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 Beautiful Belmont, Part 49 -- Off to St. Clairsville.

by John Salisbury Cochran.

See previous entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 48 -- A Trip Back to the Future.

On Tuesday morning, I took the stage for St. Clairsville, as two of my brothers had returned from the war and had taken charge of the farm. I had arranged to be at our home once or twice a month during my studies. The coach between Wheeling and Cambridge on the National Road was a great improvement to the old one. It was larger, longer, with seats along the side, plenty of light, and steps at the rear. With my trunk deposited on top, I took a seat with the driver in order to take in the refreshing beauty of a delightful May morning. Many flowers were in bloom and the locust blossoms filled the air with delicious perfume. The four horses fairly skimmed over the grand old pike, which winds along the winding banks of Wheeling Creek.

At the old Stone Tavern we stopped to quench the thirst of man and beast. Across the road from the pump stood the largest spreading elm tree I have ever seen, the wonder and admiration of all travelers along this road. At the foot of the great hill we passed through what was pointed out to me by my grandfather many years before as the former camping ground of a band of Indians. He had told me that he, in company with Louis Wetzel, had watched the warlike sports of these Indians from the adjacent hills, just before starting on their own game hunts.

After climbing the hill on the pike, the ride along the ridge is beautiful. At the top of the hill is the old Woodmansee Tavern, a large and entertaining inn in its day. About two miles further west along this ridge road at the McMechen farm, close by the pike, is what is known as Indian Spring. It derives its name from the fight that took place between Louis Wetzel and a companion named Mills and a band of Indians, which they suddenly and unexpectedly encountered at this spring. They each shot an Indian and then started to run for Wheeling down this ridge, which then had no road and was covered with forest. Wetzel's companion was shot in the foot, overtaken, killed, and scalped. Wetzel reloaded his gun as he ran and killed two more Indians, the others finally discontinuing the chase.

In 1865, St. Clairsville still retained much of its pioneer quaintness. Since the great fire there it had become much modernized. The courthouse recently erected at a cost approximating $300,000 is very imposing and was surpassed by few in the country. The first court in the county was held 24 November 1801, in a log building at Poultney Bottom, a mile or so south of Bellaire, the finest location in the county for a large city. This court was established as a result of a proclamation issued by General Arthur St. Clair, then governor of the territory of the United States northwest of the Ohio River. In 1804 the county seat was moved to St. Clairsville, and that place was named after the general.

Judge William Kennon, Sr.

Among the first great lawyers of the St. Clairsville bar were Judge William Kennon, Sr., Governor Wilson Shannon, Judge Benjamin R. Cowen, Judge Ruggles, and William B. Hubbard. Among those of later date, when I began the study of law, may be mentioned Judge D.D.T. Cowen, Judge William Kennon, Jr., Peter Tallman, O.J. Sweeney, Ellis E. Kennon, and Hon. Ross J. Alexander. Of course, there were other good lawyers in the town. I was fortunate in becoming a student in the office of Kennon & Kennon, which was located on the east side of and adjoining what was then known as the National Hotel, later the Clarendon.

Judge William Kennon, Sr. was then generally recognized as one of the very best lawyers of the state. He had been a member of Congress in the days of Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, and was a commissioner on the board of code that framed the code of legal practice in Ohio. He had been raised on a farm, was a man of large, strong build, though not overweight, and had a very imposing presence. His head was among the largest I have ever seen, and as James Campbell, one of his students, once expressed it, "plumb full of brains." He was a dignified gentleman of the old school, always cool and collected, and his genial, kindly smile, coupled with his democratic social manners, caused him to be loved and respected by all classes. He was a good Latin and Greek scholar, had a superb memory, and could repeat all the common law definitions laid down in Blackstone's volumes. He had been a Democrat up until the rebellion, when -- with many other patriotic members of that party -- he adopted the cause of the union, remaining until his death a member of the Republican party.

Judge Kennon and Edwin M. Stanton, former Secretary of War, had been frequently associated together in the trial of great and difficult law and equity cases. Stanton regarded Kennon as a great lawyer and able man, and tried while Secretary of War to persuade him to come to Washington and accept a high and responsible position under the government. Kennon stoutly refused, however; he was extremely sensitive and excessively modest and retiring. Secretary Stanton once told him that if he could overcome these qualities, which Stanton regarded as drawbacks, the country would recognize in him one of our greatest men.

I once asked Judge Kennon his opinion about the difference between Daniel Webster and Henry Clay, both of whom he was personally acquainted with and had been politically associated. He answered that Henry Clay would lay down a proposition which as soon as stated, the listener would mentally recognize as true, but wonder what the point was in stating the obvious as an argument. Before Clay got through, however, he would so clarify and explain his words that the listener would wonder why he had not seen the deeper truth of them with greater clarity before. In contrast, Webster would frequently claim something as true which his hearer would not only disagree with, but oppose. Nevertheless, before Webster was through, he would so fortify his position with sound, logical, convincing reasoning as to render it undeniable, causing everyone to feel that it must be true.

