering consideration. As the town's committee, he superintended the early construction of bridges across the Piscataquog and Merrimack rivers; in 1825, rebuilt the McGregor bridge, now the location of the new iron bridge on Bridge street, Manchester; and at a later period was the president of the Granite Bridge Company, which erected the lattice toll-bridge at Merrill's Falls.

In the "Masonic Fraternity," Mr. Riddle was prominent, becoming a member of the order in 1823. The following year he helped found the Lafayette Lodge in Piscataquog, being a charter member. He gave liberally to the support of this lodge, both in funds and effort, supplying it with a hall for meetings and work for twenty-five years. He was the last surviving member of its early projectors. The old Lafayette Lodge was among the very few in the state during the anti-Mason troubles that held its regular communications unbroken. He was also a member of the Mt. Horeb Chapter, and of Trinity Commandry of Knights Templar.

About agriculture he found time to exercise his taste. He owned several farms, and cultivated them with success, experimenting with crops, and giving results to the public. He was a patron of the state and county fairs, and sought in many ways to advance and encourage the best interests of husbandry. Hop-raising was a specialty with him, and through his methods and example the culture of hops within the state was extended and improved.

In 1854, after the incorporation of the city of Manchester, at a time when there seemed to be little interest manifested in military affairs in the state, Gen. Riddle undertook and assisted in the organization of the Amoskeag Veterans, now so well known and respected. In its origin the corps was a military association, composed of many of the most prominent and worthy citizens of the community. From such an association a battalion was formed, and Gen. Riddle chosen its first commander. The success of this movement gave an impetus to the military spirit of the day, and was the means of inaugurating a new militia system for the state. The Veterans, as is well known, uniformed in continental style, and to-day enjoy a wide reputation for their unique and quaint appearance on parade, their martial bearing, and soldierly mien, and for the character of the rank and file. In the fall of 1855, upon the invitation of President Pierce, the Amoskeag Veterans visited Washington and became guests at the White House, freely enjoying its hospitality, and receiving official honor. While there they made a notable pilgrimage to the tomb of Washington at Mount Vernon. On its return, the battalion attracted much public notice. At Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, it received special attention and entertainment. During the late war the Veterans showed patriotism, both in deed and sentiment, and otherwise promoted the national cause.

In politics, Mr. Riddle was a Whig, during the existence of the party; and subsequently became a Republican. Though not a politician, he took an earnest and active interest in the public affairs of the country. Respecting the constitutional rights of all sections, he most faithfully upheld the integrity of the nation. With him, liberty of thought, speech, and action was a fundamental and inherent idea. To him the history and traditions of the American people were a sacred heritage, and the constitution and union were solemn and paramount obligations, inseparable and indissoluble. In political faith, he believed the nation co-existed in perpetuity, and that the people were the source of all sovereignty; that parties and policies were expedients,—essential, but subordinate to principle and the fundamental concerns of the state. In the early discussions prior to the outbreak of the late rebellion, he took an earnest and serious interest. He regarded secession as treasonable heresy, and odious. During the war he was an ardent supporter of the government, and threw all his influence in its behalf. With deep faith in free institutions, and the power of the nation, he "never despaired of the Republic." Upon the close of hostilities, peace was welcomed by him as the harbinger of a redeemed country.

Though nurtured under Scotch Presbyterian influences, Mr. Riddle was ultimately a Unitarian in his religious faith. He was prominent among the founders of the Unitarian society at Manchester, and exercised much personal regard for its success. Liberal in his views, he was always actuated by principle, and aimed at consistency in Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount was to him an abiding force. Dogma was subordinated to faith; and faith enlightened by reason. A patient listener to religious teaching, he molded his own opinions. In his last days he was wont to say, that, upon a retrospection of his life, he "did not wish to change anything." Simplicity of character, charity, and hospitality were marked traits in life. Energy, efficiency, and integrity characterized his whole career. In private life he was much respected, and fully sustained the confidence of his fellow-men. In public life he was identified with every worthy achievement of his time. Few men of his generation and nativity have lived more active lives, and few will leave for a memorial a wider record of usefulness and enterprise.

In the full possession of his faculties, at the ripe age of eighty-six years, the subject of this sketch passed quietly away, on the 18th day of May, 1875. The church he helped to build and to sustain was the scene of his obsequies. In the cemetery at Bedford, by the place of his birth, within the old family tomb, he was interred, amid the kindly offices of friends, and the associations with which he had so long been identified.

Such is the brief portrayal of a life and character, which in some degree was the logical outcome of the rugged circumstances that beset the early settlements of New Hampshire.

The causes which led to the establishment of civil and religious liberty in New England equally wrought out the characteristics of the people. Bedford, Londonderry, Antrim, were primarily a part of the wilds, and the "rock-ribbed" hills, that were subdued and made habitable by the indomitable energy and frugal industry of those early pioneers. Their descendants, partaking somewhat of their own robust virtues, have in turn impressed the higher culture and the later institutions of the country. In those old towns may yet be traced the lineaments of the ancestry which so eminently struggled for "conscience' sake." Perhaps to no influence more than that of the New England mothers' is attributable the steady, underlying moral force which pervaded that elder civilization.

Well may it be said, that "New Hampshire was a good state to emigrate from,"—for those communities which have had the good fortune to be the recipients of such an emigration.