The Story of Huntington’s
Roots (pre-founding to 1918)

The Story of
Huntington’s Roots
(pre-founding to 1918)


“By the pure fame our fathers gained, For honest deeds well done, To future years we’ll bear,
unstained, The name of HUNTINGTON.”

– From The Huntington Hymn, sung at the first meeting of the Huntington.
Norwich, Connecticut, Sept. 3, 1857.


The Family Meeting

By the time the Rev. Elijah B. Huntington sent his “circular of invitation” for the Huntington family meeting, he’d nearly completed his comprehensive genealogical memoir, which traced 10 generations descending from Simon and Margaret Huntington, the first of their name to sail to American shores. Aiming to make his genealogy inclusive, the reverend sent a request with his invitations — he implored Huntingtons far and wide to send lists of family members, along with their dates of births, marriages and deaths. Signing off, he added, “I am, beloved kinsmen, in the bonds of a family whose study has only more endeared to me its name.” 1

The invitation worked. Beginning at 10 a.m., Sept. 3, 1857, Huntingtons from across the young country gathered at a church in Norwich Town, Connecticut, to meet their kinsfolk for the first time, reconnect with geography-scattered relatives and honor ancestors passed on. About 500 people packed the wooden pews.

The program began with an organ voluntary, a brief, hearty welcome from the family association president Hon. Jedediah Huntington and a poem by Miss Cornelia Huntington, a published author. Then, beginning with the invocation, “Kinsmen, cousins all, you know how welcome you all are here to-day,” the Rev. Elijah gave his historical address chronicling the growth of the Huntington family “scattered from the Atlantic to the Pacific, doing business from highest northern to furthest southern latitude.” 2

After several more speakers, the floor was pronounced open and the Hon. Asahel Huntington of Salem stood and spoke.

“I don’t know how we can better serve the purposes of such an occasion,” he said, “than by each telling his own story.”

So he did:

Norwich, Connecticut, c. 1888.
Frontispiece for Rev. Elijah B. Huntington’s “Genealogical Memoir of the Huntington Family in This Country.” completed in 1863.

Left Image: Frontispiece for the Rev. Elijah B. Huntington’s “Genealogical Memoir of the Huntington Family in This Country.” completed in 1863.

Right Image: Norwich, Connecticut, c. 1888.

“My ancestors settled in Franklin [Connecticut] six generations back, and the estate which they originally purchased has been in the family for the whole of these six generations. Not an acre, not an inch has been alienated from the family—a good proof of their industrious, steady habits. The original estate had 96 acres, and was situated on the Lebanon road. Then it was a hard, rocky, sterile soil; now it is an excellent estate of 200 acres. . . . The estate for many years was occupied by deacons who were innkeepers. The sign of the Seven Stars, which hung over that old house is still preserved in the attic of a house near by. . . . [T]his old sign was to signify an invitation, cordial and hearty, to the soldier-wayfarer from generation to generation.”

Like Asahel Huntington’s story of his family’s inn, the Huntington Bank story was and is a story of “industrious, steady habits,” smart expansion and, above all, invitation. From its early days as an innkeeping family to its current incarnation as one of the country’s largest and best-performing regional banks, the Huntington name has come to symbolize a place of welcome for wayfaring strangers and familiar friends.

In these pages, we will explore the life of Huntington Bank’s founder — and the founders of many regional banks, each of them ancestors and in-laws now embraced as part of the larger Huntington Bank family. We’ll see how each maintained conservative values and financial prudence, while also taking smart chances on young entrepreneurs and burgeoning industries.

In supporting the middle class and small-business owners who make towns tick, Huntington helped build the Midwest economy. In committing to the less fortunate, Huntington built communities. And in remaining stable, even amid tremendous financial upheavals, Huntington built a legacy.

This is our story for generations. Welcome.


The Pioneers

The unified bank bears the name Huntington, but a handful of P.W. Huntington’s contemporaries in Michigan and West Virginia — not to mention founders and leaders of banks established in future generations — figure prominently in Huntington’s roots. We begin in the Wolverine State.

Though the nascent cities of Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids had by the 1840s sprung up in Michigan, much of the territory was still wilderness. Dutch settlers chose western Michigan as the center of their migration. Thousands of Hollanders fled religious persecution and potato famine, settling in the union’s 26th state. Among these settlers were the Den Herders, who left the Netherlands in 1847 and were among the first three families to settle the newly formed township of Zeeland, Michigan. The family patriarch, Christian Den Herder, had been a butcher and dike worker. His son Jacob would establish the institution that decades later evolved into First Michigan Bank.

Michigan logging crews at work, c. 1890. Log cabin in Holland, Michigan, c. 1900.

Above Image: Michigan logging crews at work, c. 1890. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Bottom Image: Zeeland, Michigan, 1880.

Map of Zeeland, Michigan

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.” 3

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. 4

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.” 5

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.” 6 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.” 8

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.” 9 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.” 10

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.

Log cabin in Holland, Michigan, c. 1900.
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.

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

P.W. Huntington spent three years on a merchant ship like this one, transporting goods from the United States to Russia. 7

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.

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.

Young H.G. Davis with his mother, Louisa Warfield Brown, c. 1845.

Beginnings in Business

As the B&O Railroad moved toward Ohio, so did 17-year-old P.W. Huntington. Conditions for a young sailor were harsh then, and after three years P.W. returned to the United States. In August 1853, family friend Alfred Thomas, president of the Columbus Bolt Works, persuaded him to come to Columbus.

