Born: 1815-10-04 Pennsylvania
Died: 1886-11-02 Burlington, Iowa
Flourished: Burlington, Iowa
Of Quaker parentage, French moved with his family at age one to Beaver, Pennsylvania. He received his education at public schools in that town, where he remained until the age of sixteen, when he moved to Pittsburgh to study mechanical engineering. He found employment as an engineer on an Ohio River steamboat travelling between Pittsburgh and Louisville, and for the next several years, he worked as an engineer on steamboats on the Ohio and other rivers. In 1841, he moved to Burlington, Iowa. In 1842, he began operating a ferry across the Mississippi River owned by Joseph Gales and William W. Seaton, proprietors of the National Intelligencer. He continued in Gales' and Seaton's employ for twelve years, operating the ferry and working as a general agent managing their various interests in Burlington and the surrounding area. In December 1849, French married Delia Elizabeth Griffey, and the couple had six children. In 1854, French traveled to Washington, D.C., in the company of others and negotiated the purchase of 700 acres of land, including ferry property on the Illinois side of the Mississippi. French then supervised the construction of four steamers, built at Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Brownsville, Pennsylvania, three for use by the ferry, and one for the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad. In addition to his ferry business, French bought and sold real estate. In 1856, he sold his interest in the ferry business and entered local politics. In 1859, he became a member of the Burlington City Council, serving seven years. From 1860 to 1865, he was mayor of Burlington. During the Civil War, he worked tirelessly and energetically to raise regiments for the Union Army, and he served as president of a Burlington society for the relief of soldiers' families and widows.
Gravestone, Plot 078 002 01, Aspen Grove Cemetery, Burlington, IA; Howard Barclay French, comp., Genealogy of the Descendants of Thomas French (Philadelphia: Howard Barclay French, 1913), 2:219-20; Portrait and Biographical Album of Des Moines County, Iowa (Chicago: Acme, 1888), 347-48.