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Bill Thayer

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The text that follows is reproduced from (the report of the) Thirty-Fifth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 14th, 1904.

 p189  George Deshon
No. 1168. Class of 1843.
Died, December 30, 1904, at New York City, aged 80.

Father George Deshon, Superior General of the Paulist Fathers, who died on December 30, in his eightieth year, entered the Military Academy on July 1, 1839, graduating in 1843, number 2, out of a class of 39, and promoted to Second Lieutenant Topographical Engineers of that year. He was soon transferred to the Ordnance. He served as Assistant Ordnance officer at Watervliet Arsenal, N. Y., at two different  p190 periods and was twice detailed at the Military Academy as Assistant Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy and as Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography, History, and Ethics. He received the rank of First Lieutenant Ordnance July 10, 1851. On October 31, 1851, Lieutenant Deshon resigned his commission in the United States Army and since then his life has been closely identified as a Priest of the Paulist Fathers' Church. Of Huguenot stock and military training, a classmate of General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Grant at West Point and an army officer before he was a Christian pastor, Father Deshon carried his fighting spirit into his work. The immediate neighborhood of the great Paulist Church at Fifty-ninth Street and Columbus Avenue, once notorious for its evil resorts, was cleansed and kept clean largely by his efforts, and the contagion of his missionary zeal was felt throughout the whole Roman Catholic Church in the United States and beyond. It has been said that since Father Deshon became the head of the Paulists nearly every member of that order has in some way achieved distinction, so happily has each been suited to his task.

The original Deshon settler in this country, who spelled his name Deschamps, came over in 1686 with a band of thirty Huguenots and settled at Oxford, Mass. This settlement was destroyed by the Indians and the family scattered, Daniel Deshon, one of the sons, settling in New London, where he married Ruth Christopher, a direct descendant of Elder Wm. Brewster, of the Mayflower. Daniel had five sons, three of whom served as officers in the Revolutionary Army. One of the sons, Henry, was Father Deshon's grandfather, his son, John Deshon, who was born in 1777 and who was the youngest of thirteen children, being Father Deshon's father. John Deshon was Captain of an armed merchant ship sent out to resist the aggressions of the French. Afterwards he made many voyages in different directions and was a man highly respected in the community. He died in 1865 in his eighty-ninth  p191 year. George Deshon was his fourth son and it is said resembled him both in appearance and character. Two other sons were John and Frank, who went to Nicaragua, C. A., and there successfully established large sugar plantations. Giles Deshon, another son, was for more than thirty years an Episcopal clergyman in Meriden, Conn. His daughter, May Deshon, married Arthur T. Randall, who is now Rector of the same parish. Charles Deshon, another son, went to Mobile, Ala., in 1837, where he died in 1875. He had a son of the same name, who is now practising law in New York City. George Deshon left one sister surviving, Harriet T. Deshon, now a resident of Providence, R. I.

George Deshon's mother was Frances Robertson, of Scotch descent. She was a sister of William Robertson, who was at one time well known in Europe and was energetic in introducing there the use of American corn meal as a food. Father Deshon was emphatically a man of affairs. He had an excellent understanding of business matters, and a good practical judgment in managing them. He had an excellent head for Mathematics, as is sufficiently shown by his high standing at West Point; and he refreshed his memory of it, and applied all the scientific knowledge of any kind at his command, whenever it would be of service for anything connected with house of God. But he never would indulge in the study of physical science for its own sake, though he must have had a natural taste for it. He took a special interest in the matter of building; and a great deal had to be done in his time. The great church in New York was, it may be said, really his work.​a He superintended every detail of its construction and would spend days upon the walls while they were going up, to make sure that everything was done carefully and thoroughly. And his knowledge of Engineering, acquired at West Point, was of great service, particularly in the construction of the roof. During these last years, he was much interested in its decoration; but in this matter, feeling sure  p192 that the work was in competent hands, he had less confidence in his own judgment. As he had a clear head, and had studied faithfully at the Academy, he would in all probability have made his mark in the military profession, and attained distinction in the Civil War, if he had remained in the army. The ability to decide, and to adhere to a decision once made, is perhaps more necessary to a military commander than a judicial mind, which insists on weighing every argument pro and con and may remain for a long time undecided among a multitude of reasons. Father Deshon was usually pretty sure that he was right; and when he asked for advice, it was often rather with the hope of obtaining a confirmation of his own judgment than with a readiness to abandon it. He did not readily change his mind in deference to the opinion of others unless it was evident that they had just claims to be better informed on the matter in hand. The influence of his military education was indeed unmistakable through his whole subsequent life. Until the last few years when the infirmities of old age made themselves felt, it was easily perceptible even in his walk; more so indeed than in regular officers or soldiers generally. His quick, decided step, and erect carriage caught the eye at once. Probably it was also principally responsible for a certain brusqueness and seeming severity of manner which made him at times less easily approachable than others. But he did not mean to be unkind, and was not in fact, when this somewhat rough exterior was penetrated. He endeavored to be charitable to all, and had in his heart a sincere and special affection for every one. His favorite theme in preaching was the love of God; by which he meant not any feeling or emotion, but a steady determination to do His Will, and to suffer all that it might require. This was his own plan of life, and the one which he always recommended to others. May God, whom he so constantly endeavored to serve, give him abundantly the consolation which he was willing to forego here!


Thayer's Note:

a Fr. Deshon's involvement over a period of years with the church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York City is justly recorded here; more surprisingly, the obituary fails to mention — I am indebted to West Point AOG for the information — that he gave the address at the dedication of West Point's own Chapel of the Most Holy Trinity on June 10, 1900.

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Page updated: 30 Dec 19