Columbus’ population was around 18,000 in 1853, and most banking was agricultural; loans went mostly to farmers to buy feed and raise crops. Nevertheless P.W. found work as a messenger at the Exchange Branch of the State Bank of Ohio, one of two branches established in 1845. Years later, P.W. recalled his job role:

"In each bank slept a boy and a bulldog, guardians of the night! I know this to be true, for I slept in one of them for some years, with a white-eyed brute of a bulldog for a bed-fellow. There were then no street pavements, and in the spring of the year the roadway of High Street was one long, narrow dish of yellow clay soup, through which a bank messenger was compelled to wade, back and forth, in the discharge of his duty. There were no railroads and no telegraphs. It took two weeks or more for a reply to a letter sent to New York to reach Columbus, and the packet on the Mississippi River made a quick trip when a reply was received within a month from a letter sent to New Orleans."

P.W.’s transportation memories may have been off — the National Road arrived in Columbus in 1833, the first passenger train on the Columbus and Xenia Railway line entered the city in 1841 and an early interurban bus service began shuttling residents in 1853. But High Street was indeed a muddy thoroughfare lined with hitching posts for horses.

The newlywed Henry Davis’ job and living arrangement mirrored P.W.’s in the early 1850s, Davis took a promotion as station agent for the new Piedmont station on the B&O line and lived in a boxcar for his first year.

The town of Piedmont (now West Virginia) was then a handful of frame houses, but Davis saw opportunity in the area’s coal and timber resources. After a year, he built a house, sent for his bride and partnered with his brother Thomas B. Davis in a general store that would perform full-scale merchandising, shipping and supplying the B&O with coal, oil and lumber. Lumber became huge business; demand soared for wooden railroad ties to complement iron and steel rails across the country. H.G. Davis & Co. grew quickly, so much that Davis was able to leave the railroad and devote himself fully to the new family enterprise.

Jacob Den Herder, meanwhile, had spent enough time in the timber industry in Western Michigan. He had mastered enough English to put down his ax and get work as a schoolteacher, educating fellow immigrants in their new country’s language and their mother tongue. For five years, Jacob taught in Vriesland. In 1856 he married Adriana Klaasen, another recent immigrant who Jacob reported “was of the same age with the same financial means as I, that is to say, not any.” 11 Jacob earned extra money as a notary public, drafting legal papers, and became the town clerk. “In various ways, our people seemed to trust me,” Den Herder said, “giving me opportunity to earn a good and honest income so that I could build me a house.” 12

P.W., too, was working his way up. After three years as a messenger, he was promoted to teller at the Exchange Branch in 1856, the same year the bank moved to the northwest corner of High and Broad streets and appointed David W. Deshler its new president.

The Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Co. failed, setting off a national panic and portending the bursting of the railroad speculation bubble, but the Exchange Branch carried on. In 1858, P.W. married bank president Deshler’s daughter, Jane Nashee Deshler, linking the families.

Although they’d pledged themselves in marriage, none of our three early founders — P.W. Huntington, Jacob Den Herder and Henry Gassaway Davis — had fully pledged themselves to banking. But this would change.

Clinton Bank building on the southwest corner of State and High streets, c. 1861.

Clinton Bank building on the southwest corner of State and High streets, c. 1861. Unpaved roads were often muddy thoroughfares, which bank messengers like young P.W. Huntington had to navigate in their daily duties. Photo Credit: Columbus Citizen Journal and Columbus Citizen Newspapers Collection

Left Image: The Piedmont, West Virginia, railroad station where bank founder H.G. Davis was once station master, c. 1860. Right Image: Later view of the Piedmont station, c. 1920.

Left Image: The Piedmont, West Virginia, railroad station where bank founder H.G. Davis was once station master, c. 1860. The circular building is known as a roundhouse; these structures, situated on turntables, were used to service locomotives. Photo Credit: Piedmont Historic Preservation Foundation

Right Image: Later view of the Piedmont station, c. 1920. Photo Credit: Piedmont Historic Preservation Foundation

Pencil sketch of the bank panic caused by the suspension of the Ohio Life Insurance & Trust Co., Aug. 24, 1857.

Pencil sketch of the bank panic caused by the suspension of the Ohio Life Insurance & Trust Co., Aug. 24, 1857. Published in the Ohio Archæological and Historical Publications, Volume 21 (1912).

Left Image: Harper’s Weekly illustration of a bank run at Seamen’s Savings’ Bank, 1857. Right Image: Portrait of banker and businessman H.G. Davis, c. 1860.

Left Image: Harper’s Weekly illustration of a bank run at Seamen’s Savings’ Bank, 1857. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Right Image: Portrait of banker and businessman H.G. Davis, c. 1860. Photo Credit: National Archives

Becoming Bankers

Davis’ business was taking off and the region’s newfound wealth and economic prosperity brought a need for a bank:

Banking facilities, during the middle period of the nineteenth century and earlier, were not ample in regions that were still in the pioneer state of development. Inchoate captains of industry, and ambitious men who undertook large enterprises, had to provide these facilities for the communities in which they operated. It was therefore an inevitable sequence of their merchandise business, their coal and timber shipments, and their railway contracts that H. G. Davis & Company should establish a bank. It was equally inevitable that H. G. Davis, as the most progressive man in the region and the head of its growing business, should be the president of the institution. Thus was formed the Piedmont Savings Bank in the town of Piedmont in the County of Hampshire, in 1858. 13

The bank’s charter also lists T.B. Davis and W.R. Davis as directors, so H.G.’s first bank was a family affair. Davis and his wife, Katharine welcomed their first child, Mary, in 1854; their second daughter came two years later. Jacob Den Herder and his wife, Adriana had their first child, also named Mary, in 1859. P.W. and Jane Huntington had their first child, Benjamin, that same year. Their second child, Thomas Dunlap Huntington, arrived in 1861.

