Biography of Henry Hill Couillard
HENRY HILL COUILLARD – A life of most stirring adventure was that of Mr. Couillard, remarkable, too, in that his experiences shared in succession with events of the Mexican War, the African slave trade, and with gold mining in California, eventually led to his later activities in the ownership of many hotels, and to his cattle raising and general farming business. In wanderings that were almost limitless at a time when sea rovers went upon desperate voyages, and when impressment in sordid and piratical servitude were not uncommon, Mr. Couillard throughout the early part of his career participated in a thrilling round of incidents, both by sea and land, such as might completely fill a book of adventure in recounting them. In hoteldom in New England his experiences were fully as eventful, and in varied but successful ownership of many hostelries he was one of the best known managers and proprietors in this part of the country; while as a farmer he proved as practical and capable in the cultivation and the direction of his agricultural and cattle raising interests. Within a lifetime few have shared so great a variety of incident and change; and withal few may have emerged therefrom as Mr. Couillard did, eventually crowned with honors and industrial success.
A son of John Grant and Annie (Dwinell) Couillard, Henry Hill Couillard was born May 1, 1828, in Exeter, Maine. When eight years old he was employed in a hotel, his work as a boy including selling rum and molasses when customers called for it, and in payment he received his food and very little clothing. A year later he began his ventures when he started afoot on his way to Minot, Maine, a distance of one hundred and five miles, and with a capital of ten cents. When he was eleven years of age he was employed by Thomas Joslyn in a tin-cart business, after which he went to Enfield, Massachusetts, where he was employed by Dr. Gray, a physician and surgeon. Later, he was located in Springfield, where he worked for Dr. Eli H. Patch, who for more than fifty years maintained a livery stable in that city.
With the breaking out of the War with Mexico, young Couillard became inspired with the adventurous spirit, and he enlisted in the Marine Corps at Charlestown Navy Yard, April 4, 1846. The fifty-four gun frigate on which the corps was placed left the harbor under sealed orders, and it was generally supposed that the destination was some Mexican port; but that was not the case. The orders of Commodore Reid sent the vessel to the west coast of Africa, and there she and other vessels cruised back and forth watching for ships loaded with negroes, and destined to become slaves in the Southern States, if they ever lived to reach there. From the coast of Africa the ship sailed for the Maderia Islands, to Gibraltar, thence to Naples, where the vessel was stationed three months, giving the marines an opportunity to study the old Roman city of Pompeii, buried by the Vesuvius eruption A. D. 79, the ascent of the volcano being made by Mr. Couillard. Other ports were visited, but after three years of service, the marines came home and landed at Norfolk Navy Yard.
Mr. Couillard was anxious to see his mother again, and he was likewise disappointed not to have had a chance to share in the Mexican War. He and another ship’s corporal, Ned Powers by name, made formal application to be discharged, but the application was denied. Thereupon they both deserted, climbed a plank to the top of the Navy Yard wall, jumped down on the other side in the night and got aboard a steamer. The next morning they were in Baltimore, Maryland, and a few hours later in Washington, District of Columbia, when they went direct to the office of the Secretary of the Navy, John Y. Mason, of Virginia. He gave a written order to the men and told them where to take it. What it was they did not know, but they realized later, when they reached the proper officer and were roundly censured for their courage in approaching Mr. Mason. Even with the order of the secretary, there was red tape to be overcome, but in due season a special discharge was granted both men.
Mr. Couillard came home, and after an experience in several cotton factories located at Ashfield, Massachusetts, began making matches by hand, but as he was able to sell but 24,000 for one dollar, it was not a specially profitable business. In 1855, he located at Shelburne Falls, but a little later he started for California, by way of Panama. It would require a small volume to relate the full story of Mr. Couillard’s career in California. He went to the northern mines, but failed to strike anything rich until he returned to San Francisco. He decided to return East, and when his friends asked him if he had dug gold in California, he told them he “dug for home at the first opportunity.”
Soon after Mr. Couillard’s return from California he became associated with the hotel business, and owned and operated more than twenty-five hotels in Winchester, Keene and Chesterfield Lake, New Hampshire; Eagle Bridge, New York; Sadawga Springs, Vermont; Shelburne Falls, Greenfield, Charlemont, Ashfield, Conway and Hoosac Tunnel, Massachusetts. He later purchased the Converse property in Greenfield, which he eventually sold to the Franklin County Public Hospital, and he donated to the hospital $5,000 of the purchase price. Afterwards, he was owner of the Nims or Lowe Farm, at Greenfield Meadows, said to be the most productive farm in Franklin County; but in later years he sold his farm property, and purchased the so-called Chapin place, at Old Deerfield, where he resided to the time of his death. He had always been a lover of good horses, and in his time had owned more than five thousand, many of them having been very fast. He had owned hundreds of cattle, and it is stated that; while he was living at Baptist Corner in Ashfield, he milked thirty cows one morning, and before night had sold or traded every one of them He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, and made substantial gifts to the organization.
Mr. Couillard married (first) Colton. He married (second) April 2, 1903, Harriet M. Smead, of Greenfield, a daughter of Charles Warren and Sarah Elizabeth (Scott) Smead, whose ancestors were of the first comers to Dorchester, Massachusetts, her line of descent being as follows:
(I) Widow Judith Smead, of Dorchester, 1636. She married (first) John Denwin (?), in 1620; (second), in 1634, Smead.
(II) William Smead, born in 1635, died before 1704; married Elizabeth Lawrence.
(III) Ebenezer Smead, born in 1675, died in 1753; married Esther Catlin.
(IV) Jonathan Smead, born in 1707, died in 1783; married Mehitable Nims.
(V) Lemuel Smead, born in 1739, was a Revolutionary soldier, died in 1812; married Sarah Nims, daughter of Thomas Nims, a Revolutionary soldier, and Esther (Martindale) Nims.
(VI) Thomas Smead, born in 1768, died in 1837; married Rebecca Hinsdale, daughter of Ariel Hinsdale, a Revolutionary soldier.
(VII) Warren Smead, born in 1815; married Abigail Graves Sage, daughter of George Rodney and Thankful (Graves) Sage; Thankful (Graves) Sage a daughter of Job Graves, a Revolutionary soldier.
(VIII) Charles Warren Smead was born in Greenfield, June 6, 1841, and died June 8, 1916. He was a prosperous farmer and livestock dealer, and a lifelong resident of Greenfield where he came in 1872, his farm being at Greenfield Meadows. He was a highly respected townsman, and was widely known for his sound judgment and his success in business. He married, December 25, 1866, Sarah Elizabeth Scott, of vernon, vermont, and they were the parents of: Mrs. Harriet M. Couillard, of Greenfield; and Mrs. James Neild, of Greenfield. Mr. Neild was the sixth child of Thomas and Anna (Rowlinson) Neild, both of English birth; he was born at Albion, New York, March 3, 1884, learned the trade of wool grading in England, and followed his trade at Jamestown and Utica, New York, and at Holyoke, Massachusetts, where he has continued since 1906. In 1917 he made his home at Greenfield, where he has a farm of ten acres, and where he is prominent in the social and religious life of the community.
Henry Hill Couillard died April 3, 1905, at Deerfield, Massachusetts, aged seventy-six years eleven months. A poor boy with no advantages, he rose to a degree of success that was remarkable and he held the admiration and respect of all who knew him.