11 An American Archive: Colonel John M. Fessenden

John M. Fessenden was born in 1802, in Warren, Rhode Island to a family long dedicated to public service. His grandfather was a member of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts during the revolution and state senator for seven years after the war. His father graduated from Brown University in 1798 and married a descendant of the Bradford family from the Mayflower. It was natural that John Milton Fessenden would receive an appointment to West Point Military Academy when he was 18 in 1820, and graduated in 1824. When he was in his second year at West Point, there occurred a remarkable event that was widely admired. Almost the entire garrison and their leaders made a march from West Point, NY to Boston, MA and then to New Haven, CN. The march of the U. S. Corps of Cadets to Boston, consisted of 214 men, between the 20th of July and 26th of September, 1821.
While still in the military corps of engineers he worked in 1827 on the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, and used that experience later, in 1831 as the chief engineer of Boston and Worcester Railroad, the first commercial railroad of New England. For the next few years he worked on a number of growing railroads, the Worcester and Springfield, the Boston & Newburyport, the Salisbury & Portsmith in New Hampshire. In 1845 he was railroad commissioner for the state of Massachusetts. After working on railroads for 15 years, Col. Fessenden applied his energies to various educational institutions, politics and the promotion of a state militia. In 1701 Nickolas Fessenden graduated from Harvard, the great-great grandfather of the Colonel. In 1846 the Colonel received an honorary masters of arts from Harvard. He was on the Harvard board of visitors of the Lawrence scientific school for almost twenty years. Col. Fessenden was also appointed to the West Point Military Academy’s board of visitors in 1865. In 1827-28 Col. Fessenden had taken a years leave of absence from the military and had gone to Europe, traveling and contacting the military training centers in several countries. This early experience served him well after he was appointed by President M. Fillmore to the US Consul in Dresden, Saxony, 1850-1851. He spent a total of four years in Europe. In the 1860s he was on various state commissions and held the rank of colonel for the Independent Corps of Cadets of Boston. This militia unit was not called up to fight in the Civil War, but trained young men for various regiments for Massachusetts. Col. Fessenden had apparently invested in property and in the stock market, so he spent the majority of his later years traveling from one state to the next. His first wife, Mary died in 1856, and he didn’t remarry until 1868 to Sarah Ann Murphy of Westmoreland, VA The Colonel died in February, 1883 in Washington, D.C. Two former Secretary of the Treasury were pallbearers at his funeral, several generals, and several prominent politicians. His personal papers were given to his daughter Mary. The following pages are just a random sample of the calling cards, receipts, maps, business cards and newspaper clippings that were saved in the archive. There are over 800 examples spread over 40 years

The Sherman Map
The map above is a signed presentation to Col. John M. Fessenden from Gen. Richard Delafield, the Commanding General of the Corps of Engineers at the end of the Civil War. Gen. Delafield was twice the commandant of West Point.

2 Responses to 11 An American Archive: Colonel John M. Fessenden

  1. Mike OConnor says:

    Great article .. I wrote a wikipedia article on Fessenden … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_M._Fessenden … Where are these archive materials you talk about?????
    Would you consider allowing us to post the photo and map on the Wiki page?…

    • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
      johndiestler says:

      I finally found an actual descendent, and returned the archive to the family. Feel free to publish the photo and map in Wikipedia.

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