Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lt. Col. William Charles Shortt and His Descendants by Mike Hedges

Through the decades, descendants of Lt. Col. William Charles Shortt and Hayes Presidential Center staff have exchanged information about Lt. Col. Shortt's family, his descendants, and his military career. Most recently, Mike Hedges of Portsmouth, England, a great great great grandson of Lt. Col. William Charles Shortt contacted me. I thank Mr. Hedges for graciously agreeing to share some of his research in the article below. Above is a photograph of a portrait of Lt. Col. Shortt sent previously by a descendant of William Tayler Peter Shortt.

My great great great grandfather, Lt Col William Charles Shortt, served in the 41st Regiment of Foot in the British Army and died a heroic death at the Battle of Fort Stephenson, Lower Sandusky, Ohio (Fremont, Ohio), on 2nd August 1813.

The Battle of Fort Stephenson

This battle, won decisively by the Americans, was the last western battle in the Second War of Independence (War of 1812) between Britain and America. Fort Stephenson guarded an American supply base on the Sandusky River and became a target for the British, led by Major-General Henry Proctor, after they had failed to capture Fort Meigs at Perrysburg, Ohio.

Fort Stephenson was commanded by Major George Croghan. His superior, Major-General William Harrison, ordered him to destroy the fort and withdraw, believing the British force to be larger than it really was. However, Croghan was confident that he could defend the fort and successfully persuaded Harrison of this.

Croghan’s view was decisively endorsed by the outcome of the British assault. The British and their Indian allies had 96 men either killed or wounded, of whom 25 were from Lt Col Shortt’s column of men from the 41st Regiment of Foot. Shortt himself died with many of his men in a murderous barrage of American fire as he led them into one of the perimeter ditches of the fort.

A full account of the battle can be found on the website

Lt Col William Charles Shortt

Lt Col William C. Shortt had a rather colourful life and seems to have passed this trait down the generations that followed. According to information provided in 1909 by his great-nephew Captain Henry D. Shortt to the Hayes Presidential Center, he was the eldest son of Major John Shortt of the Madras Native Infantry. William was born in Trichinopoly (now Tiruchirappalli) in India in 1764 and was apparently educated at Eton College[1]. He joined the Army as an Ensign in the 24th Foot in 1782, became a captain in 1783 and joined the 99th Foot at the same rank in 1801. By the time of the Battle of Fort Stephenson, he was a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel[2].

William C. Shortt had a relationship with (or may in fact have married) a Shawnee Indian called Sally Bluejacket (born 1778) while his regiment was garrisoning the British fort on the Maumee River, Ohio, in 1794 and 1795[3]. They had a son, Thomas Shortt, born in 1796, who was later recorded as living in the Indian reservation at Flat Rock, Mi[4]. Thomas had a son Joseph, born in 1833, and Joseph had two daughters[5]. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the relationship between William and Sally did not last and she later married a trader called Wilson. They may have met again in 1813 just before the Battle of Fort Stephenson, as by then Sally was living on the Detroit River, within the area commanded by William’s superior officer, Major General Henry Proctor.

By this time William C. Shortt had married Jean Margaret Stuart (known by her middle name) and they had a son William Tayler[6] Peter Shortt, who had been born in Marylebone, London, in 1800. The name Tayler was no doubt chosen because it was the maiden name of William’s mother Jane; her brother Lt Gen William Tayler was an equerry to King George III.

William C. Shortt’s wife Jean died in 1805 while giving birth to a daughter, Mary, who survived for just seven weeks. In 1809 William married Jane Crooks, whose sister had married the borther of his commander, Henry Proctor. William and Jane had a son, James Symington Shortt, who was born in 1812 and was my great great grandfather. James’ mother died in 1812, probably after giving birth to him.

With the death of their father at the Battle of Fort Stephenson and the earlier deaths of their mothers, William TP Shortt and his half-brother James became orphans at the respective ages of 13 and 1. To support their upbringing and education, the guardians of both boys were granted payments from the Royal Bounty, a fund established to support the families of people who had died in service of the British Crown, for example officers killed in battle.

