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Orville Hungerford

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Title: Orville Hungerford  
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Subject: New York state election, 1847, People from Watertown, New York, New York's 19th congressional district, Farmington, Connecticut, Watertown (city), New York
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Orville Hungerford

Orville Hungerford
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 19th district
In office
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1847
Preceded by Samuel S. Bowne
Succeeded by Joseph Mullin
Personal details
Born Orville Hungerford
(1790-10-29)October 29, 1790
Bristol, Connecticut
Died April 6, 1851(1851-04-06) (aged 60)
Watertown, New York
Political party Democratic Party (United States)
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Porter Stanley (1786–1861)
Occupation merchant, banker, industrialist, militia member, politician, railroad president
Religion Presbyterian

Orville Hungerford (October 29, 1790 – April 6, 1851) was a two-term United States Representative for the 19th District in New York. He was also a prominent merchant, banker, industrialist, Mason and railroad president in Watertown, New York.[1]


  • Early years 1
  • Merchant 2
  • Family 3
  • Banker 4
  • Industrialist 5
  • Homestead 6
  • Militia Cavalry 7
  • Free Mason 8
  • Community Service 9
  • Politician 10
  • Railroad President 11
  • Death 12
  • Retrospect 13
  • References 14
  • External links 15

Early years

The youngest of seven children, Orville Hungerford was born in Farmington, Connecticut (now Bristol) on October 29, 1790.[2] His family claims descent from Thomas Hungerford of Hartford, who arrived in the New World some time prior to 1640.[3] In pursuit of greater economic opportunity, Orville's father, Timothy Hungerford, moved his family to Watertown, New York in the spring of 1804.[4] Watertown is located in upstate New York on the Black River, a short distance from Lake Ontario and the picturesque Thousand Islands region. After becoming the seat of Jefferson County in 1805, the city grew to be a renowned manufacturing center.


As a pioneer, needing help with his farm, Timothy Hungerford was only able to send his son to "winter schools",[5] effectively precluding him from going to college; years later Orville encouraged his son Richard E. to attend Hamilton College in Clinton, New York.[6] Not enamored with eking out a living from the land, at age fourteen Orville began working as a clerk in his brother-in-law Jabez Foster's general store in the village of Burrs Mills (also known as Burrville).[7] This business was a partnership between Foster and Thomas M. Converse. When Orville was eighteen, Foster moved the store to Watertown, a busier location. Orville's diligence paid off and he became Foster's partner in the firm known as Foster & Hungerford, which profited handsomely from selling supplies to U.S Army stationed at Sackets Harbor during the War of 1812.[8] In 1813, Foster became a judge in the Court of Common Pleas for Jefferson County,[9] while Hungerford decided to focus on expanding his commercial interests rather than reading law. He set up his own store, eventually partnering with Foster's son-in-law Adriel Ely,[10] only withdrawing his interest upon entering Congress.


On October 13, 1813, Orville Hungerford married Elizabeth Porter Stanley, known as Betsy, from Wethersfield, Connecticut".[11] She was the daughter of George and Hannah (Porter) Stanley. The couple had the following children: Mary Stanley (May 6, 1815-Mar. 13, 1893), Marcus (Aug. 30, 1817-Sep. 3, 1863), Martha B. (Nov. 30, 1819-Sep. 21, 1896), Richard Esselstyne (Mar. 28, 1824-Jan. 5, 1896), Frances Elizabeth (Feb. 8, 1827-Nov. 25, 1902), Grace, and Orville F. (Feb. 25, 1830-Nov. 26, 1902.) Betsy stayed home and raised the children while Orville, ever the hard worker, set his sights on creating financial stability for his family.