Mending a Torn Nation

Amid these joyous milestones, however, came the horrors of the American Civil War. The Den Herders in Michigan were relatively removed from the worst of the fighting, as were the Huntingtons in Ohio (most of the time). But the Davises were on the upper Potomac, right in the thick of things, and “the county-seat of Hampshire was occupied alternately by Union forces and Confederates fifty-six times in the four years of fighting.” 14

The Davises sided with the Union and their business became vital to the Union supply chain. But amid Confederate raids, H.G. closed his bank temporarily, lest its funds fall into enemy hands. When he told Gov. Swann of his desire to enlist, his former employer took him to the White House to meet President Abraham Lincoln himself.

“So you want to carry a musket?” asked Lincoln. “Isn't it better to carry five thousand muskets? Swann says you are worth that many where you are now. I want you to stay there." 15

So he did. Davis continued supplying the B&O with resources for the rest of the war. He improvised brilliantly, using his old waterboy anticipation tactics to keep timber supply lines open.

Though farther from the fighting, P.W. also contributed to the war effort, serving as a captain of a company of home guards. Huntington’s company was organized during Morgan's Raid — a Confederate cavalry incursion into Ohio and Indiana in summer 1863.

The Civil War had unprecedented ramifications for the country’s economy and for banking. In July 1861, to raise money for the war effort, Congress authorized Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase to borrow money on behalf of the federal government and issue “greenbacks,” so called for their green ink. The notes printed in 1861 and 1862 constituted the first uniform national paper currency issued since the ill-fated paper of the Revolutionary War and were backed by U.S. government bonds (essentially, the federal government’s promise to redeem their value in full), a true confidence play during a time of great national uncertainty.

The greenbacks coincided with the passage of the National Currency Act and National Banking Act in 1863, which allowed banks to apply for a national charter and buy interest-bearing U.S. government bonds based on their overall capitalization. The banks could then receive and distribute national bank notes based on the value of these bonds. The act also established the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as part of the U.S. Treasury Department, authorizing it to examine and regulate nationally chartered banks.

This Office of the Comptroller also proved influential for P.W. Huntington. In December 1863, Comptroller of the Currency Hugh McCulloch gave his “Advice to Bankers” speech, which provided seminal pieces of wisdom for the young banker. The speech retains its power:

Illustration of the 1861 Battle of Rich Mountain

Illustration of the 1861 Battle of Rich Mountain, one of the skirmishes that plagued West Virginia during the Civil War.

Reward poster for raider Gen. John H. Morgan, 1863.

Reward poster for raider Gen. John H. Morgan, 1863. During the Civil War, P.W. Huntington led a company of home guards defending against Morgan’s potential cavalry incursion into Ohio.

“ Let no loans be made that are not secured beyond a reasonable contingency. Do nothing to foster and encourage speculation. … Distribute your loans rather than concentrate them in a few hands. … Treat your customers liberally, bearing in mind the fact that a bank prospers as its customers prosper, but never permit them to dictate your policy.” 16

With the new national banking system in place, the federal government aimed to decrease the power of state and private banks by levying a 10 percent tax on any state-issued banknotes. Although most state banks stopped issuing paper or reorganized themselves as national banks, others closed. Among these was the Exchange Branch of the State Bank of Ohio.

After the war, the dual banking system consisting of state and national banks persisted. But the federal government-backed bank notes soon became the prevailing currency. In 1865, there had been $142.9 million in state bank notes issued; a year later that total dropped to $20 million. National bank notes, by contrast, had grown to $276 million by 1866. 17

Deflation and economic recessions followed the Civil War, but these fiscal problems could hardly compare to the human toll of the war years. Although 620,000 soldiers perished in the years surrounding the war, plague and disease hit closer to home for many young families like the Huntingtons, Den Herders and Davises. In 1862, Jacob Den Herder’s mother died of liver disease. Two years later, P.W.’s first-born son Benjamin passed away. And in 1865, both of H.G.’s newborn twins died in infancy. Such tragedies might have broken even the strongest of families.

But for these founding families, and for the country at large, the postwar period offered a new beginning.

For P.W. this was marked in no small way by the birth of Webster Perit Huntington in 1865 and the launch of his new business. After the liquidation of the Exchange Branch of the State Bank, P.W. and David Deshler partnered to organize P.W. Huntington & Co. on Jan. 2, 1866, at the northwest corner of Broad and High streets. P.W. served as bank president; Deshler served as cashier.

The character on which Huntington ran his bank and served his community reflected many generations of financial and civic leaders who bore the Huntington name.

Early “greenback” paper currency, c. 1862.

Early “greenback” paper currency, c. 1862. Photo Credit: National Numismatic Collection, National Museum of American History

High Street during President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession, 1865.

