John Garrison Mersereau
(September 23, 1799 - August 10, 1883)
Hon. John G. Mersereau, son of Joshua Mersereau, was born in Guilford, Chenango County, Sept.
23, 1799. He descended from good French Huguenot stock. The first of his race in America was an
officer of rank in the French army, who had ventured to defend his faith against the imputation of a
Romish priest and fled for refuge to the United States and settled on Staten Island.
The grandfather of Mr. Mersereau won an honorable distinction in the Revolutionary service as
commissary. Washington, Lafayette, and other eminent soldiers and statesmen of that time esteemed
him highly. Washington was frequently a guest at his home on Staten Island.
Mr. Mersereau passed his early years in his native town and there commenced his business career as
a manufacturer of lumber. He pursued this vocation through life faithfully, energetically, and
successfully. His first operations were on the headwaters of the Susquehanna, later in Steuben
County, and in Tioga County, Pa. In 1850, he removed to Portville, which was his home until his
death, August 10, 1883.
Mr. Mersereau was a progressive businessman, and believed that the best machinery and the best
facilities for manufacturing would make the best goods and insure the best returns, and was prompt
in adopting them. He, with Weston Brothers, built the mills in which they placed the first gang-saws
operated on the waters of the Allegany.
Mr. Mersereau was characterized by sterling integrity, rare sagacity, executive ability, and great
benevolence. He would severely reprove a delinquent in rugged English: a half-hour later, he would
bestow upon him favor, to the extent of his ability. He was a patriotic citizen and decided in his
political convictions. He first cast his lot with the Whig party, was one of the first to join the
Republican organization and was ever after a valiant soldier in all its battles. He was never an aspirant
for office or political place, but while a resident of Steuben County, he was twice elected to the
Legislature, where his strength of character won for him the regard of Thurlow Weed, A. B.
Dickinson, other prominent members of his own party, and of all with whom he came in contact.
He was supervisor of Portville in 1863. To him, more than to any other man, is due the extension of
the Genesee Valley canal from Olean to Portville. Mr. Mersereau was a member of the Presbyterian
Church from his early manhood and a thorough Christian. Religion was not with him merely a belief
in a creed, but a life to lead, and was shown in liberal charities to the needy, tenderness to the
afflicted, care for the sick, and the unbounded love of his noble nature for all mankind. Mr.
Mersereau was twice married. His first wife, Miss Julia Redfield, was the mother of his children.
They were Almira, Harriet (Mrs. W. W. Weston), and Samuel. Mr. Mersereau’s second wife was
Nancy L. Wright (1806-1892).
(From Lyman, Horton & Co's (Limited) Historical Gazetteer and Biographical Memorial of
Cattaraugus County, N. Y., ed. by Wm. Adams, 1893, pp. 1013-1014)
A Personal Family Account
The following information was contained in a letter from E. W. Mersereau, son of Wm. Bradford
Mersereau (grandson of John G.), written as a family letter on October 25, 1945:
“John Garrison Mersereau was a descendent of a successive line of four Joshua Mersereaus. The
first of these, a Huguenot, fearing persecution by the Catholic Church on account of the revocation
of the Edict of Nantes, left France for England. He was accompanied by his widowed mother, two
brothers, Paul and Daniel, and his two sisters, Mary and Martha. Fearing further persecution as alien
Huguenots in England under the reign of James II, they fled to America and settled on Staten Island,
New York, in the year 1685 (except Paul, who remained in England).
“The last of the four Joshua Mersereaus, John Garrison’s father, was born on Staten Island, June 8,
1759, and died 98 years later at Tioga, Pennsylvania, January 20, 1857. He was buried at Erwin
Centre, Steuben County, New York (now known as Presho, see also Lindley). Since this Joshua,
there have been no direct descendents bearing the name, Joshua, born into the family, for 185 years
until my grandson, Joshua Moen Mersereau, was born in San Jose, California, in September, 1944.”
“Grampa Mersereau, was the eighth of thirteen children. He married Julia Redfield of Bainbridge,
New York, November 1822. They had three children, all born at Guilford:
- Samuel John Mills Mersereau, born 10/06/1823, died 10/07/1857, married Esther Caroline Butts
- Emily Almira Mersereau, born 3/22/1825, died 5/22/1849, married David A. Jeffery
- Harriet Elisa Mersereau, born 4/24/1827, died 5/02/1900, married William W. Weston
“John G. Mersereau, with his wife Julia, by letter from the Erwin Centre Church, joined the First
Presbyterian Church of Painted Post, Steuben County, New York, July 7, 1844, and they were
dismissed from there, by letter, to join the First Presbyterian Church of Portville, Cattaraugus
County, New York, July 6, 1851. Under the partnership name of Weston Mersereau Lumber
Company, he operated a saw mill at Mill Grove, one mile south of Portville. A half mile from this
operation he built a house. Near him, lived his son, Samuel John Mills. They had three children:
- Emily Almira Mersereau, born 9/7/1849, died 1923, married William Egbert Wheeler
- William Bradford Mersereau, born 1/17/1852, died 10/25/1914, married Helen Emily Leavens
- John Daniel Mersereau, born 6/20/1854, died 6/29/1915, married Nellie May Coleman
“In the life of every man and woman, there comes a testing. So it was in the life of John G.
Mersereau. His wife, Julia, died April 9, 1855. His son Samuel’s wife, Esther, took cold at the
funeral of her mother-in-law, and followed her in death a week later, April 17, 1855. His son,
Samuel, died about two and one half years later, on October 7, 1857.
“These deaths left their three little children, all under eight years of age, without parents or
grandmother. John Garrison Mersereau took them to his own bereaved home and became four
parents in one, until the day of his own death, 26 years later. He became their father, their mother,
their grandmother and their grandfather. His was a superhuman task that only a super grandfather
could perform. He did a splendid job.
“Excerpts from an article appearing in the Olean Times Herald, written a decade after his death,
describes him as follows:
“His physique was superb, his stature was kingly. He towered above his brethren, and was the very
incarnation of power. My father told me that his grandfather was an excellent horseman, for he had
a commanding voice. Both children and animals were accustomed to obey him instantly when he
spoke. His voice was like thunder, but his love for children was wonderful.”
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