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Canfield, Thomas Hawley


Age: 40, credited to Arlington, VT
Unit(s): US GOVT RR
Service: Assistant Manager, US Government Railroads

See Legend for expansion of abbreviations


Birth: 03/29/1822, Arlington, VT
Death: 01/20/1897

Burial: Rock Point Cemetery, Burlington, VT
Marker/Plot: Not recorded
Gravestone researcher/photographer: Kathy Valloch
Findagrave Memorial #: 69207929


Alias?: None noted
Pension?: Unknown
Portrait?: Unknown
College?: Not Found
Veterans Home?: Not Found
(If there are state digraphs above, this soldier spent some time in a state or national soldiers' home in that state after the war)

Remarks: None


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Rock Point Cemetery, Burlington, VT

Check the cemetery for location/directions and other veterans who may be buried there.


Canfield, Thomas Hawley, son of Samuel and Mary A. (Hawley) Canfield, was born in Arlington, March 29, 1822. He descended on the father's side from Thomas Canfield, descendant of James de Philo, a French Huguenot, who came from Yorkshire, Eng., to Milford, Conn., in 1646, while his maternal ancestor was Joseph Hawley, who was born in Derbyshire, Eng., in the earliest years of the seventeenth century and emigrated to Stratford, Conn., where he died in 1690. Nathan Canfield, the great-grandson of Thomas Canfield, removed to Arlington in 1768, and was the grandfather of the subject of this sketch.

During the early trouble arising from the disputes concerning the New Hampshire grants, the Canfields, Hawleys, Hards, Allens and Bakers were the most prominent leaders in the struggle.

Thomas Hawley Canfield was brought up on a farm and his early education was received in the common schools of the place of his nativity. Evincing a strong desire for a more extended course of study than these institutions could afford he was placed by his father at Burr Seminary in Manchester, where he remained until he was fitted for college at the age of fourteen. Not desiring to commence his undergraduate course at this early age, he returned home and for two years worked on the farm, then was transferred to the Troy Episcopal Institute, with reference to a scientific course of study, but while there was persuaded by Bishop Alonzo Potter, then acting president of Union College, Schenectady, to abandon his idea of becoming an engineer, and he entered the junior class in the last named institution in the fall of 1839.

Before the completion of his collegiate course, however, he was summoned to Vermont by the sudden death of his father, and as he considered the duty he owed to his mother and only sister paramount to his own wishes, he again took up the burden of farm life, but finding agricultural labor too severe for his slender constitution, he removed in 1844 to Williston, where he became a merchant.

Mr. Canfield was married in 1844 to Elizabeth A., only daughter of Eli Chittenden, a grandson of the first Governor of Vermont. She died in 1848, and he was subsequently united to Caroline A., daughter of the Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins, D. D., L-L. D., first Bishop of Vermont, by whom he had two sons and three daughters: Emily, John Henry Hopkins, Marian, Flora, and Thomas H., Jr.

