Thursday, August 19, 2021

The World that Made Me


Isaly's was a chain of dairies and stores that began in Mansfield, Ohio, my hometown.

For a simple advertising sign, the image above packs a ton of information. It tickles my memory. 

It is easy to date because coonskin caps such as the one worn by the little boy only became popular after the 1954 premier of Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, a Walt Disney-produced TV show. The headdress worn by the little girl is a reference to the character of Tiger Lily from the Broadway musical adaptation of "Peter Pan," which premiered in 1954 and became a sensation on television when it was first broadcast in 1955. 

I was an ardent fan of both franchises. (I turned 4 in 1955.) I had a Davy Crockett coonskin cap. So did my three brothers. I also knew every song from "Peter Pan." Mom had the album, which in those days consisted of several 78 rpm disks, one song per side. One song in particular, "I Won't Grow Up," spoke to me.

And I was a fan of Isaly's, a dairy and shop that started in Mansfield and in its heyday had locations throughout the Midwest. I was not necessarily a fan of the skyscraper cone depicted here. I was more likely to choose their more famous frozen confection, the Klondike Bar. Ohio was a big dairy producer in those days. The Klondike bar was created in Mansfield, the Good Humor Bar was created in Youngstown, and Big Moo (Borden's) was in Columbus. 

Isaly's also was famous for a non-dairy product, its chipped ham. Ohio produced a lot of pork. Bob Evans Farms was and still is an Ohio company.

In my childhood, on any given day I might have had for lunch a sandwich of Isaly's chipped ham, on Nickel's bread, with a side of Jones Potato Chips, a Stewart's Root Beer to drink and a Klondike Bar for dessert. Every one of those products was made right there in Mansfield.

Mansfield may have been unusual in launching two enduring national brands, but locally-made products such as bread, beer, soft drinks, lunch meat, milk, and ice cream were still the norm back then. 

Stewart's and Isaly's are good examples of this phenomenon. Both started in Mansfield in the 1920s and by the 60s each had become a large, regional operation. Obviously, in each new market they entered they competed against a local incumbent. The most successful of these large, regional companies became national and competed everywhere. Stewart's and Isaly's never became truly national but were absorbed into companies that did.

When I started to work in advertising, local companies were being forced to become more sophisticated about their marketing to compete with encroaching regional and national brands. Even a city as small as Mansfield had advertising professionals able to give them a hand.

I dabbled in advertising in high school and even took a class in it at St. Pete's. My advertising career began in earnest after college in Dayton, Ohio, in 1974, where I made radio and television commercials for a local department store chain, Elder-Beerman. Department store ads dominated newspapers in those days and the stores had huge in-house departments that employed dozens of designers and copywriters. They were just beginning to use radio and television advertising. Elder-Beerman had an in-house agency for that too. There were four of us.   

An uncle worked for an ad agency in Columbus, my next stop. In a city like Dayton or Columbus back then, a typical advertising agency would have as its main clients a bank, a dairy, a meat packer, a bakery, a car dealer, and maybe a retailer or two. My Columbus employer had two divisions. One had that typical portfolio. My uncle worked on the bank account. Our meat packer client was Bob Evans Farms, when it was still run by Bob and his brother.  

Because of my experience in Dayton, I was hired by the other division which specialized in major market department store chains. My big client was Lazarus, a name anyone from Central Ohio will recognize. Lazarus was owned by Federated, a national company that also owned Rikes in Dayton and Shillito's in Cincinnati, but each store was still locally managed and branded.  

Department stores were dying even then. According to some store executives I spoke with, they had been dying since the end of WWII. They were losing share to specialty chains like The Limited (another Columbus operation), and discounters such as Target, K-Mart, Venture, and Wal-Mart, while also competing against established national chains like Sears, Montgomery-Ward and J. C. Penny.

Because none of our department store clients competed directly against each other, we syndicated many of our advertising campaigns by using the same creative for multiple stores.

It was that very particular expertise that took me to Louisville, to an ad agency that had built its business by selling syndicated advertising campaigns to similar local companies that were trying to compete with the national and regional brands then penetrating their markets. It had syndicated campaigns for dairies and bakeries in the past but by the time I got there (1978) that business had pretty much dried up. The national/regional brands had won those categories. Some locals continued as brand names, but they were no longer local companies.

