Windham’s Native Sons
The Brothers John and Thomas Nesmith
The Nesmith brothers, John and Thomas, were two of Windham’s most successful native sons, making a fortune speculating on and investing in the mill cities of Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts. The two brothers grew up with a full exposure to business as their father John Nesmith was a local merchant in Windham.
John Nesmith (the father) was born on March 29,1762 and lived on the family homestead in Windham which consisted of over 400 acres. He succeeded his father on the homestead in town, and with him lived his aged mother. The original house was “a roomy old place, consisting of 17 rooms, with a store attached, and a large hall connected with it, which was a famous place for balls and dances in ‘ye olden time.’ A respectable assortment of goods was kept in the store, and a good business done. Mr. Nesmith was successful as a business man. He had just returned from Newburyport, where he had purchased goods, when he was taken with his last sickness, of which he died in a few days, at age of 44 years. His death occurred February 20, 1806, leaving a widow and nine children. John would have been thirteen at the time of his father’s death, and Thomas would have been eighteen. Luckily for the family, the matriarch, Lucy Martin Nesmith, “possessed remarkable business abilities” which her sons inherited. “Though lame, and obliged to use a crutch, she was able to perform more than most of women. Her portrait is now in the possession of descendants, pictures a face beautiful in expression and of strongly marked character. With the aid of her sons she carried on the store for a few years, until her second marriage to Deacon Daniel McKeen, November 4, 1820. She took her two younger children with her to her new home, the others remaining on the homestead with the grandmother. After the death of Deacon McKeen, November 4, 1820, she returned to her old home, where she remained till near the close of her life.”
Thomas Nesmith was the favorite of his grandmother, who after the departure of his mother became the head of the Nesmith household in Windham. Morrison says, “Being named for his grandfather, he was especially dear to the heart of his long-widowed grandmother. With whom much of his early life was spent. His education was such as could be obtained from the district schools, and the high school, now Pinkerton Academy, in Derry, taught at that time by Mr. Samuel Burnham.”
‘His father dying at the age of forty-four, leaving a family of nine children, his mother decided to continue the store which her husband had operated in one of the rooms of their own home. In this additional labor she had the assistance of her older boys, and here Thomas remained until about 1810, when he went into business for himself.”
Morrison continues, “The importation of linen in those days being altogether inadequate to the demand for it, the thread, as well as cloth was spun and woven in various households throughout the country towns. Through this home industry, Thomas thought he saw a way to lay the foundation of a fortune. Buying a horse and one of those primitive two two-wheeled carts then in use, he collected thread, carried it home to his grandmother to color, and his sisters to make into skeins; then took it with the cloth to Lynn, and other large towns, where it found a ready sale. By this means, at the end of a few years he had accumulated six thousand dollars, and could engage his business somewhat. He hired a room, in 1815, of Robert Clark, near the meeting-house in Windham, in which he opened a store with his brother John, with whom he associated as long as he remained in active business. During this period of life he took an active part in the affairs of Windham, and acted as town clerk in 1821.” Six Thousand dollars was a small fortune in the early 19th century, earned with intelligence, hard work, perseverance and overcoming adversity while trained by the example of his father and remarkable mother.
“In 1822, Mr. James Nesmith took the Windham store, and the brothers Thomas and John, removed to Derry, occupying the old store of Patterson & Choate, now a dwelling-house. It was during this period of his life that Mr. Nesmith met Lucinda Fay, whom he married May 20, 1832. She was then in Derry as principal of the Adams Female Seminary, and was a woman possessing a fine, strong religious nature, as well as much personal beauty. She was the daughter of Winslow and Betsey (Colburn) Fay, and was born in Lebanon, N.H., June 12, 1810, and was educated at Miss Grant’s school in Ipswich, Mass.” (For those of you keeping up and who are good at math, she was 22 years younger than Mr. Nesmith, he being 44 and she 22. I guess, sometimes, money can buy love…)
“ Mr. John Nesmith after this went into the commission business in New York City, where he was soon joined by Thomas, but they remained there only a short time. The Livermore estate in Lowell was advertised for sale, (150 prime acres) and the brothers decided at once to purchase it and live permanently in that city. (Belvidere Historic District) Mr. Nesmith was never afterwards connected with any active business outside his own private affairs. What Mr. Nesmith’s special characteristics were, may be told by an old friend and neighbor: ‘To great diligence, he through life added sound judgement and forethought, which produced very remarkable results of gain with small percentage of loss. He accumulated a large estate, but only by regular business transactions. He defrauded no man and left no enemies. His integrity was not questioned and his moral and courteous bearing made him a pattern man in business affairs, a good citizen and neighbor, a gentleman in social life.’ When he went to Lowell, manufacturing corporations and city institutions were just assuming tangible forms. He was a member of the city government the first two years of its existence, and helped forward many enterprises that were struggling into being.