Biography of Hon. John Wellington Nesmith of Denver, Colorado

Hon. John Wellington Nesmith. There is no concern of its kind which has become more prominently known throughout the state than the Colorado Iron Works Company, of Denver, which was established in 1860, and incorporated in 1876 and again in 1896. In January, 1879, Mr. Nesmith accepted the position of superintendent and continued in that capacity until 1886, when, he and his family having acquired the larger portion of the stock, he was made president and has since been in active management of the plant. At the time he became connected with the works, they were small and unimportant, and it is due almost wholly to his enterprise and judicious management that he has now one of the largest mining machinery factories in the west. The three hundred and fifty men employed at the works assist in the manufacture of copper, silver and lead smelting furnaces. The company has built most of the important smelters from Helena to the City of Mexico; they also build mills and manufacture works for the treatment of ores of precious metals. In 1881 the shops were destroyed by fire, but were rebuilt soon at the same place, Thirty-third and Wynkoop streets.

The Remolino Coffee and Sugar Company was established in 1893, with Mr. Nesmith as president, and his son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. F. L. McFarland, as associates in the enterprise. They own a coffee plantation situated south of the Gulf of Mexico, on the Coatzacoalcos River, on the Isthmus of Tehanntepec, state of Vera Cruz, Mexico. In addition to the management of the plantation, they operate, for general traffic, a steamboat on the river, the vessel being small, but as large as the exigencies of that traffic demand. Not only on account of his business interests there, but also because he is fond of travel, Mr. Nesmith has visited almost every point of interest in Mexico. Of late years he has taken up the study of the Spanish language, in which he has gained such proficiency as to construction and grammar that-he can read and write the language correctly and with facility.

From Parker’s history of Londonderry, N. H., page 290, we quote the following regarding the pedigree of the Naesmyth, Nasmyth or Nesmith family (for in these various ways the name has been spelled):

1:–“James Nesmith emigrated from River Bann, Londonderry, Ireland, to America, in 1718. He was one of the first sixteen settlers of Londonderry, N. H., a highly respectable member of the colony and an elder in the Presbyterian Church. He married, in Ireland, Elizabeth McKeen, and by her had children: Arthur, James, John, Thomas and Elizabeth.

“Arthur (1), who was born in Ireland, settled in Maine, and had children: James, John, Benjamin and Mary. This James (son of Arthur 1) served in the Revolution in the company commanded by Capt. George Reid; was at the battle of Bunker Hill; afterwards was promoted to captain and commanded a company in Canada; and also in Rhode Island under General Sullivan. He was frank and generous in disposition, dignified, and was distinguished for intrepidity, activity and muscular strength.

“James Nesmith (2), son of James (1), was also born in Ireland and was also in Captain Reid’s company as a Revolutionary soldier. He lived at Londonderry, and had children: James, who, married Martha McClure, and was an elder in the church; Jonathan, who married Eleanor Dickey and removed to Antrim in 1778 and was an elder in the church; Robert, who married Jane Anderson; and John, who married Elizabeth, sister of Gen. George Reid, and died at Londonderry in 1815, aged eighty-seven. John and Elizabeth left the following named children: James, who married Elizabeth Brewster, of Antrim; Arthur, who married May Duncan and moved to Ohio; John; and Thomas, born 1731, who married Annie Wilson, settled at Windham, near Londonderry, and had children.

“John Nesmith (3) was born November 26, 1766, at Londonderry, N. H. Lived on the homestead. Married February 28, 1797, Susan (Sukey) Hildreth, who was born at Londonderry, June 22, 1777; they left children: John Pinkerton, Isabella, Samuel Hildreth, James P., Mary, Thomas and Elizabeth.

“Samuel Hildreth Nesmith (1), born August 21, 1803, at Londonderry, N. H., married April 19, 1831, Priscilla Brown at Circleville, Ohio. The father died in August, 1876, and the mother July 10, 1851. They had children: John Wellington; James Browne, born February 5, 1837; and Ellen Mary, born August 20, 1840.

“John Wellington Nesmith, born January 4, 1834, near Chillicothe, Ohio, married October 30, 1856, Miss Elizabeth R. Dickson, of Pittsfield, Ill. Children: Isabel, born June 13, 1859, at Pittsfield, Ill.; Eleanor, born July 13, 1869, at Blackhawk, Colo. Eleanor Nesmith married February 26, 1890, Finlay Le Roy McFarland, of Denver; Isabel Nesmith married October 7, 1891, James Porter Evans, of Denver.”

Tracing the more remote lineage of the Nesmith family, we find that they were represented among the families going from Scotland to the Valley of the Bann, Ireland, in 1690. There James Nesmith was born in 1692 and from there he emigrated to America in 1718. As before stated, he was one of the sixteen original settlers of Londonderry, N. H. He was a signer of the memorial to Governor Shute, and was appointed elder of the West Parish Church on its organization in 1739. He died in 1767, aged seventy-five. His wife, Elizabeth, daughter of James and Janet (Cochran) McKeen was born in Ireland and died in New Hampshire in 1763, aged sixty-seven.