My Louisville employer was at the tail end of its syndicated work for meat packers and had one final hit with a campaign for savings and loan associations. That led to me writing for George Burns, including a four-line song. It was a thrill to work with Burns and his manager, Irving Fein.

That was pretty much the end of the line for local companies in many businesses. Everything now is national or international. Am I pining for 'the good old days'? Not at all, just reflecting on how no matter what you do, whether or not you know it at the time, you are participating in and engaging with something bigger, maybe epochal even. There is always a big picture and you are part of it, we all are.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Hard Pants and Rabbit Holes


Alice gets it.

As a writer I have two audiences, you and me. It’s kismet when they align. When I started this blog in 2005, I intended it as a platform for whatever I felt like writing. In those early days I wrote about American whiskey but also politics, culture, and everyday life. When I moved the show over to Blogger (i.e., Google) in 2007, and made the masthead I still use, I intended to focus more on American whiskey but still would write about 'other stuff' from time to time. I have, but the ‘other stuff’ has been infrequent. 

Around that same time, 2005-2007, I joined Facebook. A lot of my ‘other stuff’ writing moved over there. But although Facebook allows longish posts, I try not to get too wordy. Longer stuff goes over here.

But back to that tension between the two audiences, you and me. It’s there. Because of my long experience in and around the booze business, especially the American whiskey part of it, I feel I have something to offer, something of value and I feel some obligation to share it. Duty but also opportunity. I’m sensitive to the need to tend my brand. Most people who read me are interested primarily in the whiskey stuff. Whiskey writing has never dominated my income stream but it has played an important role in it since about that same period, early this century. I appreciate the patronage and hesitate to stray too far from that audience’s comfort zone as I perceive it. This blog has been an important link in that chain.

I came up in marketing. Positioning is second nature to me. But another, older part of me, the born iconoclast, always tries to sabotage my best efforts to stay on message. I’m here to announce I’m more and more inclined to let the iconoclast win.

I’ve thought about creating another space for my non-bourbon thoughts but I’m lazy and that seems like too much work. One thing I believe about web sites in general is that they’re useless if they’re not active. If you have a web site that hasn’t been updated since 2013, you might be better off with no web presence at all. This site is underperforming as it is. I can’t support another one.

But things change. I’m mostly retired now. What ‘mostly’ means is I’m still working; I’m just not hustling for it. I was a freelance writer for 35 years. Other gig workers understand. Being retired means getting up every day and doing whatever I want, no deadlines, no meetings, no obligations, no hard pants. 

Since July 21, a good part of every day has been spent exploring a family history rabbit hole that became the nine-part series just concluded. The first installment explains the rabbit hole I went down to get there. I love rabbit holes, always have. Google is rabbit hole heaven.

But Google can’t do it all. Many friends helped me put together the pieces of the Tucker story. I won’t name them to protect their privacy, but they know who they are, and I am grateful to them. 

I’ve always been interested in history. My focus is beginnings. How did this or that come to be. That quest is all about rabbit holes because the beginning of everything was the beginning. Of everything. There was only one beginning. Any other beginning is arbitrary. I have trouble picking one starting point and following it through to a conclusion. But I digress.


So I don’t know if I want to make a prediction, but I feel like there will be more personal stuff here in the future. I may even stop warning readers when there is no bourbon content in a post. You probably can figure that out for yourself.

There is an expression among writers called “writing for the drawer.” Before writing became my profession it was the way I processed my thoughts, experiences, problems, passions, memories, everything. If I had something on my mind, something I needed to work out, I picked up a pen and pad and wrote it down. That’s how I became a writer or discovered I was one. Milton White, one of my professors at Miami University, gave me the only advice a writer needs: “writers write.”

These days, as I lurch into my eighth decade, I’m all about learning and as I learn I process what I learn by writing about it. A lot of that always has been ‘for the drawer’ and always will be. I envision the blog as somewhere between the drawer and publication. The Bourbon Country Reader, my American whiskey newsletter, is on that same continuum but nearer to my books and magazine pieces. The blog is closer to the drawer and may move even closer to the drawer than it has been in the sense of becoming even more personal and idiosyncratic. I don’t know. I just know how I feel today, after concluding that nine-part series. 

