Transcribed by Teresa Kesterke from: Biographical Review of Des Moines County, Iowa: Containing Biographical and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Prominent Citizens of To-day and Also of the Past, Hobart Publishing Company, Chicago, 1905.


The memory of Hon. John Graham Foote will always be associated with the city of Burlington, Iowa, as a pioneer and prominent leader in her upbuilding and development, and not only did he accomplish much for his adopted city, but throughout a long term of years he exercised a wide and beneficent influence upon the public affairs of the State of Iowa. Mr. Foote was born at Middlebury, Vt., April 21, 1814, a son of Justus and Harriet S. (Graham) Foote, of that fine old Puritan stock which for nearly three centuries has so potently shaped the course of American history. The founder of the family in America was Nathaniel Foote, who was born in England in 1593, married in that country Elizabeth Denning about the year 1615, and had two sons and five daughters. His name first appears this side the Atlantic in the records of Massachusetts Bay colony for 1633, when he took the freeman's oath. It also appears conclusively that he had land assigned to him at Watertown, Mass., and later he became a pioneer settler of Wethersfield, Conn., his name appearing in the charter as one of the patentees. He died in 1664, aged fifty-one years, and his wife, Elizabeth, on July 28, 1683, aged eighty-eight years. His eldest son, Nathaniel, was born in England in 1620, married Elizabeth Smith, of Wethersfield, Conn., in 1646, and by her had three sons and one daughter. He died in 1655, at the age of thirty-four, after having spent the greater part of his life in Wethersfield. Samuel, second son of the foregoing, was born at Wethersfield, Conn., in 1649, married Mary Merrick, of Springfield, Mass., in 1671, and was a resident of Hatfield, Mass., the date of his death being Sept. 7, 1689, while his wife died Oct. 3, 1690. He was the father of five sons and three daughters, and Daniel, the fifth son, who was born at Hatfield in 1689, married Mary Collyer, of Hartford, Conn., in 1718, they residing at Simsbury, Conn., where they had four sons and four daughters. Daniel Foote died July 15, 1740, aged fifty-one years, and his wife on June 17, 1769, aged seventy-one years. Samuel, eldest son of Daniel, was born at Hartford, Conn., in 1719, and married Lois Loomis on Nov. 24, 1743, by whom he had five sons and five daughters. They resided in Simsbury, Conn., and he died Sept. 18, 1775. Elijah, third son of Samuel Foote, was born at Simsbury, Conn., March 14, 1755, and was twice married, first on Dec. 12, 1771, to Mary Latimer, who died, survived by five sons and one daughter. The second marriage was to Zerniah Barton, at Norwich, Vt., and by this union he had two sons and one daughter. He resided at Simsbury, New Haven, Middlebury, Conn., and Fairfield, Vt., and some place in New York, and his death occurred in his seventy-second year, in 1828, while his wife, Zerniah, died in 1827. Justus Foote, fourth son of Elijah, was born at Simsbury, Conn., June 24, 1782, and on April 15, 1810, married Harriet S. Graham, daughter of Rev. John Graham, of Suffield, Conn. They resided at Middlebury, Vt., and he died, June 10, 1829, aged forty-seven years, while the date of his wife's demise was April 20, 1865, in the seventy-sixth year of her age. To them were born five sons and three daughters, and their second child was John Graham Foote, whose name introduces this review.

In the maternal line, Mr. Foote was descended from James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, who was born in Scotland in 1612, and died in 1651. An intermediate descendant of this nobleman was Andrew Graham, who died in June, 1785, aged fifty-seven years. Rev. John Graham, son of Andrew, was born in Scotland in 1694, came to America when young, and began his career as a minister of the gospel at twenty-seven years of age. He settled at Stafford, Conn., in 1723, and died at Southburg, that State, Dec. 11, 1774. His son, also Rev. John Graham, was born 1722, and died at Suffield, Conn., in 1796, aged seven-four years. Harriet Swan Graham, daughter of the second Rev. John Graham, and mother of our subject, was born at West Suffield, Conn., and married Capt. Justus Foote, at Middlebury, Vt., April 15, 1810. She died in Burlington, Iowa, April 20. 1865. It is now more than one hundred years since her father was pastor of the church at West Suffield, Hartford county, Conn. He was one of the early graduates of Yale College, having been a member of the class of 1740. Hon. John Graham Foote, as a boy and young man, received the best schooling available at that time, for he was educated at Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt., but preferring an active and practical life to the pursuit of a learned profession, he learned the trade followed by his father, who was a saddler in Middlebury. The stories of the great new West, however, appealed to his imagination, and his love of enterprise and worthy endeavor, and in 1835 he came westward to St. Louis, where he acted as a clerk until 1843, which was the date of his coming to Burlington as the representative of his employers in St. Louis, for the purpose of establishing here a branch of their large hardware business. In Burlington, on Aug. 20, 1845, he wedded Miss Eliza Jane Ewing, and to them were born four children, but of the number only one grew to maturity, this being Harriet, who married Frank R. Durham, then chief clerk of the Burlington post office, and has two sons and a daughter, Harriet Foote, John Graham, and George Foote. Mr. Durham is now deceased, having died June 30. 1891. Eliza Jane (Ewing) Foote, first wife of our subject, died Aug. 5, 1853, aged twenty-nine years.