Judge Kennon looked upon John C. Calhoun as a man of just enough ability to be dangerous. He said it was the firm determination of President Jackson to have had Calhoun shot by drumhead court martial had he performed one overt act in carrying out his principle of nullification while a United States senator. At one time it was rumored in Washington that Calhoun contemplated making a speech in the Senate resigning his seat, and then going home to his own state to participate in a movement to withdraw from the Union. Jackson, the story goes, prepared to arrest him if he did, and to that end had every avenue of escape from Washington guarded. Calhoun, quietly informed of Jackson's intentions, was said to have actually turned pale, for he knew what the old hero of New Orleans was capable of such action. Calhoun would have been executed regardless of all precedents and consequences.

Judge Kennon may be justifiably placed at the top of the list of great men that Belmont County has produced. His son, Ellis E. Kennon, was a born lawyer. He was clear, logical, and forceful in his reasoning, a good speaker, and his pleadings now on file are models of brevity and comprehensive statement. James B. Campbell had been a student in the Kennon office for a year before my arrival. He was well read, a fine speaker, and very good company. Many questions of law were discussed and debated in the office, by common consent Judge Kennon and I taking one side, and E.E. Kennon and Campbell the other. It made little difference as to the importance of the question; it had to be discussed and the facts sifted. In this way we obtained a much more accurate and comprehensive knowledge of many points of law than would have been required otherwise.

The Life of a Law Student

At times, law and medical students in St. Clairsville derived their fun and amusement by performing the act of initiation, as it was termed, on new students. After nightfall a few of the companions of the newcomer, by prearrangement with one of the nearby farmers, would take the new student to steal pears or other fruit. At the proper time the farmer would break in upon the whole crowd, directing the pursuit mainly after the new professional. In all the history of the many instances of this kind which were indulged in at the county seat, the new student made such good time he was never overtaken. One poor fellow, who imagined he had been discovered in a great crime, was never heard from again.

The "Mussadoag Society" was one that obtained great notoriety at St. Clairsville. This was nothing less than an initiation involving the most elaborate foolishness imaginable, and that was all there was to it. At the end of the initiation the candidate would be glad to say nothing of it, and be ready to join in and deceive and bore the next unfortunate. At one time they initiated a "Tartar" -- a new law student by the name of Monroe, from Captina -- and when the nature of the proceedings dawned upon him in their true light, he took it seriously and started to punish every member of the society one by one. Being a powerfully built, resolute fellow, he had knocked down two or three and was proceeding to deal with the remainder when the lights went out and all but Monroe escaped down the stairway from the jury room in the upper story of the courthouse, the stair door having been locked by those retreating, leaving Monroe imprisoned in the upper story. He was compelled to put his head out the window and call the sheriff to release him. The other members kept away from Monroe until his indignation wore off.

Sometimes when court was in session, the trials of a particular day were suddenly dropped because of settlement or other reasons. On such occasions the lawyers would frequently engage in idle pursuits -- reminiscences about their former cases, and other incidents. One of the members who frequently indulged in this, especially when a good sidesplitting joke was involved, was Hon. Ross J. Alexander. On one of these days, some twenty years after the Civil War, a large number of the attorneys were gathered around, among them ex-Judges Robert E. Chambers and C.W. Carroll. After a story or two had been related to the amusement of all, Ross Alexander said: "Let me tell you an old school reminiscence of Judge Carroll's and mine. Long before the war, when we were young men attending college [Franklin College] at New Athens, Ohio, a few of the young gentlemen of our classes and at our boarding house decided to have an oyster supper, to which they each invited their best girl. It was to be a swell, and very select affair. As a consequence, a number of us were left out, among them Judge Carroll and myself."

Alexander told us how the young gentlemen sent to Wheeling by stage for a large can of oysters, which arrived on the night before the party was given. Those who felt slighted by the nature of the gathering decided that they would have a secret stag party in Alexander's room, and that they would eat all the prized oysters. The great difficulty was to obtain the oysters without the knowledge of the other gentlemen and the landlady, in whose charge they had been placed and who was to serve up the supper. The oysters had been deposited in the cellar, the keys of which were kept in the pocket of the landlady's dress. Judge Carroll was selected to bring the oysters from their place. On the night of their arrival, and while the landlady and her husband slept soundly, he crept softly into their bedroom, took the keys from her pocket, brought the can of oysters to the room where, by means of a red-hot poker, the solder was melted, the lid removed and oysters and a portion of the juice extracted. What was taken out was replaced with water, and by means of a little borax and solder the lid was replaced, the oyster can returned to its place in the cellar and the keys again placed in the dress pocket in the landlady's room.

