Friday, April 8, 2022

Ulysses S. Grant: A Look Back


This year the Hayes Presidential Library and Museumsat Spiegel Grove will  celebrate the 200th birthday of the 19th president who was born in Delaware, Ohio on October 4, 1822. Celebrations will soon be underway for another Ohio president, also born 200 years ago. Ulysses S. Grant was born on the 27th of this month near the Ohio River at Point Pleasant. The son of a tanner and later a West Point graduate and a veteran of the War with Mexico, Grant suffered innumerable failures and setbacks in his personal life.



                                        General Ulysses S. Grant

But with quiet confidence and enduring love for his wife Julia, Grant in 7 years rose from a lowly clerk in his father’s store to commander of all the Union armies and President of the United States.

As president, Grant advanced the Reconstruction agenda, battled the KKK, and signed the Civil Rights Act of 1875. There were mistakes and scandals. Yet, he became the most well-known and popular American of his time. When Grant left office after two terms, future President James Garfield wrote, “No American has carried greater fame out of the White House than this silent man who leaves today.”

While a great general, Ulysses S. Grant was a poor businessman. Swindled by his son’s brokerage partner, Grant found himself destitute.  A short time later, his doctors gave him the sad diagnosis of throat cancer. With a death sentence before him, Grant could only think of providing a way out of poverty for his beloved Julia.

Mark Twain offered an advance of $25,000 for publication of each of 2 volumes of his military memoirs, but Grant refused believing that Twain would lose money. They settled on a profit sharing deal. Even though he was in a race against time, Grant proved to be a gifted writer. Through excruciating pain, fits of coughing and at times, unable to eat or speak, he continued to write. Finally, on July 19th, 1885, Grant penned his final words. Four days later, the man who had saved the Union breathed his last. More than one million people, both Union and Confederate, attended his funeral in New York City.


Grant Writing his "Personal Memoirs"

Grant’s “Personal Memoirs” became America’s first blockbuster. As he had hoped, Julia lived on in comfort, receiving $450,000 from Twain’s firm. To this day, his work has never been out of print. Every president since, has consulted Grant’s memoirs when writing their own.


                                      Tomb of Ulysses S. Grant


As one historian wrote, “In the generations after his death in 1885, Grant’s reputation as a general and president spiraled downward until the current generation of biographers and historians has persuasively resurrected it.” Another wrote, “…how fortunate the nation was that Grant went into the world – to save the Union, to lead it and, on his deathbed, to write one of the finest memoirs in all of American letters.” Pick up one of these recent biographies or better yet, read his “Personal Memoirs.” They do not disappoint.


                  Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, First Edition


Life and Times of Judge Aaron Levisee


Few Sandusky County pioneers led a more eventful life than Aaron Levisee. Born in Livingston County, New York in 1821, Levisee moved to Sandusky County at the age of 10. Bright, energetic, and the youngest of 11 children, Levisee was forced to find his own way in the world. He eventually attended the University of Michigan which led directly to teaching positions in Louisiana and then Alabama. Hungering for more education, Levisee came north once more to study law in New York before returning to Talladega where he became head of the Female Collegiate Institute of Talladega.


Judge Aaron Levisee

The following year, he married Persia Willis who had grown up at “Thornhill,” a 2600-acre cotton plantation nearby. After their marriage, the couple moved to Shreveport where Aaron opened a law practice and presented his bride with their new home, also called “Thornhill.” The couple had only one son, Leonidas.



                             Thornhill Plantation, Talladega, Alabama

Aaron continued to practice law in Shreveport and was elected judge of his district. Although respected by those who knew him, Judge Levisee lost support when he took a stand against the South’s secession movement. Despite his unpopularity he remained in the South throughout the war, eventually serving the Confederacy as an attache to the Inspector General. After Persia’s death in 1862, “Thornhill” served as a Confederate military hospital.


                          Thornhill Shreveport, Louisiana

During the Reconstruction era, he was elected successively as a judge and state legislator from the district that includes Shreveport. Levisee presided over the trial of Ku Klux Klan members who murdered an African American for casting a vote for Ulysses S. Grant in the 1868 presidential election. He assumed his duties as a legislator in 1874 at the height of an armed conflict between Republican supporters and the White League over control of the state legislature.

