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George Henry French


Posted By: Annette Lucas (email)
Date: 7/15/2021 at 10:30:09

SOURCE: Biographical History and Portrait Gallery of Scott County, Iowa. American Biographical Publishing Company, H. C. Cooper, Jr., & Co. Proprietors. 1895

GEORGE HENRY FRENCH , for more than twenty years prominently and actively connected with the business interests and public affairs of Davenport, was born at Andover, Massachusetts, on the twenty -third of February,, 1825. 1825. His parents, George and Mary Richardson French , natives of Braintree, Massachusetts, both died ere he had attained his twelfth year, and he was at that tender age, without any patrimony, thrown upon his own resources, with the care and support of two infant sisters added to the responsibility; but he proved equal to the emergency. Up to the age of twelve he had attended the district schools. After that he was able, through his own efforts, to take about three years' tuition at Philips' Academy in Andover, and at the high School of Lowell, Massachusetts, both institutions of eminence, in which he acquired a liberal academic and mathematical education, earning his subsistence by acting as clerk during vacations and holidays for a notion store.

At the age of seventeen he entered the large hide and leather store of Philip R. Southwick, of Boston, where he remained for five years, representing his firm one season in St. Louis, Missouri, and becoming one of the most expert and accomplished business men of the day. At the age of twenty -two he embarked in business on his own account in Boston, dealing in hides and leather with very considerable success for a period of nine years . Meantime his health had begun to show symptoms of decline, and he was advised, for the benefit of his health and that of his family, to go west, and in 1856 he left Boston and immigrated to Davenport, being moved to select this point chiefly from the circumstance that it was already the residence of his brother -in -law , the late Bishop Lee of Iowa. Soon after settling in Davenport he engaged in the sawmill and lumbering interest, first in the firm of Cannon & French and subsequently that of French & Davies. The last- named firm transacted a very large business throughout the late war, furnishing the greater part of the lumber used in the construction of the several barracks and other buildings for Camps McClellan, Ilendershot, Herron and Roberts, and for the rebel prisons on Rock Island. In 1872 he sold out his interest in this business to his partner, having in that year been elected to the presidency of the Davenport & St. Paul Railroad Company, which position he retained until the corporation became embarrassed, after which he was appointed its receiver, a position which, however, he resigned after a few months. While acting as president he pressed forward the work of construction with great energy, completing ninety miles and partially building forty more. The enterprise collapsed in the panic of 1874, Mr. French being himself one of the heaviest losers.

Later he engaged largely in the manufacture of agricultural implements, in connection with Messrs. E. P. Lynch and T. 0. Swiney, in the Eagle Manufacturing Company.

During his residence in Davenport his fine executive abilities were frequently called into exercise by his fellow -citizens with the happiest results. In 1858 he was elected treasurer of the City School Board, and reelected annually for twelve consecutive years. In this capacity he contributed very largely to the upbuilding of the public school system of Davenport. At an early day he foresaw the wisdom of securing to the city the beautiful square upon which has since been erected the magnificent High School building, one of the finest in the country, the most conspicuous object in Davenport and the source of its highest pride. In 1860 he was also elected treasurer of Griswold College, Davenport, an institution which was one of the cherished schemes of Bishop Lee, and which accomplished much in the way of a higher education and in the theological training of young men for the ministry. His management of the funds of this institution was marked by like judgment and results. In the same year he was elected treasurer of the diocesan fund of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the diocese of Iowa, and to his management of certain real estate investments was mainly due the ample resources from which the tasty and appropriate Episcopal residence was erected in Davenport, and the revenue from which the episcopate of the diocese derives its support. In 1861 and 1862 he was chief magistrate of the city, filling the position, as he did all others, with credit to himself and the utmost satisfaction to his constituents. He was one of the original organizers of the First National Bank of Davenport, and its second president. He served as aide to Governor Stone, of Iowa, during his gubernatorial term .

In the early years of his life he was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church, but, his theological views having latterly undergone a change, later attended the Unitarian Church .

In politics he was first a Whig, and on the death of that party allied himself with the Republican, and at every period of the War bore an active part in efforts to enlist and equip troops, furnish sanitary supplies to the soldiers, and in caring for the sick and wounded , and ministering to the wants of the families of those who were battling for their country. He took an active part, also, in securing the congressional legislation by which the United States arsenal was located on Rock Island .

On the twelfth of June, 1850, he married Miss Frances Wood Morton, daughter of ex -Governor Marcus Morton , of Taunton , Massachusetts, a lady of high culture, liberal mental endowments and of rare personal beauty, yet exemplifying in her daily life the richer adornments of a meek and virtuous spirit.

Mr. French enjoyed a large share of the esteem and kindly regard of all classes of people in Davenport, and his death removed one who had left a marked impress on the community.


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