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Delaware County, Iowa

 Biography Directory


Thomas Cole





    THOMAS COLE. In the career of this gentleman we find that of a man whose course in life has been such as to commend him in a marked manner to the esteem and confidence of his fellow men. Upright in his dealings, generous and public spirited, he has exerted a wholesome influence in the community in which he has resided, having been foremost in furthering the welfare of that community in every way that becomes a good citizen. In pioneer days he came to Delaware county and established himself as a merchant

becomes a good citizen. In pioneer days he came to Delaware county and established himself as a merchant in what is now Colesburg, where he was engaged in business for almost forty years, being one of the first merchants in the county in point of time, as he was also ever afterwards in point of commercial importance. His has been the well-rounded career of the man of business, uninterrupted by political distractions, unembarrassed by questionable speculations, unmarred by failures. His life-history possesses a special interest and value for a work like this, and we take pleasure in giving it the space here allotted to it.


      Mr. Cole is a native of England, having been born near the town of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, on the eleventh of June, 1825. His parents, Robert and Mary A. Cole, were natives of the same locality, and were descendants of two ancient and respectable families of that vicinity. When the subject of this notice was only a lad, that is in 1832, his parents immigrated to the United States, settling in Oswego, Tioga county, N. Y., where they spent the remainder of their lives, the mother dying there in 1858, aged fifty-nine, and the father in 1876, aged eighty-four. The father was a farmer and passed his entire life engaged in agricultural pursuits. Although never becoming wealthy he, nevertheless, accumulated a competency and his declining years were spent in ease. He was a man of fair intelligence and, although his earlier educational advantages were not of the best, he managed,

by industrious reading and well directed efforts in private,  to amass a valuable fund of information on a variety of subjects, and this information he was able to make an intelligent use of and did so, not the least of the uses to which he put it being that of supervising and directing the studies of his own children. Although having but little taste for politics, he, nevertheless, possessed a comprehensive knowledge of the theory and workings of the American government, and always had an opinion of his own on questions of national and state politics. In earlier years he affiliated with the Whigs, casting his political fortunes after the dissolution of that party with the republicans, with whom he remained unshaken in political bonds till the day of his death. He and his excellent wife were both members of the Methodist Episcopal church, and gave a generous support to the service of their church as well as to the general cause of Christianity. In this spirit, and actuated by such impulses, Robert and Mary A. Cole reared their family of children, six of whom reached maturity and themselves became the heads of families. They had three who died young. The six who became grown were: James, Harriet, Thomas, Abram, Robert and Mary A. Three of these came to Iowa: James, Thomas and Robert. The former two were among the first settlers of Delaware county, James having died in this county some years ago, being still pleasantly remembered by many of the old citizens of the county, whom he served in early days as one of their first county surveyors. He was also engaged for many years with our subject, Thomas, in the mercantile business at Colesburg, which place was named in honor of them. Robert resides at Easterville, Emmet county, this state, engaged in farming and the brokerage business. Harriet and Abram reside in Tioga county, N. Y., the former being the widow of William C. Talcott, and the latter, a farmer, residing on the old home place. The youngest child, Mary A., became the wife of Eugene Hammond, of Tioga county, but is now deceased.

