William G. Lathrop
Morris Co. Up


Biographical and Genealogical History of Morris County New Jersey. Illustrated. Vol. II., Lewis Publishing Company, New York and Chicago, 1899, pp16-22.

(Numbers in brackets [16] indicate the page number.)

[16] Boonton was known in Revolutionary times; but it was then a mere hamlet, hardly deserving even that title. A few straggling farms nestling in the valley of the Rockaway, with one or two dwellings at the foot of Sheep Hill, served to demand a name for the locality. At the beginning of this century a few houses had been added, but no importance was as yet attached to the place. A few years later the superior advantages of the location were discovered. The Rockaway, as it brawled through the gorge, dashing and foaming over its rocky bed, carried away its usefulness, to be lost in the placid waters of its greater confluent, the Passaic.

In 1831 the Morris canal was completed, and the appliances it afforded for new industries added largely to the advantages Boonton possessed for manufacturing enterprises. Two years before this date an iron manufactory had been established, which afterward branched out in various forms. The success of this enterprise was variant, and at one time failure intervened in such a manner as seemed then to paralyze all future efforts in that direction.

But later on other men viewed the ground and determined that there should be no failure, and the Boonton Iron Works were established with new energy, and upon a strong financial foundation.

There was then living at Rahway, in New Jersey, a young man who had retired from an active business life in New York to the quiet of a farm. He loved the country, he reveled in its peace, he rejoiced in the companion-[17] ship of books, and he loved with a rare steadfastness the comfort and solace of a home where true affection was supreme. He was fitted to be the ruler of men, but he preferred to be the head of a peaceful household. An accident led him to accept a temporary position in the iron works at Boonton. He and his employers never suspected what would be the outcome of his accidental presence in Boonton. He had gone there to please a relative who was interested in the business; the place he filled for the time was a subordinate one, but he remained, soon to be raised to the post of chief manager of the whole enterprise. This was about the year 1850, and from that time until his death he was identified with every movement tending to benefit the workmen under him, as well as the whole body of citizens in the community.

Boonton at that period had assumed much larger proportions, but by no means was the prosperous town that it is at present. Then the houses, occupied mostly by the men who worked in the mills, were clustered around the foot of Sheep Hill. Now this hill is covered with streets, lined on each side with dwellings, filled with a busy, industrious population. Stores, factories, churches and school-houses meet the various wants of the people. This present prosperity is greatly due to Mr. Lathrop, who had much to do with the fashioning and molding of the interests of Boonton.

William Gerard Lathrop was born October 29, 1812, at Norwich, Connecticut. He was descended from an ancient English family, for whom a town in England was named many centuries ago. Among his lineal ancestors was the celebrated divine, the Rev. John Lathrop, D. D., at one time a beneficed clergyman of the Established church in England. Becoming dissatisfied with the tenets of this church, he identified himself with the Independents of his day. This led to persecution and dangers, and finally to confinement in Newgate prison. Released from confinement, he came to this country with many who held the like faith with himself, and settled in New England. From him came that branch of the Lathrop family from which the subject of this sketch is descended, he being of the fifth generation in a direct line from the intrepid minister who suffered so much for conscience's sake.

Few as were the educational advantages afforded in Norwich at the time that young Lathrop needed them, he still could not embrace them. He never attended school after he was twelve years old; but his ardent [18] thirst for knowledge enabled him to make the very best use of the few facilities at his command. He was an intense lover of books, and books of the very best kind; he haunted libraries, wherever he could find them, in search of his beloved companions, and in this way he laid broad and deep the foundation of an education which well served his purposes in after life. The rapidity with which he devoured the books drawn by him from a public library he much frequented led the librarian to mistrust the benefit gained by the young reader from his reading. So he questioned him and to his amazement found that none of the essential contents of the volumes returned so quickly had been lost. This love of books led him in after life to gather a library of his own, which was a constant source of pleasure to himself and others.

When Mr. Lathrop was eighteen years of age his family removed to New York city, where he became a clerk in the well known house of Oliphant & Talbot, extensively engaged in importing Chinese goods. While in their employment he was sent to South America on important and delicate business requiring prompt decision and intelligent judgment. In this and other trusts his employers were never deceived in their young employe.

