For an hundred and more years, from the very inception of the history of Fall River as a town, the French family has been prominently identified with it. Reference is made to the late Hon. Enoch French and his posterity; and Enoch’s ancestors before him had been identified with the history of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a century and a half and more. And across the water the French family is one ancient and historic, claiming its origin from Rollo, Duke of Normandy, who himself was a Norseman viking, but who settled in France, and in A. D. 910 formally adopted the Christian religion and was baptized, taking the name of Robert Count, of Paris, who was his godfather. In direct line from Rollo descended Sir Theoples French (or Freyn), who went with William the Conqueror to England and fought at the battle of Hastings. Thus was the first branch of the French family planted in England.
The Fall River French family here considered, that alluded to above, springs from the early Rehoboth family of the name, and it, as will be observed further on, according to Savage, perhaps from the Dorchester family. John French, the head of the Dorchester family and the immigrant ancestor, was a native of England, born in 1612. He had land granted him at what became Braintree for five heads Feb. 24, 1639-40. He was admitted to the church in the adjoining town of Dorchester, Jan. 27, 1642, and the births of his first two children are recorded in Dorchester. He became a freeman May 29, 1639. He was active and prominent among the early settlers. His son John was born Feb. 28, 1641.
John French, of Northampton (perhaps, says Savage, a son of John of Dorchester), came thither about 1676 from Rehoboth, Mass., with wife, a daughter of John Kingsley, and children John, Thomas, Samuel and Jonathan, the first three of whom took the oath of allegiance Feb. 8, 1679; besides three daughters:
- Mary French, wife of Samuel Stebbins, married March 4, 1678, who died before her father
- Hannah French, wife of Francis Keet
- Elizabeth French, wife of Samuel Pomeroy
The father died Feb. 1, 1697.
John French (2), son of John, married Nov. 22, 1678, Hannah (Savage says Mary) Palmer. Mr. French lived with his grandfather Kingsley. His children, of Rehoboth town record, were:
- Hannah French, born Oct. 19, 1679
- John French, born April 13, 1681
- Mary French, born March 15. 1683-84
- Elizabeth French, born Jan. 19, 1684-85
- Martha French, born March 28, 1688
- Samuel French, born March 30, 1690
- Jonathan French, born Nov. 17, 1693
- Thomas French, born Sept. 6, 1696
- Ephraim French, born Jan. 22, 1698-99
Ephraim French, son of John and Hannah, born Jan. 22, 1698-99, married Aug. 13, 1726, Bethiah Dean, of Taunton, and their children of Rehoboth town record were:
- Elkanah French, born Nov. 9, 1727
- Bethiah French, April 7, 1731
- Ephraim French, April 25, 1734
- James French, March 25, 173?
- Luce French, Jan. 19, 1741-42
- John French, Feb. 25, 1746-47
(While the records do not state positively that the Ephraim French born April 25, 1734, is the Ephraim immediately following, yet it is presumed so, beyond a reasonable doubt, not only because of the fact that the records show this Ephraim is the only one of that name who was likely of marriageable age at that time but also that there is a tradition in the family that Ephraim French, who married “Hannah” Presbrey, was in middle life when he married.)
Ephraim French, of the town of Raynham, married in 1775 Elizabeth Presbrey and had sons:
- Ephraim French, born in 1777
- Enoch French, born in May, 1779
The father died about 1780. and the mother in December, 1785, married Capt. Jael Hathaway, and took with her to Fall River her son Enoch, and he became the head of the Fall River family. He was apprenticed in the early nineties to Joseph Read, a tanner of Fall River, whose tannery was located on what became known as French’s Hill. The tannery had passed through four generations of the Read name and Oct. 3, 1801, became the property of Mr. French, who carried it on in connection with a shoe store, which the manufacture of leather and boots and shoes later led to. This shoe store of Mr. French, which was opened in 1820, was the first boot and shoe store in Fall River. Its location was on the corner of North Main and Central streets. Two years later the business was moved to a room some doors to the west on Central street, and in 1824 again moved, this time to Main street, a little to the south of the later location of the firm of J. B. French & Son.
Deacon Enoch French was also quite extensively engaged in farming, owning considerable land, and his sons assisted with the work on the farm and learned the trades of tanning and shoemaking, and in time, as will be observed further on, became associated in business with their father, the latter remaining in active business until the time of his death.
