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Daniel Beach
Address on Unveiling of Monument to John Magee
Wellsboro, PA - December 1, 1886.

By Hon. Daniel Beach
Address at the unveiling of the monument to Hon. John Magee at Wellsboro, Pa.
December 1, 1886

Mr. President and Citizens of Tioga County

He whose memory you this day perpetuate was a native of your Commonwealth. Removed in boyhood to the far west, returning in early manhood to the neighboring county of Steuben, he spent the greatest portion of his life in your vicinity and was identified with the principal business enterprises of the bordering counties of New York and Pennsylvania, especially in your county of Tioga. Thus while he was a New Yorker as his chosen domicile, he was not only a Pennsylvanian by nativity, but connected with you by the associations of a long and useful life. It has seemed to you fitting, and it is certainly most appropriate therefore, that you en of Pennsylvania and especially as citizens of Tioga county should place here in you beautiful town which he admired and whose citizens he respected and esteemed, this enduring tribute to his memory, in recognition of his services to you and to those who shall succeed you in the goodly heritage of hills and valleys. It is not my purpose, and time will not permit me to recount the many interesting events in the life of John Magee. A brief reference to the events of his earlier life leading up to his business connections and enterprises in Tioga county is all that seems appropriate for me to say relating to his history on this occasion. John Magee, whose parents were Henry and Sara Mulhollon Magee, emigrants from County Antrim, Ireland, was born in the year 1794 in the neighborhood of Easton, a region then almost pathless except by the trail of the savage, the tread of the soldiers of the Revolution and the forest paths of the few patient, plodding Moravians who had settled on the fertile lands of Northampton. His father moved with his family westward, first to Groveland, Livingston County, New York in 1805, where the Mother died, and in 1801 the whole family, consisting of the father and five children, immigrated to the frontiers of the Northwest, in the State of Michigan. Four years afterwards, in 1812, Henry Magee and his two elder sons, John and Hugh enlisted as volunteers in their defense of their country in the war with Great Britain. The services of John Magee as a soldier were characterized by great courage and daring, as those of you who knew him can well understand. As one of a company of Mounted Rangers and as a bearer of dispatches between the forts on the frontier and to Washington he performed many facts of daring and endurance, for which he received high commendation by the commanding officer.

Leaving the service of his country at the close of the war, he came to Bath, Steuben County, New York, in the year 1816. There he began his political and financial career at the age of twenty-two, with no previous training and no "learning" except such as he "picked up" in frontier life and in the army. But such meager advantages as he dad, h improved to the utmost, and by patient application, reading and study, acquired and attained a practical business education most fruitful in results, and a facility and force of expression in the use of language, especially in business correspondence and in the framing and drawing of business contracts that few men can command. Many of you present here today can bear testimony to that fact. Although deprived of the advantages of schools, man a man highly expert in scholastic knowledge was less educated than he. Intercourse with men and experience in the affairs of life filled out the measure and supplied the place of the technical education, which circumstances had denied to him. During the two years following his twenty-second year, he worked with his hands at farm labor, "earning" his own living in that state of life to which he had been called, gradually but surely gaining the confidence of his fellowmen - confidence that plant of slow growth which was to bear such rich fruit in the future. He and his neighbors were real and true "Knights of Labor," but we do not learn that they contended for a reduction of the hours of labor. Practically, like most of the farmers of those days and the early pioneers of the forest, they frequently worked on the "eight hour system" but it was eight hours in forenoon and eight hours in afternoon. Nor do we learn that they attempted to exalt "labor" or add to its dignity by harangues, speeches or resolutions. To such a degree did John Magee secure the confidence of his neighbors in the town and country that he was successively appointed and elected Constable and Collector, Deputy Sheriff, Marshall and then Sheriff of Steuben County, which later he held for five years, from 1821 to 1823 by appointment of the Governor of the State and from 1823 to 1825 by the election of the people.

