Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Winburn Milbury Staples (1855-1939)

From the Bridgton News, September 18, 1896.

  A standout figure in the history of Bridgton, Maine, Winburn Milbury Staples wore many hats during his life, being a real estate dealer, banker, steamship owner, academy trustee, and town selectman and treasurer. In the late 1890s, he was elected to the first of two terms in his state's house of representatives and followed that by winning election to the state senate, where he also served two terms. The son of Charles and Sarah (Center) Staples, Winburn Milbury Staples was born in Naples, Maine on February 8, 1855.
  Early in his life Staples attended the Naples district schools and at age ten removed with his family to South Bridgton. He continued his schooling at the Bridgton High School and Bridgton Academy, and during young adulthood briefly taught school as a means of income. In the late 1870s, he joined his uncle's mercantile store as a clerk and continued in that role until 1881. Staples married in November of that year to Idalyn Grove (1856-1939), to whom he was wed for nearly sixty years. The couple's lengthy union remained childless.
  Having accumulated ample knowledge as to the daily running of a general store, Winburn Staples resolved to go into business for himself, and in 1881 opened his own general merchandise store in Bridgton, which he continued to operate for several years. This period of operation also saw Staples begin to dabble in real estate, and in the mid-1880s he and a partner erected a building in downtown Bridgton that would house not only the town post office but also the local Knights of Pythias Lodge. This building would be followed by the construction of a grocery store, which Staples conducted as a "thriving and extensive business". Further business successes came to Staples when he developed plans for a small steamboat on Lake Highland for recreational use for tourists and townspeople. This steamer, called the "Lady of the Lake", held at least ten passengers and would burn wood for fuel. This period of activity also saw him assume the posts of manager and treasurer of the Bridgton and Harrison Electric Co. from 1897-1902.
   Active in the civic and fraternal life of his town, Staples was a longtime Mason, Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows Lodge member, as well as a "faithful member" of the Congregationalist church. Staples would make his first foray into the political life of Bridgton with his service as town treasurer from 1888-90. He would later be elected to the Bridgton board of selectmen and served as board chairman from 1894-96. Desiring for further political honors, Staples announced his candidacy for the Maine House of Representatives in 1896 and was elected to that body in September of that year "by a handsome vote of 380, or all but eight of the Representative votes cast in town." Several days following his election Staples' life and public doings were highlighted by the Bridgton News, which acknowledged him as:
"Generous and public spirited, he is ever ready to lend a helping-hand towards promoting the advancement and prosperity of the community in which he lives; and that he is a popular and respected member thereof the size of his plurality at Monday's election adequately demonstrates!"
From the Bridgton News, May 18, 1900.

   Taking his seat at the start of the 1896-98 session, Staples would be one of over two dozen Cumberland County representatives serving in that session, and also had some oddly named company, his fellow representative being Plantville Preston Larrabee (also from Cumberland County) who was profiled here in April 2017. Staples' first term saw him serve on the committee on Inland Fisheries and Game, and in 1898 won his second term in the legislature, a term that saw him named to the committees on Commerce, County Estimates, Mercantile Affairs and Insurance, and Manufactures.
  In the 1900 election year, Staples set his sites on a seat in the state senate, to which he was elected later that year. The 1901-03 senate session saw Staples named to the committees on Bills in the Second Reading, Counties, Indian Affairs, Manufactures, and he would go on to win a second term in late 1902.
   Following the conclusion of his second senate term in 1905 Staples recommenced with his earlier business dealings in Bridgton and in 1908 was one of the organizers of the Bridgton National Bank. Soon after its establishment, Staples was named as its president, continuing in that role until his resignation in 1919. This bank would later fail during the Great Depression and in 1933 was "absorbed by a Portland concern." Seeing the need for a local bank, Winburn Staples personally wrote a check for $10,000 to be used to open a Portland bank branch in Bridgton, and along with $25,000 given by the town of Bridgton, a branch of the Cresco Bank and Trust Company was eventually developed.
  Staples continued to be heavily involved in the affairs of his town well into his eighties, and during the winter months resided with his wife in Florida. In the late 1930s Idalyn Staples' health eventually failed and on February 10, 1939, she died at a Maine sanitarium, aged 82. Winburn Milbury Staples survived his wife by less than a month, dying at a St. Petersburg, Florida hospital on March 7, 1939, aged 83. A double funeral for both Staples and his wife was held on March 11 in Bridgton and both were later interred at the Forest Hill Cemetery in that town.
  Now, nearly 80 years following his death, Staples memory remains alive in Bridgton in the form of the Noble House Inn, his former home that was built in 1903. First converted to a bed and breakfast in the 1980s, the inn continues to be sought out by tourists today.

From the Bridgton News, March 10, 1939.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Benneville Yeakel Shelley (1823-1892), Benneville Keim (1790-1872)

From the Omaha Daily Bee, May 4, 1902.

