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John Dewey And His Profession

Created: April 2012

John Dewey actually had multiple professions. In Colonial times it was necessary to be a jack of all trades to survive. The Dewey Genealogy written in 1898 is definitely a rich resource which gives many details of the various branches of Thomas Dewey's descendants. This book quotes evidence that John Dewey made his own cloth. From this book, we borrow the following quote:

"In a deed, dated April 15, 1789, Datis Ensign, of Chester, Mass., clothier, and Isaac Ensign, of Westfield, yeoman, for 11 sold to John Dewey, of Westfield, " a certain fulling mill in Westfield on two-mile brook, adjoining Bagg's mill, with all utensils belonging to the same; liberty to use sd-rail for fulling cloth, when the water runs over the dam of the grist mill, adjoining."

fulling mill

Pictured above is a fulling mill circa 1661. A fulling mill was device used to make cloth and was made up of wooden hammers, cams, a water wheel and other parts. The mill was used to bind the fibers together, beat the cloth, stretch it out, scour the cloth and ensured the cloth was milled evenly. It was a long arduous process but necessary at the time. But John did not just make cloth. As early as 1793 we have evidence that John Dewey was a "clothier" or tailor who made custom clothing for people. He owned his own business in Westfield and placed ads in local papers to advertise his business.

Dewey ad

Pictured above is one of several advertisements from The Federal Spy Newpaper in Massachusetts. John advertised in several newspapers of the day not only in Massachusetts but in Connecticut also. Since Westfield was located so close to the Connecticut border, he must have had customers from nearby towns of Suffield, Windsor or other nearby Connecticut towns. Many of these ads were not to advertise his business, but to collect unpaid debts for his business. In an ad dated November 14, 1799 published in the American Mercury Newspaper in Connecticut an ad he posted there states, "All persons indebted to the subscribed by note or book accounts of one year's standing, are requested to make payment by the 25th of December next, or they will be put in suit without further notice, ---Grain of all kinds will be received in payment. - Westfield, Oct. 24 '99". I found many such ads published in Massachusetts and Connecticut so John must have had a number of customers who failed to pay him for purchases. Additional ads were found in the New York State newspaper called "The Patriot" in 1804 under the name "John Dewey and Son". By this time John had lived in Leyden in Lewis County for about 2 years. Which son John was in business with is not stated however, in 1804 his son Lester was only 4 years old so it clearly was not him. His son Perez was 14 and did become a very successful merchant in the clothing business. His son Walter had broken his leg in 1803 while helping his father and brothers clear land for the family to live on in Leyden and returned to Westfield that year to recover. He was studying medicine during this time in Westfield so it was not Walter. That leaves sons John Jr. and Chester, both of whom earned their living as clothing merchants. Since John Jr. was the eldest of the 2, I believe John was the son in "John Dewey and Son".

The Farm of John Dewey

Although the primary profession of John was a "clothier" it is clear John was also a farmer. The will of John Dewey from 1822 provides some evidence that John was also a farmer and left an estate of a huge land mass in Lewis County, New York. The acreage he did mention totaled 182 acres, however, there were several plots of land he mentioned by lot numbers that did not give numbers on how many acres were involved. He left farming implements and livestock which indicated that he had a working farm, however, it is unclear if the farm was for personal use necessary to feed his family or used for income. It is clear by his will John was not well and knew he was dying. His will mentioned property and money he had previously given away to his adult children. He died at 67 years of age and it is very doubtful if he was a farmer in his younger days, he would have still continued farming at this stage of his life. Whether the income came from his clothing business, farming or a combination of both, what is clear, John Dewey was successful and left a large estate with a substantial amount of money in 1821 when he died on the final day of that year. He left a legacy to his children who were all successful in the clothing business (except Walter who became a doctor) and taught them the profession that made them all successful also.


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