John J. Bagley
Governor (1873 - 1877)

 John Judson Bagley, Governor of Michigan from 1873 to 1877 was born in Medina, Orleans Co., NY, July 24, 1832. HIs father, John Bagley, was a native of New Hampshire, his mother, Mary M. (Smith) Bagley, of Connecticut. He attended the district school of Lockport NY until he was 8 years old, at which time his father moved to Constantine MI and he attended the common schools of that village. His early experience was like that of many country boys whose parents removed from Eastern States to the newer portion of the West. HIs father being in very poor circumstances. Mr. B. was obliged to work as soon as he was able to do so. Leaving school when 13 years of age he entered a country store in Constantine as clerk. His father then removed to Owosso MI and he again engaged as clerk in a store. From early youth Mr. B. was extravagantly food of reading and devoted every leisure moment to the perusal of such books, papers and periodicals as come within his reach. In 1847 he removed to Detroit, where he secured employment in a tobacco manufactory and remained in this position for about five years.

In 1853 he began business for himself in the manufacturing of tobacco. His establishment has become one of the largest of the kind in the West. Mr. B. has also been greatly interested in other manufacturing enterprises, as well as in mining, banking and insurance corporations. He was President of the Detroit Safe Company for several years. He was one of the organizers of the Michigan Mutual Life Insurance Company of Detroit and was its President from 1867 to 1872. He was a director of the American National Bank for many years and a stockholder and director in various other corporations. Mr. B. was a member of the Board of Education two years and of the Detroit Common Council the same length of time. In 1865 he was appointed by Governor Crapo one of the first commissioners of the Metropolitan police force of the city of Detroit, serving six years. In November 1872, he was elected Governor of Michigan,, and two years later was re-elected to the same office, retiring in January 1877. He was an active worker in the Republican party and for many years was Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee.

Governor Bagley was quite liberal in his religious views and was an attendant in the Unitarian Church. He aimed to be able to hear and consider any new thought, from whatever source it may come, but was not bound by any religious creed or formula.  He held in respect all religious opinions, believing that no one can be injured by a firm adherence to a faith or denomination. He was married at Dubuque Iowa, Jan. 16, 1855 to Frances E. Newberry, daughter of Rev. Samuel Newberry, a pioneer missionary of Michigan, who took an active part in the early educational matters of the State and in the establishment of its excellent system of education. It was principally through his exertions that the State University was founded. Mr. B.'s family consists of seven children.

As Governor, he felt that he represented the State - not in a narrow, egotistical way, but in the same sense that a faithful, trusted, confidential agent represents his employer. His noble, generous nature made his innumerable benefactors a source of continuous pleasure. Literally, to him it was "more blessed to give than to receive."

Portraits & Biographical Northern Michigan

Another short bio from "Biographies of Notable Americans 1904"

John Judson Bagley, Governor of Michigan, was born at Medina, N.Y., July 24, 1832. He removed to Constantine, Mich., in 1840' attended the public schools; established a tobacco factory in Detroit in 1854, and held various public offices, in that city and positions of trust in many large corporations and banks.  From 1868 to 1870 he acted as chairman of the Republican state committee, and in 1872 was elected Governor of Michigan. He was re-elected in 1874 and served, 1873-1877. As governor he established a fish commission, a board of health, placed the boys in the reform schools on their honor, and introduced other reforms. He was married in 1855 to Frances E., daughter of the Rev. Samuel Newberry of Vermont. She was a member of the English society for the promotion of Hellenic study, of the Archeological Institute of America and the Anthropological Society of Washington, and of the Egyptian Exploration Society.  She died in 1898. He died in San Francisco, Cal., July 27, 1881.


