Hon. Nehemiah D. Sperry, former member of congress
from the second district of Connecticut, former secretary of that state,
arid for twenty-eight years the efficient post-master at New Haven, was
a descendant of sturdy New England ancestry. He was born July 10, 1827,
in the town of Woodbridge, New Haven county, a son of Enoch and Mary Atlanta
(Sperry) Sperry, and is in the line of direct descent from that Richard
Sperry who takes a place in history as the courageous friend and defender
of the regicides.
The name of Sperry is familiar to those acquainted
with the history of New Haven and vicinity, for from almost the very dawn
of the colonial period to the present, members of the family has been conspicuous
characters in the locality's social and business life. Among them is Enoch
Sperry, of Woodbridge, several of whose sons became prominent in the city
of New Haven and elsewhere. We refer to Hon. Lucien Wells Sperry, Stiles
Denison Sperry, Hon. Nehemiah Day Sperry and Enoch Knight Sperry.
In the town of Woodbridge there is a fertile
tract of land in the valley to the westward of West Rock, near the "Judge's
Cave," so-called because it was for a time the hiding place for the regicides
Generals Goffe and Whalley, and Colonel Dixwell, who fled to America after
the restoration. This tract early took the name of Sperry's farms—the home
of Richard Sperry, a farmer who, though not one of the original planters
of New Haven, was an early settler, his name being of record in the town
as early as January 4, 1643. This Richard Sperry was the last friend and
protector of the regicides, Goffe and Whalley, at a time when their pursuers
from England were trying to ferret them out of their hiding places. There
is a family tradition tliat he came to New Haven as agent for the earl
of Warwick. The tenure of Sperry's Farms has continued for upward of two
hundred and fifty years, in the persons of his descendants. From Richard
Sperry, of Sperry's Farms, are descended the sons of the late Enoch Sperry
who are in the sixth generation, their lineage being through Nathaniel,
Nathaniel (2), Simeon and Enoch
(II) Nathaniel Sperry, son of Richard, born
August 13, 1656, married October 2, 1683, Sarah Dickerman, who was born
July 25, 1663, daughter of Abraham and Mary (Cooker) Dickerman, and granddaughter
of Thomas Dickerman, of Dorchester, 1636.
(III) Nathaniel Sperry (2), son of Nathaniel,
born March 8, 1695, married December 25, 1719, Sarah Wilmot, born February
26, 1695-96, daughter of John Wilmot. Mr. Sperry died September 8, 1751.
(IV) Simeon Sperry, son of Nathaniel (2),
born March 16, 1738-39, married Patience Smith. Mr. Sperry lived and died
in Woodbridge, his birthplace, though at the time of his birth the territory
was the town of New Haven. By occupation he was a small manufacturer and
farmer. He held some minor town offices. He was a man of retiring disposition,
but he had great decision of character and undoubted integrity, and he
enjoyed the confidence of all who knew him.
(V) Enoch Sperry, son of Simeon, born in 1787,
married Mary Atlanta Sperry, daughter of Asa and Eunice (Johnson) Sperry.
Mr. Sperry was born in Woodbridge and lived on the mill site at the upper
end of Sperry's Farms, where were located the gristmill and carding machine.
Like his father he, too, was a small manufacturer and farmer and held a
few town offices. He possessed a natural mathematical mind and would solve
the most difficult problems in his own way without the rules of ordinary
arithmetic. His home life was beautiful. He always had family devotion
and was a sincere Christian, a man of the highest integrity and one who
would go further than most men to assist those in distress or need. He
was greatly interested in matters of the day and would discuss political
and religious questions with great freedom and intelligence. Outside of
business his chief delight was in church affairs. He was a member of the
Congregational Church and often moderator of their meetings and he was
frequently chosen to settle disputes both in and out of the church, his
decisions being seldom questioned.
To the union of Enoch and Mary Atlanta Sperry
were born children as follows: Hon. Lucien Wells Sperry, born March 8,
1820, in Woodbridge, married Harriet A. Sperry, daughter of Enos Sperry,
of Westville. She died about 1888, and Mr. Sperry in 1890. They left one
daughter, Mrs. Eugene S. Miller. At the age of seventeen years Lucien W.