That night, the thieves had a fine supper of delicious oysters. On the next evening, when the guests had all arrived, the embarrassment and disappointment of that very select company was profound, and their wholesale denunciation of the dishonest oyster dealer in Wheeling unanimous. "It was never known until this very hour who got those oysters," said Alexander. "Do you remember the incident, Judge Chambers? You know you were one of the select young gentlemen who arranged that party of ladies and gentlemen," he continued, as he and the remainder of the attorneys roared with laughter. Judge Chambers, who had been noticeably agitated toward the close of Alexander's recital, sprang angrily to his feet, and with his walking cane raised menacingly, cried out in a great rage, "And you were the infernal thieves and scoundrels who stole those oysters, were you? You are the dirty dogs who caused us to get into trouble with the oyster vendor over that matter and never came to our rescue, are you?" The irate explosion brought out renewed peals of laughter from the other attorneys, and Judge Chambers, recognizing the ridiculous nature of his outburst, immediately recovered his self-control.

My memories of pursuing my professional studies at St. Clairsville were quite delightful. I remember with great pleasure the law student companions there. Those still living at the time I write this are Corwin Dungan, now a leading lawyer in Missouri; Ira McMillan, in the same state, and William W. Alexander, one of the prominent and leading business men in Akron, Ohio. I owe Alexander a lasting obligations for substantial aid in an hour of need, and for many acts of social kindness. May his last days be his brightest, spent with his splendid wife, formerly Miss Lena Woodmansee. Sadly, many others have passed away. James B. Campbell, William Shannon, John Denham, and Abner Miller have joined the silent majority. I might name a large number of others who left us long ago.

Under the fine instruction of the Kennons, I progressed quite rapidly with my studies, and through their kindness and that of Hon. Ross J. Alexander, Peter Tallman, and O.J. Swaney, I was given quite a lot to do among the justices' courts of the county while I was still a student, which not only aided me in acquiring a knowledge of the practice but served to replenish a depleted pocketbook. It shall always be one of my chief pleasures to remember the kindheartedness of these truly noble-hearted gentlemen to a young professional "pulling hard against the stream." I cannot pass over these memories without acknowledging the many kindnesses extended to me while a student, and since that time, by the family of Judge Kennon. His wife was a Miss Mary Ellis, a most admirable woman. She was one of five sisters, daughters of Ezer and Nancy Ellis, one of whom married Governor Shannon, another Hon. H.J. Jewett, another Hon. George Manypenny, and the other Hon. Isaac Eaton. Unfortunately, none survives of this noted family of refined and intelligent women.

More than seven years ago, when calling on Mrs. William Kennon, some four days before her death, she called me to her bedside, drew my face down until her lips touched my cheek, and then said: "Now, John, you have always seemed like one of my boys. I am going to die. I want you to promise to meet me in heaven." A few days later, the spirit of this noble Christian woman, at the age of 95, took its flight to join those of her faithful husband and loving children. When she went I felt another of the links that have bound me to earth had been broken. The only surviving descendent was Mrs. M.C. Mitchell of Martins Ferry, daughter of Ellis E. Kennon.

Other Memories of My Student Days

Before the Civil War, with such noted members of the Steubenville bar as Edwin M. Stanton, Judge Tappan, Rodney Moody, and others -- along with those already mentioned from the St. Clairsville bar -- the counties of Jefferson and Belmont had few if any equals in the state, or even in the nation. The noted Wheeling Bridge case, which had for its object the removal of the first suspension bridge at that city as an obstruction to navigation of the Ohio River, was a war between legal giants. Secretary Stanton represented the city of Pittsburgh and the steamboat and rivermen, while Charles W. Russell appeared for the bridge company and the city of Wheeling. The contest became quite bitter between the litigants and the two cities. Stanton was ultimately victorious and obtained an order from the United States Supreme Court to remove the bridge. Before the order could be executed, however, the state of Virginia, at the time all-powerful in the halls of federal legislation, had a law passed by Congress permitting the bridge to remain in exchange for it becoming a free postal route for the United States mails.

The animosities created by this memorable legal contest did not quickly die out, however. On 18 May 1854, the day after this same bridge blew down in a storm, one of the Pittsburgh steamers then navigating the Ohio, the "Pennsylvania," lowered her chimneys as it always had as it came up the river in order to pass under the bridge; this time, though, she sounded her whistle in triumphant glee and in a spirit of exultation. In her downstream trip on the 20 May 1854, the citizens of Wheeling, still enraged at the insult she had offered some two days before, gathered upon the wharf and stoned the boat, damaging it considerably and not permitting passengers and cargo to disembark. The stone for the abutments of this suspension bridge and likewise for the construction of the bridge over the back river at Bridgeport, which was built in 1835-1836, was quarried from our grandfather's farm at Burlington, some two miles above Wheeling, and floated down the river.

