Sunday, February 7, 2016

Hedding Anderson Caswell (1851-1913)

Portrait from the Rome Daily Sentinel, April 14, 1913.

    Long distinguished in the business and political life of Rome, New York, Hedding Anderson Caswell served a three year term as mayor of that city beginning in the early 1900s. A lifelong New Yorker, Hedding Anderson Caswell was born in the town of Herkimer on June 13, 1861, being the son of William and Harriett Harter Caswell. The Caswell family removed from Herkimer to Camden, New York when Hedding was a child and from there resettled in Rome when he was nine. Caswell would attend the public schools of that city and also studied at the Rome Free Academy.
   Having entered his teenage years Hedding Caswell left Rome for the big city, traveling to New York City to begin work in a "large boot and shoe store." This line of work proved to have a lasting influence on Caswell, who, after returning to Rome, joined the shoe store operated by Jerome Dillenbeck. After several years in his employ, Caswell and another partner, Fred Marriott, purchased Dillenbeck's interest in the store and began new operations under the name of Caswell and Marriott. Hedding Caswell married on November 24, 1875 to Ms. Arletta Tiffany (1854-1934). The couple would later have four children: Eva (died in infancy in 1879), Tiffany (1880-1906), G. Frederick (1882-1940) and Pauline (1891-1933).
  After a year operating in the aforementioned partnership Hedding Caswell sold his interest in the firm to Fred Marriott and launched a new career for himself by entering into the flour and feed business, being joined in this endeavor by his father-in-law, Erastus Tiffany. The firm of Tiffany and Caswell would continue until Tiffany sold off his interest to a friend, M.J. Wentworth, whereafter the firm underwent a name change to Caswell and Wentworth. Sometime later Caswell would operate this business alone and eventually sold it to his son Frederick.
   Caswell became active in city politics in the late 1880s when he was elected as a member of the Rome Board of Supervisors for the city's fifth ward. In 1895 he was appointed to the city's Board of Aldermen to fill a vacancy and six years later became the Republican nominee for Mayor of Rome. In the election of 1901 it was Caswell facing off against incumbent Democratic Mayor Abner White, who had been in office since 1899. On election day it was Caswell who emerged victorious, receiving a "majority of 189", and in addition to winning the mayoralty the Republicans swept a number of other city offices, in what was referred to as a "real Waterloo for the Democrats."
  Shortly after being told of his election, Caswell gave a brief address to his constituents, stating that: 
"Gentlemen: I am pleased to meet you as Republicans and Democrats of this city, this evening, for you chose to stand up for a man in any spot and place. If fortune spares my life, I will serve all to the best of my ability. You have won a great victory, for not only have we beaten the ring, but a double ring, and I have made the canvass single handed and alone. I will try to give you an administration that you will feel proud of."
   Entering into office in March 1901, Caswell's original term of two years was extended to three by a provision of the city charter in 1903. His term concluded in January 1904 and he was succeeded by Thomas Gill Nock Jr. (1859-1910). Following his tenure as mayor Caswell would never again be a candidate for public office, but did continue to "keep in touch" with city political happenings for the remainder of his life. 
  Caswell's final years were marred by periods of ill health and in April 1913 underwent an operation for "adhesion of the peritoneum and intestines". Following this surgery prognosis for Caswell's recovery appeared to be good, but this changed a few days later, and by Sunday the former Mayor of Rome was dead, being just 61 years old at the time of his passing. He was survived by his Arletta and two of his children, all of whom were interred in the Caswell family plot at the Rome Cemetery in Rome, New York.

Mayor-elect Caswell, from the March 8, 1901 edition of the Rome Citizen.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Geter Crosby Shidle (1831-1889)

Portrait from the Proceedings of the Supreme Council, 1889.