We come not to a period of his history when the sphere of his labors, influence and usefulness was enlarged and extended to the whole country. In the year 1826 he was a candidate for a seat in Congress, then a most distinguished honor, and to which he was elected by a decisive vote; and so acceptably did he discharge his duties as a national legislator, and so faithfully did he serve his constituents of the Twenty-eighth Congressional District of his state, that he was re-elected in 1828 by a flattering vote. It was in this capacity that he became useful to all this section of the country, by his earnest and successful advocacy of internal improvements, especially in the laying out and improvement of Post Roads. In an address made by him just sixty years ago, he said: "The subject of internal improvements is not less important than any other which has been mentioned. The construction of roads and canals is of such great and manifest importance and advantage to society that their encouragement has always been a leading feature of the police of the most enlightened countries. The benefits resulting from them to agriculture and commerce in times of peace, by the reduction of the expenses of transportation and by the ease and freedom of intercourse and the advantages of direct and speedy communication between all points of the nation in time of was, evidence of the use of such policy. The difficulties experienced by the government during the late was (of 1812) have called its attention to the necessity of construction a great national road from Washington to Buffalo." In the same address he urges the importance of the improvement of the Susquehanna and Chemung Rivers by the construction of slack water navigation. It is a significant fact that within the same year steps were taken for the establishing of slack water navigation in the Tioga River, a tributary of the Chemung, showing that in his conception and labors he was fully abreast of the times in the plans for public improvements and in the facilities for travel and transportation.

In all this wild region of half a century ago, no man was more influential or did more than John Magee in building the roads of those early days, and in following this up with establishing upon them Stage Coach lines for the transportation of mails and passengers. All these were in the face of obstacles scarcely conceived of at the present day. The effect of these improvements and enterprises upon your county must have been very material and beneficial; furnishing as they did, to it, the best known means of travel and mail communication. And not only this, but as the Indian trail pointed out and was succeeded by the improved highway of the white-man, so the mail coach routs thus laid out occupied and used were the beginning, the pioneer efforts in transportation and indicated the routes for the railroads that have succeeded them in these later days.

Thus is was that half a century ago, the genius, zeal and public spirit of John Magee first made their impression upon your country. But the era of the ponderous stage coach for "through" lines and "trunk" lines of travel, grand and imposing as they were in those times, was soon to be succeeded by the age of railroads; and when the Erie railroad was proposed, John Magee again "came to the front," and in the year 1840 and for several years thereafter he was engaged in building of large portions of that road. Following this he was active in the projection and building of the Buffalo and Cohocton Valley Railroad from Buffalo to Corning, devoting almost all his time to those enterprises during no less than fifteen years of his life. And to this the rebuilding of the Blossburg and Corning road, to be noticed later on, and his interest in other lines of railroad, and it will be seen that he was throughout nearly his whole life a r-o-a-d b-u-i-l-d-e-r, and operator of roads; first, of stage roads and the running of stage coach lines, reaching from Northern new York to Baltimore, and next, of railroad lines reaching easterly and westerly from Buffalo to this section of the country. I have fancied that the recollection of his long horseback rides from the Northern Lakes to Washington bearing dispatches to the seat of the Government, suggested to him the idea of a great government road, which as a Member of Congress, he recommended, and the mail coach lines in which he later became interested, over, possibly, the same route he had traversed as a boy on horseback years before. And I have fancied that possibly the journey on foot, which he made in 1816, with gun and knapsack, through the wild woods of Western New York, with only the marks upon the trees for his guide, from Niagara to Bath, to find the hospitable roof of an elder sister, suggested to him in later life the building of a better road on the line he had traversed, and that the building of the railroad from Buffalo to and through his adopted home was an outgrowth of that conception. But the building of highways of travel and transportation was not his only avocation. Though less directly related to your county, his business as a banker had ore or less to do with the prosperity of the people living within the circle of many miles, including your territory. From the time when he left active political life as a Member of Congress in 1831, till his death, he was a leading and enterprising banker at Bath, in connection with the well-known Steuben County Bank, most of the time as its President and during that whole period as its leading manager.

