U.S. House of Representatives – Mr. Walter H. French, of Boston Mass., who has been appointed Journal Clerk in place of Mr. Smith, who resigned, took his place today. 

May 1, 1876 – Alexandria Gazette (Virginia)

Walter Henry French Jr. was born on December 2, 1837 in Lowell, Massachusetts to Walter and Sarah (Bowers) French.  Walter Jr. is my 1st cousin-4x removed.  His grandfather, Luther French, is my 4th great grandfather.  (Story about Walter Jr.’s father, who died in a train accident – Ticket Punched, the Death of Walter French)

On May 5, 2016, the U.S. House, Office of the Historian, published an article entitled,  An Early Effort by the House of Representatives to Preserve Its Records.   The article noted that in 1899, Walter urged Congress to protect and preserve congressional records, stating “the extreme heat in summer from the iron roof and the dampness in winter from the condensation of hot air coming against the cold iron of the roof renders the place unfit for documents of such value.

Walter Jr. is a genealogists dream, an interesting life in Washington D.C. ripe with political history and well documented.  He was frequently noted for his  extensive collection of scrapbooks full of newspaper and periodical clippings and for his knack for uncovering priceless documents.  To keep this post manageable, I am providing links to newspaper articles in which Walter was referenced.  I believe Walter enjoyed being mentioned in the news and he was even able to document his imminent demise…several times! Click here for the rest of the story!

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 9.01.50 PMIn 1857, Walter moved from New Hampshire to Washington D.C. and worked as a clerk/manager at the National Hotel.  He came to Washington with Franklin Tenney  who “assumed charge” of the National, which had been closed following a “mysterious and fatal sickness that had broken out among its guests.”  Tenny was married to Mehitable Swett Varnum who was a niece of Brigadier General James Varnum of Revolutionary War fame and of Bradley Varnum who was at one time Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.   This political connection appears to have played an important role in Walter’s life.  In 1876, he was appointed as journal clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives.

However, in December 1877, Walter was removed and replaced by Albert Lamar of Georgia.  Lamar was clerk for the Congress of the Confederate States (CCS)  from May 1862 to March 1865 at Richmond, Virginia.  Just how a avowed secessionist and former clerk for the CCS became a clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives twelve years after the end of the Civil War is a mystery?

Following his dismissal, Walter moved to Boston and later New York City where he opened an office on Wall Street, working as a stock broker.  According to his obituary, three times he made and lost his fortune playing the market as a plunger.  To quote P.J. O’Rourke, “Giving assets to a stock market plunger is like giving beer and car keys to teenage boys.” A plunger makes daring emotional investments, risking a large percentage of capital on a single trade.  By the age of 45 he was out of the market and back in Boston were he tried his hand in politics, supporting the Democratic Party.

(Images) 1876 Appointment/1877 Removed from Clerk Post (2)/ 1891 Appointment/ Failed Doorkeeper Vote 1878/ Members All at Horse Races 1904 (Click Image to View Articles)

Walter’s support of Democrats paid off in 1891 when he was appointed file clerk for the U.S. House of Representatives for the 52nd United States Congress.  His dedication to the preservation of legislative records and knowledge of congressional procedure made him a respected staff member and a gifted researcher for drafting legislation.

In a way, he was google before google with Members of Congress referring to him as a human cyclopedia. Walter was a dedicated keeper of scrapbooks (newspaper and periodical clippings) for over 20 years.  He is quoted as saying, “I think all public men should keep scrapbooks, they are a handy reference and when kept in order you can find in a moment the history of any measure o r or question.”  According to news article, Walter was also in possession of autographs and of rare old public documents, or discovered rare documents:

(Images) First Lady Martha Washington’s Letter & Signature/ England Endorsed It/ Mrs. Lincoln’s Pension Petition (Click Image to View News Article)

DW(Image) Daniel Webster’s Pants – When a question arose in 1894 regarding the new statue of Daniel Webster in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol, specifically about the cut of his trousers, they turned to Walter French.   Walter, as was his nature did have an answer, he just happened to know the tailor in Boston who measured and cut Webster’s trousers!

Personating Presidents – Walter happened to resemble (and cultivate his resemblance to) President Grover Cleveland.  In 1899, an article was published, becoming a national sensation, about individuals who were misidentified as being “presidential.” (Sacramento Daily Union – March 22 ,1899)

Dead Almost, Then Dead for Real

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 12.57.47 PMOn several occasions, it was reported in newspapers that Walter was seriously ill and near death, as was his nature he collected and took great pleasure in these articles.  When death did finally come in 1904, Walter was in Wiesbaden, Germany on an European tour that included visits to England, Italy, Greece and France.  Walter was remembered as one of the best liked men in Washington with close friends among members of Congress and those who frequented the building.  Following his death, Congress approved payment for expenses associated with his illness and funeral and a sum equal to six months of his salary ($1,375). The last item to share is a thoughtful, long obituary that sketches Walter’s life and times.

Col. French is Dead(Front Page) Evening Star August 15, 1904.


© David R. French and French in Name Only, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to David French and French in Name Only with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.