Because Watertown, New York was expanding in the early nineteenth century, businessmen there needed greater access to local capital. In 1816, Jabez Foster and others successfully petitioned the legislature to establish the Jefferson County Bank.[12] Foster was chosen to help apportion stock and choose the building location, which was a contentious matter because each community in the area wanted the bank to be located there. The bank ended up being built in Adams, New York, and was initially capitalized with $50,000.00, of which half the amount was paid in. However, the bank did not fare financially well in Adams. Pursuant to an act passed on November 19, 1824, the bank relocated to Watertown and the capital fund was increased to $80,000.00. Foster served as the second bank president (1817–1819). Orville, who often followed the lead of his brother-in-law, served as the bank cashier (1820–1833) and later as president (1834–1845). Throughout the entire nineteenth century, the bank, nationally chartered in 1865, never defaulted on its obligations and from 1824 paid its shareholders regular dividends. To put its growth in perspective: in 1821 it had resources of $91,000.00; by January 1, 1916, it had resources of $3,000,000.00. In 1916, Orville's grandson, Orville E. Hungerford, was vice-president of the bank.

3-dollar Jefferson County Bank note issued in 1824 and signed by cashier O. Hungerford


Orville Hungerford played an important role in the industrialization of the Watertown area. For example, he helped establish the Sterling Iron Company,[13] Black River Woolen Company,[14] and the Jefferson County Mutual Insurance Company.[15]


One of Orville Hungerford's goals was to earn enough money from his ventures to build a grand home. In 1823, he began to construct the largest house in Watertown on a piece of property that he purchased in 1816 for $500.00 from Olney and Eliza Pearce.[16] On November 11, 1825, he opened the six-paneled door with a brass eagle-knocker at 336 Washington Street and moved into his mansion, made out of native limestone with 10 fireplaces and a carriage house. The English ivy-covered residence eventually passed to Orville's daughter, Frances E., a spinster, whose estate conveyed it to her niece Helen Hungerford (Mrs. Leland G. Woolworth). After Helen died, ownership of the house transferred to her sister Harriet Hungerford, another spinster. Harriet had been living next door in her father Marcus Hungerford's house at 330 Washington Street. She moved into the Orville Hungerford mansion in 1946 and lived there until her death on October 26, 1956. By this time most of the family had moved out of the Watertown area and no one wanted to return. The Watertown National Bank bought the property from Harriet's estate and sold it to Joseph Capone, a developer. In turn, John R. Burns, purchased the structure and reassembled the house minus the left wing several blocks away on Flower Avenue West, where it still stands.[17] The house is in remarkably good shape today due to the loving care and modernization efforts of its recent owners. At present, the old Hungerford homestead on Washington Avenue is the site of a Best Western Carriage House Inn, attached out back to the original carriage house.

Orville Hungerford homestead in its present location in Watertown, New York

Militia Cavalry

What is known about Orville Hungerford's military career is minimal. In 1821 he succeeded Captain Jason Fairbanks and was also on the staff of Major General Clark Allen[18] Another source lists Orville as the Quartermaster of the Twelfth Division of infantry in 1822.[19]

Free Mason

Orville Hungerford became enamored with Free Masonry because many of his mentors and friends were involved in the fraternal organization and perhaps because it gave him a sense of belonging to a collegial group that he lacked by not going to college. In 1826, Hungerford along with his business partner, Adriel Ely, and others applied for a dispensation to establish a local Encampment of Knights Templar.[20] On February 22, 1826, the Deputy Grand Commander of the Grand Encampment, Oliver W. Lownds, granted the dispensation. Hungerford presided as Grand Commander from March 24, 1826 until April 17, 1829 during which time twenty-nine men had the Order of the Temple conferred upon them. However, the 1826 disappearance of William Morgan, who threatened to publicize the secrets of Freemasonry, caused the public to lash out at Masonic targets. Due to this public condemnation of secret societies, which were deemed to corrupt the body politic, Sir Orville's encampment went dark in 1831. In February 1850, after the furor abated, Hungerford and others successfully petitioned the Grand Encampment of New York to reissue their former warrant, thereby establishing Watertown Commandery No. 11.

On January 16, 1826, Hungerford bought from Hart Masey a three-story brick building on Washington Street in Watertown, which housed the Eastern Light Lodge No. 289.[21] The deed to the building had a covenant to secure the use of a 40 by 42.5 room on the third floor for the Masons. During the height of the Morgan affair uproar, the Lodge operated in secret, communicating to members by placing a lighted candle in certain windows. In 1834-35 the Lodge failed to hold annual elections; the concomitant failure to collect dues resulted in forfeiture of the charter, which was reinstated in 1835 upon a successful petition to the Grand Lodge. The Washington Street building was destroyed in a fire on January 27, 1851 and the Lodge moved temporarily to an Odd Fellows Hall and then to several other locations.