I get a buzz from writing. Not all the time and not always the same, but the buzz is the gold. I don’t always know where the gold is. No, that’s wrong. I never know where the gold is. I just know it’s down those rabbit holes.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 9)


American Vincentians established St. Mary's of the Barrens in Perryville, Missouri, in 1818. It has served as an educational institution, a Vincentian house of formation, and a Vincentian community residence. 

For the story of Mansfield and Beam's Mill, you have to go back to Part 1. We have moved on to Kentucky and my many-times-great-great-grandfather, Joseph 'Short' Tucker.

Short did well during his years in Bardstown, Kentucky. A 1793 tax roll for Nelson County shows him owning 15 head of cattle, five horses, and about 250 acres of land.

But he was restless. 

At that time, the land on both sides of the Mississippi River bordering what is now Missouri and Illinois was under French and Spanish colonial administration. Looking to expand the population, Spain invited American Catholics to settle there. One of the Maryland Catholics in Kentucky, 20-year-old Isidore Moore, was chosen to scout the possibilities. He looked at land on both sides of the river in 1792, again in 1797, and for a third time in 1800. There in the grasslands south of Ste. Genevieve he found something he liked. The area became known as 'the barrens' because it had so few trees.

Soon Short and some neighbors were on their way to western Illinois, where they lived briefly before crossing the river into what is now Missouri. The site for the settlement, what is now Perryville, was selected by Short Tucker and two other men. The names of Perryville and Perry County were chosen much later to honor O. H. Perry, the 1812 naval hero we talked about in Part 6. In those early days it was simply called 'the barrens settlement.'

The first rough cabins were built and occupied by 1803. In that same year, the community formally became part of the United States due to the Louisiana Purchase. Missouri became the 24th state in 1821.

As had been the case when they arrived in Kentucky, one of the group's top priorities was to attract a priest so they could properly practice their Catholic faith. 

In those days, clerics of all stripes often made harrowing journeys to tend their far flung frontier flocks. One such circuit preacher was Father Marie Joseph Dunand, a Trappist priest fleeing the French Revolution. He first visited the Barrens settlement in 1809, stayed at Short Tucker's home, and said mass there for the community. Father Dunand promised that if the settlers built a church he would visit them more often. In two months the church was ready and Short traveled to St. Louis to remind the priest of his promise. Dunand knew the 100-mile journey was difficult but since Short was about 70 at the time and Dunand was 30 years younger, he felt he couldn't very well refuse.  

Joseph 'Short' Tucker was active in the church community until his death in 1816. 

As the Barrens community grew, it renewed ties with the priests of the Vincentian Order who had built the group's first church and school in Kentucky. Father Charles de la Croix, a skilled architect, designed a new church and school for Missouri modeled on the recently completed Seminary of St. Thomas in Bardstown. They named it St. Mary's of the Barrens. The Vincentians were soon joined by Sisters of Loretto, also from Kentucky, who ran the school.

Short Tucker had been joined on his westward trek by several of his sons, one of whom was named Thomas. His son, William, had a son named Narious (maybe spelled Nereus), who was the father of Joseph Kendrick Tucker, the carpenter who died shortly before my father was born and after whom my father was named. 

According to the U. S. census, Joe and Nancy were still farming in Ste. Genevieve County's Saline Township in 1900. We don't know exactly when or why this Joseph Tucker left the Barrens community to become a carpenter in St. Louis, but that was the beginning of the 20th century, when people everywhere were leaving farms for cities. My grandparents met in St. Louis and were married there in 1916.

The 1900 census also shows that Nancy, my great-grandmother, was born in Kentucky, as were both of her parents. It is another Kentucky connection I didn't know I had. How she wound up in Missouri is another story yet to be discovered.

Myrtle Gertrude Tucker Cowdery Mansfield,
1948 (photo by her son, Tom Cowdery)

Joe and Nancy had four children; my grandmother, Myrtle, another girl named Genevieve (like the county), and two boys. According to Dad, all three of them were con artists. Genevieve, he said, was quite good at it. When grandma died one of his Tucker uncles stole a bottle of Four Roses from her house that was rightfully Dad's. 