    The figure of Benneville Yeakel Shelley looms large in the early history of Niobrara, Nebraska, a moderately sized village located in Knox County. A physician born and raised in Pennsylvania, Shelley was later a resident of Iowa and arrived in the Nebraska Territory with a head full of dreams in 1856. Heading a small band of settlers, he marked off an area of land on the Niobrara River that would eventually become the town of Niobrara. In the years following his arrival in what would become Knox County, Shelley went on to further repute, and in the late 1870s was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives for one term.
   Benneville Yeakel Shelley was born in Quakertown, Pennsylvania on April 20, 1823. Deciding upon a career in medicine early in life, he enrolled at the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia (graduating in 1846) and soon after established his practice in that city. In 1850 he resettled in the still young state of Iowa, and after locating at Kanesville (now known as Council Bluffs), continued to operate his practice. 
   Embued like many others of the time with the pioneer spirit, B.Y. Shelley heard favorable reports of the settlement of the Nebraska Territory in the early 1850s, and, by 1855 had made his first visit to Omaha. In March of that year, he helped to incorporate the Nebraska Medical Society and later left Omaha to found a settlement in the then existing Black Bird County, called the Black Bird Hills colony. By early 1856 Shelley had returned to Kanesville, and, with fellow pioneer R.R. Cowan and a small band of settlers, returned to Nebraska in the hopes of establishing a town on the Niobrara river. Finding their desired location on an area of land populated by Ponca Indians, Shelley and his company marked off an area that would evolve into Niobrara. By the summer of 1856 the company (now known as the L' Eau qui Court Company) had returned to Iowa to entice others into settling the new town, and after their return had built several buildings and small garrison named "Old Cabin", which was later subject to a number of skirmishes with the native Ponca population. The natives, angered by the taking of their land, would burn down several of the colony's structures, and the winter of 1856 saw Shelley and three other men hunkered down in Old Cabin, away from the elements and natives.
   Following the incorporation of the L' Eau qui Court Company, Benneville Y. Shelley served as its president and in the summer of 1857, the steamship Omaha arrived at the community, bringing lumber and much-needed supplies. The erection of the settlement's first frame building came shortly thereafter, and in a few months time, Niobrara could boast of a saw-mill, a mercantile store, "a $10,000 hotel" and sixty residents. A post office was also established and in 1857 Shelley was named as the area's first postmaster. Niobrara would later become the county seat of the L'Eau qui Court County, which in 1873 underwent a name change to Knox County, which still exists today.
   In 1859 the L'Eau qui Court Company dissolved and was replaced by the Niobrara Town Company, with B.Y. Shelley being one of its incorporators. By the outbreak of the Civil War Shelley had removed back to Iowa and in 1862 enlisted as an assistant surgeon in the 5th Iowa Cavalry. He served with that unit until the close of the war and was mustered out in August 1865. 

   Certain aspects of B.Y. Shelley's life following his Civil War service remain a mystery. He is recorded in his Omaha Daily Bee obituary as having practiced medicine in Niobrara, Pennsylvania and Council Bluffs, Iowa, and also married and had a daughter, Laura. By the late 1870s he had removed back to Niobrara and in 1878 was elected to the Nebraska House of Representatives from Knox and Holt Counties. Taking his seat at the start of the 1879-81 session, Shelley was named to the committees on Federal Relations, Privileges and Elections, and Blind, Deaf and Dumb, and Insane Asylums.
  Shelley's life following his service in state government saw him remove back to Council Bluffs, Iowa, "making the latter place his headquarters" during the last five years of his life. Shelley died at his home in that city on February 26, 1892, aged 68, and was survived by his daughter, Laura. He was later interred at the Walnut Hill Cemetery, also located in Council Bluffs.

From the Omaha Daily Bee, February 29, 1892.

From the "Keim and Allied Families" 1899.

