Biography of Governor Henry Lippitt

Governor Henry Lippitt
Henry Lippitt: From the Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island (1881)

Governor Henry Lippitt — The Lippitt family has given to Rhode Island two governors: Governor Henry Lippitt, subject of this record, and his son, Charles Warren Lippitt. The former was an outstanding manufacturer and financier, and the son was associated with the father in most of these important enterprises.

The family was founded in America by John Lippitt, who had a house and home lot of six acres in Providence, Rhode Island, in the year 1638. On July 27, 1640, he signed a compact containing proposals for a form of government, and he was in 1647 one of the commission from Providence which, with committees from Portsmouth and other towns met for the purpose of “organizing a Government under the first charter.” Later he moved to Warwick, Rhode Island, where he bought land and farmed. The line was carried by his son, Moses Lippitt, deputy to the General Assembly, who married Mary Knowles; Moses, their son, also a deputy, who married Ann Phillis Whipple; their son, Christopher, who moved to Lippitt Hill in Cranston and married Catherine Holden; their son, Charles, a soldier in the Revolution and a pioneer manufacturer of Providence, contributing to the establishment of the Lippitt Manufacturing Company with a capitalization of $40,000, who built their mill, the third in the State, in 1807; married Penelope Low; their son, Warren, who became the father of our subject. Warren Lippitt, son of Charles and Penelope (Low) Lippitt, was born in Providence, September 25, 1786, and died January 22, 1850. He was a sea captain in young manhood but subsequently became a cotton merchant in Providence and in Savannah, Georgia, and treasurer of the Lippitt Manufacturing Company. Warren Lippitt married, July 7, 1811, Eliza Seamans, and they were the parents of ten children, of whom one was Henry Lippitt, our subject.

Henry Lippitt, son of Warren and Eliza (Seamans) Lippitt, was born in 1818 and died in 1891. He was well educated at the Academy of Kingston, Rhode Island, and he began his business career as a clerk for Burr & Smith of Warren, Rhode Island. In 1835, he returned to Providence, where he became bookkeeper for Josiah Chapin & Company, then the most important cotton merchants of the city. In 1838 he and Edward Walcott established the commission house of Walcott & Lippitt, dealers in bale cotton and prints, and in 1840, the firm became Amory Chapin & Company. Six years later, upon the death of Mr. Chapin, Mr. Lippitt’s younger brother joined him, and two years later they, with other Providence capitalists, purchased the Tiffany mill and property at Danielsonville, Connecticut, and organized the Quinebaug Manufacturing Company. In 1854 the Lippitt brothers withdrew from this concern and began manufacturing, Henry Lippitt concentrating in this field after his brother’s death. His company, by January, 1874, had a capitalization of $1,000,000 and the Social and Globe mills at Woonsocket. Mr. Lippitt was treasurer and owned a controlling interest in the stock. Meantime, in 1859, the firm name became Henry Lippitt & Company. This enterprising manufacturer reequipped the old Harrison mills for the making of woolen and assumed the presidency of the Lippitt Woolen Company. He also organized the Silver Spring Bleaching and Dyeing Company in 1864 and served as president, and he was likewise president of the Rhode Island National Bank, the Rhode Island Institute for Savings, the Wheaton Hotel Company, the Providence Opera House Association, the Dyer Street Land Company, and the Colonia Warehouse and Dry Dock Company of South America. He was an organizer and first vice-president of the Providence Board of Trade, and later president. He was thus a part of all the business progress of the city.

His participation in other departments of community progress was equally energetic. Mr. Lippitt helped reorganize the Providence Marine Corps of Artillery in 1840 and 1842, and he was elected lieutenant-colonel of the corps after serving in various subordinate offices. He commanded part of the company in the Dorr War of 1842, defending the Arsenal for three nights against the Dorr attack, and leading an offensive against the Dorr forces. He also served as commissioner for the County of Providence for drafting and enrolling men during the Civil War in 1862. In 1875, his popularity culminated in his election to the office of Governor of Rhode Island, which he filled with brilliant success. His own words indicate his ideals:

The best growth of a State is brave, wise and good men, and noble and true women; its worst product, ignorant and vicious citizens. It is the highest function of Legislatures to encourage and promote the one and to reduce within the narrowest possible limits the other.

Henry Lippitt married, December 16, 1845, Mary Ann Balch, daughter of Dr. Joseph Balch, and they were the parents of eleven children: 1. Governor Charles Warren Lippitt, born October 8, 1846, brilliantly educated, widely traveled, associated in all his father’s important business enterprises with that magnate, and Governor of the State in 1895 and 1896; married Barbara Farnum, and they had children: Charles Warren, Jr.; Alexander F.; and Gorton Thayer Lippitt. 2. Henry Merriman. 3. Joseph Balch. 4. George Ernest. 5. Jeanie, born in 1852, afflicted with deafness at the age of four, was sympathetic with fellow-sufferers the rest of her life, contributing as a pioneer in this work for the deaf in the way of advice and money; she was the first deaf child in America to learn speech and lip-reading, and her experience counted toward the founding of the Clarke School for the Deaf, while she helped raise money for the Coolidge’s Endowment Fund for that institution; she married William B. Weeden. 6. Frederick. 7. Henry Frederick, United States Senator from Rhode Island, 1911 to 1917. 8. Mary Balch, born in 1858, married Charles John Steedman, who died in Paris, France, in 1907, by whom she had a son, Charles Richard Steedman. 9. Robert Lincoln, who married Lillian Blazo. 10. Abby Frances, who married Duncan Hunter. 11. Alfred.

Mr. Lippitt lived and labored for seventy-three years and wrought most potently for the advancement of Rhode Island along economic, social, and political lines. He ranked head and shoulders above most of his fellows in ability, ideals, and accomplishments. Nor did his power die with him, for his fine family of sons and daughters continued to work for humanity, Mrs. Weeden for the deaf, and Mrs. Steedman in contributions of money and personal effort in behalf of the blind.

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

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