Friday, May 19, 2017

Courtland Hawkins Smith (1850-1892), Courtland Cushing Matson (1841-1915), Courtland Craig Gillen (1880-1954)

Smith's obituary from the Alexandria Gazette, July 25, 1892.

   Alexandria, Virginia mayor Courtland Hawkins Smith received brief mention in May 9th's write up on Kosciusko Kemper, a three-term mayor of Alexandria. Smith was the man who defeated Kemper in the race for mayor in 1878 and, of the several political figures I've profiled on my visit through Virginia-Washington, D.C., Smith is arguably the most obscure. No portrait of Smith could be found to post here, and a death notice for him has proved an adequate substitute in lieu of a portrait. 
    A lifelong native of Virginia, Courtland Hawkins Smith was born on August 29, 1850, being one of several children born to Francis Lee and Sarah Gosnelle Vowell Smith. Little is known of Smith's early life, excepting notice of his service in the Confederate Army and his being a lawyer. Smith married on December 15, 1875 to Charlotte Rossiter,  a native of New York state. The couple were wed until her death in 1880 and would have two children, Francis Lee (died in infancy in 1877) and Courtland Hawkins (born 1878). 
    Courtland H. Smith served as a member of the Alexandria city council prior to his election as mayor of Alexandria, that election occurring in 1878. He defeated three-term mayor Kosciusko Kemper that year and would serve one two-year term (1879-1881) and declined renomination. Smith's tenure as mayor saw him preside over Alexandria's centennial anniversary in 1880.
   Following his term as mayor Smith served as assistant adjutant general of Virginia, and was a member of the staff Virginia Governor Fitzhugh Lee at the dedication of the Yorktown Monument and the inauguration of President Cleveland in 1885. Smith continued to reside in Alexandria for the remainder of his life and on the day of his death accompanied his sister into Washington on a shopping excursion. While visiting the city, Smith suffered a "sudden pain", which he tried to ease with a large dose of morphine. Described as being "accustomed to the use of the drug", the dosage Smith took appears to have led to his death, as he was brought to his home in an unconscious state, and died in the evening of July 22, 1892, never having regained consciousness.
   Remarked by the Alexandria Gazette as having been "genial, whole-souled and generous to a fault", Courtland Hawkins Smith was preceded in death by his wife Charlotte and both were interred at the Presbyterian Cemetery in Alexandria. On the same day as my visit to the grave of Kosciusko Kemper I was able to seek out the Smith family plot, located a few hundred yards away from Kemper's burial location. Surrounded by a wrought iron gate, the plot is quite cramped, as several members of the family are interred in close confines to one another. And now some photos from the trip!

Portrait from the Men of Progress of Indiana, 1899.

  While Courtland Hawkins Smith' notoriety was centered mainly around Alexandria, Virginia, there were several other political figures named "Courtland" who made substantial inroads into state and national politics, one of these men being four-term Indiana congressman Courtland Cushing Matson. Regarded as one of Greencastle, Indiana's favorite sons, Matson had previously served terms as county prosecuting attorney and in 1888 was the Democratic nominee for Governor of his state.
   In can safely be said that politics ran in Matson's blood. The son of state representative John C. Matson (who was also a Whig candidate for Indiana Governor and U.S. Representative) and the former Margaretta M. Woelpper, Courtland Cushing Matson was born in Brookville, Indiana on April 25, 1841. He removed with his family to Greencastle at age ten and shortly thereafter began attending school in that city. Deciding upon a legal career, Matson enrolled at what is now DePauw University, with his studies being interrupted by the Civil War. Enlisting as a private in Co. K. of the  16th Reg. Indiana Volunteers, Matson later saw action with the 6th Regiment Indiana Volunteer Calvary and would be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1863. Weik's History of Putnam County denotes that Matson 
"made a gallant soldier and a most creditable record, having participated in all the important battles in the West up to Atlanta, in 1864, also took part in numerous skirmishes in Sherman's campaign."
   Matson was honorably discharged in October 1865 and returned to Indiana to resume his law studies. He would join his father and Solomon Claypool in a Greencastle based law firm that would extend until John C. Matson's death in 1870, whereafter the younger Matson and Claypool continued the practice. Courtland C. Matson married in Greencastle in March 1871 to Mary Farrow (1851-1893). The couple would later have four children, Smith Corbin (1872-1936), Rees Farrow (1874-1937), Nellie (1877-1941) and Mary Lydia (1877-1906). Upon Solomon Claypool's removal to Indianapolis in 1873 Matson continued to practice alone (briefly taking a partner mid-decade) until 1880, and made his first move into state politics in 1868 when he won election as District Attorney for the Putnam County Common Pleas Court.
   Matson's time in the above post extended until 1872, and two years following was elected as Prosecuting Attorney for Putnam County (serving until 1874). In 1878 he was named as chairman of the Indiana state Democratic committee. Setting his sights on higher office in 1880, Matson announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Indiana's 5th congressional district. In November of that year, he defeated Republican nominee W.B. Treat by a vote of  17, 411 to 16, 496
   Taking his seat at the start of the 1881-83 session, Matson's first term saw him sit on the committee on Invalid Pensions. He would win a second term in 1882 (defeating Samuel Wallingford) and during the 1883-85 session was again a member of the Invalid Pensions committee. In November 1884 Matson gained a third term (besting George W. Grubbs) and in this session chaired the Invalid Pensions committee, as well as serving on the committee on Revision of the Laws.

