Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Workday Wednesday ~ First Chicago Banker

A paternal second great grandfather of mine, James Monroe Adsit, is considered the first banker in Chicago.

Found at The Internet Archive is an 1899 book with a biography of James M. Adsit on pp 123-125.

Album of genealogy and biography, Cook County, Illinois: with portraits (1899). (Chicago, Illinois: La Salle Book Company, 1899) Digital images. The Internet Archive, accessed 27 October 2011, is the source for the following transcription. 

Note that the images that I have inserted are NOT from this book, but are images from Chicago City directories found at Fold3. My additional notes and editorial comments are in red.


To have been among the first in Chicago to engage in any honorable calling is quite sufficient to make such a one a local historical personage for all time to come, and so the career of James M. Adsit is filled with unusual interest, because of the conspicuous fact that, apart from his being an exceptional character, he was among the first bankers to enter upon a career of finance within the present limits of Cook County.

Mr. Adsit was born February 5, 1809, in Spencertown, Columbia County, New York, unto Leonard and Frances Adsit (nee Davenport). His father dying when the son was but six years of age, he went to live and remain with his grandfather Adsit, and after finishing the common-school education customary for those early days, went for a time into employment in his uncle Ira Davenport's store.

On April 2, 1838, he arrived in Chicago, then a city of but a single year's standing, consisting of only a few streets stragglingly built up; and, as one of the earliest pioneers, founded a private bank at Number 37 Clark Street in 1850, having up to that time, from the date of his arrival, been engaged in loans and investments on Lake Street. [The first Chicago City Directory I find James M. Adsit in, he is a carpenter in 1844.]

1844 Chicago City Directory, page 21

[The first city directory in which I find him as a banker is 1847-48, where he is listed as a "money lender." "h. Mon" indicates that his home was on Monroe Street.]

1847-48 Chicago City Directory, page 5

1851 Chicago City Directory, page 14
[Interestingly, in 1851, he is listed as a Land Agent.]

1856 Chicago Directory, page 3
In 1856 he removed one door to Number 39 Clark Street, where he remained until the "Chicago Fire," at which time he had the great misfortune to lose all of his personal papers and books connected intimately with much of Chicago's early history, whereby vanished forever valuable data covering the development of the city for its first three decades. But fortune was his on that occasion to save the bulk of moneys and securities in the vaults of his office, thereby being able to reassure his depositors, many of whom on days following came with woeful visage, in expectation of news of their hard-earned means having gone up in flames. [Family lore is that he loaded his wagon with his bank's cash and securities to save it all from the fire, thus saving him and his customers a lot of money.]

1870 Chicago Directory, page 37
[In 1870, James M. Adsit was still conducting business at 39 Clark, and lived at 422 Wabash Avenue.]

Shortly after he had re-opened his banking business at Number 422 Wabash Avenue for a few months, he removed to a store on Wabash Avenue a few doors from Congress, thence to the Ogden Building, corner Lake and Clark Streets. He then built at Number 41 Clark Street, where he continued in active life until 1881. At that date, owing somewhat to failing health, he decided to merge his corporation into the Chicago National Bank, of which he became the first Vice-President, resigning, however, in 1885, at which time he retired from active life.

[In the directory image below, you can see that James M. Adsit is Vice President of Chicago National Bank, his older son, James M., jr. also works at Chicago National Bank, and his younger son, Charles C. Adsit, works for Bannard, Lyman & Co., which happens to be a wholesale grocer.]

1884 Chicago Directory, page 119
His shortsightedness, if indeed we are right to so style the matter, was a lack of faith in the future real-estate values of Chicago. Had a bold course been adopted in this direction, it would have resulted in the acquiring of an estate vast indeed: but sufficient honor is his, in that he unswervingly carried out his financial life in strict integrity.

While ever a stanch Republican in politics, Mr. Adsit was never prominent in public life, figuring rather in the background on movements which were to be carried out for the public weal. In that sense he was always a most active and useful member in aid of advances. Among the institutions with which he was conspicuously associated was the Mechanics' Institute, of which he was the first Vice-President. Following the panic of 1857, when threatened by adverse circumstances with destruction, he lent strong financial support, and was for years one of the chief managers, until its future of honor and usefulness was assured. In 1871 he was Chairman of the Clearing House Association. Among the large estates promoted under his management was that of Allen C. Lewis, which was enhanced greatly in value through his shrewd handling.

He was a member of the North Side Union Club, but growing infirmity of health and life-long devotion to home influences prevented much social dissipation. On Dearborn Avenue, at the corner of Elm Street, in a luxurious mansion-house, to which he removed in 1884, he spent happy days following a most usefully busy career.