Community Service

Orville was actively involved in his community, making a point to give back and help those less fortunate. One of the big problems then and now was poverty. As a result, Jefferson County established a poor house system paid for by appropriations from each town. In 1826, Hungerford was appointed as one of the first superintendents of the poor house located on the 150-acre Dudley Farm in Le Ray, New York. People sent to the poor house would have a place to live and would be provided with food and rudimentary medical care in exchange for some work, usually tied in with farming, e.g., picking oakum.[22]

On August 1, 1828, a man by the name of Barney Griffin, who had travelled from Syracuse to the Village of Sackets Harbor several days earlier, ended up dying in the Jefferson County Poor House. Orville went over to investigate. Upon searching Griffin's clothes, he found the cash sum of two hundred and twenty-two dollars and fifteen cents - more than enough money for Griffin to pay for a hotel. Hungerford put an advertisement in the a paper to see if a relative would claim the money. No one did. He then turned the money over to the County Treasurer for use of the Poor House, deducting a dollar for the advertisement money that came out of his own pocket. Understanding the nature of greed, he asked the County Board of Supervisors to indemnify him for his actions, which it agreed to do.[23]

In 1833, Hungerford's brother-in-law and former business partner, Jabez Foster, sold the County some land near Watertown for $1,500.00 on which to build a new poor house. Hungerford and two others were tasked with setting up the new establishment.[24]


Orville's friendship with local politician and judge,

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Samuel S. Bowne
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 19th congressional district

