Monday, April 29, 2013

Dethloff Willrodt (1840-1932)

Portrait courtesy of the Texas Legislative Reference Library.

   As is often the case with many of the politicians profiled here, I'm sometimes left dumbfounded by the peculiarity of a certain person's name. The profile featured today is no exception, as Texas legislator Dethloff Willrodt has one of the most peculiar names I've stumbled across in quite some time. Born of humble stock in Germany, Willrodt migrated to the United States in the late 1850s to seek a new life, finding one in the vast expanses of Texas. During a life that extended nine decades, Willrodt saw action on both sides during the Civil War, learned the carpentry trade, became a successful farmer and late in life was elected to a term in the Texas State House of Representatives. Although a picture of Willrodt has been located (along with other pieces of information vital to the construction of this article) little else could be found on his life, excepting a small biography in Volume 4 of the 1916 work A History of Texas and Texans by Francis White Johnson.
  Dethloff Willrodt was born on January 19, 1840, in the village of Luetenberg, located in the Duchy of Holstein in Germany. Willrodt was the sixth of seven children born to farmer Dethloff Willrodt (died 1857) and his wife Margaret Herbst (died 1845). Willrodt and his siblings attended schools native to Holstein and upon reaching adolescence were encouraged by their father to seek out a new life in America.
   Inspired by his father's words, Willrodt began on his path to the United States in 1859, embarking from a port in Hamburg and after a few weeks reached New York. Soon after he began a trek to the county of Macoupin, Illinois to live with relatives. His Illinois residency lasted about a year, and he eventually removed from Macoupin County to Texas, where his brother Ernst had immigrated some years previously. Once settled, Willrodt began learning the carpentry trade whilst also studying at a private school to learn the English language.
  Willrodt's migration to Texas came at a time when the seeds of secession were being sown in the South, and in February 1861 Texas became the seventh state to secede from the Union. Although opposed to slavery and secession, Willrodt wasn't exempt from the Confederate Conscription Act passed in April 1862. With this act (the first draft in American history, mind you) Willrodt and others of his age group were basically "volunteered" for service in the Confederate ranks, with our subject being assigned to Waul's Texas Legion, under the command of Col. Thomas Neville Waul (1813-1903). This outfit was eventually deployed to Mississippi, and, by a stroke of luck, Willrodt never saw armed combat as a Confederate soldier, as he was taken prisoner by the Union Army at Oxford, Mississippi.
   After his capture, Willrodt and other soldiers were sent North to Cairo, Illinois, where they were "given the opportunity to enlist in the Union Army." Not passing up the opportunity to do so, Willrodt enlisted in the Twelfth Illinois Cavalry and subsequently saw action at the Battle of Brandy Station as well as the Battle of Gettysburg. The Twelfth Illinois later was sent to New Orleans and then Texas, where Willrodt was mustered out of service on December 20, 1865. After returning from the war front, Willrodt settled in the city of Bellville in Austin County, Texas and began a career as a farmer.

From an 1866 Illinois Adjutant General's Report.

  On February 4, 1869, Willrodt married in Bellville to another German immigrant, Ms. Elizabeth Waak (1848-1916), originally of Mecklenburg. This union eventually produced several children, who are listed as follows in order of birth: William (1869-1949, later a prominent local merchant), Heinrich (1871-1884), Herman (1874-1941), Ernst (1876-1960), Alma (died in infancy in 1878), Minna (birth-date unknown), Max (1880-1913), Richard D. (1892-1975) and Meta (1893-1984).
  During the course of the latter half of the 19th century, Dethloff Willrodt found success as a farmer in Austin County, owning over 200 acres of land by 1884. The 1916 History of Texas and Texans notes that he also followed the carpenter's trade and gave special attention to growing corn and cotton on his property while also raising stock. This work also denotes that he was the primary organizer of the Mercantile Company of Bellville, as well as holding stock in the company.
  Around the same time as his involvement with the aforementioned mercantile company, Willrodt began treading the political waters, being elected as a county commissioner for Austin County from the First District. In 1898 he won a term in the Texas State House of Representatives from Bellville, serving in the legislative session of 1899-1901. His service here saw him sit on two house committees, those being Penitentiaries and Public Buildings and Grounds, and his house service is marked by the History of Texas and Texans as that of a "sterling representative, and put himself behind all useful and practical legislation enacted during that term." A roster from the Texas Legislative Manual of 1899 is shown below, bearing Willrodt's abbreviated name.

