By David K. Leff
On a blustery March day in 1857, Charles Blair, then head of the Collins Company forge shop, stepped into a local store on Main Street in Collinsville and was suddenly and unexpectedly caught up in the most divisive moment of American history—the Civil War. In George Polk’s drug store Blair met militant abolitionist John Brown who had spoken in town the night before. The encounter would lead to the Collins Company making pikes for Brown that, to everyone’s surprise, he would later use in a raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry,Virginia, an attempt to start a slave revolt. In 1859, Brown would hang for his efforts. Blair would be subpoenaed by Congress not long afterward. Suspicious senators harshly questioned his relationship with Brown and his intentions in producing arms to aid in an insurrection against the government of the United States.
Amherst, Massachusetts born in 1812, Charles Blair came to work at the Collins Company in 1832 as a “helper.” He retired from Collins in 1876, having long been superintendent of the works. An ardent supporter of Lincoln, he worked hard to produce material for the Union war effort, including swords and bayonets. A civic-minded individual, he held various offices, including state representative. The Hartford Courant called him “a man thoroughly trusted by all who know him” and “a public spirited man and useful citizen.” Nevertheless, despite long service with the Collins Company and many good works, Charles Blair went to his grave knowing he would be best remembered for his dealings with John Brown, a chapter in his life he thought best forgotten.
His wife of over 50 years, Eunice Blodgett Blair, died in 1890. Afterward, Charles Blair was inconsolably distraught and suffered a steady and irreversible decline in his strength. He died at his home, 6 The Green, on March 18, 1893 at age 81 and was buried in the Village Cemetery, Collinsville.
“Your Silent Neighbors” introduces readers to people out of Canton’s past. It will appear on the first and fifteenth of each month. Readers are encouraged to visit these gravesites and pay their respects to the people who have helped make our community what it is today. Any suggestions, questions, or corrections should be addressed to Town Historian David Leff at email@example.com