Reuben Fenton

Reuben Eaton Fenton (July 4, 1819 – August 25, 1885) was an American merchant and politician from New York. In the mid-19th Century, he served as a U.S. Representative, a U.S. Senator, and as Governor of New York.

Reuben Eaton Fenton
Reuben Fenton - Brady-Handy.jpg
22nd Governor of New York
In office
January 1, 1865 – December 31, 1868
LieutenantThomas G. Alvord
Stewart Woodford
Preceded byHoratio Seymour
Succeeded byJohn T. Hoffman
United States Senator
from New York
In office
March 4, 1869 – March 3, 1875
Preceded byEdwin D. Morgan
Succeeded byFrancis Kernan
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from New York
In office
March 4, 1857 – December 20, 1864
Preceded byFrancis S. Edwards
Succeeded byHenry Van Aernam
Constituency33rd district (1857–63)
31st district (1863–64)
In office
March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1855
Preceded byAugustus P. Hascall
Succeeded byFrancis S. Edwards
Constituency33rd district
Personal details
Born(1819-07-04)July 4, 1819
Carroll, New York, U.S.
DiedAugust 25, 1885(1885-08-25) (aged 66)
Jamestown, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic (before 1857)
Republican (1857–72, 1873–85)
Liberal Republican (1872–73)
Jane Frew
(m. 1840; died 1842)

Elizabeth Scudder
(m. 1844)
EducationCary's Academy
Fredonia Academy

Early lifeEdit

Gubernatorial portrait of New York Governor Reuben E. Fenton.

Fenton was born near Frewsburg, in Chautauqua County, New York on July 4, 1819.[1] He was the son of a farmer, and schoolteacher, George Washington Fenton (1783–1860) and Elsey (née Owen) Fenton (1790–1875).[2] He had four siblings: Roswell Owen Fenton, George Washington Fenton Jr., William H.H. Fenton, and John Freeman Fenton.[3]

His paternal grandparents were Roswell Fenton and Deborah (née Freeman) Fenton and his maternal grandfather was John Owen of Carroll, New York.[3] His paternal aunt, Hannah Fenton was the wife of Lambert Van Buren of Kinderhook, New York.[4]

He was educated in the district school, Cary's Academy near Cincinnati, Ohio and the Fredonia Academy.[5]


In 1840, he was named commander of the New York Militia's 162nd Infantry Regiment with the rank of colonel. He became a lumber merchant, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1841.[6] Fenton entered politics as a Democrat. He was Town Supervisor of Carroll from 1843 to 1850.[7]

U.S. House of RepresentativesEdit

He was elected as a Democrat to the 33rd United States Congress, and served from March 4, 1853, to March 3, 1855. In his first term in Congress, Fenton strongly opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 and unsuccessfully tried to persuade President Franklin Pierce and U.S. Secretary of State William L. Marcy to oppose the bill. He was defeated for re-election that year. He left the Democratic Party to help organize the Republican Party,[6] and was later elected, as a Republican, to the 35th, 36th, 37th and 38th United States Congresses, and served from 1857 to 1865. During the 36th Congress, he served on the Committee on Invalid Pensions and in the 37th Congress, he served on the Committee on Claims.[7] He served a total of five terms as congressman.

Governor of New YorkEdit

He was the Governor of New York from 1865 to 1868, elected in 1864 and 1866. "During his tenure, Cornell University was founded; a free public school system was initiated; and relief measures were sanctioned that benefited veterans."[8] After serving two terms as governor, Fenton lost the November 1868 election to John T. Hoffman, a Tammany-backed Democrat. In 1868, he was among the candidates to be Vice President but the nomination went eventually to Schuyler Colfax,[9] whom Fenton had previously been allied with in discussing "growing public agitation about" General George B. McClellan's inactivity with President Abraham Lincoln during the U.S. Civil War.[10]

U.S. SenatorEdit

Fenton (center) is among the conspiratorial Liberal Republicans in this Harper's Weekly cartoon of March 16, 1872.

In January 1869, he was elected a U.S. Senator from New York, succeeding Edwin D. Morgan and serving from 1869 to 1875 when Francis Kernan replaced him. While in the Senate, he served as Chair of the Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expenses during the 42nd Congress while also serving on the Committee on Manufactures and the Committee on Territories.[7] In 1872, he was among the Republicans opposed to President Ulysses S. Grant who joined the short-lived Liberal Republican Party.[11]

Later lifeEdit

In 1878, Fenton represented the United States at the International Monetary Conference in Paris. He was known as "The Soldiers' Friend" for his efforts to help returning Civil War veterans. He worked to remove tuition charges for public education, helped to establish six schools for training teachers, and signed the charter for Cornell University.[12]

Personal lifeEdit

Fenton's home in Jamestown.

