James H. Rutter (1836-1885) was my wife’s great great grandfather. He was born February 3, 1836 in Lowell, Massachusetts. He studied at the Scholfield business school

At the age of 18, in 1854, he started his career as a clerk in the freight office of the Erie Railroad. The next year he became chief clerk in the freight office of the Williamsport and Elmira Railroad. In 1857, at the age of twenty-one, he became chief clerk in the Chicago freight office of the Michigan Central and Northern Indian Railroad. In 1858 he became freight agent of the Chicago and Milwaukee Railroad. In 1860 he was back in Elmira as the stationmaster of the Erie Railroad. In 1864 he became freight agent in Buffalo of the Erie Railroad, and in 1866 the assistant general freight agent.

While testifying about railroad rates, he impressed William H. Vanderbilt, who hired him in 1870 as the General Freight Agent of the New York Central with the salary of $15,000 a year ($250,000 in 2015 dollars).  In 1877 he became a director of the New York Central, in 1880 Third Vice-President, and in 1883, at the age of forty-seven, President of the New York Central.


William Vanderbilt had been in poor health, (high blood pressure, mild stroke); he had sons, but knew that Rutter was more intelligent and competent than his heirs. Vanderbilt put Rutter in charge of 100,000 employees and $200,000,000 in capital (about $6 billion in 2023).

Mark Twain was scheduled to meet Rutter in 1885 to interest him in investing in the printing telegraph and the typesetter that Twain hoped would make his fortune, but Rutter was ill with diabetes at his house in Irvington and died on June 27, 1885.

At the same time, unbeknownst to each other, his wife Sarah Pollack Rutter was dying of brain inflammation. She died the next day, June 28, 1885.

They were buried from St. Thomas Church in New York at the same service. They left several children. They named one Nathaniel, after his uncle who had died at Chancellorsville, and ever afterwards there have been Nathaniels in the family.  Their son, Nathaniel Enzie Rutter, was my wife’s great grandfather.

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