From the Richmond Dispatch, 6/12/1888, p. 1, c. 3

Some Account of His Life and Services to this State and City – His Funeral.

Mr. Franklin Stearns, whose illness has been mentioned from time to time for several months past, died at 10:20 o’clock night before last at his residence, East Lawn, in Henrico county, a short distance beyond the eastern limits of the city.

He was born in the State of Vermont on the 3d of March, 1815. When he was a boy his parents removed to the State of New York. About the year 1832 Mr. Stearns, then only seventeen years of age, came to Virginia to seek his fortune. When he reached Richmond he was entirely without means, twenty-five cents being all the money he had. He boarded for awhile at Saddler’s well-known restaurant on Main street. He was assisted by the late John P. Ballard, whose acquaintance he had made, until he got work. At first he engaged as a day-laborer which the late Richard Reins was then the superintendent. After awhile he got a contract upon the canal and employed other laborers, but he failed to accomplish pecuniary success. In 1842 he took the benefit of the bankrupt act of that year, but afterwards, when he became successful in business, he paid off all of his old debts, principal and interest. He then entered into partnership with Mr. Brumnell for the purpose of distilling whiskey, and the firm of Stearns and Brumnell became widely known, and it was very successful.


During the war Mr. Stearns was arrested and imprisoned in Castle Godwin upon a charge of disloyalty. He occupied the same room with his friend Hon. John Minor Botts which they were allowed to carpet and furnish, and also to have brought to them their meals from their homes. He was taken before a court of inquiry, consisting of Colonels Tansill, John C. Porter, and William P. Burwell, and after a thorough investigation there was not found a scintilla of evidence to establish the charge, and the court honorably acquitted him, and he was released from prison on the 24th of April, 1862, having been incarcerated about two weeks.

Mr. Stearns stated after his discharge and release that he had never disavowed his allegiance to the State of Virginia; that he always intended to obey its laws and those of the Confederacy while he remained in it, and that while he was prepared to give any security that he would do so, yet he thought the being required to give such pledge while others were not, implied a doubt of his fidelity, and to that he objected.


Mr. Stearns resided during the remainder of the war at his residence in this city and at his farm, “Tree Hill,” a few miles below it, respected and trusted by all, because he was believed to be a man who would be loyal to the Confederate cause, although he was not a participant in it. When the Confederate troops were stationed near “Tree Hill,” he extended to them the hospitalities of the place and furnished the men abundance of straw for sleeping purposes and did all he could for their comfort. Upon one occasion the ambulance corps was in that vicinity in the discharge of their duties – of taking care of the wounded in the seven-days’ fight around Richmond, Mr. Stearns invited the whole corps, consisting of some sixty men, to Tree Hill, and there they found an elegant repast under the trees for their enjoyment. The time was passed very pleasantly, and at the end of it Hon. Mr. Semmes, Confederate senator from Louisiana, made an eloquent speech, thanking Mr. Stearns for the pleasure he had given them.


Once since the war Mr. Stearns represented the county of Henrico in the Legislature at the earnest solicitation of the people and without any electioneering on his part.

In that canvass he wrote a characteristic letter.

In substance it was as follows: “If my fellow-citizens of Henrico think proper to elect me to the Legislature I will serve them to the best of my ability. I do not seek the position, nor do I want it, nor will I electioneer for it. And especially do I say to all the voters that none of them must feel justified during the canvass in calling on me for money or to endorse notes for them, for I will not do it. If I am elected it shall be because the people of their own free will and choice think proper to elect me.”


Mr. Stearns as a “true Republican” cooperated with the celebrated Committee of Nine, whose efforts in her behalf in 1869 facilitated the return of Virginia into the Union under more favorable auspices than she could have done without them. He might have had the position as candidate for Governor in the place of Gilbert Walker, but with his usual modesty declared that he was not fit to be Governor. He was also requested to offer for the place of United States senator when Hon. John F. Lewis was appointed, but he declined for the same reason.


Mr. Stearns’s first wife was a Miss Haley, the sister of the gentleman who was killed in 1855 by Nimrod Dickinson at the old Fair-Grounds (Monroe Park) when the first Virginia Agricultural Fair was held. She was an estimable, good woman. His second wife was a Miss Chalk. He had seven children (two only of whom survive him) and several grand-children. In all the relations of life he did his duty well. As a husband he was fond, as a father affectionate, as a friend sincere – a sagacious merchant, an honest man, and worthy citizen. Richmond will miss him, for he had the confidence and esteem of all her citizens and was one of her most enterprising businessmen.

The funeral will take place to-morrow morning at 11 o’clock from Monumental church. The following will be the pallbearers: Honorary – General Williams C. Wickham, Colonel F. G. Ruffin, Mr. H. M. Smith, Mr. Isaac Davenport, Jr., Mr. Richard Fox, Mr. Henry G. Cannon, Mr. John Purcell, and Dr. J. B. McCaw. Active – Judge L. L. Lewis, Messrs. I. S. Tower, Thomas Potts, Henry Bodeker, John A. McMinn, John M. Nolting, John T. Goddin, and Norvell Ryland.


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