Henry Ranney's Business

As we saw earlier, Henry Ranney and Richard Cook were reported by R. G. Dun & Company’s correspondents to be in business together, possibly supported by Cook’s relatives in New York City. The credit report also mentioned that Henry had been a clerk for J. Bement. Jasper Bement (1794-1850) ran one of the early mercantile stores in Ashfield, and became Henry’s mentor and friend. Together with Joseph, Jasper’s son who inherited his business, they outfitted, supplied, and managed a large proportion of the famous Yankee Essence Peddlers based in Ashfield and neighboring towns (I’ll write more on them soon, in the meantime here’s what Nathaniel Hawthorne had to say about them) This involved Henry not only in the family peppermint oil business, but in procuring a wide variety of essential oils, bottles, and labels, and seeing to their production and distribution to the peddlers.

Henry Ranney’s business correspondence is beyond the scope of this project, but it provides some more background and insight into his life. In 1843, Charles Philips wrote Henry several times from Saratoga Springs, New York. Philips was apparently bottling essences for Henry: he mentions labels and the cost of several essences and patent medicines such as “origanum,” “Opodeldoc,” and “Elixer Pro.” In April 1844, O. O. Elmer of Heath Massachusetts wrote Henry, asking for six gross more of (2 ounce) vials and labels for his next batch of “liniment.” About a month later, Charles Sanderson sent a shipment from Leominster to Ashfield with his brother William (a friend of Henry’s and a famous peddler we’ll run into again later), and in return said “if it is convenient you may pay him that last bill, one half in essence as follows, one half gross peppermint, one half gross wintergreen, one quarter each cinnamon, hemlock, lemon, aniseed and Sassafras, one quarter dozen sassafras in large bottles if you have it. One half gross oil spruce, the balance proportioned as above.” The essence business was big and widely distributed.

In 1844, Henry moved to Boston for three or four years. He married Maria Jane Goodwin of Ashfield, and went into business with her brother George, at 76 Union Street, a few blocks from the Long Wharf. In the summer of 1844, twenty-one year old Augustus Graves of Ashfield wrote Henry there. Graves was in Franklin on a peddling trip, but said he would be in Boston in ten days. “I should like you to put up some essence of an extra quality, twice as strong as any I have yet had of you,” he says, “without the alcohol being reduced. I think I shall want about two gross of 4 oz essence in peppermint, lemon, Wintergreen, hot drops etc. (and 4 or 5 gross 2 oz do [ditto]). I shall be in sometime next week and shall want considerable stuff if you have the right sort…I left home two weeks ago tomorrow, am going east from here. Hope you will have essences, patent medicines, etc. of the right sort for retail trade, as I would rather buy of you than in Ashfield or elsewhere.”

In February 1847, Augustus Graves wrote again from Middleborough Mass, on another peddling trip. He asks for 29 dozen 2 ounce essences, including six dozen peppermint; 12 dozen 4 ounce, including six dozen peppermint, and 6 dozen half pints of peppermint, in flat bottles. Among the other essences and product tasks for are Cinnamon, Wintergreen, Hemlock, Wormwood, Spearmint, Sassafras, Anise seed, Lemon, Pennyroyal, Goldenrod, Hot Drops, Balsam Life, Balsam Honey, and Lee & B. Prestons Salts “if you have them–no other.” (Preston Salts are ammonia-based smelling salts). Graves asks Henry to direct the package to him in Boston, “in care of George C Goodwin 73 Union St.”

When Henry moved back to Ashfield, he continued to do business with his brother-in-law, George Goodwin. He partnered with the Bements off and on, and is mentioned in the R. G. Dun report on Jasper Bement in 1850:

2-11-50: "Has taken a man by the name of "Ranny" as a pt. "R" is reputed worth $20,000 his credit is good. R young of good char, has recently been in business in Boston or vicinity."

In the 1860s, Henry began buying hundreds of pounds of Michigan peppermint oil from H. H. Lawrence of Florence Michigan. His brothers had all gone out of the business by this time. One of his regular customers for this oil was George in Boston. But he seems by this time only to be dabbling. Henry has already made his fortune and is living in semi-retirement in Ashfield, devoting his efforts to being Town Clerk and occasionally Postmaster.