Mr. French was a most useful and influential citizen; he was selectman for a number of years through the twenties, and also for several years representative, in 1828, 1829 and 1840. He was one of the corporators of the Fall River Savings Bank in April, 1828, and a member of its first board of trustees. He was also chairman of the first board of investment of the bank, which office he held until his death. He was a member and deacon of the Baptist Church at Fall River for forty and more years. He died in 1847.
In 1799 Mr. French married Sarah, daughter of Joseph and Mary (Cornell) Read, and daughter of the man with whom he served his apprenticeship. She was born in 1776, and died Feb. 28, 1828. Deacon French’s second marriage was to Mrs. Mary (Weaver) Richmond Earle, who died Aug. 28, 1846. His children, ten in number, all born to the first marriage, were as follows:
(1) Asa Presbrey French, born Nov. 19, 1800, became associated with his father in the shoe business in 1822, and in 1832 came into possession of the tannery, which he continued for some years, but later took up farming and spent the later years of his life in Mansfield, Mass., and there died. He was for over forty years a member of his father’s church. He married (first) Nov. 10, 1823, Diodemia Gifford, who died July 17, 1841, the mother of the following children:
- Orlando French died in infancy
- Caroline French died in infancy
- Enoch Posten French, born Oct. 19, 1829, died Oct. 21, 1849, at sea
- Mariana Crandall French, born Aug. 27, 1831, married (first) Abram Bourne, and (second) Stephen Bourne, and had one daughter
- Clara Francesca Bourne
- Samuel B. French, born Oct. 12, 1833, married Ellen Tyler, on Oct. 8, 1860, and had
- Enoch W. French
- Emma French (died in infancy)
- Arthur French (died in infancy)
- Louis French (died in infancy)
- Carl C. French
- Lena G. French
- Sarah K. French, born in 1834, died in infancy
- Theodore W. French, born June 12, 1836, married Emma Davenport
- Asa B. French, born Jan. 1, 1839, died in Andersonville prison in 1864
- Maria Diodemia French, born July, 1841, died in infancy
Asa Presbrey French married for his second wife Mrs. Mary (Hooper) Flint, and they had one son, Frederick, born March 21, 1844, who married Agnes Wood, on Aug. 8, 1866, and their children were:
- Frederick F. French
- Clara C. French
- Franklin French
- George B. French
- Benjamin W. French
- Bella A. French
His third wife was Mrs. Mary Richardson, who resides in Providence, Rhode Island.
(2) George Bead French, born Jan. 24, 1802, in Fall River, Mass., married (first) Sarah C. Weeks of Wilmington, N. C, who died May 19, 1867. He married (second) Aug. 27, 1872, Mrs. Sophia M. Sawyer, of Fall River, Mass. When but seventeen years of age he became manager of a leather and shoe factory at Olneyville, R. I., but in consequence of failing health he went South, where for a time he was employed in a mercantile house in the State of Georgia. In 1822 he located in Wilmington, N. C., and thereafter his business and affairs were in the South, where he was a useful and prominent citizen. He died March 15, 1889. His children were:
- Sarah A. French married Col. E. J. Lutterloh, of Fayetteville, N. C, and resided at Cedar Keys, Fla.
- Susan M. French married E. D. Nixon, of Edenton, N. C., and resided in Baltimore
- Georgiana French died young
- George B. French died young
- William A. French, who married Harriet P. Timmons, of Timmonsville, S. C., was for a period in business with his father, of the firm of George B. French & Son, and subsequently with his own sons
- Margaret G. French married Rev. G. S. Jones, of Pasquotank county, N. C
- Caroline French died young
- George B. French, of Wilmington, N. C., married Cornelia M. Worth, of Wilmington, N. C
- James French, McD. married Mattie Boykin, of Southampton county, VA., and Edna Goodwin, of Lumberton, N. C.
- Charles E. French is a resident of Minneapolis, Minn.
- Eliza D. French married Llewellyn Christian, of Minneapolis
- Josephine H. French married Capt. Marion C. Toms, of Hendersonville, North Carolina
(3) Stephen Leonard French, born Aug. 23, 1803, is mentioned below.
