Tuesday, September 29, 2009

John R. Maltby, Sutton Pioneer and 19th Century Adventurer

There have been a number of “characters” in Sutton’s past but drawing on almost 138 years of local history a few real Doozies stand out. My favorite Doozy is probably Mr. John Roger Maltby. Again, we are indebted to Nellie and Anne Sheridan for preserving this story in their book, “Along the County Line”.

John Maltby was born in Maine in 1830 but his father, Reverend John Maltby moved the family to Sutton, Massachusetts in 1834 where the elder Maltby served the First Congregational Church for 26 years. Yep, the younger John later gave Sutton its name. At age twenty-two, Maltby departed on a fifteen-year adventure that included seven unsuccessful years in the Australian gold fields, auctioneering in India, working on the first trans-Atlantic undersea cable and a bit of wandering about the United States.

While in London on the cable gig, John met and married Matilda Mary Cooke, a convert and very devout Catholic. After two years of faith-based difficulties John returned to the US, sans Matilda. After stays in San Francisco and New Orleans Maltby tried selling washing machines in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas, IN 1865! He learned that the war-torn Confederacy was a poor market for high-ticket consumer products.

Meanwhile, back in London, Mary decided to join John and not finding him in Massachusetts, tracked him down in Louisiana in 1866. A year later their Boston hardware business flopped. John then left Matilda with his sister and went to Omaha where he built a track and organized horse races (you can’t make this stuff up). He dabbled in some land deals, cattle deals and fur trapping before poking around School Creek in May, 1871.

Maltby’s next adventure is well documented in Sutton’s history and we’ll save it for another day. Briefly, he and William Way “jumped” the claim of Mr. J. C. Vroman to organize much of today’s Sutton real estate. Vroman disappeared and we have Maltby and Way Avenues.

In September, 1872 Maltby took a business trip back east, ostensibly as part of the Sutton-Burlington depot dispute but actually to see Matilda and offer her a new life in the West. She agreed. London to Boston to Sutton. Quite a “Life Story”. But there was more to come.

Maltby was an early mover-and-shaker in Sutton: judge, school superintendent and in the midst of the social circles. But in 1877, just six years after finding School Creek, John, this time with Matilda, moved again but only a few miles to Fairfield. They were now both pioneers in organizing the town and the Catholic Church.
John died in 1895 and Matilda, almost penniless returned to Sutton and became the town’s librarian. She died in 1912 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery.

The Sutton Museum is proud to display several items of Matilda Mary Cooke Maltby include dresses and her wedding gloves and shoes thanks to Regina Leininger and others with the foresight to preserve these artifacts from our history. See them at the museum Sundays from 2 to 5 PM or by appointment. Contact Jerry Johnson at 773-0222 or jjhnsn@windstream.net for more information.

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