   Prominent Pennsylvania masonic leader Geter Crosby Shidle receives a write up today, and in addition to his being a leading figure in Pennsylvania masonry served as a member of his state's legislature for one term beginning in 1874. A lifelong resident of the Keystone State, Geter Crosby Shidle was born in Pittsburgh on October 14, 1831, being the eldest of six children born to James (1800-1879) and Elmira Crosby Shidle
   Little could be found in regards to Shidle's early life in Pittsburgh or his education. After "attaining his majority" he joined with his father in the latter's wall paper business, operating under the name of Jas. Shidle & Son. Their partnership continued until James Shidle's death in 1878, whereafter Geter "carried on the business under his own name". In the early 1860s Geter Shidle married to Annie Rachel Jackson (1839-1894). The couple were wed for nearly thirty years and had a total of six children: Henry B. (1862-1864), Hunt Mills Butler (died in infancy in 1867), Annie (1871-1875), Geter Crosby (died aged 4 months in 1875), William L. (1876-1878) and Geter Crosby (1879-1945).
   Joining the masonic order in 1854, Geter C. Shidle became a member of the Milnor Lodge No. 287 in May of that year and would serve that lodge as both Worshipful Master and Secretary. He was Knighted into the Pittsburgh Commandary in 1859 and in that same year became a member of the Zerubabbel Royal Arch Chapter, No. 162, of which he would serve as treasurer. Shidle would continue his rise through the masonic ranks and in 1872 became Grand Commander of the Grand Commandary of Pennsylvania. Acknowledged as having a career "honorable to himself and useful to his fraternity", Shidle also held the post of President of the Masonic Veterans of Pennsylvania and was trustee of the Masonic Fund Society.
  In addition to his wall papering business Shidle made headway into other areas of Pittsburgh public life, including being a charter member of the Masonic Deposit Savings Bank of Pittsburgh in 1869.  He would later be named as a Director of the Dollar Savings Bank and Union Insurance Company and in 1874 made his first move into city politics when he was elected to the Common Council of Pittsburgh. In that same year he was elected as one of Allegheny County's representatives to the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
  Taking his seat at the start of the 1875-76 session, Shidle sat on the house committees on Banks, the Library and Retrenchment and Reform. Following his term Shidle was elected as the President of the Masonic Bank of Pittsburgh (serving from 1886 until his death) and in 1887 was appointed by then Governor James Beaver to the Pennsylvania State Board of Charities. Shidle would turn down that job however, sighting a contract to paper the Allegheny County Workhouse as making the position "incompatible." After many years of prominence in Pittsburgh public life, Geter Crosby Shidle died on June 11, 1889  in Atlantic City, New Jersey, having gone there out of health concerns. He was survived by his wife Annie and following her own death in 1894 was interred alongside her husband at the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

Portrait from "A Library of Freemasonry", Vol. 4. 1906.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Veazie Winthrop O' Hara (1891-1979)

Portrait from the Washington Herald, December 26, 1922.

   After a bit of a break we're back to highlight the life of oddly named diplomat Veazie Winthrop O'Hara, who gained wide experience in world affairs all before reaching the age of thirty, as he served as U.S. Vice Consul in France, Italy and Spain. One of a handful of oddly named diplomatic officers profiled here over the past five years, O'Hara's first name "Veazie" is also one of the most unique, this being the first instance of it I've ever seen. 
   The third in a trio of oddly named Kansans profiled recently, Veazie Winthrop O'Hara was born on August 23, 1891 in Partridge, Reno County, Kansas. The youngest of ten children born to Henry Clay and Durilla Loretta O'Hara, Veazie W. O'Hara attended the Fairmount College and in 1916 graduated from Clark University in Massachusetts. Prior to his graduation O'Hara worked in civil engineering and also dabbled in the life insurance business for a time.
   In 1915 Veazie O'Hara entered the U.S. consular service, passing examination in August of that year. He would became a consular assistant in May 1916 and in November of the following year became Vice Consul at Bordeaux, France. He remained in Bordeaux until 1918 and in the next year was transferred to Trieste, Italy. His time in Trieste extended until 192o, and during his service as Vice Consul reported that "their was a great demand for cotton in that city, and that the Banco Italiana di Sconto will take 1,500 bales of cotton on trial consignment."
   O'Hara continued his rise through the diplomatic corps in late 1920 when he was selected as Vice Consul at Barcelona, Spain. Little information could be located on his time in Barcelona, excepting that it lasted two years, with the Washington Herald noting that O'Hara returned to Washington in December 1922.
   Following his return to the United States Veazie O'Hara married in October 1925 to Belle McLean Callum (1889-1977). The couple would later have two daughters, Constance Belwyn and Dorothy Isabel O'Hara. Despite living to nearly ninety years of age little else could be found on Veazie O'Hara following his time in diplomatic service, excepting a death notice which denotes his being a "retired salesman." Widowed in 1977, O'Hara died in Winter Park, Florida on March 1, 1979 at age 87. He was later interred alongside his wife at the Partridge Cemetery in Partridge, Kansas.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Uberto Saunders Griffin (1857-1918)

