JOHN DEXTER FLINT (deceased), merchant, trader, philanthropist and churchman, of Fall River, was in many ways a most remarkable man, one that perhaps crowded more into his three-score years of active business life in the city of his adoption than any of his contemporaries; among the foremost leaders in business lines of those who wrought with him, he no doubt was first in generous gifts to religious and church work and lines akin to it. Born April 26, 1826, in the town of North Reading, Mass., Mr. Flint was a son of Henry and Mary (Sanborn) Flint, most estimable people but of limited means.
The Flints were of good Puritan stock, the North Reading family descending from (I) Thomas Flint, who, with his brother William, was here in New England probably before 1642. William became a large land owner in the vicinity of Flint street, Salem, while Thomas was one of the first settlers in that part of Salem Village which became Danvers, buying land there as early as 1662. He married Ann Southwick, and their children were:
Thomas Flint (2), son of Thomas, was a farmer and carpenter. He inherited and occupied the homestead established by his father. Strong in his religious faith, he labored diligently and effectively for the establishment of the first church in Salem Village, and he constructed the first meeting house there. He was a soldier and was wounded in King Philip’s war, and later was an officer in the Salem Village military company. He was a large land owner, possessing some 900 acres, and gave to each of his sons a farm. He was twice married, (first) to Hannah Moulton, and (second) to Mary Dounton, and his sons, George, Ebenezer, William and Jonathan, all removed to North Reading, married and had families.
Jonathan Flint, son of Capt. Thomas (2), was born Nov. 8, 1689. He was a farmer and lived on a farm which was given him by his father, the deed bearing date March 22, 1720. This farm has always remained in the possession of his descendants. He married Feb. 18, 1723, Mary Hart, daughter of Adam Hart, and they had two children:
- Lydia, born Sept. 21, 1723
- Jonathan, born Aug. 11,1730
Jonathan Flint (2), son of Jonathan, was born Aug. 11, 1730. He was a farmer and lived in North Reading, on the homestead. He married (first) Lydia Proctor and (second) Widow Smith. His children, all by the first marriage, were:
- John (born April 3, 1761)
John Flint, son of Jonathan (2), was born in North Reading, April 3, 1761, and died Aug. 26, 1836. He was a farmer and lived in North Reading on the homestead. He married July 22, 1783, Mehitable Mclntyre, who died Oct. 28, 1790, aged twenty-three. He married (second) May 26, 1791, Phebe, daughter of George and Hannah (Phelps) Flint. She was born March 8, 1763, and died in December, 1846. His children were:
- Sally and John (to the first marriage)
- Henry (born May 18, 1792)
- Hannah Phelps
- James Bancroft
- Olive and George (to the second marriage)
Henry Flint, son of John, was born in North Reading, Mass., May 18, 1792. He was a farmer and lived in Danville, Vt., and Fall River, Mass., his death occurring in the latter town Nov. 29, 1866. He married Sept. 5, 1819, Mary Sanborn, who died in June, 1854. Their children were:
- Henry Sanborn, born Aug. 4, 1821
- Samuel Warren, Aug. 10, 1823
- John Dexter, April 26, 1826
- Harrison Orlando, April 5, 1828
- George Putnam, Oct. 7, 1830
- Albert Augustus, July 10, 1833
- Alonzo, Nov. 18, 1835
- Ezra Harvey, May 26, 1838
- Ellen Mary, May 9, 1840
- Annett, March 22, 1845
John Dexter Flint, son of John, born April 26, 1826, in the town of North Reading, was taken to Peacham, Vt., by the family when but five years of age, and his loyalty to his early home in Vermont was a marked feature of his life after he had reached the high tide mark of success. He remained in Peacham, attending school and working on his father’s farm until he was nineteen years of age. He was brought up, as were most of the country boys of the earth part of the last century, with moderate education and with the expectation of self-support and independence. From his mother in particular he received strong stimulus toward self-reliance, religious faith and industry. She was a woman of marked force of character, patient, tender, but of determination of purpose, and he always acknowledged the debt which he owed to her for whatever force of character he him-self possessed. In his late teens he came to Boston to engage in work in a restaurant. He remained there but one year, as he was taken sick and returned to Vermont. After a time, however, he heard of a position in New Bedford, and came 240 miles to get it, beginning the peddling of tin there on Sept. 16, 1846, for Benjamin P. Cunningham, whose carts were well known in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island. The business, which was that of tin, hardware and woodenware, had been removed to Fall River on Jan. 1, 1847, and established near the southwest corner of Pleasant and Third streets. In 1850, when Mr. Flint retired as an employee, the owner wished to sell a half interest in the store, and Mr. Flint bought it. He was Mr. Cunningham’s partner for five years, and then bought him out and took in as partners two men who had been clerks in the store, Elihu Grant and Lafayette Nichols, under the firm name of J. D. Flint & Co. All three were Methodists, and Mr. Grant afterward became a preacher in the Methodist church.
