Governors of Iowa

Source: Portrait and Biographical Album, Muscatine County, Iowa, 1889, page 155


WILLIAM LARRABEE, the present Governor of Iowa, and the twelfth gentleman selected by the people as the Chief Magistrate of the great Commonwealth, is a native of Connecticut. His ancestors were among the French Huguenots who came to America early in the seventeenth century and located in Connecticut. At that time they bore the name of d' Larrabee. Adam Larrabee, the father of William, was born March 14, 1787, and was one of the early graduates of the West Point Military Academy. He served his country during the War of 1812, with distinction, holding the position of Second Lieutenant, to which he was commissioned March 1, 1811. He was promoted to the Captaincy of his company Feb. 1, 1814, and on the 30th of the following March, at the battle of Lacole Mills, during Gen. Wilkinson's campaign on the Saint Lawrence River, he was severely wounded in the lung. He eventually recoved from the injury and was united in marriage to Hannah G. Lester. This much esteemed lady was born June 3, 1798, and died on the 15th of March, 1837. Capt. Larrabee lived to an advanced age, dying in 1869, at the age of eighty-two years.

As above mentioned William, our subject, was born in Connecticut, the town of Ledyard being the place of his birth and Jan.20, 1832, the date. He was the seventh child in a family of nine children, and passed the early years of his life upon a rugged New England farm, enjoying very meager educational advantages. He attended, during the winter seasons, the neighboring district schools until he reached the age of nineteen years, when, during the following two winters, he filled the position of schoolmaster. He was ambitious to do something in life for himself that would bring fortune and distinction, but in making his plans for the future he was embarrassed by a misfortune which befell him when fourteen years of age. In being trained in the use of firearms under his father's direction, an accidental discharge resulted in the loss of the sight in the right eye. This consequently unfitted him for many employments usually sought by ambitious young men. The family lived near the seashore, only two miles away, and in that neighborhood it was the custom for at least one son in each family to go upon the sea as a sailor. The two eldest brothers of our subject had chosen this occupation while the third remained in charge of the home farm. William was thus left free to chose for himself and, like many of the youths of that day, he wisely turned his face Westward. The year 1853 found him on this journey toward the setting sun, stopping only when he came to the broad and fertile prairies of the new State of Iowa. He first joined his elder sister, Mrs.E. H. Williams, who was at that time living at Garnavillo, Clayton County. It was this circumstance which led the young boy from Connecticut to select his future home in the northeastern portion of Iowa. He resumed his occupation as a pedagogue, teaching, however, but one winter, which was passed at Hardin. The following three years he was employed in the capacity of foreman on the Grand Meadow farm of his brother-in-law, Judge Williams.

In 1857 he bought a one-third interest in the Clermont Mills, and located at Clermont, Fayette County. He soon was able to buy the other two-thirds, and within a year found himself sole owner. He operated this mill until 1874 when he sold to S. M. Leach. On the breaking out of the war he offered to enlist, but was rejected on account of the loss of his right eye. Being informed he might possibly be admitted as a commissioned officer, he raised a company and received a commission as First Lieutenant, but was again rejected for the same disability.

After selling the mill Mr. Larrabee devoted himself to farming, and started a private bank at Clermont. He also, experimentally, started a large nursery, but this resulted only in confirming the belief that Northern Iowa was too rigorous a climate for fruit-raising.

Mr. Larrabee did not begin his political career until 1867. He was reared as a Whig and became a Republican on the organization of that party. While interested in politics he generally refused local offices, serving only as Treasurer of the School Board prior to 1867. In the autumn of that year, on the Republican ticket, he was elected to represent his county in the State Senate. To this high position he was re-elected from time to time, so that he served as Senator continuously for eighteen years before being promoted to the highest office in the State. He was so popular at home that he was generally re-nominated by acclamation, and for some years the Democrats did not even make nominations. During the whole eighteen years Senator Larrabee was a member of the principle committee, that on Ways and Means, of which he was generally Chairman, and was also a member of other committees. In the pursuit of the duties thus devolving upon him, he was indefatigable. It is said that he never missed a committee meeting. Not alone in this, but in private and public business of all kinds, his uniform habit is that of close application to work. Many of the important measures passed by the Legislature owe their existence or present form to him.

He was a candidate for the gubernatorial nomination in 1881, but entered the contest too late, as Gov. Sherman's following had been successfully organized. In 1885 it was generally conceded before the meeting of the convention that he would be nominated, which he was, and his election followed as a matter of course. He was inaugurated Jan. 14, 1886, and so far has made an excellent Governor. His position in regard to the liquor question, that on which political fortunes are made and lost in Iowa, is that the majority should rule. He was personally in favor of high license, but having been elected Governor, and sworn to uphold the Constitution and execute the laws, he proposes to do so.

A Senator who sat beside him in the Senate declares him to be " a man of the broadest comprehension and information, an extraordinarily clear reasoner, fair and conscientious in his conclusions, and of Spartan firmness in his matured judgment," and says that " he brings the practical facts and philosophy of human nature, the science and history of law, to aid his decisions, and adheres with the earnestness of Jefferson and Sumner to the fundamental principles of the people's rights."

Gov. Larrabee was married Sept. 12, 1861, at Clermont, to Anna M. Appelman, daughter of Capt. G. A. Appelman. Gov. Larrabee has seven children--Charles, Augusta, Julia, Anna, William, Frederic and Helen.

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