   A member of the distinguished Keim family of Berks County, Pennsylvania, Benneville Keim was a banker and hardware merchant in the city of Reading and also served as its mayor for three consecutive terms. The son of Johannes (John) and Susanna (DeBenneville) Keim, Benneville Keim was born in Reading on November 30, 1790. A family with its roots in the United States dating back to the 17th century, Johannes and Susanna Keim's children also included George DeBenneville Keim (1778-1852), a former chief burgess of Reading as well as a leading banker and iron manufacturer.
  Benneville Keim married on August 2, 1812, to Mary Hoch (last name also spelled High), with whom he had eleven children. Several of these children would die premature deaths, but amongst their children who lived to adulthood was William High Keim (1813-1862), who would follow his father into public service. He preceded his father as Mayor of Reading (serving from 1848-49) and later represented Pennsylvania's 8th district in Congress from 1858-59. A term as Pennsylvania Surveyor General followed and from 1861-62 was a Brigadier General of Volunteers during the Civil War.
  Following his marriage, Benneville Keim entered into banking in Reading, and from 1824-1843 was affiliated with the Farmer's Bank of Reading, serving at various times as its president and cashier. Keim would hold the post of president of the Reading Water Company and in 1836 joined with his nephew George May Keim (a future Congressman and Reading mayor) in establishing the Keim, Whitaker, and Co., later to become an "extensive iron works, one of the earliest and most important metal works of that region." Both uncle and nephew would also have a hand in the founding of the Reading Iron and Nail Works in June 1838.
  Benneville Keim didn't enter the political life of his city until well into his sixties, being elected as Mayor of Reading in 1858 as a candidate of the American Party (also referred to as the "Know Nothing" Party.) He would be returned to office for two more terms in 1859 and 1860 and was defeated for reelection in 1861 (having run as a Republican), losing out to Democrat Joel B. Wanner.
  A longtime parishioner at the First Universalist Church of Reading as well as a founding incorporator of the Charles Evans Cemetery in that city, Benneville Keim continued to reside in Reading until his death on October 30, 1872, one month short of the 82nd birthday. Widowed in 1833, he was later interred alongside his wife at the Charles Evans Cemetery.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Coursin Lafayette Mohney (1860-1922)

Portrait from the Memoirs of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, 1904.

   Lifelong Pennsylvania native Coursin Lafayette Mohney was for many years a leading contractor and builder in Pittsburgh, and in addition to his chosen profession also ventured into politics, being a member of the Pittsburgh common council and later a Progressive Party candidate for the Pennsylvania state senate. The son of Samuel and Elizabeth (Cribbs) Mohney, Coursin Lafayette Mohney's birth occurred in Clarion County, Pennsylvania on September 9, 1860. He attended public schools in the county of his birth and later embarked on a teaching career in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania that extended three years.
   Relocating to Pittsburgh in the early 1880s, Mohney continued schooling in that city, enrolling at the Duff's Mercantile College. Following his graduation, Mohney entered into a career as a building contractor, a vocation that saw him operate "throughout the country." The succeeding years saw Mohney's reputation in his field soar, with the Memoirs of Allegheny County noting:
"Some of the largest and finest buildings in Pittsburgh, Allegheny City and the surrounding country have been erected under his personal supervision, and few contractors are better known or sustain a high reputation."
   Coursin Mohney married in 1883 to Verona, Pennsylvania native Anne DeGraff (1861-1942), and the couple's near four-decade union saw the births of four children, Eva, Clyde (1887-1966), Clare, and Paul. In 1901 he joined the contracting firm of Langenheim, Cochran, and Co., and two years later made his first run for elective office, successfully running for the Pittsburgh Common Council. His time on the council saw him named to the committees on surveys and public works and retained his seat until 1907.
   In 1914 Mohney set his sites on higher office, becoming the Washington Party candidate for the Pennsylvania state senate. An offshoot of Theodore Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" or Progressive Party, the Washington Party ran a number of legislative candidates in the Pennsylvania elections of 1912 and 1914. Hoping to represent the state's 42nd senatorial district (comprising part of Allegheny County), Mohney would poll a total of 3,273 votes on election day, over 5,000 votes behind winning Republican candidate William Joseph Burke (1862-1925).
   Mohney's life following his senatorial candidacy saw him employed as a carpenter and maintained memberships in several fraternal clubs, including the Pride of the West, the Odd Fellows, the Ancient Order of United Workmen, the Junior Order of United American Mechanics, and the Masons. Notice has been found as to his declaring bankruptcy in February 1917 and on December 5, 1922, he died at his Pittsburgh home, aged 62. He was survived by his wife Anna and both were interred at the Union Dale Cemetery in Pittsburgh.
From the Pittsburgh Daily Post, December 8, 1922.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Kurnal Rufus Babbitt (1864-1920)

Portrait from Noted Men of the West, 1902.

   The following biography marks a return to Colorado to examine the life of attorney Kurnal Rufus Babbitt, and after locating several sources listing him as "Judge Kurnal R. Babbitt", I was led to believe that at some point he'd served as a jurist. While this turned out to not be the case, Babbitt was referred to as judge due to his 1894 candidacy for judge of the District Court of Colorado, an election he lost by a few thousand votes. Following this defeat, Babbitt was a resident of New York City, where he gained additional distinction as a leading attorney in the city. 
   A native of Michigan, Kurnal Rufus Babbitt was born in Salem, Washtenaw County on June 25, 1864, being the son of Rufus and Ellen Lorena (Cady) Babbitt. He would attend the Michigan State Normal School (graduating in 1884) and after deciding on becoming a lawyer, enrolled at the Columbian University in New York. He earned his bachelor of laws degree in 1889 and shortly after graduating removed to Washington, D.C. to accept a position in the U.S. Post Office Department.
  Babbitt's time in Washington extended until 1891, whereafter he went west to Colorado. First settling in Aspen, he opened a law practice here and later took an interest not only in Colorado's mining opportunities but mining law. Through the 1890s and 1900s, Babbitt became well known throughout the country through his "specialized knowledge of mining law", a reputation that "drew to him as clients many of the largest mine owners and mining companies."
  In 1894 Babbitt made his lone instance of entering politics, in that year becoming a candidate for District Court judge for Colorado's 4th judicial district. A brief mention of his candidacy in the November 15 Rocky Ford Enterprise lists him as a candidate not only of the Democratic party but also the Populists, and his opponent that year was Republican Ira Harris. Babbitt would lose out at the polls that November, garnering 7,355 votes to Harris' winning total of 10, 472. Despite his loss, Babbitt would be referred to as "judge" by many sources of the time, with his New York County Bar Association obituary noting that:
"From that time on, he was called Judge Babbitt. He was rightfully called Judge, fore he was judicial in his thoughts, in his advice and in his conduct.

