Remembering 1858: The Ladder

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This is the fourth (and final) in a series of posts that will feature the label text from a small exhibit currently on display in Wellington’s downtown, commemorating the capture and rescue of John Price on September 13, 1858. A photo of the display can be seen here.

One hundred and sixty years have passed since John Price was abducted in Oberlin and subsequently liberated in Wellington. In that time, the story of his rescue has been embellished by a persistent myth, namely that Price was spirited away from Wadsworth’s hotel via a ladder raised to the attic fanlight window from a second-story balcony.

It is easy to see how such a myth arose. The 1859 trial transcripts are filled with references to ladders being raised against the hotel, as tense and disorderly members of the crowd (some of whom had come to town only to observe the fire, and were intoxicated) tried to learn what was happening inside the garret where Price was being held. At least one witness inside the room testified that he thought the window had been opened during the final rush to free Price, but defense attorneys—and all the other hotel witnesses—countered that while the window may have been broken that day by a ladder laid against it, no person actually ascended and entered the room by that route.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that the slave catchers had moved Price to a remote third-floor area of the hotel, accessible only by a wooden staircase so narrow and minimal in construction that it resembled a ladder. The Spirit of ’76 Museum acquired what was purported to be the original staircase in 1970, and displayed it for many years.

Regardless, it is altogether fitting that a ladder should figure so prominently in the story of John Price and his struggle for freedom. One of the most powerful African-American spirituals ever developed in the antebellum United States is We Are Climbing Jacob’s Ladder, a yearning anthem of rising to God and escaping the chains of bondage. Its call-and-response lyrics are simple yet haunting.

We are (We are)
Climbing (Climbing)
Jacob’s ladder
We are (We are)
Climbing (Climbing)
Jacob’s ladder
We are (We are)
Climbing (Climbing)
Jacob’s ladder
Soldiers (soldiers)
of the cross

Ladder Henes pg. 31

Ernst Henes, “Historic Wellington Then and Now,” pg. 31.

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Remembering 1858: The Timeline

This is the third in a series of posts that will feature the label text from a small exhibit currently on display in Wellington’s downtown, commemorating the capture and rescue of John Price on September 13, 1858. A photo of the display can be seen here.

NOTE: All times are approximate and based on testimony offered in the 1859 trials.

12PM
John Price is abducted by a group of three armed men about one to two miles northeast of Oberlin. The men place Price in their buggy, and head south down what is today Hallauer Road, to reach Wellington in time for the late afternoon train to Columbus. The slave catchers want to escape public notice so avoid passing directly through Oberlin, but are spotted en route by people heading there, who alert the town to what has happened.

1PM
The buggy containing Price and his captors arrives in Wellington at Wadsworth’s hotel, the public house at the center of the village. The slave catchers eat in the hotel’s public dining room, keeping their prisoner with them to prevent his escape.

Anderson Jennings of Kentucky, leader of the slave catchers, is notified in Oberlin that the abduction was a success. He eats lunch, then departs for Wellington to meet the group at Wadsworth’s.

2PM
Word has reached downtown Oberlin that a group of slave catchers has abducted John Price and taken him toward Wellington. Groups of local residents, students and professors prepare to head south to liberate Price in vehicles, on horseback, and on foot. It is a nine-mile journey that can take upwards of one hour to complete, even in a wheeled conveyance.

Anderson Jennings arrives at Wadsworth’s hotel. The town square has approximately 300 people in it, watching the cleanup of a massive morning fire on the west side of South Main Street. The crowd is boisterous and, in some cases, intoxicated. Jennings fears trouble and asks hotel keeper Oliver Wadsworth to relocate his group from the second floor to a more isolated third-floor attic.

3PM
Small groups of people from Oberlin begin arriving in Wellington. As word spreads that a young man has been abducted and is being held in the hotel, public focus gradually shifts from the smoldering buildings on the west side of the square, to the hotel on its east side. Witnesses later estimate that 500 people ultimately surround Wadsworth’s hotel.

John Price is brought out onto the second-floor balcony and instructed by his captors to tell the crowd that he is returning to slavery willingly. Some in the crowd aim weapons at the slave catchers and urge Price to jump to safety; he is quickly pulled back inside the hotel.

4PM
In an effort to calm the crowd and demonstrate what they believe to be their legal right to hold Price, the slave catchers speak with several local officials, including Constable Barnabas Meacham, lawyer Joseph Dickson, and Justices of the Peace Isaac Bennet and William Howk. Little information from these exchanges reaches the crowd outside, which is increasingly agitated and impatient for action.