The business of the firm increased greatly, but before the time for which the partnership was formed had expired, Mr. Grant went to the war, as captain of a company formed there. On his return from the field, Mr. Flint purchased his interest in the firm and engaged him as a clerk. He then took in as partner his brother, Alonzo Flint, who stayed with him five years. On Alonzo Flint’s retirement another brother, Samuel W. Flint, of Vermont, was taken into the firm, also for five years, but remained twenty-four, from 1865 to 1889, and at his death left an estate of more than $100,000. The company operated three stores, two in Fall River and one in Taunton.
While on Pleasant and Third streets, the Flint & Co. store was destroyed by a fire which, for a time, put the concern out of business, but they re-gathered their forces and resumed on South Main street, on the site now occupied by the Hudner building. Their building stood on leased ground, which was occupied by them many years. Mr. Grant retired, and about 1876 the firm built the four-story brick structure on South Main street known as Flint’s Exchange, and added furniture and carpets to their stock. They had been wholesale and retail dealers, and in their new location they retained the wholesale as well as the retail form of business. Here, as before, John D. Flint had a half interest. He and his brother Samuel W. had a short time before purchased buildings which stood on the Borden block site, and moved them to the present site of the Centennial block, where they, were reconstructed, forming that block. The business on the west side of South Main street was continued until Mr. Flint and his brother dissolved partnership in 1889, and the store was sold to Samuel Flint’s son and John D. Flint’s son-in-law, Edward Barker, who carried it on till recently under the firm name of Flint & Barker.
John D. Flint established himself in the furniture and similar lines in the Centennial block. His office thereafter was there, although Messrs. Heap & Gee had charge of the business, and Mr. Gee was Mr. Flint’s general agent. Mr. Flint was associated with his brothers, Ezra and Henry, in the establishment of the Providence Furniture Company. He was very successful in all these enterprises, and when it is remembered that he bad aid from but one business man in making his start his record appears to many very remarkable. He was a very stringent economist in his earlier career, however, and lived one week on an outlay of but twenty-three cents.
The January prior to Mr. Flint’s death marked the fifty-seventh year without a break in his active business life. In that time he had nine partners, and had helped twenty-nine men start in business.
About 1871 Mr. Flint engaged largely, for the first time, in land speculation. With the late Hon. Robert T. Davis, whom he soon, after bought out, he purchased two farms, the Jenks and Carr places, of forty-three and twenty-two acres, in the eastern section of the town. Two mill sites were secured from these, and the rest divided into house lots, which were disposed of as mill enterprises were established and sites for tenements demanded. The result of the investment was a great success. Flint Village, populated by at least 30,000 souls, has grown up on the two farms, with numerous mills, stores and other avenues of industry.
Mr. Flint also became the owner of several large blocks in the city, namely: Vermont, Centennial, Caledonia, Waterman, Peacham and Concert Hall building (Pleasant street), ownership of all of which he retained until his death, with the exception of the Concert Hall building which he sold; he also owned an interest with Frank S. Stevens in the Granite block, besides many tenements on Fourth street and cottage houses near Oak Grove avenue. His residence on Rock street is one of the largest in the city, and well arranged for public gatherings.
