Biography of Abraham E. Culver
Oneida County, NY Biographies





The specific and distinctive office of biography is not to give voice to a man's modest estimate of himself and his accomplishments, but rather to leave a perpetual record, establishing his character by the consensus of opinion on the part of his fellowmen. Throughout Utica and Oneida county Abraham Ellis Culver was ever spoken of in terms of admiration and respect and when he was called from this life the press and the public united in bearing tribute to his worth. His life was so varied in its activity, so honorable in its purposes and so far reaching and beneficial in its effects that it became an integral part of the history of the city, leaving an indelible impression upon the annals of Utica. In no sense a man in public life, he nevertheless exerted an immeasurable influence on the city of his residence; in business life, by reason of the importance and extent of his activities; in social circles, by reason of a charming personality and unfeigned cordiality; in matters of citizenship, by reason of his public spirit and devotion to the general good. Mr. Culver was born in Utica, November 14, 1812, representing one of the old families here for his father, Abraham Culver, had come from Southampton, Long Island, in early manhood, in company with several young companions. He came of Puritan ancestry, tracing the line directly back of Edward Colder, who was a member of the Puritan band that came with John Winthrop II from England and was one of the founders of Dedham, Massachusetts, and of New London, Connecticut. He was famed as an Indian warrior and as a promoter of education. He served with distinction in the Pequot and King Philip's wars and received large grants of land for service rendered his country. From Edward Colver the line of descent is traced down through Gershom, Jeremiah, Jeremiah II, John and Abraham to Abraham Ellis Culver.

While still a very young man Abraham Ellis Culver went to sea on a sailing voyage, visiting Delagoa Bay, the island of St. Helena and other points of interest. He sailed from the old shipping port of New Bedford in the charge of friends of his father, and the frank, handsome and vigorous boy soon won the interest and friendship of the older people through his own admirable qualities. The spirit of adventure was strong within him following a long period of schooling at the then celebrated Academy of Lowville, which he had attended as a boarding school pupil. It was this confinement to studies that made him desire the sea voyage and he was much interested in studying "Jack Tar." Becoming deeply cognizant of the appaling ignorance of the sailors of those days he took it upon himself to instruct the boys in elementary branches of learning and because of this obtained the sobriquet of the "school master." His naturally hardy physique was strengthened by the sea voyage which also brought him a broader view of life and its varying conditions. At length the vessel returned to port and Mr. Culver made his way again to Utica, becoming identified with business circles as an employe of Harmon Pease under whose direction he acquired an intimate knowledge of the business which he subsequently conducted. Mr. Pease was then living in Albany and after spending several years in the capital city, Mr. Culver returned to Utica for permanent location, establishing a canal transportation agency and a wholesale grain business. Later he entered into business association with two firms, one in New York city and the other in Buffalo. At that period he was one of the most active promoters of the material prosperity of the Erie canal and his labors were an effective element in advancing the boating interests of the state. For an extended period he conducted a semi weekly line of boats from Binghamton to Buffalo by way of Chenango and Erie canals. His boats carried both freight and passengers and the enterprise proved a profitable one. To emigrants especially this line of boats furnished a cheap and convenient mode of transfer. In those days when the railroads had not begun to seriously interfere with traffic on the great waterways the business of A. E. Culver & Company yielded large pecuniary returns and achieved a fame for itself along the line of the canal. Year by year it extended the scope of its transactions as a forwarding agency and was one of the most important avenues for commercial activity. The headquarters of the company were at the foot of Charlotte and Culver streets where a large brick building was erected for Mr. Culver, together with the first grain elevator in this part of the state. The latter was then a decided novelty and a great improvement over the old methods of handling grain. One of the local papers in speaking of Mr. Culver's business career said: "The untiring devotion and admirable business genius of Mr. Culver went not a little way toward animating the business life of the city and encouraging its growth. He was ever a man of highest ideals and public spirited and broad in thought. In the trying days of 1873, with the rapid growth of the railroads and consequent decline of the canal business he sustained severe financial losses but emerged from the difficulties with his business integrity unstained."