5:13PM
The regularly scheduled train from Cleveland arrives. Rumors have circulated through the crowd that troops from the Cleveland Grays may be on board to assist the slave catchers in carrying Price to Columbus, but no troops disembark. The train departs on time, without the slave catchers or Price onboard.

6PM
Groups comprised of Oberlin students and residents rush the front and rear doors of Wadsworth’s hotel. A few men force their way into the garret room where Price is being held, encircle him, and quickly remove him from the building. Anderson Jennings is knocked back from the door, but no other violence occurs. Price is placed in a buggy waiting in the center of Wellington’s village square, and rapidly driven north to Oberlin, where he is placed into hiding. The crowd soon disperses.

Remembering 1858: The Wellington Indicted

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This is the second in a series of posts that will feature the label text from a small exhibit currently on display in Wellington’s downtown, commemorating the capture and rescue of John Price on September 13, 1858. A photo of the display can be seen here.

Eli Boies
Eli Boies was born in Massachusetts in 1800, making him fifty-eight years old at the time of the Rescue. He emigrated to Ohio in 1842 and practiced medicine with Dr. Daniel Johns, the man credited with bringing the railroad to Wellington in 1850. Boies was also the proprietor of the short-lived Wellington Journal (1852) with his friend, merchant John Reed. Both men were dedicated members of the abolitionist Free Congregational Church.

Boies is mentioned in one only instance in the transcripts of the Rescue trials. Justice of the Peace William Howk testified that he “heard Doctor Boies advising [the crowd outside the hotel] to quiet.” Boies was one of four Wellington men who served time in the county jail, twenty-one days in total. He was released on $500 bail. His wife, Lydia, later wrote a letter about her life in Wellington, in which she noted, “[T]he Fugitive Slave Law was enacted, which awakened great indignation, and also sympathy for the fleeing slave, who found no rest or safty until safe in Canada, though destitute of every thing…”

Eli Boies served in multiple public offices, including being appointed village supervisor while he was completing his jail term. He died in 1863 and is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. He is the only Wellington rescuer for whom a studio portrait is known to survive, and also appears in the famous 1859 jail yard portrait.

Robert L. Cummings
Little is known about Robert Cummings. He is mentioned in only one instance in the transcripts of the Rescue trials. James Bonney, an employee of Wadsworth’s hotel, testified that around 4PM, he was approached “in the hall up the first flight of stairs” by school teacher Charles Langston and “Cummins,” who offered him $5 to get the key to the locked front door of the hall. Bonney refused.

Cummings is notable mainly for his absences. He was the only Wellington rescuer not to enter a plea at the December 1858 arraignment hearings; he did not appear for the first time in the Cleveland courtroom until the following spring. He was also the only indicted man from Wellington/Pittsfield who did not attend the so-called “Felon’s Feast” in Oberlin, in January 1859. Cummings was one of four Wellington men who pleaded nolo contendere (no contest) on May 6, 1859. He was ordered to pay $20 plus court costs, and serve one day in jail. He spent the night in a Cleveland hotel.

Matthew DeWolf
Matthew DeWolf was born in Massachusetts in 1792. He and his family emigrated to Ohio in 1827. (DeWolf’s sister, Pamelia, was married to Abner Loveland, making the two rescuers brothers-in-law.) While his first occupation in Wellington was as a school teacher, DeWolf soon opened a temperance tavern at the center of the village, which also served as its first Congregational Church. An 1834 psalter with his inscription still survives.

On the day of John Price’s abduction, Matthew DeWolf was assisting with battling a large fire in Wellington. Abner Loveland and Loring Wadsworth were standing with him in the town square as events came to a head at Wadsworth’s hotel. The three men urged Constable Barnabas Meacham to enter the building and serve a warrant for kidnapping on the slave catchers holding Price. Meacham was concerned about his financial liability under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act; if he helped John Price to escape in what was later found to be an unlawful arrest, Meacham could be subject to severe financial penalties and even jail time. Matthew DeWolf’s only recorded action that afternoon was to help circulate an indemnity bond—essentially asking people in the crowd to make pledges against any financial loss Meacham might suffer—but few people were willing to sign.

DeWolf, Loveland and Loring Wadsworth pled nolo contendere (no contest) to the charges against them. All were fined $20 plus court costs and sentenced to one day in jail. The Cleveland Leader published a passionate condemnation of their convictions and noted, “No fugitive from slavery ever went unfed from their hospitable homes,” suggesting the involvement of all three men with the Underground Railroad. Matthew DeWolf died in 1865 and is buried in Pioneer Cemetery.