High Street during President Abraham Lincoln’s funeral procession, 1865. Photo Credit: Kelton House Museum and Garden, Ohio Memory Collection

Early bank check and logo for the newly founded P.W. Huntington & Co., c. 1866.

Early bank check and logo for the newly founded P.W. Huntington & Co., c. 1866.


Foundational Character

Pelatiah Webster Huntington was born into banking and public service. On his father’s side, he was a ninth-generation descendant from Christopher Huntington, one of two brothers who originally purchased land from the Mohegan Chief Uncas and established the settlement that became Norwich, Connecticut. The sense of familial duty and lineage was so strong in Norwich that Christopher Huntington served as “the first town clerk of Norwich, and for a period of one hundred and sixty-five years that office passed uninterruptedly from father to son in the line here represented. Benjamin Huntington, father of Pelatiah W., succeeded to it in 1825." 18

Though much has been shared about P.W.’s patriarchal bloodline, his mother’s ancestors are equally impressive. Here we find different yet important links to banking history. Margaretta Dunlap (Perit) Huntington’s great-grandfather (on her mother’s side) was the eminent scholar Pelatiah Webster, for whom P.W. is named. 19

The December 1907 issue of the Yale Law Journal includes the article “Pelatiah Webster: The Architect of our Federal Constitution,” and author Hannis Taylor calls P.W.’s namesake “an American statesman and patriot who has made a larger personal contribution to the science of government than any other one individual in the history of mankind.” 20

Strong words, but the author cites James Madison and historian George Bancroft’s claims that Pelatiah Webster should be credited with inventing our three branches of government, along with the two houses of Congress and elements of our federal fiscal policy, such as the formation of a national bank. 21

To best appreciate the financial environment during Huntington Bank’s founding in 1866, and the enormous, uncertain endeavor P.W. and his contemporaries embarked upon, we must turn back the clock a few decades and explore the deeper history of banking in America.

Early American Banking

Beginning in 1775, early attempts to establish currency systems and banks had focused on financing the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress issued paper money (also known as fiat currency) supposedly based on a hard money (known as specie), typically gold, silver or other precious metals.

The United States’ financial supply at the war’s start is estimated at around $12 million. But Congress ultimately issued more than $225 million in paper currency over the ensuing five years, an unacceptable “leverage ratio” that led the value of this paper to depreciate widely compared with the specie reserved to back it up. When the country declared independence in 1776, a dollar bill was worth about $1 in specie. By 1781, the market had dipped so much that it took 168 paper dollars to equal that same $1 in specie ($1 paper bill = $0.006). 22 In other words, without standards, the basis of our financial system could have devolved into worthlessness.

Around this same time, in spring 1781, Philadelphia merchant and U.S. Rep. Robert Morris introduced a bill to create the first commercial and the first centralized national bank in American history. The Bank of North America, based on the system employed by the Bank of England, was chartered and opened in 1782, with all issued paper money and credit supposedly based on a systematized fractional reserve of specie held by the bank — a more acceptable leverage ratio. However, as Murray N. Rothbard writes in “A History of Money and Banking in the United States,” this experiment soon suffered not from quantifiable inflationary practices (i.e., printing too much money) but from the more qualitative failure of confidence:

Home of P.W. Huntington’s earliest American-born ancestor
Yale Constitution document

Left Image: Home of P.W. Huntington’s earliest American-born ancestor, Christopher Huntington, at 410 Washington St. in Norwich, Connecticut. Photo Credit: Norwich Library

Right Image: P.W.’s great-great-grandfather and namesake, Pelatiah Webster, was an economist and political scientist known as the Architect of Our Federal Constitution for his influential dissertation suggesting much of the structure of our three branches of government.

Early paper (fiat) and hard currency (specie), c. 1776.
												Photo Credit: Colonial Williamsburg
Early paper (fiat) and hard currency (specie), c. 1776.
												Photo Credit: Colonial Williamsburg

Above Images: Early paper (fiat) and hard currency (specie), c. 1776. Photo Credit: Colonial Williamsburg

First Bank of the United States, 1795.

First Bank of the United States, 1795.

Despite Robert Morris’s power and influence, and the monopoly privileges conferred upon his bank, it was perceived in the market that the bank’s notes were being inflated compared with specie. Despite the nominal redeemability of the Bank of North America’s notes in specie, the market’s lack of confidence in the inflated notes led to their depreciation outside its home base in Philadelphia. 23

The success of a bank and, indeed, a financial system, was and is, therefore, based on several overarching factors, namely:

1) its ability to responsibly administer its ratio of specie to fiat (also known as leverage),
2) its ability to inspire and maintain the confidence and trust of its many stakeholders pertaining to its soundness and stability.
Financial historian Timothy R. Schantz adds to these factors,

3) the role of real estate as a central and tangible asset intimately tied to banking history, and
4) the role of government and political influence in “shaping the macroeconomic environment. 24

To stem the tide of an early, post-Revolution financial panic, in 1792, Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton backed the passage of the Coinage Act, which more firmly established the value of paper currency to a ratio of gold and silver. But these metals were also subject to market forces (i.e., the overmining of silver), and the system soon proved unstable.

The establishment of the First Bank of the United States in 1791 set off a fundamental, vehement constitutional debate that Pelatiah Webster heavily influenced. The discussion pitted the Jeffersonian interpretation — that the federal government had no power to create a national bank — against the Hamiltonian interpretation — that centralized banking helped further national goals. The latter ultimately won out in the landmark Supreme Court case McCulloch v. Maryland (1819).

