Alfred Munson was a son of Ephraim (1753-1826) and Hannah (Wetmore) Munson (1749-1815), of Berkhamstead, Litchfield county, Conn., a grandson of Samuel Monson, of Northford, New Haven county, Conn., and a lineal descendant of Lieut. Thomas Monson, the first of the name in America and one of the signers of the Plantation Covenant of New Haven. Thomas Monson was of English birth, and came to the New World, one of those four thousand exiled servants of God, between 1629 and 1634 to secure liberty of conscience. Alfred was born in Berkhamstead, Conn., May 21, 1793, and with the exception of one year spent in Hartford with the Todds lived in the family of his brother Samuel until he reached the age of thirty. On June 29, 1813, the two brothers purchased one-half of their father's farm and buildings and two years later they bought the remaining half of this homestead of their brother Reuben J. In 1817 they purchased of their father a one-half interest in a saw mill and six years afterward one-half of a grist mill. On June 5, 1823, Alfred sold one-half of the farm, “where my father lives," with one-half of the buildings, to Samuel for $500, one half of the saw mill with eighty acres for $700, and one-half of the grist mill for $800. He immediately removed to Utica, N. Y., having with his wife $2,900 in money. He had previously visited this section and arranged for business. According to Samuel A. Munson it is stated that while one of the Munsons was on a journey between New York and Hartford he came upon a Frenchman who claimed that he "had run away from some revolution in France." As he was skilled in making millstones he was brought to Berkhamstead. The Munsons set him to work on buhr stones, which were brought from New York City. The first pair was used b5- themselves, the second by a mill in Simsbury, and the third went to New Hartford. Alfred Munson "and a Hartford man" began the manufacture of French buhr stones in Utica-the first establishment of the kind in this country. To assist in disguising the material employed they mingled brimstone with the plaster of paris which was used. Mr. Munson was engaged in this business in Utica for fifteen years, and it is said that he bought up all the canal boats on one section of the Erie Canal, and that he and his partner at one time, perhaps in 1830-35, owned all the steamboats on Lake Ontario. His first shop was in the basement of the Kirkland block on the corner of Liberty and Hotel streets, but he soon removed from there to the east side of Washington street where it crosses the canal. With untiring energy he steadily enlarged the business until it came to be the chief dependence of millers throughout a wide territory. Martin Hart was his bookkeeper, partner, or executor of his estate for upwards of forty years.
Mr. Munson was from boyhood of a frail constitution and suffered much from bodily infirmities, but his mind was unusually active and clear. He was prudent, penetrative, and sagacious, and was possessed of sound common sense discriminating judgment, and remarkable wisdom. Bold, foresighted, and eminently calculating, his plans, when matured, needed only will of execution his most conspicuous and commanding trait to overcome every obstacle and insure success. He was influenced by purity as well as vigor of purpose, and was liberal minded and public spirited. He loved to engage in large but strictly legitimate business enterprises, and especially in such as tended to promote the welfare and prosperity of the community. The rare combination of business elements in his character-his resolute determination, his constant watchfulness, his self-reliance-lent a prestige of success to every scheme in which he embarked. For several years he engaged in the passenger traffic by canal and by steamers on Lake Ontario, and was trustee and treasurer of the Ontario and St. Lawrence Steamboat Company until within a few weeks of his death. He was one of the builders of the Utica and Schenectady, the Syracuse and Utica, and the Syracuse and Oswego Railroads, and served as a director of f the first named corporation from 1834 to 1844. He was also one of the active builders of the Utica and Binghamton Railroad and held the office of president at the time of his decease. This line followed very nearly the course of a State road which he, as one of the commissioners, had laid out thirty years before. He was president of the Canton Real Estate Company of Baltimore, Md., and also engaged in the manufacture of iron in that city. Later he was one of a company to establish iron works in Clinton, N. Y. He purchased extensive coal fields in Pennsylvania to save himself from loss, and for more than twenty-six years they were not a source of revenue, but a constant drain upon his estate. He foresaw their future value, however, and enjoined upon his heirs to keep them.
No one did more than Mr. Munson to promote the manufacturing interests of Utica. By the application of his means he early became the efficient advocate of introducing and testing the value of steam power in the making of cotton and woolen goods, and was the first president of the original boards which managed the Utica Steam Cotton and the Globe Woolen Mills. He was one of the instigators and early managers of the Utica Water Works Company, the Utica Mechanics Association, and the Utica Female Academy. When the United States Bank with its twenty-five branches was flourishing he was a director in 1833 of the Utica branch. He was the first president of the Oneida Bank and held the office for seventeen years. From its inception he was a manager and chief of the board of managers of the New York State Lunatic Asylum, now the Utica State Hospital, and from 1842 until his death its firm and generous friend. He was the richest man in Oneida County and probably the first Munson in the country to become a millionaire.
In politics he was originally a Democrat and later a determined Abolitionist, but he never sought and only twice accepted public office-that of supervisor in 1832 and 1833. Enterprising, progressive, and public-spirited, deeply interested in every worthy and important movement, he was at one time the foremost citizen of Utica. Through his beneficence Grace church had its origin and present edifice, the plans for which he supervised a few years before his death. He was a prominent member and vestryman of this society, and bequeathed to the parish $10,000 for the lot and church building, $1,000 for a Sunday school room, $5110 for a Sunday school library, $1,500 for a church organ, $500 for a bell, and $500 for church furniture, etc. The church has received from his estate and from his heirs about $31 500. He also bequeathed to the Utica Orphan Asylum $5,000 for the erection of a new building, $25,000 for an endowment fund, and his coal lands in Pennsylvania, valued at $4,000. The whole amount left by Mr. Munson for charitable and religious purposes, and in remembrances of remote relatives, aggregated about $60,000.
Mr. Munson was taller than his father- “was tall and slim, and had dark eyes and dark hair." His very long nose was a feature which would commend him to the favor of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was in every sense the architect of his own fortune. Though not possessing the advantages of a finished education he had, nevertheless, talents of a high order and exerted them for high and useful ends. Coming hither with slender means he worked his way to a leading place among the business men and benefactors of Utica. He was of the seventh generation from Thomas Monson (1612-1685), a carpenter, a civil officer, a lieutenant in the Pequot Indian war of 1647--which latter service he received a land grant in Hartford, Conn. Lieutenant Thomas became a member of the New Haven plantation and a member of the first church there as early as 1640. He was captain of the New Haven colony soldiers in King Philip's war, a member of the General Council, and one of the leading and valuable citizens.
Alfred Munson died in Utica on the 6th of May, 1854. May 29, 1823, he married his cousin, Elizabeth, daughter of Asahel and Ruth (Hart) Munson, of Northfordford, Conn.,-a lady whose chief characteristics were a retiring and home-loving disposition, conscientiousness, independence, refinement, industry, and economy. She was born in Branford, Conn., December 23, 1798, and died in Utica September 14, 1870, leaving two children: Samuel A. Munson and Helen E., widow of J. Watson Williams.