The City Of Chester.
and traveling west by canal and stage and other slow methods of those days, he at length reached what is now the site of Peoria, Ill., and bought three hundred acres of land in the neighborhood, paying his five hundred dollars as security. It seemed settled that John Roach was to become an Illinois farmer. But there was a different course of life mapped out for him, with more telling work for his country. By one of those providences which some wrongly consider to be chance, just at this time Mr. Allaire failed. That ended the Illinois farming. Mr. Roach, not being able to get his thousand dollars, could not make the further payments, forfeited what he had already paid, and found himself far from home, without money enough to get back, and in a land where a day's wages was not money, but as much corn as a man could carry on his back. That would not pay fare, since there was no market where it could be turned into cash.
But there was no such idea as "give up" in his head. Within twenty-four hours after learning of his loss, he was working his way homeward on the canals; and in some four months after his departure from New York, with high hopes of success in the great West, he was back again, richer in experience, but poorer in pocket, with nothing to do but begin over. He had, however, the capital of a thoroughly-mastered trade, a powerful constitution, and an indomitable will.
Mr. Allaire, who had resumed business, was glad to regain so skillful a workman. Mr. Roach, however, was not satisfied with his old trade, and learned that of making castings for machinery. Here again a foreman opposed him, but Mr. Allaire knew his valuable qualities, and insisted that he should be taken into the foundry. He rose rapidly, and subsequently was offered the place of the very foreman who had opposed him, but refused to take it from him. He worked himself ill by his over-hours and his intense application, and for a long time it was thought he would die of consumption; but the strong constitution stood him in good stead, and he recovered.
When he got two hundred dollars ahead again, - and it was slower work saving now with a family to support, - he determined that he must be something more than a workman in a foundry if his children were to be properly cared for and educated. He finally hit upon the scheme of starting out for himself by buying a small foundry in Goerck Street, New York City, - the Etna Iron-Works, - then in the hands of a receiver, and for sale. The property consisted of only two lots of ground, forty by one hundred feet; but before he left for yet larger works it was enlarged, so as to cover fifty city lots. Nothing ever grew smaller under his hands. Finding three other mechanics, each having two hundred dollars, who were willing to join in the enterprise, the property was bought for four thousand seven hundred dollars, with a small cash payment, which left an equally small cash capital with which to begin business. The firm became Roach & Johnson, and the subsequently famous Etna Iron-Works sought public patronage, - that is, Mr. Roach sought it. The responsibility of the purchase was taken by him, and his partners left the management of everything to him. Where he was bound to succeed, they were doubtful; where he was resolute, they were holding back; where he was enterprising, they were timid. Those days showed the man. He scoured the city for work. He was unknown, without cash capital, credit, or influential friends; but his pluck shone in his face and inspired confidence. The first work he got, after long search, was to make some grate-bars for a Brooklyn distillery. When this was done there was not a dollar left of the cash capital, and he himself took the bars to the distillery, and asked for immediate payment, frankly stating that money with him was scarce, and he would willingly make a reduction for cash. His struggles for success in this foundry were such as few men go through. The partners early became discouraged, and he promptly bought their interest, giving them his note for three hundred dollars and a mortgage as collateral, and keeping them in his employ. Not one of them rose afterwards to a proprietor's place. He made frank statements to the iron merchants of his condition and prospects. His work was always satisfactory, both in price and character; his contracts were always kept to the letter; and his known probity of character gradually obtained for him a limited credit. Often during this period he had to obtain credit in order to support his family, because it took all the money he had to pay his workmen on Saturday night. During all his more than forty years of proprietorship and employment of thousands of workmen, never once did his men fail to receive their weekly wages when they were due.
Mr. Roach's first decided rise was when he was fortunate enough to get a contract for an iron building, and made eight thousand dollars in six months. This work was so satisfactory that his business and credit were increased largely. He took contracts which were beyond the capacity of his works, but tore down the old buildings, and in forty days had new and adequate works in operation, and carried out the contracts. That was characteristic of the man. Any work he could get to do he was sure he could provide the necessary capacity to do.
Business was now fairly prosperous with him when, in 1846, by the explosion of the boiler, his works were mostly destroyed by fire, and what was far more grievous, with accompanying loss of life. No insurance was recovered, and again he found himself nearly ruined. But he had an enlarged experience, an established business, and a sound though not large credit, being so much the richer by his hard toiling years. To go on with his contracts without loss of time he laid pipes and carried steam from a boiler in a factory over two hundred feet away to his own engine, which in the general wreck had singularly escaped destruction. By so doing, in forty-eight hours