William Findlay Rogers
Born: 1 March 1820, Forks Township, Pennsylvania
Died: 16 December 1899, Buffalo, New York
William Rogers was born on March 1, 1820 in Forks Township, Pa. His father was Thomas J. Rogers, an Irish immigrant who felt a calling to the printing trade. Thomas Rogers also served in the Pennsylvania State Senate before being elected as a Representative of the 6th and 8th districts in the House of Representatives. Thomas Rogers served as a brigadier general in the Pennsylvania State militia and a United States Naval officer. William Rogers would largely follow his father’s path in life. Like his father, William Rogers felt a calling to the print and newspaper trade. Upon his father’s death in 1832, the 12 year old William was forced to quit school and secure work to help support his family. Rogers worked his way up through the printing trade and eventually mastered the art of typesetting.
In 1840 Rogers established his first newspaper in Honesdale, Pa. In 1846 Rogers moved to Buffalo, NY where he worked as a foreman in the Buffalo Daily Courier’s office. Rogers established a reputation as one of the “best” printers at the paper. In 1848 Rogers became the business manager of the Buffalo Republic newspaper. The paper was closely associated with the “barnburner” faction of the Democratic Party. The barnburners were New York Democrats who had split off from the mainline party primarily because of economic issues. Barnburner Democrats strongly believed in balanced budgets, hard money and government spending; especially the state’s funding and involvement with road and canal projects, the national bank and speculative activities in state banks. By 1847 the barnburners had officially split with the main Democratic Party, they joined with anti-slavery Whigs in 1848 to form the Free Soil Party with Martin Van Buren as their presidential nominee.
The Buffalo Republic was a financial failure and merged with another paper to become the Times-Republic. Rogers then joined a group that attempted to published the first Sunday paper in Buffalo, the Weekly Bulletin. However, the Bulletin was also a financial failure and soon folded. Rogers went back to work with the Courier and stayed there until the outbreak of the Civil War.
Rogers’ military career started in 1847 when he joined the New York State Militia’s 65th regiment. He started as a 4th Sergeant but quickly moved up through the ranks. Rogers was promoted to First Sergeant in 1848 and commissioned second lieutenant in July 1849, then first lieutenant in December 1850 and finally adjutant of the 65th in June 1851. In December of 1853 Rogers became Captain of Company B, then of Company C in the 74th Regiment. Rogers held this rank and position until the start of the Civil War.
Rogers responded to Lincoln’s call for men immediately and volunteered for service in 1861. Rogers helped to organize the 21st New York State Volunteers and was elected as its colonel in May 1861. The 21st was unofficially called the 1st Buffalo Regiment as most of its men were from the Western New York region, the regiment also referred to itself of Roger’s Rangers. Rogers and the 21st served with distinction in a number of major battles: Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. After the regiment mustered out in 1863 Rogers returned to Buffalo and was appointed Provost Marshall. In May 1864 he became Colonel of the 74th Regiment and then Brigadier General United States Volunteers in March 1865. In April 1865 Rogers was named the Brigadier General of the 31st Brigade.
After the war ended Rogers once against followed in his father’s footsteps and pursued a political career. He held the following offices:
- Buffalo, NY City Auditor 1864-65
- Buffalo City Comptroller 1866-67
- Mayor of Buffalo, NY 1868-69
- Secretary and Treasurer of the Buffalo, NY Park Commisioners 1871
- Declined a Nomination for State Senate in 1878
- Representatives of the 48th Congressional District 1883-1885
- Superintendent of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home Bath, NY 1887-1897
During his time as mayor of Buffalo, NY Rogers established Buffalo’s public parks system as well as the Board of Park Commissioners to oversee the construction and running of the parks system. Buffalo’s park system was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, often considered the father of American Landscape architecture. In addition to Buffalo’s parks Olmsted designed Manhattan’s Central Park, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC and Downing Park in Newburgh, NY. Olmsted had spent time in Buffalo during the Civil War and was very impressed with Joseph Ellicott’s city plan. Olmsted once stated that Bufflalo, NY was the best designed city in the United States, if not the world. Olmsted’s proposal for an entire system of parks was quickly and strongly supported by Rogers.
As mayor Rogers also played a key in the establishment of the State Insane Asylum in Buffalo. After his term in office Rogers once again pursued his printing career. In 1877 Rogers commanded the 14th Brigade NGSNY which was called upon to enforce the peace and disperse rioters during the railroad strike that year. In 1878 Rogers helped to found the Soldiers’ home for veterans in Bath, NY. In 1879 he helped organize the Civil Service Reform Association.
Rogers was a high ranking mason, achieving High Priest, Eminent Commander, and Master of his lodge.
William Rogers died “suddenly with his boots on” in his sleep on December 16, 1899. He is buried in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetary.
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