The national bank, which was granted a 20-year charter, hastened the establishment of new state banks; eight such institutions were established in 1791 and 1792. Among these were Connecticut’s first two banks, including the Union Bank of New London, chartered by the state legislature in May 1792, with Revolutionary War hero Gen. Jedediah Huntington chosen as its first president. 25 Another 10 state banks were founded by 1796. That year, Gen. Ebenezer Huntington helped establish the Norwich Bank, serving as its president from its inception until 1819. 26 By 1811, 117 state banks were in business.

Gen. Jedediah Huntington, c. 1780.
Painting Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (1820)
Detail of Gen. Ebenezer Huntington, as depicted by John Trumbull

Left Image: Gen. Jedediah Huntington, c. 1780. Photo Credit: Connecticut Society of the Cincinnati

Right Image: Detail of Gen. Ebenezer Huntington, as depicted by John Trumbull in his painting Surrender of Lord Cornwallis (1820). The surrender ended the last major campaign of the Revolutionary War. Ebenezer Huntington was then serving as aide-de-camp for Gen. Lincoln, the painting’s central figure.

The Huntington Family Business

Jabez Huntington followed in his family’s footsteps and served as president of Norwich Bank for 25 years. He also served as president of Norwich Savings Society, a separate institution he helped incorporate in May 1824.

The Norwich Savings Society was described as “one of the oldest savings institutions in New England,” and P.W.’s father, Benjamin Huntington served as its treasurer for more than 30 years. 27 Banking was in P.W.’s blood; we know he worked at the longstanding Norwich institution as a boy.

By the mid-1800s, Norwich served as banking hub for Connecticut. The 1888 Norwich Connecticut Review of Past and Present declared, perhaps biasedly, that “no city in New England of its size has better banking facilities founded on a sounder basis. The investments of the different banks are loaned on the safest securities, and depositors, as well as stockholders, have every reason to rest assured that their money and their interests are well protected.” 28

Many of these early banks succeeded (including the Norwich Bank), but other banks faltered, dragged down by suspect accounting and fading public confidence.

In Ohio, which became the Union’s 17th state in spring 1803, such problematic banking was for many years the norm. P.W. Huntington described Ohio’s early banking history in a December 15, 1910, address at the cornerstone-laying ceremonies for the Ohio National Bank of Columbus:

From April 15th, 1803, when the first institution in Ohio to issue notes for circulation, as money, was incorporated, down to the year 1845, the conditions under which the business of the State of Ohio was conducted were most deplorable. Banking was practically free and, as a consequence, it was fraught with disaster to stockholders and to the public alike. Bank charters were very crude in form and, except that, under certain conditions, the directors might be held personally responsible, there was little or no security provided for the public, which suffered frequent and heavy losses from bank failures.

As an illustration of the kind of banks established during the period named, a history of Jefferson County, Ohio, states that a bank in that county failed in 1816, and “the only asset was a table.” The same authority states that another insolvent bank in that county had, as its only asset, a keg filled with nails, having a mere covering of gold and silver coin.

Wildcat banking was a curse to Ohio, in common with other Western States, and the spurious credit established by it was a blot on the fair name of commercial integrity. The losses imposed by this evil were as widespread as the communities of the State, and every man was liable to have in his pocket money which was worthless, or which could be passed only at a ruinous rate of discount. … The facts here mentioned, and many others which might be cited, show the vital necessity which then existed for the exercise of more wisdom or, may it not be said of SOME wisdom, in the organization and management of banks. 29

Samuel H. Huntington served as Ohio’s third governor from 1808 to 1810. A year after his term ended, Congress refused to renew the First Bank of the United States’ charter, and the U.S. lacked a national bank until the Second Bank of the United States was chartered in 1816. That same year, on Feb. 23, the Ohio State Bank Law was enacted, incorporating several new banks including the Franklin Bank of Columbus.

Norwich Savings Society Building, c. 1870.

Norwich Savings Society Building, c. 1870. P.W. Huntington began his banking career at this institution, founded and run by Huntington family members for many decades.

Franklin Bank of Columbus bank note, 1833.
An early bank being examined by inspectors, c. 1840s.

Above Image: Franklin Bank of Columbus bank note, 1833.

Below Image: An early bank being examined by inspectors, c. 1840s. Photo Credit: Ohio History Connection

Boom and Bust

Although none of the banks operating before 1816 “lived to be wound up as a successful institution at the expiration of its charter,” the Franklin institution was, in P.W.’s estimation, “owned and controlled by men of high character and marked ability,” fared much better over the length of its charter and was “wound up” with all credits paid in full. 30

The Second Bank of the United States was another failed experiment. A massive expansion of paper money and credit led to widespread inflation and urban and rural speculation in 1817 and 1818, followed by an intense retrenchment. “The first nationwide ‘boom-bust’ cycle had arrived in the United States,” Rothbard writes. “The result of the contraction was a massive rash of defaults, bankruptcies of business and manufacturers, and liquidation of unsound investments during the boom.” 31

The panic of 1819 led to a rise in so-called Jacksonian movement — a proto-Libertarian approach to government that advocated free market economics and banking based entirely on specie, rather than fractional reserves or paper money. How funny it is, then, that Andrew Jackson’s face should grace the $20 bill today.