In 1840, Fenton was married to Jane W. Frew (1821–1842), the daughter of John Frew. They had one daughter, Jane Frew Fenton. After his first wife's death in 1842 Jane went to live with her maternal grandparents. Reuben got remarried on June 12, 1844 to Elizabeth Scudder (1824–1901). Together, they were the parents of:[5]

  • Josephine Fenton (1845–1928), who married Frank Edward Gifford (1845–1934).[5]
  • Jeannette Fenton (1849–1924), who married Albert Gilbert (1851–1912).[5]
  • Reuben Earle Fenton (1865–1895), who married Lillian Mai Hayden, daughter of Charles H. Hayden in 1890.[5]

Fenton died on August 25, 1885 in Jamestown,[13] and was buried in Lake View Cemetery.[14]


The town of Fenton in Broome County, New York is named for Reuben Fenton.

Fenton's family home was an Italian Villa style house built in 1863. He and his family lived there until the passing of Fenton's wife. After her passing the house was abandoned before it became city property in 1919. It has been home to the Fenton History Center since 1964 and is now used as a museum dedicated to the local history of Chautauqua county.[15] It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.[16]

After his death, a building at The State University of New York at Fredonia, Fenton Hall, was named in his honor because he had attended the previous incarnation of the school, Fredonia Academy.[17][18]

Fenton Avenue in The Bronx, New York, is named for him.[17]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Reuben Eaton Fenton Papers". Manuscripts and Special Collections: New York State Library. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  2. ^ Maltby, Mrs Martha (Humphreys) (1918). Genealogical Gleanings of Siggins, and Other Pennsylvania Families: A Volume of History, Biography and Colonial, Revolutionary, Civil and Other War Records Including Names of Many Other Warren County Pioneers. Tiernan-Dart Printing Company. p. 16. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  3. ^ a b Schenck, J. S.; Rann, William S. (1887). History of Warren County, Pennsylvania: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers. D. Mason & Company. p. 330. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  4. ^ Peckham, A.B., M.D., Harriett C. Waite Van Buren (1913). History of Cornelis Maessen Van Buren who came from Holland to the New Netherlands in 1631, and his descendants, including the genealogy of the family of BLOOMINGDALE who are descended from Maas, a son of Cornelis Masessen. Tobias A. Wright Printer and Publisher. p. 78. ISBN 978-5-87839-437-6. Retrieved December 5, 2019.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b c d e Downs, John P.; Hedley, Fenwick Y. (1921). HISTORY CHAUTAUQUA COUNTY NEW YORK AND ITS PEOPLE, Vol. II (PDF). American Historical Society, Inc. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Reuben Eaton Fenton Papers, 1854-1887 (finding aid)". New York State Library web site. New York State Library. Retrieved November 25, 2014.
  7. ^ a b c "FENTON, Reuben Eaton - Biographical Information". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  8. ^ "Reuben Eaton Fenton". National Governors Association. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  9. ^ Hollister, Ovando James (1886). Life of Schuyler Colfax. Funk & Wagnalls. p. 322. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  10. ^ Lehrman, Lewis E. (2018). Lincoln & Churchill: Statesmen at War. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 125. ISBN 978-0-8117-6745-3. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  11. ^ Dunkelman, Mark H. (2015). Patrick Henry Jones: Irish American, Civil War General, and Gilded Age Politician. LSU Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-8071-5967-5. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  12. ^ Google Books Life Sketches of State Officers, Senators, and Members of Assembly in the State of New York in 1867 by S. R. Harlow and H. H. Boone (Weed, Parsons & Co., Albany NY, 1867)
  13. ^ "Death of Ex-Gov. Fenton; He Dies Suddenly from Heart Disease. Jamestown in Mourning for the Loss of Its Leading Citizen--His Long and Useful Career" (PDF). The New York Times. August 26, 1885. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  14. ^ "Ex-Gov. Fenton Buried.; Laid at Rest in Lakeview Cemetery After Solemn Funeral Services" (PDF). The New York Times. August 30, 1885. Retrieved December 5, 2019.
  15. ^ Lynn Beebe Weaver (March 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Fenton, Gov. Reuben, Mansion". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2009-06-14.See also: "Accompanying two photos".
  16. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  17. ^ a b Lindquist, Joan (2019). "Remembering Brooklyn Square: Govenor [sic] Reuben E. Fenton". Jamestown Gazette. Jamestown, NY.
  18. ^ "The Governor of New York". The Dollar Monthly Magazine. Boston, MA: Office American, Flag of Our Union, and Novelette. June 1865. p. 433 – via Google Books.

External linksEdit

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for Governor of New York
1864, 1866
Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 33rd congressional district

March 4, 1853 – March 3, 1855
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 33rd congressional district

March 4, 1857 – March 3, 1863
District eliminated
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New York's 31st congressional district

March 4, 1863 – December 20, 1864
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of New York
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 1) from New York
Served alongside: Roscoe Conkling
Succeeded by