From the Political Campaigns of Colorado.

   In the year following his candidacy, Kurnal Babbitt married to Lucie Cullyford (1863-1937) and later had three children, Eleanor, Genevieve (1900-1957), and Theodore. Babbitt continued to reside in Colorado until 1908, whereafter he removed to New York City, and for the next decade built up another impressive law practice, being a "General Counsel for many very large corporations and important banking interests." 
   The last year of Babbitt's life saw him in a state of impaired health, being afflicted with a "complication of disorders". He died at his New York City home on January 24, 1920, aged 55, and was survived by his wife Lucie. His remains were later returned to Michigan for burial in the Babbitt family plot at the Rural Hill Cemetery in Northville. Proving that he was a far from forgotten public figure, the town of Argo, Minnesota later changed its name to Babbitt in his honor, and still exists today.

From the New York Sun, January 25, 1920.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Jhilson Payne Cummins (1838-1918)

Portrait from "Freemasonry in Three Parts", 1903.

   A resident of several states during a life that extended nearly eighty years, Jhilson Payne Cummins was an Indiana native and Civil War veteran who served in local political offices in Iowa and Kansas before relocating to the Oklahoma Territory, where he was a probate judge and member of the territorial house of representatives in the early 1900s. Cummins was later a resident of California, where he died and is buried. The son of Daniel and Nancy Ellender (Collier) Cummins, Jhilson Payne Cummins was born in Jackson County, Indiana on November 26, 1838.
  While little information could be found in regards to Cummins' upbringing in his birth state, he is recorded as having attended school in Clear Lake, Indiana and at age 17 began a brief career as a school teacher in Elkinsville. In 1858 he married his first wife Nancy Emmons, who died just eight months later. In 1862 Cummins remarried to Sarah Lutes (1846-1883), with whom he had several children, including Nancy Emeline, Esther Eveline, Howard (1868-1896), Charlotte (1870-1914), Thomas (died in infancy in 1872), George Marion Arthur (1876-1921), James Payne (1878-1960) and Fred. 
   At the dawn of the Civil War Jhilson Cummins signed on for service, enlisting in Co. G of the 5th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. His service with that unit extended three months, and in 1863 reenlisted, this time serving amongst the ranks of Co. H., 120th Indiana Infantry. He was elected as First Lieutenant and would see action at the "battles of Atlanta, Campagne, Columbus, Franklin, and Nashville", and in 1865 was promoted to Brevet Major. That same year Cummins assumed the post of Judge Advocate for the North Carolina military district and was honorably discharged in January 1866.
   Following his return to Indiana Cummins engaged in the study of law and enrolled at the University of Indiana at Bloomington. He earned his bachelor of laws degree in 1867 and after being admitted to the bar relocated to Adams County, Iowa. Settling in the small town of Quincy, Cummins opened his practice and in 1869 won his first political office, being elected as Adams County auditor. He would serve in that capacity from 1870-75 and in the latter year removed to Minneapolis, Ottawa County, Kansas. 
  Within a few years of his establishing roots in Ottawa County, Cummins had become a leading citizen in his community, being a founder (and later president) of the Bank of Minneapolis, and later held the presidency of the Bank of Clay Center. He would continue his banking interests in Lincoln County in the late 1870s, founding the Bank of Lincoln County (noted as being the first such financial institution in that area), and as a man of means, devoted thousands of dollars for investment in the county. Tragedy would strike Cummins in 1883 when his wife of twenty years, Sarah, died aged 37. He remarried in the year following her death to Lenora Davis, about whom little is known. Following her death, Cummins became a three-time widower, and in January 1893 married for a fourth time, taking Malinda Pemberton Davis Benedict (1846-1934) as his wife.
  After turning over his interests in the bank to his head cashier in 1884, Cummins was appointed as a U.S. Commissioner for the Oklahoma Territory in 1889. Shortly after his settlement in Kingfisher County, Cummins was elected as the first probate judge for the county in 1890 and in 1894 won a second four-year term.

From the Hennessey Clipper, November 2, 1894.

