June 18, 2005

Jeremiah Dwight

It's been too long since I've published an except from George Goodrich's Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, so here's a piece about Jeremiah Dwight, one of Dryden's most successful businessmen and politicians of the 19th century.

Goodrich mentions a town in North Dakota named after Dwight, and sure enough, it's still there.

Chapter XLIX.

Jeremiah Wilbur Dwight.

Jeremiah Wilbur Dwight was born at Cincinnatus, Cortland county, New York, April 17th, 1819. He was the oldest son of Elijah and Olive Standish Dwight, and a direct descendant of John Dwight, who came from England in 1635 and settled in Massachusetts.

John Dwight founded a family which has produced, perhaps, as great a number of talented men who have distinguished themselves on progressive lines, as any man in this country.

Through his mother, Mr. Jeremiah Wilbur Dwight was a lineal descendant of Captain Miles Standish, who came over in the Mayflower in 1620. In 1830, Mr. Dwight's parents moved from Cincinnatus into Caroline, Tompkins county, and six years later, into that part of Dryden known as South Hill. His parents were poor and unable to give him an education except that afforded by the common schools. His necessities aroused his ambition. In 1838 he came to Dryden village and, for forty-nine years, was identified with her interests and history. He entered the store of A. Benjamin, to learn the mercantile business, and an incident connected with this real starting point in his life shows the strong characteristics which ever marked his subsequent career. He was a stranger, but, feeling the responsibility of aiding his father's family, he determined to secure a foothold. Six dollars, his savings from farm work, constituted his entire capital. The coveted clerkship was already filled, but the clerk who served was willing to sell his position to young Dwight for his six dollars. Dwight risked his all confident that he could make himself so useful that he would become a necessity to his employers. He succeeded, as he remained constantly with the firm until the business was sold to A. L. Bushnell. Meantime, he had taken advantage of instruction at odd times at the Burhans school, and, when the new mercantile firm was formed, he went with it and a few years later was taken into partnership.

Their store was located at the south-east corner of Main and South streets. After remaining there a few years, a new firm was organized by J. W. Dwight and I. P. Ferguson and they occupied a small store on the north side of Main street. In 1852 Mr. Dwight was able to build the stone store building, in which he continued the mercantile business under the firm name of J. W. Dwight & Company. Probably no store in this section of the country at that time transacted a larger or more prosperous business. As a merchant, Mr. Dwight was a success. By early and late application to business, strictest economy, truthfulness, honesty, and exemplary habits, Mr. Dwight made hosts of friends and won the confidence and respect of the people.

As he became more prosperous, he invested in real estate. His first venture was the purchase of the Goddard farm. In this new enterprise, he showed his innate business sagacity, did well for himself, and, at the same time, he helped to develop Dryden village. He laid out "The Square" by cutting Pleasant and James streets through the farm, platted the farm into building lots, and reserved for himself that porition which is now known as the Dwight homestead. From the remainder developed Union street, nearly all of the east side of South street, and more, as the farm ran south to Virgil Creek and east to the Tucker Farm, including what is now the school lot. Later, in partnership with Dr. Montgomery, he purchased part of the Tucker farm, which ran further east, and also partially laid that out into streets and building lots.

Since his investments proved successful, he invested again with others in the Dryden Woolen Mill, the Stone Flour Mill, and the Dryden Lake property. In the management of all these enterprises he demonstrated his able judgment, his correct estimate of values, and his comprehensive grasp of financial problems. At this time, as his acquaintance broadened and opportunities presented themselves, he made investments elsewhere. First, in New Jersey, later on, in pine lands in Wisconsin. Later, in 1880, he organized the Dwight Farm and Land Company of North Dakota, which purchased there sixty thousand acres of land. The present town of Dwight, located in North Dakota in a part of the holdings, bears his name. His business transactions, so successful tht any man might be proud of them, were the legitimate outgrowth of investments made in real estate and developed by courage and the strictest application.

As a citizen he early took an interest in all public improvements, and was always in the front ranks, bearing his full share in the work of village incorporation, school improvements, church repairs, and organization of the Agricultural Society and of a Cemetery Association worthy of the town and the times. He was a prime mover in the organization and building of the Southern Central railway, feeling that the time had come when Dryden should be connected with the outside world by means other than that of the stage coach. Into this project he threw his characteristic zeal to make the undertaking a success. He was for a long time director and vice-president and gave generously both his time and money to the work. Though absorbed in his own business affairs, he was frequently called upon to administer estates for others, and was selected by Jennie McGraw-Fisk as one of the trustees of the Southworth Library bequest. All trusts he fulfilled conscientiously, and according to the dictates of his best judgment. He was always the friend of the unfortunate and those struggling against adverse circumstances.

Believing that the policy of the Republican party would best insure the safety and development of his country, which he loved, he was an ardent Republican. For many years Dryden was known as the banner Republican town of the county and credit was due as much to Mr. Dwight's devoted efforts as to any other cause. He never failed to attend every caucus and election or to brave severe storms in order to go to surrounding school-houses to speak when duty called. In 1857 and 1858 he was elected supervisor of the town of Dryden and during both terms was chairman of the county board.

In 1859 he was elected Member of Assembly and was re-elected in 1860. In the early years of the war he was appointed by Governor Morgan as a member of the war committee for his own senatorial district and he served until the committee disbanded. In 1868 he was sent as a delegate to the National Republican Convention at Chicago, where he supported General Grant for President. He was a member of Congress for six years, representing the twenty-eight New York Congressional District, at that time composed of Tompkins, Broome, Schuyler and Tioga counties. He was first elected, in 1876, to the forty-fifth Congress and then re-elected to the forty-sixth and forty-seventh Congresses. In 1884 he was a delegate to the 1884 Republican National Convention, where he supported James G. Blaine for President. In politics he was noted for his fertility of resources, fidelity to party, loyalty to friends, and, though he was in the political maelstrom, his high moral character protected his name from the taint of corruption.

In 1845 he married Rebecca Ann Cady, daughter of Hon. Elias W. Cady. Their descendants are: Mary M. Dwight, who married Sanders E. Rockwell and has one son, James Dwight Rockwell; Olive Adelia Dwight; Julia R. Dwight; Annie A. Dwight, who married Richard S. Tyler; and John W. Dwight, who married Emma S. Childs.

Mr. Dwight died November 26th, 1885, at the age of sixty-six. He rests in Green Hills cemetery.

Goodrich, George B. The Centennial History of the Town of Dryden, 1797-1897. Dryden: Dryden Herald Steam Printing House, 1898. Reprinted 1993 by the Dryden Historical Society. Pages 23-7.

(The Dryden Historical Society, which sells this book, may be reached at 607-844-9209.)

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