Biography of Governor Roswell P. Flower
Jefferson County, NY Biographies

Hon. Roswell P. Flower. - One of the most masterly of the brilliant statesmen who have adorned the high office of governor of the State of New York, was native born, his birthplace being Theresa, Jefferson County, Aug. 8, 1835. He died at Eastport, Long Island, May 12, 1899.

He came of an excellent ancestry from which he derived superb physical vigor and sterling principles, and he forged his own character in that white heat of poverty and necessity, which consumes all dross and leaves a perfect metal. He was descended from that Lamrock Flower, who came from England and settled in Hartford, Conn., in 1685.

Roswell Pettibone Flower, the fourth son and sixth child in the family of Nathan M. Flower, was left fatherless at the age of eight years. As a lad he worked at wool picking, in a brickyard, and upon a farm. He attended school and was as diligent in his studies as he was industrious in his labors, and he was graduated from high school at the age of 18 years. He was for some time a teacher in the district school, and made his home with his sister's husband, Silas L. George, a merchant, who boarded him and paid him a monthly wage of five dollars for his services. He was afterwards a clerk in the post office at Watertown. He was economical and in a few years had accumulated a small fortune of $1,000. This he invested in a jewelry and brokerage business, which he successfully conducted until 1869, in which year he removed to New York City, having been made executor of the estate of his deceased brother in law, Henry Keep. In this important trust he displayed the finest executive and financial ability, and the estate quadrupled in value under his management. In 1871 Mr. Flower became a member of the banking and brokerage firm of R. P. Flower & Company. He was also officially connected with various corporations, and was a trustee and honorary vice president of the Colonial Trust Company, a trustee of the Metropolitan Trust Company, and a director in the Corn Exchange Bank, the National Surety Company, the United States Casualty Company, the Peoples Gas & Coke Company, of gas companies in Chicago, and of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad Company. He retained a home in his native village, with whose interests he never ceased to be actively and usefully identified.

Governor Flower was during all his active career one of the most potential political figures in the State. A Democrat of the highest stamp of character and ability, he took an earnest part in support of Seymour and Blair in the presidential campaign of 1868. In 1876 he was foremost as organizer of the initial movement which led to the nomination of Samuel J. Tilden for the presidency. At the succeeding election he was elected to the 47th Congress from the 11th New York District, defeating William Waldorf Astor. In 1882 he was presented as a candidate for the gubernatorial nomination, and in convention received 183 votes as against the same number for Gen. William H. Slocum, and 61 for Grover Cleveland. At this juncture it became apparent that political necessity demanded a candidate from outside the city of New York, and Mr. Flower withdrew to make way for Mr. Cleveland, who was made the nominee and thus placed upon the highway which led him to the presidency. In the same year Mr. Flower was made chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee. In 1883 he declined a renomination to Congress, and two years later declined the nomination for the lieutenant governorship. In 1888 he was again elected to Congress, and the same year he was a delegate at large in the Democratic National Convention at St. Louis, which nominated Mr. Cleveland for the presidency, and was chairman of the delegation from the State of New York. In the same year he was strongly urged to become a candidate for the lieutenant governorship, but declined for business reasons. In 1889 he was returned to Congress by a majority of more than 12,000. In 1892 he was prominently mentioned for the presidential nomination. In that year he was elected governor, receiving a majority of nearly 50,000 over Hon. J. Sloat Fassett. This fine tribute was due in large degree to confidence in his integrity, and his unselfish care for public interests as shown in every instance where a trust was committed to him. His administration was broadly practical and sagacious, and his every act was based upon conservative views and an accurate estimate of conditions and necessities. In Congress his conduct was marked by the same high standards. While an ardent supporter of Democratic principles he would subordinate no public interest to partisan ends, and in whatever legislation he advocated or opposed, his sole object was the promotion of the welfare of the country and the people. Once, when congratulated upon the excellence of his congressional record, he remarked that whatever of usefulness he had accomplished was due to his constant endeavor to learn as much as possible, concerning whatever matter was entrusted to a committee of which he was a member.

In the 51st Congress he made an enviable record in championship of a movement for the holding of the Columbian Exposition in 1893 in New York City. He earnestly opposed the McKinley Tariff Bill and the "force bill," as he did the attempt of the Farmers' Alliance to establish a system of sub treasuries for the loaning of public funds on field crops, domestic animals, etc. He was a warm advocate of liberal but well guarded soldiers' pension legislation, of the election of postmasters by the people, and of the irrigation of the arid regions of the west.

Governor Flower amassed a large personal fortune, and in its acquisition no taint of wrong doing, either in personal or public life ever attached to him. He was broadly philanthropic, and for many years set apart one tenth of his income for benevolences, and the sums thus distributed amounted to more than $1,000,000. He built the Flower Surgical Hospital in New York City, and with Mrs. Flower he erected the St. Thomas Parish House in the city at 59th and 60th streets and Second Avenue, for work among the poor. The inspiration for this noble benefaction is told in a memorial tablet bearing the following inscription: "Erected to God by Roswell P. Flower and Sarah M. Flower, in memory of their son, Henry Keep Flower." Mr. Flower also built in conjunction with his brothers and sisters as a memorial to his parents, a Presbyterian church edifice at Theresa, N. Y., and he and his brother, Anson R. Flower, of New York City, erected Trinity Protestant Episcopal Church, at Watertown. His givings to all manner of charitable and benevolent institutions are accounted for in previous references in this history. It may be added that, while governor of New York in 1893, there arose urgent necessity for the purchase of a state quarantine station. There were no available public funds and Governor Flower unhesitatingly advanced the amount needed, $210,000. That he was afterward reimbursed by act of the legislature in no way detracts from the merit of his act.

Governor Flower was essentially a self made man, and in larger degree he was self educated. He was a man of broad knowledge, not alone in the fields of finance and politics, but in literature and the arts. His city residence in Fifth Avenue, New York City, and his summer home at Watertown, were both eloquent in their furnishings and contents of his refined tastes. His library was rich in the choicest of literature, particularly of American, and he was the owner of valuable autographic relics of some of the presidents of the United States from Washington down to his own day. In recognition of his high attainments and signally useful public services, Saint Lawrence University in 1893 conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

The Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library of Watertown, erected by his daughter, Mrs. Emma Flower Taylor, is in his memory, and is one of the most beautiful and complete libraries in the country.

Governor Flower was married in 1859 to Miss Sarah M. Woodruff, the daughter of Norris M. Woodruff, of Watertown. Three children were born to them, of whom a son and daughter are deceased. The surviving daughter is Mrs. Emma Flower Taylor, of Watertown.


The North Country
A History, Embracing
Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego, Lewis
and Franklin Counties, New York.
By: Harry F. Landon
Historical Publishing Company
Indianopolis, Indiana 1932

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