He served as one of six Louisiana presidential electors during the controversial Hayes/Tilden election. Levisee refused a bribe to cast his vote for Democrat Tilden. But on the appointed December day when the presidential electors were to cast their votes at New Orleans, Levisee and another elector were snowed in at the Red River. It was not until more than a year later, when the Democratic Congress was continuing its investigation of the disputed election that he learned his signature had been forged and then sent on to Washington!

Having lost a second wife during the Civil War and another shortly after marriage, Levisee moved with his son to the Pacific Northwest and then the Dakota Territory. It was here that he again opened a law practice. He also performed a massive work by preparing and publishing an annotated edition of the legal codes adopted by the state of South Dakota. In 1893, Judge Levisee’s life came full circle. He returned to Sandusky County,where he lived out his final years, dying in 1907. The diary, detailing the eventful life of Judge Levisee can be found at the Library of Congress. The original “Thornhill” plantation and the Shreveport estate named “Thornhill,” built for his first wife Persia, still survive.






The Courageous Laura Haviland

 After reading my article about the Underground Railroad published in Lifestyles 2000, my friend told me about her great aunt, Laura Haviland. In fact, she shared her first edition of Laura’s autobiography, “A Woman’s Life Work.” (You can find a full transcription of the book online.) Laura was born in Canada in 1808 to American Quaker parents, Daniel and Sene Smith. At the age of 16, she married Charles Haviland. Shortly after, they moved with other Quakers to Lenawee County, Michigan.

Quakers had always condemned slavery, but initially did not work actively for abolition. Restless, determined, and driven to action, Laura Haviland took up the more active role of Wesleyan Methodists to fight slavery. With Elizabeth Chandler, Laura formed the Logan FemaleAnti-Slavery Society, the first abolitionist organization in Michigan.  The Havilands began hiding fugitive slaves. Their home became the first Underground Railroad station in Michigan.


                        Laura Haviland Statue in Adrian, Michigan 

Laura also founded the Raisin Institute, the first racially integrated school in Michigan. The Havilands brought several teachers from Ohio’s Oberlin College who helped them make it one of the best schools in the territory.

In 1845, the family was struck by erysipelas. Laura became desperately ill. Upon her recovery she learned that her husband, sister, parents, and young baby had died. Despite these tragedies, Laura remained as determined as ever to carry on her battle against slavery.

She made trips into the Deep South to aid escaped slaves. In an effort to bring the children of a fugitive slave couple to freedom in Michigan, she traveled to the tavern of slave owner John Chester of Washington County, Tennessee. Chester held Laura, her son, and another at gunpoint, threatening to kill them. They managed to escape only to be chased by slave catchers. For the next 15 years, Chester and his son harassed Laura Haviland in court, with slave catchers, and with threats of violence. After the Fugitive Slave Act, she began escorting runaway slaves to Canada. In 1851, she helped found the Refugee Home Society in Windsor, Ontario, a settlement with a church, school, and 25 acres for each family. 

When the Civil War broke out, Haviland traveled throughout the South, distributing supplies, caring for the wounded, and working for better hospital conditions as far the Gulf of Mexico. At war’s end General O. O. Howard appointed Haviland Inspector of Hospitals for the Freedmen’s Bureau. Haviland traveled to Virginia, Tennessee, Kansas, and Washington, D.C. teaching, lecturing, and volunteering as a nurse.

The Raisin Institute went through many changes, becoming the Haviland Home, an orphanage for African American children. Eventually, the home was purchased by the state and became known as the Michigan Orphan Asylum.

Even in her later years Laura Haviland continued to work tirelessly to help freed slaves. Using her own money, Laura bought 240 acres in Kansas where African Americans escaping the violence of the KKK could farm, raise their children, and attend school. Both Haviland, Kansas and Haviland, Ohio were named in her honor. The image nearby is that of a statue of Laura Haviland in Adrian, Michigan.