   In 1902 Cummins returned to political life when he entered into the race for representative from Kingfisher to the Oklahoma Territorial legislature. His candidacy was reported on favorably by the Hennessey Clipper, which, in addition to touting his civil war service and judgeship, acknowledged him as 
"A man of legal attainments standing well at home and throughout the Territory, having the confidence of the public with large acquaintence over the Territory and among public men a pioneer resident and taxpayer, Judge Cummins possesses all the qualifications necessary for a first class legislator."
   Jhilson Cummins emerged victorious at the polls that November and took his seat at the start of the 1903-05 session. His one term in that body saw him named to the committees on Elections and Legislative Apportionment, the Judiciary, Insurance, Manufactures and Home Industries, Printing, and the Penitentiary and Reformatory. Cummins' term also saw him author a three-volume work on the history of Freemasonry, entitled "Freemasonry in Three Parts: Being a Sketch of Its Origin, Spread and Object", published in 1903.
   After leaving office in 1905 Cummins continued to reside in Kingfisher and in 1912 was again a candidate for county judge of probate, losing out in the August Democratic primary. In 1914 he and his wife removed to Santa Rosa, California, where he resided until his death. In early 1918 his health began to fail and for several weeks following was confined to his bed, his death occurring on March 2, 1918, at his home. Cummins was survived by his wife Malinda and was later interred under a small military marker at the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery

From the Hobart Weekly Democrat Chief, March 18, 1918.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Barnwell Pickins Stephenson (1861-1947)

From the History of Bee County, 1939.

  One can always count on the Lonestar State to field an interestingly named political figure, and that is precisely the case with the recent discovery of Barnwell Pickins Stephenson, a leading citizen of Beeville, Texas who was elected as that city's mayor in the early 1910s, having previously served a term as mayor of Yoakum (located in Lavaca County.) Born in Beeville on June 14, 1861, Barnwell Pickins "B.P." Stephenson was one of several children born to Hugh John and Martha Ann Elizabeth (Hollan) Stephenson
  Recorded as the second white child to have been born in Beeville, young Barnwell removed with his family to the neighboring town of Yoakum while still a child, and grew to adulthood in that town. His residency in Yoakum saw him emerge as a leading cotton buyer in the vicinity, as well as a "dealer in general merchandise". In the early 1890s, Stephenson owned and operated the Yoakum Opera House, was an organizer of the Yoakum Masonic Lodge and was an early stockholder in the First National Bank of Yoakum, which had been established in 1890. 
   Barnwell P. Stephenson married to his first wife, Elizabeth Josiah Cleaveland (1861-1916), sometime in the early 1880s, and the couple's marriage saw the births of at least three children, Tena, William B., and Hugh. Following her death in 1916 Stephenson remarried in December 1918 to Alice Ainsworth, who preceded him in death in 1933. He remarried for a third time in April 1937 to a Mrs. E.M. Baggett, who survived Stephenson upon his death in 1947. 
   Stephenson began his political career in Yoakum with his service as a notary public, and from 1898-99 served as Mayor of Yoakum for one term. In 1905 he removed with his family back to Beeville where he continued in cotton buying, and in 1913 was elected as Beeville's mayor, defeating his opponent C.A. Heldenfels by a vote of 214 to 70. His term extended two years and several years after leaving office joined with his son Hugh in establishing a grocery store, operating under the firm name of B.P. Stephenson and Son. Stephenson himself would lose interest in the business and by 1923 had his portion of the business purchased by his son, who continued to operate it alone.
  B.P. Stephenson returned to cotton buying after leaving the aforementioned business, finally retiring in the late 1930s. He remained active well into his eighties, being a church deacon and Masonic lodge member. Late in his life, Stephenson was awarded a life membership in the Yoakum Masonic Lodge, which he had helped to organize decades before. On January 7, 1947 Stephenson died at his Beeville home, aged 85, and was shortly thereafter interred at the Glenwood Cemetery in that city. 

From the January 9, 1947 Beeville Bee-Picayune.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Dannitte Hill Mays (1852-1930)

From the History of Florida, Past and Present, Vol. III, 1923.

