Biography of Henry H. & William W. Crapo
Bristol County, MA Biographies

Among the many citizens of New Bedford and Dartmouth who have achieved high honor and whose names are held in respect wherever they are known, are Henry H. Crapo, and his son, William W. Crapo. Born on a Dartmouth farm, from the sterile soil of which his parents could no more than wrest a livelihood, Henry H. Crapo showed his inborn attributes by closing his life in the highest office which the peo. pie of the State of Michigan could confer upon him. He was born in the northern part of Dartmouth on May 24, 1804, and his early years were full of toil. Boys in those times were made useful in some direction at an earlier age than now. He probably developed manly qualities much more rapidly on account of his early labor and privation. With a native thirst for knowledge and perceiving that through the possession of an education he could rise above the circumstances that surrounded him, be made every sacrifice that would further his ambition. James B. Congdon records the fact that he has seen a dictionary in manuscript compiled (not copied) by him in his youth, and it is said that he frequently traveled the distance of eight miles from his home to New Bedford in order to learn the meaning of a word or phrase which had puzzled him. Unaided he made himself master of the theory of surveying and when there came the long looked for opportunity to put his knowledge in practice he was not daunted by the fact that he had no compass, and going to a blacksmith shop, he fashioned a crude one for himself. Many other anecdotes are told of him, all of which bring into clear retrospection the great force of character and the native ability which he exhibited in surmounting unavoidable obstacles. In course of time he became competent to teach the village school and when a high school was to be opened he determined to apply for the principalship. He knew that the requirements of the law were rigid, and earnestly applied himself to study in order to qualify for the position. J. H.W. Page, then, it is believed, a preceptor in the Friends' Academy, examined him and gave him a certificate of qualification. Mr. Page resided in New Bedford and to meet him the young student walked the distance one evening after his daily labor was finished, and when the thorough examination was completed, trudged homeward the same night, happy in the possession of the coveted prize.

At the age of twenty eight years he removed to New Bedford and became a land surveyor, sometimes acting as an auctioneer. He was soon elected town clerk, treasurer, and collector of taxes, and held these positions about fifteen years, or until the form of the municipal government was changed, when he was elected treasurer and collector of taxes, holding the office two years. He was also police justice many years, served on the Board of Aldermen, was chairman of the council committee on junior education, and in this capacity personally prepared the report upon which was based the order for the establishment of the Free Public Library of New Bedford. Upon its organization he was chosen one of the first trustees. In this connection it may be noted that a local newspaper printed the following: "No man connected with the municipal government ever had to a greater extent than Mr. Crapo, the confidence of the people. He was exact and methodical in all matters of record; conscientious and laboriously persistent in the discharge of every duty; clear in his method and statements in all that appertained to his official transactions with the town and his townsmen, leaving at the close of his long connection with them, all that belonged to his department as a financial or recording officer so luminous and complete that no error has ever been detected or improvement made upon his methods." In later life, after he had attained the exalted positions he was destined to occupy, Mr. Crapo often referred to the training he received in New Bedford civic meetings and offices, and averred that but for this he could not have succeeded in the loftier and more honorable offices which his fellow citizens of Michigan bestowed upon him. While in New Bedford he was engaged. to some extent in the whaling industry, a fine bark, of which he was part owner, being named in his honor, "The H. H. Crapo." He was president of the Bristol County Fire Insurance Compary, and secretary of the Bedford Commercial Insurance Company. He was an earnest worker in the State militia and for several years held a commission as colonel of one of the regiments. While an officer of the municipal government he compiled and published the directories of the place for 1836 and 1845. He organized the Horticultural Society of New Bedford and was its first president. In the cultivation of fruits and flowers he was actively interested, and as his position in life grew more secure, devoted much attention to the cultivation of every kind of fruit and ornamental trees, shrubs, flowers, etc. At horticultural fairs in Boston and elsewhere he exhibited from his grounds one hundred and fifty varieties of pears of his own propagation, and one hundred and twenty varieties of roses. He became a regular contributor to the New England Horticultural Journal and gained a wide reputation as an authority. After his removal to Michigan he came into possession of a farm of 1,100 acres, most of which he redeemed from swamp by a system of drainage perfected by himself. He engaged in breeding and importing fine blooded stock and in 1863 was elected president of the Genesee County Agricultural Society. During the late years of his life he became a regular contributor to the Country Gentleman, and after his death an affecting eulogy of himself was pronounced by the president of the National Horticultural Society at its meeting in Philadelphia in 1869. His removal to Michigan, which took place in 1856, was due primarily to investments in pine lands. He took up his residence in Flint city and engaged largely in the manufacture of lumber; inter. ested capital and built railroads, becoming one of the largest and most successful business men in the State. He at once took an active interest in the municipal affairs of Flint and was elected mayor after a residence there of only five years. In 1862 he was elected a State senator to represent Genesee county and ranked with the leading men of Michigan in the war Senate. In 1864 he was nominated on the Republican ticket for governor and was elected by a large majority. He was reelected in 1866, holding the office two terms and retiring in January, 1869. Governor Crapo's administration was remarkably efficient and especially characterized by his vetoing railway aid legislation and his firm refusal to pardon convicts, except upon overwhelming proof of their innocence or excessive sentence. During his last term he was attacked by the disease which terminated his life within one year. Few men would or could have withstood the intense suffering which he bore and still attended with unceasing zeal, energy and industry to the duties of his position. The press paid many tributes to his worth, the Detroit Tribune of July 24, 1869, closing an obituary notice as follows:

In all the public positions he held Governor Crapo showed himself a capable, discreet, vigilant and industrious officer. He evinced wonderful vigor in mastering details. and always wrote and spoke intelligently on any subject to which he gave his attention. Michigan never before had a Governor who devoted so much personal attention and painstaking labor to her public duties as he did. His industry was literally amazing. He was not a man of brilliant or showy qualities, but he possessed sharp and remarkably well developed business talents, a clear and practical understanding, sound judgment and unfailing integrity. In all the walks of life there was not a purer man in the State. So faithful, so laborious, so conscientious a man in office is a blessing beyond computation in the healthful influence which he exerts in the midst of the too prevalent corruptions that so lamentably abound in the public service. We have often thought that, in his broad and sterling good sense, Governor Crapo closely resembled the lamented Lincoln. He was a man of the people and most worthily represented them. His decease is an occasion for public mourning and the State has very few men like him and can ill afford to spare such an eminently useful citizen. His death will be profoundly deplored throughout our Commonwealth and a general sympathy will be sincerely, extended to the bereaved family.