(4) Richard Cornell French, born in February, 1805, married Abby A. Peckham, who after his death married Levi Slade. Richard C. French was associated with his father in business, and died Aug. 26, 1851.(5) Job Borden French, born March 6, 1806, is mentioned below.
(6) Nancy French died in infancy.
(7) Abram French died in infancy.
(8) William Barnaby French, born May 10, 1809, married Nov. 2, 1831, Almeda W. Tripp. He was associated with his father and died May 8, 1849. Their children were:
- Henry A. French died aged twenty-one
- Caroline E. French married Albert Sherman
- George H. French died aged thirty years
- Helen M. French married Henry C. Battell
- John H. French married (first) Eleanor Wilson and (second) Cataline Devere
(9) James French died in infancy.
(10) Eliza French, born July 24, 1816, married William Lindsey, and died in Fall River, April 28, 1856. They were the parents of the late Mayor Crawford E. Lindsey, of Fall River.
(11) Stephen Leonard French, third son of Deacon Enoch, was born at the homestead on French’s Hill, Aug. 23, 1803, and with his brothers worked in the tannery, on his father’s farm, and in the store. In 1824 he was admitted into the firm of his father and Asa P. French, and continued as a member of the firm of Enoch French & Co. until in 1832, when the business was divided, and Stephen took the manufacturing department. He continued the manufacture of boots and shoes for four or five years, when he abandoned the business and opened a shoe store on South Main street at the location now occupied by his son Albert S. French. He was burned out at this store in the great fire of 1843, but subsequently re-opened his store, and continued his business for many years at the corner of South Main and Pleasant streets. He then returned to the store now occupied by his son, in a block owned by him and occupied in part as a residence, and continued in business there till within two or three years previous to his death, when he sold his store to his son.
Mr. French in early life embraced the Christian religion and was ever one of the most active and zealous church workers in the city. At the age of twenty-one years he was chosen a deacon of the First Baptist Society, his father holding another deaconship at the same time. By the members of this church he was beloved as a father and many hallowed recollections will long be associated with his name. He gave freely to the poor, but in his giving his left hand seldom knew what his right hand did, and his benefactions only became known through the recipients. A few months before his death, which occurred Feb. 8, 1885, he celebrated his fiftieth anniversary as deacon of the First Baptist Church.
An acquaintance wrote of Deacon French: “Few men have more honored their profession in the Christian religion than did Deacon Stephen French – or live it more consistently. His deep and unostentatious spirituality was the result of habitual meditation. His faith in the gospel was strong and abiding, and he lived his belief in his daily life. He loved to read and study the Bible, and thus became the earnest Christian that he was. He was useful in the church and world – helpful, constant and devoted in all things. No man could be with him without feeling that “he was in the presence of a good man, and it is not surprising that from such a life and character there should come a fragrant and abiding memory.”
Stephen Leonard French was married (first) on Sept. 11, 1828, to Abigail C. Alden, who died Dec. 11, 1829, the mother of one child, Otis L., born in October, 1829, died Nov. 5, 1829. On May 12, 1831, he married (second) Hannah M. Humphrey, and she died June 3, 1836. By this marriage was one son, William Humphrey, born April 29, 1836, who married on April 16, 1859, to Mrs. Jeanette Langley, and has one son, Frank W., born March 9, 1860, who married Minnie E. Cooke; their children are:
- Chester B. French
- Ernest W. French
- Edna J. French
William Humphrey French resides at West Newton, Mass., where he is engaged in the plumbing business. On June 12, 1838, Stephen L. French was married (third) to Phoebe Ann Dwelley, born Oct. 27, 1815, daughter of Daniel and Mary Borden (Slade) Dwelley. Mrs. French survived her husband many years and passed away on Nov. 3, 1900. She was a woman of unusually fine character, and a faithful member of the First Baptist Church. The children born to this union were:
- Hannah Humphrey French, born Aug. 19, 1839, is mentioned later.
- Charles B. French, born Aug. 5, 1841, was engaged in the shoe business in Boston, but died in Wilmington, N. C, Jan. 12, 1867.
- Amanda Slade French, born Jan. 29, 1844, died Oct. 22, 1857.
- Jerome Dwelley French, born Jan. 28, 1846, died Nov. 22, 1873. He was associated with his father.