The Elder Son, William Tayler Peter Shortt

William TP Shortt was educated in Quebec, but eventually returned to England where he gained a Bachelor of Arts degree at Worcester College, Oxford, in 1821 and, true to family tradition, embarked on a career in the British Army. However, before this he engaged in another tradition for wealthy families of that period by going on the so-called ‘Grand Tour’, a visit to classical cities, art galleries and historical sites of continental Europe. In his case, the tour was through France and Switzerland to Italy and consequently, in an early pointer to his future occupation as an author, he published A Visit to Milan, Florence and Rome, etc in 1821. The visit inspired his lifelong interest in Roman antiquities. In 1824, he co-authored Journal of the Principal Occurrences During the Siege of Quebec.

By 1826, William TP Shortt was a Lieutenant in the 17th Regiment of Foot, joining from the 34th Foot. However, he soon abandoned his military career and moved in 1832 to Heavitree, Exeter, England, where he lived as a gentleman of independent means (on his father’s death, he had inherited the freehold rent of Remenham House, near Henley-on-Thames, England). He developed a keen interest in Roman relics and especially coins, many of which were being found during the substantial reconstruction of Exeter that took place from the 1830s to the 1850s. At this time, no great interest was aroused whenever archaeological remains were discovered and building contractors regarded any interference in their work to recover relics as obstruction. However, William TP Shortt was not deterred and, over a period of 23 years from 1832, took it upon himself to retrieve and investigate as many items as he could and to publish the results of his findings.

His persistence led to some incidents on building sites, typical of which is one of July 3rd 1835 when, during his enquiries with labourers about relics found during the re-development of the Upper Market, Shortt was confronted by a prominent Exeter builder, Henry Hooper, ordered off the site and helped on his way by a shovelful of earth! Enraged by this slight on his dignity as an ex-officer and a gentleman, Shortt summoned Hooper for assault. At a court appearance the next day, Hooper admitted the assault but said that Shortt’s habit of retrieving artefacts was constantly interrupting work at the market and that he had refused to leave the site when asked. The Mayor of Exeter, conforming with the general indifference to the history of Roman Exeter, found Hooper guilty but levied a token fine of 10 shillings (50 pence) on him. Shortt was rebuked for his ‘warmth of temper’. The case was well publicised in the local and national press, which generally supported Shortt, and began a trend of making archaeological excavation and research more fashionable[7].

William TP Shortt published many articles about his findings in the Devonshire Chronicle, the Flying Post and other local journals. He apparently insisted on receiving printers’ proofs of his articles, which he then savagely corrected before they were printed! He also wrote two books about his work; the first, with the not very catchy title of Sylva Antiqua Iscana, Numismatica Quinetiam Figulina, or Roman and Other Antiquities of Exeter, was published in 1841 and the following year came Collecteana Curiosa Antiqua Dunmonia; or An Essay on Some Druidical Remains in Devon. The latter book was based on his visits on horseback and in all weathers to every known prehistoric site in Devon. Each book is, it has to be said, hard to read for the modern eye, but each was no doubt very learned and based on Shortt’s great historical knowledge and extensive field work. This did not prevent a magisterial put-down by one writer, who said of Shortt’s books: ‘I could refer to the two works of this author with much more confidence had they been drawn up with the gravity which becomes the subject. They have been compiled in such a careless, rambling and ill-arranged manner, and are so full of haphazard assertions, that I lament extremely that I cannot quote them as authorities’[8]!

Despite this criticism, there is no doubt that William TP Shortt carried out pioneering archaeological work in Exeter that recorded and preserved valuable Roman artefacts. Without his intervention and dedication, they and the valuable historical information that they yielded would certainly have been lost.

William TP Shortt moved to Heidelberg, Germany, in 1855 and died in 1881. He and his wife Margaret had a son and three daughters. His son Stuart followed a military career, and the Army also featured strongly in the lives of his daughter Ann and of the descendants to the present day of his daughter Kathleen. She married Captain John Dent Bird, who was murdered by one of his troopers at Aldershot, England, in 1874. Their son Wilkinson Dent Bird (born 1869) was a decorated soldier, became a Major-General, and lectured and wrote about military history and strategy.