In 1847 Mr. Canfield removed to Burlington, where he still resides, and here became a member of the firm of Bradley & Canfield, who carried on large wholesale stores and warehouses on the wharf at Burlington; also ran lines of boats to New York and Montreal. About this time, Professor Morse having brought his telegraph into operation, Mr. Canfield visited Vergennes, Orwell, Middlebury, Rutland, and many other towns along the line, securing stock and organizing the company connecting these places with Troy, N. Y., and Montreal in February, 1848. The following year the firm of Bradley & Canfield, with two or three other parties, were concerned in building a railroad from Bellows Falls to Burlington by way of Rutland, which was completed Dec. 19 of that year. He also, in conjunction with others, was engaged in constructing the Rutland & Washington, the Ogdensburg, as well as many other railways in New York and Pennsylvania. From the great knowledge he had already acquired of transportation, the services of Mr. Canfield were eagerly sought as superintendent and afterwards president of the Rutland & Washington R. R., of which he subsequently took a lease, operating it on his own account. This, it is believed, was the first railroad in the United States leased to an individual. He took a prominent part in the struggle of connecting Boston and Burlington by railway, when two routes were proposed, one via Montpelier and Concord, and the other by Rutland and Fitchburg, he being strongly in favor of the latter, the result of which controversy was that both lines were constructed. In the final disposition of affairs, the Rutland & Burlington R. R. was left at Burlington without any through direct connection by rail with Ogdensburg or Montreal, and to meet this defect, as the Rutland road had not the right by its charter to build and operate boats, Bradley & Canfield, within ninety days, constructed a steamer and four barges with a capacity of three thousand barrels of flour each and towed them between Burlington and Rouse's Point, thus enabling the Rutland line to compete successfully with the Vermont Central. His next enterprise was the establishment of a line of propellers from the upper lakes to Ogdensburg to connect with the railroad to Boston and New England, which opened up for the first time a route for the products of the West by the lakes and St. Lawrence river which had heretofore found their outlet only by the Erie Canal and roads from Albany. While thus engaged he formed the acquaintance of Mr. Edwin F. Johnson, one of the most experienced engineers in America, and from information received from him relative to the belt of country between the great lakes and the Pacific ocean, he became thoroughly impressed with the importance of a railroad to the Pacific coast by the Northern route, and he determined to devote his life to the accomplishment of that object. As the first active step toward the enterprise, in 1852, before even there was any railroad into Chicago from the East, he contracted with others to build what is now known as the Chicago & Northwestern R. R., from Chicago to St. Paul, Minn., and Fond du Lac, Wis. Mr. Edwin F. Johnson was made chief engineer of this railroad. The Hon. Robert J. Walker, Secretary of the Treasury of the U. S., and other prominent men were directors. While engaged in the construction of this railroad Mr. Canfield and Mr. Johnson discussed very fully the subject of an overland railroad, and Mr. Johnson prepared an exhaustive treatise embracing their views upon Pacific railroads, coming to the conclusion that one by the Northern route was not only the most feasible, but important in a military and commercial point of view, being so near to the British line.

Mr. Walker learning of this, desired a loan of the manuscript to lay before his associate in the cabinet of President Pierce, the Hon. Jefferson Davis, Secretary of War, who was at that time very desirous to extend the territory of the South and its "peculiar institution." Mr. Davis, knowing Mr. Johnson to be an engineer of extensive knowledge and whatever he had written was important and reliable, saw upon examining the paper that it came in conflict with his cherished plans, and he came on to New York and had a personal interview with Mr. Johnson and endeavored to convince him that he was in error and did not realize the difficulties of the Northern route nor appreciate the great advantages of a Southern one. Mr. Johnson listened attentively to what Mr. Davis had to say and replied "that he had given the subject much thought and patient investigation, but his conclusions were strictly logical from the facts and that he had no doubt of the full verification of his estimates by actual measurements hereafter to be made, " which have been confirmed since by the actual surveys of the Northern Pacific R. R.

Mr. Davis finding that he could not change the conclusions of Mr. Johnson and Mr. Canfield, and that the manuscript could not be suppressed, but would be published by them, he, on March 3, 1853, procured the passage of a resolution by Congress authorizing him, the Secretary of War, to make such explorations as he might deem advisable to ascertain the most practical route for a railroad to the Pacific coast, hoping thereby to discredit the arguments in favor of the Northern route, which resulted in sending out the three great Pacific railroad expeditions and in later years the construction of a railroad over each of the three routes, the Southern being the last to be built.

During the civil struggle, when Colonel Thomas A. Scott of the Pennsylvania R. R. was made Assistant Secretary of War and general manager of transportation of the armies of the United States he sent for Mr. Canfield and entrusted to him the charge of the railroads about Washington as assistant manager. This was a very trying position, since every avenue of communication by land and water with the District of Columbia was in the hands of the rebels, except the single iron track between Baltimore and Washington, over which the three hundred thousand soldiers for the Army of the Potomac were to be transported for the defense of the Capital, as well as all provisions for man and beast about the city. Never before or since has so much business been done on a single track and that, too, without any accident or the loss of a single life. How promptly, ably and successfully this duty was discharged by Mr. Canfield the page of history tells. In connection with these labors in behalf of his country, Mr. Canfield, with the assistance of Hon. Solomon Foote, received permission from the government to raise a cavalry regiment in Vermont and the result of their efforts was that Col. L. B. Platt, with the 1st Regt. Vt. Cav., mounted, armed, and equipped, reported for duty within sixty days at Washington, rendering service during the war second to no other regiment in the army.