Portrait from the 1905 Kansas Legislative composite.

  2016 is upon us and following our 2015 "Strange Name of the Year " profile of two term Kansas state senator Peru Italian Blackerby Ping we continue our stay in the Sunflower State for the first write-up of the new year. A man prominent in the political and business life of Nortonville, Kansas for over three decades, Uberto Saunders Griffin represented Jefferson County in both houses of the Kansas legislature during the early 1900s. A native of Illinois, Uberto Griffin was the third born son of Samuel Parker and Eliza Saunders Griffin, being born in the village of Farmington on February 21, 1857
  The Griffin family removed from Illinois when Uberto was just two years of age, settling near Nortonville, Kansas. Uberto would attend school in the nearby city of Atchison and as a young man saw his father Samuel enter political life in Atchison County, as he was elected as a state representative in 1870. Samuel Griffin would later represent Kansas' 2nd district in the state senate, serving in that body from 1875-77. 
   As a young man Uberto Griffin would attend the Milton College in Milton, Wisconsin. After returning to Kansas he joined with his father in the mercantile firm of Griffin and Son, with which he would be affiliated for many years to come. Griffin would marry Luella Jane Hart on October 13, 1880 and later had three children: Geneva (1881-1977), Helen (1890-1973) and William (1893-1972). 
   A longstanding member of the Seventh-Day Baptist Church, Uberto Griffin was "converted at a revival meeting at Pardee" when just thirteen years of age. Griffin's connection to that church extended through the remainder of his life, and he would serve at various times as Sabbath school superintendent and "superintendent of the Nortonville school." Sources of the time also note that Griffin was a "druggist" in addition to operating a mercantile store.
   Following in the footsteps of his father, Uberto Griffin would be elected to the Kansas state legislature in 1900. Taking his seat at the start of the 1901-03 session, Griffin would sit on the committees on Insurance, Mileage and Temperance, as well as chairing the house committee on the WholeIn the 1902 election year Griffin was reelected as a representative
and two years later won a seat in the state senate from Kansas' 5th senatorial district. Shortly after taking his seat Griffin was profiled in a small write up in the Topeka State Journal, which noted that he "would look out for the state university appropriation bills in the senate." During his senate term Griffin chaired the senate committee on Penal Institutions and also was a member of the committee on Charitable Institutions.

                                      Uberto S. Griffin as he appeared in the Topeka State Journal, Jan, 25, 1905.

   Griffin continued to represent the 5th senatorial district during the special senate session of January 1908 and wasn't a candidate for renomination later that year. After leaving the senate Griffin continued in public service when he was appointed as "revenue collector", a post he would hold for several years. Uberto S. Griffin died at his home in Nortonville on November 22, 1918, after having been "in failing health for a number of years." The sixty-one year old former state senator was survived by his wife Luella (who died at age 82 in April 1941) and his three children. Both Griffin and his wife were interred at the Nortonville Cemetery.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Peru Italian Blackerby Ping (1842-1890)

                                                 Portrait courtesy of Mr. Lynn Summers.

