Hardship and Patriotism in 19th Century Southern Ohio

GALLIPOLIS, OH:  In the summer of 1849 several hundred people along the Ohio River between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati perished from an outbreak of cholera. 

Red dot, rural southern Gallia County in Appalachian Ohio

Among those who died was Catherine Williams, aged 48. Living in  rural Gallia County in southern Ohio, she lasted two months while her 21-year-old son succumbed quickly, dying the horrid cholera death of uncontrolled vomiting and diarrhea.  Highly contagious and not yet understood, cholera brought panic as even grave diggers were afraid to do their work.   

Miraculously Catherine’s husband and eight other children survived.  Two years later Elizabeth, an older daughter and my great grandmother, left home to marry David Howell who resided on a nearby farm. When the Civil War came a decade later Elizabeth was left to raise four children while David went off with the Ohio Volunteer Infantry.  

Elizabeth’s husband, David Howell, 1865

It’s hard today to comprehend the tribulations of 19th century frontier life. Beyond disease and privation there was neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. Travel was by horse and wagon with a trek to town for supplies taking an entire day. Seeing a newspaper was a rare treat.

By necessity families were self-reliant. Women made clothing from scratch and did the scrubbing on a wash board.  Patches of tobacco—a cash crop– were hoed by hand as were larger fields of wheat, corn and vegetables. Chickens scratched in the yard and the cow was milked daily before dawn. Wood had to be chopped for cooking and heat. If there were  fruit trees there would be canning in the fall. Cold storage was a crawl space beneath the pump house.

Elizabeth Williams Howell, age 64 in 1890

People might have been poor but they didn’t know it. They loathed slavery, voted for Lincoln in 1860, and were fiercely patriotic.  July fourth as a holiday rivaled Christmas in importance. After the war even in the smallest village veterans marched in blue uniforms while whatever band could be mustered played.

Elizabeth Howell could relate personally to the American revolution. One grandfather, William Williams, was in the Continental Army, surviving engagements with the British at Camden and Guilford in the Carolinas. Revolutionary war soldiers were allocated free or cheap land in Ohio and he arrived in Gallia County in 1817. Elizabeth was six when William Williams died. 

On her mother’s side, a great-grandfather served with General George Washington. Born in Scotland, Alexander Waddell like William Williams was at Guilford and later Yorktown where the British surrendered in 1781.  After the battle Alexander reunited with his brother Matthew, an opposing soldier in the king’s army. Matthew chose to remain in America and joined his brother in Gallia County. Alexander drew a soldier’s pension and lived to be 102, dying when Elizabeth was eight.  

Daughters of American Revolution marker for Alexander Waddell

Revolutionary War soldiers including Elizabeth Howell’s forbears are honored with a plaque at the entrance to the Gallipolis cemetery.  

Jumping ahead, this 1910 photograph features at the lower left Elizabeth’s daughter Laura, then 52. Her husband Isaac (lower right) was a blacksmith. My father, Howell, born in 1903, is in the middle.  

The Ike and Laura (Howell) Wood family, Gallia County, OH, 1910

As the revolution was real for Elizabeth, both she and daughter Laura experienced the travails of the Civil War. A vivid memory was the July 1863 raid of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. Word of Morgan’s presence spread terror.  Families hid valuables near Dickey Church on Hannan Trace. Seeking horses and food supplies, the raiders swept through the northern part of the county and most were captured as they attempted to escape across the Ohio to West Virginia.

As a boy Howell Wood remembers Union veterans swapping stories while gathered in the hardware store next to the park in Gallipolis.  One old man confided to Howell that he didn’t have a pension because he fought on the rebel side.  “Confederates were hated,” said Howell, “because they had rebelled against the union.”

The legacy of revolution and freedom continues to echo in Gallia County. #

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