Pierce, Henry Lillie, 1825-1896
To Henry Lillie Pierce belongs the distinction of building up a small chocolate mill into the largest of its kind in America, and making the name of Walter Baker known all over the world. The original chocolate mill was on the Dorchester side of the Neponset River, on the site of what was called Lower Mills. Here, according to the information available, the manufacture of chocolate was begun in 1765 by an Irish immigrant, John Hannon. He wandered one day into the little sawmill that stood on the Neponset, and asserted that he had learned in London a way to make a new kind of chocolate and, if he could use a small corner of the mill and a little water power, he could build up a new business. A part of the mill was set aside for his use, and he started the business, which later came into the possession of Dr. James Baker, then went to his son, Edmund Baker, his grandson's half-nephew, Henry L. Pierce. At the time that Pierce assumed control business was profitable, but very small. At the end of forty-two years (1854-96) it had grown under Pierce's wise management to be the largest manufactory of its kind on the continent. As he always paid his employees well and treated them kindly, not once in all that time did labor trouble disturb his work.
Mr. Pierce was born in 1825 at Stoughton. His father was an austere New England Methodist, and his mother was a strong-minded, outspoken woman of pronounced prejudices.
He went to work at $3 a week in the mill of his mother's half-brother, Walter Baker. He and his half-uncle did not agree politically, and the friction became such that in a year Pierce left and went west, where he vainly tried to gain employment. He finally went back to his uncle's chocolate mill and was put in charge of the Boston countingroom, which had just opened. Mr. Baker died in 1852, and his partner died shortly thereafter. After prolonged negotiations, the trustees of the estate leased the chocolate plant to Mr. Pierce, and he was so successful that in 1884 the trustees conveyed the property to him.
Mr. Pierce early became interested in political subjects, on which he spoke and wrote. He was an ardent supporter of the Free Soil party, from which sprang Republicanism. Pierce helped to organize the straight Republican party as a protest against those Republicans who had joined the "Know-nothing" party, which swept the state in 1854. In 1857, he was nominated treasurer and receiver-general of the party. He was sent in 1859 from Dorchester to the General Court, and served until 1862, becoming the leader of the radical Republicans, who opposed any concessions to the slaveholders.
In 1869, he became a member of the Boston Board of Aldermen, as the first representative from the Dorchester section. The failure of the city authorities to check the smallpox epidemic, as well as the want of executive ability at the time of the Great Fire in 1872, led the businessmen to ask Mr. Pierce to run for mayor as the nonpartisan candidate, and he was elected by a close vote.
In office, he established a smallpox hospital, and effected the reorganization of the Health and Fire Departments. Mr. Pierce successfully urged a commission to revise the city charter, and opened the Public Library on Sunday. He was elected to Congress in November, 1873, and resigned as mayor on the first of December. In response to a petition he again ran for mayor, and was elected in 1878. One of his principal acts was to reorganize the Police Department on an efficient basis.
He was active in 1881 in the formation of the Massachusetts Tariff League, of which Charles Francis Adams, Jr., became president. His eyes began to fail him during his last years, and he was advised by his doctor to be outdoors as much as possible. As he was very fond of the water, he spent much time on his yacht, cruising the coast and crossing the Atlantic thirty-five times, visiting every place of interest in Europe. He finally caught cold on a trip to Chicago, was stricken with paralysis, and died September 17, 1876.
Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.
Found in 1 Collection or Record:
Photographs and other images collected by the Boston Landmarks Commission for reference use and for publications as well as photographs taken by the Landmarks Commission documenting their work and city neighborhoods.