After the close of the struggle, for several years Mr. Canfield was superintendent of the steamers on Lake Champlain, but his mind and thoughts were still absorbed more or less with his favorite project until he conceived and organized the syndicate to construct the Northern Pacific R. R., in connection with which magnificent enterprise he has gained his chief renown. The space of this article will hardly permit a bare mention, much less a detailed account of his indefatigable labors for many years in its behalf. One incident, however, out of very many, may be mentioned, which will give a slight idea of the persistence and energy required to carry this enterprise forward. After several years of preliminary work and advances made by the syndicate, as the contract with Messrs. Jay Cooke & Co. was under consideration for negotiating the bonds of the company, Mr. Cooke required that his own engineers and men should first examine the country through which the road was to be built before he would sign the contract, and if their report was favorable he would execute it. Mr. Canfield was selected by the directors of the Northern Pacific Railroad Co. to conduct Mr. Cooke's party from the Pacific coast east and to show them a practicable route for a railroad. He met them at Salt Lake City June 9, 1869, took them to Sacramento by rail, thence by stage nine hundred miles to Olympia, Washington Ter. After exploring the bays and harbors of Puget Sound he returned to Portland, ascended the Columbia river to Walla Walla, then the end of settlements. Here he fitted out a pack train of fourteen horses for a trip across the mountains to Helena, Mont., five hundred miles on horseback, having to carry on the backs of the horses all the provisions for the whole trip from Walla Walla through the Indian Territory, where there were no roads or settlers, his party lying on the ground at night without a tent or other covering except a blanket. From Helena he came on to the Yellowstone river, where Livingstone now is, one thousand miles east from Puget Sound, which was about as far as Sitting Bull, then in command of that country, would allow him to come.

In this trip he had to cross the two main ranges of the Rocky Mountains several times back and forth to examine different passes in order to satisfy Mr. Cooke's engineers that a line across them was feasible. Once he encountered an Indian outbreak, having nearly all his horses stolen by the Indians, and had this occurred at an earlier stage of the journey the party might all have perished for want of food and transportation. After being gone four months and traveling about eight thousand miles, Mr. Canfield was able to show to the entire satisfaction of the engineers a practicable route, and, their report to Mr. Cooke being favorable, he executed the contract for negotiating $100, 000, 000 of the bonds of the company, and the work of construction at last commenced.

It is not a little remarkable that the route shown by Mr. Canfield was after subsequent instrumental surveys adopted by the company, and from the cars now on their course from Livingstone to the coast can be seen more or less of the way the identical trail of Mr. Canfield and his party, and it is difficult now to believe that such a trip could have been made by him under such circumstances, most of the way on horseback, requiring about sixty days, which is now made in luxurious sleeping and dining cars in less than sixty hours.

Notwithstanding the apparently insurmountable obstacles which presented themselves in the course of the long and bitter struggle to effect this object, the fact that it twice almost lost its charter, which was mainly saved by the active vigilance of Mr. Canfield, the discouraging opposition of the rival lines, and the physical obstructions of the country through which the railroad was built, triumphant success finally crowned his efforts and those of his fellow-workers and the road was completed.

How much this enterprise has accomplished for the rapid and extensive development of the whole country through which it passes, an empire in itself, and which is to become an important factor in the government, is a matter of history, and the personal adventures of Mr. Canfield on the frontier, through Indian Territory with its savage inhabitants, and the exciting scenes of which he was a witness during the construction of the line would alone fill a large and very interesting volume.

Notwithstanding all the discouragements of the early days of the Northern Pacific and the hostility of Congress to its applications for aid, amid all the financial panics and storms, Mr. Canfield has always maintained the same abiding faith in this magnificent undertaking, and he still believes that being the only company which has a charter from Congress for a continuous line from water to water it will become the great transcontinental route across the continent to Europe, not only for the products of farm, forest, and mines along its border, but for the trade of Japan, China and the Indies. In fact, it will become the world's highway, over which will pass the travel and business of the most enlightened and civilized portions of the globe.

In view of the great diversity of productions of this country and those of the Central American states and the Dominion of Canada, the commercial relations between them and the United States must be constantly growing stronger and stronger until their interests shall be separated by no transatlantic influence. Mr. Canfield believes that within a half century there will be but one English-speaking nation in North America, and that under a republican form of government, extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic ocean; a nation over which will float but one flag, that of the stars and stripes of the United States; one republic, whose free and enlightened institutions will confer upon hundreds of millions of people all the benefits of the highest and most enlightened civilization and be the controlling power among the nations of the earth.