Great-Grandma Tucker (Nancy) remarried and became Mrs. Felix Demonget. He ran the buffing and polishing department of the Hess & Culbertson Jewelry Co. in St. Louis. I met her once, in St. Louis, when I was very young and she was very old. 

Grandma Myrtle and Grandpa Jim divorced and both remarried. Grandma married Manny Mansfield and they lived in Sausalito, California for many years. Dad visited them there during the war, on his way back to the Pacific. She returned to St. Louis after Manny died and ran a small boarding house. Grandpa's second wife I knew as Grandma Helen. As they all lived in St. Louis and we lived in Ohio I didn't know any of them very well. 

So this may be a good place to end this saga. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 8)


St. Mary's of the Barrens Roman Catholic Church, Perryville, Missouri.
If you are just joining us and interested in the Beam family in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, you need to go back to Part 1. We have moved on to other history regarding my family and its tenuous connection to the birth of bourbon. Because that connection is so tenuous, this series contains very little bourbon content.

Although as an adult I lived in Kentucky for ten years, I never knew of any family connections to the Commonwealth. Last time, in Part 7, we learned that, much to my surprise, my great-grandfather, Homer Cowdery, was born in Vanceburg, Kentucky.

Now we come to my dad's mother, who was born Myrtle Gertrude Tucker in St. Mary, Missouri, in 1896. St. Mary is a city in Ste. Genevieve County, hard by the Mississippi River about 70 miles south of St. Louis. You don't need to be a historian to figure out that all those 'saints' mean many of the earliest European-American settlers to the area were Catholic. 

Grandma Cowdery was Catholic, albeit not observant. Dad was baptized Catholic but couldn't remember ever going to church as a kid. He never considered himself Catholic although he married a Catholic and we were all raised in the Church. Mom's family was very Catholic and they were the family I grew up with. We were in Ohio and dad's family was all in Missouri or Illinois, so we saw them rarely.

My Grandma Cowdery, Myrtle, was the daughter of Joseph Kendrick Tucker and Nancy Mildred Pritchett. Joe and Nancy were joined in Holy Matrimony on April 2, 1894, at St. Mary's of the Barrens Roman Catholic Church in Perryville, Missouri. (Pictured above.)

St. Mary's of the Barrens was mother church of the Tucker clan, so Joe and Nancy probably would have been married there even if they weren't living there at the time. We know they were in nearby St. Mary when Grandma was born two years later. At some point the young family moved to the big city, St. Louis.

Joe was a carpenter. He died in a workplace accident in 1919. He was 48. At the time of his death his eldest daughter was pregnant with her second child, my dad, who was baptized with the name of his late grandfather, and so became Joseph Kendrick Cowdery.

When I was young, dad told me Great-Grandpa Tucker fell off a scaffold while working on an addition to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery (i.e., Budweiser) in St. Louis. He fell because he was drunk. (In later years, dad disavowed the story.) Dad would have known because his father, James H. 'Jim' Cowdery, was working on the same job as a laborer specializing in concrete. Grandpa Cowdery and Great-Grandpa Tucker were colleagues in the construction trades and that's how grandma and grandpa met.

Dad was known as Joe through high school, but took the opportunity to switch to Ken when he started college. He always signed his name "J. K. Cowdery" but was known as Ken. Kendrick is my middle name too. My cousin, son of dad's older brother, got it as his first name. 

Dad remembered his childhood in St. Louis in great detail but never learned much in the way of family history. I was only 11 when grandpa died but I remember asking him about family history. He said he didn't know any. "The Cowderys are just all-American mutts," was how he put it. 

But this is about Myrtle, dad's mom. She told him she was of Irish descent. Therefore, when I was growing up we celebrated mom's German heritage with pork roast and sauerkraut on New Year's Eve and dad's Irish ancestry with corned beef and cabbage every January first. I always believed I was one-quarter Irish. (My DNA says I am 4% Irish.)