  In the years following his one term in the legislature Willrodt continued to be involved in various aspects of public service, helping to establish a rural mail delivery through Bellville and also aided in formulating a new form of telephone system for the community. In August 1916 Elizabeth Waak Willrodt died at age 68 after over forty years of marriage and was buried in the Coshatte Cemetery in Austin County. Willrodt didn't remarry following her death and though advanced in years continued an active schedule, being a member of the local Lutheran church as well as maintaining an honorary membership in the Sons of Hermann fraternal organization.
   Dethloff Willrodt celebrated his 90th birthday in 1930 and died two years later on June 12, 1932, in Coshatte, Texas. His life had spanned from humble beginnings as a child in Germany to Texas statehood, to the Civil War battlefield to the presidency of Herbert Hoover. Truly a long life of many accomplishments! Following his death, Willrodt was interred at the Coshatte Cemetery in Austin County, Texas alongside his wife Elizabeth, who had predeceased him over a decade earlier.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Aro Phineas Slayton (1818-1899)

   The life of multifaceted Vermont resident Aro Phineas Slayton is examined today, and during his eighty years of life achieved distinction as a Civil War veteran, lumberman, bridge designer, and state representative. Born in the town of Calais, Vermont on September 16, 1818, Aro P. Slayton was one of eight children born to Bucklin (1784-1858) and Sallie Willis Slayton (1783-1879), both residents of Washington County. Nothing is known of Aro's early life or education, and he married on July 22, 1846, to Ms. Lucy White (1827-1902), and the couple later became the parents of nine children over a twenty-two year period. They are listed as follows in order of birth: Florence Melissa (1848-1883), Kate Ella (1851-1885), Frank Leroy (born 1853), Herbert Alverton (born 1855), Clara Irene (born 1858), Calvin Aro (born 1862), Lucy Maria (born 1865), Orrin (born 1868) and William Taft (born 1870).
   In August of 1862, Slayton joined Company H of the 13th Regiment Vermont Volunteers and became a First Lieutenant. He saw action at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863 and is remarked by the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, Vol. 4 as being "in command of his regiment through that battle" and was later promoted to Captain of this regiment. He was later mustered out at Brattleboro in July of 1863. The Gazetteer of Washington County further notes that Slayton "came home without a wound or scratch" but did suffer from "impaired health" due to his army service. The below portrait (found via the 1910 Pictorial History Thirteenth Regiment Vermont Volunteers) was taken during his military service and stands as one of two available portraits of him.

   Following his return from the war, Slayton and his family removed from Calais to the town of Elmore, Vermont and it was here that he established a saw-mill, with which he built up a prosperous lumber business. Slayton also found prominence as a bridge designer and road builder during his post-war life, helping to design and construct over seventy-five bridges, including for the Vermont Central Railroad; the Boston, Concord and Montreal Railroad; the Montpelier and Wells River Railroad; and the New York and New England Railroad.
   Acknowledged as an "authority on bridge building" by sources of the time, Slayton entered the political life of his state when he was elected to a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives from Elmore and served in the legislative session of 1868-69. In 1885 he and his family removed from Elmore back to Calais, where he purchased a farm and later served as a Justice of the Peace for that town during the early 1890s. He removed once again in 1892 to the village of Hyde Park, Vermont and died here on December 11, 1899, at age 81. The cause of death is recorded as "organic heart and liver trouble" which had been acquired during his military service thirty years previously. Slayton was interred at the Village Cemetery in Hyde Park and was survived by several of his children as well as his wife Lucy, who died in 1902 at age 75.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Sprague Spooner Stetson (1841-1899)

