Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sextus Heman Hungerford (1806-1867)

   The following profile will be a special one, as the honoree is none other than Sextus Heman Hungerford, a 19th century resident of Westfield, New York! This intriguingly named man served one term in the New York State Assembly and during his life was viewed as one of Chautauqua County's most prominent citizens, being at various times a banker, church elder and state legislator. I must admit that there are very few resources on Hungerford's life available today, with the exceptions going to Butler F. Dilley's Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia of Chautauqua County, published in 1891 and Andrew Young's 1875 work History of Chautauqua County. Both of these works give a decent overview on the Hungerford's career as a public official, both locally and otherwise. I'll also venture a guess that very few people know of this oddly named man's accomplishments in this day in age (even here in Chautauqua County), and hopefully, the succeeding biography will change that! 
   Sextus H. Hungerford was born on January 14, 1806, in the town of Smithfield, New York, the son of Lot Hungerford and his wife Celinda. Sextus was the eldest of nine children, and he spent his formative years in Smithfield before moving to Vernon, New York with his family at a young age. Lot Hungerford died in Vernon in 1827 when Sextus was 21 and for the next few years, Sextus engaged in farming pursuits while also helping raise his younger siblings. In 1830 he married Polly Maria Skinner and seven years later removed from Vernon and resettled in the town of Westfield.
  With a few months of his resettlement, Hungerford and his brother in law (Henry J. Miner) were furnished with goods to begin their own mercantile store, courtesy of local merchant Joshua Babcock (1793-1878). This business achieved modest success and in 1843 Hungerford removed to nearby Ripley, New York where he purchased a farm. He moved back to Westfield a few years later and in 1848 became the founder and President of the Bank of Westfield.

           This print of Sextus Hungerford appeared in the 1875 work "History of Chautauqua County".

   While Hungerford's name was solidly established in the Westfield business community, he was also quite attentive to church affairs in his native town. Hungerford is listed as being a ruling elder in the local Presbyterian church from 1851 until his death, and the earlier mentioned Biographical and Portrait Cyclopedia gives note that he "aided in sustaining the institutions of the church and religious and benevolent institutions generally, by personal effort and liberal pecuniary contributions." The Centennial History of First Presbyterian Church of Westfield, published in 1910, gives a substantial write up on Hungerford's religious affiliations, mentioning that he was "never ostentatious but always doing his part in the church work" and that he also acted as church session moderator when a clergyman was unavailable. 

      A New York State Assembly roster from 1865 with S.H. Hungerford's name highlighted in yellow.

  In addition to his church work and banking interests, Sextus Hungerford was also a man of keen civic awareness and throughout his life was elected to public office at both the local and state level. He was named as Westfield town supervisor in 1861 and served six years in this post. In November 1864 he was elected by the citizens of Chautauqua County as their representative in the New York State Assembly and took his seat during the 1865 session. During his service (which extended from the session opening on January 8 to its end on April 28) Hungerford sat on both the committee on Railroads and the committee on Banks. Another roster from that session is provided below, with Hungerford's name again highlighted in yellow.

  Young's History of Chautauqua County notes that Hungerford continued with his earlier banking activities around the time of his legislative service. In 1864 he was one of the founders of the First National Bank of Westfield and during the final year of the Civil War is listed as being "untiring in his efforts to sustain the government, and devoted much time gratuitously furnishing both men and means." Hungerford died at age 61 on May 15, 1867 at his home in Westfield, and his obituary lists him as being in "declining health for some time", although there's no mention of what illness he may have suffered from. In his will Hungerford left $15,000 (a considerable sum for the time) to the Presbyterian Board of Home Missions and Theological Seminary. The obituary below appeared in the Corning Journal on June 6, 1867, a few weeks after Hungerford's death.

   Shown above is another death notice for Hungerford that appeared in the Albany Evening Journal on May 24, 1867. Both the Corning Journal and the Albany Evening Journal lament the passing of Hungerford, describing him as a "sound and reliable businessman; upright and respected by all who knew him" and "a gentleman highly esteemed for his many virtues" among other attributes.
  In keeping with the exhaustive research that I do on many of these oddly named public figures, I made it a point to seek out the gravesite of Sextus H. Hungerford yesterday (March 10th). Hungerford's final resting place is under a mammoth granite obelisk in the Westfield Cemetery. The stone itself is well over twenty feet tall and in the picture below I'm practically dwarfed by its size!

  Hungerford's stone is in remarkably great condition, and it shows virtually no wear whatsoever. This in itself is quite remarkable, considering its been exposed to countless elements and harsh weather conditions over the past 144 years!

 I also noticed something odd about this stone....Hungerford's wife's name is listed on the stone as Polly Maria Skinner, but all other references to her indicate her name as "Maria P. Skinner". Aside from the inconsistencies regarding her name, Polly/Maria outlived her husband by nearly 30 years, dying in November 1895 at age 87. 

  The picture below is of Sextus's burial marker. The stone bearing his wife's name is out of camera range a few feet away to the right. The Westfield Cemetery is a great repository for local history and there are a few other notable local political figures buried here as well, including George Washington Patterson (1799-1879, a U.S. Representative and Lieutenant Governor of New York), Austin Smith (1804-1904), Chautauqua County's representative in the State Assembly in 1851-52 and also a centenarian, and finally Samuel Frederick Nixon (1860-1905), Speaker of the New York State Assembly for several years!

  And lastly, I also managed to snap a picture of Sextus Hungerford's home, which stills stands in Westfield. The Hungerford house is currently the home of the Jakway VFW Post, and the building looks significantly different to what it was during the 19th century. My family has a large wall-map of Chautauqua county (circa 1854) in our possession and this very map bears a picture of the Hungerford homestead. While doing research on the map many years ago, I discovered Hungerford's name underneath the portrait of his home and set out to find more about him. All the research that I've done on the man has culminated in the article here, and yes, I think it has turned out rather well!!

   The Hungerford Home-Jakway VFW Post in Westfield.

This death notice for Maria Hungerford appeared in the Elimira Gazette in 1895.

1 comment:

  1. Great work. Check out the Wikipedia article regarding Hungerford's brother John N(ewton) Hungerford.