Grandpa died in 1962 and grandma died the following year. After that my Uncle Tom, dad's older brother, discovered Grandpa Homer's name in a genealogy book he found in the New York Public Library. In 1978, a distant family member had that book republished and we all got copies. The Cowderys, it turns out, were very English. (My DNA says I am 30% English and 14% Welsh, almost all of it from Dad.)

But that was the Cowdery line. I still knew next to nothing about grandma's line, the Tuckers. I always thought the Irish claim seemed odd because Tucker is not an Irish-sounding name. A few years ago, I began to research the Tucker side of the family. The more I learned, the more it became clear that the Tuckers were not Irish. Grandma may have assumed they were because they were Catholic and most of the Catholics she knew growing up in St. Louis were Irish. It is possible her mother, Nancy, claimed Irish heritage. But Nancy's maiden name, Pritchett, isn't Irish either. It is the Anglicized version of a Welsh name. Her mother's name was Martha Anderson, also not very Irish.

As for the Tuckers, they definitely were Catholics, but they were English Catholics with a storied history centered around the church pictured above. 

While another of my ancestors, Jacob Cowdery Junior, was fighting for Connecticut in the American Revolution, my ancestor Joseph 'Short' Tucker was doing the same for Maryland. 

‘Short’ Tucker was born in Virginia, perhaps as early as 1739, but moved to Maryland in his youth. His Revolutionary War service on Maryland’s behalf is well documented, as is much of his life thereafter. 

A century earlier, back in England, George Calvert, First Baron Baltimore, had applied to England's King Charles I for a royal charter for what was to become the Province of Maryland. The colony was named to honor the Queen, Henrietta Maria. Although England then was officially Protestant, its queen was Catholic, a princess of France by birth.

Just as the Massachusetts Bay Colony of my Cowdery ancestors was founded as a haven for Puritans, Maryland was a refuge for Catholics, England's other oppressed religious minority. 

In Maryland, Short Tucker joined the state militia. After the war he joined a group of Catholics who wanted to quit Maryland for the western frontier. Maryland by this time was no longer the haven it was intended to be. As more Protestants moved in, outnumbering Catholics, they began to bedevil their Catholic neighbors.

Short was born in Virginia, where Catholics were scarce, so it is possible he or his parents were converts. He was very devout, as converts often are. 

After the Revolution, lands in the North American interior were opened for settlement and many veterans received land grants in return for their service. A group of about 60, including Short Tucker and his young family, formulated a plan to relocate to Kentucky, taking advantage of the 'corn writs' being offered to veterans. They planned to settle close together for mutual support and in hope of forming a parish and attracting a priest. 

The first group of about ten families left in 1785, led by Basil Hayden. They and subsequent Marylanders settled in what today are the Kentucky counties of Nelson, Marion, and Washington, popularly known as the Kentucky Holy Lands. Among other accomplishments, they were some of the founders of Kentucky’s bourbon industry. Among them was Jacob Beam, ancestor of Kentucky's whiskey-making Beams.

They were successful in attracting priests. The French Revolution was underway and many religious fled from there to America to escape the violent anti-clericalism that was part of that movement. Many of them came to Kentucky, either to stay or on their way further west into the American interior.

This is getting a bit long so we will continue it next time, in Part 9.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 7)


Homer Cowdery, my great-grandfather, was born in Vanceburg, Kentucky.

I'm continuing with the series name but we're finished with the Beams, Johnny Appleseed and the War of 1812, and leaving Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, just as I did when I left for college in 1969. I never lived there fulltime again, but visited frequently until my father's death in 2010.

After college and working in advertising in Dayton, then Columbus, I took a job in Louisville, Kentucky. I didn't know much about Kentucky. I had been there once as a kid with my family, to see Mammoth Cave and other attractions. 

I did know about Kentucky bourbon. My parents drank it. They each had one drink before dinner every night, bourbon on the rocks, which they had in the kitchen while chatting as mom finished preparing dinner. Unless we had something urgent, my siblings and I knew to leave them alone until we were called to table. As the oldest, I occasionally mixed drinks for them, then went back to "The Three Stooges" in the other room. (I'm talking about the TV show, not my three younger brothers.)

