Jonathan Norcross

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Jonathan Norcross in his 80s

Jonathan Norcross (April 18, 1808 – December 18, 1898),[1] was the fourth Mayor of Atlanta, Georgia. He was dubbed the "Father of Atlanta" and "hard fighter of everything." - Henry W. Grady[2]

Early life and ancestry[edit]

Jonathan Norcross was the second son of a clergyman, the [Rev.] Jesse Norcross, of Charlestown, Kennebec, ME, b. abt. 1778;[3] married 4 Mar. 1804 Nancy [Gaubert], Dresden, Maine. He was born and raised in Orono, Maine, along with six other siblings, including his equally-industrious older brother Nicholas Gaubert Norcross (see below), in what could be described as a devout and pious upbringing given his later positions on issues of vice and as a practicing Baptist;[4] evoking the Protestant Work Ethic of his forefathers. His younger siblings include: Livonia (b. Jan. 1810), Jesse (b. 3 Jun. 1812), Nancy Gaubert [Norcross] (b. 2 Mar. 1816); who married Moses M. Swan, of Augustus, ME;[5] Maria (b. Feb. 1818), and Louisa (b. Oct. 1823).

Jonathan Norcross was a descendant of Jeremiah Norcross, the English progenitor of the Norcross family, who settled in Watertown, Massachusetts Bay Colony (1638);[6] a land proprietor of Cambridge [MA] before 1642; who was an admitted freeman of that town in 1652.[7]

The Mayor's lineage stemmed from Richard Norcross, Sr. and Mary Brooks, the second son and his wife, of the family's pilgrim; and Norcross' great-great-great grandparents. Nathaniel Norcross; their respective third son; sixth child of seven, married, ca. 1691, second (given the death of his first wife, Mehitbale [Hager], who died 5 Apr. 1691; leaving one daughter, Mehitbale Norcross) Susanna Shattuck; she was the daughter of Dr. Philip Shattuck of Watertown, MA;[8] and great-great grandparents of the mayor.

From this same line, he was a fourth cousin of Otis Norcross, the 19th Mayor of Boston (1867), whose great-great grandfather Richard Norcross, Jr. was the older brother of Nathaniel Norcross (noted above).

Nathaniel's second son, Philip Norcross;[9] great grandfather of Hon. Jonathan Norcross; married 1721 Sarah [Jackson] of Watertown, MA; they removed to Sudbury, MA. Philip's third son Jonathan Norcross, the fifth of nine children; the Mayor's paternal grandfather, was born in Newton, MA, who along with his wife Martha [Springer], whom he married in 1760, removed to Livermore, Androscoggin, ME, after the birth of Jonathan's father Jesse, suggesting substantial migration of the family over time for various purposes.[10]

Hon. Jonathan Norcross' first cousin Jesse Springer Norcross of this bloodline was proprietor of Norcross Mills.[11][12]

Rise of Atlanta: 19th-century industrial contributions[edit]

From an industrious background, Norcross was eventually taught the trade of millwright. Where thereafter, he went to Cuba, constructing a mill for processing sugar. While attending lectures in mechanics at the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia, PA, Norcross principally studied arts and sciences, beyond his common [elem.] education in Maine, receiving praise for an essay entitled Mercantile Integrity. Norcross then left Pennsylvania to teach school in North Carolina (1833) which led to his southern travels; entering Georgia (1835); residing first in Augusta, then onto where would eventually become Atlanta for the remainder of his life. In 1836, he took charge of lumber interests in Southern Georgia for Northern capitalists. While in Putnam County, Georgia he filed a patent, US 3210 for a Reciprocating Mill-Saw Guide in August 1843.[13][14]

From these efforts, he invented a vertical saw with a circular wheel 40 feet in diameter, which was adjusted in an almost horizontal position, with a capacity to saw approximately 1,000' of lumber per day.