Ex-Gov. John J. Bagley died in San Francisco at a quarter past 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon, at the age of 49 years. His death was not unexpected by those of his friends and acquaintances who were most familiar with his condition, but to the public the announcement of the sad event will be more or less a surprise. Gov. Bagley had an unusually wide circle of personal friends, not only in Detroit and Michigan, but throughout the United States, while his general acquaintance was almost without limit. This was due in a great measure to his democratic manners, to his natural (and studied) cordially, and to those qualities which, superficially at least, are indicative of a large and generous nature. Although an exceptionally successful man of business he never forgot the friends and companions who were by his side during his early struggle with fortune; hence to thousands of persons now living the name of John J. Bagley is in a sense synonymous with that hearty, unaffected and reassuring familiarity which wins and retains the sturdy and loyal friendship of the masses. He was certainly a man of very generous impulses; a benevolent man on principle--one who gave largely of his abundant store, who loved children and found pleasure in bettering the condition of the children of the very poor. Orphans never failed to arouse his tenderest sympathies, and there is not an asylum in the State that has not felt the gladdening power of his presence and his means. A very intelligible idea of the benevolent and democratic side of his nature may be gathered from his custom of celebrating the Christmas anniversary. In addition to those bounties which he at that season always flung abroad with lavish hands, it was his never-fading habit to gather around him his hundreds of employees and his business associates for a Christmas dance. To every man, woman and child of the number he gave a useful Christmas offering and after the distribution was done he led the company in a dance which he enjoyed with all the ardor of youth. So well had that custom become known in this city that the arrival of Christmas noon was always marked by the presence at these gathering of many citizens who were drawn thither by the desire to witness so much happiness and perhaps to participate in the festivities. The writer of these lines was a guest at the last Christmas reunion of Gov. Bagley and his employees, and can testify to the affectionate regard in which he was held by young and old. His domestic relations were very beautiful, and it may be doubted that in all the land there was a happier or more harmonious household than his. During the last fifteen years of his life he devoted much of his leisure to becoming acquainted with the best literature. Indeed his ambition in that direction was well known and often matter of remark among his intimates. A thoroughly good and useful book gave him peculiar pleasure, and when he met such a one he rarely contented himself with mastering it, but sent copies of it to all of his friends who would be likely to appreciate it. That was another illustration of a prominent trait in his character--he never possessed a desirable thing without the impulse to share it with others. For these and many other reasons the death of John J. Bagley will be deeply mourned. Detroit has lost a citizen who was imbued with the true spirit of progress, who gave to labor large opportunities, and whose resources were constantly employed in developing the commercial possibilities of the city and State. Thus, in addition to his immense tobacco interests, he was concerned in other manufacturing enterprises and in many banking and insurance companies on a very liberal scale. He was President of the Detroit Safe Company; he helped organize the Michigan Mutual Life Insurance Company, of which he was also President for five years; he was one of the Board of Directors of the American National Bank, and he was a stockholder and special partner in many other concerns.

Gov. Bagley's career is almost too well known to make more than an outline sketch of its desirable at this time. He was born in Medina, Orleans Co., N.Y., July 24, 1832. When a youth he came to Michigan with his parents, who settled in Constantine. In 1847 the young man came to Detroit and began his business life to clerk in Thos. R. Miller's tobacco store, on the east side of Woodward avenue, where the Detroit Metal & Plumbing Works are now located. He remained there five years and embarked in business independently. His success was immediate, and within a very few years his "guardian star rained fortune on him." He was elected School Inspector and Alderman by the people of the Third Ward in which he lived until he built the mansion on Washington avenue, and in which he has often said, the happiest years of his life were passed. His home was a very unpretentious wooden building on the north side of Macomb street near Brush, but there his children were born, and to that old home his feet were used to often turn long after he became the rich and honored Governor of his State, and the man of power and public responsibility.

The late Gov. Crapo, recognizing his practical abilities and his capacity for affairs, appointed him a member of the first Board of Police Commissioners of this city in 1865, in which office he served six years with indisputable success and public spirit. He was twice chosen Governor of the State (in 1872 and 1874), served as Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee and was twice a prominent and nearly successful candidate for the United States Senate.

 In January, 1855, he was married at Dubuque, Ia., to Frances E. Newberry (daughter of the Rev. Samuel Newberry), who survived him and who was with him in his last moments. Seven children also survive him, the eldest, Florence, being the wife of Roger M. Sherman, Assistant United States District Attorney for the Southern District of New York. None of the others is married. Their father's last spoken works on earth were: "My love for the children."

published in The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) 28 Jul 1881


To learn more about Governor Bagley's childhood in Owosso, Michigan, click HERE.
To see a photo of Governor Bagley's boyhood home, click HERE.

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