Henry Francis Douglas

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Henry Francis Douglas Dixon House 


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Henry Francis Douglas, son of Daniel Douglas was born in Exeter, Rhode Island, USA om 29th April 1826.

When he was only eight years old his father died after a brief illness, and the whole care of six small children devolved upon his mother and his eldest brother. The next year of his boyhood was passed in the family of his grandfather, Joseph Douglas, a man of sterling cpialities. Three years later, by the death of his mother, caused by added trials and a constitution naturally delicate, the doubly orphaned children became scattered into different families.

Henry lived for about three years in the' family of Oliver D. Wells, in Westerly, Rhode Island, and attended school at tlie old academy on Union hill, since widely known as the Westerly Institute. Having obtained the foundation of a good English education, in 1845, he began peddling dry-goods, a business which he followed for five years.

In 1850, having married, he settled in Baltic, Conn., and opened a store. In 1851 he determined to go to California, which was then attracting great numbers of immigrants, on account of the discovery of gold in that state two years previous. At that date, although a comparatively short time ago, the journey was one of weeks and sometimes months, instead of days, and must be accomiilished in emigrant trains over the prairies, or, by water, around Cape Horn or across the Isthmus of Panama. He chose the latter route, and, embarking at New York on the steamer Georgia, June 11, 1851, after a voyage of thirty-nine days, stopping on the way at Havana, Cuba, he arrived at San Francisco.

He mingled with the throng which was pouring into California from all parts of the world, and at once entered upon work. He remained in California two years, working hard, and thoronghly acquainting himself with the theory and practice of gold mining. At the end of this time, feeling anxions to be at home once more, and to obtain relief from the care and anxiety inseparable from an active life among such conflicting elements, he sailed from San Francisco, by the same ronte, Feb. 25, 1S53, and after a somewhat shorter voyage than the first, reached New York on the 25tli of March.

Mr. Douglas has been by no means idle since his return from California. For the greater part of the last twenty years he has been in the active service of the Government as contractor for mails in Rhode Island and Connecticut, much of the time combining with this business a livery stable. In 1853, in company with his brother Daniel, he opened a livery stable on Main street, Westerly, Rhode Island, having secured the contract for carrying the United States mails between Westerly and Newport. At the end of two years the business was divided, Daniel continning the mail and Henry taking charge of the stable.

In 1861 he was awarded the contract for carrying the mails between Westerly and Norwich, Conn., and at the next term, in 1865, between Westerly and Newport, and also between Norwich and Colchester, Conn. In 1869, on the completion of the Dixon house (1), then the largest hotel in New England outside of Boston, at the solicitation of the proprietors, Messrs. Babcock and Moss, there being at that time no stable in town suitable for running in connection with the hotel, he erected in Coggswell street the largest stable in the village and opened a strictly first class establishment. At this time the first baronche for public use was brought into town. Previously there had been no similar public carriage in the village, and but one or two private ones; and the opening of this stable marked a great improvement in the livery business in Westerly. In 1866-7, he built for himself a residence in one of the most desirable locations in the village. In December, 1872, he disposed of his livery business to Avery Hoxie, the present proprietor of the Dixon house stable, and in July, 1873, again received the contract for carrying the mails between Westerly and Newport. During the summer of 1875, he again visited the West, this time going by a northern route, by way of the suspension bridge and Canada, and returning through the southern states and Washington. In March, 1876, he removed to the city of Providence, to have a care over his son, wlio had entered Brown University the previous fall. He has since resided in Providence.

Some years ago Mr. Douglas began a modest collection of books illustrating New England history, mostly biographies, genealogies and books of a kindred nature, which has been gradually enlarged by the addition from time to time of works of real worth, until the collection has become valuable, though not so much from the number of volumes it embraces, as for the quality of its contents. It includes a considerable number of local histories, of which but small editions were published at the time of issuing, and which are now out of print and are consequently much enhanced in value. In the department of genealogy of New England families it is unusually full; and probably very few private libraries in New England can excel it in this particular branch of history. This collection of books, still very unpretending in numbers, is always accessible for those who may wish to consult it, the owner being pleased to assist those who are searching for light themselves or seeking to illumine any point which rests in obscurity. With a natural taste for historical study, he has improved such opportunities as he possessed for local investigation. He was elected a member of the Worcester (Mass.) Society of Antiquity June 5, 1877, and of the New Eng- land Historic, Genealogical Society, of Boston, March 6, 1878. He has contributed several historical papers of value to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register (quarterly), one of which, on " Eobert Campbell and his Descendants," was reprinted from the Register for July, 1878, for private distribution. He is also an occasional contributor to other periodicals. A quick insight and sound judgment, by which he intuitively selects the most advantageous course, have enabled him to turn to good account circumstances in themselves adverse. His intercourse with many different classes of society and the various kinds of business to which he has turned his attention have afforded him unusual advantages for the study of human nature in its many phases.

He married Sept. 10, 1849, Lydia Lillibridge, of Griswold, Conn. She was the daughter of Clark and Phebe (Bates) Lillibridge, and was born in Exeter, Rhode Island, March 22, 1828. Through her grandfather. Esquire Jonathan Lillibridge, and her great- grandfather, Benjamin, she was descended from Robert Lillibridge who settled in Newport in 1701. Benjamin Lillibridge married, in 1743, Amy Sherman, of Exeter, and through her Mrs. Douglas is descended from the Hon. Philip Sherman, who came from Dedham, England, and was the first Secretary of State of Rhode Island, under Gov. William Coddington, in 1639.

They have one child:—
i. Charles Henry James b. in Westerly, May 13, 1856.

1.  The Dixon House was renamed the Rhode Island Hotel on July 1, 1913.



Sources for this article include:
  • Family records and Biographical sketches by Charles Henry James Douglas (son of the subject)

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