The Younger Son, James Symington Shortt

Orphaned at the age of just one year when his father William died at the Battle of Fort Stephenson, James Symington Shortt probably then lived with his maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Crooks, and his material aunt, Mary. His middle name Symington came from the surname of John Symington of Niagara, who was his maternal grandfather and one of the executors of his father’s will (the other was William C Shortt’s cousin, Captain William Thomas Tayler).

Family researches have so far thrown up no other information about James Shortt’s early life. He is next recorded as living in Ancaster Township, Brent County, Ontario, in 1832. Within a year he was an Ensign in the 48th Foot Regiment of the British Army. In 1835 he transferred to the 4th, or King’s Own, Regiment of Foot, became a Lieutenant in 1837 and a Captain in 1844.

In 1839 at Sholden, Kent, James married Mary Harvey, one of the daughters of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Harvey (1775 – 1841) who, along with many other members of his family, served with great distinction in the Royal Navy. Mary died only two years later and James subsequently took her sister Annie as his partner, but they never married because, at that time in England, it was illegal for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife.

Over the period of James Shortt’s service in the 4th Foot, the regiment was stationed first in Australia then, from January 1838, in India[9]. James and Annie had their first child, a girl, in 1844, but the child did not survive her first day. A son ws born a year later, but is believed to have died in infancy. Their first surviving child, Mary, was born in Kamptee, India, in 1846. James remained in the Army until 1847-48. James’ departure from the Army came shortly after he had been found guilty at a court martial of being drunk at the funeral in Kamptee of a fellow officer, Ensign William Thorpe.

The remainder of James’ life was punctuated by misfortune and tragedy. During the 1850s, he and Annie had five more chilren. a son and four daughters, but only Jessie (born 1850 in Colaba, India) and Helen (born 1855 in Broadstairs, England) survived. Four of these five children were born in India, but it seems that Annie purposely came back to England to give birth to Helen there and give her a better chance of survival. Helen may well have remained in England in the guardianship of Annie’s sister Eliza and may never have returned with her mother to India; certainly Helen was living with Eliza and her husband Admiral William WP Johnson[10] in England in 1866.

James and Annie’s youngest child was Edith Annie Shortt, my great grandmother, who was born in 1861 in Ahmedabad, India. Tragically her mother Annie died just 17 days later from diarrhea and exhaustion following her confinement.

James’ fortunes with employment were no better. After leaving the Army, he and Annie stayed in India and he is recorded as working in the secretariat of the Judicial Department in Bombay from 1851 to 1853. In 1855 he is listed as a clerk, but then prospects seem to have improved, as he held the post of Deputy Marshal of the Byculla House of Correction (a prison in Bombay) in 1856 and was its Governor from 1857-59. Thereafter his employment appears to have resumed its decline, for by 1862 he was a clerk on the Bombay, Baroda and Central Indian Railway.

In 1864 he brought my great grandmother Edith (and possibly one or more of her older sisters) back to England. Edith was put first into the guardianship of her maternal aunt, Sarah Rainier, and her husband Revd. George Rainier, and then into the guardianship of her maternal uncle, Admiral Henry Harvey.

The final tragedy of James Shortt’s life came when he died at sea of dysentery in 1865, probably on his return journey to India, and was buried at sea.

Thus, like her father, Edith Shortt was orphaned at a very young age. She was clearly told of the fate of her parents; a poignant letter, still in the family’s possession, from Henry Harvey to his sister Eliza mentions that ‘little Edith….says her own Papa “gone, dead, gone into the water. Mama died too.”’

Of the four surviving daughters of James Shortt, Mary remained in India and married a civil engineer, Robert Gompertz, but is believed to have died before 1882, when Robert re-married. Jessie (1850 – 1939) never married but went to England, eventually giving birth to a son, Henry. Helen (1855 – 1925) married George Humphreys, a farm labourer. Edith (1861 – 1933) married Thomas Hall, a post office clerk.

