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The descent of the Converse family, of Thompson, from Roger de Coigneries, one of the trusted chieftains of William the Conqueror, has been elsewhere given in this volume, and need not be repeated here.. The first member of the family to emigrate from England to America was Deacon Edward Convers, who settled in Woburn, Mass. His grandson, Samuel Convers, in 1710 removed to, Thompson parish, then Killingly, and became the progenitor of all branches of the family who bear the name, in Thompson. In the line of descent was Edward Convers, whose son Jonathan was the father of Deacon Jonathan Converse (the orthography of the name having been at this time changed), who resided in Thompson. His son, Elisha Converse, born in 1786, married, in 1807 Betsey, daughter of Deacon James Wheaton, of the same town. Their sons, James W. and Elisha Slade Converse, are the subjects of this biography.
James W. Converse was born in Thompson, Windham county, Conn., January 11th, 1808, and in early youth removed with his parents successively to Woodstock, in the same county, to Dover and Needham, Mass. In 1821, while yet a mere lad, he started for Boston, a poor boy, and there began an eventful, useful and very successful career. He obtained employment with his uncles, Joseph and Benjamin Converse, who afterward assisted him to begin business in the Boylston Market. In 1832 he formed a co-partnership with William Hardwick, for the purpose of conducting the boot, shoe and leather business in Boston. One year later he joined Isaac Field in the hide and leather trade. Later he became a partner of John Field, and the firm of Field & Converse ranked as one of the leading and most reliable concerns in this line of business, enjoying excellent credit during all the panics that occurred throughout a period of thirty-seven years. In 1870 Mr. Converse retired from business, and has since been absorbed in his railroad, banking, real estate and other commercial schemes. In 1836 he aided in the organization of the old Mechanics’ Bank of Boston, was made a director, and in 1847 its president, which office he held until January, 1888, when he retired, after having served the bank more than fifty years. Mr. Converse has for more than sixty years been an exemplary working member of the Baptist church, and for fifty years has served in various churches as deacon. He has been active in personal labors, liberal in charities and a perpetual inspiration to the Christian men around him. Mr. Converse married, September 5th, 1833, Emeline, daughter of Nathan Coolidge, of Boston. Their children are: James W. (deceased), Costello Coolidge and Emma Maria, wife of Isaac W. Chick, of Boston.
Elisha Slade Converse, the third son of Elisha and Betsey (Wheaton) Converse, was born in Needham, Mass., July 28th, 1820. When he was four years of age his parents removed to Woodstock, Conn. Spending his childhood there, under the wholesome restraint and kindly influences of New England rural life, he was trained in habits of industry and integrity, and in the essentials of an English education. In his thirteenth year he was sent to Boston, that he might have the advantage of its superior schools. He remained there until sixteen years of age, when he returned home.
During the next three years he learned the trade of a clothier, and when nineteen years old he engaged in that business on his own account in the village of Thompson, continuing there five years. In 1844 he again went to Boston, `where he made a change to the wholesale shoe and leather trade. The business was new to him, but he soon familiarized himself with its details, and during his connection with it the reputation and success of the firm became well established. In 1847 he removed his place of residence to Stoneham, Mass., and in 1849 to Mal den, where he has ever since resided. In 1853 he accepted the office of treasurer of the Malden Manufacturing Company. Early in 1855 this company’s corporate name was changed to that of the ” Boston Rubber Shoe Company,” when, by the earnest solicitation of the directors, he was induced to relinquish his previous business, and, in addition to the office of treasurer, to assume that of buying and selling agent. These offices he has held to the present time, and the direction and control of all operations, both at the factories and stores of this immense concern, have been unreservedly intrusted to his care. He is president of the First National Bank of Malden, president of the Boston Belting Company and of the Rubber Manufacturers’ Mutual Insurance Company, director of the Revere Rubber Company and of the Exchange National Bank of Boston, trustee of the Five Cent Savings Bank and a member of the board of trustees of Wellesley College. He has served the commonwealth two years (1878-79) in the house of representatives and two years (1880-81) in the senate. In 1882, when Malden had been incorporated as a city, he was, by universal acclaim, awarded the honor of serving as its first mayor.
Mr. Converse is a successful business man, active in thought, untiring in work and conservative in method. He was, on the 4th of September, 1843, married to Mary D. Edmunds, daughter of Captain Hosea and Ursula Edmunds, of Thompson. Their children are: Frank Eugene (deceased), Mary Ida (wife of Costello C. Converse), Harry Elisha and Frances Eugenia.
In all of Mr. Converse’s life history he has had a true helpmate in his wife. Her kind, sympathizing nature, her bountiful hospitality, her good judgment and her true womanly qualities have been to him of inestimable value. The names of Mr. and’ Mrs. Converse are inseparable in the history of Malden, and the mother’s love and woman’s generosity, no less than the father’s love and his public spirit, have made for themselves a name which will last long after they have passed to their reward
The church connections of Mr. Converse are with the First Baptist society of Malden. His private benefactions are as judiciously placed as his public bequests are wisely bestowed.
While he has done much for the public good in many ways, his greatest gift has been that of the Converse Memorial Building, in which the Malden Public Library has its home. This exquisite gift, which is one of the finest library buildings in the country, and which its talented designer, the late Henry H. Richardson, considered as one of his greatest works in many qualities, is in every way worthy of the noble uses to which it is dedicated. It was built by Mr. and Mrs. Converse as a memorial of their eldest son, whose tragic death caused a thrill of pity and sympathy throughout the community; and it is characteristic of the donors, who are ever one in good works, that their wish to preserve his memory bore the fruitage of a great public benefaction.
This building, when completed, was given to the trustees of the Malden Public Library, “for the benefit of the inhabitants of the city of Malden.” It is of brown sandstone from the Longmeadow quarries, and is in the Romanesque style, in which Mr. Richardson did so much noble and effective work. It is dependent upon form and proportion for its beauty, rather than upon exaggerated details and startling effects. Ornament it has, but its mouldings and graceful carvings were placed by the hand of an artist as if they grew from necessity in their places. There is nothing obtrusive in its features, nor is there a straining for effect; but it is picturesque in an eminent degree, and its picturesqueness, in all its parts, is a natural result of a perfect adaptability to structural necessity, and so fulfils a high artistic law.
Besides the library room and a large and convenient reading room, the building contains a noble room for an art gallery, which is filled with pictures which are valuable in themselves, and more valuable as a means of education and as promoters of public taste. Statues and pictures are in all parts of the building. In works of art Mr. and Mrs. Converse have been liberal givers, and their gifts in books for the library, and in funds for its improvement and maintenance have been unstinted and frequent. The memorial which they have raised will never decay, nor grow old, for it is a benefaction which has in it the spirit of eternal youth.