Portrait from the Proceedings of the New Hampshire Historical Society, Vol. 3.
"Always a plain man of the people, he recognized no cliques or classes as an editor or public man. He greeted the poor and rich alike, and in the days of his prosperity never failed to remember the companions of his hours of toil at the compositor's case or the printing press. This characteristic made warm friends of all who knew him, but he had others which were only known to his nearer and more intimate associates."
Such was the memorial given to Parsons Brainard Cogswell, one of New Hampshire's preeminent newspaper publishers and editors during the 19th century. In addition to success in his chosen field, Cogswell also made an impact in Granite State political life, being a two-term state representative, New Hampshire state printer and Mayor of Concord. The fifth born son of David and Hannah (Haskell) Cogswell, Parsons Brainard Cogswell was born in Henniker, New Hampshire on January 22, 1828.
Cogswell's formative years were spent on the farm and his education was centered during the winter months at district schools. For an eight-month period Cogswell attended an academy in Clinton Grove, where, under the tutelage of principal Moses Cartland, he first became "strongly attached to anti-slavery tenets and temperance." At the age of just 19 Cogswell was called to enter the printing trade, and in 1847 joined the staff of the Independent Democrat in Concord. During his two years in their offices Cogswell gained wide knowledge of the printer's daily activities and by 1849 had moved on to the New Hampshire Patriot, also located in Concord. His three-year tenure on the Patriot staff also saw him employed for several weeks in Massachusetts, working with the Cape Ann Light and Gloucester Telegraph newspapers.
In 1852 Cogswell left the New Hampshire Patriot to join the print firm of Tripp and Osgood, where he was in engaged in "book and job work." In March 1854 he and Abraham Gates Jones (a future Mayor of Concord) pooled resources and together purchased the aforementioned business, which they operated until 1858, after which Cogswell "assumed whole control of the business." He continued along this route until 1863 when he took on George Sturtevant as a partner, and in May of the following year, they launched the Concord Daily Monitor, notable for being the first daily newspaper to be issued in the city. While being one of the paper's founders, Cogswell had a hand in nearly every aspect of the paper's production, serving
"In every editorial department, as local, associate and managing editor, and as an editorial writer, wielding a vigorous pen, and contributing with strength to every department of the paper."Several years after its founding the Daily Monitor was consolidated with two other papers, those being the Independent Democrat and the New Hampshire Statesman. Cogswell (as a member of the Republican Press Association, the guiding light behind the consolidation) maintained a large presence in the Monitor's continued production, being at various times managing editor and editor in chief.
Parsons B. Cogswell first entered the political life of Concord in 1858, when he won a seat on the Union school district's school committee. In the following year, he began a lengthy tenure on the Concord city board of education, continuing to serve until his death in 1895. Cogswell also held the presidency of that board for several years and for nearly two decades was its financial agent.
From a bookplate in the collection of the Concord Public Library.
In 1871 Parsons Cogswell was elected as one of Merrimack County's representatives to the New Hampshire General Court, and in 1872 won a second term. His terms in the legislature saw him sit on the committees on the Asylum For the Insane and Bills in the Second Reading. During these terms, Cogswell also served as president of the New Hampshire Press Association (1872-75) and in 1876 was its recording secretary.
1877 saw Cogswell embark on an extended journey through California, Oregon, and several other states, whilst later visiting Canada. He would continue his travels into 1878 and 1879, venturing across the Atlantic Ocean to traverse "Europe, the Holy Land and Egypt". During his travels overseas Cogswell documented his journey through letters published in the Daily Monitor and the Independent Statesman. Due to a growing interest from those paper's subscribers, Cogswell's travelogues were later published in book form following his return stateside in 1880, under the title Glints From Over the Water.
Cogswell returned to Granite State political life in June 1881 when he entered into the post of New Hampshire State Printer, an office he'd continue to hold until 1885. During his term, Cogswell oversaw the publishing of numerous works relating to early New Hampshire history, including documents related to the state constitutional conventions of 1778-79 and 1781-83, rolls of New Hampshire soldiers during the Revolutionary War, and census statistics for the state.
Active in a number of non-political areas in Concord, Cogswell was for many years a trustee of the state library and a past president of both the Concord Commercial Club and the New Hampshire Historical Society. On September 22, 1888, Cogswell married to Helen Buffam Pillsbury (1843-1929), the daughter of noted New Hampshire abolitionist and reformer Parker Pillsbury (1809-1898). Despite marrying late in life (as well as a fifteen year age difference between them) Cogswell and his wife's family had been extremely close for a number of years prior, as he had boarded with the family beginning in 1848. Parker Pillsbury would, in turn, have a large effect on Cogswell, who early in his life embraced many of Pillsbury's ideas in regards to social activism, women's rights and the abolition of slavery. Cogswell would put much of what he learned from his future father-in-law into action during his time as director of the Lyceum in Concord, inviting reform-minded speakers to lecture on a broad range of topics, including prohibition and equal rights.
In 1892 Cogswell returned to government service when he was appointed by then-President Benjamin Harrison as U.S. Inspector of Immigrants at Concord, holding that post until his resignation in January of the following year. In the same year as his appointment as immigrant inspector, Cogswell was elected as Mayor of Concord and entered into his duties in January 1893. During his term, he spoke at the dedication of the new state library building and was "interested in all measures tending to improve Concord."
Parsons Cogswell's term as mayor concluded in January 1895 and on October 28th of that year died of pneumonia at his home in Concord. News of his passing made the pages of the New York Sun within a day of his death, and he was subsequently memorialized as a
"Faithful and painstaking servant of the people, seeking with perseverance the ends he believed to be good, and striving with the utmost success to perform his whole duty in whatever station he found himself."Helen Pillsbury Cogswell survived her husband by three decades, dying at age 86 in October 29, 1929, one day after the thirty-fourth anniversary of Cogswell's passing. Following her death, she was interred alongside him in the Cogswell-Pillsbury family plot at the Blossom Hill Cemetery in Concord.
From the New York Sun, October 29, 1895.
Portrait from the History of the Eleventh New Hampshire Regiment, Volunteer Infantry.
While the Cogswell family could boast of one oddly named politician in Parsons B. Cogswell, attention must also be given to his older brother Leander Winslow Cogswell, who, while not having as unusual a name, left a lasting mark in Granite State politics. A veteran of the Civil War, Cogswell attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in Co. D. of the Eleventh Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry.
In 1865 he was elected to the first of four terms as Henniker's representative to the New Hampshire General Court (serving from 1866, 1867 and 1870, 1871) and from 1871-72 served as state treasurer. Cogswell later served five years as one of New Hampshire's savings bank commissioners from 1876-81 and died in Henniker on January 21, 1906, at age 80.