In August (1844), Norcross came to Marthasville, Georgia, "but the humble terminus of a railroad,"[15] establishing himself as a successful dry goods merchant and sawmill operator; becoming a prominent citizen. His sawmill mainly produced railroad ties and string timbers for the construction of the Georgia Railroad. The leavings of the mill provided timbers for shanties built by the poor where Grady Hospital now sits called Slabtown. While pioneer life could be characterized as desolate and simple, it was evident of plain pleasures, however dangerous, as described by Jonathan Norcross:

"I recalled very well the first train of cars over the Georgia Railroad. It was on 15 September 1845. The train came in about dark. Judge King was on board and a great many others. There were a great many people out, and there was a good deal of excitement. There was a well in the square here, and such was the excitement, and it being dark, a man fell into the well and was drowned. Judge King came very near falling in there, also. It was dark, and he was just on the brink of stepping in when someone caught him and saved him. I suppose there were about twenty families here at the time."[16]:213

Marthasville was renamed Atlanta in 1845 (chartered, December 1847). Norcross evoked the pioneer spirit and ambition, "seen in the individual independence of its citizens," but even as Norcross commented, many municipal decisions were made in haste, "[t]he reason why the streets are so crooked," as he explained, "is that every man built on his land just to suit himself."[17] This spirit of individuals such as Norcross is emblematic of the foresight and potential many of its leaders demonstrated in the need for law(s) and order to perpetuate the growth of Atlanta; whose reasoned nature is seen in full form in his positioning for political office.

Jonathan Norcross additionally co-founded the Daily Intelligencer two years later (1849), recognizing a significance in establishment credentials.[18]

Norcross owned the landmark Norcross Building at Five Points in Downtown Atlanta, built in 1894 and destroyed by fire in 1902.

Norcross was also instrumental with 23 others in organizing the Atlanta National Bank (commenced, 1851; charter for incorp., 27 Jan. 1852). The impetus for such an effort derived from a recognition, "to the continued prosperity of the city."[16]:402–403, 420–421 The first charter Bank of Atlanta however was unsuccessful; a "distrust in its methods of doing business and in those who had control of its management; (a committee of five elected directors' composed of stockholders), appears to have become general," though it is duly noted that these suspicions were simply perceptions not fully founded.[16]:422 However, in both 1845, and October 1855 given several bank runs, its fate seems to have sealed, for Director, Mr. [George] Smith, "wound up affairs of [his] bank toward the later part of 1855;" and it was out of business [brackets and parenthesis added].[16]:423–424 However, on 6 March 1856, Norcross and others', with determination, incorporated the Bank of Fulton; the second bank of Atlanta with greater success.

Political and civic life[edit]

Jonathan Norcross ran as Atlanta's first mayoral candidate in 1848, failing to capture the 215 voters at the time, cast at Thomas Kil's grocery, at present-day Five Points (Atlanta), to Moses W. Formwalt, Atlanta's first mayor. Norcross was a successful candidate three years later for the Moral Party in the 1850 Mayoral election (r. 1851 - 1852) against adversarial candidate, Leonard C. Simpson, an attorney for the Free and Rowdy Party. He presided over the town's divisive moral choice; a "temperance man who hated civic disturbances," between civilian law & order and the bellicose Rowdies or ruffians; whose 40 drinking establishments and thriving red light district contradicted strict evangelical mores at the time, and contributed to town problems. With this post, Norcross served doubly as both de jure Chief of Police and Superintendent of Atlanta's Streets. One of his solutions was to make life so uncomfortable from shameful scorn of public rebuke, that it would encourage most of the Rowdies to move a mile south-west to Snake Nation. With this however, Norcross was scornfully told, "if elected, that he might find town 'too hot to hold him', if he executed his proposed reforms."[19] These threats were found to be without merit.

The early nineteenth century in America was marked by a period of religious revival; a Second Great Awakening, whereby principle ideals of antiquity were emphasized specifically in the field of education at all levels, spreading the nation over, whereby, '[c]lassical study inculcated intellectual discipline and provide[d] those who pursued it, the world over, with a common frame of reference."[20] This reference transferred into the domain of politics, and in the case of Norcross with his political platform, the Moral Party could similarly be viewed as "American statesmen defend[-ing] their principles of 'classical republicanism' with arguments drawn from Aristotle, Publius, and Cicero" [brackets added];[21] those in antiquity whose doctrine framed a moral philosophy.