A banker, not in the narrow sense and character of the unfaithful steward, burring and hoarding the talent confided to him, or of levying tribute and usurious exactions upon the unfortunate, but in the larger sense and better character of a custodian of sacred trusts and the lenient creditor of worthy debtors in need of a legitimate aid in their proper, lawful and beneficial enterprises. Many a man has said had it not been for the aid given him by John Magee, he "must have failed financially," and I have frequently heard the remark from venerable men, his contemporaries, "he was the first man that aided me by a loan and set me on me on my feet in my business." The principal products of your country as well as Steuben County, for export, were timber and lumber, and in many cases they and to be taken to market and the avails received to pay expense of stocking, manufacturing and running the rafts to market. John Magee and his Steuben County Bank were always ready in such cases to make the necessary loans to trustworthy men. But the field in which John Magee was most intimately identified with Tioga County was the development of your coal mines and the building of railroads to reach them. Considerable more than fifty years ago it was well known that your county was very rich in coal and mineral deposits, but there were no adequate means of transporting them to market, even if there had been sufficient market for them. Railroads were, in that day, a novelty, and it was scarcely discerned by your people that this rough region, in which these deposits were contained, could be made accessible by any means except by was of the water channels which nature afforded and which connected your county more intimately with the State of New York than with the territory of your own commonwealth. The Susquehanna, by way of its tributaries the Chemung and the Tioga Rivers, penetrated to the very heart of the county and seemed to furnished the easiest and cheapest means of transportation from the mines, and from your forests, to market. To make water communication available, a company was incorporated by the State of Pennsylvania in the year 1826, with power to make slack water navigation in the Tioga River from the state line at Lawrenceville to the coal beds near Blossburg, or to construct a canal between those points, as should be deemed most advisable. This company was known as the Tioga Navigation Company. In the year 1828 a like company was incorporated by the State of New York, by the name of the Tioga Coal Iron Mining and Manufacturing Company, having for its declared objects the digging and vending of coal, manufacturing of iron in all its various branches, mining and working ores, and manufacturing glass and other articles. This company was also authorized to construct slack waster navigation from the Pennsylvania state line down the Tioga River, or to construct a canal between the same points as it should elect. This was the day of canals, or the "canal era" so called, in which so many canals were projected and constructed in New York and Pennsylvania

Upon examination, however, it was found that the construction of slack water navigation in the Tioga was not practicable, or at least too expensive to warrant the outlay of the amount of money required. Subsequently, by acts of the Legislature of the respective states, the companies were authorized to construct railways along the Tioga River between the pointes named. But the roads were not built till after many years of financial tribulation, and then were laid with only the old-fashioned strap rails. The companies mentioned passed through various vicissitudes and changes of name. The Tioga Navigation Company, the Pennsylvania Corporation, because the Tioga Railroad Company, and the Tioga Coal, Iron, Mining and Manufacturing Company, the Mew York Corporation became, first, the Corning and Blossburg Company, and afterward the Blossburg and Corning Railroad Company. The old companies and the parties engaged in operating their roads, engaged with varying success in the business of transporting the products of the mines to market, but the market was limited to a small quantity of coal and the business was far from remunerative.

But in time the opportune moment came to develop the mines of Tioga County, and when it came John Magee was ready with the capital, with the will and determination to prosecute the work. How ably his son Duncan S. Magee, seconded the efforts of his father in this work you all know. The commemoration of the father and the history of his enterprises today, would be incomplete without due mention and record of the zeal, the ability and the work of his son Duncan S. Magee, whom I know was to love and honor.

Men may say that the times and opportunities favored their work in Tioga County; nevertheless, to foresee and improve opportunities for success is no less a mark and evidence of genius and an ability than the work of achieving it and detracts not at all from the credit of accomplishing great results. The opportune moments for the development of the natural resources of your county did not come as by chance, nor as a commercial growth, nor by merely natural causes. John Magee and his son Duncan, found, "worked up", and secured the market fort Tioga County coal. They personally sought the opportunity, and superintended experiments in its use in the manufacture of salt and in propelling locomotives. John Magee was emphatically a pioneer in the larger development of the resources of your county. A few others preceded him and many others have followed him in this, but history will accord to him the credit of the greater work, the placing of your products in the markets of New York and England.

