Monday, June 29, 2009

June 30: “When there is no hope tell the man so.”

Do you know who this is?
-He was the 19th Vice President of the United States.
-While he was involved in state and national politics for thirty years, he was virtually unknown outside of his home district.
-He resigned from a House Committee in order not to be tempted by bribery.

Like many of our Vice Presidents – the ‘forgotten men’ of American political history who’s sole job, as described by a wit, was to ask every morning “Is the President alive?” – there is not a huge amount of online information available on William Almon Wheeler, 19th Vice President of the United States. Yet Wheeler – like Gerald Ford in the 1970s – was a crucial element in restoring confidence in the government after a series of national scandals shook the nation.

He was born in Malone – Franklin County – in northeastern New York, on June 30, 1819. His father, Almon Wheeler, was an attorney and postmaster of Malone, who died when Wheeler was only eight years old, leaving his mother in debt. His mother, Eliza Wheeler, took in boarders from Franklin Academy to support her two children. Because of his father’s early death, Wheeler would be concerned over his health during his entire life.

Wheeler himself would attend Franklin Academy in Malone, and as a teenager would study at the University of Vermont for two years (1833-1835), but was forced to leave the college before graduation because of the an eye ailment. Subsequently, he returned to Malone and began to study law under Asa Hascall as well as to teach school. He also met and married Mary King. In 1845 he was admitted to the bar. He also became politically active, receiving the positions of town clerk, school commissioner and school inspector. He succeeded his mentor, Hascall, as the United States district attorney of Franklin County, New York from 1846-1849.

A serious throat infection caused Wheeler to abandon his legal practice in 1851. While he would serve in the political arenas of New York and Washington D.C., he would also hold positions in private industry. Wheeler would be an officer of a bank in his hometown of Malone from 1851 until 1866 as well as a President of the Northern Railroad in New York.

His political sympathies at the start of his political career – like Abraham Lincoln’s – lay with the Whig Party. Under their political banner he was elected to the New York state assembly in 1849, serving 1850-1851. In 1856 he moved into the newly formed Republican Party, remaining a Republican until his death. He was elected as a Republican to the New York State Senate, 1858-1860 - where he was the President pro Tempore from 1858-1859. He was elected as a Republican to the thirty-seventh Congress, March 4, 1861 to March 3, 1863 – where he was as the opening shots of the Civil War were fired. He only served one term, then returned to his railroad and banking interests.

He would return to politics in 1867, first as the president of the New York constitutional convention, then returned to the US House of Representatives in 1869 where he served continuously until 1877.

While in Congress Wheeler was involved with several important committees. He was chairman of the Committee on Pacific Railroads – with a special interest in the railroad lines stretching across the nation to bind east and west together. He was also a member of the Southern Affairs Committee, which dealt largely with the prostate South after the Civil War. It was as a member of the latter committee that he devised what became known as the Wheeler Compromise, settling a violent and potentially divisive election issue in Louisiana in 1872.

He did maintain a reputation for honesty during an era noted for its graft and corruption in local, state, and national politics. When agents for Credit Mobilier – a railroad construction company – began bribing members of Congress for favorable legislation, Wheeler not only turned them down: he resigned from the Committee on Pacific Railroads in order to avoid temptation. When the scandal broke, many prominent members of Congress were found to have accepted bribes. In another example of Wheeler’s exemplary honesty: In 1873 Congress voted itself a pay raise, making it retroactive for five years. Wheeler voted against the raise – then returned his pay raise to the Treasury department.

Wheeler generally maintained a low profile as a Congressman, and few outside of his district knew of him. He preferred to be cautious, and to work behind the scenes, in committees, rather than to battling issues publically. Perhaps it was because of this low profile that he was asked to run for Vice President with Rutherford B. Hayes as President in 1876. National politics had hit a new low as the scandals of the Grant administration became public, and the restlessness of the South for full reinstatement into the Union was increasing. Wheeler was a delegate to the July 1876 Republican convention.

Both political parties were looking for honest candidates to counter the public perception of and disgust with corrupt politicians. While several names were mentioned, it was decided that in the search for untarnished candidates and men with a reputation for honesty, Wheeler was an excellent choice. However, Wheeler was surprised when his name was nominated by acclamation the next morning, winning the position with 366 votes. His nearest rival, Frederick T. Frelinghuysen, would receive 89 votes. Frelinghuysen would later serve on the Electoral Commission.

Supposedly Governor Hayes said of the matter: “I am ashamed to say: Who is Wheeler?”.

Wheeler would not be involved in active campaigning. Citing his ill health, he wrote:

“I greatly regret my physical inability to do little in the way of speaking on his canvas. But I have no reserve of strength to draw upon.”

