Sunday, January 27, 2019

But did George Washington see Jeremiah Callahan?

Interesting stuff turns up in old Lucas County newspapers, but until I pulled up the local news page of The Chariton Democrat of Jan. 21, 1869, I'd never found a potential link to our founding father, George Washington.

But there it was, dropped casually in among other news: "We have but one man  in Lucas county who ever saw General George Washington, and that is old 'Uncle Jerry Callahan' --- aged 76."

A minor claim to fame, but still ....

Jeremiah Riley Callahan is hardly a stranger. In fact, I attended Dry Flat country school with three of his great-great-great-grandchildren, the Vincent kids, and we remain friends. They descend via Mary Jane Callahan, daughter of Jeremiah R. and his wife, Harriet, who married Jacob Leamon Admire and accompanied her parents and siblings to Lucas County during 1851.

The Callahans and the Admires settled in the highlands northwest of Chariton overlooking the White Breast Creek valley near the current location of Grimes Cemetery, where all four are buried. That's Jeremiah's tombstone at the top (thank you Doris Christensen and Find a Grave). Jacob Admire was a pioneer farmer and brick-maker whose kiln was located somewhere near his farm. Jeremiah, in his late 50s when the families moved from Indiana to Iowa, farmed as best he could with a hand crippled during service in the War of 1812 and taught school on the side.

There are no other references linking Jeremiah to George Washington --- the connection even may be news to his descendants. But there's no reason to doubt it. Online sources give Jeremiah's date of birth as July 22, 1793, although his tombstone states only that he was in the 81st year of his age when he died on Oct. 31, 1873. Bath County, Virginia, is given consistently as his place of birth.

Bath is a relatively small county created in 1790 from portions of three others and located in the mountains west of the great Shenandoah Valley. It's now on the line between Virginia and West Virginia.

And George Washington certainly was alive and well --- and president --- when Jeremiah was born, not retiring to Mt. Vernon until March of 1797. He accepted the appointment as commanding general of U.S. armies during July of 1798 and served in that capacity until his death at age 67 on Dec. 14, 1799. In other words he was a healthy and active man until felled by a chill that was treated by doctors who bled him excessively, certainly contributing to if not causing his death.

Philadelphia still was the temporary U.S. capital when Washington died, but he traveled widely and often was at home --- so it is very likely that somehow, somewhere in Virginia, the young Jeremiah was taken by his parents to view the great man himself. It's unlikely we'll ever know the circumstances.


Jeremiah probably lived in Virginia until about 1810-11, when his father and other family members moved west to Ohio. He would have been about 18 at the time. 

On the 15th of April 1812, at Chillicothe, Ohio, Jeremiah enlisted for six months of service in Capt. Henry Ulry's Company, Col. Duncan McArthur's Regiment, Ohio Militia Volunteers, and saw action in the occupation of Sandwich and the Battle of Brownstown, Canada. During the latter engagement, he was wounded when a musket exploded then captured and finally paroled. That's a tale for another day, since it involves Jeremiah's epic 50-year encounter with government bureaucracy as he attempted to prove his service and claim a pension for his injury.

After the war, Jeremiah moved to Kentucky where he married Harriet Leach, reportedly on Jan. 30, 1823. Their eldest, Mary Ann Callihan Admire, was born in Kentucky the next year, but ca. 1827 the family moved to Indiana, where they still were living when the decision was made to head west to Iowa in 1851.


There are few additional references to Jeremiah in those early newspapers. Dan Baker, writing about his first year in Lucas County had the following to say: "During the summer (of 1854), Whitebreast township built her first school house; a little log concern situated just north of (what became) the railroad crossing on the old Osceola road a few miles west of town. Mr. Jeremiah Callahan dedicated it by teaching the first school, the writer of these sketches constitutes one of his brilliant subjects upon which to operate during the term."

Jeremiah's occupation was given as "teacher" two years later, in the 1856 state census of Whitebreast Township, but as "farmer" when the federal census was taken during both 1860 and 1870.

The Democrat of Sept. 7, 1869, gave some idea of Jeremiah's religious outlook when the following notice was published: "Old School Baptist Meeting --- There will be a meeting of the Old School Baptists at the residence of J.R. Callahan in Whitebreast township, at 11 o'clock, in the forenoon of the fourth Sunday in September."

And finally, there's the following poem, published in The Democrat of June 8, 1869, with an introduction by the editor, John V. Faith:


The following lines have been sent us by old Uncle Jerry Callahan, aged about 76 years, and one of the oldest settlers of Lucas county. We publish them, not for their peculiar poetical merit, but more to illustrate the ideas of the past generation, and to give our young ladies of the (current) period an insight into the notions that prevailed when their mammas were girls.

As I went out one morning,
The weather being fair,
The mother and the daughter
I chanced for to hear.
The daughter talking seriously,
She did declare and vow,
"I must and will get married,
For the fit is on me now."


O hold your tongue, dear daughter,
O hold your silly tongue,
For if that I was willing,
You know you are too young;
In olden times they'd no such thought,
Till they could weave and spin,
And to deceive a young man then,
They thought would be a sin.


O hush, my dearest mother,
And do not vent your spleen,
I think myself a woman,
For I am just thirteen.
There is no certain period,
And I have made a vow,
And I must and will get married,
For the fit is on me now.


And if that I was willing,
Where would you find a man?
(Oh, then, replied the damsel:)
I am sure there is a pretty man.
He called me sugar and honey,
When milking of our cow,
And I must and will get married,
For the fit is on me now.


Just think, my dearest daughter,
One hundred years ago,
You would be ranked as children,
As the world would know.
But times have changed and girls are raised
In idleness and pride,
It taints their morals into vice,
And all that's wrong beside.

J.R. Callahan

And so it appears that, even then, the morals of the younger generation were deteriorating.

I'll have a more complete report on Jeremiah's ongoing struggle to have his War of 1812 service recognized --- and obtain a pension --- in another post.

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