My parents were frugal so they always drank the least expensive Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey in the store, which for most of my childhood was Mattingly and Moore. There were cheaper whiskeys, of course, blends and what-have-you, but my parents were interested only in Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. 

I was raised right.

I lived and worked in Louisville from February of 1978 until March of 1988. I worked in marketing and did a lot of business with local liquor companies. It was a bad time for bourbon sales but all of the companies sold other things and mostly I worked on those 'other things.' I took a job in Chicago in 1987 but had residences in both Louisville and Chicago for about a year and after that continued to visit Kentucky frequently, as I still do. 

In 1991, I began work on the documentary that became "Made and Bottled in Kentucky," which ran on most American public television stations and still appears from time to time on KET, Kentucky's public TV network. I was hooked, and I've been writing about American whiskey ever since.

I have other interests, of course. In addition to the history of American whiskey I am interested in history more generally and, by extension, genealogy. What I knew about my family history growing up was that mom's family was from Cleveland with mostly German roots. One of my maternal great-grandfathers, Jack Schwartz, was a bookkeeper at Cleveland's Standard Brewery. The other one, Frank Bunsey, worked at the White Motor Company as one of the world's first car salesmen. Mom's family moved to Mansfield in 1940, when she was 11. They were beer drinkers mostly, although my grandfather (mom's dad, also Frank Bunsey) also drank scotch.

Dad was from St. Louis but his grandfather, Homer Cowdery, came from Coolville, Ohio, in the southeastern part of the state close to the Ohio River. As a young man, Homer took a job on a riverboat and eventually settled in St. Louis. 

Coolville is on the Hocking River. Where the Hocking joins the Ohio, that's West Virginia on the other shore, but if you drift a few more miles that shore becomes Kentucky. As I learned more about my family's origins, I learned they mostly lived near what is today Keno, Ohio, and operated a gristmill there in the early 19th century. That leads me to suspect some of them distilled, since many millers did, but I have no evidence.

I suppose I could invent a story about old Josiah Cowdery, cooking up a batch of corn likker in some Meigs County hollar. I wouldn't be the first person to invent a story about a distant ancestor's distilling prowess. 

Then I found something surprising, census records that showed my great-grandfather, Homer Cowdery, was born in Vanceburg, Kentucky, in 1865. The same census shows his two younger brothers having been born back in Ohio, so what were his parents doing in Vanceburg when he was born?

We don't know, but we know Homer's father, Josiah, struggled financially. Vanceburg had been a staunch Union town during the just-concluded Civil War and was booming, so he may have gone there looking for work.

I also learned that Grandpa Homer had lied about his age, adding two or three years. He was a big guy and as a teenager probably looked older than he was. I suspect he made himself older to get that first riverboat job and get the hell out of there. His youngest brother, Perry, followed him to St. Louis, then continued on to Texas. The middle brother, Heman, stayed in southeastern Ohio and is buried there. There still are Cowderys around, mostly across the river in Parkersburg, West Virginia. Most are descended from Heman.

Next time, in Part 8, I discover that my dad's mother had a surprising Kentucky connection with a direct link to the origins of Kentucky bourbon.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 6)


Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial was established to honor those who fought in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, and to celebrate the long-lasting peace among Great Britain, Canada and the U.S. The Memorial, a Doric column rising 352 feet over Lake Erie, is situated 5 miles from the longest undefended border in the world. (National Park Service)
Ohio did not have a role in the American Revolution and no significant Civil War battles were fought on Ohio soil, but the War of 1812 was another matter. In that conflict, Ohio was the front line. Many battles were fought on Ohio soil and in the waters of Lake Erie. In Part 4, I mentioned how most kids who grow up in Mansfield visit the Copus Monument on a field trip at some point. Many Ohio kids also visit the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial at Put-in-Bay.

The wonderfully-named Put-in-Bay is a town on South Bass Island, one of several small islands in Lake Erie just north of Sandusky and Sandusky Bay, about 75 miles north of Mansfield. It's a beautiful area with many popular attractions. Trips to Put-in-Bay often are combined with visits to Sandusky's Cedar Point amusement park. 

