Henry Howland Crapo
Governor (1865 - 1869)

 Hon. Henry Howland Crapo Governor of Michigan from 1865 to 1869, was born May 24, 1804, at Dartmouth, Bristol County, Massachusetts; and died at Flint, Michigan, July 22, 1869. He was the eldest son of Jesse and Phoebe (Howland) Crapo. HIs father was of French descent, and was very poor, sustaining his family by the cultivation of a farm in Dartmouth Township, which yielded nothing beyond a mere livelihood. His early life was consequently one of toil, and devoid of advantages for intellectual culture; but his desire for an education seemed to know no bounds. The incessant toil for a mere subsistence upon a comparatively sterile farm had no charms for him; and, longing for greater usefulness and better things, he looked for them in an education. His struggles to secure this end necessitated sacrifices and hardships that would have discouraged any but the most courageous and persevering. He became an ardent student and worker from his boyhood, though the means of carrying on his studies were exceedingly limited. He sorely felt the need of a dictionary; and neither having money where with to purchase it, nor being able to procure one in his neighborhood, he set to work to compile one for himself. In order to acquire a knowledge of the English language, he copied into a book every work whose meaning he did not comprehend; and, upon meeting the same word again in the newspapers and books which came into his hands, would study out its meaning from the context, and then record the definition. When unable otherwise to obtain the signification of a word in which he had become interested, he would walk from Dartmouth to New Bedford for that purpose alone; and, after referring to the books at the library, and satisfying himself thoroughly as to its definition, would walk back -- a distance of about seven miles -- the same night. This was no unusual circumstance. Under such difficulties, and in this manner, he compiled quite an extensive dictionary in manuscript, which is believed to be still in existence.

Ever in the pursuit of knowledge, he obtained possession of a book upon surveying; andf, applying himself diligently to its study, became familiar with the theory of this art, which he soon had an opportuntiy to practice. The services of a land surveyor were wanted, and he was called upon, but had no compass, and no money with which to purchase one. A compass, however, he must and would have; and, going to a blacksmith's shop near at hand, upon the forge, with such tools as he could find in the shop, while the smith was a dinner, he constructed the compass, and commenced life as a surveyor. Still continuing his studies, he fitted himself for teaching, and took charge of the village school at Dartmouth. When, in the course of time, and under the pressure of law, a high school was to be opened, he passed a successful examination for its principal ship and received the appointment. To do this was no small task. The law required a rigid examination in various subjects, which necessitated days and nights of study. One evening, after concluding his day's labor of teaching, he traveled on foot to New Bedford, some seven or eight miles, called upon the preceptor of Friends' Academy, and passed a severe examination. Receiving a certificate that he was qualified, he walked back to his home the same night, highly elated in being possessed of the acquirements and requirements of a master of the high school. In 1832, at the age of twenty-eight years, he left his native town, and went to reside at New Bedford, where he followed the occupation of land surveyor, and occasionally acted as an auctioneer.  Soon after becoming a citizen of that place, he was elected Town Clerk, Treasurer, and Collector of Taxes, which office he held until the form of the municipal government of New Bedford was changed,--about fifteen years;--when, upon the inauguration of the city government, he was elected Treasurer and Collector of Taxes, a position he held two or three years. He was also Police Justice for many years.

He was elected Alderman of New Bedford; was Chairman of the Council Committee on Education; and, as such, prepared a report upon which was based the order for the establishment of the Free Public Library of New Bedford.  On its organization, Mr. Crapo was chosen a member of its first Board of Trustees. This was the first free public library in Massachusetts, if not in the world; the Boston Public Library, however, was established soon afterwards. While a resident of New Bedford, he was much interested in horticulture; and, to obtain the land necessary for carrying out his ideas, he drained and reclaimed several acres of rocky and swampy land adjoining his garden.  Having properly prepared the soil, he started a nursery, which he filled with almost every description of fruit and ornamental trees, shrubs, flowers, etc. He was very successful in their propagation and growth, and took much pride in the result of his experiment. At horticultural fairs in Boston and elsewhere, he exhibited from his grounds one hundred and fifty varieties of pears of his own propagation, and one hundred and twenty varieties of roses. IN this, as in every thing that he undertook, he always worked intelligently, and for the best results; seeking the best methods, and looking for information to the highest authorities. The interest he took in the subject brought him into communication with the most eminent horticulturists of the country; and the desire to impart as well as to acquire knowledge soon led him to become a regular contributor to the New England Horticultural Journal, a position he filled as long as he lived in Massachusetts. As an indication of the wide reputation he acquired in that field of labor, it may be mentioned that, after his death, an effecting eulogy to his memory was pronounced by the President of the National Horticultural Society, at its meeting in Philadelphia, in 1869.

