Monday, February 18, 2008

Madison's Richest Man

Ask anyone familiar with Madison in the 1800s to name the city’s richest man and the answer would probably be James F.D. Lanier.

The Lanier Home symbolizes his wealth and he was possibly the wealthiest person to have lived in Madison and Jefferson County during the Nineteenth Century. But he was probably never the richest person while he lived in the city.

The 1850 census was the first tally reporting financial information about individuals, giving the value of real estate holdings. The census showed Lanier’s real estate had a value of $90,000, but this did not include stock holdings.

Still, the wealthiest Madison residents in 1860 were probably two land-rich widows, Anna Paul Hendricks, daughter of Madison’s found John Paul and widow of the late Sen. William Hendricks, and Eliza McIntyre, widow of Madison developer John McIntyre (or McIntire), which reflects the wealth that their husbands had during their lifetimes.

The Madison Courier of Sept. 9, 1851 listed John McIntire’s heirs at the top with $236,100 in property, followed by Hendricks’ heirs with $136,760. Ranking No. 3 was Michael Bright, followed in order by John Woodburn, Jesse Whitehead and Lanier. However, this didn’t include stock holdings. Lanier would have needed a lot of stock to come out at number No. 1.

Michael Bright, older brother of the well-known Senator Jesse Bright, grew significantly richer, with $90,000 in real estate and $50,000 in personal property in 1860, with diverse holdings. There were shown around 1850 by his appeal of city taxes. A Madison City Council record showed the council agreed that he owned $2,250 of Madison & Indianapolis Railroad stock, not the $4,750 he was originally taxed. This apparently stemmed from Bright’s briefly leaving Madison, and not being a resident. But the council held he was properly taxed on $30,450 in state stocks as he had re-established residency in December 1850.

Whitehead is rarely mentioned in local histories, but he lived in Madison about as long as Lanier. One account said he originated the state’s banking system and it’s possible he and Lanier should share credit. He also reportedly pioneered Madison’s river boat industry. His wealth grew sharply from 1850, when the census showed he had $17,000 in real estate. The 1850 Madison tax assessor’s list showed Whitehead were $20,017 of railroad stock, $19,320 in Madison bank stock and $15,000 in Indianapolis bank stock.

By 1860, Whitehead was clearly No. 1 with $355,000 in real estate and $14,275 in personal property. No one else was close. Michael Bright had $90,000 in real estate and $50,000 in personal property, according to the 1860
Madison census.

Lanier, who was already a part-time resident in 1850, had $250,000 in real estate and $250,000 in personal property, according the 1870 census for New York County (Manhattan.) Whitehead, living in Chicago, had retired and his holdings had fallen to $150,000 in real estate and $4,000 in personal property.

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