THOMAS SMITH MOTT.
Among the names of men who have contributed in a large degree to the growth and prosperity of Oswego, none stands out with more prominence or with a brighter lustre than that of Thomas S. Mott. In many respects his career was a remarkable one; in some respects it was astonishing. From the smallest of beginnings and by the sheer force of his natural and acquired qualifications, he rose to a position of opulencee and power; and when it is understood that during about one-third of his comparatively short life, and during its period of greatest activity and heaviest responsibility, he was almost wholly deprived of sight, his career becomes more than remarkable and teaches lessons of fortitude, patience, energy, and uprightness that possess inestimable value to the living.
Thomas Smith Mott was born in Hamilton, Madison county, N.Y., on December 15, 1826. His father, Smith Mott, was a native of Bridgewater, Oneida County, N. Y., whence he removed to Hamilton in 1826 and there became a prominent and influential merchant. He married Lucinda Rattoone of Lansingburg, N. Y., born in September 1806 and died in February 1827. She was a descendant of an old and honorable family of that place.
The ancestry of the family on the mother's side is traceable to Maj. Thomas Brown, a Revolutionary officer, who was great-grandfather of the subject. On the male side the family was of Quaker origin.
Thomas S. Mott was enabled to acquire a good business education in the then famous Nine Partners Quaker Boarding School at Washington, Dutchess county, N.Y., and in the Hamilton Academy. He inherited from his father the characteristics that prompted him to engage in business pursuits and made him successful therein. Leaving school he entered his father's store as clerk and there laid the foundation of a broad knowledge of business principles, strict devotion to his duties and thorough-going, industrious habits, which characterized his after life. In 1847 at the age of twenty years, he engaged in mercantile trade on his own account in Hamilton and was unusually successful. In the days of Oswego's brightest commercial prospects, desiring to enter a broader field of operations, he removed hither in 1851 and engaged actively in general mercantile and shipping business. Well equipped with a knowledge of correct and honorable business methods and the ability to judge accurately of men and their motives, and with a character already standing upon the solid foundation of integrity and fairness to all with whom he came in contact, he soon became a leader in the business life of his adopted city. During the twenty years succeeding his arrival in Oswego the city saw her greatest commercial prosperity. Grain came down from the West in immense quantities the wheels of scores of great mills turned ceaselessly and the harbor was white with the sails of outgoing and incoming vessels. In the buying and shipping of grain and other commodities, Mr. Mott assumed a leading position and ere long gained the distinction of handling more grain than any other person in the city. The building of vessels for the growing commerce was also a great industry and he early turned his energies in that direction. Vessel after vessel was built by him; Bermuda, Bahama,Thos. S. Mott, Henry Fitzhugh, J. Ee Gilmore, Norwegian, Jamaica, Florida, Nevada, John T. Mott, Havana, Nassau, Atlanta, and the Pulaski followed each other from the stocks in rapid succession. He also purchased the S. J. Holley, the S.H, Lathrop, the Ostrich, and the James Navagh, altogether constituting one of the largest and finest fleets on the great lakes, and giving him a reputation that extended from tide water to the Rocky Mountains.
While carrying forward these extensive operations, Mr. Mott never lost sight of the material welfare of Oswego, and every measure that promised advantage to the city received his hearty and efficient cooperation or financial support. The First National Bank was organized in 1864; a year after he became its chief stockholder and its president, a position which he held until death, giving him the record of having been longer president of a bank than any other man who lived in Oswego. This bank was conducted not alone for his own personal gain, but upon those principles of liberality towards the business public which have ever characterized its operations. So, also, when further development of the water works system of Oswego became desirable, he assumed an active interest in the work, purchased a majority of the stock and was made president in 1883. He continued to devote his time and energy to the improvement of the system and the old and inadequate facilities for extinguishing fires, the conditions of which had cost Oswego so dearly, were soon superseded under his energetic direction by extension of larger mains and new and more effective machinery which gave the community the present unsurpassed water supply.