He would be inaugurated, along with the President, on March 4, 1877. A widower – his wife passed away three months before the inauguration, Wheeler would become a frequent guest of the Hayes’ at the White House. He would fulfill his Constitutional job as the President of the Senate faithfully, even though he found the job to be tedious. He also would give solid advice to the President. When dealing with job seekers, Wheeler advised the Administration to tell job seekers:
“When there is no hope tell the man so. He will be disappointed at the time, but it is the best way.”
When Hayes declined to run for reelection, Wheeler too stepped down. He was a tired and ill sixty-two year old. He retired from politics and his business interests, and would pass away in Malone on June 4, 1887. He was buried at Morningside Cemetery, Malone, New York.


No biographies of William A. Wheeler are available at our local library.


Biographical Dictionary of the US Congress
Famous Americans
Find A Grave
Vice Presidents of the United States


01. Portrait: Library of Congress
02. Portrait: Library of Congress
03. Campaign poster
04. Gravestone: Find A Grave

Friday, June 26, 2009

June 26: “…I never like to do things by halves…”

Do you know who this is?
-He signed the Declaration of Independence.
-He was imprisoned by the British for treason.
-He was appointed Governor of his state – but declined the offer.

Born to wealth on a family estate located on the Ashley River near Charleston, South Carolina, and educated in England, one would think that he would be a supporter of the Crown. However, he became an avid revolutionary, and he risked all that he had to support the American Revolution – his property, his wealth, his health, and – ultimately – his life.
Arthur Middleton was born on June 26, 1742 at Middleton Place, the family estate. His parents were , and his father owned a score of plantations that embraced over 50,000 acres of land and used over 800 slaves – making him one of the wealthiest and most politically active men in the colony.

While his earliest education was from private tutors and private schools in Charleston, Middleton was sent to England for an education as a young boy twelve years of age, attending Hackney School and Westminster School, then graduating from St. John’s College, Cambridge University, and studying law at the Temple in London. He opted not to practice law, instead choosing to tour Europe for two years before returning to South Carolina when he was twenty-two. While in college Middleton acquired a passion for classical literature, and during his tour of southern Europe he developed a taste for music and painting that would stay with him for the rest of his life. He also became knowledgeable in the concepts of sculpture and architecture.

Within a year of his return from Europe, Middleton would meet and marry Mary Izard on August 19, 1764. Mary was the daughter of Walter Izard, and cousin to an influential South Carolina congressman, Ralph Izard. She was seventeen at the time of the marriage, and Middleton was twenty-two. Her father – deceased at the time of the wedding – had been a wealthy plantation owner and involved in politics. He owned Cedar Grove plantation, which was across the river from Middleton Place. The Middleton family would raise nine children. With his love of travel firmly implanted from his formative years spent aboard, Middleton and his wife would leave South Carolina in 1770 on a three-year extended tour of Europe.

While living in South Carolina during the mid-late 1760s, Middleton oversaw the planting process on the plantations as well as becoming involved in local politics. He was appointed Justice of the Peace of Berkeley County in 1765, and was a member of the provincial House of Commons for three years, from 1765 -1768.

After his return from his European tour in 1772, Middleton discovered political tensions rising between the colonies and their colonial government as well as the monarchy of England. He was again elected to the South Carolina provincial House of Commons from 1772 – 1775, and helped form the new state constitution in 1776. He was a more radical thinker than his father had been, and became a leader in the “American Party” in South Carolina as well as a member of the Council of Safety in 1775 and 1776.

During the 1775-1776 period of time, Middleton helped to organize a night raid on government weapons supplies in Charleston, raised money to buy the supplies necessary to support armed resistance against the Royal Governor, and recommended a variety of defense measures for Charleston Harbor.

Middleton was elected to succeed to his father’s seat in the Continental Congress in 1776. Both Middleton’s – father and son – knew that the upcoming revolution against England could and would have an effect on their wealth and position in the community. Yet, in the face of potentially losing everything they had – their wealth, prestige, and very lives – both Middleton’s agreed that they had to take the risk in order to protect the rights and liberties they had as citizens in America. Arthur Middleton would sign the Declaration of Independence, pledging everything he had to the success of the Revolution. That same year Middleton and William Henry Drayton would collaborate to design the Great Seal of South Carolina.

In his passion for the Revolution, Middleton would become a ruthless anti-Loyalist. The Loyalists – those who wanted to remain under the authority of the Crown and often supported the Crown by money and personal service – would be persecuted by Middleton. He would advocate the tarring and feathering of Loyalists as well as support the confiscation of the estates of those Loyalists who had fled the country.

