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.


Hon. Silas A. Hudson, deceased, who was one of the pioneer settlers of Des Moines county, and became a man of decisive character, serving as minister to Central America, and exerting no unimportant influence upon the people with whom he came in contact, was born in Mason county, Kentucky, Dec. 13, 1815. His father, Bailey Washington Hudson, was a native of Fauquier county, Virginia, born April 15, 1782. He was descended from one of the old families of England that was established in Virginia in colonial days. He served with distinction in the War of 1812, participating under General Harrison in the battles of Tippecanoe, the River Raisin, and the Thames. He and his brother Samuel had previously settled in Mason county, Kentucky, where they jointly purchased seven hundred and sixty acres of land, known as the family homestead. There Bailey W. Hudson married Miss Susan A. Grant, a sister of Jesse R. and a daughter of Noah Grant. The last named, one of the patriots of New England, belonged to the party of seventeen men who, disguised as Indians, threw the tea overboard in Boston harbor, and thus instituted what has since been known in history as the Boston tea-party. Several years after his marriage Mr. Hudson entered into partnership with Noah Grant, Jr., his brother-in-law, under the firm style of Noah Grant & Company, and they conducted one of the leading mercantile enterprises of Maysville, Ky. Mr. and Mrs. Hudson became the parents of seven children: Silas A.; Noah Grant, born June 23, 1817; John Y., born July 2, 1819: Frances A., March 20, 1821; Walter Warder, June 11, 1823: and Peter Todd, Oct. 26, 1825. The two last named were among the early settlers of Burlington, and aided in molding the pioneer history of this part of the State. Walter W. Hudson came to Burlington with his brother Silas in 1839. He was a soldier of the Mexican War, serving with the Fifteenth Regiment under Colonel Howard, and he participated in the engagements at National Bridge, Pueblo. Churubusco, Molino del Rey, and Chapultepec. At the last named he was the first to carry the flag over the walls, and the lone Iowa Company was given the credit of running up the first United States flag over Chapultepec and garrisoning the fort. Following the close of the Mexican War, and upon the commendation of Colonel Howard, Walter W. Hudson was appointed a lieutenant of the First United Slates Regular Infantry by President Polk. He was then sent to the Rio Grande, where he had charge of the troops that were protecting the line of forts then being built along the frontier. In an engagement with the Indians he was wounded at Fort Hudson (which had been named in his honor), and he died at McIntosh near Lorado, Texas, April 9, 1850. In his death the United States Army lost one of its most promising, energetic, and efficient officers. Peter Todd Hudson came to Burlington in 1845, and made his home with his brother Silas until after the discovery of gold in California, when, hoping to realize a fortune in the mines on the Pacific Coast, his brother fitted him out with teams and sufficient means to go to the far West. He remained for two years, taking advantage of various business opportunities, and then because of failing health he returned to Burlington. In 1857 Silas A. Hudson sent him to Denver, Colo., where he opened a supply store, being one of the first settlers in that place. He was among the discoverers and aided in the early development of the mines at Breckenridge, and in fact was the founder of that place, naming it in honor of J. C. Breckenridge, a personal friend of the Hudson family. During the first year of the war of the rebellion he was driven away by the Indians, and he returned to Burlington to join General Grant's staff. He entered the service with the rank of captain, and was subsequently promoted to that of lieutenant-colonel. He served with General Grant, taking part in all the battles fought by that intrepid commander, from Vicksburg to Appomattox, and was offered by General Grant the position of senior major in the regular army, but declined to accept this military position. He remained on General Grant's staff until 1867, when he resigned and went to California, where he was engaged in the stock business. He was afterward offered by General Grant the office of United States marshal of California, but also declined to serve in that capacity. He is now living in Colusa county, California.

Silas A. Hudson acquired a liberal education in the Maysville Academy, at Maysville, Ky., and largely supplemented his intellectual training by private study. Through travel he gained the culture and knowledge which can be obtained in no other way. He left home when seventeen years of age, and spent the succeeding year in travel, visiting the leading cities of America. He first visited Burlington in 1837, and also touched at other points on the Mississippi River, but returned to St. Louis, where he continued to reside until 1839, after which he made a permanent settlement in Des Moines county. He purchased a lot on Jefferson Street in Burlington, and in 1840 erected two brick houses, which at that time were superior to any dwelling of the city. Becoming a factor in mercantile circles, he engaged in the stove, tin, and hardware business, with which he was identified for more than twenty years, having a large jobbing trade and also conducting a number of branch houses in other Western towns. He possessed marked business capacity, unfaltering energy, and with keen foresight understood the conditions of the West and its probable development, which enabled him to anticipate future needs and to meet them in a manner that resulted beneficially to his community, and at the same time brought him desirable prosperity. Thus he contributed to the material welfare of the localities with which he was connected in mercantile lines, but he probably became best known through his activity in political work.