Matthew Gillett
“Father” Gillett, the most venerated of the Wellington indicted, was born in Connecticut in 1785, making him seventy-two years old at the time of the Rescue. Gillett was a farmer with more than sixty acres producing crops and supporting cattle and sheep herds. His role on the day of John Price’s abduction was relatively minor. Like all of the oldest Wellington rescuers, he never entered Wadsworth’s hotel on September 13th. Instead, he approached keeper Oliver Wadsworth and encouraged him to allow other people to enter the building, to verify whether John Price was being held legally. When Wadsworth objected that a large group of people would likely damage his facilities, Gillett suggested a smaller delegation and the keeper eventually agreed.

What Gillett became justly famous for was his fortitude. Sent to the country jail with twenty other rescuers on April 15th, Gillett of all the Wellington men refused to cut a deal with prosecutors to secure his own release. He remained in custody for nearly a month, so long that federal authorities became concerned for his health. It was not until officials threatened to turn him out in the street, and explicitly told him that their focus was on making an example of the men from Oberlin, that Gillett agreed to return home. He left jail on May 13th and was driven to Wellington in a carriage by a federal marshal.

Gillett seems to have become a beloved figure in Oberlin. He led an Oberlin group that marched in a May 24th Cleveland rally, holding an American flag inscribed “1776.” He also attended a celebration held in Oberlin for the final rescuers released from jail in July, and he was one of the evening’s featured speakers. He was quoted as saying, in part, “Never made a speech in my life; don’t know how to make a speech, and I ain’t going to make a speech; but I’ll just say that every thing under the heavens that I was taken down to jail for was just for being ketched down at Wellington; and that aint all. I havn’t confessed it all yet. I am ashamed that I didn’t do more than just be ketched down there; and if there is ever another such a time I am going to have more to be accused of, and if other folks are cowards, I’ll rescue the fugitive myself. I used to think Oberlin was a pretty bad kind of a place, but I’ve changed my mind about it now.” Matthew Gillett died in 1863 and is interred in Greenwood Cemetery. He is also immortalized in the famous 1859 jail yard portrait.

Lewis Hunt Hines
Lewis Hines was born in Ohio around 1831, making him twenty-seven years old at the time of the Rescue. A farmer by profession, he married Harriet Elizabeth Wells of Wellington in 1853. The couple had at least three children over the course of their marriage, the eldest of which, Hiram, was just six months old when John Price was captured. Lewis Hines later served as a private in the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Company C, during the Civil War.

There is a single oblique reference to his possible presence in Wellington in the Rescue testimony. Witness Jacob Wheeler, postmaster of Rochester, testified that he saw a group of men, including one otherwise unnamed “Hines,” enter the attic room where John Price was being held. Lewis Hines appeared in Cleveland for his preliminary arraignment in December 1857, but did not return to face judgement the following spring. He died in 1904 and is buried in Saranac, Michigan.

Abner Loveland
Abner Loveland was born in Massachusetts in 1796, making him sixty-one years old at the time of the Rescue. He had emigrated to Ohio in 1819, but did not settle permanently in Wellington until 1855. He was a farmer, and brother-in-law to fellow rescuer Mathew DeWolf. On September 13th, Loveland was standing in the center of town with DeWolf and Loring Wadsworth. All three men had been assisting with the fire that raged on South Main Street that morning. Loveland’s only recorded action in connection with day’s other events was to urge Constable Meacham to go into Wadsworth’s hotel and serve a warrant on the slave catchers for kidnapping John Price unlawfully.

On May 12, 1859, a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) was entered for all three men. Their attorney made a lengthy statement about their venerable ages and high status in the community, and their absolute commitment to being law abiding citizens. Loveland later wrote a letter to the editor of a Cleveland newspaper in which he disavowed the entire statement: “I did not intend to authorize my counsel yesterday to give my views on government, to the Court; and disclaim holding to many of the doctrines expressed by him…I am not guilty of violating any law.” Nevertheless, Loveland was sentenced to pay a $20 fine plus court costs, and to serve one day in jail.

Abner Loveland died in 1879. He is buried in Wellington’s Greenwood Cemetery. In 1895, a family genealogy was published which read in part, “He was a firm friend of the bondsman…His house was a well known station on the underground railroad. All trains passing that way stopped there, and the passengers received the needed rest and refreshment and assistance to proceed towards freedom.”

John Mandeville
John Mandeville was a fifty-one-year-old brickmaker in 1858. He was born in New York and in 1843 married Hester Northrup, eventually fathering seven children. The History of Lorain County, Ohio (1879) named him as one of two men who went up a ladder to retrieve John Price from Wadsworth’s hotel, but this claim is not supported by hundreds of pages of testimony offered at the Rescue trials.