   The Strangest Names in American Political History makes its first stop in Florida for 2018 to examine the life of multi-term state representative, gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Representative Dannitte Hill Mays, a man best known to this author as that funny named Florida congressman whose first name sounds as if it belongs on the periodic table of elements. Curious name notwithstanding, Mays was for over twenty years a political power player in the Sunshine state, serving three terms in the state legislature (including one as speaker of the house), a two-time candidate for Governor, and in 1908 was elected to the first of two terms in Congress. 
   A son of Richard Adams and Eliza (Williams) Mays, Dannitte Hill Mays was born in Madison County, Florida on April 28, 1852. Bestowed the unusual name Dannitte (an ancestral family name) upon his birth, Mays was not the first child in his family born with that name, an older brother (name spelled Daunitt Hill Mays) having died in November 1851. Dannitte Mays' formative years were spent upon his father's plantation and attended the public schools of Savannah, Georgia. From 1866 to 1870 he was a student at Washington and Lee University, and despite having the opportunity to go into multiple fields, Mays elected to pursue farming as a full-time career. 
  Returning to Florida, Mays began his career in agriculture in a "small way", and by the time his two terms in Congress had concluded owned large land holdings in Jefferson, Madison and Leon Counties, totaling "7,000 acres and his farms are operated by tenants." In 1880 he married to Emmala "Emma" Bellamy Parkhill (1861-1954), and the couples near five-decade marriage saw the births of six children, Elizabeth B.P. (?--?), Mary Eliza (1884-1957), Sarah Croom (?--?), Emmala Mays (1889-1975), Dannitte Hill (1893-1966), and Charles Parkhill (1902-1981).
  Dannitte Hill Mays began his political career in 1888 when he was a delegate from Jefferson County to the Florida Democratic state convention. Two years later he was elected to the first of three terms as Jefferson County's representative to the Florida state legislature. His first term from 1891-93 saw him named to the committees on Rules and State Institutions, and after winning a second term in late 1894, sat on the committees on Finance and Taxation, Public Health, Public Printing, and Railroads and Telegraphs during the 1895-97 session. Mays would also chair the Appropriations committee during this session.
  Elected to a third term in late 1896, Mays was elevated by his fellow representatives to the position of Speaker of the House at the start of the 1897-99 session, and during this term held no committee assignments. Following the conclusion of his final house term in 1899, Mays set his sights on higher office, and in 1900 his name was put forward as a candidate for Florida Governor at that year's Democratic convention held in Jacksonville. Despite an impressive showing in the balloting, Mays would fail of nomination by only a few votes, the nomination instead going to William Sherman Jennings, who later won the election and took office in January 1901. In 1904 Mays again made a run for Governor in the Democratic state primaries but was defeated by Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, who in turn was elected as Governor that November.

From the Pensacola Journal, January 26, 1908.

  After two losing gubernatorial candidacies, Mays' political fortunes changed in 1908 when he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Florida's 3rd congressional district. As one of five Democratic candidates vying to succeed outgoing congressman William B. Lamar, Mays faced an uphill battle. After announcing his candidacy in January 1908, Mays' campaign platform and previous legislative service was touted in a number of Florida newspapers, and Mays himself detailed the following tenets of his political platform in the April 16, 1908 edition of the Madison New Enterprise, including:
  • An improved Florida waterway system to meet the demands of Florida's "growing commercial importance."
  • An improved rural free delivery system
  • Government aid in building good roads
  • Backing labor unions in the state 
  In addition to the above platform, Mays would relate that as a longtime farmer and lifetime Florida resident, he was very much in touch with the needs of the average citizen, remarking that:
"As a Floridian born and bred, I invite and solicit my people's support. Having been a farmer always, I may have missed some of the strenuous features of modern life; but I claim that this will not alienate from me, a tiller of the soil, the support of the people, nor disqualify me from serving them faithfully as Congressman."
  Following his win in the 1908 Democratic congressional primary, Mays faced off against Republican William H. Northrup in the general election that November. When the votes were tallied it was Dannitte Mays who coasted to an impressive victory, garnering 9, 314 votes to his opponents 1,712. Taking his seat in Congress in January 1909, Mays' first term saw him named to the committees on Private Land Claims and Reform in the Civil Service.

From the Tallahassee Weekly True Democrat, June 5, 1908.

   Announcing his bid for reelection in 1910, Mays' reelection campaign was advertised in newspapers throughout his district throughout that year, which intoned his accomplishments during his first term. As the Pensacola Herald detailed in its May 8, 1910 edition, Mays:
"Has done and is doing earnest work for his district--he has had over half a million dollars appropriated for the rivers and harbors of his district for one year--he has had rural routes increased nearly 100 per cent, and will continue to work until every family has daily mail, carriers have better pay, and good roads throughout the district from one end to the other. He is a farmer, and is making every effort to assist the farmers of the district, and encourage agriculture."
  In November 1910 Dannitte Mays polled another impressive victory, besting his Republican opponent, Eric Von Axelson, by over 7,800 votes. During the 1911-13 session Mays was named to the committees on Expenditures in the Department of Agriculture, and Post Offices and Post Roads. In the 1912 election year, Mays entered the Democratic primary but later withdrew, the nomination instead going to Emmett Wilson
  Following his time in Congress Mays returned to farming and partook in two of his favorite leisure activities, hunting and fishing. Dannite Mays died in Monticello, Florida on May 9, 1930, several days after his 78th birthday. He was survived by his wife Emma, who, after her passing at age 93 in 1954, was interred alongside her husband at the Roseland Cemetery in Monticello.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dionysius Crandell Oliver (1834-1899)

