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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Thomas Alexander Sperry

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[This information is from Vol. IV, pp. 112-118 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Portrait of Thomas Alexander Sperry

Portrait: Thomas Alexander Sperry

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Thomas Alexander Sperry, production manager for the Elastic Spring Knit Corporation at Mohawk, manufacturers of the celebrated "Spring Knit" line of underwear and the Sperry sport coat, and a veteran of the World war with an active overseas record, has been identified with the manufacturing interests of Mohawk since the completion of his military service and during that time has become one of the recognized factors in the industrial and commercial life of that city, one of the most active of the younger men there engaged in business and manufacturing enterprises. He was born in Cranford, Union county, New Jersey, February 3, 1898, and is a son of the late Thomas Alexander and Kate (Major) Sperry, the latter of whom is now living in New York city. She was born in Centerville, St. Joseph county, Michigan, September 2, 1866, and is a daughter of John Stewart and Catherine Elizabeth (Yauney) Major, the latter of whom was born in St. Johnsville, Montgomery county, New York, November 23, 1840, a daughter of George and Catherine (Klock) Yauney. George Yauney was born in Ephratah, New York, May 13, 1813, and was a son of Henry and Elizabeth (Allen) Yauney, the latter of whom was born in Columbia county, New York, July 25, 1783, a daughter of Daniel and Harriet (Bassett) Allen. Henry Yauney, (II), was born in Johnstown, New York, September 11, 1777, and was a son of Henry and Elizabeth Margaret (Cline) Yauney, the latter of whom was born in Johnstown, Fulton county, this state, June 10, 1756, daughter of Philip Henry Cline, one of the early settlers of that section. Henry Yauney, (I), was born in New Jersey, September 18, 1749, and was a son of Christian and Susan (Boshart) Yauney, the latter of whom was a native of Switzerland, born in the vicinity of Zurich. Christian Yauney, the progenitor of the Yauney family in this country, also was of European birth, born in the vicinity of the city of Strausberg, and upon his arrival in this country he established himself in New Jersey.

John Stewart Major was born in Fort Johnson (now Aiken), Montgomery county, New York, September 23, 1830, and his last days were spent in Centerville, Michigan, he having been eighty-eight years of age at the time of his death. His wife, Catherine Yauney Major, died on April 24, 1902. He was a son of William and Margaret (Stewart) Major, the latter of whom was born in Mayfield, Fulton county, New York, February 19, 1824, daughter of Thomas and Margaret (McKinley) Stewart, natives of Scotland, the latter of whom was born in Perth in 1759, and died in Mayfield, this state, in 1850. Thomas Stewart was born in 1769, and died in November, 1849. William Major was born in Mayfield, December 1, 1796, and died in St. Joseph county, Michigan, on December 15, 1876, having settled there in 1834, among the earliest settlers of that region. He was a son of John and May (Hetherington) Major, the latter of whom was born in Perth, Scotland, July 1, 1759. John Major also was a native of Scotland, born July 22, 1746, a son of John Major. In 1774 he came to this country with a number of other Scottish families and helped to found the settlement now known as Galway, in Saratoga county, this state. In his earlier manhood John Stewart Major was engaged in business in New York city and had recollections of the days when there was a flourishing slaughter house within two blocks of what now is the glittering Times Square district.

Mrs. Kate (Major) Sperry was reared in Michigan and was graduated from the Ypsilanti Normal School at Ypsilanti, Michigan, and for two years before her marriage was engaged in teaching school. Since her husband's death she has retained numerous of the interests in which he was so actively engaged, and is the president of the Sperry Realty Company of New York city and a director of Sperry, McKee & Crane of New York. She is an active member of the Amsterdam Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a member of the flourishing Michigan Society of New York and is affiliated with the First Presbyterian church of that city. While maintaining her winter home in the city she has a summer home at Cranford, New Jersey, which was long the family home.

The senior Thomas Alexander Sperry was a native Tennesseean, born in the city of Knoxville, on July 6, 1865, and was a son of Jacob Austin and Susan Butler (Langley) Sperry, the latter of whom was later and for some years afterward a resident of Centerville, Michigan, and then became a resident of New Rochelle, New York, where her last days were spent. She was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, April 28, 1832, and was a daughter of Thomas William and Margaret (Stigman) Langley, who were married in Philadelphia in 1822, the latter of whom was born in Maryland in 1804. Her parents dying when she was young, she became a member of the family of her uncle, Thomas Badaroque, a Frenchman, engaged in the East India trade in Philadelphia. Thomas William Langley was born in the city of New York, July 2, 1799, and was a son of William and Susan (Elliott) Langley, who were married in that city in 1795. William Langley was born in the city of London in 1769 and was trained as a mason. As a young man he came to America and in New York city spent the remainder of his life, his death occurring on September 11, 1800, from injuries received while at work on the new steeple of St. Paul's church. He was buried in the historic churchyard of that parish. Susan Elliott Langley, his widow, was born in Ireland in 1777 and was ten years of age when she came to America with her parents. Upon the untimely death of her husband she was left with two small children and a third child was born to her within four months after her husband's death. She married again and after the death of her second husband moved with her family to Germantown, Pennsylvania, later becoming engaged with her son in the dry goods business in Philadelphia and in this latter city she spent her last days, her death occurring there in 1856, when she was in her eightieth year.