   As we say goodbye to 2015 and hello to the new year it's time to devote 2015's final posting to a man who has duly earned the title of  "Strangest Name of the Year". Following in the stead of Omicron Pi Lockhart in 2013 and Uno Sylvanus Augustus Heggblom last December, this year's honoree hails from Kansas, where he served two terms in the state senate from Crawford County. His name? Peru Italian Blackerby PingIf you were like me, your jaw literally dropped to the floor when the sight of that impressive name caught your eye, and hiding behind that unique, lengthy name is story of a man who imbued the pioneer spirit of the mid 19th century, being a resident of Iowa, Kansas and Oregon during his short life of just 47 years. 
   I'd like to begin with a small bit of background as to how this particular article came into being. In October of last year I located the name of "P.I.B. Ping" listed amongst a number of other prominent Kansans in a work entitled "The United States Biographical Dictionary: Kansas Volume", published in 1879. After this initial discovery I had a inkling that I was about to uncover a highly unusual name. Needless to say, I was not disappointed! A Find-a-Grave listing for "Peru Italian Blackerby Ping" soon revealed his full name, and I soon set to work finding out more about the man who is very likely the oddest named individual ever to be elected to public office in Kansas! Sadly, following my initial discovery of Ping in the aforementioned work, little else could be located on him. A Facebook message to the Crawford County, Kansas Historical Society requesting a portrait and further information on Ping went unanswered, and after several months I was beginning to think that Mr. Ping would forever remain that "faceless" Kansas senator with an unbelievably unique name. 
   All of that changed in November of this year when I discovered a link to a portrait of Mr. Ping via, and after leaving a short message there requesting information I began a fruitful correspondence with one Lynn Summers, who, as it so happens, is the great grandson of Peru I.B. Ping!! Besides allowing the use of the rare portrait of Ping featured above, Lynn was also kind enough to send along a number of pertinent details on his great-grandfather's life, including ample information on Ping's stay in Oregon (which I'd previously been unaware of), as well as excerpts of newspaper articles written by him for the Girard Press. I am forever grateful to Lynn for sharing his wealth of knowledge on his great-grandfather, and this article would not have been possible without his help! 
    An Iowan by birth, Peru Italian Blackerby Ping was born in the Des Moines County town of Burlington on September 4, 1842. The son of Thomas (1815-1885) and Sarah Wright Ping (1818-1890), PIB Ping was the eldest of eight children.  The exact reasons behind Ping being bestowed the names "Peru Italian" have unfortunately been lost to history, but one can see that both his parents were certainly "geographically inclined" in regards to the naming of their son! The Ping family would remove to neighboring Wapello County when their son was an infant, and in the succeeding years Thomas Ping would become a standout figure in the town of Ashland, where he is recorded as owning several businesses. PIB Ping was educated at the Ashland Seminary in that county, and is recorded as having attained high marks in the "study of higher mathematics".  
    At the dawn of the Civil War PIB Ping enlisted in Co. I, 1st Iowa Calvary, U.S. Volunteers, serving with that regiment until being honorably discharged in 1864. His service receives prominent mention in the United States Biographical Dictionary, which notes that Ping "was with Fremont during his Missouri campaign" and in 1863 was one of the first Union soldiers to enter Little Rock, Arkansas after it was captured. Ping's father Thomas also served the Union during wartime, being Captain of Co. E. in the 17h Iowa Regiment. Unlike his son, Thomas didn't escape the war unscathed, as he was captured by the Confederates and held prisoner at Columbia, South Carolina for a few months.  
   At the conclusion of his service PIB Ping returned to Iowa and shortly thereafter being reading law in Ottumwa, studying under state representative and senator Edward Holcomb Stiles. He would continue his study there for about a year, and in 1866 arrived in Douglas County, Kansas, where he recommenced with reading law. Ping was admitted to the Kansas bar in 1868 and in that year entered political life for the first time, being elected as County Attorney for Wilson County, Kansas. His time as county attorney extended until 1870, and two years later removed to the town of Girard in Crawford County, his father Thomas Ping having resettled there a few years previously. After reconnecting with his family, PIB and his father established the law practice of "Thomas Ping & Son", which would continue on for a number of years afterward.