D. Cran Oliver during his time as Athens police chief.

  Undoubtedly one of the most unusually named men ever to serve in the Georgia legislature, Dionysius Crandell "D. Cran" Oliver represented Banks County for one term and following his removal to the city of Athens served as its police chief for several years. While there is a dearth of resources mentioning him, an obituary for Oliver (published in the December 8, 1899 edition of the Athens Weekly Banner) helped significantly in terms of information! Sharing an odd first name not only with the Greek god of winemaking but also several other figures from ancient history, Dionysius Crandell Oliver was born in Georgia on November 14, 1834, the son of the Rev. Jackson and Mary Maxwell Oliver
  No information could be located on Oliver's early life or education, excepting notice of his marriage in Madison County on October 9, 1853 to Emily J. Sanders (1832-1912), to whom he was wed for over forty years. The couple would have several children, including Dionysius Jackson (born 1860), Sanders B. (1861-1937), George Pierce (1868-1875), Adessa Ann, Thomas Britton, and Roberta Estelle.
    A year following the start of the Civil War, D. Cran Oliver enlisted in May 1862 as a private in Co. A., 24th Regiment Georgia Volunteer Infantry, with which he would serve through the duration of the hostilities. In August 1862 he was promoted to Quartermaster Sergeant and is recorded (under the name Dionicious Cran Oliver) as having surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia on April 9, 1865.
  At the conclusion of his service, Oliver returned to his home state, where for years afterward was engaged as a Methodist minister, both in Banks County and Athens, Clarke County and in 1877 served as chairman of the first annual Banks County Sunday School Celebration. A lifelong temperance advocate, Oliver is remarked in his Athens Weekly Banner obituary as "having never known the taste of alcoholic stimulants or tobacco. Such a record few men in this world can boast", and was a member of the Independent Order of Good Templars, then a leading prohibition organization.
  D. Cran Oliver made his first foray into Georgia political life in late 1877, being elected as Banks County's representative to the Georgia General Assembly. Taking his seat at the start of the 1878-79 session, he would be named to a "committee to investigate the expenditures in the Geological department." Oliver's prohibition leanings also impacted his one term in the legislature, and in 1879 he introduced a bill to
"Provide for the prohibition of the sale of spiritouous, malt or vinous liquors in the different counties of this state, and to provide for the punishment therefor, and for other purposes."
   Following his legislative term, D. Cran Oliver removed to Athens, Clarke County, Georgia, where he would reside for the remainder of his life.  In 1883 he entered into the race for Athens police chief and was elected, serving in that post until 1891, and again from 1894-95. Oliver's time in office saw him attend the 1895 national gathering of police chiefs in Washington, D.C., and after leaving that post in December of that year began a trek through Arkansas and the Indian Territory, where he would "preach the gospel."

From the Atlanta Constitution, December 30, 1895.

  After his return to Georgia Oliver returned to an active role in the civic life of Athens, being a member of the local Masonic and Odd Fellows lodges, and in January 1898 was named as Commander of the Cobb-Deloney Camp of United Confederate Veterans. In early December 1899, he visited Macon, Georgia as a receiver in bankruptcy to take stock of a bankrupt business in that city. On December 4, while still on business in Macon, Oliver died unexpectedly at age 65, the cause of death being attributed to heart disease, according to the Athens Weekly Banner. Oliver's remains were later returned to Banks County for burial at the New Salem Cemetery. He was survived by his wife Emily, who died aged 79 in 1912 and was subsequently buried in Barrows County, Georgia.
  As an addendum, one should note that in addition to the spelling given here, Oliver's name is most often listed as "D. Cran" and his middle name spelled as both "Crandell" and "Crandall".

From the Athens Weekly Banner, December 8, 1899.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Lectured Crawford (ca. 1842-1901)

Portrait from the Atlanta Constitution, July 19, 1891.

