Friday, June 14, 2013

It's Flag Day

15 Stars and Stripes 1795 design over Ft Meigs

We have Flag Day on June 14th because on that day in 1777 Congress adopted the original 13 Stars and Stripes US flag. However, it wasn't until 1916 that it became officially proclaimed as such by Woodrow Wilson and not until 1949 when Congress approved it as National Flag Day. It is kind of confusing because various communities and States have had Flag Day observances as far back as 1861.

What does this have to do with Ohio Valley history? Not much really but you may be interested to know that Ohio was the 17th state in 1803 and there never was a 17-star flag or a 16-star flag for that matter. The 15 star (and 15 stripe) US flag which added the states of Vermont and Kentucky, pictured here over Ft Meigs in Perrysburg OH stayed in use from 1795 until 1818. This is the flag design that inspired our National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner, at Ft McHenry during the War of 1812 and was the 3rd longest running design of the US Flag at 23 years.

the actual flag from Fort McHenry
pic taken in the 1870s
In 1818 the stripes were reduced to 13 to represent the original colonies and became a 20-star flag to include the 5 new states of Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee. After that they added one or two stars like crazy 25 times as new States joined the Union, therefore many of the flag designs were in use for only a year or two in most cases until the 50-star flag became the longest running design for over 50 years since its adoption in 1960.

If you ask me Ohio got cheated out of a 17 star US flag and if Puerto Rico ever gets in as #51 that's possibly going to make the flag look closer to the original 1777 thirteen star Betsy Ross flag.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Going Underground on Hamilton Avenue

 Dr. John Witherspoon Scott

Underground Railroad sign
On what appears to be just another struggling storefront in Midwest America at the corner of Compton & Hamilton Ave in Mt. Healthy, is a small wooden sign announcing "a stop on the Underground Railroad in 1840". I decided to check up on that assertion as I really enjoy uncovering more info on forgotten and obscure local history.

It turns out there was an entire Underground Railroad system up and down Hamilton Avenue in the early 19th Century.

The home was built in 1840 in what was then Mount Pleasant by Dr. John Witherspoon Scott (1800-1892), an abolitionist, Presbyterian minister, math Professor, and the first Professor of Science at Miami University in Oxford, OH from 1828-1845. He was fired by Miami U over the issue of slavery in 1845 when folks were choosing sides on this hot topic of the day. It seems that Miami U President George Junkin, also a Presbyterian minister, was supporting slavery on Biblical grounds. After his dismissal, Scott began teaching at a prep school called Farmers College in what would become the Cincinnati neighborhood of College Hill, a couple of miles south of this house. It should be noted that since there was another Mt. Pleasant in Ohio, in 1850 this town was renamed to Mt. Healthy after a cholera epidemic in the area somehow left its citizens unscathed that same year.

Dr. Scott's former home in Mt Healthy
c.late 1800s (left side)
Dr. Scott's former home in Mt Healthy c.2012
Dr. Scott also has a connection to Ohio's US Presidential legacy. Scott was future 23rd President Benjamin Harrison's mentor at Farmers College from 1848-1850. Benjamin, born in North Bend OH and grandson of 9th US President William Henry Harrison became friendly with Scott's daughter Caroline during his many visits to the Scott home and they eventually married in 1853 with the Reverend father-in-law officiating. Dr. Scott later lived with the Harrison's in the White House until he died there in 1892.

So, back to the sign. Was this a stop on the Underground Railroad? Probably. Sometimes these claims are difficult to prove since their actions were illegal in Ohio* and left few records but based on who lived there, the amount of activity of this type in the area and the fact that there are traces of tunnels and hidden rooms inside the home, it seems very likely.

On a related note, Happy 162nd Anniversary to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. It first appeared in an abolitionist periodical on June 5th, 1851 as a series which led to it being published as a book the next year.

*Coincidentally on this same date, June 5th, 1804, one year after Ohio Statehood, the Ohio General Assembly enacted the so-called Black Laws that required African-Americans to prove they were free and anyone harboring an escaped slave could be fined.

Many thanks to the excellent local history book available to read online, A Little Piece of Paradise...College Hill, Ohio by Betty Ann Smiddy as well as the Mount Healthy Historical Society website for information in researching this article.