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William Henry Swift
 William Henry Swift, 1580-1899.

From American Series of Popular Biographies. Massachusetts Edition. This Volume Contains Biographical Sketches of Representative Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Boston: Graves & Steinbarger, 1891.

WILLIAM HENRY SWIFT, for many years identified with the manufacturing and mercantile interests of Boston, was born in this city, on Charter Street, November 9, 1850, and died at his home in Dorchester, May 21, 1899. He was a son of John James Swift and a descendant of the ninth generation from the immigrant ancestor, Thomas Swift, who was born in Rotherham, Yorkshire, England, and came to the Massachusetts Colony probably in 1634, as he took the freeman's oath at Dorchester in 1635. The line was: Thomas, Obadiah, Obadiah, James, James, Jr., Henry, Henry, Jr., John, James, William Henry.

Obadiah Swift, a blacksmith by trade, was born in Dorchester, Mass., July 16, 1638, and died December 27, 1690. On March 15, 1660, he married Rest Atherton, who was born in 1639, a daughter of General Humphrey Atherton. Obadiah Swift, Jr., also a blacksmith, was born in Dorchester, November 28, 1670, and died January 20, 1747. He married December 31, 1695, Abigail Blake, whose death occurred March 19, 1737-8. James Swift, a lifelong resident of Dorchester, was born November 1, 1696. On April 9, 1718, he married Silence, daughter of Sherebiah and Silence Butt.

James Swift, Jr., born June 21, 1719, followed the trade of shipwright in Boston, where on February 14, 1741-2, he was admitted to the New North Church. He married on June 11, 1741, Mary Mayer. Henry Swift, born in Boston, June 22, 1746, was also a shipwright. He married Mary Richardson, and settled on Hull Street. Henry Swift, Jr., was born in Boston, September 7, 1768, and died in this city April 3, 1808. A resident of the North End, he was for many years engaged in the bakery business at the corner of Charter and Unity Streets. On November 18, 1790, he married Agnes McKean, who was born January 13, 1766. She was a daughter of William McKean and a sister of Professor Joseph McKean, of Harvard College.

John James Swift, son of Henry and Agnes, was born in Boston, April 16, 1805. He died at his residence on Charter Street, October 23, 1872. Commencing his mercantile career as a clerk for the firm of Bradshaw & Parker on Long Wharf in 1823, he soon afterward embarked in business on his own account, from 1829 until 1840 being junior member of the firm of Parker & Swift, and from that time until 1844 at the head of the firm of J.J. Swift & Co. As a merchant he was successful, and accumulated a fortune, retiring from active business at a comparatively early age. A man of great enterprise and energy, he manifested lively interest in the extension of the railway system of our country, and in 1854 was elected a director of the Fitchburg Railroad Company, of which he was chosen president on February 8, 1855. In 1864, on August 17, he voluntarily resigned this position; but during the remainder of his life was consulted by the management in regard to all matters of importance. In 1865 and 1866 he was an earnest advocate of the establishment of the National Steamship Company, for which two vessels, the "Erie" and "Ontario," were built. Owing, however, to the unstable condition of the times and to the lack of adequate support, the scheme was abandoned, and the pioneer ships were sold. In 1869 he became actively interested in a ship canal scheme, a project for uniting the St. Lawrence River and Lake Champlain, thereby facilitating trade by connecting the commerce of the Great Lakes with New England. Securing a charter from the Dominion Parliament, he kept it alive several years by subsequent legislation; but, Boston not becoming sufficiently appreciative to assist financially in its construction, this proposed internal improvement was necessarily given up. Mr. John J. Swift married Mary, daughter of Samuel Hichborn, of Boston. They had seven children; namely, Agnes McKean, Eliza T., Mary, Amy, William Henry, Frances, and Lillian Alice.

William Henry Swift was the only son of his parents. After completing his education in the English High School, Boston, he entered the employ of Fearing, Thatcher & Co., remaining with them a few years. In 1873 he embarked in the chemical business on his own account, establishing a factory in East Boston with salesroom on Pearl Street, Boston, and continued without change of location until his death, meeting with much success. In 1877 Mr. Swift married Miss Ina Agnes Pingree, who was born in Norway, Me., a daughter of John N. Pingree and grand-daughter of William Pingree, the representative of an early family of that locality. John N. Pingree was born in Norway, Me., August 14, 1831. He married June 7, 1855, Sarah A. Jose, of Bangor, Me. Mr. and Mrs. William H. Swift reared six children, namely: Chester H., born Mary 25, 1883; Marion born September 24, 1885; Harold Nelson, October 9, 1887; Edward Holbrook, February 10, 1889; John Harvey, April 20, 1891; and Henry McKean, October 12, 1895. Fraternally, Mr. Swift belonged to the Dry Salters' Club and to the Paint and Oil Club. He was also a member of the Masonic fraternity.


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Created: November 28, 2004   Modified: November 28, 2004