From his youth Mr. Hudson was deeply interested in the question of politics, and read everything that he could find bearing upon such subjects, so that when he reached manhood he was well informed concerning the political history of his country, and had intimate knowledge of the leading questions of the day, as well as of the careers and records of all of the prominent public men. The first national election in which he took part was in the presidential campaign of 1836, when he gave his support to General Harrison, casting his first ballot at Louisville, Ky. He was an ardent supporter of the Whig party, and after his arrival at Burlington he wrote the call that organized the Whig party in this territory, giving his support to its nominees during the existence of that great political organization.

Mr. Hudson left his impress upon the political history of Iowa, being very influential in her affairs. He was clerk of the Territorial Legislature and also first chief clerk of the House in the State organization. During the legislative session of 1842-43 the territorial laws were revised by the general assembly, and in this work Mr. Hudson largely assisted, as he did when the laws were again revised in 1846-47, being adapted to the State organization. In 1862 he rendered valuable service because of his intimate knowledge of the needs and conditions of the commonwealth. He was the author of the city charter of Burlington and its principal ordinances under which the city was governed for more than thirty years, preparing these documents in 1845. He used the charter and ordinances of the city of Cincinnati as a basis upon which to work, and the papers were so correct as to construction and so adequate to the city's needs that there was no change made in three decades. In community affairs Mr. Hudson was actively interested, holding many important offices. He was a member of the city council for fourteen years, and was mayor of Burlington in 1855-56, holding that position at the time the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad was constructed to this city. He was also acting mayor during the two previous terms. He filled a number of minor offices, serving for some time as a member of the school board. At the time of the establishment of the New York Tribune Mr. Hudson became one of its subscribers, and for more than twenty years was an influential and valued contributor to its columns, as he was also to the Louisville Journal, its editor being George D. Prentice. He was from early life an intimate friend of Abraham Lincoln: and, recognizing his great qualities, he became a champion of his cause in connection with the presidency when the subject of the choice of a candidate was being discussed by the people in 1860. He used the columns of these influential journals to bring the name of Lincoln prominently before the public, and in connection with Horace Greeley he arranged to have Mr. Lincoln go to New York, where he made the great speech that so seriously hurt Mr. Steward's chance for the presidency. Mr. Hudson was also instrumental in having Mr. Lincoln come to Burlington, where he was listened to by many citizens who still reside here. This was the only time that the martyred president ever spoke in this city, and his subsequent election and reelection were largely aided by the voice and pen of his old friend. The cordial relation existing between them was never interrupted until the assassin did his deadly work and the nation mourned a martyred president.

Mr. Hudson was always a stanch friend and admirer of General Grant, who was an own cousin, and with whom he had been in a measure in close relationship in his youth, each living at different periods at the home of the other. Naturally Mr. Hudson was an ardent supporter of the war, and was among the first to take an active and prominent part in raising and forwarding troops. During the war he spent a part of the time in the field with General Grant, and at the siege of Vicksburg he had a narrow escape. Raising his head above the breastworks, several rebel bullets instantly whistled about his head, one cutting a crease in his scalp; and because of his injury he was almost a constant sufferer afterward. He never wavered in his allegiance to the Union cause until its preservation was an established fact. Outside of offices connected with the municipal government he did not seek political prominence, yet in March, 1969, he was appointed by President Grant to the position of United States minister to Central America. On that mission he was eminently successful. Previous to his residence there the commerce between the United States and Central America was very limited. He devoted himself to increasing the trade with the states there, and soon after his arrival he arranged for the landing of the vessels of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, running between San Francisco and Panama. According to the terms of the treaty these were to stop at five ports of Central America. These and other means which he employed led largely to diverting the trade of Central America to this country, and the immense commerce which succeeded was the legitimate outgrowth of his efforts. He not only rendered valuable service to the United States during his ministry, but also did able work for the people of Central America as well. That country was in a state of constant revolution at the time, and the friendly offices of tile legation were being constantly employed in behalf of foreign residents coming under the displeasure of the government. The creditable manner in which his services were rendered to all parties led to the government's consenting that he should represent foreign residents in Central America, In this way he represented nine different nationalities, including Switzerland, which country has ever since confided to the American ministry, elsewhere as well as in Central America, the protection of her citizens abroad.