From the autobiography of Sir James Nasmyth we learn the following regarding the history and traditions of the Nasmyth or Nesmith family. He writes: “Sir Bernard Burke, in his ‘Peerage and Baronetage,’ gives a faithful account of the ancestors from which I am lineally descended. The family of Naesmyth, says Burke, is one of remote antiquity in Tweeddale, and has possessed large lands there since the thirteenth century. They fought in the wars of Bruce and Baliol, which ended in the independence of Scotland. The following is the family legend of the origin of the name of Naesmyth: In the troublous times which prevailed in Scotland before the union of the crowns, the feuds between the king and the barons were almost constant. In the reign of James III. the house of Douglas was the most prominent and ambitious. The earl not only resisted his liege lord, but entered into a combination with the king of England, from whom he received a pension. He was declared a rebel and his estates were confiscated. He determined to resist the royal power, and crossed the border with his followers. He was met by the Earl of Angus, the Maxwells, the Johnstons and the Scotts. In one of the engagements which ensued, the Douglas appeared to have gained the day, when an ancestor of the Naesmyths, who fought under the royal standard, took refuge in the smithy of a neighboring village. The smith offered him protection, disguised him as a hammerman, with a leather apron in front, and asked him to lend a hand at his work.

“While thus engaged a party of the Douglas partisans entered the smithy. They looked with suspicion on the disguised hammerman, who, in his agitation, struck a false blow with the sledge hammer, which broke the shaft in two. Upon this one of pursuers rushed at him, calling out, ‘Ye’re nae smyth.’ The stalwart hammerman turned upon his assailant, and wrenching a dagger from him, speedily overpowered him. The smith himself, armed with the big hammer, effectually aided in overpowering and driving out the Douglas men. A party of the royal forces made their appearance, when Naesmyth rallied them, led them against the rebels, and converted what had been a temporary defeat into a victory. A grant of lands was bestowed upon him for his service. His armorial bearings consisted of a head dexter with a dagger, between two broken hammer shafts, and there they remain to this day. The motto was, Non arte sed marte (Not by art but by war).”

The father of our subject, who removed front New Hampshire to Ohio about 1830, was a civil engineer on the Ohio canal, and later a contractor. In the fall of 1834 he removed to Pike County, Ill., settling near Pittsfield, where he was a pioneer farmer. About 1850 he moved to Barry, Ill., and engaged in merchandising, but later went to Canton, Mo., where he remained until his death at the age of over seventy. His first wife, Priscilla, who was born near Chillicothe, Ohio, was a daughter of White Brown, a native of Delaware, settling in Ohio about 1808 and dying upon a farm there. He owned many slaves at one time, but becoming convinced that slavery was wrong, he freed them, thus losing his fortune. Mrs. Nesmith died when our subject was fourteen years of age, leaving besides him a younger brother and sister, James B., later a civil engineer engaged on the Iron Mountain road at Cape Girardeau, Mo.; and Mrs. Ellen Burke, now of Kansas.

When a boy our subject learned the machinist’s trade in Pittsfield and followed it in St. Louis for a time; while there he was asked to come to Colorado and erect a mill in what is now Gilpin County, which he did, afterward running the mill for a year, but before the year expired the firm failed. It was in June, 1860, that he arrived in the mountains, after an ox-train journey of forty-two days, from Nebraska City via Fort Kearney to Nevada Gulch. In February, 1861, he came to Denver and entered a small machine shop and foundry owned by Langford & Co. In the fall of 1862 the shop was moved to Blackhawk, Gilpin County; in 1864 he was made superintendent of the shop and remained with the company until 1869, when he resigned to enter the milling business. Building a mill in Blackhawk, he had charge of it some two years. About 1874 he was locomotive engineer on construction of the Colorado Central Railroad, and when the line was completed into Blackhawk be became master mechanic. The next year he was made master of transportation, with headquarters at Golden. About 1876 he was made master mechanic of the Upper Division of the Kansas Pacific (now a part of the Union Pacific), including the lines from Denver to Wallace, Denver to Boulder, Kit Carson to Los Animas, and Denver to Cheyenne. In 1878 he was appointed by Governor Evans superintendent of the South Park Railroad, and continued in that position until January, 1879, when, the iron works having been moved back to Denver, he resigned to become superintendent of the plant.

In Pittsfield, Ill., Mr. Nesmith married Elizabeth, sister of Judge Dickson, of Leadville. They are the parents of two daughters. The family attend the First Congregational Church and take an interest in its welfare. Mr. Nesmith is a member of the chamber of commerce and board of trade. While in Illinois he was made a Mason, and was past master of Blackhawk Lodge No. 11, A. F. & A. M., but is now a member of Oriental Lodge No. 87, in Denver, also a member of the Royal Arch Chapter. He represented Gilpin County in the upper house of the territorial legislature, sessions of 1868 and 1870, during which time he was a stalwart supporter of the cause of woman’s suffrage.

For many years Mr. Nesmith has been a student of the physical sciences. He is an expert in the chemistry and metallurgy of the smelting of ores of the precious metals, as gold, silver, copper, lead, etc., and is a recognized authority on blast furnace construction and practice as adapted to such minerals. While in Blackhawk and vicinity, from 1868 to 1874, he practiced civil and mining engineering, in which he has few superiors to this day. He is a member of the National Association of Mining Engineers, also of the Denver Society of Civil Engineers and the Colorado Scientific Society, of Denver.

Associated with him in the Colorado Iron Works, Mr. Nesmith has a half-brother, S. H., who was born to the marriage of Samuel H. Nesmith and Caroline Rush, of Barry, Ill., and by that union there was a daughter born, Julie, who married William H. Drescher, and resides in Hannibal, Mo. In addition to Mr. Nesmith and his brother, the former’s daughter, Mrs. Isabel Evans, is connected with the company, being its secretary and treasurer, while John H. Morconi fills the position of superintendent.


Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.


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