In fact, John Mandeville was standing in the crowd outside the hotel, when he was asked by Constable Barnabas Meacham to accompany him up to the garret where Price was imprisoned. William Sciples and Walter Soules were also asked to join the group. Mandeville was “in liquor,” and author Nat Brandt identified him as the man described in testimony as “purty reckless,” taunting the crowds outside by shouting through the garret window. When he pled nolo contendere (no contest) on May 6, 1859, his intoxication was possibly the reason Mandeville reiterated to the court that he was “not guilty in manner and form as he is charged.” He was ordered to pay $20 plus court costs and serve one day in jail. He passed the night in a Cleveland hotel.

John Mandeville moved his family to Penfield after the trials, before permanently settling in Camden Township in 1878. He died in 1900, at ninety-two years old, and is interred in the Camden Cemetery, Kipton.

Henry D. Niles
Henry Niles was thirty-one years old at the time of John Price’s abduction. A lawyer by profession, Niles had five children by his first wife, Lucena Barker, who died shortly after the conclusion of the Rescue trials. He married second wife Elizabeth Phelps in 1862. The couple added two more children to their family. Elizabeth would go on to survive Henry, when he passed away in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1895.

Niles was born in Wellington and was a resident of the village at the time of the 1860 census. His role in the events of September 13th, 1858 go completely unrecorded in the trial transcripts. He is only mentioned in connection with his own court proceedings. Niles, Robert Cummings, John Mandeville, and Daniel Williams all pled nolo contendere (no contest) on May 6, 1859. They were ordered to pay a $20 fine plus court costs and serve one day in prison. They each spent the night in a Cleveland hotel.

At his death in 1895, the Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette published a lengthy obituary in which Niles’s connections to Wellington were detailed. The piece mentioned Niles’s distinguished military service in the Civil War (“Elder Niles was familiarly known in Ohio as Colonel Niles.”), his ordination to the clergy in 1874, and his memberships in the Odd Fellow Society, the G.A.R., and the Freemasons. No mention was made of his involvement in the famous events of 1858. 

William Sciples
Of all the men indicted in connection with the Rescue, perhaps the most enigmatic is William Sciples. Born in New York, he was living in Summit County, Ohio when he married Canadian émigré Laura Ann Elliot in 1843. The couple do not appear to have had any children. Legal documents and census records suggest a fifteen- to twenty-year age difference. They were living and farming in Penfield in the early 1850s.

Sciples was one of three men pulled from the crowd by Constable Barnabas Meacham to accompany him into the hotel on September 13th, 1858. He spent much of the afternoon running errands on behalf of the slave catchers, and later guarding areas of the hotel against the crowd, at the request of keeper Oliver Wadsworth. At trial, Sciples turned state’s evidence and testified against mixed-race school teacher Charles Langston. Constable Meacham, Justice of the Peace Isaac Bennett, and fellow rescuers Matthew Gillett and Loring Wadsworth each took the stand to testify that they had known Sciples for seven to ten years, and that it was “generally believed he is not a man of truth.” After the proceedings, Sciples seems to have been released without bail, presumably in exchange for his damaging testimony. Langston was convicted.

By the time the 1860 federal census was compiled—just one year after the trial—William and Laura Sciples had relocated to Torrey, New York where he was employed as an innkeeper. Perhaps they wished to allow any public controversy surrounding his role in the Rescue to die down. By 1870, the couple returned to farming in Wellington. A decade later they were living in retirement on Mill Street. Laura Sciples is interred in Greenwood Cemetery in an unmarked grave, her husband presumably at her side.

Walter Soules
Walter Soules’s indictment is also somewhat puzzling. Born in Massachusetts around 1827, Soules was a young farmer with a wife, Phoebe Eliza Stanard, in 1858. The couple had seven children over the course of their marriage. Soules fought for the Union during the Civil War and was later a member of the GAR. The family lived in Wellington for at least a decade, then moved to Lagrange and finally settled in Kansas, where Phoebe died in 1885.

Like Sciples, Soules was asked to leave the crowd and accompany Constable Barnabas Meacham into Wadsworth’s hotel on September 13th. When the slave catchers presented Meacham with legal documentation to support their imprisonment of John Price, Soules left the hotel. He never appeared again in court after the initial arraignment proceedings in December 1857. Walter Soules died in 1903 and is buried in Colony, Kansas.

Loring Wadsworth
Loring Wadsworth was born in Massachusetts in 1800, making him fifty-eight years old at the time of John Price’s abduction. Wadsworth had emigrated to Ohio at aged twenty-one, walking the entire distance. He and wife Statira Kingsbury built a Greek Revival house that still stands at 222 South Main Street today. A farmer by trade, Wadsworth and his family had hundreds of acres under cultivation south of the village.