Some of the most laughable incidents from that part of my life happened during the candidacy for nomination and election of many of our county officers just after the war. In one of these Mr. B.F. Brady, later a prosperous merchant of Martins Ferry, who was a returned soldier, was seeking the nomination for sheriff of Jefferson County. He wanted to secure the aid and influence of a Mr. Albaugh, who resided among the hills of Springfield Township in that county, and who, it was said, carried the vote of that township in his pocket. Mr. Brady did not know Albaugh, but started out to find him.

From a high hill the farm of Albaugh was pointed out to him some two miles distant with several hollows intervening. When Brady arrived at the place, he found a man engaged in planting corn with what was presumed to be a corn planter. It was a homemade invention and a most unique contraption. In fact, it was hideous. It was made up partly of store box, odd and angular pieces of pine, hickory, oak, old nails and rusted sheet iron. When in use it made a noise like the combined harmony of a horse fiddle and a barn door with creaky wooden hinges. The farmer had a fast horse hitched to his planter, and as he rattled it at a killing pace over the large unpulverized sods of a poorly plowed field, the agitated handles of the planter caused the feet of its inventive genius to cut many grotesque gyrations in the air. All the while, he watched with swelling admiration the haphazard working of this pride of his heart, stopping occasionally to rest and view with panting gratification the object which seemed to be the sum of all his hopes, unmindful of the fact that a portion of the time his machine was depositing the corn in piles, and then again not dropping any.

Tired from climbing a long hill, Mr. Brady, unobserved, seated himself on the fence and watched the performance go on for some time. He later described how, whenever the corn planter struck a large clod and the horse was at his best gait, the coattail of the farmer cracked like a wagon whip. Finally he cried out, "Hello, there, neighbor, what have you got?" Then walking up and examining the planter, he said, "Now, by George! my friend, you have the finest idea there I ever saw. It is a splendid thing. Have you a patent on it? If you have, it will make you rich." "Well, yes, I made it. I reckon it's a pretty good contrivance, but I have no patent on it. After I get it to working a little better I expect to take out a patent," said the farmer.

"I wonder how you ever could muster sufficient ingenuity to make that machine," said Brady, "but I do not wish to take up your valuable time, Mr. Albaugh, so I will at once come to the matter of my visit to you today. I am seeking the nomination for sheriff of Jefferson County on the Republican ticket, and learning you are the influential Republican of this precinct, I have come to urge my claims for the nomination and to ask if you will not carry your precinct for me at the coming convention?"

After Mr. Brady had gone on at some length and presented his claims fully, the farmer, with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face, said: "Well, my friend, I sympathize with you greatly and hope you will get the nomination, but I can do you no good. You have made a mistake. I am not Mr. Albaugh. I am a Democrat. That is Mr. Albaugh over in the next field. He is the man you want and can do you some good."

Brady, ever fond of a joke and quick to make the best of it, gravely said: "Now, my friend, I see I have made a mistake, the joke is on me and the treat, too, when I meet you in the city, but before I go let me say, as you are a Democrat, I can afford to be honest with you, and if you don't throw away that infernally hideous thing which you call a corn planter, it will break you up. It is not worth a cent and never will be." As Brady walked off the farmer leaned against the planter and laughed heartily. Brady turned as he arrived at the top of the hill to wave him a goodbye, and the farmer cried out, "Say, if you get that nomination I'll vote for you sure."

See next entry: Beautiful Belmont, Part 50 -- Loss.

For the table of contents and first entry in this series, see: Beautiful Belmont, Part 01 -- Table of Contents and Brief Introduction.

This entry is adapted from Bonnie Belmont: A Historical Romance of the Days of Slavery and the Civil War, by John Salisbury Cochran, which was published originally in 1907. The book has been reedited extensively for inclusion in the Pierian Press Fulltext eBooks database, and is included on the Stratton House Inn Web site by special permission. This special edition of Beautiful Belmont is licensed for use ONLY on this Web site. It may not be copied or downloaded, but may be used for educational purposes and personal pleasure under fair-use provisions via this Web site. Please note that this Stratton House Inn iteration of the book does NOT include the subject headings assigned each chapter for use in the Fulltext eBooks database.

CO-AUTHOR: Wall, C. Edward. (Editor)
CO-AUTHOR: Schultheiss, Tom. (Asst. Editor)

DATABASE: Fulltext eBooks: Copyright (c) 2000 The Pierian Press, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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