ANDREW J. FRENCH. The village of Oneida has no more prominent or respected citizen than this gentleman, who was born January 11, 1825, at Canaseraga, Madison County, N. Y.
His grandfather, John Owen French, was from Williamsburg, Mass., moving to the
State of New York in 1805, where he settled in the town of Sullivan. The journey from Massachusetts was made, as in nearly all cases at that time, with an ox-team; and they were three weeks on the road. Through a new country, where there were no means of transportation, it being a dense forest, the undertaking was perilous; but he was a man full of courage, and, foreseeing the immense resources of the Empire State, he willingly accepted all the privations and hardships of the trip to secure the fortunate result. He was in a measure a pioneer, although not among the first settlers in that section. He was a strong, healthy man, and had every prospect of a green old age, for he came of long-lived ancestry; but he lived in this place only three years, and died at the age of forty, a victim to his own unselfishness. There were many people in the neighborhood attacked with a malignant fever; and, being kind-hearted, he attended to their wants, exposing himself to the contagion, was taken down with the fever, and died in 1808. His family consisted of four boys and three girls.
The mother lived to the age of seventy-five.
Samuel French, the father of our subject, was born at Goshen, Mass., in 1798, and came with his father in 1805 to New York State. He was apprenticed at the age of twelve to a shoemaker, tanner, and currier at Oran, in Onondaga County. He enlisted in the War of 1812, and, going to Buffalo, participated in the battle of Fort Erie. When the war was
over, he returned to the town of Sullivan, and there, with an older brother, Horatio, bought a farm and hotel in the village of Canaseraga, where he resided for the rest of his life. Being familiar with military tactics, having had the experience of the war, he took great interest in the home military organization, attending muster, and advancing from
grade to grade in rank, finally became Colonel. He was a prominent man in the county, held various positions of honor, and in 1844 was elected Sheriff.
Colonel French was one of the projectors of a part of what is now the New York Central Railroad system. He secured the right of way for that portion known as the Syracuse & Utica Railroad, and became a director, so continuing until the Vanderbilts obtained control of that and other divisions, consolidating them under the name of the New York Central Railroad. Colonel French died in 1868, aged seventy years. His wife was Miss Charlotte Beecher, of Woodbridge,
Conn., and a distant relative of Henry Ward Beecher. She died in 1838, leaving four children, namely: Andrew Jackson, our subject; Jeanette L., living in Syracuse; John Henry Hobart, of Chittenango, N. Y.; and Austin B., Cashier of the National State Bank of Oneida.
Andrew J. French had excellent opportunities for obtaining a good education. His father, being a successful man, and having accumulated considerable property, was enabled to give him every chance. He attended the district school, and subsequently the Yates Polytechnic Institute in Chittenango, N. Y. When he was seventeen years old, he entered
a dry-goods store in Syracuse, where he remained for one year, then returned to Chittenango, and secured employment with Sims & Bates, general merchandise, and was with them for five years. Here he obtained an excellent knowledge of the details of business, which was of infinite value to him ever after. In 1846 he and a cousin, smitten with a desire to see something of the world, started on a trip through the Far West. They were in Chicago in July of that year, when it was simply a swamp, or mud-hole, with a few houses scattered here and there; and, although the boys had money and could have bought property there cheaply, they were too disgusted with the place, and so, neglected the opportunity of their lives. Many a time have they sighed over the millions they might be realizing to-day “if they had only known.”
They travelled through that region by whatever conveyance they could find, and by way of the Lakes, visiting Galena, Sheboygan,
Madison, Fond du Lac, Wis., and other places, and returned home after quite an extended trip. In 1847, with this same cousin, he went to Mansfield, Ohio, and started a wholesale grocery, buying grain, flour, etc. This being the time of the great famine in Ireland, they considered it a good time to engage in active business there, as quantities of grain were being shipped to the old country. They met with great success, and were doing a large and profitable business but the climate did not seem to agree with our subject, and his health failed so rapidly that after a year he returned to his home in the East, leaving his cousin to close up the concern.
Once more in Chittenango, he opened a general store, under the firm name of French, Stewart & Co. Subsequently the Stewarts sold out their interest; and the firm was French, Clark & Co., which continued until 1860. Meanwhile, during the years of 1856-7-8, he was by appointment Superintendent of the Erie Canal. He closed out his business in 1860, and in 1862 was appointed mail agent on the route between Albany and Syracuse, which continued until Andrew Johnson's administration, when he returned to his home, where his popularity was evidenced by
the people electing him Sheriff of the county in 1866, twenty-five years after his father had held the same office. He assumed his official duties on January 1, 1867, performing them for three years, when he moved to the village of Oneida, in 1870. In 1873 he was again appointed Superintendent of the Erie Canal, and during these years built the elegant brick block in his town known as the French-Bennett Block. Since that time he has attended to various affairs, has been engaged in the
settlements of estates, and was also Director in the First National Bank until that institution went into liquidation. He is now Vice-President and Director in the National State Bank, Oneida, which is well managed and very prosperous.
Mr. French was married in 1848 to Miss Mary A. Judd, daughter of Harley and Hannah (Thurston) Judd. They have three children; namely, Edward Everett, Agnes Rosamond, and Samuel Harley. Edward Everett, the eldest child, has been for twelve years freight agent for the New York Central Railroad at Albany, N .Y., having previously been the agent at Oneida. He married Miss Anna Augusta Cheney, daughter of Prentice D. Cheney, of Oneida, N. Y. They have four children living; namely, Agnes Jeanette, Sarah Bristol, Mary Judd, and Lillian Anna. One child, Arthur Cheney, died in infancy. The second child of Mr. and Mrs. French, Agnes Rosamond, married Clermont H. Wilcox, a broker of New York City. They have two children, Thomas Ferdinand and Mary Adele. Samuel Harley, the third child of Mr. and Mrs. French, is freight agent for the New York Central & West Shore Railroad at Utica, N.Y. He married Miss Ada L. Fessman, of Rome, N. Y.; and they have one child, Edna May.
Politically, Mr. French was brought up a Democrat, his father being a stanch and uncompromising one. He cast his vote for Franklin Pierce, but voted for Fremont and all Republican candidates for President ever since. Fraternally, he was for some time a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, having joined that organization in 1845. He was initiated a Mason in Sullivan Lodge, No. 148, of Chittenango, N. Y. When elected Sheriff, he went to Morrisville; and,
there being no lodge there at that time, he became charter member of its first one, and First Master of Morrisville Lodge, No. 648. He and his wife are communicants of St. John's Episcopal Church, of which he was a vestryman for a number of years. During his long and eventful life in Oneida Mr. French has always maintained his reputation for integrity, industry, and enterprise. He has done much by his influence and aid toward the prosperity of his town, and deserves the sentiments of respect and admiration entertained for him by his fellow-citizens.
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