Friday, January 7, 2022

Independent Order of the Odd Fellows, Elmore Lodge No. 462

As a child while waiting with my dad for the light to change on the Elmore, Ohio town hill, I often wondered what those very large plaster letters I O O F meant on the corner building of the main street. Little did I know that it represented the Elmore chapter of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that began in the U. S in a Baltimore tavern in 1819 with the formation of Washington Lodge No. 1

                         Symbols of the Independent Order of the Odd Fellows

It became the first fraternity to include both men and women when it adopted the “Beautiful Rebekah Degree” in 1851. It was sometimes called the “Triple Links Fraternity” because of its motto “Friendship, Love, Truth.” During the 19th century, it became the largest fraternal organization in the nation – larger than the Freemasonry. By 1889, every state had lodges. It was especially popular among skilled workers and laborers. Yet, Presidents Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, McKinley, Harding, and FDR were members as well as several Supreme Court justices.

The IOOF was devastated by the Civil War. Chapters did not begin to reorganize until some years later. Elmore was designated as Lodge No. 462 when it organized in May of 1870 with some 32 charter members. John Jenny being its first brother. Like all lodges, it promoted charity, the development of character, and relief of sickness and suffering among the brotherhood. Elmore Lodge members took seriously the command “to visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead, and educate the orphan.”

Members accomplished this work through weekly Friday evening meetings held at 7 p.m. in the hall from October through February and Fridays at 8 p.m. beginning in June. New members were initiated, dues paid, ceremonies performed and degrees conferred. From their dues, members paid those who reported as “sick” one dollar each week. As the years went by, the amount was raised to $3 per week. But by-laws required that a member must be sick enough to remain at home. Funeral costs were also covered. Widows received some compensation from the organization as well. Yet, the Ohio lodges even found enough funds to build and support a home in Springfield, Ohio, for indigent members and their families.

Lindsey Lodge Members 

Some moved away, transferring their membership. Others were dropped for lack of payment of dues, but all members, if they chose, were easily reinstated. In 1915, the Lindsey Lodge began meeting in the Elmore IOOF Hall, paying rent of 40 dollars semi- annually and covering janitorial services. On April 8, 1921, the two lodges consolidated adding some 2 dozen brothers to the rolls. During the Great Depression, membership declined across the country when fees could no longer be afforded. When social reforms of Roosevelt’s New Deal began to take effect, there was less need for the work of the IOOF. And, lodges took on a greater social role for members. Cards, dart ball, singing, and picnics were enjoyed by the brotherhood. More than 300 members had at one time or another been part of Lodge No. 462 by the outbreak of WWII. Today there are 155 lodges in Ohio with more than 4,000 members and 187 Rebekah lodges with 8,000 members.


                                            Lindsey Lodge Members


 The Elmore records were recently discovered and donated to the Harris-Elmore Public Library. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Frederick Douglass and the Fight for Freedom


Some weeks after President Rutherford B. Hayes left office, he received a letter marked “personal”. It began, “I express to you and to Mrs. Hayes my lively sense of the uniform kindness and consideration shown me from first to last during your Presidency of the Republic. You gave me at the beginning a higher place under the Government than was ever given to my race before. Neither time nor events will make me forgetful of your justice and magnanimity…. No man will be allowed to speak disparagingly of your administration in my presence without reproof.  With grateful recollections.” - signed Frederick Douglass. 

Frederick Douglass Letter to President Hayes

Hayes Presidential Library and Museums

Learning that he was soon to be inaugurated as President of the United States, Hayes consulted with Douglass and told him his views regarding his Southern Policy. Douglass approved. Hayes recorded in his diary that Douglass “had given him many useful hints regarding the subject.”

On March 17, 1877, in executive session, Hayes put forth Douglass’ name as United States Marshal of the District of Columbia. Senators overwhelmingly confirmed Hayes’ choice. It was to be the first of several federal appointments, including Recorder of Deeds for D.C.; and Minister Resident and Consul General to Haiti.

