Saturday, July 30, 2011

Person Colby Cheney (1828-1901), Person Davis (1819-1894)

From the Sketches of Successful New Hampshire Men, published in 1882.

   Prominent in New Hampshire state politics during the mid and late 19th century, Person Colby Cheney can lay claim to being one of the oddest named men ever to serve as Governor of the "Granite State". During a career in public service that lasted over forty years, Cheney occupied a number of political offices, including stints as a state representative, state railroad commissioner, mayor, Governor, U.S. Senator and Minister to Switzerland.
   Person Colby Cheney was born in Holderness, New Hampshire on February 25, 1828, the sixth born son of Moses and Abigail (Morrison) Cheney, both prominent in New England abolitionist circles. At age seven he removed with his family to the town of Peterborough and received his education in the Peterborough and Hancock Academies. Cheney continued his schooling at Parsonfield Seminary in Maine and in 1845 took over the management of his father's paper manufacturing business in Peterborough. In 1850 Cheney married to his first wife, S. Anna Moore, who died in January 1858. A year following her death Cheney remarried to Sarah White Keith on June 29, 1859, and later had one daughter, Agnes Keith Cheney (1869-1952).
   Throughout the late 1840s and 1850s Cheney continued to be active in the paper manufacturing industry, opening a second paper mill in Peterborough in 1853. In that same year, he was elected to his first political office, as one of Peterborough's representatives in the New Hampshire state legislature. He was returned to this office the following year and after serving two terms returned to his earlier business pursuits. In 1862 he entered military service as a quartermaster in the Thirteenth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers. His stint in the military lasted about a year when he became seriously ill and remained bedridden for three months. Cheney was later honorably discharged from service in August of 1863. 
   Following his lengthy recuperation, Cheney returned to political life, becoming New Hampshire State Railroad Commissioner in 1864. He served three years in this post, and during his term of service removed to the city of Manchester, and there continued his business interests. Within a few years of his removal, Cheney had "attracted attention to him as a man highly fitted for public honors, but as pre-eminently capable of commanding them at the hands of the people." In 1871, Cheney was nominated for Mayor of Manchester and later won the election "by a larger majority than any candidate had received since 1863."As mayor of Manchester Cheney was instrumental in introducing the first fire alarm telegraph system in the city, and after serving one term in office refused to be a candidate for reelection. 

                              Cheney around the time he was elected Governor of New Hampshire.

   After leaving the Mayor's office Cheney was chosen as President of the People's Bank of Manchester, serving in this post for over a decade. Cheney's political profile received a significant boost in 1875 when he was chosen to be the Republican candidate for Governor of New Hampshire. In the 1875 election, the Republican party had secured a successful majority in the state legislature, which in turn decided that year's gubernatorial contest in favor of Cheney. The 1882 Sketches of Successful New Hampshire Men noted that Cheney "brought to the office of Governor a patriotic love for the state and a solicitude for her good name, a clear insight, great executive ability, thorough business habits, and personal dignity, urbanity and tact of the highest order." He was reelected as Governor in 1876 and served another term that concluded in 1877. 
   Following his governorship, Cheney returned to business life in Manchester, later obtaining a charter to erect a pulp mill in his old city of Peterborough. Cheney reemerged on the political scene in the mid 1880s when he was appointed to the United States Senate to fill the unexpired term of Austin Franklin Pike, who had died in office in October 1886. He served in the Senate from November of 1886 to June of 1887, when a successor, William Eaton Chandler, was elected. In 1888 Cheney was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Chicago that nominated Benjamin Harrison for President, and in that same year began a lengthy membership on the Republican National Committee, holding his seat until 1900. 
   Following his service as an RNC delegate, Cheney's name was floated as a possible successor to outgoing Secretary of War Redfield Proctor, who had resigned the office after being named to a vacant seat in the U.S. Senate in 1891. The news of Cheney's possible appointment to the cabinet appeared in papers as far away as Minnesota, but in the end it proved to be just speculation, as Virginia politician Stephen Benton Elkins was named as Secretary. The accompanying article on Cheney's possible appointment to the war department appeared in the New Ulm Weekly Review in August 1891.

   In December 1892 President Benjamin Harrison named Cheney as Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Switzerland. He served in this position until June of 1893, and then returned to the United States. In his later years, Cheney maintained extensive business holdings throughout Manchester and served as a trustee for the Bates College, as well as holding the directorship of the Home Market Club. In April 1901 Cheney's wife of over forty years died at age 72. Person Cheney survived his wife Sarah by only two months, dying at the home of his daughter Agnes in Dover, New Hampshire on June 19, 1901. He was 73 years old at the time of his death and was subsequently buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery in his native city of Manchester. His daughter Agnes Cheney Fish survived him, dying on March 4, 1952 at age 83.

                                 A pair of portraits of ex-Governor Cheney and his wife Sarah.

  In a recent discovery (June 28, 2013), another politician with the unusual name "Person has been located in the vast annals of the Massachusetts State House of Representatives. Read on to find out more!!

   Prominent in the business and political affairs of Somerville, Massachusetts, Mr. Person Davis served a short term in the Massachusetts General Court from 1880-1881. Born on June 1, 1819 in Princeton, Massachusetts, Davis moved to the Somerville area in 1850 and over the next four decades built up a reputation as one of Somerville's foremost merchants. He was employed as a grain dealer with the Davis and Taylor Co. in Boston for many years and gained his first taste of the political life in 1872 when he was elected as an alderman for Somerville's fourth ward. In 1879 he was elected from the county of Middlesex to the Massachusetts State House of Representatives and during his two terms (1880, 1881) held a seat on the house committee on Street Railways.
  Person Davis died in Somerville in 1894 at age 75. Despite being virtually forgotten today, Person Davis received the honor of having Davis Square in Somerville named after him in 1883.His expansive 10-acre estate made up part of what is now modern day Davis Square and is now home to many different restaurants, coffee houses, art galleries and other businesses. The area was even designated as "one of the 15 hippest places to live" in a 1997 edition of the Utne Reader. One can only wonder what Mr. Davis would have thought of this!!

Person Davis, from the "Representative Men of Somerville".

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