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Biography of Henry Pearson Rolfe

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Henry Pearson Rolfe, a prominent lawyer of Concord, N.H., was born in Boscawen, this State, February 13, 1821. His parents were Benjamin and Margaret (Searles) Rolfe. Benjamin Rolfe, Sr., his paternal grandfather, was one of the early settlers of Boscawen, whither he came in 1769 all the way from Newbury, Mass., on horseback. His wife rode behind him on a pillion, and their housekeeping and personal necessaries were carried on the same horse, this being the ordinary method of travelling in those early Colonial times in New England. She returned alone through Chester, N.H., and left him in the forest to begin the pioneer work of clearing, planting, and building. The new home in Boscawen was soon established, and they there spent the remainder of their lives. The Rev. Jonathan Searles, Mr. Rolfe’s grandfather on the maternal side, was a graduate of Harvard College and the first minister ever settled in the town of Salisbury. He baptized Daniel Webster and his brothers and sisters. Margaret Searles, afterward Mrs. Rolfe, attended the district school with the future Statesman, and was his warm personal friend.

Benjamin Rolfe, the younger, was a man of versatile parts, and carried on the occupations of carpentering, pump-making, and farming. About the year 1840 he removed his residence from Boscawen to the town of Hill, N.H., where he purchased a farm and passed the remaining seventeen years of his life. He died at the age of eighty-four. By his wife, Margaret Searles, daughter of the clergyman mentioned above, he became the father of a family of three children; namely, Enoch S., Henry Pearson, Charles B. Henry Pearson Rolfe is the only one of the three now surviving. Charles B. Rolfe, his younger brother, caught the gold fever at the time of the discovery of the precious metal in California, went out to that State among the famous pioneers of 1849, and died there soon after arriving.

Henry P. Rolfe in his youth attended the district schools of Boscawen and the New Hampton Literary Institution, and then entered Dartmouth College, where he was graduated in the class of 1848. Immediately entering upon the study of the law in the office of Judge Fowler, of Concord, he was admitted to the Merrimack County bar in May, 1851, and continued in the active exercise of his chosen profession in Concord until some time in the year 1882, when he met with a painful carriage accident, in which he was badly kicked in the head by an unruly horse and sustained severe injuries to his back. This disaster brought on a severe attack of nervous prostration, which compelled him to relinquish the greater part of his large legal practice and from which he has never entirely recovered.

He married Mary Rebecca Sherburne, the daughter of Robert H. and Ruth (Kimball) Sherburne, of Concord. They have had a family of five children, of whom only two survive to-day; namely, Robert H. and George H. Robert H. Rolfe, the elder surviving son, married Grace Stearns, the daughter of ex-Governor Onslow Stearns, of New Hampshire, and has one child-Onslow S., born January 16, 1895. George H. Rolfe, the younger son, married Bertha O. Cawley, of Hill, N.H., and has one son-Hamilton Cawley, born December 6, 1894.

Mr. Henry P. Rolfe was an active Democrat in the exciting ante bellum times, and cast his first Presidential vote for General Lewis Cass in 1848. He served as a delegate to the Baltimore Democratic National Convention that nominated Stephen A. Douglas, “the little Giant,” for President of the United States; and he was himself nominated as an elector. In a public meeting held at Concord Mr. Rolfe introduced Senator Douglas to the people of New Hampshire in a speech that the latter characterized as “one of the happiest introductions” he had ever had. Upon the firing on Fort Sumter at Charleston, S.C., the first overt act of the Southerners that opened the Civil War, Mr. Rolfe left the Democratic party, and thenceforth and forever transferred his allegiance and political support to the Republicans. By his character and ability he has won the confidence and esteem of his fellow-citizens, who returned him as their chosen Representative to the New Hampshire legislature in the years 1853, 1863, and 1864. In 1854 he was elected a member of the Board of Education, and the ensuing year its President. In 1869 he was appointed by President Grant United States District Attorney for the district of New Hampshire, and he occupied the office five years. Mr. Rolfe has always been a man who practised the strictest temperance in all his personal habits, never having used tobacco or strong drink in the course of his life.

In religion he is an Episcopalian, and is a communicant of St. Paul’s Church in Concord. At one period of his life he was an active member of the old Dartmouth “Phalanx,” training on the right of the regiment and right of his company as the tallest man. He belongs to the fraternal organizations of the Temple of Honor and the United Order of Pilgrim Fathers, and was the first Governor of the first order of the latter lodge ever established in the State of New Hampshire. Mr. Rolfe was a sympathetic and active participant, Concord; and his enforced retirement from public affairs while still in the midst of his usefulness has occasioned much regret among his fellow-citizens.


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