On the day of the Rescue, Wadsworth was standing in the village square with brothers-in-law Matthew DeWolf and Abner Loveland, surveying fire damage and clean up. He does not seem to have played any major part in the day’s other events, beyond urging Constable Meacham to enter the hotel—owned and operated by his cousin, Oliver—and serve a warrant on the slave catchers for unlawful kidnapping. After his arraignment, however, Wadsworth found a larger role to fill. He and Matthew DeWolf were named as Wellington representatives to a self-appointed committee for the thirty-seven rescuers, to coordinate their legal and public relations strategies. Wadsworth then found himself in jail for twenty-one days, and was only released on $500 bail. He later pled nolo contendere (no contest) to the charges against him, and was fined an additional $20 plus court costs, and sentenced to an additional night of confinement.

Wadsworth held a number of political offices. He was elected mayor of Wellington on April 4th, 1859, just days before he began his jail term. He was also a township trustee and village supervisor, often serving alongside other rescuers including Eli Boies, DeWolf, and Loveland. Loring Wadsworth died in 1862. Neither his multiple obituaries in the Lorain County News nor his later mention in Commemorative Biographical Record of the Counties of Huron and Lorain, Ohio (1894) note his participation in the events of 1858. He is preserved for posterity, however, in the famous 1859 jail yard photograph.

Daniel Williams
Daniel Williams was born in Vermont in 1815. After emigrating to Ohio at age fourteen, he eventually became a farmer with substantial land holdings in Pittsfield. The house he erected on Webster Road is still standing today. Later in life, the family relocated to a home on Courtland Avenue, where Daniel died in 1889.

Williams was one of four Wellington men who served time in the county jail, some twenty-one days total; as a consequence, he appears in the famous 1859 jail yard photograph. He was later released on $500 bail. But his actions on the day of the Rescue go unrecorded in hundreds of pages of trial transcripts. He later pled nolo contendere (no contest) to the charges against him, and was ordered to pay a $20 fine plus court costs and spend one additional day in jail. He passed the night in a Cleveland hotel.

When he died, Williams’s obituary in the Wellington Enterprise read in part, “He was public-spirited and encouraged all measures that promised good to the community. He was a man of strong convictions; a Republican, an abolitionist…always advocating principles which have forced their way through great opposition. He was conscientious. A frequent expression with him was, ‘My conscience wouldn’t let me do that.’” Williams is buried beneath an impressive granite obelisk in Greenwood Cemetery.

Remembering 1858: The Event

This is the first in a series of posts that will feature the label text from a small exhibit currently on display in Wellington’s downtown, commemorating the capture and rescue of John Price on September 13, 1858. A photo of the display can be seen here.

When the residents of Wellington awoke on Monday, September 13, 1858, they cannot have known what an extraordinary day it would be in history of the village. The first thing many people would have noticed when they went out into the warm, clear morning was an enormous cloud of billowing black smoke rising from the town center. The businesses on the west side of Main Street were ablaze, and as Wellington had no fire department, every able-bodied man who could started toward the disaster to help. By mid-morning, some three hundred people were in the square, frantically passing buckets of water or moving the contents of burning stores out of harm’s way.

What they did not realize, as they struggled to contain this local emergency, was that a situation was unfolding barely ten miles away that would soon pull the village into the center of a national controversy. In nearby Oberlin that morning, a young black man called John Price was abducted by a group of men who believed him to be a runaway slave from Kentucky. The men paid a local child to act as a decoy and lure Price outside of town with an offer of paid employment. They captured him and transported him by carriage to Wellington. They planned to take the 5:13PM train that ran south to Columbus, and from there to Cincinnati and on to Kentucky.

The slave catchers arrived with Price in Wellington sometime after 1PM. Though they were surprised by the crowd congregating outdoors—some of whom were celebrating the extinguishing of the fire by becoming intoxicated—they proceeded as planned into the large brick building at the center of town known as Wadsworth’s hotel.

By 2PM, word had gotten back to Oberlin that a young man had been kidnapped from their community. Crowds of people, including students and professors from the college, began gathering. They left Oberlin in small groups, in carriages and wagons, on horseback, even on foot if they could not find other transportation. The journey was just nine miles, but the undulating dirt road made for an average travel time of up to one hour.

After openly eating lunch in the public dining room, with John Price in tow to prevent his escape, the slave catchers decided it might be more prudent to maintain a lower profile. They asked hotel keeper Oliver Wadsworth to relocate them from the second floor to a more inaccessible part of the hotel. He took them up a narrow, ladder-like staircase to a garret under the eaves of the hotel roof. It was a dark and cramped part of the building, which became even gloomier as afternoon turned into early evening.