In 1855, Mr. Foote again married, his second wife being Miss Mary E. Merrill, who survives him. Mrs. Foote is descended from Nathaniel Merrill, of England, who landed at Ipswich, Mass., in 1634. The family originally emigrated to England from Auvergne, France, shortly after the Massacre of St. Bartholomew, in all probability, as they were Huguenots, and fled from France for safety. They first located in Worcester, England, and later in Sussex, whence they came to America. They were descended from the old Auvergne family of Du Merle. Families of the same name are still to be found in that and other provinces of France, while the names Des Merles, Du Merles, Dumeril, and other forms are modifications of their patronymic. Their ancestral home in Auvergne was at Place de Dombes. In America, the family has supplied many Congregational and Methodist ministers of ability, as well as a number of men eminent in other spheres of life. Military heroes also are not lacking, as Sir Peter Merrill, of this family, and member of the British Army, was knighted in 1634, while a descendant of Nathaniel Merrill was a member of the State Legislature of Massachusetts, and captain of the military company raised in his own town for service in the Revolutionary War. This was Samuel Merrill, and his part in the war was an active one, he taking part in the battles of Ticonderoga, and being present at the surrender of General Burgoyne. His son Jesse, then a boy of sixteen years, was a private in his father's company. After the war Samuel Merrill removed to Vermont, where he was also a member of the State Legislature, and prominent in public affairs. His son James, on leaving college, located in Philadelphia, where he became associated with the famous Thaddeus Stevens, and occupied a prominent place as member of the State bar. The marriage of Nathaniel Merrill probably took place in England, and the name of his wife was Susanna, but her family name is not known, although it is supposed to have been Willerton. He was the father of seven children, and his residence during his later years was at Newburyport, Mass., where he died March 16, 1665. The subsequent generations are, briefly, as follows: Abel, born 1654, and married Priscilla Chase: Abel, born 1671, and married Abigail Stevens; Abel, born 1698, and married Ruth Kelley; Stevens, born 1731, and married, first, Sarah Chase, second, Mary Noyes; Joseph, born 1764, and married Sarah Copp: Stevens, born 1790, and married Mehitabel Worthy Wells. The mother of Mrs. Foote was a member of the celebrated Wells family, so long known in the affairs of New England, and her great-grandfather, Samuel Wells, of Plymouth, N. H., was commander of the State militia. Mrs. Foote's father, Stevens Merrill, was sheriff of Grafton county, N. H., and Plymouth, that State, and later removed to Boston, where he engaged in the dry-goods business and also took up the brokerage business. He was attracted to California in 1849 upon the discovery of gold in that State, and was engaged in mining operations there for several years, but in 1853 he returned East, and settled in Burlington, Iowa, where he died in 1863, in his seventy-sixth year. His wife, who was born at Plymouth, N. H., in 1797, died in Burlington, Jan. 12, 1886, aged eighty-eight years. Mrs. Foote, widow of our subject, was born at Plymouth, N. H., March 19, 1832, and received a good education in the public schools of Boston. She came to Burlington in 1854, at the age of twenty-one years, accompanying the other members of the family, which comprised six sons and four daughters, who grew to maturity. She was married to Mr. Foote, the year following her arrival in Burlington, and of their union were born three sons, two of whom died in infancy, while one, Graham Merrill, born in 1856, married Anna Joy, in 1880. He has one son, Graham M., Jr., born March 7, 1889, who survives. He was educated in the public schools of Burlington, and is now engaged very successfully in business at Long Beach, Cal.

Mr. Foote, on coming to Burlington, conducted a hardware store in the interest of his employers, but established an independent business, having enjoyed great success as manager. This enterprise he prosecuted with such effect as to raise himself to an important position in the commercial world of southeastern Iowa in a few years, and to it he gave close attention during the greater part of his active life, being engaged in the hardware business here for a period of thirty-three years in all. Outside this field of endeavor he was also active in almost every enterprise that held out a reasonable prospect of advancing the welfare of his adopted city. He was interested substantially in the building of its first railroad, the Burlington & Missouri River, and for a time was treasurer of the company, while he was later a member of the board of directors of the Peoria & Oquawka Railroad Company, and of the directorate of the Carthage & Burlington Company. He was a promoter and director of the first company to run a telegraph wire into Burlington, thus bringing the business interests of the city into contact with the great financial and commercial centers of the East. In the world of finance his position was likewise one of undisputed supremacy, and he took a leading part in the organization of the First National Bank of Burlington, of which he was afterward a director and vice-president, and to his sponsorship and business ability this great institution doubtless owes much of the prestige which it enjoys today.

