Josiah W. Begole, the present (1883) Governor of Michigan was born in Livingston County, N. Y., Jan. 20, 1815. His ancestors were of French descent, and settled at an early period in the State of Maryland, His grandfather, Capt. Bolles, of that State, was an officer in the American army during the war of the Revolution. About the beginning of the present century both his grandparents, having become dissatisfied with the institution of slavery, although slave-holders themselves, emigrated to Livingston county, N. Y., then a new county, taking with than a number of their former slaves, who volunteered to accompany them. His father was an officer in the American army, and served during the war of 1812.
Josiah W. Begole received his early education in a log school house, and subsequently attended the Temple Hill Academy, at Geneseo, N. Y. Being the eldest of a family of ten children, whose parents were in moderate though comfortable circumstances, he was early taught habits of industry, and when 21 years of age, being ambitious to better his condition in life, he resolved to seek his fortune in the far West, as it was then called. In August, 1830, he left the parental roof to seek a home in the territory of Michigan, then an almost unbroken wilderness. He settled in Genesee county, and aided with his own hands in building some of the early residences in what is now known as the city of Flint. There were but four or five houses where this flourishing city now stands when he selected it as him home.
In the spring of 1839 he married Miss Harriet A. Miles. The marriage proved a most fortunate one, and to the faithful wife of his youth, who lives to enjoy with him the comforts of an honestly earned competence, Josiah W. Begole ascribes largely his success in life. Immediately after his marriage he commenced work on an unimproved farm, where, by his perseverance and energy, he soon established a good home, and at the end of eighteen years was the owner of a well improved farm of five hundred acres.
Josiah W. Begole being an anti-slavery man, became a member of the Republican party at its organization. He served his townsmen in various offices, and was in 1856, elected County treasurer, which office he held for eight years.
At the breaking out of the Rebellion, he did not carry a musket to the front, but his many friends will bear witness that he took an active part in recruiting and furnishing suppliers for the army, and in looking after the interest of soldiers’ families at home. The death of his eldest son near Atlanta, Ga., by a confederate bullet, in 1864, was the greatest sorrow of his life. When a few years later he was a member in Congress Governor, Begole voted and worked for the soldiers’ bounty equalization bill, an act doing justice to the soldier who bore the burden and heat of the day, and who should fare equally with him who came in at the eleventh hour. That bill was defeated in the House on account of the large appropriation that would be required to pay the same.
In 1870, Josiah W. Begole was nominated by acclamation for the office of State Senator, and elected by a large majority. In that body he served on the Committees of finance and Railroads, and was Chairman of the committee on the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb, and Blind. He took a liberal and public-spirited view of the importance of a new capitol building worthy of the State, and was an active member of the committee that drafted the bill for the same. He was a delegate to the National Republican convention held at Philadelphia in 1872, and was the chosen member of that delegation to go to Washington and inform Gen. Grant and Senator Wilson of their nominations. It was while at that convention that, by the express wish of his many friends, he was induced to offer himself a candidate for the nomination of member of the 43d Congress, in which he was successful, after competing for the nomination with several of the most worthy, able and experienced men in the sixth congressional District, and was elected by a very large majority. In congress, he was member of the Committee on Agricultural and Public Expenditures. Being one of the 17 farms in that Congress, he took an active part in the Committee on Agriculture, and was appointed by that committee to draft the most important report made by that committee, and upon the only subject recommended by the President in his message, which he did and the report was printed in records of Congress; he tool an efficient though an unobtrusive part in all its proceedings.
He voted for the currency bill, re-monetization of silver, and other financial measures, many of which, though defeated then, have since become the settled policy of the country. Owing to the position which Josiah W. Begole occupied on these questions, he became a “Greenbacker.”
In the Gubernatorial election of 1882, Josiah W. Begole was the candidate of both the Greenback and Democratic parties, and was elected by a vote of 154,269, the republican candidate, Hon. David H. Jerome, receiving 149,697 votes. Josiah W. Begole, in entering upon his duties as Governor, has manifested a spirit that has already won him many friends, and bids fair to make his administration both successful and popular.
The very best indications of what a man is, is what his own townsmen think of him. We give the following extract from the Flint Globe, the leading Republican paper in Governor Begole’s own county, and it, to, written during the heat of a political campaign, which certainly is a flattering testimonial of his sterling worth:
“So far, however, as Josiah W. Begole, the head of the ticket, is concerned, there is nothing detrimental to his character that can be alleged against him. He has sometimes changed his mind in politics, but for sincerity of his beliefs and the earnestness of his purpose nobody who knows him entertains a doubt. He is incapable of bearing malice, even against his bitterest political enemies. He has a warm, generous nature, and a larger, kinder heart does not beat in the bosom of any man in Michigan. He is not much given to making speeches, but deeds are more significant of a man’s character than words. There are many scores of men an all parts of the State where Josiah W. Begole is acquainted, who have had practical demonstrations of these facts, and who are liable to step outside of party lines to show that they do not forget his kindness, and who, no doubt, wish that he was a leader in what would not necessarily prove a forlorn hope. But the Republican party in Michigan is to strong to be beaten by a combination of Democrats and Greenbackers, even if it is marshaled by so good a man as Josiah W. Begole.”
This sketch would be imperfect without referring to the action of Josiah W. Begole at the time of the great calamity that in 1881 overtook the people of Northeastern Michigan, in a few hours desolating whole counties by fire and destroying the results and accumulations of such hard work as only falls to the lot of pioneers. While the Port Huron and Detroit committees were quarreling over the distribution of funds, Josiah W. Begole wrote to an agent in the ‘burnt district’ a letter, from which we make an extract of but a single sentence: “Until the difference between the two committees are adjusted and you receive your regular supplies from them, draw on me. Let no man suffer while I have money.” This displays his true character.
Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.