- Eliza Lindsey French, born Jan. 18, 1848, married June 17, 1876, George Bodman, a merchant, who resided in Boston, where he died. Their children were:
- Francis Clark Bodman, born June 7, 1881
- Karl French Bodman, born Sept. 2, 1888, the latter being deceased
- Enoch Judson French, born Oct. 28, 1850, is mentioned below.
- Albert Sherman French, born Feb. 14, 1853, as soon as he finished school entered his father’s store, where he served as clerk until the early eighties, when he bought the business which he has since conducted. Since early manhood he has been a member of the First Baptist Church. Mrs. French and daughters Florence and Ethel are members of the First Congregational Church. On May 4, 1881, he married Emma M. Dunning, a native of Fall River, daughter of Joseph and Caroline M. (Orswell) Dunning, and they have three children:
- Florence D. French, born April 19, 1883, graduated from the Fall River high school in 1900
- Ethel Stewart French, born Aug. 16, 1886, graduated from the Fall River high school in 1904 and from Mount Holyoke College, in 1910
- Lucy Osborn French, born May 15, 1892, graduated from the high school in 1910
- James Henry French, born Oct. 25, 1857, married Oct. 30, 1890, Elizabeth L., daughter of Elisha B. and Sarah S. (Luther) Gardner, and they have one son, Stephen Luther, born March 9, 1892, who graduated from Exeter Academy in 1910, and is now attending Williams College. James H. French graduated from the Fall River high school in 1876 and completed his studies at the Mowry and Goff English and Classical School at Providence, which he attended for one year. He then became a book-keeper in the employ of S. B. Ashley & Co. and later with S. E. Buffinton & Co., the period of his service with these two firms being four years; both were engaged in the coal business. He left the latter firm in 1882 to become a bookkeeper in the office of the Barnaby Manufacturing Company, where he remained until 1896, when he became connected with the Granite Mills as head bookkeeper and has since remained there. He is a member of King Philip Lodge, A. F. & A. M., a director of the Troy Cooperative Bank, and since 1903 has been a deacon of the First Baptist Church. Mrs. French is also a member of that church.
Enoch Judson French, son of Stephen L. and Phoebe Ann (Dwelley) French, was born Oct. 28, 1850, in Fall River, and attended the public schools of Fall River and French Commercial College at Boston. After leaving there he was employed in the coal office of Joseph A. Bowen for one year, and then became a book-keeper for the American Print Works, and its successor, the American Printing Company, remaining there for thirteen years. He then accepted a position as bookkeeper for the Merchants Manufacturing Company, where he remained for eleven years, until December, 1892, when he succeeded William Lindsey as treasurer of the Weetamoe Mills, which position he has since held. Mr. French is a trustee of the Fall River Savings Bank and a director of the Fall River Cooperative Bank. He is a past master of King Philip Lodge, A. F. & A. M., and a member of Fall River Chapter, R. A. M. He was one of the organizers of the Y. M. C. A., and for five years served as treasurer of the organization. In early manhood he united with the First Baptist Church, and is a leading and active member, a member of the advisory committee of the church, and has served as superintendent of the Sabbath school. He has been especially interested in the young men of the church, and for twenty-three years taught a class of young men in the Harrison Street Sabbath school. On Feb. 26, 1891; he was elected a deacon in the First Baptist Church, which office he has since held. Mrs. French and their children are members of this church, and she taught a class in the Sabbath school for years, is still active in various lines of church and charitable work, and has been for a number of years past superintendent of the primary department of the Sabbath school. She is president of the Civic Club of Fall River.
On Oct. 19, 1880, Mr. French was united in marriage with Ella C. Winward, a native of Fall River, daughter of James and Ann (Baybrook) Winward. Three children have come to them, viz.:
- Ralph Winward French, born Oct. 4, 1883, graduated from the Fall River high school, attended the Stone school at Boston for one year and entered Harvard, where he graduated from the academic department in 1906. He then entered Harvard Medical School, from which he was graduated with the degree of M. D. in the class of 1910, and is now an interne at the Massachusetts General Hospital, at Boston.
- Corinna Dwelley French, born Sept. 22, 1885, graduated from Fall River high school, attended Miss Baird’s select school at Newark, N. J., and took a course as nurse in the Johns Hopkins hospital at Baltimore, graduating in 1910.
