Biography of Austin Messinger
Bristol County, MA Biographies

AUSTIN MESSINGER was practically a lifelong resident of Norton, Bristol county, Mass., where he was born November 2, 1817, and where he died February 1, 1898. He was descended in the sixth generation from Henry and Sarah Messinger, who settled in Boston prior to January 27, 1640, at which time Henry "has a lot of land allowed him atMuddy river, by town grant, for two heads." Henry Messinger was the first known proprietor of the land on which now stands the buildings of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Boston Museum. He was a joiner by trade, a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1658, and a freeman in 1665, and probably died in 1681. Of his eleven children, Thomas, the tenth, was born March 22, 1661, married Elizabeth, daughter of John and Martha Mellows, and had three sons and three daughters. Ebenezer Messinger, son of Thomas, was born June 2, 1697, in Boston, and removed to Wrentham, Mass., where his first wife died November 21, 1752, aged fifty one; she was Rebecca, daughter of Wigglesworth and Ursillear Sweetser, and they were married January 1, 1719, by Rev. Cotton Mather. November 3, 1766, he married, second, Hannah Metcalf. He died June 9, 1768. He had eight children, all by his first wife. Sweetser Messinger, the seventh child, married Elizabeth, daughter of John and Elizabeth Smith, and had twelve children, of whom Oliver, the youngest son, was born June 28, 1778. Oliver Messinger moved from Wrentham to a farm in Norton, Bristol county, where he died in January, 1850. He married, first, Patience Miller, who died leaving three children: Albert, James Oliver and Louisa. His second wife was Rhoda, daughter of Elder George Kilton, of Taunton. She was born April 23, 1792, and bore him two children, Austin and Rhoda Maria.

Austin Messinger received a limited common school education in his native town, but being possessed of great force of character and unusual intellectual attainments he very early displayed those strong qualities of head and heart, which ultimately brought him success and honor. By improving the opportunities that fell his way be became a well read, thoroughly posted man, and achieved prominence as the result of his own exertions. Before he reached his majority he had learned the painter's trade, and at the age of twenty three he opened a paint shop in Taunton, where he carried on a successful business for several years. His health failing, he returned to Norton in the spring of 1846, and built the house in which he ever afterward resided, and which stands within a few feet of where he was born. A few years later he began to experiment with friction matches, and when, in 1857, the patent on them expired he. commenced the manufacture on a small scale, first in a back room of his house. He took the first lot to Providence, R. I., in a sleigh, and disposed of them so advantageously that, upon his return, he erected a small building and employed a few girls, and from that modest beginning grew one of the largest match plants in this part of the country. During its many years of success the establishment paid into the government treasury hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue taxes. In 1870 he formed a copartnership with his son in law, Andrew H. Sweet, and under the firm name of Messinger & Sweet the concern continued in the manufacture of matches until 1881, when the plant became a part of the Diamond Match Company's property. The firm managed the business in Norton until 1884, when it was dissolved, the machinery being removed to Boston. Afterward until his death Mr. Messinger was not engaged in active business, though he was always ready for any service that he could render.

Mr. Messinger early began to take an active part in politics and prominently identified himself with the Democratic party, casting his first presidential vote for Van Buren in 1840. In 1848 he entered the Free Soil party, and as its candidate was sent in 1851 to represent the town of Norton in the Massachusetts Legislature, being a member of that celebrated house which, after balloting nearly all winter, finally elected Charles Sumner to the United States Senate. Mr. Messinger's last Democratic vote was cast for James K. Polk in 1844. In 1856 he joined the Republican party, being present as a delegate at the famous Massachusetts convention when that party was organized in the State. He was town clerk of Norton from 1861 to 1883, a period of twenty two years. In 1882 be was again sent to the Legislature, and in 1888 and 1889 was elected State senator from the First Bristol district by the largest majorities ever given a candidate there for that office. During these two terms he served on the committees on drainage, towns, public charitable institutions, and parishes and religious societies. For nearly fifty years he was a justice of the peace, .ãnd discharged the duties of that office with singular ability and honor. In 1887 he was elected a member of the Board of Selectmen of Norton and served two years, and in the old days of High Sheriff Cobb he was appointed deputy sheriff. In all these positions as well as in business affairs Mr. Messinger exhibited great executive ability and achieved the distinction of leadership. He was a man of indomitable energy, of the highest integrity, and of broad intellectuality, and during a long and eminent career enjoyed the respect and confidence of the entire community. His perseverance is best illustrated in connection with his match business, in which he was twice burned out, the last time in the summer of 1866. With characteristic enterprise he rebuilt his plant, and by his own efforts gained both success and wealth. He was president of the Norton Building and Loan Association and a trustee of the Unitarian Church for many years, and a member of King David Lodge, F. & A. M., of Taunton.

December 24, 1840, he married Selina A. F. Alden, daughter of Jason F. and Keziah Eaton (Shaw) Alden, of Middleborough, and a lineal descendant in the sixth generation of John Alden and Priscilla Mullens of the Mayflower. She survives him. They had two children: Emma Evelyn, who died in infancy, and Mary Ella. born December 23, 1845, who married, June 8, 1870, Andrew Hodges Sweet, son of Joseph Dana and Abby A. (Hodges) Sweet, of Norton; they have one son, Austin Messinger Sweet, born May 10, 1874, who is associated in business with his father in Norton, and who married, April 8, 1896, Mary Alice, daughter of Allison J. and Delia M. Cowles, of that town.

Our county and its people
A descriptive and biographical history of
Bristol County, Massachusetts
Prepaired and published under the auspices of
The Fall River News and The Taunton Gasette
With assistance of Hon. Alanson Borden
The Boston History Company, Publishers, 1899.

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