Thursday, January 6, 2011

Half-Uncle Alonzo--Part II

Part II

Last week on Henrietta:

Alonzo, Ed’s great grandfather’s half brother, whose mother died when he was 3, was raised by his father Amos and stepmother Hepsibah in and around Townsend Massachusetts. He married Ellen Willard, the girl next door, and they moved to Ottumwa, Iowa with their three children Florence, Frank and Nelly. Alonzo  headed west with others from the east, before Horace Greeley ever suggested it. Their fourth child, Lillian, was born soon after they settled in Iowa, a place just ten years into statehood, where there were opportunities for an ambitious young man and his growing family in a community coming into its own just prior to the beginning of the Civil War.

He was building his painting business and making friends and becoming an active member of the little community, populated in some numbers by other transplanted New Englanders and New Yorkers. His neighbors were plasterers and laborers, carpenters, and the like, but he was one of the very few in that neighborhood of his peers who owned real estate and personal property worth taxing. A value of $500 on his home and $200 on his personal property wasn't much, but it was more than most had at the time.

Nearby lived another Massachusetts native named Daniel Eaton. Daniel was a cabinetmaker and a contemporary of Alonzo’s who came from Templeton, Massachusetts, not far from where Alonzo had lived. Daniel settled in Ottumwa a few years earlier than Alonzo and is credited with being one of the first merchants there. It’s likely they were distant cousins and maybe Alonzo was there at his invitation. Alonzo and Daniel and their neighbors began to turn Ottumwa into something much more than just a few crude buildings when after just a few years they were suddenly interrupted by the start of the Civil War and specifically by President Lincoln’s second call for volunteers.

In 1861 after helping to organize the 2nd Iowa Volunteers, along with his fellow Ottumwans, Alonzo, now 30 years old he was ordered to remove to Missouri in June to secure the railroads. But, in August, Lieutenant Eaton was assigned as brigade quartermaster at Pittsburgh Landing in TN, separating him from the others in Company K who went on to follow orders into battle. His friend Captain Charles Cloutman from New Hampshire, was Captain of Company K only because although elected by his company, Alonzo declined the office at Charles' request. Captain Cloutman led the company leaving Alonzo behind, now in charge of supplies for the front.
Civil War Monument Ottumwa

In February of 1862 the 2nd Iowa moved out of Missouri, and was ordered to Fort Donelson Tennessee to meet the enemy and plant the Union flag. Guy E. Logan includes in his book Roster and Record of Iowa Troops In the Rebellion, Vol. 1 the following account by Colonel Tuttle:

The Second Iowa Infantry proved themselves the bravest of the brave. They had the honor of leading the column which entered Fort Donelson. Colonel Tuttle then goes on to mention by name those who especially distinguished themselves by coolness and bravery in the assault upon the fort. Of those in the most responsible positions, ... says of them:

They were gallant to perfection. Lieutenant Colonel Baker had a ball pass through his cap and come out near his temple, Major Chipman was among the first to fall severely wounded, while cheering on the men of the left wing, and refused to be carried from the field, but waved his sword and exhorted the men to press forward. Captains Slaymaker and Cloutman fell dead at the head of their companies before they reached the entrenchments. “

Alonzo must have been devastated knowing that his friend and 8 others that day had been killed. If he hadn’t given in to his friend’s request, perhaps Alonzo would have been leading K Company on that fateful day. Within a few weeks the company would go on to Shiloh, losing more of his comrades. In an interview he did in 1905 back in Springfield, MA he said that he would not see most of these men ever again.

A few months after his friend lost his life at Fort Donelson, Alonzo would learn of his father Amos’ death back in Massachusetts. And within days of losing his father, he would receive happy news of the birth of his 5th child Walter. But enduring the loss of his friends and father and the separation from his family, Alonzo continued to serve his country in proud and remarkable fashion. So well did he do his job as quartermaster that by that fall he was put in charge of Land Transportation and Forage and Mechanical Shops in Corinth, Mississippi with 2,000 men serving under him and a payroll in excess of $40,000 per week.

His performance came to the attention of General Grant who was Commandor of the Army of the West. And Grant then assigned him to take "entire charge of the mechanical shops and the forwarding of supplies to the front". That assignment was in Holly Springs, MS where he remained until it was destroyed in a raid that December.

However, while he was on duty there at Holly Springs, he suggested that a government corral be established in Mattoon, IL "for the recuperation and sale of unserviceable cavalry and artilery horses." Grant was quick to put Captain Eaton’s plan into action, establishing corrals in Mattoon and St. Louis and in a report to Washington General Grant wrote “Captain Eaton is one of the most honorable and energetic men in my department.” By another order, General Grant appointed him "inspector of unserviceable animals in the whole department of West” and was responsible for the disposition of all horses for the rest of the war. By the time he mustered out in October 1865 he had bought and sold hundreds of thousands of dollars of goods and supplies as quartermaster, seen to the disposition and sale of tens of thousands of horses, by his own authority sold at auction the corrals and buildings in St. Louis and Mattoon and had closed his accounts, all balanced to the penny. My kind of accountant!

Captain Eaton and his family, stayed in Mattoon after the war. In 1870 he was no longer a painter, but now a Grain Speculator. The value of his real estate soared to $40,000 and his personal property had grown from $200 to $10,000. Personal Property that was taxed back then was carriages, watches and pianos and Alonzo and Ellen had all of those listed. That same year Alonzo served as Mayor of that town. He also began the First National Bank of Mattoon, where he served as president, and was an officer in the Mattoon Hotel Company. Alonzo at the age of 38 is a well respected, successful member of the community after only a few years.

