Henry Howland Crapo, Governor of Michigan from 1865-1869, was born May 24, 1804, at Dartmouth, Bristol Co., Mass., and died at Flint, Mich., July 22, 1869. He was the eldest son of Jesse and Phoebe (Howland) Crapo. His father was of French descent and was very poor, sustaining his family by cultivation of a farm in Dartmouth township, which yielded nothing beyond a mere livelihood.
His early life was consequently one of toil and devoid of advantages for intellectual culture, but his desire for an education seemed to known no bounds. The incessant toil for a mere subsistence upon a comparatively sterile farm, had no charm for him; and, longing for greater usefulness and better things, he looked for them in an education. He struggles to secure this end necessitated sacrifices and hardships that would have discouraged any but the most courageous and persevering. He became an ardent student and worker from his boyhood, though the means of carrying on his studies were exceedingly limited. He sorely felt the need of a dictionary; and, neither having money wherewith to purchase, nor being able to procure one in his neighborhood, he set out to compile one for himself. I order to acquire a knowledge of the English language, he copied into a book every word whose meaning he did not comprehend, and upon meeting the same word again in the newspapers and books, which came into his hands, from the context, would then record the definition. Whenever unable to otherwise to obtain the signification of a word in which he had become interested he would walk from Dartmouth to New Bedford for that purpose alone, and after referring to the books at the library and satisfying himself thoroughly as to its definition would walk back, a distance of about seven miles the same night. This was no unusual circumstance. Under such difficulties and in this manner he compiled quite an extensive dictionary in manuscript which is believed to be still in existence.
Ever in pursuit of knowledge, he obtained possession of a book upon surveying, and applying himself diligently to its study became familiar with this art, which he soon had an opportunity to practice. The services of a land surveyor were wanted, and he was called upon, but had no compass and no money with which to purchase one. A compass, however, he must and would have, and going to a blacksmith shop near at hand, upon the forge, with such tools as he could find in the shop, while the smith was at dinner, he constructed the compass and commenced life as a surveyor. Still continuing his studies, he fitted himself for teaching, and took charge of the village school at Dartmouth. When, in the course of time, and under pressure of law, a high school was to be opened, he passed a successful examination for its principalship and received the appointment. to do this was no small task. The law required a rigid examination in various subject, which necessitated days and nights of study. One evening, after concluding his day’s labors of teaching, he traveled on foot to New Bedford, some seven or eight miles, called upon the preceptor of Friend’s Academy and passed a severe examination. Receiving a certificate that he was qualified, he walked back to his home the same night, highly elated in being possessed of the acquirements and requirements of a master of the high school.
In 1832, at the age of 28 years, he left his native town and went to reside at New Bedford, where he followed the occupation of land surveyor, and occasionally acted as an auctioneer. Soon after becoming a citizen of this place, he was elected Town Clerk, Treasurer, and Collector of taxes, which office he held until the municipal government was changed, — about fifteen years, — when upon the inauguration of the city government, he was elected Treasurer and Collector of taxes, a position which he held two or three years. He was also Justice of the Peace for many years. He was elected Alderman of New Bedford; was chairman of Council Committee on Education, and as such prepared a report upon which is based the order for the establishment of the free Public Library of New Bedford. On its organization, Mr. Crapo was chosen a member of the Board of Trustees. This was the first free public library n Massachusetts, if not in the world. The Boston Free Library was established, however, soon afterwards. While a resident in New Bedford, he was much interested in horticulture, and to obtain the land necessary for carrying out his ideas he drained and reclaimed several acres of rocky and swampy land adjoining his garden. Here he started a nursery, which he filled with almost every description of fruit and ornamental trees, shrubs, flowers, etc. In this he was very successful and took great pride. He was a regular contributor to the New England Horticultural Journal, a position he filled as long as he lived in Massachusetts. Also an indication of the wide reputation he acquired in that field of labor, it may be mentioned that after his death an affecting eulogy to his memory was pronounced by the President of the National Horticultural Society at its meeting in Philadelphia, in 1869. During his residence in New Bedford, Mr. Crapo was also engaged in the whaling business. A fine barque built at Dartmouth, of which he was part owner, was named the “H. H. Crapo” in compliment to him.
Henry Howland Crapo also took part in the State Militia, and for several years held a commission as Colonel of one of the regiments. He was President of the Bristol County Mutual Fire Insurance Co., and Secretary of the Bedford Commercial Insurance Company in New Bedford; and while an officer of the municipal government he compiled and published, between the years 1836-1845, five numbers of the New Bedford Directory of the first work of this kind ever published there .
Henry Howland Crapo removed to Michigan in 1856, having been induced to do so by investments made principally in pinelands, first in 1837, and subsequently in 1856. He took up his residence in the city of Flint, and engaged largely in the manufactures and sale of lumber at Flint, Fentonville, Holly, and Detroit, becoming one of the largest and most successful businessmen of the State. He was mainly instrumental in the construction of the Flint & Holly R.R., and was President of that corporation until its consolidation with Flint & Pere Marquette R. R. Company. He was elected Mayor of that city after he had been a resident of the place only five or six years. In 1862, he was elected State Senator. In the fall of 1864 he received the nomination on the Republican ticket for Governor of the State, and was elected by a large majority. He was re-elected in 1866, holding the office two terms, and retiring in January, 1869, having given the greatest satisfaction to all parties.
While serving his term he was attacked with a disease which terminated his life within one year afterwards. During much of this time he was an intense sufferer, yet often while in great pain gave his attention to public matters. A few weeks previous to his death a successful surgical operation was performed which seemed rapidly to restore him, but he overestimated his strength, and by to much exertion in business matters and State affairs suffered a relapse from which there was no rebound, and he died July 22, 1969.
In the early part of his life, Governor Crapo affiliated with the Whig party in politics, but became an active member of the Republican party after its organization. He was member of the Christian (sometimes called the Disciples) Church, and took great interest in its welfare and prosperity.
Henry Howland Crapo married, June 9, 1825, Mary A. Slocum, of Dartmouth. His marriage took place soon after he had attained his majority, and before his struggles with fortune had been rewarded with any great measure of success. But his wife was a woman of great strength of character and possessed of courage, hopefulness an devotion, qualities which sustained and encouraged her husband in the various pursuits of his early years. For several years after his marriage he was engaged in teaching school, his wife living with her parents at the time, at whose home his two older children were born. While thus situated he was accustomed to walk home on Saturday to see his family, returning on Sunday in order to be ready for school Monday morning. As the walk for a good part of the time was 20 miles each way, it is evident that at that period of his life no common obstacles deterred him from performing what he regarded as a duty. His wife was none the less conscientious in her sphere, and with added responsibilities and increasing requirements she labored faithfully in the performance of all her duties. They had ten children, one son and nine daughters. His son, Hon. Wm. W. Crapo, of New Bedford, is now an honored Representative to Congress from the First Congressional District of Massachusetts.
Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.