The Back Rhodes of Our Genealogy

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From the book entitled: History of Yolo County, California: with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county, who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present
Publisher: Historic Record Company, 1913

The ancestry of the Rhodes family is traced back to the New England colonies, its members fighting valiantly to defend their right to freedom from the Mother Country, and the stalwart characteristics of these early ancestors were no less marked in the generations which followed them. Henry Rhodes was born in Rhode Island, and his wife, before her marriage Esther Mason, was born in Connecticut, a descendant of John Mason, who figured conspicuously in the history of the New England colonies about the year 1635.

Into the home of Henry and Esther (Mason) Rhodes John Milton Rhodes was born February 12, 1817, in Middlebury, Ohio, whither the parents had removed some time prior to the birth of their son. Middlebury continued to be the home of the family for a number of years, the son in the meantime attending the public school and also the Tallmadge Central Union School, and in 1830 he accompanied his parents to Canal Fulton, that state, where the father engaged in the mercantile business. A subsequent removal took the family to Massillon, in which vicinity the father purchased a farm and a grist mill. For a time John M. Rhodes was interested with his father in the latter's new undertaking, but as a broader field for his abilities seemed to lie elsewhere than in farming the association was of short duration. More congenial work was found with his uncle, Jesse Rhodes, a business man in Massillon, and in his establishment he remained as bookkeeper and accountant until 1835. Through the influence of his uncle Mr
Rhodes in that year secured a position as bookkeeper with William T. Dixon & Co., a well-known wholesale dry goods house of New York City, and although he was less than nineteen years old and had no knowledge of the world, he set out for the metropolis with a determination to conquer obstacles and make a success of his life, and the resolution then made was never lost sight of throughout his long and checkered career. The duties of his new position were arduous and the hours long, sixteen hours a day being the average, but his determination to make a success of his venture in new fields made discouragement or fatigue unknown. That his services were appreciated by his employers was evident when, at the end of the first year, his salary was doubled. After a service of seven years in Mr. Dixon's employ, in 1842 he resigned his position to embark in business for himself in Canal Fulton, Ohio. A few years later he removed to Mansfield, the same state, there too establishing himself in a mercantile business.

It was while in business in Mansfield that Mr. Rhodes was married, October 12, 1846, in Chillicothe, to Miss Mary Jane Beall Christmas, and after their marriage the young people settled in a comfortable home in Mansfield. The following year, upon the organization of the Farmers' Bank of Mansfield, Mr. Rhodes was chosen cashier, a position which he filled for three years, resigning at the end of that time to establish a banking house in Sacramento, Cal., with two associates. Making the voyage by way of the Panama route, he finally reached San Francisco, going from there directly to Sacramento, where he found conditions as favorable as he had anticipated and proceeded at once with his banking venture. The bank of Rhodes, Sturges & Co. was launched early in the year 1850, in quarters on Second street between J and K streets, and it was there that it passed through some of the most trying experiences of those years of hardships and disaster. Following an epidemic of cholera that visited the city with disastrous effects the fire of 1852 left the firm practically penniless, their losses amounting to not less than $25,000, with no insurance, as no insurance company had as yet been started in the town. In the meantime, in 1851, Mr. Rhodes had returned to Ohio for his family and in the same year Mr. Sturges had retired from the business and had also returned to Ohio. Undismayed by the wreck and ruin in which the fire left him Mr. Rhodes rebuilt his banking business in the same year, only to meet with another disaster in the flood of January, 1853.

In 1852 John M. Rhodes assisted his brother James and his uncle, Jesse Rhodes, to start in the express business on the Shasta route, the company having offices in Weaverville and Yreka, Cal., and in Jacksonville, Ore. A few years after the firm had started in business a robbery occurred in which the messengers were held up and gold dust to the amount of $20,000 taken from them. John M. Rhodes had become responsible for the business of his kinsmen by guaranteeing drafts, and thus he became a very heavy loser by the theft. Another enterprise in which Mr. Rhodes was a prominent figure was the building of the plank road into Sacramento, he being the treasurer of the company that constructed the road in 1853. After experiencing a chain of losses through fire, floods and robbery Mr. Rhodes concluded that it would be wise for him to fasten his attention upon something tangible. It was following this decision that he purchased the undivided half of seven and one-half leagues of land in Capay valley, Yolo county, equal to about sixteen thousand acres, purchasing the land from Pioche & Bayarke, bankers, of San Francisco. The bankers mentioned acquired title through Jasper O'Farrell, and he fi'om Berryessa, the original grantee. Mr. Rhodes subsequently admitted F. W. Fratt into partnership in the ownership of this land, each in a subsequent division taking eight thousand acres. Subsequently he operated three flour mills in Yolo county, in Knights Landing, Woodland and Madison. In 1857 he had established his home in Capay valley, continuing to reside there for about seven years, when he removed with his family to Sacramento and continued there until his milling interests in Woodland made it desirable to locate in that city.

That Mr. Rhodes was a man of courage and indomitable spirit needs no reiteration, for the trials which he passed through in the course of his career mark him as an unusual man, for few there are who could pass through experiences similar to his and still maintain his optimism and sweetness of spirit. In speaking of the events that had come into his life he singled out those that occurred during the year of 1855-56 as being the most disastrous. It was in that year that he signed State Treasurer Bates' official bond for $100,000. Bates, through a misappropriation of the state's money by a subordinate, became short in his accounts to the state and suit for the recovery of the money was imminent. Mr. Rhodes' depositors naturally became alarmed and before he was able to realize sufficient funds from other sources to meet the drafts on his institution he was forced to suspend payment. The silver lining to this dark cloud was the fact that all of the demands made upon him were subsequently discharged, and that he at no time took advantage of the bankrupt law or the statute of limitations to pay his debts. His operations in real estate, with the exception of the losses by fire, were uniformly profitable and did much to relieve him from the embarrassment that threatened him in other lines.

In 1878 Mr. Rhodes was elected a member of the constitutional convention that drafted the present constitution of the state. He was peculiarly fitted for the position, and his co-workers gave him credit for a great deal that was accomplished in the stupendous work of drafting the constitution. He was a fluent speaker and he spoke from the rostrum frequently in favor of the adoption of the constitution.

Having disposed of his property in Yolo county, in 1883 Mr. Rhodes removed to Lassen county, Cal., and being deeply impressed with the beauty of the green meadows and the beautiful mountain brooks he determined to make his home there. In this quiet spot he purchased a stock ranch of seventeen hundred and eighty-eight acres in Long valley, a fitting place in which to pass the remaining years of his useful life. To the end he took an optimistic view of life, accepting the bitter with the sweet, and 'n his passing, August 4, 1908, at Reno, Nev., one of God's noblemen was called to his reward.

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