Norcross was in his 50s during the American Civil War and notable for being on the Committee of Citizens (with William Markham) that surrendered the city to Union General Henry Slocum. Norcross was in opposition to secession.[22]

Railroad industry[edit]

As a business man, Norcross had a vested interest in the railroad, as did many industrialists of the time. With this in mind, his involvement in rail efforts was strong, for "[t]he key issue before inland cities like Atlanta was transportation, and the railroad was the key to commercial prosperity."[23]

On 3 April 1856, Norcross, who served as the first president, and 15 fellow gentlemen incorporated Air Line Railway,[16]:203–204 which was to run through the Carolinas and Virginia facilitating traffic from New York to New Orleans. He failed to get funds from the Georgia General Assembly largely because of intense lobbying from the competing Georgia Western Railroad and Central of Georgia Railway. After Norcross got a bond commitment from the city of Atlanta, Lemuel Grant joined the list of adversaries supporting a different route (Georgia Western Railway) and by 1860 both rail ventures were dead. However, from Norcross' initiation of the development of the Richmond–Danville Railroad, proposed 1856; his determined efforts led to a modest beginning, of which, the first 20 mi. were laid, 12 Sept. 1869.

Candidate for governor[edit]

The Hon. Jonathan Norcross was the Republican nominee for Governor of Georgia in 1876, he was defeated by Democrat Alfred H. Colquitt.

Norcross states in an impassioned speech, of which an excerpt provides enlightening insight, a position which evokes a true spirit of his party.[24][25]

Works: published articles & essays[edit]

Jonathan Norcross was most pronounced in his political views of the time, as best noted in several writings of "remarkable authorship"[16]:240 including:


He married twice; first in April 1845, to widow [Mrs.] Harriet N. [Bogle] [Montgomery], orig. of Blount Co., Tenn., died Aug. 1876;[26] and second on 4 Sept. 1877 to Miss Mary Ann [Hill], in Fulton, GA. Norcross had one son from his first marriage, [Rev.] [Dr.] Virgil C. Norcross, of the First Baptist Church (orig. James' Chapel),[27] who subsequently married Lydia F. [Howe], 19 May 1875, Bibb, GA.

Jonathan Norcross, who was the last surviving antebellum mayor of Atlanta, died at age 90. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, in a marked grave, Section 10, Block 140, Lot 3 .[28]

Nicholas Gaubert Norcross[edit]

Nicholas G. Norcross, the older brother of Hon. Jonathan Norcross was born 25 Dec. 1805, a native of Orono, Penobscot, ME.[29] He married Sophronia [Pratt] and removed to Bangor, Maine, where he embarked upon a very prosperous career in the lumber industry; finally settling in Lowell, Massachusetts, where the industry additionally thrived. There Norcross was known as "The Lumber King" of Lowell, MA. One of his sons-in-law, Charles Wesley Saunders, who had married his daughter Caroline O. D. [Norcross], was also quite noted in Lowell in the lumber industry and in politics as well.[7]


Norcross, Georgia, founded in 1870, is named in honor of Jonathan Norcross. Roughly 20 miles northeast of the city of Atlanta, it grew from a small country town into a busy Atlanta suburb during the 20th century.



