Samuel Appleton


Until 1848, all of what is now Appleton was called Grand Chute, after the rushing falls of the Fox River. Reeder Smith was the first person to use the name Appleton to describe the community surrounding the Lawrence Institute. He chose the name to honor the wife of Mr. Lawrence. She was Sarah Elizabeth Appleton, the daughter of William Appleton, a wealthy Boston merchant and member of Congress. Appleton was an important name in Boston, belonging to many prominent figures. One of these was Samuel Appleton, a cousin of William, who came to believe that the tiny village in Wisconsin was named for him. Samuel Appleton was born in Concord, New Hampshire, on June 22, 1766. He had a hard, frontier childhood, and received only a few years of schooling before becoming a teacher himself. After trying farming in the new territory of Maine, he worked as a storekeeper and went into business with his brother, Nathan Appleton. Their Boston enterprise was a success, and Samuel traveled for many years between America and Europe on business. As their worth increased, the brothers invested in the new cotton industry, in real estate, and in railroads. Eventually, Samuel became one of the leading men of New England finance. He also played a small part in politics, serving in the Massachusetts state legislature from 1828 to 1831, and as a presidential elector for Daniel Webster in 1836.

When he was 53, Samuel Appleton married a widow, Mrs. Mary Gore. They had no children, but their niece, Frances, became prominent as the second wife of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It was after her tragic death in a fire in 1861 that Longfellow wrote what many believe to be his greatest poem, "The Cross of Snow."

At age 60, Samuel Appleton retired from business to devote his life to philanthropic activities. He gave his time and money to hospitals, colleges, museums, and historical societies. Among his many gifts is the Appleton Chapel at Harvard University, which is named for him. Upon his death on July 12, 1853, Samuel left a fortune of nearly one million dollars, which was divided among his family, friends, and favorite charities.

Always looking for a new source of funds, Reeder Smith was well aware of Samuel Appleton's generosity. Contacting Mr. Lawrence, Smith suggested telling Samuel Appleton that the little community on the Fox River was named for him, rather than for Mr. Lawrence's wife. By deceiving Mr. Appleton in this way, they hoped to get some money for the Lawrence Institute. In a letter to a friend dated October 1, 1849, Mr. Lawrence explained that "Mr. Smith has had a number of interviews with old Sam Appleton for whom the town was named. He is a very liberal and a very rich man and eighty-five years old. He is very interested in the town and I hope may do something for the Institute."

Reeder Smith's plan worked, and Samuel Appleton gave $10,000 to the school as an endowment for the library. As a gesture of appreciation, for many years all the books in the Lawrence library were marked with a bookplate taken from a portrait of Mr. Appleton. The original painting from which the bookplates were made now hangs in the Boston Atheneum.