It should be observed here that the first railroad was constructed in Tioga County in the year 1840. John Magee was at the same time and for several years thereafter, actively engaged in the extension of the Erie Railroad westerly from Binghamton; and that both roads had been completed to Corning; he was foremost in the construction of the Cohocton Valley Railroad from Corning to Buffalo, at about the same time he became the owner of the railroad running from Corning to Lawrenceville, rebuilt it, took up the trap rail and re-laid it with new and modern superstructure. The concurrence of these events, their importance and their situation and relation to each other, show that in his contemplation they were part of a system of improvements, all important, and destined to bear close relations to each other. Not far from this period o time a plan was proposed in which he took a leading part, no doubt with the same object in view, for the building of a railroad up the beautiful valley of the Cowanesque and thence westward to Ocean. A part only of this scheme has been carried out, as you know, in the building of thirty-two miles of railroad in that valley.

For the building of the railroad to Wellsboro I need not remind you that you are indebted to the foresight of John Magee. It was conceived, planned and provided for by him and left to be accomplished under the lead and direction of his son, now with us today on this occasion. What other plans in conceptions of railroad extension John Magee may have had, or what he might have done in the direction had he remained with us in full vigor to this day, we know not; but it is fair to assume that they have all been more than realized, through the efforts of his son, George J. Magee, in the extension of rail communication from New York (Central N.Y.) southerly through your county to central Pennsylvania and beyond to the Allegheny Mountains. In all this, directly and indirectly resulting from the efforts of the man whose memory you honor today, it is not by any means claimed that he was in all these enterprise actuated by philanthropic motives merely. Human history does not abound in instances of the devotion of man to the worldly and material interests of his fellows. Great results of this kind are usually attained through the double motive of gain, and the ambition to succeed in what has been undertaken and projected. Fairness requires me to say that these were probably the principle motives which lead to the accomplishment of the results, which have been mentioned.

To those who knew John Magee well, it is necessary to say that to him the work of construction well done, whether of the bridge, a railroad, or a piece of machinery, or a structure of any kind, gave him more satisfaction had greater charms for him than the mere acquisition of money in business operations. It can mot truly be said that he was not an avaricious man. He sought and praised money for the use he could make of it, for the accomplishing of such project as I have mentioned. The successful completion and operation of which were dearer to him than the profit they might yield, except as measuring their success. He was impatient, therefore, of prodigally and the expenditure of money other than the most useful and practical objects. A business pursuit which produced nothing beneficial to the world had not respect or encouragement from him. In harmony with this, therefore, he sought to leave to his descendents not merely a fortune ready made but, as he expressed it, "something to do;" some worthy, useful, and active enterprises on hand that needed unremitting labor and attention to carry them out successfully. But the work of John Magee’s life was not limited to the field of railroading, coal mining, banking, and other related objects. He was active throughout his whole life in all the great interest of his time - religious, educational, political and economic. Active in the promotion of Christianity, rendering needed financial aid in proportion to his means in foreign missionary fields and at home, he left a substantial monument of his memory in the erection of a noble church edifice, and by his will left legacies for the spread of the gospel. His mother’s Christian teachings to him in childhood, which, with deep feeling, he recounted in old age, thus bore rich fruit in the life of her orphaned son. In educational interests he was early interested. In the address of sixty years ago, already referred to he said: "The general diffusion of the benefits of education among the people is a measure of vital importance. Intelligence is the rock upon which our Constitution and Government is founded; sustained and supported by the moral sense of the community, they can only be perpetuated by the general dissemination of information among our citizens. It is therefore the duty of the government to establish free seminaries in every part of the country. Equally accessible to all classes - the poor- that their benefits may be enjoyed by all. The resources of our nation can not be applied to any purpose more beneficial." To us this day who see on hand free schools of every grade, it seems strange that there was ever needed such pleas as this for their establishment. But we must not forget that it was by such pleading as this and the efforts of such men in State and Nation, that the blessing of popular education are not enjoyed. Not only in word, but, in deeds did he bear testimony to his zeal in this direction. I need not remind you that a most worthy institution of learning received timely aid from him at a critical time its history. Although John Magee left public official life on his retirement from Congress in the year 1831, he maintained his interest in public affairs in both State and Nation.

