Saturday, June 8, 2013

Rockingham Preston Earhart (1837-1892)

Portrait from the "West Shore" July 8, 1890.

   What do you get when you combine the misspelled name of a Sylvester Stallone film, the  last name of a famed American soul musician and the last name of a pioneering American aviatrix? The name Rockey Preston Earhart of course! This interestingly named Oregonian gained distinction as a state representative, state adjutant general and Oregon Secretary of the State, and also attained high rank in the Masonic fraternity. Having an unusual first name didn't stop Earhart from establishing his name in Oregon public life, which he did across multiple fields of interest.
   An Ohioan by birth, Rockey Preston Earhart was born in Franklin County on June 23, 1836, being the son of Samuel Earhart. His mother's name has been lost to history. Earhart attended schools local to the Franklin County area and in 1855 relocated to the Oregon Territory, traveling via the Isthmus of Panama. Remarked by the 1882 Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon as "having superior clerical abilities", Earhart's talent for clerical work got the attention of the U.S. Army, who appointed him as clerk under then Quartermaster General Philip Sheridan, later a prominent Union General during the Civil War. Earhart's clerkship ended in the early 1860s, whereafter he entered the general merchandising business for a short period. Around 1862 he became engaged with the United States Indian Agency, being named as an agent in the settlement of War Springs. He served as an Indian agent until 1865, and during his tenure assisted with claims involving the Modoc and Klamath tribes residing in the area.
  On July 2, 1863 Earhart married in Polk County to Ms. Nancy Ann Burden (1844-1934), with whom he would have four daughters, Addie Alice (1864-1926), Eva Temperance (1865-1947), Clara (1867-1944) and Agnes Leah (1872-1920). All four of the Earhart daughters were referenced by the Pen Pictures as being "general favorites in society circles." An interesting notice on Earhart's marriage has been found via the Rootsweb genealogical website, which notes that Nancy A. Burden "married a man named Rockingham Preston Earhart". If Rockey Earhart's given first name was indeed "Rockingham" the strangeness factor has been upped significantly!***
   After leaving the employ of the U.S. Indian Agency Rockey Earhart again entered the general merchandise business. In 1870 he became a stockholder in the newly erected Chemeketa Hotel in Salem and was named as its manager, serving in this position for about a year. Also in 1870 Earhart made his first jump into politics when he won election to the Oregon State House of Representatives from the county of Marion. His tenure in the legislature lasted one term, and during his service is remarked by the Pen Pictures of Representative Men of Oregon as being "instrumental in securing the first appropriation for the erection of public buildings in the state."

From the 1931 history of the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree, Part II.

   After leaving the legislature Earhart returned to his earlier career as a clerk, becoming chief clerk in the office of then Oregon Surveyor General Benjamin Simpson in 1874. Earhart remained here until 1878, when he mounted a campaign for Secretary of the State of Oregon. He was elected to this office later that year, and resigned his position as chief clerk to accept the post. He was unanimously reelected to this position in the election of 1882 and in 1885 took the reins as Oregon State Adjutant General, an office that he would occupy for two years.
   While well-known in Oregon political circles, Mr. Earhart is also noted by many sources of the time as being one of the most distinguished living Masons then residing in the American Pacific Northwest. He was initiated in Salem's Masonic Lodge #4 in May 1864 and just a few short years later was named as its Master. In the succeeding years Earhart held "nearly every office in the gift of the fraternity" and also held high rank in the Multnomah Chapter #1. He served as Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge for six years (1872-78) and during the 1880s held the office of Grand Commander of the Knights Templar of the State of Oregon. Earhart also attained the prestigious 33rd degree during his lengthy affiliation with Masonic order.
   In 1888 Rockey P. Earhart was returned to the Oregon State House of Representatives, this time representing the county of Multnomah. During the 1889-91 term he sat on the house committees on Ways and Means and Public Buildings.  In 1890 he was named by then President Harrison as Collector of Customs for the city of Portland.  Earhart was also affiliated with the insurance business during his later years, and held the posts of President of the Union Banking Company and manager of the Northwest Fire and Marine Insurance Co.
   Earhart was still serving as Collector of Customs when he died at age 54 on May 11, 1892 at his home in Portland. His death was attributed to the affects of Bright's disease and dropsy, and he was cremated in the days following his death. Earhart was later interred at the River View Cemetery in Portland. Earhart was memorialized as an "unusually engaging conversationalist " and that "on the announcement of his death sadness and sorrow were depicted on the faces of his many friends." The obituary of Mr. Earhart (provided below) was published in the May 11th edition of the Evening Capital Journal, which notes that the flags at the Oregon state capital flew at half-mast in remembrance of him. 

From the Sunday Oregonian, published January 16, 1921.


An Addendum, April 18 2016

  Nearly three years after publishing the above article I've found several more instances that confirm that "Rockey" Preston Earhart's first name was indeed Rockingham! Amazing how this has turned out! I have tweaked the above article slightly, and have also changed the name title to "Rockingham" to reflect that "Rockey" was his nickname instead of his actual first name!

1 comment:

  1. There is some data that his mother was Elizabeth Ritz: https://secure.sos.state.or.us/prs/personprofile.do?recordNumber=126705

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