Thomas William Langley, the third child and only son of William and Susan (Elliott) Langley, was trained to the textile trades and as a young man became engaged in the woolen manufacturing business in partnership with his brother-in-law, William G. Hirst, later becoming engaged with his mother in the dry goods business in Philadelphia. As noted above, he was married in 1822 to Margaret Stigman. Ten years later, in 1832, he made a journey into the West and at Detroit, hearing of the beauty and fertility of the St. Joseph valley, he visited that country and was so well pleased that he bought the site on which the county town, Centerville, later came to be laid out. He then returned home, made preparations for the removal of his family into what was then a wilderness and in the fall of that year had established his home on his new site, erecting a double log house, which served as an inn when the settlement began to expand. When the county seat was located there he donated the site for the courthouse, built the first mill, put up the first church building and in other ways did more than any other man in the settlement toward getting the place established. In the valuable Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society Collections it is recorded of this pioneer that he

"was a man of gentlemanly manners, of ready and smooth speech and quick thought and action. He was an old friend of General Cass (the territorial governor). The latter had helped some of Langley's sons to clerkships in our state departments. Tom paid him back in political influence. Tom was possessed of enough natural politeness to have endowed a Fifth avenue hotel, from landlord down to bootblack. Had his ambition to play the agreeable and win applause been directed to the field of heroism he would have made a Chevalier Bayard as far as his natural endowments would have carried him."

His first wife died in Centerville in 1850. In December, 1854, in Philadelphia, he was married again. He met an accidental death at Paducah, Kentucky, on January 9, 1855, while on his wedding journey.

Jacob Austin Sperry was born in Winchester, Virginia, February 13, 1823, and was a son of Peter E. and Regina Maria (Austin) Sperry, the latter of whom, also born in Virginia, in 1805, was a daughter of John and Marianna (Perry) Austin. Peter E. Sperry was born in Winchester, Virginia, November 12, 1794, and was a son of Jacob and Catherine Elizabeth (Lauck) Sperry, the latter of whom was born in 1769 and died at Winchester in 1790. Jacob Sperry died in 1808. He was a son of Peter and Catherine Eliza Betyta (Wolf) Spiry, who had come to the American colonies and had settled at Winchester as early as 1750. When the War of the Revolution came on Jacob Sperry (who had taken the name of Sperry, thus fixing on the succeeding generations of his family the present variation of the original name Spiry) became one of Captain Daniel Morgan's company of Virginia sharpshooters who marched from Winchester to Cambridge to join Washington's army, accomplishing the trip of six hundred miles in three weeks. They afterward were attached to the ill-fated expedition against Quebec and marched through the pathless wilds of Maine, overcoming the most formidable obstacles and suffering excessive privations. Of the company of one hundred men which left Winchester with Captain Morgan, it is said that not more than twenty-five returned. In the assault upon Quebec, Jacob Sperry was taken prisoner, but after about eighteen months was released and in time made his way back to Winchester. Peter E. Sperry maintained the old family home at Winchester and there died in 1872. His wife passed away in 1869. Jacob Austin Sperry was the only child of this union.

Reared in Winchester, Jacob Austin Sperry was given a liberal education and early entered the medical profession. He found, however, after a brief practice that this profession was not to his liking and he then entered the newspaper profession. It has been written of him that "he was a journalist of reputation, editor of several newspapers and a writer of short stories, popular in his generation". During the Civil war Jacob A. Sperry was editor of the Knoxville (Tennessee) Daily Register. Through the columns of this paper he espoused the cause of the Confederacy with such vehemence as to excite the hostility of the supporters of the Union. Upon the occupation of Knoxville by Union troops under General Burnside in 1864, the plant of the Register was seized and its presses destroyed. Mr. Sperry fled with the Confederate army to Atlanta, where he resumed the publication of his paper. His wife (Susan Butler Langley Sperry), with five children, one a babe of less than six months, found refuge among her kinsfolk in Michigan. Jacob A. Sperry afterward was captured by the Union troops and for more than a year was kept in a military prison. Some time after the close of the war he went west and in Colorado spent his last days, his death occurring in Colorado Springs on June 13, 1896. His widow survived him many years, passing away in New Rochelle, New York, on September 2, 1922. They were the parents of seven children, the late Thomas Alexander Sperry having had two sisters, Margaret L. and Regina Maria, and four brothers, Joseph Austin, William Miller, William Langley (Sperry) and Louis Clinton Sperry.