   The name would be Lectured Crawford. A truly unusual name at that, and hiding behind that curious name is the story of a former slave and African Methodist Episcopal minister who was elected to three terms in the Georgia legislature, his service occurring after the Reconstruction period (1867-1876.) As a black man holding political office in the South at a time of intense disenfranchisement for African-Americans, Crawford represented McIntosh County during the entirety of his service, a county that had produced Georgia's first African-American legislator, Tunis Gulic Campbell, in 1868. 
  Shortly after the discovery of Crawford's name via a Georgia state register several years ago, a search on his life's backstory yielded minimal results, and this remained the case until the location of the July 19, 1891 edition of the Atlanta Constitution, which offered up not only an extremely rare portrait of Crawford but also some background on his life leading up to his career in public life. The following lines aim to give an adequate biography of this early African-American legislator and restore him to prominence, now more than a century after his death.
  Born into slavery in McIntosh County, Georgia, Lectured Crawford's birth-year is recorded as 1842 in his brief biographical sketch in the Atlanta Constitution. While information regarding Crawford's early life remains scant at best, he is remarked in the Atlanta Constitution as having "never went to school a day in his life, but acquired a fair education by the light of the pine knot fire." He is known to have a married a woman named Emma prior to 1880, as he is listed with her (under the name Lectried Crawford) in the McIntosh County portion of the 1880 U.S. Census. Notice is also given in this census to his mother, named Tena. 
   Crawford's brief biographical snippet in the Atlanta Constitution mentions his briefly teaching school and in the 1880 census lists his occupation as a carpenter. For many years he was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and was still engaged in the ministry during his legislative service. 
  Lectured Crawford' s political career in McIntosh County is intertwined with the life of Tunis Gulic Campbell (1812-1891), another curiously named black politician who in the late 1860s began building an impressive political machine in and around McIntosh County, Georgia. A former state constitutional convention delegate, Campbell was elected to the Georgia state senate in 1868 and following his service saw a number of his fellow freemen elected to political office in McIntosh County. In total, the citizens of McIntosh County would send five African-Americans to the state legislature between 1868 and 1907, including the two men mentioned above. 
  Crawford's political service prior to the legislature saw him serve four years as a justice of the peace in his native town of Darien, and in 1872 served as mayor pro tem of that town. In 1886 he was elected as a Republican to the Georgia legislature, and the 1887-88 session saw him as one of two African Americans serving in the house, Anthony Wilson of Camden County also being elected.

From the Savannah Morning News, October 15, 1886.

 Crawford's service in the 1886-88 session saw him named to the committees on Education and the Lunatic Asylum, and during his term took to the floor of the house to speak on behalf of a bill for disabled Georgia Confederate veterans. During this speech, Crawford remarked that:
"The United States government has pensioned her soldiers, both white and black, who fought for her in the late war. I do not see why Georgia should not pension her wounded veterans, although I am well aware that my race will not get a dollar of pension money."
  Looking back on Crawford's remarks from 130 years retrospect, a black legislator taking to the floor of the capitol to argue on the behalf of wounded Confederate veterans is, at least to this author, a surreal scene. One can only wonder what Crawford's fellow legislators (many of whom were Confederate veterans themselves) made of his actions, and despite the racial animus of the time, Crawford's remarks were reported on favorably by newspapers of the time, warranting notice in both the Atlanta Constitution and the Milledgeville Union-Recorder.

From the October 13, 1888 edition of the Atlanta Constitution.

From the July 19, 1891 Atlanta Constitution.

    In October 1888 Crawford was defeated in his bid for reelection by Charles M. Tyson, and despite Crawford's contesting the election results, Tyson served out a full term in the legislature. Following his loss, Crawford served as chairman of the McIntosh County Republican committee until his resignation in late 1888 and in 1890 won his second term in the house. During the 1890-92 session, he sat on the committees on Labor and Labor Statistics, the Penitentiary, and Temperance and was one of two black representatives to serve in that session, along with John M. Holtzendorff. This session also saw Crawford come out firmly against a House measure that would reinstate whipping posts for chain gangs in the state. As a member of Georgia's Colored Alliance, Crawford was the only legislator to speak against passage of the measure, which was later passed by a house vote of 96-8.
  Lectured Crawford was defeated for reelection in October 1892 by Democrat C.H. Hopkins. Despite his loss, Crawford took his defeat in stride, remarking that the election was one "of the fairest and best" he'd seen in McIntosh County. In remarks printed in the Americus-Times Recorder, Crawford explained that
"My votes went into the ballot box and they we counted all right, and I have nothing bu praise for the managers and clerks...The trouble is that I did not get enough votes, and of course I was defeated, but it was fairly and squarely done. Of course, people told lots of lies and succeeded in defeating me. However, I hope Mr. Hopkins will do all the good things he has promised. We shall see."
  In addition to his political service and his being a minister in the AME church, Lectured Crawford was also an active club man in McIntosh County, holding memberships in the Masons, Knights of Pythias, International Order of Odd-Fellows, and the Knights of Labor.  Elected to his third term in the legislature in 1900, Crawford was again one of two African-Americans serving in that session and held seats on the committees on County and County Matters, Education, Labor and Labor Statistics, and Special Agriculture. 
  Lectured Crawford's final house term saw him in a state of impaired health, only being able to make it to two sessions of the legislature. Crawford died in office in December 1901, succumbing to consumption in his room at an Atlanta boarding house. He was survived by his wife and a daughter (the latter's name unknown) and following his death was returned to his hometown of Darien for burial, an exact cemetery location for him being unknown at this time. In the days following his passing, Crawford's death made the pages of several Georgia newspapers, which noted that he was fondly remembered by his house colleagues and that he:
"Was always respectful and conservative. He had the good will of his white colleagues in the house and of his neighbors in McIntosh County. He was well up on public affairs and resolutions of respect to his memory were passed by the house."
                                                        From the Milledgeville Union-Recorder, Dec. 17, 1901.

From the Montgomery Monitor, December 19, 1901.