Funeral services were held in the Anglican (Episcopal) Church in St. Petersburg. His body was soon afterward carried to Boston and deposited beneath St. Paul's Church; but the final interment took place at Stonington. The kindness and attention of the Emperor and of all with whom Major Whistler had been associated knew no bounds. Everything was done to comfort and aid his wife, and when she left St. Petersburg the Emperor sent her in his private barge to the mouth of the Baltic. "It was not only," says one who knew him weil, "through his skill, ability, and experience as an engineer that Major Whistler was particularly qualified for and eminently successful in the important task he performed so well in Russia. His military training and bearing, his polished manner, good humor, sense of honor, knowledge of a language (French) in which he could converse with officers of the government, his resolution in adhering to what he thought was right, and in meeting difficulties only to surmount them, with other admirable personal qualities, made him soon, and during his whole residence in Russia, much liked and trusted by all persons by whom he was known, from the Emperor down to the peasant.
Such is the reputation he left behind him, and which is given to him in Russia to this day."
In 1849 the firm of Winans, Harrison and Eastwick had already furnished the road with 162 locomotives, 72 passenger and 2,580 freight cars. They had also arranged to instruct a suitable number of Russian mechanics to take charge of the machinery when completed. The road was finished its entire length in 1850, being opened for passenger and freight traffic on the 25th of September of that year, in two divisions, experimentally, and finally opened for through business on November 1, 1851. In all of its construction and equipment it was essentially American of the best kind, everything being made under a carefully devised system, by which the greatest economy in maintenance and in management should be possible. The use of standard patterns, uniformity in design and duplication of parts was applied, not only to the rolling stock, but to the railroad as well, wherever it was possible. Indeed, the whole undertaking in all its parts bore the impress of one master mind.
On the death of Major Whistler the government with jealous care prevented any changes whatever being made in his plans, including those which had not been carried out as well as those already in process of execution. An American engineer, Major T.S. Brown, was invited to Russia to succeed Major Whistler as consulting engineer. The services of the Messrs. Winans also were so satisfactory to the government that a new contract was afterward made, upon the completion of the road, for the maintenance and the future construction of rolling stock.
While the great railroad was the principal work of Major Whistler in Russia, he was also consulted in regard to all the important engineering works of the period. The fortifications at Cronstadt, the Naval Arsenal and docks at the same place, the plans for improving the Dwina at Archangel, the great iron roof of the Riding House at St. Petersburg, and the iron bridge over the Neva all received his attention. The government was accustomed to rely upon his judgment in all cases requiring the exercise of the highest combination of science and practical skill; and here, with a happy tact peculiarly his own, he secured the warm friendship of men whose professional acts he found himself called upon in the exercise of his high trust in many cases to condemn. The Russians are proverbially jealous of strangers, and no higher evidence of their appreciation of the sterling honesty of Major Whistler, and of his sound, discriminating judgment, could be afforded than the fact that all his recommendations on the great questions of internal improvement, opposed as many of them were to the principles which had previously obtained, and which were sanctioned by usage, were yet carried out by the government to the smallest details.
While in Russia Major Whistler was sometimes placed in positions most trying to him. It is said that some of the corps of native engineers, many of whom were nobles, while compelled to look up to him officially, were inclined to look down upon him socially, and exercised their supposed privileges in this respect so as to annoy him exceedingly, for he had not known in his own country what it was to be the social inferior of any one. The Emperor, hearing of this annoyance, determined to stop it; so, taking advantage of a day when he knew the engineer corps would visit a celebrated gallery of art, he entered it while they were there, and without at first noticing any one else, looked around for Major Whistler, and seeing him, went directly toward him, took his arm, and walked slowly with him entirely around the gallery. After this the conduct of the nobles was all that could be desired.
Major Whistler's salary while in Russia was $12,000 a year; a sum no more than necessary for living in a style befitting his position. He had abundant opportunity for making money, but this his nice sense of honor forbade. It is even stated that he would never allow any invention to be used on the road that could by any possibility be of any profit to himself or to any of his friends. He was continually besieged by American inventors, but in vain. The honor of the profession he regarded as a sacred trust. He served the Emperor with the fidelity that characterized all his actions. His unswerving devotion to his duty was fully appreciated, and it is said that no American in Russia, except John Quincy Adams, was ever held in so high estimation.
Major Whistler married for his first wife Mary, daughter of Dr. Foster Swift of the U.S. Army, and Deborah, daughter of Capt. Thomas Delano of Nantucket. By her he had three children: Deborah, his only daughter, who married Seymour Haden of London, a surgeon, but later and better known for his skill in etching; George William, who became an engineer and railway manager, and who went to Russia, and finally died at Brighton, in England, Dec. 24, 1869; Joseph Swift, born at New London, Aug. 12, 1825, and who died at Stonington, Jan. 1, 1840. His first wife died Dec. 9, 1827, at the early age of 23 years, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, in the shade of the monument erected to the memory of her husband by the loving hands of his professional brethren. For his second wife he married Anna Matilda, daughter of Dr. Charles Donald McNeill of Wilmington, N.C., and sister of his friend and associate, William Gibbs McNeill. By her he had five sons: James Abbot McNeill, the noted artist, and William Gibbs McNeill, a well known physician, both now living in London; Kirk Boott, born in Stonington, July 16, 1838, and who died at Springfield, July 10, 1842; Charles Donald, born in Springfield, Aug. 27, 1841, and who died in Russia, Sept. 24, 1843; and John Bouttattz, who was born and who died at St. Petersburg, having lived but little more than a year.