Biography of Elijah Root
Chittenden County, VT Biographies





ROOT, ELIJAH. Elijah Root was born in the town of Georgia, Vt., on the 2d of May, 1807. His father, Elijah, senior, who was born on the 29th of August, 1775, was an early settler in Georgia, where he came from the home of his father in Benson, Vt. The family were descended from the Root family of Farmington, Conn., and came to Benson from Pittsfield, Mass. Elijah Root, senior, died in Georgia on the r9th of February, 1809. He was a very skillful mechanic, and inherited his taste for mechanical pursuits from a long line of ancestry. The subject of this sketch attended the common schools of his native town, but owing to the death of his father before he had reached his second birthday, he was obliged to think and act for himself at an early age. In pursuance of a time honored custom in the family, he learned the trade of a carpenter and joiner. In February, 1827, he aided in the construction of the steamer Franklin in St. Albans Bay, as a journeyman. Upon applying for this position he was asked to give a recommendation of his skill and fidelity from a previous employer. He had just been in the employment of a carpenter by the name of Seymour Eggleston, of Georgia, on a church in Keeseville, N. Y., who gave the following letter:

"This may certify that the bearer, Elijah Root, has been employed by me the past summer as a journeyman carpenter and joiner; that I have had a fair opportunity to test his faithfulness and skill both in my presence and absence, and that notwithstanding I have employed many excellent journeymen, yet I can cheerfully say that I never employed one with whom I have been more perfectly satisfied than with him. In short, I consider his honesty, integrity, industry and ability unimpeachable, and I can cheerfully recommend him as a first rate hand to any gentleman who may wish to employ one of his occupation.
" Georgia, February 24, 1827. SEYMOUR EGGLESTON."

With this flattering introduction, well deserved, the young man started out to make a place for himself among strangers, with a determination which would falter at no obstacles, and would be only stimulated by difficulties. In the following fall he came to Shelburne Harbor in the employment of the old Steamboat Company, as a carpenter. The Phoenix was at that time undergoing extensive repairs. Mr. Root, with seventy five other carpenters and joiners, was at work upon her. At this time occurred a circumstance which was undoubtedly the cause of a favorable turn in his business life. The overseers observed that when the bell rang for dinner and at close of day, all the other workmen dropped their tools and left as soon as possible, while he went carefully to the stoves, pushed away the shavings, and left the boat free from the dangers of fire. As a consequence of this he was placed in charge of the stoves on the boat. This was his first office of trust. When the Phoenix was completed he alone of the seventy five workmen was retained for permanent service in the company.

In the spring and summer of 1828 he went out with the steamer Phoenir, Captain Harrington, as carpenter and joiner, and in the season following was employed in the same capacity and by the same company on board the Congress, commanded by Captain Lathrop. His employers, observing his remarkable ingenuity and facility in engineering, requested him to " make friends with the engineer," which he accordingly did, and with such success, that in three months he was deemed competent to take the place of an unsatisfactory engineer upon the same steamer. From that time until the fall of 1832 he had charge of the engines on board the Congress and Phoenix successively. On the 1st of September, 1832, in consequence of overwork and exposure he was striken with an aggravated attack of typhus fever, from which he did not recover until the opening of the next season, and was given light work, such as superintending the work of the engineers in the company's line. In this department his duties gradually multiplied, and from that time until his resignation, a period extending over more than half a century, he was practically chief engineer of the steamboat company and its successor, the Champlain Transportation Company. During all this time his fidelity and ability were never called in question, but on the contrary repeatedly received the compliments of his employers. Every boat in the service of the company was inspected each week by Mr. Root, and its engineer charged with the necessary instructions.

From 1838 to 1871 Mr. Root held the government office of inspector "of boilers and machinery of all vessels propelled in whole or in part by steam, under an act of Congress approved on the 7th day of July, A. D. 1838." He was reappointed by George S. Boutwell, secretary of the treasury, under an act approved February 28, 1871, and held the office until 1882, when he resigned on account of failing health.

He was in all the relations of his life a man of marked characteristics, such as accuracy, thoroughness, completeness, strict economy, and conscientiousness. In his work, about his house, and in his moral and political opinions, everything was manifestly genuine and devoid of sham. In January, 1882, owing to failing health he tendered the company his resignation, which was met by the following gratifying expression of esteem:
" BURLINGTON, VT., January 5, 1882.

"Whereas, Mr. Elijah Root, for more than half a century chief engineer of this company, resigned his office in consequence of somewhat impaired health, and

"Whereas, It is eminently fitting and proper that some official recognition of this event should be made by this company, therefore,

"Resolved, That to Mr. Root's long and varied experience and great ability, both as engineer and naval constructor, his thoroughness in detail, his economy in expenditure and his general fidelity and integrity in all matters confided to his care, this company is largely due for its long continued prosperity;

"Resolved, That the thanks of this board be voted to Mr. Root with the assurance that in retiring from the active duties of his life he carries with him the entire confidence, great respect, and earnest friendship of the members of this board;

"Resolved That a copy of these resolutions be engrossed, signed by the president and clerk, with the company's seal attached, and transmitted to Mr. Root.
"P. W. BARNEY, Clerk. (L.S.) LE G. B. CANNON, President."

With so hearty an expression of friendship and good will from those who, outside of his own family, were best able to speak correctly of his character, Mr. Root might well feel happy in the retirement of his beautiful home on the shore of Lake Champlain.

When he first removed to Shelburne Mr. Root lived on the end of Shelburne Point. He came to the farm now occupied by his widow, in 1848. Here, in less than two years after the time of his retirement from active business, on the 3d day of August, 1883, Mr. Root passed away.

He was not a politician in any sense of the word, though as a citizen he always had a lively interest in current political affairs, upon which he entertained enlightened and decided opinions. From his position as a member of the old Whig party he naturally stepped into the ranks of its successor, the Republican party, with which he was afterwards identified. He never held public office, excepting that of representative in the Legislature from Shelburne for three years from about 1850. He early took an active interest in the affairs of the Methodist Episcopal Church of his town, and was ever ready and willing to give it the benefit of his counsel and substantial assistance.

On the 11th of December, 183r, he married Elizabeth P., daughter of Hon. Robert White, of Shelburne. They have had one child, Maria, now the wife of Charles L. Hart, of Burlington, who, with her son, Fred Root Hart, now resides with her mother on the home farm in Shelburne. Mrs. Root's father, Robert White, was one of the earliest associate judges of the County Court of Chittenden county, and a descendant of Peregrine White, of Pilgrim fame. His father, Nathan White, was an early settler on Shelburne Point, after having borne an honorable part in the War of the Revolution, and aiding in the capture of Major Andre. A more detailed sketch of this family and of his lifelong associate, Lavater White, appears in the chapter devoted to the history of Shelburne.

From:
History of Chittenden County, Vermont
Edited by: W. S. Rann
D. Mason & Co., Publishers
Syracuse, New York. 1886


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