As people from Oberlin began to arrive in the village square, they mingled with the fire crowd and spread the word that a young man had been kidnapped and was being held inside the hotel. Witnesses estimated that as many as five hundred people eventually gathered. Some reported seeing weapons, though none were ultimately used that day.

Wellington’s constable, Barnabas Meachum, heard that a kidnapping victim was being held in the hotel and went to the nearby town hall to secure a warrant to arrest the kidnappers. When he attempted to serve the warrant on the men from Kentucky, he discovered that they were being assisted by a deputy marshal and deputy sheriff from Columbus. Under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, any slave owner could take steps to apprehend a runaway anywhere in the country, and any person asked for assistance in the capture—regardless of their stance on slavery—was legally required to comply.

All afternoon, people passed in and out of the hotel. Wellington lawyer Joseph Dickson and Justices of the Peace Isaac Bennet and William Howk were all asked to mediate the dispute. The crowd was increasingly agitated, not necessarily because they all wished to see Price liberated. Some witnesses later testified that they simply wanted action after waiting for hours in the heat of the day and the fire. The ongoing drinking also contributed to a rising commotion around the hotel; people inside commented on the constant noise of the crowd shouting and whistling.

Rumors spread that troops were coming on the 5:13PM train, to escort Price and his captors safely to Columbus. When the train arrived and no troops disembarked, it seemed to energize those who wanted to free Price. Small groups of men from Oberlin rushed the front and rear doors of the hotel. They pushed their way to the second floor and were able to press into the garret where Price was held. A few men encircled him, rushing him outside and putting him into a carriage that immediately bolted north. Price’s terrifying ordeal had lasted six hours. The crowd dispersed as the sun began to set.

In the months to come, Wellington and Oberlin would find themselves at the center of legal proceedings that inflamed the nation. Thirty-seven men were indicted on charges of violating the Fugitive Slave Act and became known as the “Rescuers.” Twelve were from Wellington or its adjacent townships. Federal prosecutors were intent on making an example of famously abolitionist Oberlin; the U. S. District Attorney told some of the Wellington men that “he did not consider them in reality responsible for the Rescue.” Indeed, it is unclear why some of the men were charged at all. Author Nat Brandt speculated that almost all the Wellington indicted were singled out because they were “known” conductors on the Underground Railroad, but he offered no evidence to support that claim. The biographical details of the men’s lives, and the testimony offered in court about their actions on September 13th, do not seem to support that theory. Ultimately, most of the men from Wellington pled no contest to the charges against them and paid small fines. Four completed short jail terms and so appear in the famous 1859 jail yard photograph of the “Oberlin-Wellington Rescuers.”

There is no known historical record of what happened to John Price, of how or where he passed the remainder of his life.

Cleveland Morning Leader, 9.16.1858. pg. 2

“Cleveland Morning Leader,” 9-16-1858, pg. 2.

Remembering 1858

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Exhibit on the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858. Photo by author.

Today is September 13th, which means it is the anniversary of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858. One of the reasons I have not written as many posts this year is because I have been working since the spring on researching and planning a commemorative exhibit with Marilyn Wainio, President of the Wellington Genealogy Group and board member of the Lorain County Historical Society. We installed it this morning on East Herrick Avenue.

Over the coming days, I will be posting some of the content of the exhibition labels on this blog. We will also be donating a notebook of information to the Herrick Memorial Library. If you are coming out to the town square this weekend for the 37th annual Harvest of the Arts craft festival, please take a few moments to view the display.

Many thanks to local business owner and history lover, Evelyn Hopkins, whose family owns the building in which the exhibit is now housed.

The Postmistress

WE, 7.20.1898 pg. 5

“Wellington Enterprise,” 7-20-1898, pg. 5.

A few weeks ago, I was running an errand at the local post office. As I was leaving, I saw a plaque on the wall that I had not noticed before. A large greeting card display normally hides it from view. It is engraved with all the names of Wellington’s postmasters, from Nathan Wooster in 1833 to James Sosinski in 1995. As I looked over the list of names, I was surprised to see that the village had a female postmaster appointed in July 1898. Readers of the blog may recall that I published a small volume of biographical essays on nineteenth-century Wellington women back in 2017; my first thought upon seeing this plaque was wishing I had known about our female postmistress before going to press!

The woman in question was Mary L. Herrick, born in Huntington on October 24, 1865. She was a younger sister to Myron T. Herrick (1854-1929), Governor of Ohio and United States Ambassador to France. Mary was thirty-two years old when she was appointed as Wellington’s postmistress by President William McKinley, who was a close friend and political ally of her brother.