Besides his business connections thus briefly described, Mr. Mott was a liberal investor in other industries and manufactories of the city. Next to Mr. Kingsford, he was the largest local owner of Starch Factory Stock and other industries depended more or less upon his means and his wise counsel for their prosperity. Nor was he less solicitous for the educational and moral welfare of the community. He was several years a member of the Local Board of the Oswego Normal School and showed a deep interest in the promotion of other educational facilities of the city. He was a regular attendant of Christ Episcopal Church, which often benefited by his generosity.
That beneficent institution the Oswego City Hospital found in Mr. Mott its most generous supporter. He donated the lot upon which the building was erected and afterwards contributed most generously to its support.
In early life Mr. Mott was a Democrat in politics, but after the formation of the Republican party, he became one of its leading members in Northern New York. During the period of the nation's peril in civil war the government received from him the most loyal support in time, energy and means, and the heroic men who fought the battles of the Union found in him a practical sympathizer and a generous friend. He was a personal friend of General Grant and an intimate friend and admirer of Roscoe Conkling. When this great leader was in adversity, no man gave him more unqualified fealty than Mr. Mott. It was inevitable that a man possessed of Mr. Mott's characteristics--his aggressiveness against all wrong and corruption, his power to control men and influence them towards his own political views, his broad knowledge of current events-- should become a leader in local politics as far as he would consent to assume such an attitude. His influence became powerful in this field and was freely exerted for the advancement of those whom he believed to be worthy--never for his own. His unyielding integrity was carried into politics as it was into his business relations, and the masses as well, as politicians had confidence in him. If he gave a man his promise to aid him to political preferment, that man knew what to expect and usually attained his desired object. Never accepting office himself, he efficiently performed the duties of good citizenship, the general good his only incentive.
More than thirty years prior to his death, Mr. Mott's sight began to fail and during twenty years of his active life, he was practically blind. Such an affliction would have caused many to abandon all business and give way to despondency; but he was made of sterner stuff, and until the last continued to carry on his business operations and to wield his influence in the political field, when he could distinguish those with whom he came in immediate contact by their voices only. This fact indicates one of the most prominent traits in his character--indomitable will and determination never to submit to adverse circumstances. He was, however, hopeful and saw the brightest side of life; otherwise he must surely have faltered under his great deprivation. Hence his career in his later years furnished a remarkable example of persistence in the activities of life under an affliction that would have appalled most men.
Socially, Mr. Mott was amiable, courteous, serene in temperament and a thoroughly democratic American. To him it mattered little what was a man's station in life if he was honest and upright. Weakness he might tolerate and often he aided in raising such to a higher level; but the deliberate wrong-doer found little consideration at his hands. The aspiring young man of business, the lowly and the suffering, found his door always open and his heart responsive. No one knows or ever will know the innumerable occasions where his generous bounties were tendered to the needy and it is not, therefore, remarkable that his death left a void not easily filled.
In July 1847, Mr. Mott was married to Miss Sarah De Wolf, sister of Delos De Wolf, a former prominent citizen of Oswego and a local leader in the Democratic party. They had three children--Col. John T. Mott of Oswego; Mrs. Ward, wife of Mr. Thomas Ward of the U.S. Army, and Elliott B. Mott of Oswego.
Mr. Mott's death took place on September 13, 1891, at his home in Oswego. His useful and honorable life was memorialized in resolutions of respect and esteem by the various organizations and institutions with which he was connected; among them the First National Bank of Oswego, the Oswego Water Works Company, the Local Board of the Normal School at Oswego, the Oswego Gaslight Company, the vestry of Christ Church and the Oswego City Hospital.
Source: Churchill, John C. Landmarks of Oswego County, New York. Syracuse, N. Y.: D. Mason & Company, Publishers, 1895, pp. 861-864.
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