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and slept that night on Cambridge Common, after a forced march of thirty miles, and hot skirmishes with the retreating foe. From that time till the peace of '83 he was a soldier of the Revolution," and, with the exception of one or two brief visits to his family and friends at Groton, he was in actual service throughout the whole war. He rose to the rank of Major, and for a considerable period was attached to General Sullivan's Staff, as adjutant, an office for which his powerful lungs and sonorous voice, which could be heard throughout a long line of troops, peculiarly fitted him. He was in many of the severest battles of the Revolution. At Bunker Hill, where he was slightly wounded, his coat and hat were pierced with the balls of the enemy, and were preserved in the family for many years. At one time he commanded a company whose rank and file were all negroes, of whose courage, military discipline, and fidelity, he always spoke with respect. On one occasion, being out reconnoitering with this company, he got so far in advance of his command, that he was surrounded, and on the point of being made prisoner by the enemy. The "colored boys" soon discovered his peril, rushed to his rescue, and fought with the most determined bravery, till that rescue was effectually secured. He never forgot this circumstance, and ever after took especial pains to show kindness and hospitality to any individual of the colored race," who came near his dwelling.
Mr. Lawrence was married during the war, in the year 1777, to Susanna Parker, and while the marriage ceremony was in progress, the tolling of the bell summoned the minute men to assemble at the church for instant service. The moment the rite was concluded, he parted from his bride and friends and hastened to Rhode Island. was permitted to return, however, on a brief furlough of two or three days, at the expiration of which he entered again upon active service, from which he had no respite till late in the autumn of 1778, when he visited Groton, rejoicing to find himself a father as well as a husband.
At the close of the war, Major Lawrence settled in Groton, on a beautiful farm on the outskirts of the village, where he passed the remainder of his life, honored and esteemed by his townsmen, who gladly elected him to such offices and honors as he was willing to accept. A man of strong sense, of clear judgment, of stern integrity, of ardent patriotism, and devout piety, his influence was felt, his energies exerted in everything that concerned the social, moral, and religious improvement of the town. He was deacon of the First Congregational church in Groton for more than forty years. He was one of the original founders, and for thirty-three years a Trustee of
intended to be a farmer; a strong constitution, robust health, and a vigorous physical frame, united with a natural love of agricultural pursuits, with which he had been familiar from his childhood, had their influence in producing this determination. But this physical strength was under the direction of an earnest, enthusiastic spirit, that might easily be led to task it beyond what it could bear; and it was so tasked. In the autumn of 1809, after three or four years of very hard work on the farm, his health failed, and there was so much danger that his strength and constitution would break down entirely, that it was thought best that he should relinquish for a season all laborious occupations, and leaving home, pass the winter quietly with his brother Amos, who had then recently established himself in business in Boston. He accordingly repaired to Boston in October, and during the winter remained with his brother more as a companion than a clerk or an apprentice; occasionally helping him, and doing so more and more as he became interested and competent, in the sale of goods at the store, and in making purchases at auctions.
When the spring opened he found himself much improved in health, but not strong enough to resume the severe labors that would devolve upon him in the care and culture of his father's farm. He found also that the winter's experience had developed a tact and taste for commercial pursuits, and he determined to change his plan of life and become a merchant. He passed the remainder of the year, therefore, with his brother, adding to his experience and knowledge; and in 1810, commenced business for himself in a small store near that of his brother Amos, with no capital but his own energies and talent, and the credit which these could procure for him. The fact, that at twenty-six years of age, with only the limited experience of a few months in his brother's store, he passed at once from agricultural to commercial pursuits, and prosecuted the latter from the beginning with an uninterrupted and constantly widening success, is a sufficient evidence both of the energy of his character and the force and capacity of his intellect.
The incidents of his commercial life, are few and simple. He continued in business by himself, gradually enlarging his operations as his means increased, till 1822, when he formed a partnership with his brother Samuel, under the style of W. & S. Lawrence. This union of his own experience and judgment with the fresh energy and talent of his younger brother, made a strong commercial house, whose operations soon became extensive and prosperous. In 1825, W. & S. Lawrence, who had hitherto been chiefly importers, became
interested in domestic manufactures. It was through their agency and influence that the first incorporated company was formed, (the Middlesex Company,) at Lowell, for the manufacture of woolen goods. This enlargement of their operations required an addition to the strength and means of the firm, which was accordingly made. Mr. W. W. Stone became a partner of the house in 1826, and the business was transacted under the firm of W. & S. Lawrence & Stone. In connection with this firm, Mr. Lawrence continued in active business, principally domestic commission business, the manufacture and sale of American woolens, till 1842, when he retired with an ample fortune, partly acquired by his own industry and enterprise, and partly received as his wife's patrimony from her father, William Bordman of Boston, whose daughter Susan, Mr. Lawrence had married in 1813, and who still survives him, together with four children, one son and three daughters, all of whom are married.