During his residence in New Bedford, Mr. Crapo was also engaged in the whaling business, which was then the great specialty of local enterprise. A fine baroque was built at Dartmouth, of which he was part owner, was named the "H.H. Crapo," in compliment to him. Mr. Crapo also took an active interest in the State militia, and for several years held a commission as Colonel of one of the regiments. In speaking of the intimate relations of Mr. Crapo with the interests of New Bedford, the Evening Standard of that city says: "No man connected with our municipal concerns ever had, to a greater extent than Mr. Crapo, the confidence of the people. He was exact and methodical in all matters of record; conscientious and laboriously persistent in the discharge of every duty; clear in his methods and statements in all that appertained to his official transactions. He left, at the end of his long period of service, all that belonged to his department as a financial or recording officer do lucid and complete that no error has ever been detected, or any improvement made upon his plans." He was President of the Bristol County Mutual Fire Insurance, and Secretary of the Bedford Commercial Insurance, companies, in New Bedford; and, while an officer of the municipal government, he compiled and published, between the years of 1836 and 1845, five numbers of the New Bedford Directory, the first work of the kind ever issued there. Mr. Crapo removed to Michigan in 1856, having been induced to do so by investments made principally in pine land,--first in 1837, and, subsequently, in 1856. He took up his residence in the city of Flint, and engaged largely in the manufacture and sale of lumber at Flint, Fentonville, Holly, and Detroit, becoming one of the largest and most successful business men of the State. He was mainly instrumental in the construction of the Flint and Holly Railroad, and was President of that corporation until its consolidation with the Flint and Pere Marquette Railway Company.

He exhibited a lively interest in the municipal affairs of Flint; gave his hearty support to the cause of popular education; and was elected Mayor of that city after he had been a resident of the place only five or six years. In 1862 he was elected State Senator to represent Genesee County, and took rank among the leading men of the Michigan Senate. He was the Chairman of the Committee on Banks and Incorporations, and a member of the Committee on Bounties to Soldiers. He at once became conspicuous as a legislator; his previously acquired experience and knowledge of State and municipal affairs admirably fitting him for legislative duties. In the fall of 1864, he received the nomination, on the Republican ticket, for Governor of the State, and was elected by a large majority. He was re-elected in 1866, holding the office for two terms, and retiring in January 1869. During the four years he occupied this office, he served the State with unflagging zeal, energy, and industry. The features which especially characterized his administration were his vetoing of railway aid legislation, and his firm refusal to pardon convicts imprisoned in the penitentiary, unless upon the clearest proof of their innocence, or of extreme sentence. Subsequent events and experience have proved, conclusively, that his action in vetoing railway aid bills, passed by the Legislature of 1867, was of great benefit to the State financially; and his judgment in that matter has been generally approved.  While serving his last term as Governor, he was attacked by the disease which terminated his life within one year afterwards. During much of the time, he was an intense sufferer, yet often while in great pain gave his attention to public matters. A few weeks previous to his death, which occurred July 23, 1869, a successful surgical operation was performed, which seemed rapidly to restore him; but he overestimated his strength, and, by too much exertion in business matters and State affairs, suffered a relapse, form which there was no rebound.

The Detroit Tribune closes an obituary notice with the following tribute to his worth: "In all the public positions he held, Governor Crapo chowed himself a capable, discreet, vigilant, and industrious officer. He evinced wonderful vigor in mastering details, and always wrote and spoke intelligently on any subject to which he gave his attention. Michigan never before had a Governor who devoted as much personal attention and painstaking labor to her public duties as he did.  His industry was literally amazing. He was not a man of brilliant or showy qualities, but he possessed sharp and remarkably well-developed business talents, a clear, practical understanding, sound judgment, and unfailing integrity.  In all the walks of life, there was not a purer man in the State. So faithful, so laborious, so unselfish, so conscientious a man in official life is a blessing beyond computation in the healthful influence which he exerts in the midst of the too prevalent corruptions that so lamentably abound in the public service. We have often thought, that, in his plainness, his honesty, his fidelity to duty, and in his broad and sterling good sense, Governor Crapo closely resembled the lamented Lincoln.  He was a man of the people, and most worthily represented them. His decease is an occasion for public morning. The State has very few men like him, and can ill afford to spare such an eminently useful citizen. His death will be profoundly deplored throughout our Commonwealth, and a general sympathy will be sincerely extended to his bereaved family." In the prosperity of the city of Flint he was deeply interested, and his old love for agriculture and horticulture was further stimulated by his removal to a more fertile section of the country.  He had an especial fondness for landscape and ornamental gardening; and, attached to his residence in Flint, he had upward of an acre of land which he took great pride in cultivating.