In 1835, when but twenty-three years of age, he became the junior partner in the firm of Talbot & Lathrop, which carried on the same kind of business in which he had been previously engaged. This was only a little more than sixty years ago. New York then had six thousand dwellings and one hundred and eighty thousand inhabitants. Its assessable property, including thirty-seven million dollars of personal estate, was one hundred and fourteen million dollars; its lighted and paved streets extended, on the west side; to Thirteenth street, and on the east to Dry Dock. The New England men were prominent in the city's councils and business. An author, writing about this time, says: “New York is distinguished for its display in the way of signs; every device is resorted to to make them attractive. I read and considered the nomenclature of the town; I saw that strangers had got hold of the business and wealth of the place. The busy tribes from New England supplied numerous names, and the names of Knickerbockers were almost varieties in their own homes! Judicious persons told me they thought full one-half of all the business done in New York was by the pushing Yankees." It can well be imagined if our Yankee boy had [19] remained in New York he could long before his death have held a distinguished place among the business and political circles of the great emporium. The firm of Talbot & Lathrop continued until 1840, when, as has been before related, its junior member, soon to be transferred to a larger sphere. of usefulness, retired to a farm near Rahway.

In 1837 Mr. Lathrop was married to Charlotte Bracket Jennings, daughter of Nathan and Maria Jennings, then of New York, but formerly of Windham, Connecticut. Several children were born of this marriage, only. two of whom survived their parents, viz.: William G. Lathrop, Jr., now, deceased, who became a successful lawyer in New York, of the firm of Brownell & Lathrop. The other is a daughter, still living at Boonton. Into the privacy of his home life we cannot intrude. Those who have enjoyed its hospitality know what it was worth to be there, and never left it without feeling a reverence for those who made it so blessed.

When Mr. Lathrop settled permanently at Boonton he was confronted with new duties, duties that he owed to his employers, to the employed under him, and to the community in which he had cast his lot. He forgot none of them, but set himself seriously to the performance of all. His first duty was to those, into whose service he had entered. Into that service he threw the whole strength of his resolute and forceful nature. He had embarked in a business with the details of which he was entirely unacquainted, but he soon mastered every minutia; he left nothing unknown. His energy was untiring; he was ubiquitous; prompt, decided, wise, prudent, careful, he met every requirement of his responsible position, and the result soon showed the wisdom of those who selected him to be the manager of one of the largest iron works in the country. The product of its manufacture went into every part of this great republic and soon invaded the world. Japan, China, South America received the products of the Boonton Iron Works. Everything prospered under his management; it became necessary to increase the appliances for the production of goods; the factory grew and the town grew; the houses of the workmen crept up the hill, the growth of the popu­lation invited tradesmen from abroad; shops and mechanics were needed to meet the growing demands of the people; streets were opened, churches were built and Boonton was established on sure foundations.

The workmen who came as employes of the Boonton. were of a superior class; they were skilled in their craft: some of them [20] needed no inducement to seek for those higher adjuncts to the increase of human happiness. In their manager they found one who was ever ready to respond to any proper demand. If a school were needed to meet the increasing educational wants of the children, a new school-house was built, and he was ever ready to lend his name, his time and energy and his purse to make the school a success. If the religious want of the workmen required a church edifice to be erected, he inquired not by what sect the building was to be used, but secured the land necessary, by gift from the proprietors of the works; if a library was proposed to meet the reading tastes of the workmen, the first man called upon to aid was the manager; if a course of lectures was suggested, he secured the speakers. His fertile brain was in constant operation devising something to elevate his workmen, and they soon learned to know that the quiet, persistent man who always insisted on instant obedience to orders and perfect performance of duty by the employes was really their best friend. He adopted a plan by which they might secure homes for themselves and their families. Through his influence the company deeded lots to such of their workmen as were deserving, and who would at once clear off the lot and begin erecting a house. Then a small sum was deducted weekly from the man's wages until the property was paid for, and in this way most of them secured comfortable dwellings.

The influence of this management was felt in two directions: it made 'better workmen; and they became more self-respecting. A man owning a house and lot has a stake in the community which makes him a better citizen. The company won the confidence and gratitude of their workmen and .secured a better return for their wages. There never was a strike at Boonton while William G. Lathrop was at the head of affairs.