He was nominated – at the age of thirty-six - as governor of South Carolina in 1778, but declined because of a new constitution the state legislature had enacted – and which he opposed. He was re-elected to the Continental Congress in 1789 – though he failed to attend because of British threats to South Carolina. He did remain in the state legislature from 1778 until his capture by the British in 1780.

The latter years of the American Revolution found much of the action moving southward. States that had not seen a lot of fighting – such as South Carolina – became the focus of the British plan to win the war. By 1779 the British and their Loyalist allies were seeking to end the rebellion in the South and to force those supporting it to flee, be captured, be killed, or turn and support the British. Middleton Place was one of the many plantations that were ravaged during this time. While the buildings remained intact, the British and Loyalists stole anything of value they could carry, and destroyed anything they could not carry. The Middletons escaped capture by fleeing to Charleston ahead of the British raid on their home.

Middleton actively served as a member of the state militia in the defense of Charleston, South Carolina, during the Revolutionary War. He was captured when the city fell to the British in May 1780 and was sent as a prisoner of war to St. Augustine – along with fellow Declaration of Independence signers Thomas Heyward and Edward Rutledge. In July 1781 he was freed through part of a prisoner exchange and returned to South Carolina. Upon his release he would become a state senator, serving from 1781 – 1782.

His health was broken by the imprisonment he had suffered at the hands of the British, and after a brief fever he passed away in January 1, 1787, at the age of forty-four.

He was buried at the family graveyard at Middleton Place, an honored patriot and Revolutionary War hero. He risked all in the support of Independence – and paid the price of separation from his family, the stress involved in the making of a new nation and of fighting a war, the destruction of his possessions and home, as well as his health.

Yet, how many Americans today have heard of this hero?


There are no biographies of Arthur Middleton available from our local library.


1911 Encyclopedia
Biographical Dictionary of the US Congress
Colonial Hall
Middleton Place
National Park Service


01. Color drawing: Wikipedia
02. Middleton Place: Virtualogy

03. John Trumbull: Declaration of Independence
04. Signature


Monday, June 22, 2009

June 23: “…I sing out of my soul to settle it down.”

Do you know who this is?
-She was considered the greatest of the “anointed singers”.
-She had no formal training as a musician.
-She changed from Baptist to Pentecostal in 1939.

She was the seventh of fourteen children, and was born on June 23, 1904, in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. Named Willie Mae Ford, she would become known to music fans by her married name – Willie Mae Ford Smith.

Her father was a railway brakeman, and the Smith family had to move from Rolling Fork to Memphis, Tennessee, because of his job. The house was crowded, the family was poor, and in the winter up to four children would sleep in a bed, wearing their coats to keep warm. In 1918 they would move to St. Louis, where her mother would open a restaurant – where Smith and some of her siblings worked. Smith would quit school in the eighth-grade in order to help work full-time in the restaurant.

"We were so poor our coats did double time as our blankets. We sometimes slept four in the bed, but we had so much happiness, so much love, so much fun. My father was a deacon, and now I can see he just kept us singing to keep from thinking."

Smith would only have informal musical training. She was not able to attend classes for her music lessons – she picked up music by ear. She commented once that she remembered her grandmother “singing, clapping, and doing the 'Rock Daniel'“ A strict Baptist family – with her father as a deacon – Ford parents sang in churches around their area. In 1922 her father formed The Ford Sisters – a quartet made up of Mary, Emma, Geneva, and Willie Mae – with Willie Mae as the lead singer. They debuted at the National Baptist Convention that same year where they created a sensation with their performances of "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel" and "I'm in His Care".

Soon her sisters had married and quit the group, allowing Smith to pursue a solo career. While briefly considering a classical musician career, she returned to gospel music for the rest of her career after being inspired by Madame Artelia Hutchins of Detroit when she saw and heard Hutchins’ performance at the 1926 Baptist Convention.

In 1927 she married John Peter Smith, a general hauling businessman, and began touring to supplement their household income. Smith was one of the first female gospel singers to tour extensively and continuously, singing at churches as well as conducting revivals in the cities that she visited.

Smith often crossed the path of Thomas Andrew Dorsey – known as the “Father of Gospel Music” – during her many travels. Dorsey was responsible for developing a form of gospel music combining Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and the blues. Smith adopted many of Dorsey’s musical concepts in her concerts. In 1932 Dorsey invited her to Chicago where she helped organize the national convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses – and would be appointed and retained as its director and principal singing teacher. The organization was involved with evaluating and training gospel singers until the late 1980s. She would later form – and lead- a St. Louis chapter of the organization.

