Samuel Fessenden

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Samuel Fessenden (July 16, 1784 – 13 March 1869) was an American attorney, abolitionist and politician. He served in both houses of the Massachusetts state legislature before Maine became a separate state. He was elected as major general in the state militia.


Fessenden was born in Fryeburg, Maine. His father was the Rev. William Fessenden, who graduated from Harvard College in 1768, and was the first minister of Fryeburg. He was also active politically, being elected more than once to the Massachusetts state legislature. (Maine was then part of Massachusetts.) The senior Fessenden also served as judge of probate. Samuel Fessenden's cousin Thomas Green Fessenden became a noted author and editor.

Fessendent received his early education at the Fryeburg Academy in his hometown. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1806. He studied law ("read the law") with Judge Dana, of Fryeburg, and Daniel Webster, and was admitted to the bar in 1809.


Fessenden began his law practice at New Gloucester, Maine. He became active in local politics.

In 1815-16, Fessenden was elected and served a term as a representative in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He was elected to the Massachusetts State Senate, serving 1818-19.

Fessenden joined the state militia. After leaving the senate, he was elected as major-general of the 12th division of the Massachusetts (later Maine) militia. He moved with his family to Portland, Maine, in 1822, which had more opportunities. About 1828 he declined the presidency of Dartmouth.

Fessenden was an ardent Federalist, and one of the early members of the anti-slavery party in Maine. In 1847 and 1848, he was a Liberty Party candidate for United States Congress and governor of Maine, and an early supporter of the United States Republican Party.

For forty years Fessenden was considered leader of the bar in Maine. He was an active philanthropist. He published two orations and a treatise on the institution, duties, and importance of juries. In 1846, he was awarded the honorary degree of LL.D. by Bowdoin College.


Fessenden married. He and his wife had several children. Three sons followed the father into politics: William Pitt Fessenden, who became Treasury Secretary; Samuel C. Fessenden and T. A. D. Fessenden were elected as US congressmen.

Two grandsons became generals in the Union Army during the American Civil War: Francis Fessenden and James D. Fessenden. A third grandson, Samuel Fessenden (6 January 1841 Portland, Maine - 1 September 1862 Centreville, Virginia), was mortally wounded at the Second Battle of Manassas. He had graduated from Bowdoin College in 1861. He began to study law, but soon entered the military service as 2d lieutenant in the 2d Maine battery, 30 November 1861. He was promoted to 1st lieutenant on 3 June 1862 and was aide to Gen. Zebulon B. Tower in July 1862.



  • Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Fessenden, Samuel". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Fessenden, Thomas". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.
  • Fessenden Collection, 1786–1982 (bulk 1823–1869), Bowdoin College Library. This has short biographies of several of the Fessendens.