                               A small picture of PIB Ping that appeared on the 1877 Kansas legislative composite.

   Within a few years of his resettlement in the Sunflower State PIB Ping had established himself as a prominent figure in the Girard community, and in 1875 reentered political life when he was selected as assistant secretary of the Kansas State Senate. Further political honors came his way the following year when he served as a delegate and secretary to the Kansas Republican State Convention that would nominate delegates for the upcoming Republican National Convention that would be held in Cincinnati. 
   In 1876 PIB Ping received the Republican nomination for state senator from Kansas' 13th district. He would be elected to that office with "the largest majority given any candidate upon the ticket" and entered into a four year term at the start of 1877. Ping proved to be busy as a freshman senator, and his tenure in that body saw him hold a seat on a number of committees, including: Counties and County Lines, Corporations, Education, Engrossed Bills and Roads and Bridges. He would serve as chairman of the committee on Mines and Mining and was acknowledged as having been:
"An active laborious member of the Senate, served his constituency faithfully, securing the passage of several important measures in their interest, and approved himself in the Legislation of that session a man of sound practical wisdom and superior ability."
   As a rising young Republican amongst the ranks of the state senate, PIB Ping worked closely with John James "J.J." Ingalls (1833-1900), the U.S. Senator from Kansas for nearly two decades. Through information provided by Lynn Summers, it is interesting to note that during the latter portion of his senate term Ping was inadvertently caught up in a vote buying scandal involving Ingall's 1879 bid for reelection to the U.S. Senate. Lynn relates that Ping testified in front of U.S. Senate subcommittee that had been investigating the matter, and in the 1880 election year saw his reelection hopes dashed when the editor of the Girard Press newspaper received the Republication nomination for the state senate. One can surmise that Ping's connection to the brouhaha involving Ingalls led to his being passed over for renomination!
  After leaving the senate Ping continued to be active in Republican circles in Girard and in 188o traveled to Middleport, Ohio. On September 4th of that year he married in the neighboring village of McArthur to Viola Morrison (1857-1905), a former resident of Girard. Their union would see the birth of one daughter, Ethel Kate May Ping (1881-1916). 

                                    Viola Morrison Ping (1857-1905), portrait courtesy of Lynn Summers.

   Following his marriage Ping and his wife returned to Girard where PIB continued practicing law. In 1882 he was appointed to the post of "special agent for swamp lands" under the auspice of General Land Office, work that would require his removing to Oregon for a period of three years. Ping's three year sojourn through Oregon and the neighboring states was profiled by Lynn Summers earlier this year in an intriguing write-up published in the Oregon Historical Quarterly. While Ping may have been hundreds of miles away from his family in Girard, he kept in contact with them and his community through a series of letters published in the Girard Press. These "travelogues" amounted to 68,010 words, excerpts of which were collected by Lynn and published in his earlier mentioned article. 
   Based in Portland, Oregon during his first two years as a land agent, Ping's letters back home give the insight of  a mid-westerner on life in the Pacific Northwest, with the author commenting on pertinent topics relating to his life in an unfamiliar territory, including travel, the weather, business life, the political climate, as well as the people he encountered. Through his work as swamp land agent, Ping traveled throughout Oregon's frontier, visiting settlements in Yaquina Bay, Meacham, La Grande and Tillamook Bay. In May 1884 he returned to Girard, Kansas for a two month leave, and during his time home attended a political convention. He would resume his duties in Oregon sometime later, this time returning with his wife and daughter
    Ping's remaining months in the Pacific Northwest saw him visit Victoria, British Columbia, Canada and by June 1885 had returned home to Girard Kansas. He resumed his earlier law practice and real estate dealings and from 1888-1889 served a term as Mayor of Girard. Active in a number of fraternal groups in Crawford County, Ping was a member of the local Odd Fellows Lodge, the Knights of Honor, the Sons of Veterans and the Gen. Bailey Post No. 49 of the Grand Army of the Republic. Peru Italian Blackerby Ping died in Girard on August 22, 1890, a few days short of his 48th birthday. His Girard Press obituary records "consumption' (tuberculosis) as his cause of death and he was later interred under a modest headstone at the Girard Cemetery
  Following PIB's death his wife Viola and daughter Ethel relocated to Middleport, Ohio, where they would reside with Viola's mother and father. Following Viola Ping's death in 1905, Ethel Kate May Ping worked as a bank teller in West Virginia and became a pianist of some note, even attending the Sherwood Music School in Chicago. She would later teach at the Kansas State Agricultural College and married in 1913 to Carl Shafer. The couple would later have two children, John and Mary (born 1916), the latter being the mother of Mr. Lynn Summers.
   In regards to the  help and support I've received in compiling this article, I'd like to state how amazing it is that history (however obscure or forgotten) can connect people, even ones that are thousands of miles away from one another! The appreciation that I have in regards to the help Lynn has given me can't be measured in words! Rarely have I been given such a wealth of information on a politician that I'm writing about, and I'm forever grateful to Lynn for his permission to use some of the photos featured in this article, as well as for his sending along new information on his great grandfather and extended family. Many thanks once again for your help!

