Thursday, February 27, 2014

Henry Bradford Nason: Foxboro Native, Forgotten Story

Henry Bradford Nason was born on June 22, 1831 in Foxborough, Massachusetts, the son of Elias and Susanna (Keith) Nason. His father, Elias Nason was born at Walpole, Massachusetts Dec. 24, 1768; died at Easthampton, Massachusetts on Oct. 2, 1853. Elias is remembered in Foxboro as one of the pioneer manufacturers of straw hats and in 1812 built one of the earliest cotton mills located at Cocasset Pond on Water Street. He served his town as Justice of the Peace and as Representative in the Massachusetts General Court. The family resided at 85 South Street.

In 1841, at the age of ten, Henry and family moved to North Bridgewater (now Brockton), Massachusetts, the native town of his mother who had died the previous year. By 1844 Nason was attending Adelphian Academy in North Bridgewater and in 1847 he entered Williams Seminary in Easthampton, Massachusetts. After graduating in 1851 he entered Amherst and upon graduation four years later, he sailed to Gottingen, Germany. There he received his Ph.D. in 1857, from Georgia Augusta University, a student of Friedrich Woehler. While there Nason studied Chemistry, Mineralogy and Geology and attending lectures in Physics and Botany.

Nason returned to Troy and married Frances Kellogg Townshend, daughter of the Honorable Martin Ingham Townshend, ex-Congressman, also of Troy, on September 7, 1864. They had two children Henry Townshend and Louise Kellogg (who died in infancy). Professor Nason began teaching at Raymond Collegiate Institute in Cornell, New York in 1857 and the following year was appointed professor of natural history. After holding simultaneous appointments at Beloit. College (Wisconsin) and RPI (1858-1866) he was appointed full professor at RPI and thereafter devoted his fulltime energies to teaching chemistry, mineralogy, and later geology until his retirement in 1894. He received three honorary degrees, an A.M. from Amherst, in 1864; an M.D. from Union University of New York in 1880, and an L.L.D. from Beloit College in 1880.

Nason became President of the American Chemical Society in 1890 and was also a member of other professional organizations such as the London Chemical Society, to which he was elected a fellow. While primarily a chemist, Nason was also interested in geology, and mineralogy. He took students on local geological field trips and travelled extensively in the United States and Europe for research purposes.


Aside from Nason's teaching and other scientific activities, Professor Nason, although not a Renssealer graduate, became a zealous member and leader of the Rensselaer community. He was the official historian of the Semi-Centennial Celebration in 1874, and served for many years, almost from its inception, as secretary of the Renssealer Alumni Association, passing on both his professional position and alumni post to his student, colleague, and successor, William Pitt Mason. In his Alumni Secretary's capacity, Nason was the tireless collector and compiler of the Biographical record of the Officers and Graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute published in 1887. To this day the publication is an invaluable record of early Rensselaer history.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Augustus H. Murray: Boston's First Commissioned African American fireman.

Augustus Henry Murray


The Boston Fire Department's first African American fireman, Augustus Henry Murray, was commissioned on May 21, 1897. A May 23, 1897 Boston Globe article titled, "Boston's First Colored Fireman" reported, "For the first time in the history of the fire department of Boston a colored man has been appointed." Murray was assigned to Engine 10, then located at the corner of Mt. Vernon and River Streets (now located at 125 Purchase Street, Downtown).

Murray was born in Charlestown on July 4, 1872. His parents were George and Eleanor Murray. His maternal grandparents were Dr. Henry Cummings, a well known African American botanical physician, and Harriet (Brooks).

The Globe described Murray as bright and athletic and that his commission was "a great surprise" to the members of the fire department and that the captain and men at Engine 10 "will do their best to make things pleasant for him at the station."  The article intimated that Murray's commission was probably due to the influence of Henry Sturgis Russell, Boston's fire commissioner at the time. Nineteen years earlier, as Boston's police commissioner, he appointed the first African American Boston policeman, Horatio J. Homer. Commissioner Russell was also a first cousin of Col. Robert Gould Shaw and several days after Murray’s commission, Colonel Shaw and the 54th Regiment's Memorial was dedicated on Boston Common. It was Memorial Day, May 31, 1897.

Murray, according to the Globe, was probably the "happiest colored man" in the city of Boston and that ever since he left school previous to his learning the machinist trade, "he was filled with the desire of joining the fire department...that the appointment was a complete surprise, but he always believed that if a colored man could successfully pass the required examinations his color would not be a bar to his getting into the department." Murray had twice passed the civil service examination but, according to the Globe, "the first time he certified he was not drawn owing to a mistake. But as he was determined to go upon the fire department force, he tried again and passed."
 
Engine 10 1895
The Globe reported that in several towns throughout Massachusetts, "there are colored men who are regular firemen. Cambridge has the record of appointing America's first African American regular fireman on a city fire department, Chief Engineer Patrick Henry Raymond. Among the large cities in the east, Boston has the record of having the first one. In Pittsburg there are four colored fireman and in Chicago there is a regular a company."

For reasons undiscovered to date, Augustus Henry Murray's dream of becoming a Boston fire fighter was not realized for long. Within two years after his appointment to Engine 10, the 1900 Federal Census, as well as his marriage certificate filed later that same year, listed his occupation as a machinist. Murray remained a machinist until his death on May 25, 1938. Interestingly, his obituary reported, "For several years he was connected with the Fire Department." Therefore, it is a proven fact of history that, regardless the short time of his commission, Augustus Henry Murray was the City of Boston's first commissioned African American fireman.

 
Engine 10 1895

Col. Henry Sturgis Russell 

Patrick Henry Raymond

54th Regiment Memorial

Photo Credits:

Engine 10 (1895) – Boston Fire Historical Society
Patrick Henry Raymond – Cambridge Archives
Col. Henry Sturgis Russell – Boston Fire Department Annual Report
Drawings – Boston Globe Articles