And finally the year of his death, was a prominent and influential of the convention to revise the Constitution of his State. The part he took in that convention showed the same broad, statesman like views which marked his course in Congress, when a young man, and he closed his life in the service of the state, as he commenced his public lie in the service of the Nation-an honest, incorruptible mane as he had through life been the unpretending, useful and respectful citizen. It has my purpose simply to set before you some of the leading events of this strong man, which related principally to your county but it has been necessary to digress from that line and refer to other events of his life. I have intended no eulogy in the common acceptation of that term. A simple narrative is his best eulogy. Nor do I attempt a description of his personality. That is shown best by his deeds. But I cannot refrain from quoting from the estimate of him of a few men now passed away who were his contemporaries. Of him, Horatio Seymour said: "To me he was an attractive man. He was a strong man upon whose points were I to feel my own weakness, and it always gave me pleasure to talk with him. Beyond anyone whom I have known, he was quick in his perceptions character, keen in seeing through the facts of matters, which he had to deal and prompt in his action. While he was firm and resolute in his purposes, firm in demanding his rights and making others do their duties, he had what is rare with his cast of character, great charity for the weakness of other and a kindly generosity in helping those who made mistakes or fell into trouble for want of wisdom or skill. I never knew another man whose sharp questionings, stern probings, and close scrutinizes, ended in such liberal and generous conclusion. My acquaintance with men has been large, I have seen and known ore or less of the leading men of out country during the last thirty years. Not one of them made a more marked or deeper impression on me than John Magee. I freely sought his council with regard to public and private affairs, and his judgment never failed to be right." Samuel J. Tilden, on hearing of the death of John Magee wrote as follows: "I could not but feel the shock, as another link is broken out of the chain which unites the circle; who, in the Roman phrase, ‘think together concerning your country’, especially a link so important and valued, and so associated in our minds with the great days of the republic, and so remarkable for natural greatness of character."

The eminent lawyer John K. Porter, said: "He was one of those sterling and able men whose names were accustomed to associate with the stability and prosperity of the State and whose weight of character far transcends the dignity of mere official position." A colleague of his in the Constitutional Convention wrote: "During the past summer I was placed in the situation to make thoroughly his acquaintance. Seated by his side every day and spending more or less of my time in social intercourse with him, I found him a man of great warmth and kindness of hear. Always courteous and gentlemanly and always cheerful, not withstanding his infirmities." Contemporarily with him within the circle comprising central northern Pennsylvania and southern western New York, engages in similar vocations, what a group of strong men! - John Arnot, John Magee, Constant Cook, Charles Cook Jervis Langdon, Ezra Cornell. And we may add Asa Packer, as to his enterprise extending into the same region. A Senate of wisdom and finance in the affairs of men, all now passed away. But each has received. Or shall receive, the honor due his memory. Those who succeeded them will do well to imitate them on the good way they have done. The strong character of John Magee was thoroughness. Attentive to all details, close and exacting in all work, and accurate in all he said and did, he became a master of every situation in which he was placed - a mastermind - a master hand. Furnishing the means and opportunity to thousands to gain a lively hood, he was a benefactor to man. A leader in the development of wealth by legitimate labor, he was an industrial primate. Deprived, as we have seen, of the advantages of an early education in schools, he overcame the obstacles of this privation and filled out the measure of the full development of his manhood by his actual work in life. His preparatory school was the forest, the army, the farm, and, within his county discharging faithfully the duties of office; his college, the halls of Congress, where his prizes were earned and acknowledged; his university the bank, the railroad office, and the world of business; his degrees, the memorials, which loving and faithful and grateful hearts as today erect to his memory. The commemoration in memorial bronze on the lives and deed of eminent men is a custom as old as imitative art. Thus have legends been perpetuated and histories written. The thousands of statues of ancient Greece, were histories in art, no less, and possible evermore, when the written pages of Herodotus were histories in books: for while only the few read the tales of Grecian history, the many passing in her streets, gazing on the features in bronze of heroes, scholars, and statesmen, thus celebrated, recalled the legends and partook of the inspiration of their story. So, in times to come when few perhaps may read the story of him whom you this day honor, thousands passing this way, and many treading these paths from day to day and year to year, and looking upon the features of the strong man as delineated in this beautiful specimen of memorial art shall recall the story of his life, and the lasting works which he hand has wrought for and yours, in your favored county of Tioga.

Source:Beach Family original document.


For Additional Reference: Memorial of John Magee : embracing a sketch of his life
a discourse delivered on the anniversary of his death; notices of funeral services, etc.
by F.S. Howe.
New York: Charles Scribner, 1870
Full version available from Cornell University.