Jacob Den Herder was born in 1834 in Borselle within the Dutch province of Zeeland. He was barely 13 years old when his family arrived on Aug. 15, 1847, in then-heavily forested land. Den Herder remembered that “a load of lumber, about 300 feet had the day previous been delivered there by ox team. . . . Our next step was to clear up a suitable place to build a log cabin which was also forthwith undertaken. . . . it was not a magnificent structure but sufficient to be a home for us poor emigrants, who were exceedingly thankful to God that we had a home at last, be it ever so humble.”
For much of the next decade, the young Den Herder wielded an ax, chopping down trees, clearing land and splitting fence rails for about 50 cents a day, while also preparing pine, oak and whitewood as salable lumber.
Young Den Herder had attended primary school in the Netherlands, but the harsh life in Michigan’s wilderness left him little time for study. The pious Den Herder said that “only two winters after our arrival had I a chance to attend school by day. … For the rest what I did attain was under the kindly leading of Providence self education. So thanks be ever to my heavenly guide.”
P.W. Huntington, by contrast, received a more consistent education. Huntington, who was two years younger than Den Herder, and born on July 2, 1836, in Norwich, Connecticut, attended classes with neighborhood schoolmarm, Miss Sally Goodell, who taught for nearly 70 years and as such, “in many instances she was the instructress of three generations in a family.”
After leaving her tutelage, P.W. went to a boys’ school in Norwich, but a different sort of education awaited.
We have no record of P.W.’s earliest reading lists, but we can speculate that he read popular mid-19th century fiction and nonfiction books on sailing and whaling, such as “Two Years Before the Mast” (1840), “Incidents of a Whaling Voyage” (1841) and “Moby-Dick” (1851). P.W. left Connecticut at age 14 and sought adventure, heading to sea. He spent three years before the mast on the ship Chicora, transporting cotton and sugar from the southern United States to Russia.
As shipping lines were enabling commerce overseas, railroads were transforming transportation on land. Here we find another early ancestor of today’s Huntington Bank engaged in his era’s growth industry.
Henry Gassaway Davis was born Nov. 16, 1823, the son of a Baltimore grocer. His father, Caleb Davis, had defended the city as a volunteer during the War of 1812. By the time of Henry’s birth he was an “enterprising and adventurous young merchant,” intrigued by the “great national route to the Mississippi which would not only serve to fetch coal from the mountains to the sea, but also would transport the agricultural products from beyond the Ohio to the Chesapeake Bay section of the Atlantic coast. The Baltimore and Ohio Company was the first chartered and fully organized company in the United States for the construction of an extended line of railroad.”
On July 4, 1828, Caleb took his family to the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the soon-to-be historical Camden Station. Though Henry was only 5, he remembered the event more than 80 years later.
Caleb speculated in the young railroad industry, but when the panic of 1837 hit, he lost everything and was forced to sell his property to cover debts. As he slipped into mental and physical disability, his wife supported the family by opening a school for girls, and 14-year-old Henry found work as a waterboy in a nearby quarry.
Henry’s employer remarked on the “willingness and the alertness of the lad, who was everywhere when needed, anticipating the thirsty men in their call for water. This was the characteristic that years afterward found expression in his various business enterprises.”
When the B&O Railroad reached Cumberland in 1842, Henry got a job as a brakeman, an important position requiring mental and physical strength. He caught the attention of the line’s then-President Thomas Swann, who after seeing young Davis lead the clearing of a wreck to make way for a coming passenger train, said, “I thought that this would be a good man with whom to begin the experiment of promotion from the ranks, so I sent for him.”
Davis was promoted to supervisor and conductor on the B&O and was the first person to figure out how to run trains at nighttime. In January 1853, the B&O reached Wheeling, Virginia (now West Virginia), a milestone in the opening of the West. One month later, after 10 years on the railroads, Davis married Katharine Anne Bantz and began looking for a way to support his newly formed family.
Above Image: Log cabin in Holland, Michigan, c. 1900. Photo Credit: Hekman Digital Archive, Calvin College
Bottom Image: A gathering of the early settlers of Zeeland, Michigan, captured by photographer Isaac Ver Lee. Members of the Den Herder family including Jan Den Herder (No. 5) and Jacob Den Herder (No. 13) are included in this image taken in 1887, the same year that Jacob established the bank that evolved into First Michigan Bank. Photo Credit: Hekman Digital Archive, Calvin College
P.W. Huntington spent three years on a merchant ship like this one, transporting goods from the United States to Russia.
Left Image: Cornerstone-laying ceremony at Camden Station, July 4, 1828, the eastern terminus of the historic B&O Railroad. Early West Virginia bank founder Henry Gassaway Davis witnessed the event, which may have influenced his career as a railroadman.
Middle Image: H.G. Davis served as a brakeman on the B&O line, one of the most dangerous occupations within a generally perilous industry.
Right Image: Advertisement for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, 1864.
Young H.G. Davis with his mother, Louisa Warfield Brown, c. 1845.