Biography of Francis Wood Carpenter

Prominent steel merchant, leader in financial circles of Providence and associated with numerous profitable and constructive business enterprises, the late Francis Wood Carpenter had a career replete of good, and his record is entitled to an honored place in the annals of Rhode Island. Few men accomplished more, during his period of activity, than he did for the common weal. He lived to the great age of ninety-one, and gave more than seventy years of effort to the advancement of Providence as an industrial, commercial and cultural center The effects of his work may be termed everlasting, in that they were of permanent benefit to the people among whom he spent his life. He inspired through example many men, who now hold prominent places in the city of Providence and elsewhere. As a citizen, as well as a business figure, he was a dominant personality, and will be recalled for many generations as a pioneer of the modern city on Narragansett Bay.

Francis Wood Carpenter belonged to one of the oldest families in the United States. Born in Seekonk, June 24, 1831, he died in Providence in 1922. He was a son of Edmund and Lemira (Tiffany) Carpenter, being on his father’s side a direct descendant of William Carpenter, who came from England and settled in that part of Rehoboth, Massachusetts, which now is included in Rhode Island, in 1638. From this first generation in America down to the last, the name has been borne by men of substance and progressive ideas, high character and cultured mind. On his mother’s side, Mr. Carpenter was descended from Squire Humphrey Tiffany, who came from Barrington, England, to Barrington, Rhode Island, in 1680. Hence through both paternal and maternal lines, Mr. Carpenter held pioneer Rhode Island blood, and cherished the finest traditions of this important State.

Following a course of academic instruction in Seekonk Academy, Mr. Carpenter went to work to prepare for college, studying under an uncle, who was a minister in Massachusetts. But he did not enter college. Gilbert Congdon, an iron and steel merchant, offered to take him as an apprentice; and Mr. Carpenter accepted the proposal. This was, in fact, the important turning point in his career, for he continued in the steel and iron industry through the balance of his life. Soon after he had learned the various branches, duties and theories of the business, he was taken into partnership. The firm became G. Congdon and Company. Three years later it became Congdon and Carpenter, and in 1870, Congdon. Carpenter and Company. In 1892 articles of incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State, and the firm became the Congdon and Carpenter Company, Inc., which name style was retained thereafter. From that time onward, Mr. Carpenter served the organization as president. The business grew consistently to large dimensions under his guidance. Many other lines of enterprise claimed his attention as years went on. He was interested in the manufacture of horseshoes, and for many years served as president of the Rhode Island Perkins Horseshoe Company. He was identified prominently with banking interests, and for twenty-eight years served as president of the American National Bank. He was a director in several important institutions in the city, among them being the Providence-Washington Insurance Company. Associates in all lines admired him for his business acumen. They came to him for counsel in crisis, and found him always willing to extend a helping hand.

General affairs claimed much of Mr. Carpenter’s time, though not to the neglect of his business interests. He was a member of the Central Congregational Church, supported the denomination substantially, and was closely identified with movements of interest to it. He served for twenty years on the financial committee, and was active in the development and progress of church work in every department open to him. When the new church edifice was erected on Angell Street, he generously contributed to the building fund and gave the mural decoration in the apse. At a later date he gave the stained glass window in the west transept, which will be a memorial to him as long as the church shall stand. His interest always was commanded by welfare and charitable works. For several years Mr. Carpenter served as president of the Providence Young Men’s Christian Association. He was a constant contributor to charities in the city, the home and foreign missions, and to the large schools for the advancement of the negroes in the South. He held membership in the Squantum Club, Hope Club, and the Oquossoc Angling Association at Indian Rock, Maine, where Mr. Carpenter had a camp, and where he spent a month in the spring fishing for trout, when health permitted. Just as he loved mankind, so did he love nature, and enjoyed close communion with it.

Mr. Carpenter was twice married. He married (first) Anna Davis Barney. He married (second) Harriet Zerviah Pope. Surviving children are:

  1. Gilbert Congdon, who married Minnie Chamberlain; and of their union were born five children: Elizabeth, Gilbert, Jr., Harriet, Francis Wood, and Victoria.
  2. Mary (Carpenter) Peckham.
  3. Idelette.
  4. Harriet C. Thayer.
  5. Julia S.
  6. Hannah T.

His life was full, replete
Of service to mankind.

Mr. Carpenter will be remembered through many generations for his useful, extended life of service.

Source: Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, vol 3 of 4. New York: Lewis historical Pub. Co., 1932.

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