Matson during his congressional service.

   Matson's fourth congressional win in 1886 saw him narrowly defeat Republican Ira Chase by a vote of 16,694 to 16,162. Now regarded as one of the most prominent Democrats in Hoosier politics, Matson was tendered the Democratic nomination for Governor of Indiana in April 1888. During a speech accepting the nomination at the state Democratic convention, Matson thanked his fellow party members and predicted Democratic victories not only in the state but nationally, noting that he:
"Felt an abiding and unshaken confidence that the democratic party could win in Indiana and I have believed not only in Indiana, but throughout the whole country, under the leadership of the greatest political chieftain that has been produced during this generation, that the people will set their seal of approval upon the rule of the democratic party under the administration of Grover Cleveland."
Matson for Governor, from the Indiana State Sentinel.

  Running against Matson for Governor that year was Republican nominee Alvin C. Hovey (1821-1891), a former U.S. Minister to Peru and a fellow Indiana congressman. On election day 1888 it was the Republicans who triumphed, with Hovey besting Matson by just over 2,000 votes. Following his gubernatorial loss, Matson returned to the practice of law and shortly thereafter was retained as counsel for the Louisville, New Albany and Chicago Railway Co. In the late 1890s, Matson's son Smith Corbin joined him in practice.
   The last few months of Courtland Matson's life saw him residing with his daughter Nellie in Chicago. In the month's prior to his death, he spent a great deal of time hospitalized, ill health eventually necessitating the amputation of one of his arms below the elbow. Matson's health continued to ebb and on September 4, 1915, he died at the home of his son Rees in Chicago. Matson was later returned to Greencastle for burial alongside his wife at the Forest Hill Cemetery

Portrait from the Greencastle Herald, October 31, 1930.

   Another Hoosier "Courtland" that made his name known politically is Courtland Craig Gillen, who, coincidentally enough, also hailed from the same city as Courtland Cushing Matson. A prominent attorney in Greencastle, Gillen served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives and in 1934 was elected as a state circuit court judge. A lifelong Indiana native, Gillen was born in Putnam County on July 3, 1880, being the son of Columbus and Rachel (Edwards) Gillen. He attended rural schools in the county of his birth and would graduate from the Fincastle High School. Gillen married his first wife Nellie Gough (1879-1919) in the early 1900s and later had one son, Wayne Gough (1903-1990).
   For several years following his graduation, Gillen taught school and in 1901 enrolled at the DePauw University, where he studied law. He continued his studies at the University of Indianapolis and graduated from that school's law department in the class of 1905. After his admittance to the state bar, Gillen practice law in Greencastle and in 1908 was elected to his first public office, that of Putnam county attorney. After five years of service as county attorney (1909-14), Gillen won election as prosecuting attorney for Indiana's 64th judicial circuit, serving from 1917-1919. 
  Following his wife Nellie's death in 1919 he remarried to Nelle Florence Williams (1893-1979) in 1922. In 1928 Gillen began contemplating a congressional run and two years later officially announced that he'd be seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Representative from Indiana's 5th district. After achieving the nomination the Greencastle Herald published several campaign notices booming his candidacy, noting:
"His record of sincerity and accomplishments in his chosen line stamps him as a man well equipped to represent the people of his district. If elected to office Mr. Gillen will give his best efforts to promote legislation beneficial to the farming and laboring interests of his district."
From the Greencastle Herald, November 5, 1930.

   On November 4, 1930, Gillen defeated three-term Republican incumbent Noble J. Johnson by a vote of 43, 355 to 40,919. Serving during the 1931-33 term, Gillen wasn't a candidate for renomination in 1933 and in the following year was elected as judge for Indiana's 64th judicial circuit court. He would serve on the bench from 1935 until his retirement in 1939, whereafter he returned to practicing law in Greencastle. Courtland C. Gillen's health began to fail in the last two years of his life and on September 1, 1954, he died at age 74 at the Putnam County Hospital. He was survived by his wife and son and was interred at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle.

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