Frederick Douglass

Born into slavery in 1818 in Maryland and given the name Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey, Douglass knew little of his mother and never learned the identity of his father. At the age of 8, his slave owner hired him out as a body servant in Baltimore where Douglass taught himself to read. Some 7 years later, the slave owner brought him back to the Eastern Shore to work in the fields. Douglass rebelled and physically fought back. He was returned to Baltimore where, disguised as a sailor, he hopped a train using money borrowed from a free black woman named Anna Murray, who later became his wife. It was then that they chose the surname of “Douglass.”  Settling in Massachusetts, Douglass worked as an agent for the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, where his fame grew as he spoke out against slavery throughout the North and Midwest.  Fearing that he would be captured, Douglass fled to the United Kingdom where abolitionists purchased his freedom.  

     North Star           

Once free, he returned to America and allied himself with abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, helped people on the Underground Railroad, published the “North Star.” Two of his sons fought in the famed 54th Massachusetts. Following the war, Douglass, now widely known and highly respected, pressed for equal citizenship and voting rights.  He later held positions at Howard University and became president of the Freedman’s Bank.

Along with his duties as Marshal, Douglass brought many of his friends and associates to meet the Hayeses. Among them were soprano Madame Selika and Josiah Henson (believed to be the inspiration for Uncle Tom in “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”) He attended Diplomatic Corps receptions and state occasions. All the while he traveled and lectured on racial equality and women’s rights. (And on several occasions, he spoke at Fremont, Ohio's Birchard Hall.)

Rev. Josiah Henson

Courtesy of Smithsonian

Learning of Lucy’s death in 1889, Douglass sent a letter to Hayes, expressing his heartfelt condolences. His home, Cedar Hill in Anacostia, is today a National Historic Site. It was here that Douglass died at age 77, after a life time spent in the fight for freedom and equal rights for all.

Frederick Douglass Home, Cedar Hill, Anacostia

Courtesy National Historic Sites


Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Heady Days of Lake Erie’s Middle Island

Lake Erie's Middle Island

Courtesy of Wikimedia

Lake Erie’s Middle Island is Canada’s southernmost possession, lying just south of Pelee Island. Over seen by Parks Canada, the 45-acre island is home to hundreds of heron gulls, thousands of cormorants, even pelicans, and warblers during spring migration.

Middle Island Lighthouse Before it Burned

Charles E. Frohman Collection

During Prohibition, Middle Island served as an important way station and haven for rumrunners, smuggling whiskey and premium beers across the lake from Canada to the U. S. mainland. Toledo underworld figure Joe Roscoe, who had ties to the Purple Gang in Detroit, owned a large portion of the island. He built an air strip and a plush hotel that he called “The Lake Erie Fishing Club” although there was little fishing going on. It featured 7 bedrooms, fireplaces, electricity, large, beautifully-situated verandahs. The basement, carved deep into the bedrock, sported a casino.

Roscoe hired his buddies, former convicted liquor smugglers Ted and Bert Angus, to manage the “club house” on a percentage basis from 1928 to 1932.  Along with other gangsters, Al Capone is rumored to have stayed at Roscoe’s establishment.

Middle Island Club House, 1945

Thomas H. Langlois Collection

Middle Island Caretaker's House, 1945

Thomas H. Langlois Collection

When Prohibition ended and there was no longer money to be made in smuggling liquor, Roscoe continued his business as a hotel and restaurant, hosting vacationers, fishing charters, and local sailors. As many as 200 boaters a day were treated to sumptuous pheasant dinners.

Roscoe also owned one of the fastest boats on Lake Erie. His “Rainbow” was a 32-foot custom built craft that featured a 500 horsepower, 12-cylinder V-type Liberty motor. After Prohibition, Roscoe used it to commute from the island to Toledo where his wife Ganey and her father, Jack Broadway, managed his 42nd Street CafĂ© on Broadway and the Jovial Club on St. Clair.

Some of his gangster friends like Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Hugh Campbell were not as lucky as Joe. They turned to kidnapping and robbery to make a living. After the kidnapping of Edward Bremer in 1934, Karpis hid out in Toledo for a time. It was Joe who found Karpis and his pal Campbell a place to lay low with his friend Edith Barry, who ran a brothel on Southard Avenue.

