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Friday, March 26, 2010

Men of the Exodus

"Remember the Alamo" became the rallying cry for Texas Independence. Bradford's Mills Andross was among the defenders who sacrificed their lives in 1836. 31-year old Mills is shown below in a drawing by Len Reggs,Jr. published in Lyndonville, VT's The Independent in 1982

Henry Wells, a native of Thetford, Vermont, helped to establish both American Express and Wells Fargo. The companies had almost exclusive control of all express and stage routes west of the Missouri River in the period of the Civil War

Captain Charles E. Clark was one of the major heroes of the Spanish-American War of 1898 with his exploits as commander of the USS Oregon. Born on Bradford's South
Main Street, he is portraed in this formal portrait that hands in the lobby of the Vermont State House. (photo/Sarah Copeland Hanzas)
Article appeared in the Journal-Opinion, March 24, 2010

One president and vice president, 14 U.S. senators, 99 congressmen, 19 governors, 16 state chief justices, and numerous U. S. Cabinet members, military commanders, ambassadors, religious and business leaders, authors and editors were Vermont’s pre-1915 contribution to the rest of the nation. These are in addition to those who served the Green Mountain State itself. According to a 1915 article by Dorman B. E. Kent, given its relatively small population, Vermont exceeded all other states in the importance of this contribution.

These men were part of the century-long migration from Vermont that began in 1808. Large numbers of Vermonters left the state for better opportunities in the West and in the nation’s urban centers. This exodus was described more completely in the December column.

This column deals with four of those individuals with local connections and who settled elsewhere. Selecting just four 19th century men is not meant to diminish the role of the other men and women who contributed to the growth of the nation. There was a steady stream of migrants from Vermont and New Hampshire to the nation’s mills, farms and armed forces. They were builders, missionaries, teachers, artists, writers and more, filling every niche in the growing nation. While proud of their heritage, many also agreed with the saying, “Vermont is a good state to be born in, provided you migrate early.”

Mills D. Andross was the only Vermonter to die at the Alamo. He was born in Bradford around 1804. Without inheritance, he went to Boston and found employment and Elizabeth, his wife. He soon brought his young family back to Bradford to farm. In a recently published pamphlet on Andross, Kenneth Lawson writes, “Mills was possessed of an adventurous and somewhat reckless spirit. He longed for something more than the hand-to-mouth existence of a small farmer in rural Vermont.”

Around 1835, Andross left Bradford for Texas, drawn by the lure of free land. He left his wife and two sons behind. Texans were in revolt against Mexican rule. Andross joined that revolution as part of a group of volunteers known as the New Orleans Greys. He participated in the Seige of Bexas in San Antonio in late 1835 and remained there with other volunteers.

This small group was confronted by a large Mexican army under the command of General Santa Anna and retreated to the relative safety of the Alamo Mission. They were joined by others including Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie. William Travis took command of the nearly 190 defenders.

In late February 1836, the army of Santa Anna laid siege to the Alamo and on the morning of March 6 began the attack. Despite severe losses in hand-to-hand combat, the Mexicans prevailed. Andross and the other defenders were killed. Their bodies were burned to deny them Christian burial.

“Remember the Alamo” became the rallying cry for the newly formed Republic of Texas. By their deaths the defenders helped achieve Texas’ independence and the subsequent victory in the Mexican War. Mills Andross of Bradford played his role in that achievement.

Henry Wells, a native of Thetford was connected to the establishment of Wells Fargo and American Express. He was born in Thetford in 1805. The Wells family were short-time residents of the area having only recently arrived when Henry was born and they departed for central New York when he was eight.

Wells was plagued with a persistent stammer, an impediment that limited his career opportunities. At age 25, he moved to Rochester, New York and opened a school for the cure of speech defects. Five years later the nearby Erie Canal opened and Wells became involved in moving passengers and freight, gradually extending his business to include lines of transportation elsewhere.

According to information provided by the Thetford Historical Society, Wells became the Albany agent for the first American express company. Having visions beyond those of his employer, he, with others, formed another express company. The burdens of competition, schedules and debt were born fully by Wells, and the company prospered. In 1844, he opened Wells & Company, transporting goods between Buffalo and Detroit with William G. Fargo as employee. In ­­­­­1850, he merged his company with others to create the American Express Company and he became its first president.

To take advantage of the business created by the western expansion, Wells, Fargo & Company was created by American Express. With almost exclusive control of all the express and stage routes west of the Missouri River, Wells, Fargo and its parent company prospered. “Wells’ hand was everywhere” in the expansion, including successful battles with the Post Office Department.

In the late 1860’s, economic threats from competitors caused Wells to retire from his long presidency of the company. Wells turned from business to a long-held dream, the building of a college in Aurora, New York, near his childhood home. In 1868, he established Wells Seminary, a liberal arts college for women. This was the result of an admiration of scholarship, “coupled with the adoration of womankind.”

Wells spent his elder years at his home Glen Park, adjacent to the college campus. An ardent traveler, he spent winters in warmer climates and died on one such trip in 1878.

