Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Cape Ann Granite Company, Part One - General Butler and Colonel French

Attorney Benjamin Butler of Lowell responded to the Southern rebellion with the same  pugnacious idealism that characterized his accomplishments in the legal and political arenas. A popular leader in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia, elected brigadier-general by his subordinate officers (as was then the practice) in 1855, he prepared to lead the garrison forces off to the defense of Washington DC in early 1861. 1

Major General Benjamin F. Butler 2
Matthew Brady photo
Butler proposed raising a new regiment with Jonas H. French at its head. Governor Andrew, regarding French as a mob leader who had broken up a meeting of supporters for radical abolitionist John Brown, refused the nomination. "I will not appoint any other officer of his way of thinking in a Massachusetts regiment." Butler countered that his authority emanated from President Lincoln. "Thereupon I left him, and although I called upon him once more afterward, I never saw him again to confer with him until the campaign was over....I went to Washington and saw the President and General Scott, in order that I might not be overruled by any military order of Governor Andrew as commander-in-chief of the Massachusetts militia." 3

General Butler's military staff in New Orleans 3
Col. French standing third from right

Butler's personal courage and strategic thinking contributed decisively to the retention of Maryland within the Union, hence the safety of the District of Columbia. However he proved to be much less successful in combat maneuvers. He was appointed military administrator of New Orleans after Union  Admiral Farragut sailed victoriously up the Mississippi River in 1862. General Butler effectively managed the restoration of essential functions in the city.  But his manner of bringing order to the hostile population left a bad taste among the residents that still permeates media articles of today.  

 When local women insulted occupying forces in the streets of New Orleans General Butler declared that any future incidents would result in the ladies' incarceration as prostitutes. He appointed Col. Jonas French provost marshal of the city. Butler praised French's effectiveness: "To his energy and ability the quiet and good order of the populace of New Orleans may be largely ascribed." 3

"Bluebeard of New Orleans" 4
The sentiment of the general citizenry, however, lay closer to this caricature of Butler as the notorious pirate Bluebeard holding a bloody cutlass in one hand and a terrified woman in the other.
Both Jonas French and Benjamin Butler prospered financially during the war years. After the cessation of hostilities French returned to Boston to engage in distillery operations. Butler resumed his legal and political career in Lowell. Not wishing to challenge a friendly incumbent he won election to Congress from his tent-site turned Homestead in Bay View, Gloucester.
The Butler summer residence, Bay View 4
At this time Jonas French was largely engaged in the exportation of whisky. The U. S. government attempted to close smuggling loopholes in that business. Congressman Butler lobbied vociferously for exceptions for French's enterprise. He then achieved a masterful one-word amendment to the legislation to correct a 'clerical error,' changing  an 'and' into an 'or,' enabling his client to complete lucrative transactions. In 1869 when the federal supervisor in Boston proposed to fine Mr. French $42,000 for irregularities,  Congressman Butler managed to have the overly zealous official turned out of office. 6

Cape Ann Granite Company works c. 1870. 5
The Butler 'Homestead' surmounts the hill behind the wharf.
Benjamin Butler's supple kneading of the dynamics and limitations of human resources enabled him to raise tides that floated many boats. He linked the Bay View quarrymen who built his house to the prospects of a new era of nationalism expressed in monumental stone edifices. He purchased acres of property adjacent to his estate to establish the Cape Ann Granite Company with Jonas H. French as president. Together, one supposes,  they navigated the processes of government procurement and contract scrutiny to enable the fledgling company to grow into a major supplier of stone for roads, post offices, and diverse constructions.

Benjamin Butler, attorney, politician,
and silent partner in the Cape Ann Granite Company 5
Right from the incorporation of the Cape Ann Granite Company in 1869 Jonas H. French became its operational head, apparent source of capital funds, and director of day-to-day operations. For the initiative, the land acquisitions, the stock ownership, and channels to public funds, we may look to the entrepreneurial skills of Benjamin Butler. We may build a portrait of him as a principal beneficiary as the industry grew to attract hundreds of immigrant families to Bay View. 

1. Howard P. Nash, Stormy Petrel: The Life and Times of General Benjamin F. Butler, 1818-1893, 1969.
2. National Archives and Records Administration photo.
3. Benjamin Franklin Butler, Butler's Book, 1892.
4. Library of Congress: Carte-de-visite reproduction of a drawing of Gen. Butler, military governor of New Orleans May-December 1862.
5. Harriet Robey, Bay View: Summer Portrait, 1979.
6. Springfield Republican, November 13, 1869.

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