Soon after his inauguration as president in 1829, Jackson campaigned against the Second Bank of the United States and pushed to have it abolished before the 20-year charter expired in 1836. Though he was unable to dissolve the bank outright, he vetoed the renewal of its charter. Through his “specie circular” executive order, Jackson insisted that all federal lands be paid for in gold or silver, leading to a dire shortage of hard currency.

A run on the banks ensued, initiating the Panic of 1837 and a seven-year recession. (The Second Bank of the United States continued as a private corporation under Pennsylvania commonwealth law, however, it suspended payment in 1839 and was liquidated in 1841).

Into this financial and banking industry environment was born Pelatiah Webster Huntington. One year after P.W.’s birth, in 1837, the Michigan Act was adopted as the first of the nation’s “free banking” laws, which allowed the granting of charters based on relatively simple criteria instead of legislative approval. Though state bank examiners were meant to ensure that banks had enough specie in reserve to redeem issued bank notes, unscrupulous banks devised a work-around. One consortium of Michigan banks, for instance, pooled their reserves and simply transferred specie from bank to bank before an examiner’s visit. 32

P.W. Huntington, by contrast, ran his bank on scrupulous frugality and conservatism, One anecdote revealed: “He habitually gathered all available sticks of wood on his walk to work each morning to use in the bank’s fireplaces and hold the line on fuel costs.” 33 He once refused a $500,000 deposit from a railroad company, telling one of his sons “we should not owe that much money to anyone.” 34

Second Bank of the United States, 1816.

Second Bank of the United States, 1816. Photo Credit: Mechanics National Bank

Riding the Rails

Henry Davis found a new calling in politics during the postwar years. He was elected to the new state of West Virginia’s House of Delegates in 1865 and served on the Taxation and Finance Committee. The following year, by act of the new legislature, he received a charter to form the Potomac and Piedmont Coal and Railway Company, which would further support his coal and timber businesses. West Virginia was growing, and H.G., elected as U.S. senator in 1870, was in a position to foster and direct this growth.

Columbus also grew. In 1867, the Hocking Valley Railroad arrived, a land grant was issued and an initial class of 19 students began classes at what would eventually become Ohio State University. By 1870, with the city population reaching 31,000, the first waterworks were installed and the State Street Bridge was completed.

In Michigan, railroads also became big business — a line connected Muskegon, Grand Rapids and Holland and linked to the Detroit & Milwaukee Railroad. Jacob Den Herder maintained a grocery and dry goods business, using the new transportation system to buy and sell produce in Grand Rapids.

Then, amid growing railroad speculation, Jacob sold his grocery business and partnered in a gristmill on the line from Grand Rapids to Holland. Meanwhile, the race was on to complete the Transcontinental Railroad, a massive project aiming to unite East and West. P.W.’s distant cousin Collis P. Huntington was one of the “Big Four” railroad builders, leading lobbying and financing efforts for the railroad in New York and Washington. This rampant growth and speculation was not without a correction, however.

Jay Cooke and Co. was in the early 1870s the country’s largest bank, and the exclusive agent allowed to sell Northern Pacific Railroad bonds. When it failed to sell enough bonds to cover its debts, the bank failed and the resulting panic led to runs on other large banks. The Coinage Act of 1873 also depressed silver prices, touching off its own financial crisis that lasted until 1879. Another recession set in from 1882 to 1885, coinciding with the end of the railroad construction boom.

 H.G. Davis, seated, right, with the finance committee of the West Virginia Legislature
Railway train in the Point Lookout mountain region

Above Image: H.G. Davis, seated, right, with the finance committee of the West Virginia Legislature, c. 1890. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Below Image: Railway train in the Point Lookout mountain region of West Virginia, c. 1900. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

 Hocking Valley Railway car, c. 1900.
Ohio State University was founded as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, 1867. 	Photo Credit: Ohio State Library

Above Image: Hocking Valley Railway car, c. 1900.

Below Image: Ohio State University was founded as the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, 1867. Photo Credit: Ohio State Library


Prudence Amid Panic

While serving in Congress, Sen. Henry G. Davis spoke boldly on inflation. He believed the nation needed not more currency, but better circulation of currency across the country. He described the times eloquently:

Like a thunder-shower in harvest-time the panic came; all lost confidence; banks and people held all the currency they had and got all they could, holding tight to it to sell at a premium, or fearing a demand that would be made on them. This caused a want of confidence which it has taken and will take time to restore. When it is fully restored, and a transfer made of part of the excess of bank circulation held in the North to the States of the South and West, I fully believe that a majority of the people will agree that we have paper money enough.

Davis, a former state banker, also advocated reducing the 10 percent tax levied on state bank notes. Although there were about four times as many national banks as compared to state banks around the end of the Civil War, by 1873 this gap had closed considerably. After the financial panic of 1873, it widened again, with more than twice as many national banks as state banks, and by 1892 the balance was nearly even again.

The advent of checking accounts, initially a work-around for state banks not wanting to issue their own bank notes, precipitated this shift. Checks needed to be “cleared” at neighboring institutions — each bank had to collect the money due on each check from other banks all across town. To solve this problem came the “clearinghouse,” a network of banks exchanging and settling their finances with one another rather than relying on an unwieldy system of messengers and cash. The practice was so successful that by 1890 it was estimated that only 10 percent of the nation’s money supply was in currency — a precursor to today’s credit and debit cards displacing the need for cash or checks.