Lumbering in the vast forests of the West drew men from our area. One such man, whose name is engraved on Bradford’s academy building and library, was John Lund Woods. He was born in Corinth in 1821. Left fatherless at about age 12, he spent his late teen years with his uncle of the same name and for whom Woodsville is named. The following information about his adult life is taken from a 2002 publication by John A. Fatherly, subtitled “Magnanimous Benefactor.”

At 19, Woods moved to Port Huron, Michigan and began working in a saw mill and “quickly became proficient in the lumber business.” In 1851 he took over the business and quickly became a very rich man. Selling his Michigan holdings, he established a wholesale and retail lumber business in Cleveland, Ohio. He died there in 1893.

“At the time of his death he was interested in Colorado gold mines, Louisiana pine lands, New York City lumber yards, railroads and steamboats.” He used his accumulated wealth for the benefit of others. His philanthropy included major gifts to colleges, libraries and hospitals. Western Reserve University in Cleveland was a major recipient of his generosity.

Woods left two $15,000 bequests to Bradford. One was used to construct the Woods School Building. The three-story brick building designed by George Gurnsey opened on North Main Street in 1894 replacing the wooden academy building. It continues to serve as a municipal center.

The other was used to purchase land and build a library overlooking the business district. The Woods Library Building was designed by Lambert Packard to specifications outlined by Woods and was dedicated on July 4, 1895. Woods’ generous gifts continue to reap rich returns for the residents of Bradford and the surrounding communities.

Charles Edgar Clark was born in Bradford in 1843. He grew up in Bradford village and attended Bradford Academy for several terms. At 16, he moved with his family to Montpelier. In 1860, he received an appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. Upon graduation he was assigned to the West Gulf Blockade Squadron and participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay.

Following the Civil War, Clark remained in the Navy, gradually advancing in rank. His assignments included both sea and shore duties around the world. His excellent service was rewarded with a promotion to the rank of captain in 1896.

Clark’s greatest achievement came during the war with Spain in 1898. On March 19, 1898, he was given command of one of the greatest battleships afloat, the Oregon. He was ordered to sail the ship from San Francisco around the Horn to join the American fleet off Santiago, Cuba. Despite being shadowed by enemy vessels and having to seek temporary sanctuary in neutral ports, Clark accomplished the voyage in record time. After a two month news blackout, the ship’s arrival at Key West was met with public acclaim. The voyage highlighted the need for a canal across the Isthmus of Panama.

The Oregon took up station off Santiago Bay as part of the blockade of the Spanish fleet. On July 3, the Spanish tried to escape. With engines ready the Oregon was able to move quickly in pursuit. The battle, in which the Oregon played a decisive role, was over in a matter of hours. The war was successfully completed within months. As he was ill with tropical fever, Clark was ordered home.

In 1902, Clark was promoted to the rank of rear admiral. The Oregon, after being the subject of much national attention was, like the admiral, gradually retired from active duty.

In 1899, Admiral Clark was honored during a visit to Bradford. At the time of his death in 1922 an editorial in the United Opinion stated: “We the people of Bradford feel that “Capt” Clark belongs to us and that he is one of our greatest gifts to the nation’s service.” In 1926, the town raised funds to erect the statue of Clark that stands in Memorial Park. The headboards of the Oregon are displayed inside the front doors of the Academy Building and a display of Clark-Oregon memorabilia is located in the Bradford Historical Society’s museum on the third floor.

There are dozens of other area residents who played interesting and intriguing roles in the nation’s development. Azariah Wild of West Fairlee was involved in the situation that led to the shooting of Billy the Kid. Levi P. Morton, who became vice president of the United States, is reported to have clerked in a Bradford drug store while earning money to attend Dartmouth. Daniel Kimball Pearson, born in Bradford in 1820, made a fortune in real estate in Chicago. He provided great quantities of lumber to rebuild that city after the great Chicago fire of 1871. He, like John Woods, was a “magnanimous benefactor.”

Albert Sleeper from Bradford was the 29th governor of Michigan. Topsham’s native son James Peabody was elected Governor of Colorado in 1902. As governor he mustered the Colorado militia in opposition to the mine workers union in the infamous Cripple Creek Strike.

The parallel exodus from neighboring New Hampshire also resulted in significant contributions to the rest of the nation. John Quincy Bittinger’s 1888 History of Haverhill has an entire chapter devoted to “Haverhill Abroad.” He wrote that Haverhill sons and daughters were, “an active factor in the growth and progress of other communities.”

Individuals mentioned include Noah Davis, the judge who presided at the New York trials of William “Boss” Tweed and James Cutting, inventor of ambrotype photography. Frederick Crocker and the Angier brothers of Haverhill were involved in developing the oil industry in Pennsylvania.
In the years after 1915, Vermont could claim an additional governor, vice president and president (Calvin Coolidge) along with an unknown number of other Vermont-born men and women who achieved office in other states.

For over four decades I worked with the young citizens of our area. Many of them followed the tradition of leaving the area for better opportunities. Like those earlier migrants from the area they are now spread across the nation. This drain of talent is our semi-voluntary contribution to advance the growth of our nation. Our hope for them, as they continue to resettle elsewhere is that they, like their predecessors, will prosper and become leaders in their new communities. And that they will carry with them the New England values of hard work, practicality and enterprise.

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