Biography of John Avery Sherman


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JOHN AVERY SHERMAN was born in the town of Rutland, June 13, 1809, and was the oldest son of Alfred Sherman. He was also the grandson of Dr. Abel Sherman, one of the pioneers of Rutland and the first sheriff of Jefferson county. Dr. Sherman came originally from Massachusetts to Oneida county, and thence removed to Rutland in 1803, where he and various of his descendants were prominently identified with the early history of the region. Alfred Sherman succeeded his father on the old home farm, where he was a successful farmer for several years, but later on business misfortunes swept away much of his fortune. He died in 1827, leaving to his son, John Avery Sherman, the care and maintenance of the family. The young man gave his attention willingly to this service and provided a comfortable support for his mother and younger brothers and sisters until they were able to work for themselves. On November 17, 1832, he married with Julia Ann Lamed, a native of Utica, who was then living with her uncle, an early settler in the Black River region. Of this marriage one child was born: Caroline Amelia Sherman, who married with Daniel S. Marvin, and who died October 24, 1896. She was an artist of unusual merit, and from earliest childhood seemed to draw inspiration from everything that was beautiful in nature; and she also possessed the fortunate faculty of faithfully reproducing on canvas the most charming landscape effects. She was equally proficient in portrait work, yet her tastes inclined to landscape painting. Moreover, Mrs. Marvin was a woman of rare social and mental qualities, a close student, a thoughtful reader and cultured conversationalist and entertainer. She was also an accomplished vocalist and pianist. She had a wide circle of acquaintances, and all who knew her loved her as a sister.

In the spring of 1834 Mr. Sherman purchased a dairy of twenty good cows, and in that year, with the assistance of his wife, made the first market cheese manufactured in this county. The product was shipped to New York and sold for six cents per pound. In this work Mr. Sherman was very materially assisted by his wife. Indeed, she learned the art of cheese-making from a neighbor who had recently come into the town, and then suggested to her husband that he purchase a dairy of cows. This was done, and the cows were mortgaged for the purchase price, but before the end of the season the whole debt was removed. In later years Mr. Sherman increased his number of milk cows to sixty, and also purchased much additional land for his growing business operations. This was the beginning of an industry which in later years grew to vast proportions and was the source of much profit to farming interests in a region which is now noted for its cheese product. However, the building up of this industry by Mr. Sherman was not accomplished without some embarrassments and reverses, and on one occasion he was weather-bound on Carleton island, while attempting to cross into Canada with a wagon load of cheese. He remained on the island three weeks, and when he finally arrived on the other side the market was seriously depressed. He at length sold out the cheese, with his horses and wagon, taking notes which were never paid.

Again, in 1839, in partnership with Henry Hopkins, of Rutland, and two others, Mr. Sherman made extensive investments in cheese, which he proposed to hold for the fall market; but when the time arrived the commodity was not in demand, except at greatly reduced prices, and a sale then meant serious financial loss. In this extremity Mr. Sherman was forced to ask his creditors for an extension of time, which, being readily granted, he at once shipped his cheese to New Orleans, he himself taking passage on the same vessel. Here he arrived in due time and found a ready sale in a good market. The money for his cheese was paid wholly in silver, and this he packed in kegs and brought back to New York, where, fortunately, coin was at a premium. His partners demanded their share of the money, which he refused to give up, saying that the Jefferson county farmers must first be paid; be was threatened with imprisonment, but sternly adhered to his determination to first pay those from whom the cheese was purchased. He at once turned his specie into paper at a good advance, then returned to Watertown and satisfied his creditors in full, and realized for his partners and himself a considerable profit on the original investment, where many other dealers of the same period, but less fruitful of resources, suffered great financial loss.

On the whole Mr. Sherman's life on the farm was reasonably successful, but after about twenty-five years he removed to Watertown. In 1859 he came to the village and purchased the Washington Hall block, then one of the most pretentious buildings of the county seat. He made extensive repairs, secured desirable tenants for all the stores and offices and opened the spacious hail for public entertainments and assemblages. This building Mr. Sherman retained throughout the period of his life, and at his death generously devised the property to the Young Men's Christian Association of the city, subject only to a modest annuity for the benefit of his wife. This liberal gift only revealed Mr. Sherman's heart, for both on the farm and in the city he was ever noted for kindness, philanthropy and public-spiritedness. Yet many of his best acts of generosity were done in a manner not calculated to draw attention to himself, for his whole life and nature were entirely devoid of ostentation or personal ambition. High places in political life might have been his had he been willing to enter that field, but all suggestions to that end he firmly declined. Previous to the war of 1861-5 he was a Democrat, but afterward a Republican. He was brought up and baptized in the Congregational church of Rutland, but was not a member of any religious society.

Soon after coming to Watertown Mr. Sherman became a stockholder and director in the Agricultural Insurance Company, and was active in advancing its usefulness and field of operations. During the last five years of his life he was president of the company, and much of its success was due to his efforts. He was likewise prominently connected with the Watertown Fire Insurance Company, and also with numerous other industrial and financial undertakings of the city. Indeed, in some of these manufacturing enterprises Mr. Sherman was occasionally led into investments at his personal cost, and thereby a portion of his well earned competency was swept away. His old farm property in Rutland was sold to compensate this loss, but his widow still retains a two and one-half acre tract in the town, with its comfortable cottage, in memory of pleasant days of long ago; and this property she has conveyed, subject to her life interest, as a parsonage for the Congregational society.

In banking and financial circles Mr. Sherman was for many years a prominent figure, but a detail of his connection therein is found in the history of the city, hence needs no repetition here. Indeed, in almost every worthy enterprise he was in some way a factor, and was ever regarded as one of the most substantial and honorable men of the county. His interest in the Cemetery Association was commendable, and through his personal endeavors that "silent city" was beautifully adorned. Here he found a final resting place in the early spring of 1882, his death having occurred on March 25, of that year. When he passed away all Jefferson county mourned the loss of a benefactor and friend. His widow still survives, and is honored and loved throughout a wide circle of acquaintances, for she was his faithful and devoted helpmeet through almost half a century of married life. On October 20, 1897, Julia Ann (Larned) Sherman was married with Benjamin F. Hunt, the son of Simeon Hunt, a pioneer of Rodman. The Hunt family in Rodman, and indeed in all later generations of descendants wherever resident, has been noted for probity and worth, high-standing and character, both in business and social life.

Our County and it's people
A descriptive work on Jefferson County, New York
Edited by: Edgar C. Emerson
The Boston History Co., Publishers 1898

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