The late Thomas Alexander Sperry was but an infant when his mother found refuge among her kinsfolk in Michigan, following the flight of his impetuous father from Knoxville, and he grew up at Centerville. He was given exceptional educational advantages and early took a commanding position in commercial circles. It has been written of him that as "a man of rare ability and strength of purpose, he attained in his short life a prominence and success attained by few". Mr. Sperry organized the Sperry & Hutchinson Company, and to his ability, sagacity and energy is very largely due that concern's great success and the commanding position it attained in the business world. It was Thomas A. Sperry who made the "green trading stamp" a household word throughout the land. He was president of the Sperry & Hutchinson Company from its beginning until his death, was president of the Cranford Trust Company, a director of the Bronx National Bank and a director in various other corporations of standing and stability. After his marriage to Kate Major, in Centerville, on January 1, 1891, he made his home in Cranford, New Jersey, where among his other interests he developed a large stock farm, the largest in that state at that time. Mr. Sperry's live stock interests were for years among the most engrossing of his numerous undertakings and he gave close attention to the development of that place, becoming one of the country's best known importers and breeders of Clydesdale horses and brown Swiss cattle. There was bred the famous Clydesdale mare, "Shevado Lass", the champion of the world in her class. Mr. Sperry was a thirty-second degree Scottish Rite Mason and took an active interest in Masonic affairs. He died at his home in New York city, on September 2, 1913. It was written of him that

"he had that true devotion of his fellowmen that prompted his active and intelligent interest in the welfare of his associates and friends and the communities with which he was identified. A man of honor and of exceptionally genial temperament, he was beloved by a multitude of friends. A loving and beloved husband, father and son, his home and household were the chiefest joys of his life. His memory is enshrined in the hearts of all who knew him. In the necrology of the year the name of Thomas Alexander Sperry stands high among the noted men who died in 1913".

As noted above, Mr. Sperry's widow continues to make her home in New York city, where she is very pleasantly situated. To Thomas A. and Kate (Major) Sperry were born five children, those besides the immediate subject of this biographical review, the third in order of birth, being Katherine, Louis Major, Stuart Major and Marjorie Alexandra.

The junior Thomas Alexander Sperry completed his preparatory school work in the Hill School, a preparatory school for boys at Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and at the Cascadilla School at Ithaca, New York, and was preparing to enter Cornell University, then being nineteen years of age, when this country took a hand in the World war in the spring of 1917. He at once volunteered his services in behalf of this country's arms, was accepted and was assigned to duty in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he presently was detailed for duty on a United States troop ship and in this line of service continued active in the transport of troops to and from France, until he received his honorable discharge on September 2, 1919, the war then having been long over. Upon the completion of his naval service Mr. Sperry returned to the paths of peace and became associated with the operations of the Elastic Spring Knit Corporation at Mohawk, where he since has made his home. This corporation manufactures the celebrated "Spring Knit" line of underwear and the equally popular Sperry sport coat and Mr. Sperry's activities in connection with the corporation's operations are exercised as production manager. He also has other interests of a financial and industrial character and is a director of the firm of Sperry, McKee & Crane, a financing concern located at No. 149 Broadway, New York city; a director of the Sperry Realty Company, No. 22 Williams street, New York, and has other interests of a substantial character. Mr. Sperry is a Scottish Rite Mason and a Noble of the Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine and takes an active interest in Freemasonry, his connections with that ancient order including everything available to the inquirer, the blue lodge, the chapter (Royal Arch), the council (Royal and Select Masters), the commandery (Knight Templar or York Rite), the consistory (thirty-second degree), and the temple (Mystic Shrine), this latter connection being with Ziyara Temple at Utica. His blue lodge connection is with Mohawk Valley Lodge, his chapter connection with Iroquois Chapter, the council at Ilion, the commandery at Little Falls, and his Scottish Rite connection is with the consistory of the Valley of New York. Mr. Sperry is an active member of the Ahern Post of the American Legion at New York, a member of the League of Masonic Clubs, of the Society of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of New York and of the Michigan Society of New York. He is a republican and a deacon of the Reformed church, at Mohawk.

On January 4, 1922, in New York city, Thomas A. Sperry was united in marriage to Miss Hazel Esther Hawn, a former teacher in the Mohawk high school, Mrs. Sperry was born in Evans Mills, Jefferson county, this state, December 2, 1898, and is a daughter of Lincoln Grant and Louise (Linstruth) Hawn, who are still living in Evans Mills, the latter of whom was born in Castorland, Lewis county, this state, on February 26, 1865. Lincoln Grant Hawn was born in Clayton, Jefferson county, May 6, 1866, and has long been a resident of Evans Mills, where he is now serving as postmaster. Mrs. Sperry was graduated from the Evans Mills high school in 1916 and then, after a year in Oberlin College at Oberlin, Ohio, entered Syracuse University, from which she was graduated in 1920. For two years thereafter, or until her marriage, she was engaged as a teacher of Latin and French in the Mohawk high school. Mrs. Sperry is a member of the Presbyterian church, a member of the Mohawk Valley Chapter of the Order of the Eastern Star and of Calvary White Shrine at Utica, and is also affiliated with the college sorority Delta Gamma. Mr. and Mrs. Sperry have a son, Thomas Alexander Sperry, Jr., who was born on December 14, 1924.

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