Up to the time of the great fire, he had attended at the Wabash Avenue Methodist Church; afterwards for some years at the Plymouth Congregational Church, but finally became an habitual attendant at David Swing's church, on the North Side, following him to the Music Hall organization across the river, being thus long in intimate relations with him who so feelingly officiated at the final obsequies, preceding interment at Graceland. The time of going to the other shore was September 4, 1894, subsequent to a stroke of paralysis and some years of indisposition; and when his venerable form, which had borne the trials of upwards of eighty-five years, was laid to rest, there was not a dry eye over the melancholy thought that the worthiest of the remnant of the early pioneers had gone to his well-merited reward. And thus the first generation passed into that history which it is the province of this publication to rescue from oblivion for the edification and teaching of future times.

Said the well-known philanthropist, Dr. Pearson, in speaking of Mr. Adsit: "He was a thoroughly upright man, whom I never knew to fail in any undertaking. He passed through the panics of 1857, 1866 and 1873, and the great fire, not without financial loss, but without a blemish upon his reputation, meeting every obligation faithfully." Mr. John J. Mitchell, President of the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, remarked shortly after his demise: "Mr. Adsit was a man of the very highest integrity, and none stood higher than he among the business men and bankers of Chicago. * * * In his death Chicago loses not only one of her foremost citizens, but one who helped to make the city's history, and the success she now enjoys."

Mr. Adsit married, January 21, 1840, Miss Arville Chapin, of Chicago, who, herself in advanced age, survives him, waiting her message to join on the other side him she so long, so deeply loved. Seven children blessed their union, namely:

Leonard D. Adsit, who was born January 29, 1841, and who died in Chicago in 1879, having been a banker, associated with his father;

Isabella F., who married Ezra I. Wheeler, of Chicago, a commission merchant, now deceased, leaving her without children;

James M. Adsit, Jr., born April 7, 1847, unmarried; a former banker with his father; now a stock broker with office in the Stock Exchange;

Charles Chapin, who is associated with his brother as a stock broker; born July 14, 1853; married in October, 1890, to Mary Bowman Ashby, of Louisville, Kentucky, by whom one child, Charles Chapin, Jr., was born July 3, 1892;

Caroline Jane, educated at Dearborn Seminary, then at Miss Ogden Hoffman's private school in New York City; unmarried;

Frank S., born September 7, 1855; died in childhood;

Jeanie M., educated at Dearborn Seminary; unmarried.

Mrs. Adsit comes of an old and distinguished New England family, of which she is a representative of the seventh American generation. Springfield, Massachusetts, is their leading homestead, where members have erected a magnificent statue of their "Puritan divine" ancestor.

Deacon Samuel Chapin, who married a Miss Cisily, was the progenitor from whom are descended all in the United States. He came from abroad to Dorchester, Massachusetts, in 1641, at which time he took the "freeman's oath" in Boston. The following year he went to Springfield, then one of the frontier towns, where he was for a long time a local magistrate and one of its first deacons.

His son Henry married Bethia Cooley, and resided in Springfield. Was a Representative in the General Court, a merchant sea-captain between London and Boston; afterwards retired to live in Boston; then to Springfield. He had a son,

Deacon Benjamin, who married Hannah Colton, and lived in Chicopee, a set-off portion of northern Springfield, Massachusetts, where he was one of its first deacons. He had a son

Captain Ephraim, who married Jemima Chapin, his own cousin; lived in Chicopee, where he was an old-time inn-keeper. He also served in the French and Indian Wars. He had a son

Bezaleel, who also married his own cousin, Thankful Chapin; living at Ludlow Massachusetts. He had a son

Oramel, who married Suzan Rood; living in Ludlow, Massachusetts, thence removing to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, later to Chicago, where he died.

Their daughter Arville married the subject of this sketch.
[End of transcription]

More on James Adsit's children can be found here. Information about James Adsit's son, Charles Chapin Adsit, can be found here. You can also click on Adsit in the labels at the right to see all the posts that include mention of this family.

A maternal second great grandfather of mine, Samuel Sewall Greeley, also lived in Chicago during the "Great Fire" and wrote about it. It is fascinating to me to think that they might have known each other.

My descent from James Monroe Adsit and Susan Arville Chapin > Charles Chapin Adsit > Elizabeth Adsit > Charles McAlpin Pyle, Jr. > me.
Workday Wednesday is a daily blogging prompt from GeneaBloggers, the genealogy community's resource for blogging. It is used by many genealogy bloggers to help them tell stories of their ancestors.

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