Another plan was adopted by Mr. Lathrop in the payment of wages. The custom, at the works, had been to make monthly payments; a large amount of money at one time thus passed into the hands of the men, and this led to some waste and extravagance. By this change of plans the men were paid weekly, and this secured more economy in expenditure. The workmen, quick to notice such things, soon learned the real merit of their superintendent. They trusted him and confided in him as they would in their very best friend. The following incident illustrates the estimate they formed of him. A poor man was relating to a stranger an accident which had .befallen his pig and ended his story by saying that he was going to tell Mr. [21] Lathrop about it. “Pooh!" said the listener; "what will he care?" The. indignant reply came swift and emphatic: "He cares as much for me as he does for the richest man in the place. "

Mr. Lathrop never sought political preferment. If he had simply put himself in the way and had signified his desire to receive office, he would have had no difficulty in securing the object of his ambition. He doubtless would not have refused office if it had been pressed upon him; but it is not the custom of modern times to reward the modest citizen, even though he may be deserving both by merit and capability and by long years of service. There were other means open to Mr. Lathrop by which he could serve his fellow men. So he was found acting as trustee of school districts, as a director in bank and savings institutions and in other fiduciary capacities. During the Rebellion he became treasurer of the Pequannock bounty fund, and was foremost in attending to the wants of the soldiers in the field. When it became necessary to establish another state lunatic asylum, he was. selected one of the commissioners to choose a site and to superintend the building of the edifice, and he took a very prominent part in the performance of the important duties intrusted to himself and his fellow commissioners.

He was a benevolent man, large-hearted in his benefactions, never ostentatious, but wise and prudent in his giving. Very few knew the amount or extent of his beneficence. His family was the dearest object of his affection and his highest ambition was to create a home for them and surround it with every comfort.

But even in the erection of the beautiful dwelling at Boonton, where was to be centered his real happiness, in making happy those whom he loved best. and where his friends were to be welcomed with that sincere hospitality he so loved to extend, he did not forget the claims of others. None but Boonton workmen, he declared, should be employed, so far as possible, for in Boonton he had made his money and there it should be spent.

He had the force of his convictions upon every subject which it became his duty to examine for the purpose of determining what course he should pursue in relation thereto. But he never committed himself to any line of conduct until he had strictly scrutinized and fully understood the whole subject and could conscientiously subscribe to the demands of his cool judgment and discriminating intellect.

He was a Republican and fully believed in the principles of that party, [22] but he did not give his adhesion to it until he fully knew what it demanded and upon what foundation it based its policy. So he supported it with his full judgment and satisfied conscience, after an exhaustive examination.

He was open, however, to conviction. His nature was not of that sullen, obstinate kind which relishes argument but does not favor conviction, even though it may have the worst of the argument. He was sent as a delegate from New Jersey to the Chicago convention which nominated Lincoln. He went strongly favoring William H. Seward, but soon became satisfied that Abraham Lincoln was the best man to be nominated. and so he voted for that great man. From that time to the close of Mr. Lincoln’s life he believed in him, and never lost his faith in his wisdom and patriotism.

He died, March 2, 1882, in the beautiful house he bad reared for his family, having lived in it for nine years.

Mr. Lathrop in his person was an attractive man, of slight built, but graceful, agile and alert in all his movements, with a charm of manner and a magnetism which delighted all within his influence; his eye was keen, bright and piercing, his features clean-cut and classical; gentle and genial in his dealings with all, he inspired his friends with the deepest devotion, which he returned with a grip of steel. In all the great trusts committed to his charge he showed the greatest faculty in grasping all the circumstances connected with the situation, and an executive ability to control and move, if necessary, with lightning speed; there was no delay in his movements,-they were straight forward and with a purpose to the desired result. While he was decided in his own convictions, he was careful to respect the opinions of others, and never in disputed matters where conscience should be the arbiter did he attempt to change the views of others who differed with him.

He dearly loved children and delighted ever to give them pleasure. His constant endeavor during his whole life was in all things to imitate the example of the Master.

The involuntary tribute given to his memory by a neighbor, an old man, who had known him long and intimately, was the best estimate of the appreciation of his goodness, of the purity and excellency of his life. When Mr. Lathrop was laid away to rest, this neighbor sold his burial lot in another cemetery and bought one next to Mr. Lathrop's, declaring that he wished to be laid near to him. Nothing better than this remains to be said of this man who was so worthy of all praise.

 

Transcribed by Brianne Kelly-Bly


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