      Thomas Cole was reared on his father's farm in Tioga county, N. Y. His youth was marked by nothing of special significance. He performed his share of the labors on the farm, and enjoyed the usual school advantages for his years. He finished his educational training in the Oneida Conference seminary, located at Cazenovia, N. Y., after which he taught for a time in the public schools of Tioga county. In May, 1847, soon after attaining his majority, he came to Iowa and located at what is now Colesburg, Delaware county. He remained there about a year, when he returned to New York, married, and came again to Iowa, taking up his residence at Colesburg. He had previously determined to engage in the mercantile business at that place, and at once opened an establishment there. His first store building was a modest frame structure, 18 by 30 feet, and thrown together in the hurried way of putting up buildings in those days. It was filled with staple goods, just such as were in demand by the plain country folk of the vicinity. These goods cost no little, however, to get them to the point where they were to be sold, as they had to be hauled by wagons from Chicago, through what was almost a wilderness country and over a distance of several hundred miles. Later, the stock was replenished by installments purchased at Dubuque, but transported, as was the original, by wagons across the country. There were many hindrances attending the mercantile business as it was conducted in those clays, but there was also this very gratifying help to the business, that one could make money at it. Trade was good, money was plentiful, people would buy, and those who had not the money to pay at the time of purchase were honest enough to pay when they promised to. Mr. Cole prospered. He began in a few years to invest his surplus funds in lands. He has been a land-dealer of more or less extensive interests since. He now owns farms in Delaware, Clayton, Buena Vista and Dickinson counties, this state. He continued to sell goods at Colesburg from the time he settled there in 1849 till 1888. He lost his store and the larger part of his goods by a fire at the latter date, at which time he relinquished the mercantile business, and, moving shortly afterwards to Manchester, resided there about a year, engaged in no active business pursuits. In November, 1889, however, he went to Greeley, in Elk township, and not far from the scenes of his former business activities, and started the Bank of Greeley, which he has conducted since. Mr. Cole is one of those men who move noiselessly along their appointed way, living easily and prosperously and accomplishing much good in a quiet way that the world knows not of. Whatever movement has been set on foot to advance the interests of the community where he has resided, has always commanded his thoughtful consideration, and his wise and conservative counsel has borne the best of fruit in whatever he has interested himself. No appeal to his liberality or public spirit has ever been made in vain, and when occasion has demanded, he has labored with willing hands for what he has deemed to be for the good of the people among whom he has lived. What the influence of his example as a quiet, industrious, conservative man of business has been, it is not possible to estimate. The fact, however, that his influence has always been extended in the right direction is to his credit, if we may believe the unanimous testimony of those who have known him longest and most intimately.

We may say, without fear of reproach, that his life has been productive of much more good than that of the average man; that it, in fact, carries with it a wholesome lesson, one that may be studied with interest and emulated with profit.

Mr. Cole's domestic relations, until his household was darkened by the grim spectra, whom we all so much dread, were of the most felicitous nature. He married, as we have noted, in 1849, the nuptial event taking place in the flowery month of May and on the first day of the month. His wife was a native of England, but was reared in Oswego, Tioga county, N. Y., the same place in which he was brought up. She belonged to one of the respectable families of that place, Hannah, her Christian name, she being a daughter of George and Ann Wilson, both of whom were born and reared in Yorkshire, England, coming to the United States about 1833. They moved West in 1849 and settled in Hustisford, Dodge county, Wis., where they both died. Mr. Cole had the great misfortune to lose his wife, January 3, 1887. She left surviving her only one child, Ella L., now the wife of Dr. J. J. Lindsay, of Manchester; two, Minnie and Matie, preceded her to the unknown land, both dying in infancy. July 31, 1889, Mr. Cole married again, taking as his second wife Miss H. Gertrude Graves, who is a native of Oswego, Tioga county, N. Y.

We have here given an outline of Mr. Cole's life. If it be true, as is often said, that a man's acts are the most intelligible expression of his principles, it may be worth mentioning in this connection, in addition to those sturdy maxims of honesty, industry and upright dealings by which Mr. Cole has shaped his course, he also held fixed views respecting all those cardinal points affecting the welfare of society and he has given a practical meaning to his views by connecting himself with the adjunct organization designed to promulgate these views and thus benefit mankind at large. He has been a member of the Methodist church for many years, a liberal contributor to the support of church organizations and a zealous worker in matters of religion. In politics he is a republican, having been in early life a Whig. He cast his first presidential vote for General Taylor in 1848 and supported the Whigs as long as there was a party organization of that name. He has been a republican since that great war party came into existence.


~ source: Biographical souvenir of the counties of Delaware and Buchanan, Iowa; Chicago : F. A. Battey, 1890. Page 568-573; LDS microfilm #985424

~ contributed by Thom Carlson