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William D. Swan
 William D. Swan

Worth: $50,000

The history of this individual is a striking illustration of the operation of mind, struggling to find its appropriate sphere of action. The son of a worthy mechanic, by whom he was early introduced to manly effort and with whom he worked, in the laborious occupation of a mason, till he was about twenty years of age. During this time, -- though for several years he filled the place of a master workman, and took the responsibility of a foreman, -- he had not neglected the culture of his mind and taste. At this period, he had formed no definite plan for his future course; but was determined to seek some different field for the exercise of his intellectual energies. He hit upon teaching, and pursued it with an ardor and perseverance, that soon gave undoubted evidence of his success; and after being employed for several years, in his native town and Charlestown, he was elected to a mastership in the Mayhew School, in Boston, where he remained, and enjoyed an almost unprecedented popularity, for fifteen years. But, in his mingling with the world he became satisfied, that the profession of teaching could not only not occupy all his powers and faculties, but that it had a manifest retrograde tendency by narrowing his views and deadening his aspirations; and he resigned his situation, much to the regret of the school committee and a great number of parents and pupils, to whom he had become endeared by his kindness and fidelity. On his leaving the school, he received from the members a splendid piece of plate, as a testimonial of affection and esteem. He immediately connected himself with what is now the firm of Jenks, Hickling & Swan, one of the largest publishing houses in Boston; and, judging from his past success, it is not hazarding much in predicting, that he will not only distinguish himself as a business man, but greatly increase his fortune. While engaged in teaching, he availed himself of his experience and compiled a series of school books, that have done him great credit as an author, and which are now used as text-books, to a considerable extent, in every State in the Union, and which have been the principal source of his wealth. Mr. Swan has not exclusively confined his attention to his own business; he has taken a lively interest in everything that pertains to public improvement, especially to the cause of education,. He has also been an active politician; and one that his fellow partizans have clung to, confided in, and relied upon, and whose opponents have watched with jealousy and anxiety. In his intercourse with society he is kind, generous, and liberal, to a fault. In fine, he is a remarkable man.


Dorchester section of

The Rich Men of Massachusetts: Containing a Statement of the Reputed Wealth of about Fifteen Hundred Persons, with Brief Sketches of More than One Thousand Characters. By A. Forbes and J.W. Greene. Boston: Published by W.V. Spencer, 1851.

This book purports to include the names of men who were "very wealthy," defined as a reputed net worth of at least $50,000.

The wealth of the 45 men listed for Dorchester ranges from $50,000 to $500,000 and is distributed as follows:

$50,000 15
$75,000 6
$100,000 14
$150,000 2
$200,000 6
$400,000 1
$500,000 1

The combined worth of all 45 totals $5,000,000

To get a sense of the meaning of this level of wealth, one could look at the life of Marshall P. Wilder on this website. His reputed worth as reported in this book was $100,000.

It is interesting that Dover, a town now considered wealthy, boasted not one entry in 1851, while Medway had one entry and Medfield two entries. Milton, a town next to Dorchester, had 10 men with a total net worth of $1,600,000. Cambridge had 37 men with a total worth of $5,200,000.

From the Introduction: Upon the announcement than an individual is in possession of a large fortune, we naturally inquire, "How did he come by it? Was it by inheritance, or marriage, or both? Or, was the present man of wealth once obliged to toil for his daily bread like the thousands who now marvel at his possessions? If his property came by his own exertions, what is the man? What are his strong traits of character? How did he manage? Did any one great circumstance, aside from his natural abilities, favor him? In what business did he grow rich? Has he done, or is he likely to do, much good in the world in consequence of his riches? These are the questions which naturally suggest themselves to us in reference to the wealthy of any place, and these are questions which we have attempted to answer in reference to a very large number of wealthy men in Massachusetts. Our leading object has been to furnish encouragement to the young, from the contemplation of success resulting from a s suitable combination of those sterling qualities, Perseverance, Energy, Carefulness, Economy, Integrity, Honesty. Another very prominent object with us has been, to excite in the minds of the wealthy, and of all who shall become such, greater attention to the importance of an enlarged system of Benevolence. ...

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Wiswall Blackman House
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Created: November 28, 2004   Modified: November 30, 2009