Biography of John Edward Babcock

Descended from one of the most prominent Rhode Island families which has been represented in this State for more than two hundred years, John Edward Babcock, of Wakefield, was a worthy scion of a race of pioneers and constructive industrialists and contributed in great measure to the progress of the community. He was respected and honored by all and lived a life of self-effacement and devotion to the people and their best interests. For almost half a century he worked at his task, seeking no reward save the appreciation that he was given, yet he was cut short in life before the completion of the new bank building in which he took the greatest interest. During the Colonial period and °later the Babcock family has given many prominent men to the industries of Rhode Island, outstanding among them having been the Hon. Joshua Babcock, a major-general of militia in the War of the Revolution, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island; Colonel Henry Babcock, famous in the French and Indian War and in the Revolution, and the Rev. Stephen Babcock, who was one of the most celebrated divines of that period. There are several branches of the family in this State, John Edward being a representative of the one that came from Westerly and made its home in South Kingston.

He was born in Matunuck, South Kingston, Rhode Island, October 7, 1858, a son of John and Mary (Perry) Babcock, and until he was fourteen years of age attended the local public schools, then being sent by his father to the famous Friends’ School in Providence, where he took the classical course and was graduated with the class of 1877. The family for generations were Quakers and Mr. Babcock was a birthright member of the Society of Friends. For a time after his graduation he followed the profession of teaching for a number of years. He retired from this work and became a clerk in the post office at Narragansett Pier and afterward filled clerkships with the Wakefield Institute for Savings and the Pairpoint Corporation, of New Bedford, Massachusetts. In all of these positions he displayed an unusual business talent and became widely and favorably known for his intimate knowledge of banking and financial methods in general. In 1880 he entered the service of the Wakefield National and Wakefield Savings Bank as a clerk. He was rapidly advanced and in January, 1887, was made cashier of the institution. When the institution became the Wakefield Trust Company in July, 1890, he was elected secretary and treasurer, being the youngest bank head in New England at that time. He was also a director, secretary and treasurer, and later president of the Wakefield Institution for Savings and a director of the Narragansett Pier Electric Light and Power Company, of which he was also treasurer for three years. He was additionally engaged in the fire insurance business and in it made a notable success. Although deeply interested in local government and frequently urged to accept office, he invariably declined the honor, save that for a year he served as a member of the school committee of South Kingston and performed a valuable service to the people in that office. His death occurred in 1926.

John Edward Babcock married, at Peace Dale, February 27, 1890, Margie Hunter Rodman, daughter of George and Kate (Hunter) Rodman, highly respected residents of Peace Dale. Her father was a veteran of the Civil War. Their children were:

  1. Edith, born May 17, 1898, married Richard A. Helliwell, bank teller and director of The Wakefield Trust Company, and they are the parents of one child: Carolyn Babcock.
  2. John E., Jr., a student at college.

No man ever gave more freely of his abilities to the welfare and advancement of the people than did John Edward Babcock to those of Rhode Island. His constant thought was to be at the head of the line that drew the commercial vehicle onward and upward. He understood the value of sound financeering and conducted his enterprises in such manner as to meet the approval of fellow bankers and hold the confidence of the public. No breath of distrust ever was directed toward him, but rather there was always an air of complete trust and his counsel was invariably followed. Rhode Island lost one of her greatest and most useful citizens when he passed into another sphere.

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

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