In 1837 occurred the marriage of Mr. Culver and Miss Emily E. Van Embergh, a daughter of Nancy and Gilbert Van Embergh and a direct descendant of Dr. Gysbrecht Van Imborch, a Dutch physician from Holland and his wife, Rachel de la Montague, a daughter of Jean de la Montagne, a French gentleman and chief in Governor Kieft's council. Madam Van Imborch was taken prisoner with others at Wiltwyck in the bloody Esopus wars but was finally rescued by her father, General de la Montagne, sending a large ransom. History says that Rachel Van Imborch on her return was able to inform Captain Cregier where the captives were and he led the troops to their rescue. She died soon after these hardships, leaving two young children An interesting relic still in possession of the family is a list of the books of Surgeon Gysbrecht Van Imborch. It is of considerable interest as it indicates what books were to be found in a library in Olde Ulster in 1665, both professional and in general literature. The list was a long one, comprising folios in French, Dutch, German and English, history, science and many books on Holy Writ, meditations and devotions, a manual of the Catholic faith and many manuscript books on surgery and medicine together with the life and works of Frederick Henry of Nassau and chronicles of the life and works of English kings and queens together with many others. The mother of Mrs. Emily (Van Embergh) Culver was descended in direct line from Major Jasper Griffin, of Southold, Long Island, who came from Wales in 1640 and was a cadet of a noble house - the house of Llewyllen ap Gruffydd ap Llewyllen of the old princes of North Wales.

To Mr. and Mrs. Abraham Ellis Culver were born several children of whom the following grew to maturity: Mrs. Charles A. Spalding, of Saugerties on Hudson, formerly Mrs. Rutgen B. Miller; William, who is connected with the Utica & Black River Railroad; James, who was his father's associate in business, now deceased; Edward, who follows the profession of civil engineering in Mexico; and Mary Louise, of Utica. One son, Abraham Ellis Culver, Jr., lieutenant of the United States navy, has passed away since his father's death.

At the time of his demise Mr. Culver was still living on the old home on Broad street. After his marriage and when his family began to increase in size he realized the desirability of the country and more room for his children. A place he had admired from his own childhood-the place known as the Colonel Walker estate-was for sale. He purchased it and there in this lovely part of the Mohawk valley the family spent their days most happily until his death, when the property was sold. The Colonel Walker place has been often described. Historically it was one of the oldest and in its day the finest place in Utica. Its original owner was aid-de-camp to General Washington and a man of polite learning and acquirements who spared no pains to make his home beautiful and attractive. He dispensed lavish and elegant hospitality and the tradition of its owners in hospitality were kept vitally alive by Mr. Culver and his family during thirty or more years of their happy life on the old place. At the time Mr. Culver purchased the property it extended from Albany to Broad street in the front. It was entirely surrounded by a high hawthorne hedge imported from England which in the early springtime was a thing of beauty with its snowy blossoms. The house was approached by a long avenue of maple trees and a formal garden set around with box occupied the space in front of the house. At the rear were magnificent pine trees, elms, beech and cherry trees. At the west side and concealed by a hedge was the large vegetable garden of two acres, bordered with old fashioned flowering plants and roses of rare varieties, and each bed was surrounded by a low box hedge. Back further still were the apple and pear orchards, a long line of outbuildings and stables, and at the left the office or lodge. Two large pepperage trees and two "lady apple" trees guarded the front of the formal garden. When Abraham Ellis Culver passed away, on the 6th of June, 1883, one of the local papers of Utica wrote: "In his death Utica suffers again the loss of a citizen whose identification with the business interests of the community had been close and honorable. His demise is the more distressing because of its startling suddenness. For nearly half a century his name has been a familiar one in business circles and his career as a citizen has been such as to command the respect and admiration not of friends and acquaintances alone but also of those to whom it was permitted only to hear casually of the man and his character. Hence news of his death has carried earnest grief to all parts of the city . . . and widespread sympathy will be with the widow and bereaved children. As a husband and father Mr. Culver met his obligations with genuine tenderness and devotion and his death has occasioned profound sorrow in the circle of a loving family. Besides he was a citizen of irreproachable character who wads strongly attached in a quiet way to the interests of the community. Honor, enterprise, business energy and genuine manhood with dignity and quiet self possession were combined in the formation of his character and his is one of the deplorable deaths that Utica must mourn."

From:
History of Oneida County, New York
From 1700 to the present time
of some of its prominent men and pioneers.
By: Henry J. Cookinham
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
Chicago 1912


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