Alvin "Creepy" Karpis

Courtesy Federal Bureau of Investigation

Karpis again turned to Joe Roscoe after his gang’s daring mail train robbery at Garrettsville, Ohio in November of 1935. Joe arranged Karpis’ escape via a flight  from Port Clinton to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Evening Independent, Massillon, Ohio, 1937

But Hoover and his G-men caught up to Karpis. He was sentenced to life in prison on Alcatraz, the last of the Depression-era gangsters.  It wasn’t until January 1937 that the FBI arrested Joe in Miami. Later that year, he was sentenced to 7 ½ years in Leavenworth for his part in assisting Karpis. Having served his time, Joe returned to Toledo, where he died in 1965. According to his obituary, he sold Middle Island shortly before his death.

Today, swallows are the lone guests at Roscoe’s hotel, now nothing but a mere shell. Only the stone foundation of the burned out lighthouse and the overgrown air strip remain as evidence of those heady days on Middle Island.

To see some fine photographs of Roscoe's abandoned hotel, please go to flickr to view images taken by Ken Bell in 2007.



Sunday, September 12, 2021

The Underground Railroad - Real and Imagined

Few subjects in America’s past are more steeped in myth than the Underground Railroad, according to Fergus Bordewich, author of Bound for Canaan. Lacking facts about the real history, tales of hidden tunnels, cryptic codes, songs, quilts and secret maps flourished. In reality, the Underground Railroad was a partnership between African Americans, both free and enslaved, and whites, first Quakers and later Christian reformers. Its existence was dependent on cooperation, trust, flexibility, and the Golden Rule.

Why is so little known? Bordewich writes that much of it was suppressed during Jim Crow years because it demonstrated the great cooperation between Blacks and whites, men and women who worked on equal footing.  Together they “created the first interracial mass movement for others’ human rights.”

                      Painting of Runaway Slaves on the Underground Railroad

Peter Pointz escape from slavery and who lived much of his life in Clyde, Ohio, bears testimony to these facts. Born into slavery in Bracken County, Kentucky in 1817 and “owned” by one Hugh Atwell.  He spent most of his young life at farm work and then as a hotel porter in Maysville. Peter was one of perhaps as many as 70,000 enslaved (Ohio’s Freedom Center puts the number at 100,000) who escaped via the Underground Railroad in the 60 years before the Civil War. Most were from Maryland, Virginia, and Kentucky, states that shared long borders with free states and where information about northern routes was readily available. According to Bordewich, few could escape from the Deep South where the way north was one long, dangerous route.

Cincinnati National Underground Railroad Freedom Center

Courtesy of Ohio History Connection

In 1848, so many slaves were escaping across the Ohio River that all were being watched closely by whites. After several attempts, Peter paid a Black man to take him across the Ohio River with co-worker Mary Gross and another. They arrived in Ripley and were taken on horseback to the home of a mulatto couple named Delaney who refused any payment. The Delaneys transported them at night on horseback to the Voorhees home where there were other runaway slaves. Peter wrote, “We all helped him strip his tobacco. That night he took 17 of us to the next place and so on traveling in the night on horses we went from place to place til we reached Delaware.”

Ohio Underground Railroad Routes

Courtesy of Federal Writers Project

On January 7, 1849, they departed for Mt. Gilead, where Peter and Mary remained for some months. That May the couple travelled by buggy to Mansfield and were put aboard the REAL railroad bound for Sandusky, Ohio.  At the docks, Peter found work on the “Sultana.” He later married Mary and settled in a home he had rented in Oberlin.

Peter Pointz

Courtesy of Harris-Elmore Library

Peter became fearful when the Fugitive Slave Law was passed in 1850. He and Mary fled to Windsor, Canada where they leased a farm until 1858.  All the while, Peter corresponded with his brother Samuel who assisted him in buying his freedom from the Atwells. He then returned to Kentucky to help a nephew escape to the north, but Peter found him to be a “worthless, shiftless fellow who did not know the value of freedom.” It was then that Peter traveled north and made his home in Clyde until his death in 1898.

In Bound for CanaanBordewich reminds us that slavery shows Americans at their worst, but the history of the Underground Railroad shows them at their bravest and best.”

A version of this article appeared in Lifestyles 2000.