Sperry went to New Haven to learn the carpenter's trade. As the years passed
he improved his educational opportunities to such an extent that he was
enabled to teach school. In 1845, associated with his brother, Stiles D.
Sperry, he began a mercantile career and for twenty years or more the brothers
were located in business in Westville, Woodbridge, New Haven and Hartford.
In 1855 Lucien bought a tract of land on Mill river, just east of the railroad,
and with Chauncey Sperry, son of the late Enos Sperry, engaged in the coal
and wood business, continuing same until 1863. In his later years he was
connected with several local banks and was a director in railroads in which
the town and city had interest. In the middle 'sixties he began a political
career in which for many years he was most popu-lar, prominent and successful,
holding almost every office in the gift of the people. His political affiliations
were with the democratic party. In 1864 he was elected first selectman
and held that office until 1868, when he declined renomination. In 1866
he was elected mayor of New Haven and was reelected in 1867 and again in
1868, receiving the largest majority ever given a candidate up to that
time. In 1869 and 1870 he represented the fourth district in the state
senate. From boyhood Mr. Sperry was identified with the militia of the
state. When twenty he was chosen captain of a company formed in his native
town and during the following year was appointed lieutenant colonel of
the Second Regiment, of which later he became colonel. He was captain and
afterward major of the Second Company, Governor's Horse Guard.
Stiles Denison Sperry, born October 15, 1822,
married Anna E. Briggs, of Providence, Rhode Island. He was a prominent
merchant in New Haven and later served as treasurer of the State Savings
Bank at Hartford, holding that position at the time of his death. He served
two terms as representative in the state legislature from Hartford. He
was a prom-inent and influential Mason and held high offices in that fraternity.
Nehemiah D. Sperry was the third in order of birth. Joseph Hart Sperry
was killed in 1846 by being thrown from a horse. Laura Ann Sperry, born
October 20, 1835, married Andrew J. Randell and resided in Brooklyn, N.Y.
She died January 25, 1879. In early life she was a school teacher. Enoch
Knight Sperry, born in Woodbridge, married November 19, 1863, Sarah Amanda
Treat, who was born July 29, 1844, daughter of Jonah Newton and Mary Amanda
(Gould) Treat, and a descendant in the ninth generation from Richart Treat,
who came to New England as early as 1639 and was an early settler of Wethersfield,
Connecticut. Mrs. Sperry's line of descent from Richard is through Governor
Robert, Robert (2), Robert (3), Robert (4), Jonathan, Joseph and Jonah
Newton Treat, the latter a mason and builder, of New Haven. Enoch K. Sperry
for a number of years was the efficient account-ant and bookkeeper of the
City Bank of New Haven, and engaged in mercantile pursuits in that city.
He was appointed United States consul to Barbados, by President Lincoln,
and served several years with honor and distinction. Later in life he had
charge of the Treat estate. His wife died April 8, 1877. Their only daughter,
Edith Amanda Sperry, was born January 8, 1873.
Nehemiah D. Sperry, our principal subject,
attended the schools of his native town and for two years was at the private
school of Professor Amos Smith, of New Haven. While yet in his 'teens he
taught school in several places, receiving the largest salary at that time
ever paid a country school teacher in the state. Saving his money he was
able in 1848 to go into business in New Haven, becoming the junior member
of the firm of Smith & Sperry, one of the most successful business
concerns of the city. His activities were directed along the lines of public
improvements. He originated a company for constructing and operating a
horse railroad between New Haven and Fair Haven and Westville, and as its
president managed its affairs for ten years with energy and discretion.
By his personal efforts during this period he secured a charter for the
first horse railroad in the state of Connecticut. For some years Mr. Sperry
was a director in several corporations, such as the New Haven & Derby
Railroad and the New England Hudson Suspension Bridge Company, and he has
always cooperated and assisted in public enterprises.
A strong supporter of the American system
of public schools Mr. Sperry, in 1878, vig-orously attacked the action
of the New Haven Board of Education in ordering the discontinuance of the
reading of the Bible in the public schools and succeeded in carrying every
ward in the city in favor of the restoration of the Bible in the schools,
his logic and fervor, his appeal to the traditions of New England arousing
a public sentiment that soon com-pelled the revocation of the order.