The National Baptist Convention in 1937 would be a hallmark for Smith. She set a new standard for solo singing with her rendition of her own composition, “If You Just Keep Still”. By using gospel blues to rearrange and reinterpret classic Christian songs such as “Jesus Loves Me” and “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, Smith was able to train a new generation of singers to include the revised songs in their repertoire of gospel music. She taught and mentored Brother Joe May, Myrtle Scott, Edna Gallmon Cooke and Martha Bass. Brother Joe May would give her the nickname “Mother”, which became part of her legacy.

In 1939 Smith would make anther decision that would create a new hallmark for her music: she would join the Church of God Apostolic, and her music would soon reflect the rhythm and energy evidenced by the church services. She considered herself a preacher, and created the “song and sermonette”, which involved combining a sermon at some point (or even at several points) during the concert – either before, during, or after. She toured the Midwest extensively during the 1940s, performing evangelistic concerts with her adopted daughter, Bertha, accompanying her on the piano.

Despite her success on the live music circuit, Smith would not seek to record her music until the late 1940s, early 1950s, and even then she only recorded sparingly. By the early 1950s her focus became more and more on evangelical work.

Smith was almost seventy when she began to receive national recognition. She would perform at a variety of jazz festivals, including the Newport Jazz Festival, and in 1981 would appear in “Say Amen, Somebody”, a gospel documentary film. In 1988 she received a National Heritage Award, and would continue to perform regularly at her church – the Lively Stone Apostolic Church – in St. Louis.

“The gospel song is the Christian blues. I’m like the blues singer: When something’s rubbing me the wrong way, I sing out of my soul to settle it down.”

To hear Smith sing, go here.

Smith would pass away on February 2, 1994 - at the age of eighty-nine - while residing at the Tower Village Nursing Home in St. Louis.

Willie Mae Ford Smith – Mother Smith - was considered by her contemporaries as one of the greatest of those artists who were known as ‘anointed singers’. She rarely recorded, letting her reputation rest on her live performances where her voice, message, and dramatic physical style inspired those who followed her in this musical genre.


Our local library has no biographies of Willie Mae Ford Smith


-African American Registry
-Black Gospel Choir Tribute
-Nation Master Encyclopedia
-New York Times Obituary


01. Willie Mae Ford Smith singing: National Endowment of the Arts
02. Smith singing: African American Registry
03. Singing in church: Find A Grave


Friday, June 19, 2009

June 19: "I don't think the facts of this case call out for a period of incarceration…”

Do you know who this is?
-His nickname was ‘Beau James’.
-He fled the county on charges of corruption, but came back to work for government.
-He worked as a songwriter prior to entering politics.

The September 16, 1940 Time Magazine wrote:
“Last week New Yorkers rubbed their eyes at finding the names Walker-Roosevelt-La Guardia tied together again. After lunch at the White House, Mayor LaGuardia flew back to Manhattan and, as he explained upon landing, at 7,000 feet up in the air it suddenly occurred to him to appoint James Walker "tsar" of industrial and labor relations of Manhattan's giant cloak & suit industry. Salary: $20,000. Gravely David Dubinsky, head of the International Ladies' Garment Workers, and ardent pro-Roosevelt campaigner, hailed James Walker's "wide executive experience" as fitting him for the complex job of impartial labor arbitrator.”
Jimmy Walker, son of an Irish-born New York alderman, was born in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, New York, on June 19, 1881. Walker’s full name would be James John Joseph Walker, though he would acquire the nicknames of ‘Beau James’ and the ‘Night Mayor’. He would use his gift of talk, good looks, winning smile, and political connections to work his way through the New York political system, ultimately becoming the mayor of New York during the Prohibition years.

His education involved attending Xavier High School in New York City, then studied law at St. Francis Xavier College and New York University law school. He was admitted to the bar in 1912. Seven years earlier, in 1905, Walker had toyed with the idea of embarking on a songwriting career, and wrote the words to a number of Tin Pan Alley songs, including “There’s Music in the Rustle of a Skirt” and “Will You Love Me In December As You Do In May” – which became a popular hit song of the era. A 1907 recording is here, and the chorus line is:

“Will you love me in December as you do in May,
Will you love me in the good old fashioned way?
When my hair has all turned gray,
Will you kiss me then and say,
That you love me in December as you do in May?”
His father encouraged him to enter politics, and Walker began his climb up the political ladder. He served as a member of the state assembly from 1910 to 1914, then a state senator from 1915 until 1925. He would rise to the position of President pro tempore of the New York State Senate – where he would support liberal legislation - from 1923 to 1924. He resigned from the state senate in in 1925 order to begin his campaign to become mayor of New York City – a post he held from 1926 until his resignation in 1932. With the help of Governor Al Smith and the Tammany Hall organization, Walker would defeat incumbent John F. Hylan in the 1925 Democratic Primary for mayor.