P.I.B. Ping's obituary from the Girard Press (courtesy of Lynn Summers).

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Mortier Lafayette Morrison (1836-1919)

Portrait from the Granite State Monthly, 1895.

    Lifelong Peterborough, New Hampshire resident Mortier Lafayette Morrison's life bears a slight similarity to Grosvenor Austin Curtice, profiled here back on December 14th. Both of these oddly named men were lifelong residents of New Hampshire and both were veterans of the Civil War. Both went on to become prominent local officeholders in their respective towns and both served terms in the New Hampshire legislature. Interestingly, both Morrison and Curtis served together during the 1881-83 session, the latter in the state senate and the former in the house.
   Born in Peterborough on July 2, 1836, Mortier Lafayette Morrison was the son of Abraham Perkins (1807-1870) and Mary Robbe Morrison. A prominent Peterborough figure in his own right, Abraham P. Morrison was the owner of a paper-mill as well as a three term state representative, serving in the legislative sessions of 1848, 1862 and 1863. The eldest of two children, Mortier L. Morrison was "prevented in early life from attending school as he wished" due to "severe necrosis of the tibia", and later was affected by typhoid fever. With this lengthy bout of ill health, young Mortier was largely self educated, and after reaching aged nineteen followed his father into the paper-making trade. 
    In August 1862 Morrison enlisted for service in the Civil War, and a little over a month after enlisting was named as Quarter Master's Sergeant of the 13th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry. He succeeded future Governor and U.S. Senator Person Colby Cheney in that post and served until his discharge in mid 1865. On August 9, 1861 Morrison had married Susan Gates, with whom he had one daughter, Alice (1862-1925). Their marriage proved to be short, as Susan died less than a year later on May 1, 1862. He would remarry in March 1866 to Caroline Brooks, their union seeing the births of two further children, Mary Brooks (born 1868) and Abraham Perkins (born 1870.)
   After returning home from the war Mortier Morrison took on the management of his father's paper-mill, which he sold to the firm of Adams and Nay in June 1870. In April 1873 he was selected as treasurer of the Peterborough Savings Bank, and office that he would continue to hold until his death forty-six years later. In addition to his time as treasurer, Morrison would hold a several other local offices in Peterborough, including a twenty-five year stint as town moderator and from 1868-1870 served as town selectman
   In 1878 Mortier L. Morrison was elected to the first of three terms as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Taking his seat at the start of the 1879 session, Morrison served as a member of the committee on Banks. He would be elected to another term in 1881 and in 1915 won his third term in the house. Further political honors came Morrison's way following his first two terms in the house, as he served as Peterborough's delegate to the 1902-03 New Hampshire State Constitutional Convention. In 1918 he was again tapped to represent Peterborough at the State Constitutional Convention of 1918-19, but died during the recess of the convention, his death occurring at Peterborough on May 1, 1919, the fifty-sixth anniversary of the death of his first wife Susan. 
  A longstanding member of the G.A.R., as well as a Mason and Odd Fellows Lodge member, Mortier L. Morrison had been preceded in death by his second wife Caroline in 1906 and his son Abraham in 1913. In an unusual twist, there are two possible burial locations for Morrison, as his name is located on his first wife's stone in the Peterborough Village Cemetery as well as on another headstone at the Pine Hill Cemetery, also located in Peterborough. All in all very curious!

