Samuel T. French, Sr.

Samuel T French Sr - 1926

Samuel Jones Tilden French Sr., born into the family of William Nelson and Mary Caroline Collins French on January 23, 1877, carried a significant historical legacy as a great-great-grandson of American naval Captain Micajah Smith. Captain Smith, known for his valor during the American Revolutionary War, notably captured the British freighter Venus in August 1778, leading to the Battle of Chestnut Neck in October of the same year.

Named after Samuel J. Tilden, the 1876 Democratic presidential candidate known for his controversial loss to Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel J. T. French Sr. spent his early years in Atlantic City, NJ, where the 1880 Census recorded the family, with the elder French working as a huckster. The family moved to Camden, NJ, in 1888, establishing their home at 212 South 5th Street. In Camden, William N. French engaged in the produce business, demonstrating the family’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Samuel J.T. French Sr. received his education at Camden Manual Training & High School, later renamed Clara J. Burrough Junior High School. He and his brother were noted athletes, particularly in football, playing for the Camden Athletic Association team. This team played its games at 3rd and Erie Streets in North Camden and included future prominent Camden figures such as Mayor Frank S. Van Hart and lawyers George and Martin Bergen, showcasing the familial connections within the community.

After high school, Samuel followed in his older brother William’s footsteps and pursued a career in law. By the time of the 1920 Census, he had not only established a successful legal practice in Camden with his brother but had also become a respected figure among government leaders across party lines. In addition to his law practice, he held a significant position as the president of New Jersey’s first Delaware River Bridge and Tunnel Commission, a precursor to the organization that facilitated the construction of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

In January of 1920, Samuel French and his wife, Alma, were living at 513 State Street in North Camden, a residence they had owned for seven years. The couple had three children at the time: Nelson, Samuel J.T. Jr., and Lillian, with another son, Richard, joining the family later.

By April of 1930, the neighborhood dynamics had evolved with Republican Congressman Charles A. Wolverton, purchasing a home at 505 State Street, just six doors away from the French residence. In a politically charged environment, Samuel J. T. French Sr. ran as a Democrat against Wolverton for Congress in 1932, a race that must have been particularly engaging given their close proximity.

The early 1930s were marked by both personal loss and professional transition for the French family. Samuel’s brother, William C. French, a judge, passed away in early 1930. Subsequently, Samuel J. T. French Jr. joined his father in the legal practice, forming the firm French and French, located at 305 Market Street in the Security Trust Building. This firm would remain a fixture in Camden’s legal landscape until at least 1977.

Throughout his life, Samuel French Sr. maintained his residence in North Camden, affirming his deep roots in the community. He also cherished his time at a summer home in Port Republic, NJ, a testament to his love for the state. His life weaves into the broader tapestry of Camden’s civic and legal history, marking him as a distinguished and influential figure.

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