   Sporting one of those fun tongue-twister type names that is guaranteed to make you laugh, Sprague Spooner Stetson was a resident of the village of Lakeville in Massachusetts during the 19th century. A prominent farmer in that area, Stetson served one term in the Massachusetts State House of Representatives in the early 1880s, earning him an article here on the site. Despite his being a citizen of distinction in the Plymouth County area, little could be found on Mr. Stetson, with the exception being a small write up in the 1906 History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts, authored by Thomas Weston. This book also yielded the rare portrait of Stetson shown above.
   Born in the town of Carver in Plymouth County, Massachusetts, Sprague Spooner Stetson was one of three children born to Peleg Stetson (1800-1867) and his wife Priscilla Ward (1808-1871). Little is known of Stetson's early life or education, and he married on December 13, 1864 to Thalia Weston, with whom he had two children, George Ward (1866-1926) and Jennie (1870-1953). George Ward Stetson went on to become a noted lawyer, later serving as a special justice for the 4th District Court of Plymouth County.
  Following his father's death in 1867, Stetson inherited the family home (referred to as the "Ward Place") and in the succeeding years built up a reputation as a productive farmer in Lakeville and also served in several local political offices. In 1883 he was elected to the Massachusetts General Court for that year's term and was named to a seat on the legislative committee on Agriculture. Stetson also held a membership in the Plymouth County Agricultural Society both before and after his tenure in the legislature.
   After his brief stint in state government, Stetson was appointed by then Massachusetts Governor Frederic Thomas Greenhalge to the State Board of Agriculture, serving in that capacity from 1892 to 1899. Stetson died on January 12, 1899, while still serving on the board. He was 58 years old at the time of his death and was later memorialized in the History of Town of Middleboro as being:
"Prudent yet enterprising, conscientious in the performance of every duty, always courteous yet unassuming, and the cordiality of his manners and his thoughtful regard of others won the respect of the entire community."

                       A Massachusetts House resolution passed shortly after Stetson's death in 1899.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Piamus (Primus) Walter Jones (1844-1890)

  Hailing from the county of Baker in Georgia, the obscure Piamus Walter Jones is profiled today, and his rather odd first name is worth mention, as there are a total of three variations in its spelling floating around online! While the rare portrait of him above (located in the 1882 work entitled Georgia's General Assembly of 1880-81) has his first name listed as "Primus", his gravestone in Baker County denotes it as "Piamus". The spelling is further complicated by a listing for a "Priamus Walter Jones" on a few Rootsweb genealogical-related websites. Despite all of these spelling variations floating around, I usually consider a person's gravestone to be the final arbiter in such matters, hence why Jones is listed as "Piamus (Primus) Walter Jones in the title to his article here. 
   A lifelong resident of the Peach State, Piamus/Primus W. Jones was born in Meriwether County on May 10, 1844, the thirteenth of fifteen children born to John Jones (1802-1874) and his wife Elizabeth Strozier (1807-1892). The Jones siblings are listed as follows in order of their birth: Anne V. (1826-1920), John W. (1828-1849), Reuben (1829-1874), Franklin Chandler (1830-1891), Willis (1831-1843), Louisa (1832-1916), Orrie (1832-unknown), Emily (1833-1861), Chandler (1834-1899), Enoch Callaway (1837-1916), Desdemona (1838-1841), Morgiana (1840-1915), Piamus (1844-1890), Otis Smith (1845-1880) and Montgomery (born 1848). John Jones was a prominent planter, and was "in his time the leading cotton planter of Georgia." Piamus/Primus is remarked by Georgia's General Assembly as "enjoying a happy boyhood, mixing hunting, fishing and outdoor sports with work and study" but no mention is given as to where he received his schooling.
  Engaged in farm work while still a young man, Jones learned the cotton planting trade from his father and became very successful, eventually becoming the owner of 2,500-acre cotton plantation in Baker County. Jones is remarked by more than one source as being a veritable king of the cotton industry, and was noted as having "carried his name into every cotton mart in the world by yearly bringing in for sale the first new bale of cotton for the season."  In addition to cotton, Jones is mentioned as raising a large vegetable crop at his residence. Because of his being the producer of the first new bale of cotton every year, Jones was labeled in his death notice as the "first bale man", a fitting tribute for a man so involved with the cotton industry.  
   A lifelong bachelor, Jones is recorded as "growing more cotton to the plow than any other man in Georgia" and with his statewide reputation as a farmer and grower, came calls for him to run for public office. In 1880 he won election to the Georgia State House of Representatives from Baker County and served in the legislative sessions of 1880-1881, 1886-1887, 1888-1889. During the 1886 session Jones introduced legislation advocating the construction of an experimental agricultural station in Georgia, and his advocacy of this idea received a write-up in the January 1886 edition of the Southern Cultivator, Volume 44, posted below.