A Mortier L. Morrison G.A.R. encampment ribbon from 1919.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Blackburn Barrett Dovener (1842-1914)

From the Wheeling Daily Intelligencer, June 7, 1900.

   Six term U.S. Representative Blackburn Barrett Dovener can rightly be considered an "old guard" strange name political figure, as I first happened across his name over a decade ago! One of the most prominent public figures in West Virginia at the turn of the 19th century, Dovener represented West Virginia's 1st congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives for twelve years, and had earlier served one term in the state legislature from Ohio County.
  Blackburn Barrett Dovener was born in Cabell County, Virginia (now part of West Virginia) on April 20, 1842, being the son of Dr. Robert George and Julia Ann Barrett Dovener. His early education was gained via the district schools of Cabell County and he would later attend the Parkersburg Academy.  He would put his education on hold to enlist for service at the start of the Civil War, and remained a staunch Union man throughout the conflict. At the age of just nineteen he raised a company of men, Co. A. of the Fifteenth Reg. West Virginia Volunteer Infantry, and during his war service rose from first lieutenant to captain
   At war's conclusion Dovener resettled in the city of Wheeling where he would marry Ms. Margaret Lynch in December 1865. In 1867 he took on the position of chief clerk in the office of West Virginia Secretary of State John M. Pipes and during his service began the study of law. He was admitted to the state bar in 1873 and soon after established his first law practice in the Wheeling. Throughout the remainder of that decade Dovener built up a reputation as an "able and  successful" practitioner of law, and was recorded by the 1903 "Men of West Virginia":
"As a counselor he is safe and wise, and ready in the comprehension of the salient features of a case. As an advocate he is earnest, making his clients case his own. He is ready in debate and fluent in expression. As a man he is affable courteous and polite."
  During the mid to late 1870s Dovener was a member of the firm of Davenport and Dovener, eventually taking over the firm after George O. Davenport's death in 1880. In 1882 he was elected to represent Ohio County in the West Virginia House of Delegates, and served during the 1883-85 session. He was a candidate for reelection to the house in 1886 but was "defeated along with the balance of his ticket." Dovener experienced similar results in 1887 when he was the Republican candidate for Mayor of Wheeling, being defeated by Charles Seabright.

  Returning to his law practice following his mayoral loss, Dovener waited until 1892 to reenter political life. In that year he announced his candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia's 1st congressional district and in that year's election faced incumbent Democrat John Overton Pendleton (1851-1916). On election day it was Pendleton who eked out a narrow victory over Dovener, winning another term by just 206 votes. In 1894 Pendleton decided not to be candidate for renomination, and in that year's contest Dovener was once again the Republican nominee, this time squaring off against Democrat John A. Howard. On election day 1894 Dovener coasted to a 4,000 plus vote victory, garnering 21,822 votes to his opponent's 17, 375
  Taking his seat at the start of the 1895-97 session, Dovener served as a member of the committee on Rivers and Harbors during that term. A candidate for reelection in 1896, Doverner won his second term that November and would subsequently be reelected to four further terms in 1898, 1900, 1902 and 1904. In 1906 he failed to win the Republican nomination for a seventh term (the nod instead going to William P. Hubbard), and upon his retirement from Congress Dovener was given a "lively reception and warm hearted farewell" by his fellow West Virginians.

From the Washington Times, February 18, 1907.