In 1872, bankers in Columbus established the Columbus Clearing House Association, and P.W. served as the organization’s first vice president. That same year, P.W. remarried, wedding Frances Sollace, who gave birth to their first son, Theodore Sollace Huntington, in 1873. Francis Ropes Huntington was born in 1875 and Baldwin Gwynne Huntington in 1879. These three children — T.S., F.R., and B.G. — would become known at Huntington as the “Banking Sons.”

Jacob Den Herder welcomed a new daughter in 1870, Cornelia Johanna, named after their eldest, who had died two years earlier. Another son, George J. Den Herder, was born in 1873. During this period of his life, Jacob became more involved in town affairs and politics. Perhaps realizing his expanding role as community leader Jacob quit his milling business in spring 1878 and opened a private banking business, the Den Herder Bank, Travel & Insurance Agency.

“Banking was entirely new to me,” Den Herder wrote, “but I started it in December 1878 at a small scale by selling exchange on Grand Rapids and on New York, taking in some deposits and doing a general collection business… During all the years that I was at banking I have not had a single instance that depositors called in vain for their money.” 35

Yale Constitution document

Above Image: Huntington’s new five-story bank building, erected in 1878, was the first “skyscraper” in Columbus. Photo Credit: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Home of P.W. Huntington’s earliest American-born ancestor

Above Image: The corner of Broad and High streets, with new streetcar lines visible, 1895.

A period of steady growth for P.W. Huntington & Co. during a difficult economy allowed its founder to build a new bank building at the southwest corner of High and Broad streets. The five-story Gothic structure was considered the first “skyscraper” in Columbus. A year later, P.W.’s second wife, Frances Sollace, died. He would marry for a third time in 1882, to Ida H. Nothnagel. From 1883 to 1887, the couple produced four more children, two of whom died in infancy.

Columbus experienced major highs and lows in the 1880s. Citywide excitement was high in 1888, when the first electric railcar began operating on Chittenden Avenue. Previously, however, the Great Flood of 1884, which devastated most of the Ohio River Valley, from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois. Ohio Gov. George Hoadly named P.W. Huntington chairman of the state flood relief committee, which distributed money, clothing, shelter and food across the Ohio River Valley.

Above Image: The Great Flood of 1884 devastated the Ohio River Valley, including the future Huntington region of Cincinnati, shown here. P.W. Huntington served as chairman of the state flood relief committee, distributing resources to families and businesses across the region. Photo Credit: Cincinnati Library

Rebuilding for the Future

After the floods, the Midwest began rebuilding its economy and infrastructure. The arduous task was exacerbated by the financial panic of 1884, when New York City’s national banks called in outstanding loans. Some 10,000 small companies failed.

Meanwhile, Henry Davis helped build the West Virginia Central & Pittsburgh Railroad, serving as its president from 1886 to 1902. Many of Davis’ Senate colleagues became stockholders in the railroad, including Stephen B. Elkins, who had married Davis’ daughter in 1875. P.W. soon became more heavily involved in railroads and transportation enterprises, too, serving as founder or director of several rail and streetcar companies.

In 1889, Jacob Den Herder moved his bank’s offices to the Shoemaker Store and, having ventured into politics himself, was elected state senator. Mimicking the Deshler/Huntington arrangement, Jacob left his son-in-law, Albert LaHuis, in charge of the bank while he was away in Lansing on political business. Eventually, Jacob’s son Christian also worked in his father’s bank.

P.W. Huntington & Co. took similar steps toward succession planning. P.W.’s second-born son, Thomas Dunlap, became a bank partner in 1892 after working there for several years. The Huntington patriarch was aging, but hardly slowing. In 1891, P.W. invited bankers from around the state to his home in Columbus, where they co-founded the Ohio Bankers Association. P.W. served as the association’s president from 1893 to 1894.

Yale Constitution document Home of P.W. Huntington’s earliest American-born ancestor

Above Image: Jacob Den Herder’s modest banking offices, located on the same strip as his son-in-law Albert LaHuis’ storefront, c. 1889. Photo Credit: Zeeland Historical Society

Below Image: H.G. Davis’ son-in-law, political colleague and banking partner, Stephen B. Elkins, 1880. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Henry Davis also kept active into his twilight years. After completing his Senate terms in 1883, he retired to Elkins, West Virginia — a town established by Henry and his son-in-law — to focus on business and banking. Elkins, laid out under Davis’ supervision, had been designed as a company town that “sold lots to individuals and employees who built their own homes. This promoted stability in the community and strengthened the local banks.” 36

Elkins (the man) moved to Elkins (the town) in 1890, and though the men were opposed politically (Davis was a Democrat; Elkins a Republican), the two partnered well together, forming the Davis Coal and Coke Co. and Elkins National Bank. The bank, established in 1892 in Randolph County, was at the corner of Third Street and Davis Avenue.

Harry R. Warfield (another Davis family relation, possibly a cousin) served as cashier and Davis as president. Elkins National Bank would become the earliest ancestor of Community Bank & Trust of Randolph County, which became part of the Huntington Bank family in 1993.