  Jones's tenure in the state legislator was marked as one of "zeal and faithfulness unbiased by partisan feeling", and was well respected by his Baker County constituency. Jones died at the age of 45 on February 9, 1890, in Atlanta and was memorialized in his Calhoun Times death notice as "being one of the most advanced farmers in the state." He was interred in the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta and his stone (shown below) bears the inscription "First Bag Man" which I found quite perplexing when I first saw a picture of it a few weeks ago! Not knowing of his cotton-planting activities at the time I wondered if Jones was indeed a "bag-man" (a collector/distributor for racketeers). While this proved not to be the case, the "bag-man" inscription is actually a lasting testament to his bringing in the first cotton bale at the beginning of the season. A portrait of his gravestone (found via the website) is shown below.

Jones' death notice from the February 13, 1890 edition of the Calhoun Times.

Courtesy of the website.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Gibbs Woodward Skiff (1810-1894)

Portrait from the History of Litchfield County, Connecticut, 1881.

  After a bit of a break from writing and posting oddly named political figures here on the site, we return after a month-long hiatus to highlight an oddly named state representative from Connecticut, Mr. Gibbs Woodward Skiff. This obscure man was a lifelong resident of the Nutmeg State and was a prominent 19th century resident of the town of Sharon, representing it in the Connecticut State Legislature in the early 1850s.
   Born on July 13, 1810 in the town of Sharon, Gibbs W. Skiff was one of three sons born to Samuel Skiff Jr. (1781-1862) and his wife Jerusha Woodward (died 1844). Gibbs Skiff is recorded by the 1881 History of Litchfield County as having "passed his early life in the customary employments of a farmer's boy" and received his education in schools native to the Sharon area. During his teenage years, Skiff began teaching school in Sharon during the winter months while engaging in farm work during the summer.
  On January 1, 1834, Skiff married fellow Sharon resident Abigail E. St. John (1811-1884), with whom he would have one daughter, Lucy, born in 1854. A pious man, Skiff was for many years a parishioner at the Congregation Church in Ellsworth, Connecticut and served as a deacon for the church for thirty-six years (1859-1895). In addition to his being a deacon, Skiff is remarked as being the clerk of the local Ecclesiastical Society for nearly sixty years! The History of Litchfield County also denotes that Skiff was "justly entitled to take rank as one of Sharon's leading and successful agriculturalists", owning over 300 acres of farmland with his son-in-law Giles Skiff.  
  While the life of Gibbs W. Skiff was centered mainly as a private citizen in Sharon, he did maintain an active involvement in local political matters, serving at various times as a town selectman and assessor. In 1851 he was elected to one term in the Connecticut State House of Representatives from Litchfield County. 
  Throughout the latter period of his life, Skiff continued to be an active citizen in Sharon, serving as town assessor whilst also engaged in his earlier mentioned church activities. He died at age 84 on November 15, 1894, and was subsequently interred alongside his wife in the Ellsworth Burying Ground in Sharon. He was memorialized by local pastor Giles Frederick Goodenough (1871-1960) as "a man excessive in his modesty and of retiring disposition, he was strong in his tender conscience, his sound judgment and unfailing kindness of heart."

                                       From the Journal of the Connecticut Legislature 1851.