John Henry Ketcham
1832 - 1906


The subject of this sketch was born at Dover Plains, New York, on December 21, 1832, the second son of John M. and Eliza A. (Stevens) Ketcham. The family is descended from old English stock, and the first authentic record of it in the colonies is of the John Ketcham who emigrated to this country with the Pilgrim Fathers, and whose descendants subsequently settled in Connecticut. From there John Ketcham’s descendants migrated to the south shore of Long Island, and there is an authentic record that the grandfather of John H. Ketcham lived, at the close of the Revolutionary War, at or near Babylon. In the latter part of that century he moved to the Harlem Valley and founded a general store, which was continued until the time of his death in 1872.

It was here that John H. Ketcham was born and married, and in this little community he reared and educated his children. His early life was that common to the country boy of his time. He attended the District School and did chores about the place, the hardships encountered at the formative period of his life being never lost upon him. They showed later when he had risen to a conspicuous place in the State and Nation, and his unfailing courtesy and kindly sympathy for others who came to him for aid won him many friends.

In addition to the meagre advantages of the District School John H. Ketcham attended the Amenia Seminary, then a noted academy in a section where educational advantages were few, and subsequently for one winter attended the Suffield Academy at Suffield, Conn., and one year at Worcester Seminary, at Worcester, Mass. These comparatively meagre advantages were supplemented by reading at night when the farm work was over; but very largely his education was acquired in the broad school of human experience.

Upon leaving Worcester Seminary he formed an association in connection with his older brother, William, and acquired a farm which the two brothers worked together. Upon this farm there was located a marble quarry which was subsequently developed and made one of the leading industries of the neighborhood.

His townsfolk early recognized in John H. Ketcham qualities of industry and capacity for leadership, and in November, 1853, before he had attained his 21st birthday, he was chosen to represent the Town of Dover in the Board of Supervisors at the County Seat. So well and so faithfully was this work done that in the fall of 1854 he was re-elected, and while still a member of this Board he was chosen a member of the State Legislature, being re-elected in the following year.

In 1857, and while but twenty-five years of age, he was the unanimous choice of his party for the State Senate, and was chosen by a substantial plurality, being at that time one of the youngest men who had ever been a member of that body. So satisfactory was his service to his constituency, and so devoted was he to their interests, that he was unanimously re-nominated and re-elected in 1859.

During his service in the State Legislature the business of the marble works and of the farm was continued and it prospered. After the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion, and upon the second call of President Lincoln for volunteers, John H. Ketcham was appointed by Edwin D. Morgan, the War Governor of New York, a member of the War Committee for Dutchess and Columbia Counties.

Among his associates on this Committee were Benson J. Lossing, noted as a historian, and James Emmott, then a justice of the New York Supreme Court. All through the summer of 1862 John H. Ketcham labored incessantly with the work entrusted to him, and in the fall of that year, with his characteristic zeal and energy, he had completed his quota with picked men, representing the best and most intelligent citizenship of the entire County.

Of this regiment, which was designated the 150th New York State Volunteers, John H. Ketcham was unanimously chosen Colonel. It may truthfully be said that he was utterly without military experience and training, but he was devoted unceasingly to perfecting himself in military tactics, and night after night busied himself in study. The departure of the regiment from Poughkeepsie for the front was an event long to be remembered, the ladies of Dutchess County presenting it with a set of colors.

The first order called for its presence in Baltimore, and here in the winter of 1862 and ‘63 the regiment was encamped, and during that entire winter Mrs. Ketcham was present and endured the privations and discomforts of camp life, thus giving companionship to her husband, and comfort and encouragement to those of the regiment who were privileged to meet with this rare and gifted woman. For more than two years following the muster of the regiment into the United States service Colonel Ketcham’s life was merged in that of the organization which he so ably commanded, and the various events of that period are recorded in other chapters of this book.

It was on Argyle Island, in the Savannah River, near Savannah, that General Ketcham, who had by this time been promoted for conspicuous gallantry, received a wound which threatened his life. While standing upon earthworks which had been thrown up as a protection to his command, a bullet struck him in the right thigh, within six inches of the trunk, and it was the opinion of the surgeon that amputation was the only means of saving his life. But with pluck and bravery General Ketcham declined to permit the amputation, and it is said of him he remarked that if necessary he would rather die than have his leg removed. After six weeks in the hospital he was able to be moved to New York, but from the effects of this wound he never entirely recovered, and he did not join his command again in active campaign service.