  Unfortunately for Dovener, his time in retirement appears to have not been a happy one. Ill health plagued him for "several years" following his leaving Congress and by January 1914 an application was introduced in the West Virginia courts for a "lunacy commission" in regards to Dovener's state of mind, the application being brought about by his wife Margaret.
   In a Fairmont, West Virginian article published in January 1914, Margaret Lynch Dovener alleged that her husband could no longer "take proper care of himself or manage his financial affairs."  A court hearing began on January 17, 1914 with Dovener representing himself during the proceedings. In what must have been a surreal scene inside the courtroom, Dovener "personally cross examined" each witness and "wound up each inquiry" by asking the witness "Do you think that I'm crazy?" The Fairmont West Virginian also noted that during the proceedings Dovener appeared lethargic and would "frequently drop off into naps while cross examining witnesses."
  On January 22 the court decided in favor of Margaret Dovener's application, with the former congressman being placed in the charge of Ohio County Sheriff A.T. Sweeney. A few day's following that decision, newspaper reports noted that Dovener would be removed to a recently constructed "soldier's home at Nashville, Tennessee." Sometime later he was removed to a sanitarium in Glen Echo, Maryland, where he died on May 9, 1914 at age 72. He was survived by his wife Margaret and a son, Robert. Following funeral arrangements Dovener was interred under a modest headstone at Arlington Nation Cemetery

                                                          Blackburn Dovener during his congressional service.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Amidas Augustus Whitener (1874-1956)

Portrait courtesy of

   A standout figure in the history of Hickory, North Carolina, Amidas Augustus "Mike" Whitener was a one term mayor of that city as well as a two time candidate for the United States Senate. A lifelong resident of Hickory, Whitener was born in that town on August 10, 1874, one of a total of fifteen children born to Laban Socrates and Amanda Catherine Abernethy Whitener. He would attend the Hickory High School and later studied at the Lenoir-Rhyne College, also located in Hickory.
  A.A. Whitener married in June 1898 to Emma Gullick Kestler (1875-1936) with whom he would have ten children: Laban Stewart (died in infancy in 1899), Miriam Adele (1900-1981), Louis (1902-1956), Thomas Manly (1905-1968), Allene (1907-1991), Emma (1908-), E. Cline (1908-), Howard (born 1911), Julian Gaston (1914-2003) and Jane (1921-1995).
  Active in a number of business concerns in his native state, Whitener was a past president and director of the Carolina Glove Co. and a former vice-president of the Phoenix Mills Co. In addition to those businesses Whitener is also recorded as having been an attorney, as well as having an interest in "several Western N.C. cotton mills" and manufacturing plants. 
   Amidas A. Whitener entered local politics in 1899 when he was elected as mayor of the city of Hickory, officially entering into office in 1900. In 1914 he became the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate from North Carolina, and during that election year faced off against incumbent Democrat Lee Slater Overman (1854-1930). On election day 1914 it was Overman who coasted to victory, besting Whitener by a vote of 121,342 to 87, 101. 
  Despite this loss, Whitener continued to be an active Republican, and in 1920 was selected as the temporary chairman of the North Carolina Republican State Convention then being held in Greensboro. A decade following his 1914 defeat Whitener was again a candidate for the U.S. Senate, this time facing off against another oddly named man, Furnifold McLendel Simmons (profiled here back in July 2011.) In a unique contest that pitted a man named Amidas against a man named Furnifold, the "stranger name" won out, as Simmons trounced Whitener by over 110,000 votes. While his loss margin was substantial, 1924 proved to be a busy year for Whitener, as he also served as part of the North Carolina delegation to the Republican National Convention that nominated Calvin Coolidge for the Presidency.
  Following his second defeat for the senate little could be located on the remainder of Amidas Whitener's life. Widowed in 1936, Whitener died of "advanced complications of cancer" on June 4, 1956 at age 81. He was later interred alongside his wife at the Oakwood Cemetery in Hickory. Politics (as well as odd names) continued in the Whitener family in Shuford LeRoy Whitener (presumably a cousin of Amidas) who served four terms as Mayor of Hickory between 1916-1927.