Contrasting Fortunes

Thus the two sons of Lt Col William C. Shortt and their descendants experienced contrasting fortunes. William TP Shortt initially followed his father’s footsteps by joining the Army, but the academic side of his nature led him away from military life into pioneering archaeological work. He lived to the age of 81, and several of his descendants continued the family tradition of military service right through to the early 21st century. He did not escape sadness, losing his daughter Kathleen when she was only 27 years old and his son-in-law in an act of murder in 1874.

His half-brother James S. Shortt suffered disadvantages that stemmed from being a second son orphaned at the age of just one year. With no university education, he joined the British Army at the age of 21. His first wife died when he was 29. For him, the early prestige of being an Army officer was later significantly tempered by his court martial, and more sadness came with the loss of five of his children in infancy. The final personal tragedy for him and his daughters was his death at sea at the age of 53; almost inevitably perhaps, the guardians of his three younger daughters could not provide sufficient financial resources for them to be able to live the privileged lives of their parents’ families.

This story of the lives of Lt Col William Shortt and his descendants is the result of much research by my cousin David Royle and myself. There are still many gaps in our knowledge and we would welcome any further information. This can be passed to us by contacting Nan J. Card, Curator of Manuscripts, Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, Ohio at(

Acknowledgements: My family is grateful for information provided during our research by the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (Fremont, Ohio), National Archives (Kew, London), the British Library (London), the Families in British India (FIBIS) website, Sue Andrew, G. Carlyle Hinshaw and Margaret McGrath.

This article has been copyrighted by Mike Hedges.


[1] Henry Shortt said that William was educated at Eton College, but my enquiries with the College suggest that this is not correct.
[2] Brevet rank was awarded for distinguished service, but the recipient retained the pay and responsibilities of his previous lower rank. Brevet rank could not be purchased.
[3] Ref. Bluejacket: Warrior of the Shawnees by John Sugden (University of Nebraska Press, 2000).
[4] Article in the Wyandotte Tribune, 3 November 1948.
[5] Information provided in an e-mail to the author.
[6] Correct spelling, but generally recorded as Taylor in later mentions of WTP Shortt
[7] From An Antiquary in Devon (WTP Shortt 1800 – 1881) by R.G. Goodchild, Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, 1947.
[8] From A Dissertation on the Site of Moridunum, The Gentleman’s Magazine, January to June 1849.
[9] From The King’s Own: The Story of a Royal Regiment Volume 2, 1814-1914, by Colonel L.I. Cowper (Oxford University Press, 1939).
[10] William Ward Percival Johnson (1790 – 1880) served as a young seaman on HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Childhood Dream Comes True for Helen Herron Taft

Venus Williams, Miley Cyrus, Oprah Winfrey, Condoleezza Rice, and Katie Couric are just a few of the notable figures who serve as role models for today’s young women. But in the 19th century, it was an altogether different matter! Barred from voting and severely limited in establishing an independent career, women rarely rose to national prominence. But Helen Herron, a Cincinnati teen found her role model – First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes.

At the age of seventeen, “Nellie,” as her friends called her, visited the White House. She and her entire family were guests of President Rutherford B. and First Lady Lucy Webb Hayes. From that day forward, Helen knew that she wanted to become First Lady more than anything in the world. Years later, she recalled that her visit to the Hayes White House was “the only unusual incident of her girlhood!”

A short time after the Herron family visit, “Nellie” met “the adorable Will Taft.” They later married. William Howard Taft became solicitor general of the United States and then a federal circuit court judge. In 1900, Taft was appointed head of the civil government of the Philippines. Helen, the mother of three children, was more than willing to travel half way around the world to live in a foreign land if it helped her husband’s career. Four years later, the Tafts were back in Washington. President Teddy Roosevelt had chosen Taft as his Secretary of War. Helen was delighted at her husband’s rising political career.

In 1908, her lifelong dream came true! William Howard Taft was elected President of the United States! It was an exciting day when Helen Taft stepped into the role of First Lady. But only two months later, she suffered a severe stroke. Although ill for more than a year, Helen Taft was determined to resume her social obligations. By late 1910, the First Lady, with the help of her daughter, delighted the nation when she hosted the White House events during the Christmas holidays.

Helen Taft became famous for her elegant receptions for prominent dignitaries and foreign heads of state. In her memoir, Recollections of Full Years, the First Lady considered the celebration of the Tafts’ 25th wedding anniversary the “greatest event” of her White House years. Several thousand guests celebrated with them at an evening garden party.