Mr. Sperry was a stanch republican and influential
in the councils of the party for many years. In early life he was a whig,
and on the first organization of the party became a republican. For a time
he served in the ranks of the American party, but at the convention of
that party in Philadelphia, when it incorporated a proslavery plank in
its platform, he unceremoniously bolted. This decided stand for principle
made him very popular at home and in 1855 he was nominated for governor
of the state. Not having reached the constitutional age for the place he
was nominated and elected secretary of state that year, and was reelected.
In 1856 he attended the national convention of the American party at Philadelphia,
which placed in nomination ex-President Fillmore. Here again he vigorously
op-posed the resolutions on slavery and declined to support the nominees
of the party. That year he attended the first national convention of the
republican party and gave his warm support to its nominees and principles.
He was made chairman of the republican state committee, a position he held
during the trying period prior to the Civil war and during its continuance.
In the state campaign of 1860 he did much to secure the election of Governor
Buckingham and the following year was named as postmaster of New Haven
by President Lincoln. In 1864 Mr. Sperry was a member of the national convention
held at Baltimore which renominated President Lincoln. At that time he
was chosen secretary of the national committee and was made one of the
committee of seven whose function was to conduct the campaign of that year.
Of this committee of seven he was secretary and one of the most active
members. In 1868 he presided at the state convention which nominated the
electors who voted for General Grant. Early in 1889, during the first administration
of President Cleveland, Mr. Sperry retired from the post office at New
Haven, but he was reappointed by President Harrison. The New Haven post
office is the most important in the state and an important one in the country.
In 1895 Mr. Sperry resigned his office and his fellow citizens without
regard to party gave him a complimentary banquet, the largest ever given
in the state of Connecticut. It took place at the Hyperion theater.
Mr. Sperry variously served his fellow citizens
in official positions. He was selectman of the town of New Haven and alderman
of the city. In 1888 he was a delegate to the convention that nominated
Benjamin Harrison for the presidency and served on the committee on platform.
As a public speaker and debater Mr. Sperry possessed great power to move
and influence his auditors. He is a strong protectionist and in the celebrated
debate before the State Grange in 1887 he was one of two orators selected
by the National Protection League to answer for that school. The advocates
for free trade selected Daniel A. Wells, Professor Sumner and J. B. Sargent,
but only the latter appeared. In the absence of his collegue, Professor
Denslow, of New York, Mr. Sperry was likewise left unsupported. The result
was a pronounced and admitted victory for Mr. Sperry. Before the general
assembly he pre-sented the subject of protection in what was termed the
most masterly and scholarly address ever heard on the subject. In 1888
he debated the Mills bill before a large assembly in controversy with one
of the ablest representatives of that school in the state, and the result
was still more creditable. At the national postal convention held at Alexandria
Bay, Thou-sand Islands, New York, Mr. Sperry was the orator of the occasion
and his address was listened to with admiration and delight.
In 1866 Mr. Sperry was the nominee of his
party for congress from the New Haven district, an honor which, for private
reasons, he felt impelled to decline. In 1894 he was again the nominee
of his party for congress, was elected by a good majority, and was one
of the active, experienced and influential members of that body, being
reelected several times.
As a business man Mr. Sperry was successful
and for years was a member of the well known house of Sperry & Treat,
contractors and builders, of New Haven. He was president of the Quinnipiac
Club for many years, and a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows,
and also a Mason for over fifty years; he had attained the thirty-third
degree in that order.
Mr. Sperry was married in 1847 to Miss Eliza
H., a daughter of Willis and Catherine Sperry, of Woodbridge. She died
in 1873 and in 1875 he married Miss Minnie B. Newton, a native of Lockport,
New York, and a daughter of Erastus and Caroline Newton of that place.
Their daughter, Caesara, married Ephraim I. Frothingham. Mr. Sperry died
November 13, 1911.
Modern History of New Haven
Eastern New Haven County
New York – Chicago
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company
pgs 368 - 373