While Mr. Foote was very successful in the conduct of his private affairs, and pursued his object with a persistency of purpose which overcame all obstacles, he never forgot that he owed service to his State and his country, and throughout his whole mature life took a helpful part in the work of politics. Originally a Whig, he joined the Republican movement at its inception, and was one of the prominent organizers of that party in Iowa. In the fall of 1861, he was triumphantly elected, on the Republican ticket, to the Senate of the State of Iowa, as being best qualified in those troublous times to represent his district, and as one who, amid the excitement of civil war, might be relied on to act with calmness, integrity, and efficiency, and to cast the weight of his counsel and his vote on the side of right and justice at all times. The trust reposed in him by his fellow-citizens proved to be well placed, for he served as senator from 1862 to 1865, inclusive, with great honor to himself and to the highest satisfaction of his constituency, and was able to procure much beneficial legislation. He was also chairman of a board of three commissioners for the construction of the capitol building of the State of Iowa, and the manner in which he discharged this great trust won general admiration. One who was long and intimately connected with the public business of the State and who is considered among the foremost authorities on the subject says: "He (Mr. Foote) personally disbursed two million eight hundred seventy-six thousand three hundred dollars through a period of fourteen years, not a dollar of which money was misappropriated, and no breath of suspicion ever followed this large expenditure. It is quoted as a marvel of the times that the rigid, upright honesty of John G. Foote made it possible to get so great a structure built for such a price." Mr. Foote was also connected with Iowa politics by the marriage of his sister, Harriet Foote, fourth child of the family of which he was a member, to John H. Gear, in Burlington, Dec. 15, 1852. Mr. Gear enjoyed a national reputation, and his career, including his brilliant administration as governor of Iowa, is too well known to require extended mention in this article. Mrs. Gear was born Nov. 16, 1818, and was first married to Joseph C. Ketchum, at Middlebury, Vt., April 22, 1835. She has been spoken of as "one of Iowa's most remarkable women," while her wisdom and guidance were ever a great help to her distinguished husband, and much of the success of his career was doubtless due to her aid and advice.

During the later portion of his life, Mr. Foote retired from business and public activities, and gave his efforts in an increased measure to the work of the Christian faith, of which he was a devoted follower.

He became a member of the Congregational church in 1853, and was long a faithful and helpful laborer for its advancement, and for the success of its Sunday-school work, being for a long term of years a teacher in the Sunday-school. In this capacity he gave to those under his instruction the richest treasures from the storehouse of his mind, and many have had cause to remember his counsel with fondest gratitude. In the church he held the office of deacon for a long period. The place left vacant by his demise is now in a sense fully occupied by his widow, for she is a very active and influential member of the church. In 1865, Mr. Foote was a member of the national council of Congregational churches that met at Boston, and, standing around Plymouth Rock, where the ancestors of our subject had landed two and a half centuries before, joined in the Declaration of Faith which is now generally recognized as the highest and most enlightened and advanced expression of Christian faith and ecclesiastical order yet made by any large and deliberative body in the world. In 1867, he was elected a corporate member of the American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions, and gave his assistance and attention down to his eightieth year to the questions that have attended, and at times have embarrassed, its great and glorious work.

In his home, the life of Mr. Foote was ideal, for there love and cheer, fidelity and truth, ever reigned, and the spirit of his home he carried with him into the world of Christian work. It was his happy lot to be connected with many religious enterprises which still survive as monuments of his devotion and faith. He was one of the founders and original incorporators of the Chicago Theological Seminary, and a member of its first board of directors. He was a lifelong supporter of the institution, obligations which he assumed in this connection having since his demise been met by his widow. He was an earnest student of the Scriptures, and was of a devout mind and spirit. He possessed a fine intelligence, a broad and comprehensive human charity, and a high and steady Christian character. He was universally esteemed and by many fondly beloved. He died March 4, 1896. Mrs. Foote is a member of the First Congregational church of Burlington, of the Daughters of the Revolution, of the Young Women's Christian Association Auxiliary, a member of the missionary society of the church, and treasurer of the Ladies' Aid Society of Burlington Hospital. She is a lady of distinguished ability, and has long made her home the center of a cultured social circle.

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