While at Atlanta, Ga., he had been promoted to be Brigadier-General by Brevet, and subsequently, for conspicuous bravery, to the rank of Brevet Major-General. When he was finally mustered out of the service it was with full rank of Brigadier-General in the volunteer service.

While still at the front with his Corps in Georgia, he was nominated for the 38th Congress, and was elected by a large majority. He was subsequently re-nominated and elected consecutively to the 39th, 40th, 41st, and 42nd Congresses, and was unanimously re-nominated for membership in the 43rd. This was in 1872, the year of the memorable Greeley campaign, and the Democrats had placed in opposition to him at this election Hon. John O. Whitehouse, of Poughkeepsie. The struggle throughout the then 13th Congressional District of New York was one, famous in the annals of State politics, and General Ketcham suffered his first and only defeat; being beaten in the District by a plurality of something like eight hundred votes.

General Grant, who was at that time President, appointed him a Commissioner of the District of Columbia. His colleagues were ex-Governor William Dennison of Ohio, and the Hon. Henry T. Blow of Missouri. General Ketcham was quick to see the possibilities of material development of the Nation’s capital, and to the task of beautifying and remodeling the city he gave his best energy and unremitting labor.

At the conclusion of his four years’ term Washington streets had been largely repaved with asphalt, dozens of small parks had been created, and the local government had been placed on a sure and firm foundation. Upon General Ketcham’s retirement from this post he received many letters of commendation from the leading citizens of the District, expressing regret at his resignation, and testifying to the ability, industry, and thoughtful consideration manifested by him in the faithful discharge of his duties, and he was the guest of honor at a banquet given him in commemoration of these services.

General Ketcham was recalled to serve his District in the 45th Congress, and was subsequently re-elected to the 46th, 47th, 48th, 49th, 50th, 51st, and 52nd Congresses, when, owing to impaired health, he declined a unanimous nomination which had been tendered him by the people of the District.

In 1894 he again entered Congress, and was subsequently re-elected to the 56th, 57th, 58th, and 59th Congresses, and was the unanimous choice of his party for re-election to the 60th Congress when death came on November 4, 1906. In point of the length of service he was the dean of both branches of the National Legislature, having broken the record for long service.

Perhaps no other man in the public life of his time had so strong and warm a hold upon his constituents as did the subject of this sketch. For nearly fifty years he had been in their service and they had honored him as no other man had ever been honored in the National Legislature. Nineteen times they had nominated him as their representative in Congress, and no vote had ever been cast against him in any convention.

It was his highest ambition to serve his District faithfully and well, irrespective of party affiliations, and many are the incidents now told of his generosity and of the sacrifices that he made in the interests of his constituents. He was a man of warm impulses and of a tender and generous nature, always ready to help a friend or do a kind act for a neighbor, and he was known far and beyond the confines of his native State.

Early in his Congressional life he became deeply interested in the postal service, and for many years was a member of the committee of postal officers and post routes in the National House. It was he who secured for the employees in the postal service fifteen days vacation each year, with pay, and he was largely instrumental in the legislation which has resulted in the free rural delivery service throughout the length and breadth of this land.

His native State honors him, and with good reason, for he was one of her best products; a manly, noble man in all the relations of life, and one who in his remarkable public career maintained himself throughout with dignity, propriety, and honor. The people of the 21st Congressional District, to a man, mourn his loss and realize that the void created by his death is one which it is impossible to fill.

In his domestic relations General Ketcham had been most fortunate and happy. On February 4, 1858, he was married to Augusta A. Belden, daughter of William H. and Sarah A. Belden, and of this union four children were born: Augusta A., Henry B., Charles B., and Ethel B.; the latter three of whom, together with his widow, survive him.

Of these his son, Henry B. Ketcham, was married September 12, 1889, to Sallie Bray Holman, daughter of Samuel K. Holman of Englewood, N.J., and they have three children, Henry H., Katherine H., and John B. Ketcham.

His other son, Charles B. Ketcham, was married in 1900 to Suzanne Brightson, daughter of George E. Brightson of Brooklyn, N.Y., and they have two sons, Howard and Gordon.

From The Dutchess County Regiment, edited by S. G. Cook and Charles E. Benton (1907).

John Henry Ketcham

Ketcham, John Henry
(Biographical Directory of the United States Congress)

Hon. John H. Ketcham
(History of Duchess County, New York)

John H. Ketcham
(Appleton’s Cyclopedia of American Biography)

Ketcham, John Henry
(The Political Graveyard)

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