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Biographical Review: Greene, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties, New York
John H. France

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[This information is from pp. 171-173 of Biographical Review Volume XXXIII: Containing Life Sketches of Leading Citizens of Greene, Schoharie and Schenectady Counties, New York (Boston: Biographical Review Publishing Company, 1899). It is in the collection of the Grems-Doolittle Library of the Schenectady County Historical Society at 920 BIO.]

John H. France, the representative of a pioneer family of Seward, Schoharie County, has a well-improved farm located on the road to the Seward Depot, about six miles from Cobleskill and two miles from the village of Hyndsville. He was born in Seward, March 30, 1834, and this town was also the birthplace of his father, Peter France — or Uncle Peter, as he was familiarly known.

Tracing the line back to the great-grandfather, we find a Revolutionary patriot, of whom and his family this story is told: While he was off at Schoharie defending the fort, his sons, Henry and John, who had remained at home, were taken prisoners. John was killed; but Henry, the grandfather of the subject of this sketch, fortunately escaped from his captors, and after lying in the woods for a day or two made his way home.

Henry France came to Seward in Colonial days, while yet a young man, and took up a tract of unbroken land in the depths of the forest. A few years later he removed to an adjoining farm, and was there engaged in agricultural pursuits until his death, at the age of fourscore and eight years. He united with the Lutheran church in early manhood, but was afterward an active member of the Methodist church. He was interested in the cause of temperance, and through his influence the use of liquor in the harvest field was abolished. His wife bore him fourteen children, one of whom is now living — Gilbert, a farmer in Seward.

Peter France spent his life of seventy-four years in Seward, receiving his education in the district school, and on the home farm acquiring a practical knowledge of agriculture. On leaving the parental roof he purchased land at Seward Valley, then known as Neeley Hollow, where he spent some years. Selling that he bought the estate on which his son, John H., now resides, and from that time until his death was prominently identified with the agricultural interests of this part of the town. Possessing a good fund of general information, and being a man of sound judgment, he was often called upon for counsel and advice, and his opinions were always respected. In politics he affiliated with the Democrats prior to the Rebellion, but after that time was a stanch Republican. Influential in local affairs, he served as Overseer of the Poor and as Highway Commissioner for several years. His wife, Elizabeth Diefendorf, was born at Frey's Bush, Montgomery County, N. Y., one of the twelve children of a pioneer farmer, John Diefendorf. Both parents united with the Methodist church when young, and as true Christians exemplified its teachings in their daily lives. Both were active in church work, the father being class leader of the Seward Valley church society for many years, and their hospitable home was ever open to the ministv of the circuit. They reared three children, as follows: John H., the subject of this sketch; Emeline, wife of Sylvester Rewland, of Morrisville, N. Y.; and Louisa. The latter, who died October 17, 1892, after many years of illness, was wife of the late Norman Ottman, a graduate of the Normal School. Mr. Ottman was for some years a teacher in Seward, and afterward was here engaged as a merchant until the breaking out of the Civil War. Enlisting then as a private in Colonel Ellsworth's regiment, the One Hundred and Forty-fourth New York Volunteer Infantry, he went bravely forth to serve his country, and was killed in battle.

John H. France received a good common school education, and till he was twenty-five years of age assisted his father in farming. Then taking the farm on shares, he carried it on successfully until the death of his father, when the whole estate of one hundred and twenty acres came into his possession. He has since continued in his chosen vocation, and besides harvesting excellent crops of hay and grain each season he has raised large quantities of hops, a staple product of this region. He keeps about fifteen Jersey and Durham cows, and makes a fine quality of butter, with which he supplies private customers in Troy and Albany. His farm is well equipped with modern machinery and implements for carrying on his work; and the buildings, which were nearly all erected by his father, are kept in fine repair.

Mr. France is a Republican in politics, and has served as Inspector of Elections in his town. He is a charter member of the local organization of Good Templars, and also of the Seward Grange, P. of H., in which he has held all the offices up to Master. In the former society he was for several years the Chaplain. One of the most active and influential members of the Methodist church, he materially assisted in building the new house of worship of this denomination, and in remodelling the old one at Seward Valley. He was the first child christened in the first frame church edifice erected in this part of the country, and having joined the church at the age of sixteen, he is now, with but few exceptions, the oldest member of this locality. He has been trustee and class leader, and was for a number of years chorister of the Methodist Episcopal choir, in which he and his children sang. Since a boy of fourteen he has been connected with the Sunday-school as pupil, teacher, or superintendent, having held the latter position three terms, and during the past five years has had charge of the ladies' Bible class.

Mr. France has been twice married. On June 12, 1855, was solemnized his union with Orpha Diefendorf. She was born in Seward, a daughter of George Diefendorf, and was one of fourteen children; namely, Susan, Sylvester, Jacob, Henrietta, Salina, Jane, Judson, Orpha, Sophronia, Peter, Abraham, Wealthy, Rensselaer, and Nancy. She died at the age of thirty-four years, leaving five children, of whom the following is a brief record: Clarence L., a skilful farmer and able business man of Cobleskill, married Allie Rose, and has three children — Anson, Grace, and Harry; Emory died at the age of four years; Welton, a farmer in Seward, married Clara Hevener, and has four children — Ezra, Sadie, Norman, and Hattie; Allie May, wife of Charles Sutphen, a farmer near Richmondville, has three children — John, Emma, and Orpha; Lizzie married Jacob Van Woert, a son of the Rev. Jacob Van Woert, formerly pastor of the Dutch Reformed church. Her husband, who for several years was an instructor in the Cobleskill High School, died at the age of twenty-five years, leaving her with two children — Dora D. and Jacob H. She now lives with her father.

On June 27, 1869, Mr. France married Mrs. Sarah Wigley, who was born at Fonda, Montgomery County, N. Y., a daughter of Frederick Dockstader, a farmer. By her first husband, Gilbert Wigley, she has one child, William Wigley, who is a fireman on the New York Central Railway. He married Ella Card, and has had three children — Willie, Bernice, and Byron, the last two being deceased.

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