In addition to the wise forethought and patriotic enterprise with which he and others encouraged the introduction of domestic manufactures, two events in his commercial career may be briefly noticed. In the movement made by Messrs. Greenough & Cotting, by which Cornhill, leading from Dock Square to Court Street, was opened, Mr. William Lawrence took an active and hearty interest, and was one of the first to occupy one of the stores in the lower part of the new street. This was at that time one of the most important enterprises, and a greater change affecting the convenience of intercourse in the heart of the city, than any that had been attempted. Mr. Lawrence was interested in it, through that feeling which prompted him always to encourage by his influence and means, every enterprise that promised to promote the prosperity and progress of the community.
But as a merchant and a business man, the most signal point in his career, that which proves his clear discernment, not only of the importance to all the interests of trade of an equalized circulating medium, but of the best method of producing such equality of value in the circulating medium of New England, and which entitles him therefore, to the gratitude of the merchants and business men of Boston and the New England States, was his persevering efforts to introduce what is now familiarly known as "the Suffolk Bank System." This Bank was chartered in 1818. Mr. Lawrence was a member of the Board of Directors from its organization up to the time of his death, a period of thirty years. It is not necessary that we should explain this "system" in detail. It is sufficient for us to say that the bills of every bank entering into it, are current at par value, at Boston,
and all over New England. If a trader in the country has a demand to meet in Boston, he can send or bring down the bills of the local bank in his neighborhood; the Boston merchant can receive them without discount, because he can immediately deposit them at the Suffolk Bank, and receive in return Suffolk Bank bills or specie. The effect is obvious, but the value and importance of the arrangement in facilitating all the exchanges of business, or the difficulty of introducing it, can only be justly appreciated by those who are old enough to remember the state of things that existed before it was introduced. Then the merchants and traders of Boston, (formerly the central market of the New England States more than now,) were in the habit of selling the bills of country banks to brokers at a discount which depended upon the distance of the bank from Boston, the difficulty of sending the bills for redemption to the towns where they were payable, a want of knowledge of their responsibility, and other like considerations. There was an inequality and irregularity in the currency, causing great embarrassments and delays in pecuniary transactions. These operated as a great restriction upon trade. To remove it was the object of the "system "introduced and carried to a successful issue by the Suffolk bank. The undertaking was a bold one, and indomitable energy and perseverance were necessary to success. It naturally met with opposition at first, from the sensitiveness of the several states in regard to their currency, and from the prejudices of the smaller and jealousy of the larger towns in the Commonwealth. The earnest advocacy of its friends and the practical working of the system as fast and as far as it prevailed, gradually overcame this opposition. The "system" now embraces all or nearly all the banks in the New England States, and gives to these states a sound and uniform currency, the comforts and advantages of which can not be too highly appreciated.
It is not intended to detract in the least, from the credit due to other early and earnest advocates of the system, (some of whom are still connected with the Suffolk bank, and take a deep interest in its prosperity and usefulness,) when we say that its success is to be attributed in no small degree, to the wise, various and persevering efforts of Mr. William Lawrence.
For these efforts, were there no other cause, he is entitled to the grateful remembrance of the mercantile community.
On retiring from active business in 1842, Mr. Lawrence turned with fresh relish to agricultural pursuits, and the old homestead, and the paternal acres at Groton, became objects of deep interest. He continued to reside in Boston, but the improvement of the farm at
Groton occupied much of his thought, and gave a zest and pleasHis health which had been fail
ure to the closing years of his life. ing for some time, broke down entirely in the autumn of 1847, and after a lingering illness of ten months, which he bore with Christian fortitude and resignation; he expired on the 14th of October,
As a citizen and merchant of Boston, Mr. Lawrence was always a cheerful and prominent contributor to every enterprise of Christian benevolence, and to any object that an enlightened patriotism and a broad and generous humanity approved. But in harmony with the purpose of this Journal, his claims as a benefactor to the cause of education, demand our particular attention. These claims are substantiated not simply by the munificence of his gifts to the Lawrence Academy, but also by the wisdom of the manner in which they were bestowed, and the good sense which marked the conditions annexed. The Groton Academy dates its origin from a joint stock organization formed for the purpose, on the 27th of April, 1793. Five pounds constituted a share of this stock. Three hundred and twenty-five pounds were raised by subscriptions, or shares taken by forty-four individuals, all of whom were inhabitants of Groton, except four, who were citizens of Pepperell. The town of Groton subscribed forty shares, on which, however, interest only was to be paid from year to year. Application was made to the General Court for an act of incorporation, which was granted, bearing date September 25th, 1793. Under this act, organization was duly effected, on the 17th of October, 1793, and fifteen persons chosen to constitute the Board of Trustees. In November of that the school openyear, ed, in the academy building which had been erected for the purpose, and which "stands yet on the same spot where it was originally placed, though at present it is not to be recognized in the pile of improvements which have been built up around it."
Thus small in its beginnings, and slender in its means, was this academy which is now one of the most flourishing and best endowed institutions of its class in New England. For some years the only resources of the school were the tuition fees of the pupils and the interest on the forty shares subscribed by the town of Groton. In 1797, on petition of the Trustees, the General Court made them a grant of one half a township of land in Maine, about eleven thousand five hundred and twenty acres, which was subsequently sold for fifty cents per acre. In 1825, the widow of James Brazer, Esq., one of the original subscribers to the joint stock for the establishment of the school, by her will, made the Trustees residuary legatees of one half