Mr. Crapo was a member for many years of the Christian Church. He married, June 9, 1825, Mary Ann Slocum, of Dartmouth. His wife, who shared his earlier struggles with him, was a devoted woman and possessed a strong character, combined with hopefulness and courage. They had ten children, a son and nine daughters.

William W. Crapo, only son of Gov. Henry Howland Crapo, was born while his parents resided in Dartmouth, May 16, 1830. His early education was obtained in the New Bedford public schools; he prepared for college at Phillips Academy, Andover, and was graduated from Yale College in 1852. Very early in life he decided to make the legal profession his life work, and after leaving college began to read in the office of Gov. John H. Clifford, of New Bedford, and later continued at the Harvard Law School, Cambridge. Like his father, he possessed in abundance those qualities of energy and perseverance which aid in making the successful student and his preparation for the legal profession was most painstaking and thorough. He was admitted to the bar in 1855, at once began practice in New Bedford and has, therefore, now completed a period of forty three years as a practitioner. Very soon after his admission to the bar Mr. Crapo was appointed city solicitor and held the office twelve years, giving the most conscientious and thorough attention and devotion to all his official duties. His first real work in politics was in behalf of John C. Fremont, the first candidate of the Republican party for president, and during the campaign he won a brilliant reputation as an orator. In the same year (1856) Mr. Crapo was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and in the following year declined to become a candidate for State senator, desiring to give more attention to his increasing legal business. It was somewhat remarkable that he so soon attained a leading position at the bar, a success which was in large measure due to his exhaustive legal knowledge, his patient industry and unfailing self reliance. His qualifications rapidly gained recognition and he won to an exceptional degree the confidence of the citizens of New Bedford. All measures tending to advance the interests of the village, even during his earliest endeavors to secure a firm professional foothold, found in him an earn. est and unselfish supporter. He was chairman of the commission who were in charge of the first public water supply, and from 1865 to 1875 was chairman of the Water Board. With the breaking out of the Civil war he entered heartily into all measures for the support of the government, and during the close of the struggle he gave freely of his time, energy and means for the welfare of the cause. Mr. Crapo has never been a man whom the people were disposed to leave out of public service, and he was elected to the Forty fourth Congress to fill a vacancy, and was re-elected to the Forty fifth, Forty sixth and Forty seventh Congresses, declining in 1882 to longer accept the nomination. While not attempting in this brief notice to give an adequate account of his work as a legislator, it may be stated that be early took a prominent position in Congress; was a member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Forty fifth Congress, and of the Committee on Banking and Currency in the Forty sixth and Forty seventh. During his last term he was chairman of the last named committee and much has been said and written in praise of the skillful and efficient manner in which he managed the bill for extending the charters of national banks, a bill which was successfully carried through under his leadership, and against formidable obstacles. In the tariff legislation through which the tax on the capital and deposits of banks was removed, his familiarity with the subject was of great service and secured the direct application of the law to the national banks. Mr. Crapo's value in the legislation of the country during the incumbency of the office of congressman was recognized not only by his constituents but by the nation. In a short review of Mr. Crapo's life and public services published some time ago, the biographer said:

At the age of fifty Mr. Crapo finds himself well started in political life, in the full maturity of his powers and possessing what some politician has so neatly termed the pecuniary basis. In person be strongly resembles his father, a man of hardy intellectual physiognomy. The family is of French origin, regarding which there is a romantic tradition. Both father and son have the style of face which is French rather than English. The strong mental as well as physical resemblance of the son to the father is a striking illustration of Galton's doctrine of heredity.

Mr. Crapo has achieved remarkable success as a lawyer of finance, and as guardian or trustee of individual estates his high character and business talents have brought to him more interests and cases than he could attend to. In nearly all of the more prominent business enterprises of New Bedford his name is found in some capacity, and in the conduct of each his mature advice, his rarely erring judgment and foresight, and his entire trustworthiness have been sought and fully appreciated. Mr. Crapo has served as president of the Mechanics' National Bank for more than a quarter of a century. He has been prominent in the boards of direction of numerous manufacturing industries, and for many years has been president of the Flint and Pre Marquette Railroad Company, as well as actively associated with the management of several other railroads. To many other departments of business industry be has at some period of his life devoted attention, gaining the ripe experience that comes to men of broad powers. He has always been a Republican and an earnest and influential supporter of his party. That be has not in recent years received the nomination for governor of Massachusetts is due more to his reluctance to the employment of the political methods of the day than to any other cause. He is now in his sixty ninth year, a man of brilliant intellectual ability, high scholarship, comprehensive legal and business knowledge and enjoying to the largest degree the confidence and admiration of the people. The degree of LL. D. was conferred upon him by Yale College in 1882. Mr. Crapo married, January 22, 1837, Sarah Ann Davis Tappan, and two sons were born to them: Henry Howland Crapo and Stanford Tappan Crapo.

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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