Source: Biographical Memoirs of Wabash County, Indiana (1901), 314-317.
The name of the late John Whistler is held in grateful memory by the people of Wabash, among whom he was well known for many years while attending to the duties incident to his business. He was born on Shelly's Island, in the Susquehanna river, Dauphin county, Pa., March 8, 1818, and when a child was taken by his parents to the county of Cumberland, that state. While residing there his father suffered the loss of all his property and household effects by a disastrous fire, after which he moved with his family to Franklin county, John being eleven years old at the time. While living in the latter county the family again suffered from fire, which left them well nigh penniless, but they continued to reside in that part of the state until 1835, our subject earning what money he could by working on a neighboring farm.
When seventeen John Whistler was apprenticed to a tailor, with whom he remained three years, applying himself diligently and becoming quite an accomplished workman. The gentleman under whose instructions he had learned the trade was his uncle, Jacob Whistler, who came west at an early day, John Whistler accompanying him on the journey, which was made overland with a two-horse team. On reaching Indiana the emigrants settled in the county of Grant and shortly afterward John obtained work at his trade in the town of Marion, where he secured fairly remunerative wages until 1840, at which time he opened a shop in the village of Liberty Mills, Wabash county. From 1840 to 1846 he carried on the tailoring trade with encouraging success, and the latter year in partnership with Curtis Paulding purchased a store and began dealing in general merchandise. The results attending this undertaking were such as to encourage Mr. Whistler five years later to seek a wider field, accordingly, in 1851, the firm moved their stock to the larger and more inviting town of North Manchester. Here the stock was greatly increased and an era of prosperity inaugurated which lasted for several years, resulting in substantial gains to the two parties. In 1855 Mr. Whistler sold his interest in the establishment to George W. Lawrence, and some time thereafter engaged in buying and shipping live stock to the eastern markets, an enterprise that proved financially successful beyond his expectations. At one time he went as far west as Iowa, where he purchased one thousand eight hundred hogs, which he drove on foot from the city of Des Moines to Mt. Pleasant, a distance of one hundred and forty miles, and from the latter place shipped direct to Buffalo, N.Y. Unlike most of his enterprises, while entailing no loss, it resulted in no profits worth mentioning, and proved the first as well as the last venture in buying so far west when prices were nominal and freight rates exorbitantly high. After a few years in the stock business Mr. Whistler returned to merchandizing, effecting a co-partnership with Mr. William Thorn in a general store at North Manchester, which proved a profitable investment. He there continued with his associate in the business until 1859, at which time they disposed of their interest and purchased a grist-mill at Clinton, Ohio, paying $1,800 for it. They engaged in the manufacture of flour upon quite an extensive scale until 1864, when they sold the mill and turned their attention to other pursuits. While living at Clinton his parents, who had made their home with him since 1841, both died.
Returning to Wabash county in 1864 Mr. Whistler settled on the Irwin Turnpike on the south side of the Wabash river, where he lived for a period of ten years. In 1870, in partnership with George W. Lawrence, he again embarked in business at North Manchester, his partner looking after the establishment the greater part of the time until Mr. Whistler's removal to the city, four years later. After a short time he sold to his partner and changed his residence to Wabash, where he continued to live the remainder of his days.
In 1864 Mr. Whistler purchased stock in the First National Bank of Wabash, with the management of which he has had much to do for over twenty-nine years. He was one of its directors from 1864 until his death, and much of its success is directly traceable to his forethought, good judgment and superior financial ability.
Mr. Whistler was a remarkable successful financier, and possessed the happy faculty of turning everything to advantage with which he had any thing to do.
He accumulated a large fortune in money and real estate, being worth $70,000 at the time of his death besides previously dividing the sum of $55,000 among his sons. Few men of the county have such a long and continually successful career, and none excelled him in the ability to take advantage of circumstances or to create opportunities. He will always be remembered as one of the forceful characters of the county and as a potent factor in shaping and controlling its business and financial interests.
In the year 1852 Mr. Whistler was united in marriage to Catherine Signs, daughter of Solomon Signs, who lived on a farm seven miles north of North Manchester. Following are the names of the children born of this union: Clinton, a farmer and stock-raiser of Wabash county; David, a merchant of North Manchester; John resides in the city of Wabash; William lives in Marion; and George, who occupies his father's home in this city [Wabash].
Mr. Whistler was a man of wide intelligence and a broad-minded observer of affairs, political and industrial. A Democrat in his party affiliations and a firm believer in the principles he espoused, he was not a partisan and always refused the use of his name in connection with official positions of any kind. He was essentially a business man; and, while interested in good government and taking an active part in placing the proper person in office, was always too deeply immersed in his extensive enterprises to find time for partisan politics. His religious belief was embodied in the Methodist confession of faith, and for many years he was an humble and devout member of that church, interested in all of its good works and a liberal contributor of his means to its support. Viewed from any standpoint whatsoever, his life can be pronounced a success and in every way worthy of emulation. His honor was unimpeachable, and throughout a long and varied career during which he came in contact with hundreds of his fellow men in business relations, no breath of suspicion was ever uttered against his good name; and his character stood firm and solid as the eternal hills. He left the impress of his vigorous personality stamped upon the industries of the community and upon those with whom he enjoyed business relations, and he will live in the memory of his many friends and the public as one of the noted men of his day and generation. He died after a three weeks' sickness of paralysis of the brain, May 4, 1893. He was willing to depart and fearless of the dread secrets that lie beyond the tomb. He had never feared man on earth, and his life was such that he dreaded nothing in the unknown future. A brave, manly spirit bore him grandly to the abyss of death, and he entered it in peace with all the world; and it was becoming and beautiful so to exchange the conflicts of earth for that abiding rest with its eternal reward.
Mr. Whistler's funeral was attended by a large concourse of people, whose presence upon the solemn occasion was a silent but eloquent testimonial to his worth as a man and the high standing in which he was held as a citizen. He was carried to his final resting place amid the silent shades of Falls cemetery, the beautiful metallic casket borne by the following warm personal friends: Isaiah Dougherty, M.S. Howe, Solomon Wilson, A.J. Ross, Reuben Litz, James Early, John Gray, W.H. Wilson and John H. Brown. A massive and imposing granite block, typical of the strength and solidity of his many character, marks the place where he sleeps the sleep from which he will be awakened by the angel of the resurrection to the fullness of that life which hath no end. A portrait of Mr. Whistler appears at the opening of this sketch, and his well-remembered features will be looked upon with pleasure by the readers of this volume.