This oddly named New Yorker is one Commodore Perry Vedder, a prominent resident of the town of Ellicottville who was elected to multiple terms in both houses of the New York State Legislature between 1877 and 1891. In his younger years Vedder distinguished himself on the Civil War battlefield, being brevetted as a Lieutenant Colonel. In addition to his political and military service, Vedder also found fame in a variety of business and civic endeavors throughout the New York area.
I first located the name of Commodore P. Vedder in a 1985 edition of the New York State Red Book that had been discarded from my school library way back in 2001. Since becoming aware of him over a decade ago, Mr. Vedder has been one of my personal favorite strange political name discoveries, not only for his having a naval title for a first name, but also for his being a truly prominent local political figure (he's buried less than forty miles away from my home!)
Commodore Perry Vedder was born in Ellicottville on February 23, 1838, the son of local farmer Jacob Vedder and his wife Margaret Gouverneur. Young Vedder most likely received his first and middle names in honor of "Commodore Perry", which, as it so happens, is the title of two famed American naval commanders. The first, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819), the "Hero of Lake Erie", gained lasting distinction during the War of 1812, while the other is Oliver's younger brother Commodore Matthew C. Perry (1794-1858), who helped instigate American diplomatic ties and trade with Japan. Despite both of the Perry brother's prominence, Commodore Oliver Perry looks to be the most likely candidate, as his status as a naval hero had been known for two decades prior to Vedder's birth in 1838.
Commodore P. Vedder attended the common schools in Ellicottville and during his youth worked as a boatman on the Erie canal and later went aboard the brig Alert on the Great Lakes. After accumulating enough savings from his various jobs, Vedder returned to Cattaraugus County, New York and entered the Springville Academy in the late 1850s. During his time at this institution, Vedder taught school in the Cattaraugus area until 1862, when he signed on for service as a private in the 154th Regiment, New York Infantry. He is recorded as serving in this regiment until the close of the hostilities and participating in the battles of Wauhatchie, Lookout Valley, Bentonville and Chancellorsville. Vedder was captured at the last named battle and spent nearly two weeks as a prisoner of war in the Libby Prison at Richmond, Virginia. After being paroled in the fall of 1863, he went on to serve under General William T. Sherman on his famed march to the sea from Atlanta and concluded his military service as a Lieutenant Colonel of Volunteers.
After returning home, Vedder began pursuing the study of law at the Albany Law School and in 1866 was admitted to the state bar. In the following year Vedder was named as a register in bankruptcy, and held this post for eight years. In November 1871 he was elected to his first term in the New York State Assembly as a Republican, defeating Democratic nominee Charles Carey by a "majority of 401." Appointed to the judiciary committee during his second year in the assembly, Vedder was noted as a "man of fine personal appearance and unusually pleasing address, and evidently has a brilliant career yet before him." He continued to serve in the assembly until 1875, and it was in this year that he was elected to a two year term in the state senate.
This portrait of C.P. Vedder appeared in Volume 1 of The Men of New York, published in 1898.
Vedder's first term in the senate saw him serve as Chairman of both the committee on Indian affairs as well as Internal affairs. He left the senate in 1877 and three years later was appointed by then Governor Alonzo B. Cornell as New York State Assessor, serving from 1880-1883. Vedder's tenure in the assessor's office was mentioned in the second volume of Genealogical and Family History of New York as one of particular note as "it is asserted that no man ever did more to lighten the burdens of taxation upon those least able to bear them." In his last year of service as state assessor, Vedder was once again elected to the New York State Senate. Taking office in January 1884, he held a seat on the committee of Taxation and Retrenchment and during his senate service (which extended from 1884-1891), was the author of "the New York state laws taxing gifts, legacies and collateral inheritances". It was also noted that as a result of Vedder's work in the senate "millions of dollars have been paid into the treasury, and a permanent source of revenue has been provided for the state."
Within a year of leaving the senate Commodore P. Vedder married Chicago native Genevieve Wheeler in July 1892. This was in fact his second marriage, as his first wife, Bettie Spires, had died in Ellicottville in 1884. Commodore and Bettie Vedder are also mentioned as having a son named John Vedder (born 1868) who predeceased them both in 1882 at age 14.
Commodore P. Vedder as he appeared in the Genealogical and Family History of New York.
Even after leaving the senate Vedder continued to be a active participant in Empire State political and business circles. In 1894 he was named as a delegate to the New York State Constitutional Convention and also held the presidency of fourteen corporations in and around the New York area, including: the Bank of Ellicottville (president for 20 years), the State Bank of Norwood (president for 24 years), the Falls Electric Power and Land Company, the New York and New Jersey Ice Lines, and the Elko Milling, Mining and Manufacturing Company of Randolph, New York. In addition to his aforementioned business interests, Vedder is also mentioned as being a major figure on the New York social scene, being a member of the Holland Society for over two decades, an active Mason, and was a member of both the Republican Club and Lawyer's Club of New York City.