Since his retirement from the company he has devoted more or less time to the supervision of his large farm at Lake Park, Minn. He has now been engaged in active business for fifty-three years, during which period he has never taken a day specially for recreation or pleasure, but has found his enjoyment in the work in which he has been engaged, believing thereby he has been the source of some good to his fellow-men and to his country.

Although of a slender frame and fragile constitution, he is yet apparently as active and moves with the same elastic step as twenty years ago. He is a good judge of human nature, enabling him to be an excellent organizer and manager of men, quick in observation, clear in judgment, and rapid in execution. Modest in his pretensions, he is ever ready to give to others the credit of any good work, although he may have been mainly instrumental in bringing it about. Having been engaged most of his life in work of a public character and connected with many great enterprises, he has an extended knowledge of the whole country, broad and comprehensive ideas as to its capacity and resources, and entertains the most sanguine views as to its future greatness and power. When once enlisted in any scheme which commands his approbation he is very persistent and persevering until it is accomplished, no matter how difficult it may be or how serious the obstacles to be overcome. The idea of defeat never enters into his calculations. He is generous almost to a fault, a true and firm friend to those who gain his confidence, and many are the men in prominent positions in different parts of the country who are indebted for them to his early aid and assistance.

At different times he has been actively engaged in political matters, but always refusing to accept office of any kind. Arriving at his majority when the old Whig party was prominent, his first vote was cast for its nominees, and he continued identified with it until it was succeeded by the Republican party, to which he has since belonged. He understands thoroughly all the great political issues, as well as the great commercial, which involve the business and prosperity of these United States. Few men have had a more extensive acquaintance and knowledge in the last two generations of the prominent men of the nation, whether in politics or business.

Mr. Canfield is an active member of the Protestant Episcopal church, having been born in the house occupied by his grandfather, Nathan Canfield, in Arlington, and who was the first lay delegate to the first convention of the diocese of Vermont, organized at Arlington, 1790. His great-grandfather on his mother's side, Capt. Jehiel Hawley, officiated as lay reader and maintained the service of the church from 1764, which was the first service of the Episcopal church in Vermont, being before there was any clergyman there. These two men built the first church in Vermont and in that church Thomas H. Canfield was baptized by old "Priest" Bronson seventy years ago. He has attended every convention of the diocese of Vermont for forty-one years, during thirty-one of which he has been the secretary of the organization. He was one of the original incorporators and trustees of the Vermont Episcopal Institute at Burlington, chartered in 1854, and for twenty-eight years has had charge of the funds of the establishment. He was mainly instrumental in the erection of Bishop Hopkins Hall for the purpose of a church school for young ladies, and he has so ably managed the finances of this corporation that the diocese of Vermont now possesses this beautiful property of one hundred and fifty acres on the banks of Lake Champlain, upon which is an Episcopal residence, a large gothic stone building for the theological department and boys' school, with another of equal dimensions and materials for the use of the young ladies, both in successful operation and not a dollar of debt outstanding nor any lien of any kind on the property.

Mr. Canfield was a potential factor in raising the funds for building Trinity Chapel, Winooski, and the Episcopal church at Brainerd, Minn., and he also furnished the site for churches at Moorhead, and Lake Park, Minn.; Bismarck, N. D., and Kalama, Wash. He has represented the diocese of Vermont in the general conventions of the church in the United States, held in Philadelphia in 1856, in Richmond, Va., in 1859; in New York in 1874, in Boston in 1877, and in Chicago in 1886.

Few men have had a more busy life, which from present indications is likely to continue in the same way to the end, and he probably will, as he says he expects to do, "die in the harness." In conclusion it may be truly said what the late Rev. Dr. Wickham of Manchester so beautifully expressed: "If Burlington can boast of her Edmunds, the leader of the United States Senate, and of Phelps, the eminent jurist and distinguished representative at the Court of St. James, she has not another citizen that has honored her more than Thomas H. Canfield."

Source: Jacob G. Ullery, compiler, Men of Vermont: An Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters and Sons of Vermont, (Transcript Publishing Company, Brattleboro, VT, 1894), Part II, pp. 58.

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