  1. ^ "Franklin Garrett Necrology Database - Atlanta History Center". 
  2. ^ Kaemmerlen, Cathy J. The Historic Oakland Cemetery: Speaking Stones. The History Press, 1907, pp. 25 - 27.
  3. ^ Reed, Wallace Putnam, ed. History of Atlanta, Georgia: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Most Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Co., Pub., 1889, p. 106 - 110.
  4. ^ Martin, Thomas H. Atlanta and Its Builders: A Comprehensive History of the Gate City of the South. Century Memorial Pub. Co., 1902, Vol. 2, p. 688.
  5. ^ Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine. 1909, Vol. 3, p. 1380.
  6. ^ Crane, Ellen Bicknell Historical Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worchester, Co. Massachusetts. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1907, pp. 376, 391.
  7. ^ a b Cutter, William Richard. Historic Homes and Places and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families of Middlesex County, Massachusetts. New York: Lewis Historical Pub. Co., 1908, Vol. 1, p. 345.
  8. ^ Shattuck, Lemuel, Memorials of the Descendants of William Shattuck, (Dutton and Wentworth, 1855), pp. 152 – 153.
  9. ^ Crane, Ellery Bicknell. Historic Homes and Institutions and Genealogical and Personal Memoirs of Worcester County, Massachusetts, with a History of Worcester Society of Antiquity. New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1907, pp. 260 – 262.
  10. ^ For further reading and analysis on "outswarms," see Chapter, 10: The Rising Generation. Thompson, Roger. Divided We Stand: Watertown, Massachusetts 1630 - 1680. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2001, pp. 116 - 125.
  11. ^ Worcester Society of Antiquity (Mass.) Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity. Pub. by The Society, 1907, Vol. 21 (1905), p. 36 - 39.
  12. ^ "Proceedings of the Worcester Society of Antiquity". The Society. 1 January 1907 – via Google Books. 
  13. ^ United States Patent Office. Specification of Letters Patent No. 3210, dated August 4, 1843. "Reciprocating Mill-Saw Guide. Jonathan Norcross, of Putnam Co., Georgia.
  14. ^ "Mill-saw gruide". 
  15. ^ Southern Historical Association. Memoirs of Georgia: Containing Historical Accounts of the State's Civil, Military, Industrial and Professional Interests, and Personal Sketches of Many of Its People. Pub. Southern Historical Association Press, 1975.
  16. ^ a b c d e f Pioneer Citizens' Society of Atlanta. Pioneer Citizens' History of Atlanta, 1833–1902. Atlanta: Bryd Printing Co., 1902.
  17. ^ Carter, Samuel. The Siege of Atlanta, 1864. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1973, p.40.
  18. ^ "The Atlanta Daily-Intelligencer - New News for the New South". 
  19. ^ The Historic Oakland Cemetery: Speaking Stones. The History Press, 1907, pp. 25 - 27.
  20. ^ Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 - 1848. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 462.
  21. ^ Jack Lane, "The Yale Report of 1828," History of Education Quarterly 27 (1987): 325 - 38; Daniel howe, "Classical Education and Political Culture in Nineteenth Century America." Intellectual History Newsletter 5 (Spring 1983): 9 -14; Carl Richard, The Founders and the Classics (Cambridge, Mass., 1994), as cited in Howe, Daniel Walker. What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815 - 1848. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, p. 462.
  22. ^ National Cyclopedia of American Biographies: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic. New York: J. T. White , 1892, Vol. 2, 357 - 258.
  23. ^ Doyle, Dan Harrison. New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860 - 1910. University of North Carolina Press, 1990, pp. 144 - 145.
  24. ^ The Republicans of Georgia: Speech of Hon. Jonathan Norcross, the Candidate for Governor. New York Times. 28 Aug. 1876.
  26. ^ Reed, Wallace Putnam, ed. History of Atlanta, Georgia: With Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Most Prominent Men and Pioneers. Syracuse, New York: D. Mason & Co., Pub., 1889,, p. 110
  27. ^ Atlanta Historical Society. Atlanta Historical Bulletin. Pub. Atlanta Historical Society, 1972, p. 80.
  28. ^ Kaemmerlen, Cathy J. The Historic Oakland Cemetery: Speaking Stones. The History Press, 1907, p. 27.
  29. ^ The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year. Gray and Bowen, 1861, p. 396.

External links[edit]

Media related to Jonathan Norcross at Wikimedia Commons

Preceded by
Willis Buell
Mayor of Atlanta
Succeeded by
Thomas F. Gibbs

This article incorporates text from the public domain 1902 book, Atlanta And Its Builders by Thomas H. Martin