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Tuesday, January 27, 2015
Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy (1855-1906): scofflaw or scapegoat?
Note: APHGA has joined NewYorkHeritage.org,
an online research site for New York history offering collections from New York
libraries, historical societies, museums and archives. View our online collection
here. Nancy wrote about the collection last
year after completing its transcription. – Susan Hughes
Completing the scanning and transcription of the Frederick
Lawrence Pomeroy correspondence in our collection for publication on the NewYorkHeritage.org site, I have been trying to identify a theme that would best illustrate this
archive. Initially hoping these letters would provide answers to the many
questions surrounding the legacy of Frederick (“Fred”) Pomeroy, it seems they
pose more questions than answers.
Lawrence Pomeroy, born 15 Jan 1855 in Cortland, Cortland County, New York, to James
Clark Pomeroy and Olive M. Mills, made a career working in the railroad
industry. Early on, he worked as a general passenger agent for the Ogdensburg
and Lake Champlain Railroad, then as general freight and ticket agent with the
Ithaca and Cortland Railroad, and eventually become an Assistant General Traffic
Manager for the New York Central Railroad.
On 25 Oct 1906, Pomeroy, along with the New York Central Railroad, was
convicted of granting freight rebates to the American Sugar Refining trust in violation
of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. New
York Central Railroad was fined $102,000. Pomeroy was personally fined $6,000,
the equivalent of about $158,000 today. (For comparison, in 1906 the average
worker made between $200 and $400 per year. While a manager like Pomeroy
probably commanded a higher salary, even an engineer could only expect about
The verdict was widely reported in the news and various trade publications. Tragically,
Pomeroy died of a heart attack one month later on 26 Nov 1906 at age 51 while
fighting the conviction.
Theodore Roosevelt earned the nickname “Trust Buster” for his crusade against
the exploitive practices of certain captains of industry. But, he also sought
to enact laws that would protect workers forced to carry out employer’s
policies that were in direct violation of the law, especially when doing so
resulted in no personal benefit to those employees. Roosevelt felt that this
case in particular was an example of the type of miscarriage of justice he
sought to eradicate. In Roosevelt’s 1906 State of the Union Address, he voiced
his disapproval of the fine imposed on Pomeroy:
“…I am forced to the
conclusion, in a case in which the proof is so clear and the facts are so
flagrant, it is the duty of the court to fix a penalty which shall in some
degree be commensurate with the gravity of the offense. As between the two
defendants, in my opinion, the principal penalty should be imposed on the
corporation. The traffic manager in this case, presumably, acted without any
advantage to himself and without any interest in the transaction, either by the
direct authority or in accordance with what he understood to be the policy or
the wishes of his employer.
'The sentence of this court in
this case is, that the defendant Pomeroy, for each of the six offenses upon
which he has been convicted, be fined the sum of $1,000, making six fines,
amounting in all to the sum of $6,000; and the defendant, The New York Central
and Hudson River Railroad Company, for each of the six crimes of which it has
been convicted, be fined the sum of $18,000, making six fines amounting in the
aggregate to the sum of $108,000, and judgment to that effect will be entered
in this case.'"
Roosevelt pardoned Pomeroy posthumously, assuring that his
estate was not liable for the fines.
Our blog readers may be interested to learn that Pomeroy was
the nephew of Lemuel Strong Pomeroy
(1812-1879) and Dr. Theodore Clapp Pomeroy (1817-1897) and thus a cousin of
Harry Dwight Pomeroy (1866-1937).
Captain Stephen Pomeroy, Frederick’s grandfather, was born 6 Aug 1775 in
Southampton, Hampshire Co., MA and settled with his wife Hannah “Polly” Clapp
in Otisco, Onondaga County, NY by 1806, where he died 23 Dec 1863. This family has strong roots in the Onondaga,
Cortland and Oswego County, New York areas.
In an interesting
footnote to previous research published in our blog,
the pulpit desk made by A.R. & E. L. Shaw of Boston, MA, which resides at
the First Presbyterian Church in Cortland, NY with the inscription
POMEROY. “PRECIOUS IS THE MEMORY OF THE JUST” APRIL
was given to
the church by Frederick and his sister Louisa Maria Pomeroy Hill in memory of
their parents who were members of that church.
Next week: A
closer look at the contents of the Frederick Lawrence Pomeroy collection.
quickly about Pomeroy’s untimely death. The collection contains a number of
letters expressing shock and disbelief both from within the company and from outside
business contacts. Frederick Lawrence
Pomeroy Collection. Image 2010.0307.1.20