Biography of Ralston H. Penniman

Ralston H. Penniman, one of Plainfield’s most able farmers and prominent residents, was born in this town, which is in the north-western part of Sullivan County, January 9, 1819, son of Thomas and Dorinda W. (Wood) Penniman. He comes of substantial Colonial stock of English extraction, being a lineal descendant of one of the very early settlers on the shores of Massachusetts Bay; namely, James Penniman, who, with his wife, Lydia Eliot, and her brother, John Eliot, of honored memory as the apostle to the Indians, arrived on the ship “Lion” in 1631.

The family name, it is said, was originally Yorkshire were Royalists; and some of them were titled as knights and baronets, one being a Sir James Penniman, who was knighted by Charles I. on the battlefield. James Penniman, the emigrant, with others petitioned for a new town at Mount Wollaston; and accordingly, in 1640, the town of Braintree was incorporated. He was one of the leading men, holding the office of Justice of the Peace; and a number of years later he was one of the petitioners for the new plantation of Mendon, ordered in 1660, his son Joseph being named as one of the commissioners to settle it. Lydia Eliot, the wife of James Penniman, was born at Nasing, Essex County, England, in 1610.

Peletiah and Hannah (Taft) Penniman, grandparents of the subject of this sketch, were lifelong residents of Massachusetts. They had a family of seven children, as follows: Hannah Fish, born March 2, 1765, who died May 6, 1820; Nathaniel, born December 2, 1767, died May 22, 1847; Lydia, born March 2, 1770; Ruth, born April 20, 1772; Luther, born February 13, 1775; Thomas, named above, born June 24, 1778; and Nancy, born October 8, 1781 -all deceased.

When a young man, Thomas Penniman settled upon a farm in Plainfield, and was a leading spirit among the early residents of this town. He figured prominently in public affairs, serving as a Selectman for a number of years, and was highly respected for his ability and upright character. He died August 18, 1854. His wife was Dorinda W. Wood, a native of Uxbridge, Mass. They had six children, namely: Merritt F., born March 15, 1815; Henry N., who was born May 15, 1817, and died September 21, 1818; Ralston H., the subject of this sketch; Dorinda W., born February 18, 1821; Thomas, Jr., born January 19, 1823; and David B. W., born September 13, 1826, who died July 25, 1829. Merritt F., who became a prosperous farmer, married Lavinia Damon, and had a family of six children. Dorinda W. married John T. Freeman, who was for many years cashier of the Windsor Savings Bank. She died August 16, 1862. Thomas, Jr., wedded Mary Smith, and resided at the homestead until his death, which occurred January 24, 1886.

Ralston H. Penniman as a boy attended school in his native town, and at an early age began to make himself useful upon the farm. After the death of his father he continued to live with his brothers at the homestead until 1867, when he decided to engage in farming upon his own account. He purchased the Waterman Spaulding farm, together with adjoining tracts of land, the whole amounting to four hundred acres, and entered upon the care and utilization of this property with an energy which insured success from the start. For many years he was extensively engaged in raising sheep, which was the source of considerable profit. He became widely and favorably known throughout this section in the days when sheep-raising was a prominent branch of agriculture, and gained both notoriety and wealth in the wool trade.

Mr. Penniman married Elizabeth Colby, daughter of Jesse and Lydia (Scott) Colby, of Plainfield. Mrs. Penniman died January 24, 1876, leaving four children, namely: Robert R., born December 16, 1867; Lydia S., born January 11, 1869; H. Dorinda, born January 22, 1871; and Brainard W., born October 2, 1874. Robert R. Penniman was graduated at Dartmouth College with the class of 1894, and is now assisting in the management of the home farm. He is actively interested in educational affairs, and is at the present time serving upon the School Board. Lydia S. Penniman Meriden, N.H., and taught school for five years. She is now residing at the homestead, and presides over the household affairs. H. Dorinda also taught school for a time. She is now the wife of Frank W. Heywood, who is connected with a large harvesting concern in Indianapolis, Ind. They have one daughter-Gladys, born July 18, 1895. Brainard W. Penniman completed his studies at the Kimball Union Academy, and is now assisting upon the farm.

In politics Mr. Penniman is a Republican, and has frequently been nominated for public office; but his party was in the minority here. He takes a lively interest in political affairs; and so anxious was he to learn the result of the last national election, November, 1896, that he walked to Cornish Flat to obtain the news, and did not return until two o’clock the following morning. He is a regular attendant of the Congregational church, and contributes liberally toward its support.


Biographical Review Publishing Company. Biographical Review; containing life sketches of leading citizens of Merrimack and Sullivan counties, N. H. Boston. Biographical Review Publishing Company. 1897.

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