Succeeded by
Joseph Mullin

External links

  1. ^ See the article entitled "The Honorable Orville Hungerford: Humble Origins, Near Greatness" by Richard W. Hungerford Jr. and Andre James ("A.J.") Hungerford in the Bulletin of the Jefferson County Historical Society, Volume 36, Spring 2007 for a thorough discussion of this man's life.
  2. ^ The two main genealogical sources for the Hungerford family in North America are 1.) “For Thomas Hungerford of Hartford and New London, Conn. and his Descendants in America,” by F. Phelps Leach, published by F. Phelps Leach, East Highgate, Vermont, 1932 and, 2.) “A Summary Of The Families Hungerford, Descendants of Thomas of Connecticut, 2nd edition, 1980, (second printing - 1982), Including A Brief History of the Hungerford Family In England from the 12th Century, And Descendants of: Thomas of Ireland, William of Maryland, and Thomas of Maryland,” by Stanley W. Hungerford. (Microfiche FHL #6088572)
  3. ^ “For Thomas Hungerford of Hartford and New London, Conn. and his Descendants in America,” by F. Phelps Leach, published by F. Phelps Leach, East Highgate, Vermont, 1932, page 1.
  4. ^ Reference pages 98 through 101 of a Hungerford genealogy put together by Orville Hungerford, son of the subject of this WorldHeritage item, Congressman Orville Hungerford, sometime in 1894--with an index added by H. Hungerford Drake July 1901.
  5. ^ “Daily News & Reformer,” in the June 4, 1862 & June 5, 1862 issues, in a regular feature entitled “Links in the Chain,” extracted and compiled by Richard W. Hungerford, Jr. in a work entitled “Deaths in the New York Reformer, 8 Apr 1861 – 31 Dec 1862,” 2004, pages 49-52.
  6. ^ The 8 Jan 1896 issue of the "Watertown Re-Union."
  7. ^ “The Growth Of A Century: As Illustrated In The History of Jefferson County, New York, From 1793 To 1894,” by John A. Haddock, published by Weed-Parsons Printing Co., Albany, NY, 1895, pages 152h-j.
  8. ^ “New York Daily Reformer,” in the issues dated August 5 & 7, 1863, in an article entitled “Hon. Jabez Foster.”
  9. ^ "Through Eleven Decades of History, Watertown, a History From 1800 to 1912 With Illustrations and Many Incidents," by Joel H. Monroe, 1912, pages 209-211.
  10. ^ "Recollections of Adriel Ely and Evelina Foster His Wife," arranged by Gertrude Sumner Ely Knowlton and Theodore Newel Ely, 1912, privately printed, page 9.
  11. ^ “Daily News & Reformer,” in the June 4, 1862 & June 5, 1862 issues, in a regular feature entitled “Links in the Chain,” extracted and compiled by Richard W. Hungerford, Jr. in a work entitled “Deaths in the New York Reformer, 8 Apr 1861 – 31 Dec 1862,” 2004, pages 49-52.
  12. ^ “Centennial Historical Souvenir,” Issued by the Jefferson County National Bank, Watertown, N. Y., in Commemoration of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Founding of the Bank, 1816-1916, Watertown, Hungerford-Holbrook Publishing Co., New York, 1916, page 24.
  13. ^ “Chateaugay Record and Franklin County Democrat,” 26 Jul 1918 issue.
  14. ^ “A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York,” by Franklin B. Hough, 1854, page 281.
  15. ^ “A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York,” by Franklin B. Hough, 1854, page 419.
  16. ^ “Watertown Daily Times,” 3 Jan 1925, in an article entitled “Old Watertown Residences,” No. 1.
  17. ^ “Watertown Daily Times,” 24 Mar 1966, in an article entitled “Last of Hungerford Family Houses in City May Be Razed,” by David F. Lane.
  18. ^ “Daily News & Reformer,” in the June 4, 1862 & June 5, 1862 issues, in a regular feature entitled “Links in the Chain,” extracted and compiled by Richard W. Hungerford, Jr. in a work entitled “Deaths in the New York Reformer, 8 Apr 1861 – 31 Dec 1862,” 2004, pages 49-52.
  19. ^ "Military Minutes of the Council of Appointment of the State of New York, 1783-1821," Vol. III, compiled & edited by Hugh Hastings, published by the State of New York, James B. Lyon, State v Printer, Albany, 1901, page 2334
  20. ^ "A Standard History of Freemasonry in the State of New York" by Peter Ross, The Lewis Publishing Company, New York and Chicago, 1899, pages 818-819.
  21. ^ "Watertown-49" by David F. Lane, NY Masonic Outlook, published by the Grand Lodge of New York, Dec. 1931, pages 108-109.
  22. ^ “A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time,” by Franklin B. Hough, Sterling & Riddell, Watertown, N.Y., 1854, pages 35-35.
  23. ^ Minutes of the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors dated November 19, 1829.
  24. ^ “A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York, From the Earliest Period to the Present Time,” by Franklin B. Hough, Sterling & Riddell, Watertown, N.Y., 1854, pages 34.
  25. ^ “The North Country, A History, Embracing Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Oswego, Lewis and Franklin Counties, New York,” by Harry F. Landon, published by Historical Publishing Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1932, pages 325-329.
  26. ^ "A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York," by Franklin B. Hough, 1854, page 435
  27. ^ "The Growth Of A Century: As Illustrated In The History of Jefferson County, New York, From 1793 To 1894,” by John A. Haddock, published by Weed-Parsons Printing Co., Albany, NY, 1895, page 21.
  28. ^ "A History of Jefferson County in the State of New York," by Franklin B. Hough, 1854, page 435.
  29. ^ “The Story of the Rome, Watertown, and Ogdensburgh Railroad,” by Edward Hungerford, page 46. Edward was an acknowledged expert of the history of railroading and built a career around his love of the topic. Orville was Edward’s great granduncle.
  30. ^ Reference the April 15, 1851 issue of the Morrisville, NY's "Madison Observer" and "The Cleveland Herald," (Cleveland, OH) April 11, 1851, issue 86, column B. These are two of the numerous newspapers to announce his passing.
  31. ^ "Years of Faith, A History of the First Presbyterian Church of Watertown, New York, 1803-1953," by Frederick H. Kimball, pages 29, 43, 48, 68, 70, & 71.
  32. ^ Reference page 807 of the "Jefferson County Gazetteer."
  33. ^ "Fifty Years in Journalism Embracing Recollections and Personal Experiences with an Autobiography," by Beman Brockway, Daily Times Printing and Publishing House, Watertown, N.Y., 1891, page 118.
  34. ^ "William Lowndes Yancey and the Coming of the Civil War," by Eric H. Walther, The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C., 2006, page 84.
  35. ^ "Recollections of Adriel Ely and Evelina Foster His Wife," arranged by Gertrude Sumner Ely Knowlton and Theodore Newel Ely, 1912, privately printed, pages 54-55.