Social obligations were not the First Lady’s only concern; she wanted to make the nation’s capitol a beautiful place for visitors. At her request, Japanese cherry trees were planted. The two original trees she helped plant at a ceremony still stand several hundred yards west of the John Paul Jones Memorial. When the cherry trees bloom each spring, they serve as a reminder of a young Ohio teenager with a big dream and an indomitable will – First Lady Helen Herron Taft.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Fort Stephenson Mining Association

About to leave for California's gold fields in the spring of 1849, eight men of Fremont, Ohio established the Fort Stephenson Mining Association for their mutual aid and protection. John M. Smith (President); Levi E. Boren (Secretary); and John A. Johnson (Treasurer) joined brothers William and Robert Caldwell, Grovenor Gallagher, Isaac Sharp, and James W. Stevenson in forming articles of agreement that bound the men and their fortunes to each other for a period of eight months. All eight charter members arrived in California safely. Initially, they took up claims on Beals Bar located on the North Fork of the American River, near its junction with the South Fork in Placer County. During the next several years, other Sandusky Countians headed to California to seek their fortunes.

Cyrus Sebring wrote this letter from California to his friend Minerva Justice of Fremont, Ohio. His letter is particularly interesting because it provides a glimpse into the lives of some of the original members of the mining association as well as others from Sandusky County who crossed the plains in the intervening years.

Those mentioned in his letter from Sandusky County, Ohio are:

John M. Smith
Jaques Hulbard
Grove Gallagher
William Caldwell
Robert Caldwell
Putnam Norton
Henry Loveland
Cyrus Thompson
J.C.H. Montgomery
Add. Mann
Kenny Russel
Levi Boren
Peter Hershey
Hiram Kelly

Many of these men returned to their homes in Sandusky County, Ohio. Others lived out their lives in California. And, some died in the gold fields, having never fulfilled their dreams. The record of the Fort Stephenson Mining Association kept by John A. Johnson is housed at the Beinecke Library at Yale University. In an upcoming post, I hope to provide more details of these men who went West in search of gold.

Sacramento City, Feb. 26, 1851

Dear Friend Minerva

I have just received your very kind letter and I can assure you that it was a very welcome visitor for in reality I had about come to the conclusion that all my old friends had determined that I should never again hear from them but oh how agreeably have I been today in recieving your letter. I can truly say that this is the happiest day that I have seen since I left Fremont. Minerva I think I scarcely need attempt to tell you how rejoiced I am to learn that your health has so far improved as to admit of your visiting your friends and enjoying their society. I realy wish that I was at home a short time that I might have the pleasure of enjoying a share of your smiles, but I am far away and deprived of all the pleasure derived from mingling with society and I feel the loss very much but since I voluntarily left I shall endeavor to make the best of a bad bargain and there is one thing certain and that is that I shall know much better than ever before how to appreciate the blessings derived from society and I assure you that I shall endeavor to make my stay in this land of Cutthroats and Gamblers as short as possible. But you know that I came here for the purpose of obtaining gold and I must have some of it before I can return home and as soon as I can accomplish that object you will surly see me coming home. And when I do come it will be to remain. I can assure you that if I live to get back I shall be contented to stay there.

Well now Minerva I presume that you would like to hear from some of the rest of the boys and I am glad that I am able to inform you that they are all well for I have just returned to the city from a prospecting tour and I have visited all of the boys that came from Fremont. Russ and J.M. Smith live together. I took dinner with them on last Friday and they were both of them hard at work. When I went up to them they were both rocking their cradles. I think you would laugh if you could only see Russ at work with his blue shirt on rocking the cradles and then you would laugh I think to see him cook. He moves around so very graceful and then they are so very cleanly they make it ruleable to wash their dishes as often as once during the week. Jaques Hulbard went up with me. We staid until almost sundown and then Jaques and Russ and myself started back for Beals Barr where almost the whole tribe of Fremonters are located, as you will see when I come to enumerate them. And in the first place there Jaques and Grove Gallagher, they tent together and seem to live very agreeably together and both as fat as there is any need for, and the next Putnam Norton and Henry Loveland they live together and are in good health and next comes Robert and Wm. Caldwell. They live together and are quite well and then comes poor Cyrus Thompson. He lives in a tent by himself and is well but looks lonely. And thinks he will not keep house much longer. He talks of going to Scotts River, a distance of about three hundred miles from here.

