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AMONG the noted men of Albany, whose usefulness and whose generosity will always be held in high esteem by our citizens irrespective of party, is John Battersby, the present republican county treasurer of Albany. Born on the 19th of January 1834, in the town of Dromore, Ireland, he passed his earliest youth with his parents on the shores of the Emerald Isle, playing and working on the green fields, breathing the invigorating air of that healthful climate, and laying the foundation of a sound, vigorous constitution. John was the pride of his parents, who took the greatest delight in instructing him in right paths, so that in after years he might rise up and call them blessed. The father of John Battersby was in many respects a remarkable man; his chief characteristics being a provident, industrious nature, strict integrity, with a soul sensibly touched with the struggles of humanity and the sufferings of the poor. With a view to bettering his own condition and that of his young family he emigrated to America in the year 1847. On reaching New York and looking over the map of the country, to select a suitable location for carrying on his business – that of conducting a fine meat market – he decided on Albany, and sailing up the Hudson he landed at this city where he was to make a life-long residence. He was much pleased with the place and saw at a glance that there was a good opening for starting a business with which he was well acquainted and in which financial success was only a question of time. On reaching Albany with his parents, John was about thirteen years of age – a strong, young lad, with his physical education well developed – and here he attended the public schools for about two years, preparing himself not for a classical or collegiate course, but acquiring a general knowledge of the English branches of literature such as would fit him for carrying on the practical business of every day life. Being an apt, industrious student he made rapid progress in his studies during those two well-spent years.
His father, having started business on the corner of Canal and Chapel streets, required the services of a clerk, and young John was taken in and given a chance of reducing to practice his knowledge of arithmetic and bookkeeping. The experiment was successful. The business was continued at this stand about a year, when, on looking around for a more central location, Mr. Battersby purchased of Charles Snowden the building on the north-east corner of Clinton avenue and North Pearl street. John Battersby then went into business with his father as a partner. And during the eleven years they remained on that corner they built up a large business, which continued to increase from year to year. In 1859, the elder Battersby bought the opposite corner now occupied by his son John. It is an admirable location, attractive, central, and surrounded by the homes of some of the most substantial residents of Albany.
It is not surprising that from the first this venture was a great success when the sterling, active qualities of both father and son were engaged in it. Here they soon did the largest retail business in fine meats of all kinds of any similar establishment in the state. Keeping a great variety of choice meats, Battersby’s market soon attracted the custom of many of the best citizens of Albany, maintaining its reputation in increasing strength to the present time. It was greatly due to the enterprise, activity and carefulness of John Battersby that so large a trade was built up and maintained unimpaired. He remained with his father in the business till the old man’s death in 1880, at the age of seventy-nine. His departure was greatly missed and lamented, especially by the poor, among whom he freely distributed a great deal of meat, rejoicing many a poor widow or orphan, or those who were sick or out of work. In this respect his son inherits some of his father’s most striking qualities; and it will never be known to how many of the worthy poor he has afforded much needed relief to the sufferings of the “inner man.” During the terrible blizzard of March, 1888, he sent out his baskets of meat, without money and without price, to those who, he thought, might be in need of the necessaries of life, setting an example which many of our wealthiest men would do well to imitate.
After his father’s death, John Battersby took entire charge of the business, and he still conducts it at the old stand known to every Albanian. His trade is also said to be very large outside the city.
It was not long before his fellow-citizens sought to honor Mr. Battersby by the bestowment of political trusts. He entered the arena of politics as a republican. He first ran for alderman in the twelfth ward, which is largely democratic, and received a flattering vote. He next ran for* member of assembly in the third assembly district, a democratic district which gives about 3,000 majority. But true merit must be rewarded in due time, and so it came to Mr. Battersby. In the fall of 1884 he was nominated for the office of county treasurer of Albany County, and was elected by a majority of 108 over one of the most popular men in the Democratic Party, Albert Gallup. An attempt was apprehended to count him out, but his honorable opponent, and also the candidate for coroner, came out in a joint letter, gracefully admitting that he was honestly elected, and so the clouds rolled by, and the political storms abated. During that exciting canvass the word “honest” was placed before his name by his many admirers – a word whose full meaning he has nobly exemplified in all his public, official acts. After entering upon the duties of his office he endeavored to put it in the most efficient working order; and so successful was he in this attempt – carefully and faithfully looking after the best interests of the county – that after a term of three years his party re-nominated him for the same office in the autumn of 1887. After another stirring canvass he was re-elected by a majority of 846. His present term of office will expire on the 31st of December, 1890, He is also ex-officio one of the three commissioners of the Albany penitentiary, and has taken a deep interest in the proper management of the institution, in furnishing books for the use of the inmates and in other humane acts pertaining to the amelioration of the condition of the prisoners.
Early in the summer of 1888 Mr. Battersby crossed the Atlantic and paid brief visits to his native town, and other places of interest in Ireland, England and Scotland. He had a most enjoyable time on the other side of the water and received many flattering attentions, especially from the warm-hearted Irish and Scotch. He enjoyed the hospitality of the mayor of Dublin and the arch-bishop of Armagh; and while in Scotland, met with a genuine Highland reception. He was much impressed with the natural attractions: of Armagh, while Belfast appeared to him more like an American city than any other he had visited. Not withstanding all he saw abroad he returned home with still greater love for American institutions and a deeper sympathy for Irish patriots struggling against British oppression, and with a higher appreciation of Tom Moore’s lines -
“And though slavery’s cloud o’er thy morning hath hung.
The full moon of freedom shall beam round thee yet.”
Amidst all his active duties of life and his daily public responsibilities Mr. Battersby is a great lover of good books and the fine arts; and his pleasant residence on Broadway is adorned with quite a number of choice and valuable oil paintings, engravings and statuary, while his library contains a select number of standard volumes, some of which are handsomely illustrated. Unassuming in his manners, genial in his disposition, social in his nature, with the strictest integrity in his public and private acts, he well illustrates the words of the poet:
“An honest man’s the noblest work of God.”