Mr. Flint was early interested in local bank-ing institutions, having been connected with the Tiverton Bank, one of the first enterprises of its kind hereabouts. His interest in the mills began with the building of the Union, the first to be erected here by persons outside the old circles. He took stock in that, also in the Granite, the next to be started, and in the Merchants, the next after the Granite. He helped start the Wampanoag, in which he took $40,000 worth of stock. He and his brother took $80,000 of the capital stock of the Flint, and were also active in starting the Barnard and the Merino mill, the last of which has gone out of existence. He had been connected with the Sagamore from the time of its failure, and took the first certificate for $10,000 after the reorganization. Previous to that he had been largely instrumental in raising money to keep the sheriff off the plant, three times in one week. He helped to build the Cornell, of which he was president, as well as of the Flint. He was also active in building the Hargraves and Parker mills, of which he was a director; was treasurer of the Flint for one year, 1878-79, and was a director in the Wampanoag from the time it was started. At one time he had a large interest in the Davol. He was also one of the directors of the Fall River railroad, which was merged into the Old Colony.
Mr. Flint, when a boy of sixteen or seventeen, was converted and was baptized, joining the Methodist Church March 10, 1843. He kept his membership in the First M. E. Church, which he joined in his first years in Fall River, until about fifteen years before his death, when he joined St. Paul’s, of which he was afterward a member. He was an official member of the First Church for a long period, and was, at his death, a teacher in the Sunday school at St. Paul’s. He was also a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association, a trustee of the Deaconess Home, in the establishing of which he was a prime mover, a vice president of the Seaside Home, a director of the Y. M. C. A., the Associated Charities, the Union Hospital, the Home for Aged People in Fall River, and was actively interested in the Home Training School for Nurses, the Salvation Army, the Fall River Boys’ Club, the Gospel Rescue Mission, the Maple Street A. M. E. Church, the Italian M. E. Chuch, in the work of missions at home and afar, and in the work of education, and in individual needs of theological students. He, as well as his wife, was active in Anti-slavery lines during the war and in temperance lines at all times. Mrs. Flint is also interested in other matters of moral, religious and humanitarian concern. Mr. Flint’s interest in the Y. M. C. A. dated back to 1857.
Mr. Flint’s hospitality to a variety of workers – those engaged in Sunday school, church, temperance, Abolition or other reform or religious work – was notable. His repute among the clergy, especially those of the Methodist denomination, was very high. Probably no man who ever engaged as extensively as he in business in Fall River was more generally regarded by the religious and reform workers of the city as deeply interested in their causes than Mr. Flint.
On Jan. 17, 1850, Mr. Flint married Clarissa C. Waterman, of Fall River, daughter of George and Maria (Curtis) Waterman, of Scituate, and in 1900 they celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of that event.
Mr. Flint died in the morning of Aug. 28, 1907, when in the eighty-second year of his age, at his home in Fall River. He is survived by his wife and three daughters, the latter being:
- Mrs. Ella F. Stafford
- Mrs. John S. Brayton
- Mrs. Edward Barker
- another daughter who married Mr. Arthur Anthony died years ago
- still another daughter, Jennie, twin to Mrs. Brayton, died years ago
On the occasion of the death of Mr. Flint the Fall River News at that time said editorially:
“In the death of John D. Flint the city sustains a serious loss. From business, religious and charitable circles a recognized leader has been taken. His was in some respects a peculiar temperament. He was a born trader. To make money was perhaps the first instinct throughout his busy life. As a rule he did not get the worst of a bargain. Success achieved, his next purpose in life seemed to be how to do good with his gains. He led in organizing charities for the public good. In individual cases of need no appeal to him was ever in vain, once he was reliably assured the object was deserving. He was, without question, the most generous giver in the city, his distributions amounting to many thousands every year. And not only did he give generously of his own, but his example inspired others and led to willing co-operation when he appealed for it. People had confidence in his motives, and believed that his call was not made until the proposed charity had been carefully considered, and had been deemed a necessity by a clear business head and a man thoroughly aware of the needs of the community. The Methodist Church loses in him one of its stoutest supports, but his religion and his methods were not restricted by sect. As a business man he was foremost among local leaders. The substantial blocks about the center of the city, the great cotton mill and the settlement – a good-sized city of itself in the eastern section – which bears his name, will be enduring monuments to his activities for the material development of Fall River. This leadership he maintained to his last days. He had more business enterprise, courage and activity at eighty than many of a younger generation. His loss in the three circles to which special reference has been made will be intensified as the years roll on. He has earned the ‘Well done’ of the Master and the community, and passed to his deserved reward.”