I believe that I have mentioned all at that place and will next walk down the river four miles to Negro Barr and there I find J. C. H. Montgomery. He is in good health. And then I come down to within four miles of town and there I find Add. Mann [?] and Mr. Stark. Not our Stark but his brother, and they are both well. And then when I get into the city I find Hiram Kelly, Kenny Russel, and Mr. Boren and by the way he wishes me to say that he shall feel himself under lasting obligations to you for your kindness in saying that his family are well. He has had the horrors for the last month. He has not had a letter from home for the three last mails. And now I believe that I have given you a short history of all of the folks from Fremont, and now I must say something about myself and in the first place will say that I am very well and weigh ten pounds more than I ever did before, so that you may judge that California agrees with me very well.

And if I could only see all of the girls for about one day I think I should be willing to stay in this country for some time. For the climate is realy very fine. We have not had any rain as yet and it is about as warm here at this time as it is in Fremont during the month of May. Go out of town and we can gather as many flowers as we wish and we have lettuce and radishes on the table while you are sitting around the stove. And hardly dare look out of doors for fear of freezing your nose. I think that if I only could have the same society here that we have at home I should like very well to live in this country. But without we can be with those we love, there can be no enjoyment or at least there is not for me and now I have a few questions to ask.

And in the first place you speak of recieving but one letter from me. I have written two and in the second one there was a specimen of gold. You say nothing about it. Have you not received it or was it so small that you did not think it worth while to mention it. You must not think that I intended that to answer for the one that I promised to bring you when I come home for I have one on hand and the pin fixed to it. It is rather large to send in a letter but you shall surly have it. I will send it the first opertunity I have that I think that it will be safe to do so. And unless I can have such an opertunity I shall keep it until I come home, which I am in hopes I shall be able to do by next fall, but dare not promise positively to do so. I have written to several of the girls. I say several, I will say a few. I wrote to Eveline and Alvina and A. M. O. and to Hat F___ [?] and Nett and not a single sound do I hear from one of them. I hardly know what to think. It is to me a mistery that I am unable to solve and my sheet of paper is about coming to a close. And I shall soon be obliged to bid you good by.

Cyrus Sebring

I feel very much obliged to those who wished to be remembered to me. Say to Alvina I should very much regret to hear that she should have the consumption poor girl. I could almost cry and would if I could only keep from laughing. Should she be taken off suddenly she shall have my blessing. To start with give her my best wishes and to Eveline give my love in return and to Mrs. Ball and Mrs. Olmstead my kindest regards. Tell them I wish them to keep a protecting watch over the girls.

And say to A. M. O. that Peter Hershey is on his road home and I wish her to be a little upon her gard for I am inclined to think that he has some very serious intentions from what I could learn. Tell her it is my wish that she should take good care of the telegraph office until I return. Tell Nett I am glad to that she is so well employed as teaching the young idies how to shoot. But I don’t see why she did not go to the house that I picked out for her between Fremont and Sandusky City. Where is Rachel. Is she yet in the famous city of Sandusky. I somewhat regret to learn that Mr. Fitch is not yet married. I thought he would have been before this time. Tell him not to dispair but try try again.

I had almost forgotten to tell you that I was going to start for the mines tomorrow. I can’t tell how long I shall stay but will surly be back in time to get all letters that come for me so that I want you to be sure and write to me as soon as your receive this and if it was not asking too much of a friend I would ask you to become a regular corispondent and I will ask you to write as often as you can do so. And tell the girls that I think if they only knew how anxious we folks in Cal. are to hear from them they would surly write. Now I will stop. I think I have now written more than you will have the patience to read if indeed you can read it at all. And now I have one request and that is that you will again write to me and let me hear the news and by so doing you will very much oblige.

Yours C.S.