After many years of service in New York public life, Commodore P. Vedder died on December 24, 1910 in his room at the Hotel Majestic in New York City. The 72 year old Vedder had been seriously ill only a few hours and the cause of death (as listed in his obituary below) was heart disease.
Vedder's obit as it appeared in the December 25, 1910 edition of the New York Herald.
Earlier today I (as well as the Strangest Names In American Political History book) made a visit to Commodore P. Vedder's final resting place in Ellicottville. After some searching, his impressive monument was found below the sloping terraces of the Sunset Hill Cemetery. And now for some photos from today's visit!
As one can see by the above photograph, Vedder's tombstone is one that certainly befits a state legislator, businessman and military figure! It's also quite nice to see that someone still cares enough about Vedder's legacy to plant flowers in the large urns on either side of his stone. Although no notice is given as to his service in the senate or assembly, a GAR marker and American flag are prominently situated next to his small burial stone located nearby.
Getting at Vedder's gravesite also proved to be an adventure in and of itself, as one has to descend down two sloping terraces to stand in front of it. As it had rained earlier today, the ground was nice and slippery, making it even more fun on the walk down!
This is Vedder's actual gravestone, located about ten or so feet in front of the large burial marker shown in the above photographs. Next to Vedder's gravestone are those of his wife and son, as well as other later descendants of his. Also buried in the Sunset Hill Cemetery is William Grant Laidlaw (1840-1908) a native of Scotland who served as a U.S. Representative from New York from 1887 to 1891.
In addition to the very active life of Mr. Vedder, there are also four other politicians with the unusual names Commodore Perry. Like the man profiled above,f these men were all named in honor of Commodore Oliver Perry. Read on to find out more!
Born in Maysville, Missouri on May 12, 1851, Commodore Perry Meek would find distinction in his adopted home state of Wyoming, serving terms in both houses of the state legislature. Meek attended schools in his native Maysville and spent the majority of his formative years helping out on the family farm.
In 1871 the then twenty- year old Meek removed to Cheyenne, Wyoming and for a number of years engaged in the transport of freight to various towns on the Wyoming frontier. In the late 1870s and 80s Meek also engaged in mining, ranching and the raising of cattle, eventually becoming the proprietor of a large ranch and owner of "sixteen hundred acres of deeded land and over one thousand head of cattle."
Meek married in 1909 to Ms. Emma Brown, a native of Illinois. The two were married for over twenty years until her death in 1930 at age 63, and the couple are recorded as being childless. Commodore P. Meek made the jump into state politics in November 1912 when he won election to the Wyoming State House of Representatives from Weston County. Meek served one term in the legislature the concluded in 1915, and in 1919 was elected to the Wyoming State Senate. During his senate service he held a seat on the committees on Prohibition and Railroads and Transportation, and later chaired the committee on Stock Raising and Stock Laws.
After leaving the senate in 1923, Meek returned to his earlier ranching and business interests in his native Weston County. He died at age 92 in 1943 and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Upton, Wyoming.
This obscure man is Mr. Commodore Perry Craig, a native of Pleasants County, West Virginia who served terms in both the state house of delegates as well as the senate. Craig was born in the town of Sistersville, West Virginia on August 1, 1869, the son of James and Edith Craig. Criag received a common school education and as a youth was employed as clerk in a general store in West Virginia. Craig eventually removed to Liverpool, Ohio during his twenties and here found employment as a stone paving and contracting bookkeeper.
Shortly after returning to Pleasants County, Craig began pursuing the study of law and in 1894 married Cora Alice Wilson (1874-1944), with whom he had five children: Iva, Pearl, Vesta, Grace (1906-1967) and Commodore Perry Jr. Within a few years of his marriage, Craig was elected as the Prosecuting Attorney for Pleasants County, serving in this office until 1900.
In 1904 Craig won election to the West Virginia State House of Delegates and continued to hold his seat until 1908, when he became a State Senator. In addition to serving in the senate, Craig also held the chairmanship of the Pleasants County council from 1908-1910. Other than the preceding information, little else could be found in regards to Craig's life. He died at age 65 on November 26, 1933 and was subsequently buried in the IOOF Cemetery in Saint Mary's, West Virginia. The rare portrait of him above was located in a West Virginia State Legislative manual, published during Craig's time in the state legislature.
From the Raleigh Register, June 12, 1932.
Following on the heels of Commodore Perry Craig, Commodore Perry Stover was another man with this odd name that was a member of the West Virginia State House of Delegates. A lifelong resident of West Virginia, Stover was a longtime educator in the county of Raleigh, where he served two terms as superintendent of schools.
Born in Raleigh County on December 21, 1851, Commodore P. Stover was the son of Silas and Mary Jane Workman Stover. He married on July 28, 1873 to Martha A. Thompson (1855-1941) with whom he had 11 children, Commodore (born 1873), Abagail (1874-1950) Van Buren (born 1876), Virginia Lee (1877-1968), Everett (1880-1973), Morrison (born 1882), Silas (1884-1966), Robert Hugh (1886-1955), Philip (1888-1912) Alethia (born 1890)
and Mary (born 1894).
