WEBSTER, STEPHEN (deceased), was born in Orleans County, N.Y., June 14, 1825. He spent his entire life (except a few years in Chicago) in his native State, being buried at Mt. Albion, N.Y. His father operated a farm near Hawley and was also a native of New York. His mother, Kate (Littlefield) Webster, was a native of New York. Many of Mr. Webster's ancestor took active parts in the exciting events preceding the Revolution and during the struggle, and were of the old eastern stock of Connecticut.
After taking an academic course at Albion, N.Y., Stephen Webster embarked in the drug business, which he continued several years. He also began dealing in grain, and in the latter enterprise became so successful that he devoted his whole attention to it and had entire charge of the great stock yards at Suspension Bridge, N.Y. He became quite wealthy, being a man of industrious habits and considerable energy. One of his best western customers was Algernon Farr, the great stock shipper of Illinois. However, he met serious reverses of fortune and died a poor man. Being of a quiet disposition and a great lover of his home, he never connected himself with any fraternal orders and die not aspire to public office. His religious connections were with the Congregational Church.
January 29, 1863, Mr. Webster was married, at Niagara City, N.Y., by Reverend Webb, to Mary A. Rhodes, who was born at Albion, N.Y., January 25, 1836, daughter of Richard Boone and Charity E. (Bidwell) Rhodes. Richard Boone Rhodes had married (first) November 1, 1832, Nancy Sherwood, of Chautauqua, N.Y., who lived but a short time. The first of the Rhodes family in America was John Rhodes, who came from England in 1630, and one of his descendants, Walter Rhodes, born June 2, 1770, in Providence, R.I., died in 1829. Walter Rhodes was married, in 1792, to Mary Perkins, who was also born in Providence, in 1767, died in 1869, and lived to celebrate her one hundredth birthday, at which time she was able to read and write with ease. The Perkins family also came from England (in 1630), and the grandfather of Richard B. Rhodes, Nathaniel Perkins, born in 1710, was a gunsmith and manufactured guns for the use of the colonists during the Revolution. Mrs. Webster's mother, Charity Bidwell, was a descendant of John Bidwell, from the north of England, who settled at Hartford, Ct., in 1635, married Sarah Wilcox, and died in 1687.
Richard B. Rhodes was a mechanic of great skill and prominence and learned his trade at Pittsburg, Pa., and Jamestown, N.Y., where he learned the secret of tempering by shade the edge of sharp steel tools of all kinds. He himself afterwards built a factory for making tools at Chautauqua, and later at Waterport, N.Y. He was the inventor of many useful articles and became known in many parts of the country through his intelligence and skill. He firmly believed he had discovered perpetual motion, and at one time considered placing his invention on the market. Mrs. Webster distinctly remembers hearing her father describe this invention to her mother. In later life, thinking he was losing his sight, he called a convention of tool makers and gave to them the secret of tempering tools. His father, Walter Rhodes, was also an inventor and mechanic. He erected a shingle mill, flume and water wheel, and was killed by accident at this named Curtis, a manufacturer of farm tools, at Albion, N.Y., and while in this position studied to perfect the reaper. Afterwards, while working at Brockport he perfected the real part of this machine that gathers and throws over the bundles. He also invented the "Butterfly" drag that was so much used on land, because it would go between stumps in cultivating. Mr. Rhodes also invented a gate that would swing both ways, and a horse hay rake that would rake the hay into windrows. When the contractor, who was ready to begin work on the great suspension bridge between Canada and Niagara City, was unable to figure how to get a line across as the first move, Mr. Rhodes solved the difficulty by advising that a kite be flown over. Mrs. Webster herself inherited a great deal of mechanical genius from her father and invented a very practical doughnut cutter, which she had made for her own use and which she heard was afterwards patented, but she receives no royalties on it as her idea was appropriated by others.
Mr. Rhodes, the father of Mrs. Webster, was born April 6, 1807, and died October 20, 1878, and his second wife, who was born May 12, 1813, died November 13, 1872. An ancestor of Mr. Rhodes, John Rhodes, was a member of the famous "Boston Tea Party," and threw the second box of tea overboard. Her parents and ancestors on both sides were very devout Christians as far back as 1600.
Left alone in the world, without a dollar, Mrs. Webster had before her the immediate question of how she should earn her livelihood. In October, 1870, she began working at dress and cloak making, which she continued at Niagara Falls, N.Y., until July, 1877, when she was advised by her old physician, Dr. E. B. Rice, of Niagara, N.Y., to go west, and moved to Vandalia, Fayette County, Ill., where she remained one and one-half years and one and one-half years at Carbondale, Ill., until 1879, during which time her father and two sisters died, and she then moved to Springfield, in 1880, where she continued at her trade with good success, being able to save some money, but her health failed, and Rev. David More, D.D., formerly of her old home in New York, advised her to go to Florida, where his wife had been taken to regain her health. In 1885 Mrs. Webster, went to Deland, Fla., and there purchased a home and worked at her trade, remaining there until 1889, when she sold her home to an attorney from New Jersey, who afterwards sold it to J. B. Stetson, the celebrated hat manufacturer, who built on this fine location one of the most magnificent homes in Florida. Returning to Springfield, Mrs. Webster resumed work at her trade and was able to accumulate some valuable real estate. She is a well informed woman, of good business ability, taking an intelligent and broad view of most subjects, and justly proud of her success in her own behalf. She is a good conversationalist and has many interesting incidents to relate as a consequence of her travels and her varied experiences. She is justly proud of her ancestors and their achievements, and takes great interest in learning their history. She has in her possession a letter which was written by her father's mother to her son in 1842, which was simply folded and addressed (no envelope being used in those days) and then sealed and stamped by the Postmaster. Among the choice pieces of property owned by Mrs. Webster is her home at No. 1029 South third Street. Mrs. Webster is a member of the Central Baptist church of Springfield.