James Henry Mathews was born in Ireland, later immigrating to New York. He had a diverse career, serving in the Civil War and engaging in various businesses, from retail to real estate. Mathews settled in North Dakota, where he established a bonanza farm and actively participated in politics. He married and had five children, although two tragically passed away. Involved in numerous fraternal organizations, he also held positions in several banks, insurance companies, and land businesses, making him a prominent figure in the region’s business community. Today, Mathews remains heavily engaged in real estate, livestock, and land investments.
James Henry Mathews was born on October 10, 1846, in Woodgrange, County Down, Ireland. When he was just over a year old, he immigrated to the city of New York with his parents. His father, Hugh Henry Mathews, was a carpenter by occupation, and his mother, Jane Sturgeon, was of Scottish descent, being a direct descendant of the Montgomery family from Scotland.
James’ grandfather had served under the Duke of Wellington and was wounded in the Battle of Waterloo. His father served in the Civil War as part of the Ninety-eighth New York Regiment.
He received his education at Newburgh, New York, until the age of eleven. After the financial panic of 1857, he left home and worked in a store, earning fifty cents per week and his board for about seven months. He then secured a job for twenty-five dollars per year and three months of schooling in his first year, followed by fifty dollars in the second year without any schooling.
In 1862, at the age of fifteen, he attempted to enlist in the Third New York Infantry, but his father prevented him from going to the front. Subsequently, he enlisted in the Thirty-sixth New York, but again his father intervened due to his young age. Soon after, his father enlisted in the Ninety-eighth New York Regiment, and James H. Mathews enlisted in the Seventh New York Independent Battery. He served in this company for two years and seven months, participating in various engagements with the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the James. He was slightly wounded twice during his service. He received his discharge on July 26, 1865, and in September of that year, he entered the retail meat business. In 1867, he formed a partnership with J. A. Sneed, establishing the wholesale butcher business under the name Mathews and Sneed. He continued his retail business until 1870, when he sold both his retail and wholesale businesses in Newburgh and moved to West Point, where the United States Military Academy is located. He secured a contract with the government to supply the post with troop provisions. He remained there for two years before returning to Newburgh, New York, where he engaged in the wholesale smoked meat and provision business. He formed a partnership with Edgar C. Barnes under the name Mathews and Barnes. They conducted business until 1883 when his health deteriorated, leading to the sale of his interest in the company.
In September 1878, after reading extensively about the Red River Valley, he came to Grand Forks, North Dakota. He became involved in real estate in Grand Forks and acquired farm lands. From that point onward, he spent part of each year in North Dakota and part in New York. In 1884, he moved with his family to Larimore, North Dakota, where he settled and established a bonanza farm that, at its peak, encompassed 7,000 acres. Over time, the size of the farm decreased, and he now possesses approximately 4,000 acres.
In 1889, he participated in the constitutional convention that formulated the constitution for the state of North Dakota. Since then, he has maintained an active interest in politics, supporting friends, but has never accepted any political office for himself.
In 1870, he married Mary Elizabeth Taylor in Cornwall, New York, on June 8. They had five children: Lizzie Jane, Maud Inez, Josephine Coldwell, Edgar Carlisle, and Sadie P. Sadly, Josephine passed away at the age of eight months, and Edgar Carlisle was tragically killed at the age of eight by a horse kick.
Lizzie Mathews married Walter L. Larimore, the eldest son of N. G. Larimore from Larimore, North Dakota. Maud and Sadie still reside at home on the farm.
Mr. Mathews is affiliated with several fraternal organizations, including the Masonic Lodge, the Odd Fellows, and the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.). He is a member of the Hudson River Commandery in Newburgh, New York, Elzagle Temple in Fargo, North Dakota, and Highland Lodge of Odd Fellows, No. 65, in Newburgh, New York.
Since settling in North Dakota, Mr. Mathews has been extensively involved in land and loan businesses. He has served as a director in the Elk Valley Bank of Larimore, North Dakota, since its establishment under state banking laws. Additionally, he manages the bank’s farm loan department. He owns the New York farm, consisting of approximately 4,000 acres, which he oversees personally, as well as several other farms that he leases out. He serves as the president of the Pembina Coal Company, Ltd., whose mines are located on the Pembina River near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He holds the position of vice president in the Elk Valley Land & Colonization Company and the Pioneer Life Insurance Company in Fargo, North Dakota. He has been a shareholder in the Northwestern Fire & Marine Insurance Company, previously based in Grand Forks but now in Minneapolis, and served as one of the executive officers during the company’s first two years. Since 1882, he has been a shareholder in the First National Bank of Grand Forks. He is involved in various business partnerships, including Larimore, Mathews & Stonehouse, J. H. Pifer & Co., and joint interests with J. E. Burchard and A. Stonehouse in approximately 15,000 acres of land in the Saskatchewan Valley, Canada. He has extensively invested in livestock, raising both horses and cattle, ever since settling in North Dakota. He is currently heavily engaged in the real estate business, maintaining offices in St. Paul and Larimore, North Dakota.
C.F. Cooper & Company, History of the Red River Valley, Past And Present: Including an Account of the Counties, Cities, Towns And Villages of the Valley From the Time of Their First Settlement And Formation, volumes 1-2; Grand Forks: Herald printing company, 1909.