(A personal note. My great-great grandfather on my mother's side, Charles Bunsey, my namesake, was a farmer in the Sandusky area before he moved to Cleveland. Another, more distant relative was Marcellus F. Cowdery, who was the first superintendent of the Sandusky City Schools and a leader in education throughout Ohio in the 1840s. M. F. Cowdery wrote a collection of "Moral Lessons" which were widely used in public schools. M. F. Cowdery's uncle, Oliver Cowdery, was an early leader of the Mormon Church and a scribe to Joseph Smith. Oliver also lived in Ohio during that period, much further east in Kirtland. Cowdery Street in Sandusky was named in honor of M. F. Cowdery, but all that came later. Back now to the War of 1812. What follows comes from the National Park Service, which runs the Perry Monument at Put-in-Bay.)

At dawn on the morning of September 10, 1813, a lookout spotted six British vessels to the northwest of Put-in-Bay beyond Rattlesnake Island. Immediately, Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry issued a flurry of orders and made preparations to sail forth to engage the British.

With Perry's fleet on Lake Erie the British supply route from Fort Malden to Port Dover had been severed. The British had to either fight or abandon Fort Malden, which protected the Detroit River at Detroit. The British squadron consisted of six ships with sixty-three cannon while the American flotilla comprised nine vessels and fifty-four guns. The British were armed with long guns that could throw a cannonball approximately one mile, accurately to about one-half mile. The American ships, primarily armed with carronades, had less than half the range of a long gun. The carronades could inflict much more damage at close range. Perry needed the wind to his back to close within carronade range.

When the squadron sailed from Put-in-Bay harbor at 7 a.m. the American vessels were steering west-northwest; the wind was blowing from the west-southwest. For more than two hours Perry repeatedly tacked his ships to put the wind to his back, but without success. The frustrated Perry conceded to mother nature at 10 a.m., issuing orders to turn his fleet in the opposite direction. But before the order could be executed the wind suddenly shifted and blew from the southeast, placing the wind directly behind the Americans.

Perry's opponent, Commander Robert Heriot Barclay, was an experienced Royal Navy officer who had fought with Lord Nelson at Trafalgar in 1805, and two years later he lost an arm fighting the French. Barclay's options did not alter when the wind shifted, so the Scotsman pointed his bow sprits to the westward, and hove to in line of battle.

With the wind at his back and the British battle line finally revealed, Perry made his own tactical adjustments. The schooners Ariel and Scorpion were placed off the flagship's weather bow to engage the first British vessel and to prevent the enemy from raking his fleet. The Lawrence, a 20-gun brig serving as Perry's flagship, was third in line and would engage the Detroit, Barclay's 19-gun flagship. Next in line floated the Caledonia, a small brig with only three guns. Fifth in the American line of battle was the Niagara, Perry's other 20-gun brig and the Lawrence's sistership.

The Niagara, captained by Master Commandant Jesse Elliott, would engage the 17-gun Queen Charlotte, the second largest British ship. Lastly came the smaller schooners and sloop; these would engage the smaller British vessels.

Just before the engagement opened Perry hoisted his battle flag to the flagship's main truck. The large navy blue banner was emblazoned with the crudely inscribed words, "DONT GIVE UP THE SHIP." For his battle slogan Perry used the dying words of Captain James Lawrence, a friend of the commodore who was killed on June 1, 1813. Perry's flagship was named for the fallen Lawrence and the dead hero's inspiring words clearly indicated Perry's determination to prevail.

By 2:30 p.m. Perry's flagship was a floating wreck; every gun on her engaged side was disabled and four of every five men fit for duty were either killed or wounded. Perry was facing the dismal prospect of surrender.

Then, as he gazed across to the Niagara, still out of range and relatively undamaged, the commodore made a fateful decision. Collecting four unwounded men Perry manned the flagship's first cutter and rowed through a hail of shot to the Niagara. Miraculously Perry and his boat crew reached the Niagara unscathed.

Following a brief conversation the flotilla commander dispatched Elliott in the same small boat to hurry along the lagging gunboats. Perry then prepared the Niagara for immediate action, put the helm up, and sailed toward the British line.