It was the era of the “Roaring Twenties”, and Prohibition – a Constitutional Amendment forbidding the sale of alcohol – was in full swing, and it was unpopular in New York as well as most of the rest of the nation. Under Walker’s administration, Prohibition was not enforced, and the nightclubs stayed open – and the illegal liquor flowing. At one point it was estimated that there were between 30,000 and 100,000 illegal speakeasies in New York City alone. While Walker fulfilled the role of mayor by day, he frequented the nightclubs and speakeasies by night, hence earning his “night mayor” nickname. Walker had said:

"I like the company of my fellow human beings. I like the theatre and am devoted to healthy outdoor sports. Because I like these things, I have reflected my attitude in some of my legislation I have sponsored -- 2.75 percent beer, Sunday baseball, Sunday movies, and legalized boxing. But let me allay any fear there may be that, because I believe in personal liberty, wholesome amusement and healthy professional sport, I will countenance for a moment any indecency or vice in New York."
And in doing this, he was doing what the ‘common man’ of New York was doing. New Yorkers, in general, were not outraged by Walker’s behavior – he was one of them! He passed legislation favoring the workers of the city – including maintaining the five-cent subway fare despite the threat of a strike, legalizing Sunday entertainment such as baseball and boxing, and a host of other laws. He listened to everyone, and often responded to complaints ranging from government salary increases to poor with a winning smile, a nod, and humming a popular tune of the day. His personality was immune to verbal attacks – once when a rival unmercifully attacked him, Walker remarked to a friend, "That's odd. I don't remember ever doing him a favor."

His popularity – even though he was in Europe at the time - was such that when he divorced his first wife, Janet Allen, in 1933 to marry a showgirl. Walker found that his popularity was not unduly impaired. The showgirl was Betty Compton, who had been a member of the Ziegfield Follies, and would divorce Walker in 1941.

The mid-1920’s was a prosperous time for New Yorkers, and Walker supported a number of public works projects – providing jobs for the growing population of the city. He unified the public hospitals into a more efficient system, created the department of sanitation, and backed the adoption of an extensive transit system. He was popular enough to be returned to office in 1928, defeating his opponent, Fiorello LaGuardia.

Rumors – supported by exposure through the press - of fraud and political corruption reached the state legislature, and the legislature ordered Samuel Seabury to launch an investigation. Extensive corruption was revealed through the investigation, and it was known that politics demanded that heads roll. During the investigation Walker commented “There are three things a man must do alone. Be born, die, and testify.” As a result of the investigation, in 1932 fifteen charges were leveled at the mayor – Jimmy Walker. In order to head off a possible prison sentence, Walker resigned in September 1932 – before the hearings were closed. He went to tour Europe, living there for several years until the risk of criminal prosecution grew remote.

Walker stated of the investigation:
“I think probation would have been a more appropriate sentence. I don't think the facts of this case call out for a period of incarceration…”
Walker returned to the United States and in 1940 was appointed by Mayor LaGuardia as the ‘tsar’ of negotiations with the giant New York garment industry.

Jimmy Walker would pass away at the age of sixty-five on November 18, 1946, in his beloved New York City. He was buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York.

Walker reflected the decade during which he governed New York. The Roaring Twenties was more than a name of an era – it reflected the life-styles of those living in this fast-paced era. When the crash occurred, plunging the nation into the Great Depression, Walker would find that he too reflected the troubles faced during this time.


Herbert Mitgang: Once Upon A Time In New York: Jimmy Walker, Franklin Roosevelt, and the Last Great Battle of the Jazz Age


Bowery Boys Blog
Political Graveyard
Time Magazine


Walker 01. Jimmy Walker Pose, Library of Congress
Walker 02. Music Cover, Halcyn Days Music
Walker 03. Walker with a tea cup, Library of Congress ID # DN-0082506
Walker 04. Betty Compton, Movie Weekly
Walker 05. Walker in a hallway, Library of Congress ID # ichicdn n082550


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

June 17: "The Colonies are striding fast to independence….”

Do you know who this is?
-He was dragged through the streets by a mob.
-He was a loyalist, but became a patriot.
-He was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

William Hooper was born in Boston, Massachusetts on June 17, 1742. He would be the first child of five born to his parents, William and Mary Dennie Hooper. His father was a Scottish minister who hoped that his eldest son would enter the ministry as an Episcopalian minister, but later consented to allow his son to become a lawyer. His mother was the daughter of a respected Boston merchant.