WE, 8.3.1898 pg. 5

“Wellington Enterprise,” 8-3-1898, pg. 5.

Herrick was unmarried at the time she assumed the role of postmistress in August 1898. The 1900 federal census showed her lodging with a couple called Robert and Harriet Codding. Her occupation was listed as “postmaster,” a position she held for four years. On October 3, 1902, just shy of her thirty-seventh birthday, Herrick married a man eight years her junior, a doctor from Wellington called Arthur B. Smith. The wedding was celebrated at Myron Herrick’s mansion–known as The Overlook–in Euclid Heights, an affluent development in what is now Cleveland Heights.

The Smiths moved to San Diego, California, sometime between 1910 and 1930. Arthur died in 1948, after serving honorably as a major in the Medical Corps in World War I, and Mary died in 1956. The couple are both interred in Greenwood Cemetery. After Mary Herrick relinquished the title of postmistress, it would be eighty years before another woman served as “Officer in Charge” of Wellington’s mail delivery.

The Bee Hive

Scan 2019-8-24 08.40.50

Verso of trade card, printed ca. 1880, for the Bee Hive, Wellington, Ohio. Author’s collection.

Greetings, dear readers! On this, the sixth anniversary weekend of the blog, I was determined to put up a post. Life has made research and writing more difficult of late, as the lack of activity this year clearly shows. But I recently acquired a charming trade card for a nineteenth-century Wellington business, so I wanted to share it and the history of the store that it promotes.

In April 1880, F. T. Smith advertised in the Wellington Enterprise that he was opening a new venture on the southwestern corner of Liberty Street, today called West Herrick Avenue. His premises was known as “the old Bakery Stand,” but he was taking a partner, Mr. Jordan, and starting a shop that they would name the Bee Hive. (This may have been a reference to the popular Bee Line that operated on the nearby train tracks, an east-west excursion line with stops in places as far-flung as Denver, Colorado and Toronto, Canada.) In a separate notice, the newspaper reported that Mr. Jordan had for many years been connected to the wholesale houses of Cleveland. Whether Jordan was actually living in Wellington while the Bee Hive was open is not clear.

WE 4.8.80 pg. 3

“Wellington Enterprise,” 4-8-1880, pg. 3.

The owners of the Bee Hive demonstrated a sort of frenetic energy for growing their business. They pioneered a novel method of publicity in the Enterprise; rather than simply paying for a one-column block, they sprinkled single sentence promotions of individual products throughout the local news page. They announced that they would have two wagons loaded with merchandise circulating throughout the area during harvest time, for the benefit of “country customers” who could not then spare the time to travel into the village (Enterprise, 6-10-1880, pg. 3). In the spring of 1881, they announced a promotional giveaway of an unspecified prize to every customer who purchased a pound of tea, and appear to have continued the offer through the end of the year. They crafted exhibits of sale goods for the Wellington fair, and hosted parties and musical entertainments in their building. Though the Bee Hive was mentioned hundreds of times in the Enterprise during its brief existence, and the owners clearly wanted to convey that they were doing a booming business, the notices begin to smack of desperation; one gimmick they employed was to repeatedly run an advertisement that read, in multiple variations, that they were just too busy to write new ad copy.

Each year, the Bee Hive had a Friday evening holiday grand opening in which they debuted their new Christmas merchandise. For the 1880 holiday season, they installed a steam engine to “help them grind coffee and spices and do up parcels” (Enterprise, 12-23-1880, pg. 2). The array of items on offer was impressive: toys, china, tea sets, dinner sets, chamber and toilet sets, silver-plated dinnerware, lamps, and vases.  In season they added flower pots, garden vases, hanging baskets and window boxes. They carried groceries including ground coffee, tea, canned fruit, sliced beef, Sandusky hams, cigars and oysters, butter, fresh eggs and fish. The Bee Hive also did copper, tin, iron and brass repair, and would complete roofing and spouting work by request.

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Recto of trade card, printed ca. 1880, for the Bee Hive, Wellington, Ohio. Rather than purchasing generic trade cards and stamp inking their shop name, as many Wellington businesses did, the proprietors of the Bee Hive had their trade cards printed, perhaps at the offices of the “Wellington Enterprise.” Author’s collection.

In July 1880, Smith and Jordan announced that they were soon to erect a new brick building on the vacant space immediately west of their Liberty Street shop. They offered “close out” sales to rid themselves of heavy merchandise like stoves, that they did not wish to move. By early August, they broke ground on a “double store,” but continued to do business by temporarily locating one door west, into the furniture establishment of Hoyt and Woolley, who were also the local undertakers.