In the town of Gaines, he possessed a farm of about eleven hundred acres, most of which he reclaimed from swamps by a system of drainage that he planned. Extensive improvements upon the farm were made by him from year to year, and it has now developed into one of the finest in the State. Here he made an effort to improve the breed of cattle and sheep, importing Hereford, Short Horn, and Devon cattle; and South down, Cotswold, and Leicester sheep. The farmers, recognizing the interest he felt in agricultural pursuits, elected him, in 1863, President of the Genesee county Agricultural Society, which position he held for a year. During the last years of his life, he was a regular contributor of articles on agricultural topics to he Albany Country Gentleman. A Flint correspondent of a Detroit paper, in announcing his death, says: "To say that his death has cast a gloom over our entire city, inadequately expresses the deep sorrow depicted on every countenance. He has now not only the respect, but the affections, of our citizens. While the State at large will regret his loss as an eminent and upright public officer, we mourn his untimely end as an energetic, influential citizen, a wise counselor, a prime mover in the prosperity of our city, and a kind neighbor, who ever stood ready to aid the unfortunate. With his administration of State affairs, the public are familiar; it needs no eulogy at our hands. Suffice to say, that he assumed control at a very critical period, being near the close of the war, when all public affairs were in a very unsettled condition, and when the resources of the State were being taxed to the greatest extent to meet the demands of the General Government.

That we emerged from the greatest contest with a proud record, ranking with the highest for aid and counsel  rendered the Government, was attributable, in no small degree, to the foresight and indomitable energy displayed by our lamented ex-Governor., who so well took up and carried forward the patriotic and untiring efforts of his predecessor in the gubernatorial office. The brave boys who sustained the glorious reputation of our State during the last year of the war, learned to love and respect him for the almost parental affection shown them; we know they will always revere his memory, and in this they will be joined by all who knew him."  In the early part of his life, Mr. Crapo affiliated with the Whig party in politics, but became an active member of the Republican party after its organization. He was a member of the Christian (sometimes called the Disciples') Church, and took great interest in its welfare and prosperity. Mr. Crapo married, June 9, 1825, Mary Ann Slocum, of Dartmouth, a young lady only one year his junior. HIs marriage took place soon after he had attained his majority, and before his struggles with fortune had been rewarded with any great measure of success. But his wife was a woman of great strength of character, and possessed of courage, hopefulness, and devotion; qualities which sustained and encouraged her husband in the various pursuits of his earlier years. For several years after his marriage, he was engaged in teaching school, his wife living with her parents at the time, at whose home his two older children were born.  While thus situated, he was accustomed to walk home on Saturday to see his family, returning on Sunday, in order to be ready for school on Monday morning. As the walk, for a good part of the time, was twenty miles each way, it is evident that at that period of his life no common obstacles deterred him from the performance of what he regarded as a duty.

His wife was none the less conscientious in here sphere; and, with added responsibilities and increasing requirements, she labored faithfully in the performance of all her duties. They had ten children -- one son and nine daughters. His son, Hon. William W. Crapo. of New Bedford, is now Representative to Congress from the First Congressional District of Massachusetts.

American biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men with Portrait Illustrations on Steel, Vol. I-ii 1878


A telegram received from Flint yesterday morning announced the unexpected intelligence of the death of ex-Governor Henry H. Crapo. Some two months since Mr. Crapo submitted to a surgical operation, and since that time his health has been precarious, though it had been but lately announced that he was able to ride out and all danger of further illness was at end. His well-known energy and industry undoubtedly called him to attend to his vast business sooner than he ought, and a reaction or exposure brought about the calamity, which will be deplored by a large circle of immediate friends and by thousands of the citizens whose interests he guarded so well during his incumbency as Governor.

Mr. Crapo was a native of Massachusetts, removing from New Bedford, in that State, to Michigan in the year 1857, settling at once, where he had ever since remained, in Genesee County. He was a man of considerable means, which were nearly all invested in pine lands. A little later the demand for pine lumber induced him to largely invest in lumbering operations, owning and working many mills and doing much to open a steady and permanent trade in that important branch of our State wealth.  A few years since he stocked a large farm with pure-blood cattle, sheep and swine from abroad, in the successful endeavor to improve the standing of our own, and to create a laudable desire among agriculturists and stock-breeders to raise none but the best. He was elected President of the Flint & Holly Railroad, whose early completion and pecuniary success since is largely owing to his sagacity and energy. He has also held many other offices of trust and respect in his county, whose citizens, from his long residence among them, his liberal and generous heart, and his ambition in building up and employing, will mourn his death long and truly.

At the Republican State Convention which convened in this city July 7th, 1864, Mr. Crapo was nominated for Governor. He was not known to many of the delegates, having but little fame as a politician, and it was only on the fourth ballot that he received his nomination. His election and honest and unbiased management of the State affairs procured him the recurring nomination and election; and it is but justice to state that his official conduct was such as to command the confidence of his own party and in many instances the commendation of his most vigilant political opponents. As Governor, he fostered and encouraged any scheme that seemed likely to prove beneficial to the growth and welfare of the commonwealth or to portions of it, being particularly zealous in the movements for opening up to market the great pine interest of Northern Michigan, the protection of our mining industries, the encouragement of immigration, and such acts as might the better develop and increase the salt wealth of the great Saginaw Valley. As a citizen, Mr. Crapo was a man possessing deep piety, great enterprise, liberal land charitable views, and an address that made every man his friend.

Published in The Detroit Free Press (Detroit, Michigan) 24 Jul 1869



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