In 1871, after five successive battles, the rebels won their way to the city of Guatemala, and demanded its surrender. On this occasion the government placed Mr. Hudson at the head of a commission, investing him with the power to treat with the rebel general and his forces for a change of government, and this commission was successfully concluded. Owing to the bitter opposition of General Barrios, second in command, the commission met with almost total failure. The bloody-minded half-breed chief had enlisted and led the advance columns, and held them under promise that the plunder of the city should be given up to them for their services, and he would listen to no other terms. When the commission had advanced within about a furlong of the rebel forces, they were met and halted by the officer commanding, and informed by him that he was ordered to turn back all parties seeking personal interviews with the general-in-chief, and to fire upon them it they refused. Mr. Hudson stated to him the object of the commission; that it was made up of the representatives of friendly powers, and that in their quality as such they could accept no such answer, especially from a lesser officer than the general-in-chief: that the commission expected, and would give him a reasonable time to furnish, a fitting escort to the camp of the general-in-chief, and should he fail to do so they would undertake to find their way unaided. After much parley with him by others, and no movement being made toward providing an escort. Mr. Hudson, announcing his purpose, and accompanied by the United States consul, rode forward, while all the others sought cover outside the sweep of the battery planted in front of them. They were allowed to approach within forty or fifty yards of the guns, while every demonstration of a purpose to fire upon them was being made. At length the commander ordered the gunners not to fire, and came forward, meeting Mr. Hudson and his companion, declaring that he could not execute the order, and that he would furnish an escort as requested and go with them himself to insure their safety and freedom from unpleasant stoppages. Here they were again joined by their colleagues. Mr. Hudson afterward learned that this officer was a nephew of General Granados, the rebel commander, and that in employing the friendly offices of the United States legation in behalf of political suspects a short time before he had secured the release of his brother, who had been condemned to be shot as a spy, and that this brother was present with the commander, pleading with him in Mr. Hudson’s behalf until he was successful in his attempt to have the life of Mr. Hudson spared.vIn company with both parties they proceeded to the camp of General Granados, reaching there about 10 P.M. The greater part of the night was spent in arranging the terms by which the personnel of the government could be changed peacefully and further loss of life and properly be avoided, and not offend the mercenary Barrios and his followers. By the terms of the compact the rebel troops were commanded to stack their arms four miles outside of the city, which they did to the number of about twenty-four thousand, and to enter Guatemala as private citizens. The next morning at ten o'clock they met on the government plaza and elected, viva voce. General Granados provisional president: who, as such, by the terms of the treaty was required and did issue writs of election to the several departments for the election of new members of congress and the organization of the government under the existing law. This put an end to the revolutionary troubles during the residence of Mr. Hudson in that city.

In 1873 Mr. Hudson resigned, and returned to his home in Burlington, where he lived until his death. In his domestic relations he was happy. In 1844 he married Miss Ann Caldwell, a native of Kentucky, born Jan. 14, 1826. Of this marriage there were three children: Virginia, born Oct. 25, 1845; Marietta, born June 25, 1848: and Walter Werder, born Aug. 25, 1850. The second daughter died Jan. 11, 1874. Mrs. Hudson died on the 13th of March, 1851, and on Jan. 11, 1853, Mr. Hudson was again married, his second union being with Serena Griffey, who was born at Morgantown, W. Va., July 23. 1825, and was the fifth in a family of twelve children, ten of whom reached adult age, nine daughters and a son coming to Burlington. Her father, William Griffey, was born July 4, 1787, and was of English descent. He was a successful merchant at Morgantown, and was an iron manufacturer. He was married Oct. 28, 1810, to Miss Mary Spitzer, a native of Winchester, Va., and of German descent. Mr. Griffey was obliged to pay a large security debt, and nearly all of his property was swept away in this manner. He had to take as partial indemnity for his loss the negroes that had belonged to the man who failed, and these he allowed to purchase their freedom as they were able to do so. Mr. Griffey came to Iowa in May, 1837, proceeding down the Ohio and up the Mississippi rivers by steamer to where the village of Burlington stood. It then contained only a few houses. Mr. Griffey took up land, and in connection with Mr. Sherfy operated a saw mill on Flint Creek and one in Illinois. Later he opened a clothing store on Jefferson and Main Streets, where he remained until his death, which occurred Jan, 11, 1848. His wife, who was born June 15, 1795, died in 1850. Their children were Leanna, who married Charles Medara, and died in the spring of 1838: Henry, who went South, and was not heard from after a time; Levara, who married David Rice, and died leaving a family: Mary, the wife of John Johnson, of Denver; Mrs. Hudson; Delia, who married Capt. Thomas French, and is a widow, living at Cripple Creek, Colo.; Ellen, who is the widow of Daniel Cox, and resides in Burlington, Iowa: Laura, deceased; Martha, the widow of William Hillhouse, and now living with her mother; and Caroline, who died after attaining early womanhood.

During the last ten years of his life Mr. Hudson was an invalid, suffering from paralysis. His mind was very clear and alert, and he maintained a deep interest in public affairs until his demise, which occurred Dec. 19, 1897. In the management of his varied enterprises Mr. Hudson was successful, and he acquired a competency, enabling himself and family to live in ease and comfort. His was, indeed, a well-spent, active, and useful career, characterized by unfaltering devotion to the general good as well as to his individual interests. He was a co-laborer and colleague of many of the eminent men of the nation, and the labor which he did when serving as minister to Central America still finds its fruition in the national trade relations which have since existed between the two countries.

Copyright ©  IAGenWeb Project