The British, though they had pounded the Lawrence into a crippled hulk, had suffered terribly. During the engagement Barclay was severely wounded, plus the captain and first lieutenant of every British vessel was incapacitated. The English fleet was now commanded by junior officers - brave men, but with little or no experience maneuvering ships in the chaos of combat. When they observed the Niagara bearing down on their line the British attempted to wear ship - to turn their vessels around to bring the unused starboard broadsides to bear. Orders were issued, but amidst the tumult of battle the battered Detroit and Queen Charlotte collided, becoming helplessly entangled.

Taking full advantage of his enemy's blunder, Perry steered the Niagara through the jumbled British battle line. Unleashing both broadsides, the American commodore ravaged the vulnerable British ships. As the Niagara pressed through the British line Perry backed the maintop sail, holding the Niagara stationary while her belching carronades decimated the enemy decks. The wind had also picked up by this time, allowing the sluggish gunboats to rush forward and rake the enemy from astern.

A few minutes after 3 p.m., the British bowed to the inevitable. The four largest vessels surrendered one by one. The gunboats Chippawa and Little Belt sheered off and tried to escape, but they were tracked down and snared by the Scorpion and Trippe. The entire British fleet had been captured.

The American vessels anchored and hasty repairs were underway near West Sister Island when Perry composed his now famous message to General William Henry Harrison (who we met in Part 3). Scrawled in pencil on the back of an old envelope, Perry wrote, "Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O. H. Perry".

The Battle of Lake Erie proved one of the most resounding American triumphs of the War of 1812. It secured control of Lake Erie and forced the British to abandon Fort Malden and retreat. Harrison's army pursued, decisively defeating the small British army and its allied Indian force on October 5, 1813 at the Battle of the Thames. Later, during peace talks, the dual victories of Lake Erie and Thames ensured that the states of Ohio and Michigan would remain the sovereign territory of the United States.

Next time, in Part 7, we head to southeastern Ohio where we will meet my great-grandfather.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Beams in My Home Town and Other Personal Stuff (Part 5)


This is 'Johnny Appleseed' as most people remember him, an apple-loving Disney character.
Growing up in Mansfield, Ohio, my home town, you heard a lot about John Chapman, better known as Johnny Appleseed. I grew up around the corner from Johnny Appleseed Junior High School and my family often shopped at the Appleseed Shopping Center on the south side of town. From 1962 to 1980, high school sports teams around Mansfield competed in the Johnny Appleseed Conference.

There is a monument to him in Mansfield's South Park, close to the reconstructed blockhouse.

The stories we were told about him as kids weren't much different from the Disney version. He lived in Mansfield during frontier times and planted a lot of appleseeds, hence the nickname. He just liked apples.

John 'Johnny Appleseed' Chapman (1774–1845) is significant to our story because during the War of 1812 he often traveled between the far-flung homesteads, such as Beam's Mill, to warn people of Indian activity and other danger. He plays this role in Hugh Nissenson's novel, The Tree of Life, too.

Chapman was a lay missionary, influenced by the writings of scientist and Swedish Lutheran theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. He never married and never really had a permanent residence. He was around Mansfield a lot for a time but as the frontier moved west, so did he. 

Back east, Chapman had apprenticed as a nurseryman. A nurseryman grows trees from seeds. The strongest seedlings are then transplanted to form orchards. The apple varieties Chapman planted in his nurseries were not 'eating apples,' they were intended for the production of hard cider. Chapman believed apples and the hard cider made from them would be an excellent pioneer industry. Naturally, the alcoholic beverage part of the story never made its way to our young ears.

We did hear he was eccentric, dressed shabbily, and often went barefoot. He was friend to both settlers and natives, kind and generous to all, and so on. In the 60s, he sometimes was portrayed as a sort of proto-hippie. At my Catholic school he was compared to Saint Francis of Assisi.

According to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, Chapman was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield. The sermon was severe and tedious on the topic of sinful extravagance, because the early Mansfielders were buying luxuries such as calico and imported tea. "Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?" After hearing this exhortation several times, a fed-up Chapman stepped to the front, put his bare foot on the stump that had served as a podium and said, "Here is your primitive Christian!" The sermon ended abruptly.

Next time, in Part 6, we leave Mansfield and the Beams for one last bit about Ohio and the War of 1812.