The construction plans were ambitious. “The foundation of the addition to Smith & Jordan’s building is nearly complete. It will be joined to the old store-room as one building, having an entrance to the upper story between the old and the new. When finished there will be three [shop] fronts–two of 20 feet each and another small triangular room on the extreme south-west, which will be for rent. The ceiling of the present room will be raised to make a 13 foot story, and the second will be 11 feet. An arched way will connect the two rooms so they can be used as one store. The front rooms in the second story will be finished for offices. An addition will be built on the rear end, of 20 feet, for storage purposes” (Enterprise, 8-19-1880, pg. 3).

Remarkably, interior touches were completed just two months later. Corporation tax records show that block 1, lot 75 was owned by Anson Smith. I believe Anson was the stepfather of F. T. Smith, as I will explain below. The lot was valued at just $370 in 1880 (prior to construction), but by 1881 jumped to $1,380. By 1882, that assessment had increased to $1,980. Likewise, an 1874 map of the village shows a small square in the center of lot 75, to later be replaced by a roughly triangular structure that filled the entire plot of land.

west liberty st post-1904

Post-1904 image of West Main or Liberty Street, at its intersection with Rail Road Street. The brick two-story building in the foreground is the Bee Hive block, completed in 1880. Photo courtesy of the Southern Lorain County Historical Society, “The Spirit of ’76” Museum.

But for Smith and Jordan, time was up. In January 1882, John Houghton published a scathing editorial in the Wellington Enterprise in which he laid out the failure of their partnership in excruciating detail. Smith apparently owed Houghton money, perhaps for the excessive advertising services he had furnished the store, or the custom printed trade cards they had distributed. His revenge, as he himself wrote, was to tell the entire village precisely what had happened. Houghton noted that the failure was not a surprise to the “wise and observing,” whom he claimed had been predicting the event for more than a year. Smith’s stepfather had “furnished the larger portion of the capital,” and had decided the partners must relinquish the Bee Hive “to secure himself from further loss.” I believe this to be Anson Smith, owner and taxpayer on the Bee Hive block.

The younger Smith, Houghton wrote, “is reported to have ruined the trade and squandered the capital by his intemperance and immoralities and by his reckless business management. Our personal knowledge extends far enough to know that we [co-editors and spouses John and Mary Hayes Houghton] have salted down a considerable sum which he appropriated to his personal uses, and we do him no injustice when we say that by his vices and dishonesty he has thrown away a golden opportunity . . . [he] has nothing to show for his investment but failure, shame and disgrace” (Enterprise, 1-25-1880, pg. 2). The editor acknowledged that Jordan shared equally in the blame, if only for being so blind to Smith’s actions. The partners were said to owe in excess of $6,000–an enormous sum when considering that the entire brand-new business block was tax assessed at less than one-third that amount. Houghton pronounced the entire affair “one of the most inexcusable failures ever known in Wellington.”

The Bee Hive store was not yet two years old when Smith and Jordan dissolved their partnership. Anson Smith continued to own what was now called the Bee Hive block. Another set of proprietors purchased the contents of the store, and operated in the same location for about a year. They maintained the customs of hosting dinners and musical entertainments on the upper floor, and even held the annual holiday grand opening. In February 1883, the Bee Hive installed the eighth telephone in the village, and soon began to advertise that customers should call orders in. In lieu of owning one’s own phone, one could use a neighbor’s line or even send a child down to the shop. All goods would be promptly delivered, regardless of order method.

Sanborn October 1884

Sanborn Map from October 1884, showing the Bee Hive block on block 1, lot 75.

In April 1883, the new proprietors vacated the Bee Hive block and relocated the still-named Bee Hive store to the west side of South Main Street, next door to Mallory, Jopp & Co., on the village square. The new location did not improve their profits, however, and by January 1884, the Bee Hive shop closed for good. The Bee Hive block, meanwhile, was now home to three separate businesses: a drug and grocery shop, a news and cigar store, and the boot and shoe repair shop housed in the triangular space occupied by cobbler David Snyder since the building was completed in the fall of 1880.

The Bee Hive block still stands on West Herrick Avenue today, rapidly approaching its one hundred and fortieth birthday. The ground floor of the building is now home to two small businesses, the Painting Factory and Happy Tails Dog Grooming. The second story contains apartments. Not long after I moved to Wellington, as recently as 2005, a local resident giving me directions identified the landmark to me as “the old Bee Hive.” I find it fascinating how many old names linger on, long after their origins have faded away.

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149-151 West Herrick Avenue, Wellington, Ohio. Image from GoogleMaps.