Hooper’s early education began at home where he was taught by his father until he was seven years old. He was then enrolled in the Boston Latin School – a noted colonial preparatory school - and at the age of fifteen he entered Harvard as a sophomore. There he was considered to be ‘industrious and was highly regarded’ by his fellow students, graduating in 1760 with a MA in Theology. He decided during this time to pursue a career in law and would study under James Otis, a popular attorney in Boston who was known as one of the early ‘radicals’ during this tumultuous time. In 1764 Hooper completed his bar exam, and decided to leave Massachusetts – a decision in part formed because of the abundance of lawyers in Massachusetts colony.

North Carolina beckoned, and Hooper settled and practiced law in Wilmington – making it his permanent residence when he found, wooed and won Miss Anne Clark. The marriage provided Hooper with two sons – William and Thomas – and a daughter – Elizabeth. Hooper’s law practice was a successful one, and he gained the respect of the wealthy farmers and fellow lawyers. In 1769 he was appointed as Attorney General for the Salisbury district, and in 1770 he was appointed as Deputy Attorney General for North Carolina.

Hooper would follow his father’s footsteps as a Loyalist, prosecuting farmers who protested the British taxes, and supporting the stance of the North Carolina colonial governor. Soon after an uprising by fellow colonials protesting taxes in 1771, Hooper began to move from Loyalist to Patriot. Perhaps part of the reason for this was because he was dragged through the streets of Hillsborough, North Carolina, and his home was destroyed by a mob because of his support of the Crown and the Royal Governor. However, his support for the Crown eroded for other reasons as well.

After the Royal Governor dissolved the Colonial Assembly that provided legislation for the colony, Hooper helped to organize a conference in Wilmington to establish a new, more pro-Loyalist Colonial Assembly – to which he was elected as a representative in 1773. As a representative, he strongly opposed the attempts of the legislature to pass laws that would regulate the courts. Because of this the Loyalists in the Assembly – who wanted to control all branches of the government – began to turn against Hooper.

Hooper realized in 1774 that independence was a very likely possibility. He wrote to a friend of his that...

"The Colonies are striding fast to independence, and ere long will build an empire upon the ruins of Great Britain; will adopt its Constitution, purged of its impurities, and from an experience of its defects, will guard against those evils which have wasted its vigor."
As he became more involved politically, Hooper came to believe more in the cause of independence. When the governor again disbanded the assembly, Hooper helped organize a new colonial assembly, and was appointed to the Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry. In 1774 he was appointed as one of North Carolina’s three delegates to the First Continental Congress, and the following year was elected to the Second Continental Congress.

Because a new government was being established in North Carolina, Hooper split his time between the Continental Congress and his political work in North Carolina where he was helping to develop the legal language for the new state legislature. It was during one of these absences that he missed the vote approving the Declaration of Independence, but he did arrive back at the Congress in time to sign the Declaration on August 2, 1776.
There would be several different aspects concerning the cost to Hooper for signing the Declaration of Independence. His father, a staunch loyalist, disowned him. He pledged his fortune and his future income as a lawyer to the cause, and the British destroyed him plantation home - Finian - in retaliation for his support of the rebellion. Hooper was forced to flee from British pursuit while suffering from malaria and nursing a badly injured arm. These events actually caused a decline in his health, precipitating an early death in 1790 at the age of forty-eight.

Hooper would serve in different political capacities during the Revolutionary War, returning to private life and his legal career after the war was over. He supported the idea of the return of property to Loyalists who had fled the colonies as expressed in the Treaty of Paris – and lost support because of his stand for the law. He was appointed a federal judge in 1789, serving only one year before his death on October 14, 1790. He died the day before the marriage of his daughter, Elizabeth, and was buried in Hillsboro, North Carolina. His remains were moved in 1894 to Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, along with fellow Declaration of Independence signer John Penn.


Our local library has no biographies on William Hooper at this time.


Colonial Hall
National Park Service
North Carolina History Project
Revolutionary War and Beyond


01. Portrait: Adherents
02. Map of colonial North Carolina, 1770
03. Portrait
04. Signing the Declaration (John Trumbull, 1819)
05. Hooper’s Signature: Declaration of Independence
06. Gravesite


Monday, June 15, 2009

June 15: "...I found I could do anything I turned my hand to..."

Do you know who this is?
-He is known as “Chicago’s Founder”.
-He successfully managed a lumber mill when he was sixteen.
-He was Chicago’s first mayor.

William Butler Ogden was born in the village of Walton, located in western New York, on June 15, 1805, to a pioneer family that had migrated from New Jersey. He attended the country schools that dotted the counties of the early 19th century, and had plans on becoming a lawyer. Those plans, however, where put aside when his father became ill and Ogden, at the age of sixteen, took over his family’s property and logging interests. His father soon died, but Ogden proved that he was a successful businessman, and would prosper. He later wrote:

"I was born close to a sawmill, was cradled in a sugar trough, christened in a mill pond, early left an orphan, graduated from a log schoolhouse and, at 14, found I could do anything I turned my hand to and that nothing was impossible..."
He would briefly attend law school, but business interests overrode educational interests. He assisted his brother-in-law, Charles Butler, in a number of business ventures. While business interests was his forte’, Ogden briefly entered the political arena in 1834, when he was elected to the New York State legislature, where he voted to finance the Erie Railroad - promoting business and commercial interests.

