John Wilson Farnsworth, of Topeka, one of the pioneer settlers of Kansas whose affairs and family have figured prominently for over half a century in the incidents of every-day life which go to make up the story of this great state, came to Kansas in 1856, in that period of storm and stress when the "first families" lived in rude cabins built by their own hands. He was born in Chautauqua county, New York, Jan. 22, 1829, the son of Joseph and Betsy (Burrows) Farnsworth, both natives of Green, Chenango county, New York. The Farnsworth family is of English origin and undoubtedly derives its name from Farnworth, Lancastershire, England, as the name continued to be spelled without an "s" until 1750. The American branch of the family was established in New England by Joseph, Thomas and Matthias Farnworth, three brothers who came to the colonies with the "Dorchester Company." Matthias is the direct lineal ancestor of John Wilson Farnsworth. The first record of Matthias Farnworth appears in Lynn, Mass., in 1657, when he held the office of constable and selectman. He was born in Lancastershire, England, in 1612 and married Mary Farr. They had five children, of whom Matthias, Jr. (1649-1693), was the second. He served in the colonial army during King Philip's war and married Sarah Nutting. Three children were born to this union, of whom Josiah F. (1647-1744) married Mary Pierce. Of their three children Thomas F., who was born April 1, 1731, married Elizabeth Tuttle, of Littleton, Mass., where they lived for a time before joining a company which settled at Ipswich, N. H. They had eleven children, who lived to mature age, and whose descendants are numerous and widely scattered. One of these children, Moses, was born on Jan. 17, 1756, and died Oct. 23, 1837. He was a soldier in the Revolutionary army, as his name appears in the New Hampshire Revolutionary rolls, spelled "Farnworth." He served as a private from New Ipswich, N. H., being a member of three different regiments. He was twice marriedthe second time to Ruhamah Beckwith, on Sept. 2, 1793. They had four children, one of whom, Joseph, was born on July 5, 1795, at Green, Chenango county, New York, and died on July 1, 1863. He married Betsy Burrows, also of Chenango county, New York. To this union were born three children, of whom John Wilson, of this review, is the only survivor. When only three years of age his parents removed to Battle Creek, Mich., where his boyhood days were spent. He attended school at Olivet, Mich. One of Mr. Farnsworth's earliest adventures was an overland trip to the Pacific coast. In 1852, accompanied by his brother, he started out with an ox team. They went by way of St. Louis and St. Joseph, Mo., and at the latter place the young men joined a party headed for the western coast. They drove across the plains and over the mountains along the Oregon trail and Snake river route to Dallas, Ore. From there the brothers walked to th Mr. Farnsworth returned to his home in Michigan by way of the Isthmus of Panama and New York. He brought back $3,000 in gold and the family still have some of the nuggets which he carried on his return. In 1856 his adventurous spirit led him to Kansas, where he joined the great army of hardy pioneers who were subduing the wilderness and conquering the vast rolling prairies. Arriving at Westport, Mo., he bought three wagon loads of groceries and drove with them to Topeka, where he opened a store on Kansas avenue between Fourth and Fifth streets. It was in this store that the first free-state legislature met, Mr. Farnsworth, having to move his stock of goods into the basement in order to make room for the legislators. After conducting a general mercantile business for some time alone, he entered the firm which became known as Murphy, Purley & Farnsworth, which conducted a similar business. Some years later he engaged in the hardware business with "Jake" Smith. His latest mercantile venture was the crockery and queensware business. Mr. Farnsworth has had a long and very successful career as an owner and dealer in Topeka real estate, and is today one of the most extensive real estate owners in that city. In the early days he bought land extensively from the Pottawatomie Indians, some of which land he still owns in North Topeka. In 1857 he preëmpted a tract of land adjoining Topeka on the east, which he owned for fifty years, selling it in 1907 to the Santa Fe Railroad Company. He has been an interested promoter of several Topeka enterprises, one of the most important being the Bank of Topeka, of which he has served as vice-president and director, and in which he is a heavy stockholder. Mr. Farnsworth has always taken an active interest in the welfare of religious, charitable and educational institutions, being one of the organizers of the First Episcopal Church, in which he is now serving as honorary warden, a life position. He is an honorary trustee of Bethany College and a trustee of Christ's Hospital; has ever contributed generously to the support of these and other kindred institutions; holds membership in the Masonic fraternity, and has been a life-long member of the Republican party. Today he is regarded as one of the "grand old men" of Kansas.
On March 4, 1858, Mr. Farnsworth married Nancy A. Jacobs, a native of Portage, N. Y. She was the daughter of Stephen and Lucinda Winchester (Kingsley) Jacobs, both descended from old New England families. Mrs. Farnsworth was a highly educated woman, being a graduate of Alfred University of Alfred, N. Y. She came to Kansas to visit and while here met and married Mr. Farnsworth. She was one of those brave women of sterling qualities who faced their part in life faithfully and well in that epoch of Kansas history which "tried men's souls." At the time of Quantrill's raid, when Lawrence was sacked and Topeka was threatened with a like fate, the city treasurer gave her the funds, which she buried in a corn field, where they were safe until the scare was over. When Mr. and Mrs. Farnsworth came to live in Topeka there were only thirty houses in the settlement. The winter the first legislature met in Topeka, Governor and Mrs. Robinson made their home with the Farnsworths. Mrs. Farnsworth took a very active part in church and social life. She was a noble, public-spirited woman who had a keen insight into the business affairs of her time. She died Feb. 1, 1908, thus closing a Christian life filled with interest and usefulness. To Mr. and Mrs. Farnsworth four children were born: Gertrude (deceased); Harriet (deceased); Julia Farnsworth Soper, who lives with her father; and Ruth, the wife of Harry C. Ashby, of Tulsa, Okla.Pages 1194-1196 from volume III, part 2 of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed December 2002 by Carolyn Ward. This volume is identified at the Kansas State Historical Society as microfilm LM195. It is a two-part volume 3.
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