The panic of 1893, a serious economic depression in the United States marked by the overbuilding and shaky financing of railroads, resulted in a series of bank failures — 500 banks were closed, 15,000 businesses failed and countless farms ceased operation. The unemployment rate was 25 percent in Pennsylvania, 35 percent in New York and 43 percent in Michigan. Soup kitchens were opened to help feed the destitute. It took until 1897 for the U.S. economy to begin recovery.

Yale Constitution document

Above Image: The Davis Coal and Coke Company, shown in 1888, was one of the many thriving industries managed by H.G. Davis.

Home of P.W. Huntington’s earliest American-born ancestor

Above Image: The town of Elkins, West Virginia, 1897. Elkins was established by H.G. Davis’ son-in-law and banking partner, Stephen B. Elkins. Photo Credit: Library of Congress

Legacy Planning

Also in 1897, President William McKinley offered P.W. Huntington an ambassadorship to Russia. Though the offer may have been attractive given Huntington’s earlier connection to Russia, the downturn had just ended and Huntington felt his sons were too young to take over the bank completely. Nevertheless, his son Francis Ropes Huntington was admitted into the partnership in 1898. Theodore Sollace Huntington joined in 1900 and Baldwin Gwynne joined in 1902.

In Western Michigan in 1900, the Den Herder family succession reached its next milestone, when Jacob incorporated his private bank as a state bank with $200,000 in assets. He renamed it the Zeeland State Bank to be governed by a board of directors. Jacob’s son Christian was named cashier.

Henry Davis also looked to his son for next generation leadership. John T. Davis was “an able businessman, and has been his father’s right-hand man in many of his undertakings. He is vice-president of the Davis Trust Company, vice president and general manager of the Davis Collieries Company; director of the Elkins National Bank, and holds other corporate positions.” 37

In 1905, with a new generation of leadership stepping up, P.W. Huntington and his four sons decided to obtain a national charter, No. 7745. Four thousand shares of stock were issued; the patriarch retained 1,600 and each of his sons received 600 shares. P.W. was president, F.R. was vice president, T.S. was cashier, and B.G. was assistant cashier. It is unclear why T.D. had no title.

Huntington CEO and bank historian Clair Fultz writes, “Private firms such as P.W. Huntington & Company were largely investment banks that accepted deposits and made loans but did comparatively little ‘checking account’ or short-term credit business because they did not have the authority to issue currency.” 38 With this national charter, the newly named Huntington National Bank of Columbus could expand its services and meet the ever-growing city’s needs. Columbus had a population of 125,000 by the turn of the century and was becoming a major manufacturing and Midwestern transportation hub. The future was bright.

Above Image: Huntington’s charter as a national bank, issued in 1905.

Below Image: Certificate for 15 shares of Zeeland State Bank, 1901.

In 1908, as his own next generation prepared to take over the Zeeland State Bank, Jacob Den Herder laid the cornerstone for a new bank building at 101 E. Main St. He died Dec.12, 1916.

On the occasion of its 50th anniversary in 1916, Huntington National Bank moved to new headquarters at 21 S. High St. Though P.W. died on Feb. 24, 1918, he left behind an enduring legacy that included one of his most stirring and relevant orations. The speech, in 1910 at a cornerstone-laying ceremony in Columbus, offered a vision of the future and advice for the next generation of Midwest bankers:

Some of the older citizens of Columbus, for many years, associated this site with banking business of the highest character, conducted under the State Bank of Ohio system; and it seems, certain that men now living, and men of generations yet unborn, will associate it with business of equally high character, conducted under the National Banking system. Closely allied to moral soundness in banking is commercial integrity in the community. The two walk together, and the highest plane of excellence can be attained in neither without the co-operation and support of the other. By this relationship credit is established and maintained; but however valuable and excellent in society, however profitable and pleasing credit, public or private, may be to those who extend it, it is in vain to hope for its highest development, or even to imagine the possibility of its existence, without honesty and rectitude on the part of those to whom it may be extended. Credit is very subtle in its nature, and it can no more be forced by laws, it can no more be obtruded by authority, however high and powerful, than an article of faith can be forced on the understanding without proof or evidence; but it is always fostered and strengthened by well directed enterprise, and integrity of purpose. 41


Left Image: Corner of Broad and High streets, 1915. Photo Credit: Columbus Metropolitan Library

Right Image: Davis and Elkins College, 1903. Photo Credit: Davis & Elkins College

As a national bank, Huntington relied on the same conservative principles that had guided the business for nearly 50 years. In 1905, Huntington’s capital accounts (capital stock, surplus and undivided profits) equaled $406,928 compared to just over $1.4 million in total assets—a very modest leverage ratio of 3.5 to 1 39 . Huntington continued to maintain a comparatively liquid position in its leverage ratio while other banks were much more highly leveraged.

P.W. maintained his leadership role through the financial panic of 1907 and lived to see the creation of the Federal Reserve, a seismic banking shift that his sons would have to navigate. In 1914, he resigned as president and transferred most of his stock to F.R. (the new president), T.S. (vice president) and B.G. (cashier), and became board chairman.

Henry Gassaway Davis, who witnessed the cornerstone laying of the first United States railroad station in 1828, laid the cornerstone of Davis and Elkins College in August 1903, offering a brief address that “declared his faith in higher education. 40 ” He died March 11, 1916.

Left Image: Cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Zeeland State Bank building, 1909. Photo Credit: Zeeland Historical Society

Right Image: Huntington Bank Building, 1916. Photo Credit: Grandview Heights / Marble Cliff Historical Society