Commodore P. Stover embarked upon a career as a school teacher early in his life and is recorded as following this route for many years afterwards. He served two terms as Raleigh County superintendent of schools from 1885-1889 and was also entrusted to hold a number of county offices, serving as county assessor, justice of the peace and deputy United States Marshal. In 1895 Stover won election to the West Virginia State House of Delegates and took his seat at the beginning of the new year's legislative term.
After leaving the legislature in 1898 Commodore Stover returned to Raleigh County, where he died on May 25, 1932 at age 81. He was later interred at the Workman's Creek Cemetery in Clear Creek, West Virginia.
From the "Local and National Poets", 1892.
Louisiana attorney Commodore Perry Thornhill is yet another man blessed with the unusual names "Commodore Perry". A practicing lawyer in the parish of Caldwell for many years, Thornhill served as District Attorney for Louisiana's Fifth District for four years and in 1913 was selected as a delegate to the Louisiana State Constitutional Convention.
Born in Caldwell Parish on June 13, 1858, Commodore P. Thornhill was the sixth born son of John and Matilda Blackburn Thornhill. Commodore's early education occurred in schools local to Caldwell Parish and in 1881 he entered into the study of law. He was admitted to the bar in 1884 and would establish a practice in the city of Columbia. In May of that year he was appointed to the police jury of Caldwell Parish and sometime later became that body's president. Thornhill would also serve a short period as Mayor of Columbia (his dates in office being unknown), but later resigned due to "his duties as an attorney were too pressing to admit of his time being divided."
Commodore Thornhill married in Caldwell in 1889 to Eva Bridger (1868-1952) and the couple would become parents to two children, John Bridger (1890-1978) and Marion (1892-1945). In 1907 Thornhill was elected as District Attorney for Louisiana's Fifth District (comprising the parishes of Caldwell, Winn and Jackson) and served in this capacity from 1908-1912. In 1913 he served as a delegate to the Louisiana Constitutional Convention and sat on the committee on the Law during his time at the convention.
While active as an attorney and public official Commodore Thornhill gained additional notoriety as a writer of prose, having a number of his poems published in periodicals of the time. Three of these poems (entitled "A Reflection", "Night" and "Extract") was published in their entirety in the 1893 edition of the "Local National Poets of America" and can be read here.
Following his time at the Constitutional Convention Thornhill continued to reside in Caldwell Parish, dying there on September 7, 1948 at age 90. He was survived by his wife and son and was interred at the Columbia Hill Cemetery in Columbia, Louisiana.
This stern looking individual is Commodore Bruce Roberts, an Indiana resident who found his political and business fortune in Montana. Like the men profiled above, Roberts was endowed with the unusual first name "Commodore" but unlike the four men before him, was not named in honor of Commodore Matthew Perry.
Born in Fulton County, Indiana on December 9, 1875, Commodore B. Roberts was the first born child of George and Lovina Roberts. "C.B." or "C. Bruce" (as most sources list him) attended school in the town of Knox, Indiana and as a youngster found employment driving a wagon and working in a grocery store. As an adolescent he worked as a traveling salesman for a grocery house based out of Ft. Wayne, Indiana, and later returned to Knox to begin a venture in the restaurant business. Roberts eventually made his way to Chicago, Illinois in the 1890s, where he found work as chief clerk for the Nickel Plate Railway Company.
Roberts removed to Montana in 1902 and soon after his arrival became engaged in the loan and insurance business. He continued in this profession until 1909, whereafter he began an interest in the manufacturing of lumber. Over the succeeding years, Roberts built up a substantial sawmill and logging railroad for his business and logged many thousands of acres of timber throughout Montana. In 1903 he married an Englishwoman named Annis Elliott, and one son was born to the couple, Elliott John Roberts, in 1904. Commodore and his wife later adopted a second child, Gladys Lucile (1913-1995) in December 1913.
While still actively involved in the lumber business, Commodore Roberts ventured into banking, founding and serving as the vice president of the Bank of Kalispell, Montana and later purchasing the Cascade Bank located in Great Falls. During this time he was also elected to the Montana State Senate, where he served from 1915-1919, representing the county of Lincoln.
Roberts continued to be actively involved in business and fraternal organizations during his later years, serving as chancellor commander of the Knights of Pythias as well as being the treasurer of the Great Falls Lodge of Perfection. C. Bruce Roberts died in La Porte, Indiana on June 3, 1941 at age 66 and was buried in the Pine Lake Cemetery in that town. His wife Annis survived him by two decades, dying in Connecticut in January 1963 at age 82. The portrait of Roberts shown above was featured in the the third volume of the 1921 work Montana, Its Story and Biography, edited and compiled by Tom Stout.