Ogden travelled west to the village of Chicago in 1835 on behalf of his brother-in-law’s business interests. Butler had invested $100,000 in land in and around Chicago in anticipation of profits to be gained during a land rush that was occurring in the Midwest. Ogden investigated, and – standing ankle-deep in mud - was not impressed with the purchase, writing to Butler that he had been “guilty of the grossest folly. There is no such value in the land and won't be for a generation." Ogden then used his business acumen to drain the land, and then set up streets and lots. He would sell of a third of the property to regain Butler’s investment, in the process placing a higher value on his opinion of the town. He moved to set up a permanent home in Chicago in 1836.

Seeing the future for Chicago, Ogden became busy as a businessman in the budding community. He became well known as an industrious visionary, and many identified him with growth because of a variety of business enterprises created by him around Chicago. His focus was on speculative investments in real estate, but he always kept transportation in his mind. He used his contacts in New York to establish a link between the East and the West that benefited Chicago. When Chicago was incorporated as a city in 1837, Ogden was elected as its first mayor and served a two-year term. Ogden, running as a Democrat, would defeat the Whig candidate, John Kinzie. After his term was over, he would become an alderman for the city. In his political positions he taxed the citizens for streets, sidewalks, and bridges. When the building projects outran the funds available from taxes, Ogden and his land speculation partners in New York would pay for the improvements from their own pockets.

The primary means of mass transportation in the early 19th century was the development of the railroad, and Ogden was one of the originators of a movement that led to the building of the Chicago and Galena Railroad - the city's first. It would be Ogden's money and financial promises that financed the construction of the railroad as it stretched westward toward Elgin, Illinois. He would become president of the railroad in 1847.

He also provided funds and support for the Illinois and Michigan Canal, and served on the Chicago Board of Sewage, and designed the first drawbridge over the Chicago River. He was a major investor in the Chicago Canal and Dock Company, and at one point hired a young lawyer named Abraham Lincoln to help him gain clear title to property bordering the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.

Over time, Ogden became one of Chicago's wealthiest citizens. When his secretary told him he was worth more than a million dollars, Ogden exclaimed: "By God.... that's a lot of money!" Then he proceeded to make more money by developing land that he owned, or having city projects buy that land.

He was involved, however, not only in the politics and the business interests of the growing city, but also influenced the various aspects of living in a growing city by being involved in the development of Chicago's charities, it's cultural centers, and it's educational institutions, including funding the first medical center in the city.

In 1862 the visionary Ogden was picked as the first president of the Union Pacific Railroad. His vision of a transcontinental railroad linking the two oceans bordering the United States was close to being a reality. At the age of fifty-seven Ogden took on the raising of funds, using political connections to secure right-of-way, and personal supervision of the laying of track to complete this huge project. He also made Chicago the hub of east-west rail traffic.

The Chicago Fire of 1871 destroyed most of his possessions - and on the same day (October 8th), a lumber mill he owned in Wisconsin burned down. The lumber mill was a part of a huge lumber empire that Ogden had been building in Wisconsin.

Ogden would move back to New York after the fire, and would marry late in his life. He was sixty-nine years old when he married Marinna Arnot of Elmira, New York, on February 9, 1875, and would have two sons – John and Hiram. Ogden would die on August 3, 1877, and was buried in Woodland Cemetery, Bronx, New York.

Ogden altered the American Midwest in a tremendous way. His vision of what could be done in the swampland that made up early Chicago created an industrial center and transportation hub that served a growing nation.

A biography of Ogden will be released this fall. The Railroad Tycoon Who Built Chicago, by Jack Harpster, will be released in September 2009.


There are no biographies of William Ogden available at our local library at this time.


Encyclopedia of Chicago
Famous Americans
Genealogy Trails
Ogden books


01. Portrait of William Ogden: Chicago Historical Society (ICHi-37333)
02. Map of 1835 Chicago: Encyclopedia of Chicago
03. Galena & Chicago Union Railroad Depot: Chicago Historical Society


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

June 11: “…but where's the man who does not think it glorious and delightful to die for his country?"

Do you know who this is?
-He attended Harvard at the age of fourteen.
-He was one of the first martyrs of the Revolutionary War.
-He sent Paul Revere and William Dawes on their midnight ride.