In July 1908, Jeannette Huntington Riley noted in a letter written for a history of the Adriel Ely family that "Orville Hungerford was a dignified and some might have said a cold, stern man; but to me, only a young girl, he was always exceedingly kind. I am always proud to say I had an uncle who went to Congress when it meant something!" She also noted that his wife, her "aunt Betsy, [was] the sweetest--no other word would express her character."[35]

Most of Hungerford's descendants moved away from Watertown in the twentieth century when industrial malaise struck the region. His memory, however, is still kept alive by some of his scattered family members. Through his granddaughter's progeny - Helen Mary Hungerford Mann - he is honored by having his name bestowed on four generations of males.

In many respects, Orville Hungerford, known for his honesty and industriousness, epitomized the self-made man of the nineteenth century. Decades after his death, a journalist aptly stated that "[Orville] had rare financial talents, and was a first-class business man." [33] In politics, he learned the ultimate lesson: rectitude will kill a career trying to serve the people. He was unafraid of voicing his opinion though. On February 21, 1846, the U.S. House of Representatives deliberated whether to break for two days in honor of George Washington's birthday. A voice demurred. Representative William L. Yancey, the Southern secessionist and duelist, was so enraged that he shouted out for the dissenter to make himself known. Hungerford retorted: "I show my face, and I object. Are you satisfied?" [34] Alas, as time has gone by, Hungerford's achievements have faded along with the pages of old history books.


After a 12-day illness starting out as bilious cholic, Orville Hungerford died on April 6, 1851.[30] His funeral service was held in the First Presbyterian Church, which he helped fund and rebuild, across the street from his house. He was buried several miles away in Brookside Cemetery.[31] Dozens of family members would be buried or interred in this beautiful cemetery. His wife, Betsy, the matriarch of the family, died on September 17, 1861 and was interred alongside her husband in the Hungerford mausoleum in Brookside Cemetery.[32]


The "Orville Hungerford" Engine

After his political career ended, Orville Hungerford began focusing his energies on establishing the Watertown & Rome Railroad. On April 17, 1832, the New York legislature incorporated the Watertown & Rome Railroad, naming Hungerford as one of its commissioners charged with promoting the line. Although, the initial act called for track to be laid within three years and the line to be completed within five years, a shortage of capital forced the promoters to seek extensions of the charter in 1837, 1845, and 1847 at which point Orville was elected its first president. He played a key role in raising the necessary capital. Unfortunately, he never got to see a train complete a journey because he died shortly before the inaugural run on May 29, 1851, covering the 53-mile stretch between Rome to the hamlet of Pierrepont Manor (originally called Bear Creak). The Hon. William C. Pierrepont, who owned the property where the railroad initially ended, followed Orville as president. At 11:00 p.m. on September 5, 1851, the first train steamed into the temporary passenger station on Stone Street in Watertown. The railroad named its fifth engine, the Orville Hungerford, in his honor.[29] Delivered to the railroad, on September 19, 1851, this engine, built by William Fairbanks in Taunton, Massachusetts, was twenty-one and a half tons in weight.

Railroad President

Hungerford still yearned for political power. In 1846, the amended New York Constitution allowed the New York State Comptroller, who was responsible for auditing the state books, to be elected by the citizenry as opposed to being appointed by the legislature. Hungerford saw this office as a stepping stone to either the governorship or the U.S. Senate. In 1847, he ran for the office of Comptroller on the Democratic ticket, but was defeated by future U.S. President Millard Fillmore 174,756 votes to 136,027 votes.[28] Hungerford grew tired of the partisanship and the stress from being away from his family and business interests. He decided to return to Watertown.

In 1842, as a Democrat, Orville Hungerford was elected to the 28th and two years later to the 29th U.S. Congress.[26] In his second term he served on the powerful Committee on Ways and Means. He supported a tariff on imported goods, which earned him the enmity of Southerners in favor of free trade.[27] In 1846, he lost his seat to a Whig party candidate.


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