- Elizabeth Prescott French was born Aug. 7, 1898.
Hannah Humphrey (French) Osborn, daughter of Stephen L. and Phoebe Ann (Dwelley) French, was born in Fall River, Aug. 19, 1839, and for many years was a successful teacher in the public schools of Fall River. She was married on June 19, 1873, to William J. Osborn, born Dec. 3, 1836, in Tiverton, R. I., eldest son of Judge Joseph and Eliza (Gardner) Osborn, the former being a brother of the late Weaver Osborn and James M. Osborn, of Fall River. (See Osborn sketch elsewhere.)
After the death of her husband Mrs. Osborn returned to Fall River, where she has since resided. She is prominent in educational circles, and served as a member of the school committee of Fall River in 1898, 1899 and 1900, and again from 1902 to 1908, finally declining a renomination. She is a member of the First Baptist Church.
Job Borden French, born March 6, 1806, was the third son of Deacon Enoch French to enter the concern of the father as a partner and did so in the year 1826; and in 1832, when the business was dissolved, as it were, he remained in the store with his father, the firm name being Enoch French & Co. Their store was destroyed by the great fire in Fall River of 1843. They, however, at once rebuilt, erecting what was styled the Merchants block, in which they continued business until the death of the senior member of the firm in 1847. After the father’s death the business was continued alone by Job B. French, who later in 1864 associated with him in it his son, Edward A. French, the firm becoming J. B. French & Son, the father retiring from the more active part of the business; but upon the death of his son, in 1883, he again entered business, and conducted the store until 1885, when it was finally disposed of, his career as a shoe dealer covering a period of nearly sixty years. Like his father, Job B. French was a man of position and prominence in Fall River. In the years 1835 and 1841 he was a representative from Fall River in the General Court of Massachusetts. He also served for several years as a member of the common council, in 1870, 1871 and 1873, and as assessor. For seventeen years he was president of the Fall River Savings Bank, and for forty-three years was a trustee of that institution, resigning in 1882 on account of age and infirmities. He was a director of the Mechanics Mills and of the Weetamoe Mills from their organization, and president of the Weetamoe Mills from 1874 until his death. He united with the First Baptist Church in 1830 and was ever afterward a member of it. At one time he was a member of the Troy Light Infantry, 5th Regiment, 2d Brigade, 5th Division, under Capt. Leonard Garfield.
An acquaintance writing of Job B. French paid in part: “He was so upright and honorable, so steadfast in his integrity, and yet of so sweet and lovable a disposition, that all whom he met became his friends and felt personally attached to him, while in his own family he was almost idolized.” He died May 13, 1894, and was interred in the North burial ground.
On April 17, 1831, Mr. French married Abby Allan, born June 20, 1807, in Newport, R. I., daughter of William S. N., Jr., and Mahitable T. (Church) Allan, of Fall River. Mrs. French died March 17, 1870. He married (second) Aug. 19, 1873, Mary B., daughter of Robert Cook, of Fall River, born in Wrentham, Mass., Sept. 15, 1816, died April 26, 1882. His children, all born to the first marriage, were as follows:
- Mary Elizabeth French, born Nov. 8, 1832, married Nov. 3, 1858, D. Hartwell Dyer, of Fall River, where she died March 19, 1885, the mother of three children
- Susan Chace Dyer, born Oct. 19, 1862 (married Dec. 9, 1891, Edward Bowen)
- William A. Dyer, born April 7, 1865 (married Clara T. Spink)
- George F. Dyer, born Aug. 5, 1866
- James E. French was born Oct. 20, 1837, and died Oct. 3, 1856.
- Sarah J. French, born Sept. 22, 1839, married Feb. 16, 1881, William Lindsey, who from 1875 until he resigned in 1902 was treasurer of the Weetamoe Mills. Mrs. Lindsey died Dec. 28, 1892.
- Edward Allan French, born July 19, 1842, married Oct. 31, 1871, Eliza A. Ricketson, who died June 6, 1908. He was associated with his father as previously mentioned, and died Dec. 20, 1883.
- Abby Maria French, born Aug. 31, 1845
- Julia Whitcomb French, born June 27, 1848, both reside at No. 384 Grove street, Fall River.