He was a popular leader in Boston during the formation of resistance to the British prior to the American Revolution. He wrote against the injustices of the Crown in political journals and spoke in public and private meetings. He would be in the prime of his life – thirty-four years old – when he was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill. His name was Dr. Joseph Warren, Jr.

He was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, on June 11, 1741. His parents, Joseph and Mary Stevens Warren, could trace their colonial roots back a hundred years, to the mid-17th century. Joseph Jr.’s father was a part-time municipal official and a full time farmer, introducing the Warren Russet apple. When Joseph Jr. was fourteen, his father would die from a fall off of a ladder that he was using in his apple orchard. Mary Warren was left to raise four sons: One would be a surgeon in the Continental Army; one would manage the Warren estate; one became a judge and a member of the convention that ratified the Constitution; and one a patriot who died at the start of the Revolution.

Joseph attended public school in Boston, then at the age of fourteen entered Harvard College where he would distinguish himself as a student, graduating four years later. After his graduation, he was appointed headmaster of the grammar school in Roxbury where he worked for a year. He was inducted into the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Masons, soon becoming a leader of that organization. He associated with such outspoken notables as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, and John Adams. He would become life-long friends with the John Adams family after he inoculated Adams during a smallpox epidemic.

He would return to Harvard, graduating as a physician in 1762. America at this time was seeing the conclusion of the French and Indian War, and would soon see the British government attempt to recoup its expenditures in that war for her colonies. He would marry Elizabeth Hooton of Boston on September 6, 1764, and have four children before her death in 1772.

It was Joseph who would perform an autopsy on Christopher Seider in February 1770, whose death at the hands of a British customs inspector would lead to the Boston Massacre a short time later. Joseph became a member of the committee that submitted a report against the British at the Boston Massacre, and would be charged with treason by the British for his newspaper articles against them – though no jury would convict him.

Boston became the hotbed of resentment against the British – both in word and action. Joseph was a man of action, not just of words, and became involved on the side of the colonies as Boston – and Massachusetts – stood up to the British monarchy, and British troops.

In a letter to Edmund Dana in 1766, Joseph commented on the colonial reaction to the Stamp Act by stating: “Never has there been a time, since the first settlement of America, in which the people had so much reason to be alarmed as the present.”

He became openly more radical with the passage of the Townshend Acts, writing articles in the Boston Gazette under the alias of “A True Patriot”. He was a pace-setter on the road to independence, believing strongly that the British had no right to tax the colonials. He soon became the chairman of the Committee of Safety, and would deliver stirring orations on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. He would eventually become President of the Provincial Government of Massachusetts.

When the British marched on Lexington on April 18, 1775, Joseph would be the man who would send Paul Revere and William Dawes on their famous ride to alert the countryside – and to warn John Adams and Samuel Adams, both of whom had a price on their head. After Lexington and Concord, he left his medical practice in the hands of his assistant and began the work of raising and providing for the growing number of militia that swarmed the countryside of Massachusetts.

As the colonials occupied positions on the heights overlooking the British forces in Boston in June 1775, Joseph rushed to join them. Just before the battle of Bunker Hill began, he went to the redoubt on Breed’s Hill armed with his musket, where he was offered command by Colonel Prescott and General Putnam - but he declined. He stated “I am here only as a volunteer. I know nothing of your dispositions; nor will I interfere with them. Tell me where I can be most useful.”

As the British threatened to overrun the position and the colonial’s ammunition ran low, the colonials retreated. Joseph was one of the last to leave, and as he moved away towards the rear, on officer of the British army who knew him called his name, asking him to surrender. As Joseph turned toward the voice, a bullet penetrated his brain and he fell to the ground, dead.

The British would place his body in a common mass grave, where his remains would later be identified by Paul Revere – who recognized the set of false teeth he had made for Joseph. His remains were later interred at Forest Hills Cemetery, Suffolk County, Massachusetts.
Joseph Warren became an instant hero. He had once stated "…but where's the man who does not think it glorious and delightful to die for his country?", and his death would make him an instant hero to the colonial cause. His death was immortalized in John Trumbull’s painting; “The Death of General Warren”. In death he was a hero, his life cut tragically short, and his potential unknown. In death he left his four small children orphaned and financially destitute until 1778 when General Benedict Arnold gave $500 for their education as well as petitioned Congress for monies for their welfare until they became adults.
There are no biographies available about Joseph Warren at our local library.


-America’s Homepage
-Life and Times of Joseph Warren
-National Park Service
-Son of the South


Warren 01. Portrait, National Park Service
Warren 02. Talking to General Putnam, New York Public Library digital collection ID: 808554
Warren 03. “The Death of General Warren” by John Trumbull, Anthenaeum