He then moved his family to Chicago, perhaps with his eye on an even bigger and better life where his impressive success continued. In 1880 he was still making a good living as a Grain Speculator. Living with Ellen and his two youngest children, Walter and Lillian, and their Irish housekeeper, Kate O’Brien. He served as Secretary for the Chicago Open Board of Trade from 1881-1885. And, while I was researching I stumbled across a website that summarized the history of Chicago’s commodities market. It appears as if the Union Army Quartermaster, who is not named, had quite a bit of influence on the evolution of today’s markets.

At the website encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org we find the following information:

During the Civil War the Union quartermaster procured supplies with contracts that postponed delivery of commodities until they were needed and payment was secured. These contracts created a market in “seller's” or “buyer's” options for the future delivery of commodities. Delivery before a date was “optional” because of the risks of transporting commodities to Chicago. Speculative purchases and sales of commodities were also inspired by these options. Regulations governing them were published by the Board of Trade in October 1865. These crude seller's or buyer's options evolved into “futures” contracts by the end of the 1870s.

I am no economic scholar but I'd say Alonzo was certainly positioned well and had inside knowledge of the market as a "Speculator" at the end of the war.  To think that he may well have had some impact on the way those markets work even today is kind of fun.

But, as successful as Alonzo was in business, it must have been a blow when in 1881 Ellen Sawtelle Willard Eaton passed away at just under 50 years old from uterine cancer. She suffered for 6 months before succombing to her illness. They had been married for 30 years and she had raised 5 children, sometimes without Alonzo's presence, during very difficult circumstances. I am sure she was an intelligent and supportive partner for Alonzo. She must have been a very strong and admirable woman.

But, Alonzo wasn't one to give up, despite his certain sadness. Soon thereafter his head was turned by young Emma Cooper from Park Ridge, Il. She was 22 years his junior and only a year older than his oldest daughter Florence. Alonzo and Emma were married just two years after he buried Ellen. Emma was a socialite from all accounts, enjoying her clubs and associations and entertaining guests.
Emma and Alonzo's Marriage License. (click on to enlarge)

Though having already lived a full life by most standards, Alonzo was only in his 50s when he returned home to Massachusetts with his new wife. His son Walter had also moved to Massachusetts just before them, becoming a successful accountant. For a time Alonzo and Emma lived with Walter and his family in Worcester, probably while Alonzo divested himself of real estate and other property back in Chicago.

Soon they settled in Springfield, Massachussetts and Alonzo began yet another chapter in his life. He opened a Real Estate office and he and Emma ran a hotel and worked on developing a resort area on Pearl Hill in the Fitchburg area. Many accounts of their comings and goings can be found in the Fitchburg Sentinel from those days. In one article, he and Emma celebrated their “wooden” or 5th anniversary with 60 of their closest friends one November evening in 1888 in their home. One of his guests gave them a wooden parlor table.

One of Alonzo and Emma's real estate holdings from tax records. (click on to enlarge)
He was busy with various civic and commercial undertakings, including serving on the Trade Commission for Fitchburg. Emma and he were buying and selling real estate in both of their names. We find him presenting plans for a hotel at Eatonia Park, the resort he is developing on Pearl Hill. Around the same time, he was promoting the need for a Chemical Engine for the Fire department in 1891, talking about the equipment Chicago had already acquired some time before. He was a member of the Masons, The Eastern Star, The Grange and was an Odd Fellow. They were quite the toast of the town from what I can determine.
Alonzo's Death Certificate. Note occupation: Hotel Proprietor

Alonzo outlived all but two of his children and  died in 1907 at the age of 76. His body was taken back to Chicago for burial on the train. In an article about his memorial service in the Fitchburg Sentinel, the following was written:


Account of memorial service appearing in Fitchburg Sentinel
(click to enlarge)


When I read the article above about his memorial service, I was curious about the Springfield Ethical Union, of which he was a dedicated and active member. I found some interesting information. This was one of several "unions" associated with the American Ethical Union, an organization that believed that Christianity and the afterlife as well as other mainstream religious beliefs were all just fictional, superstitious beliefs. Although they welcomed a number of differing opinions, clearly they are at the very least agnostics.

As it turns out, before returning to Massachusetts, Alonzo and Emma had aligned themselves with the Central Church of Chicago that was founded by Professor David Swing, a confidant of Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln. Professor Swing had been a Presbyterian minister who was charged with heresy and ended up resigning from that ministry before establishing the Central Church. Apparently he had published some writings and delivered sermons questioning Christianity and leaned toward Unitiarianism, denouncing the Trinity, and much more from what I can make out.
Proffessor David Swing

Out of that relationship, and perhaps his experiences during the war, Alonzo began to question Christianity, and ultimately his belief in God.  In a publication called The Humanitarian Review, a monthly booklet that promotes atheism or at least the scientific questioning of Christian beliefs, this letter to the editor appeared in June of 1907.


What an interesting life Alonzo had. He was a tradesman, a unique type of war hero, in my mind; a man who married the girl next door and dared to relocate a thousand miles from home and raise a family. He became a mover and a shaker in an exciting time in finance; a public servant and a local celebrity in small towns and big cities. He must have been quite a guy to marry such a young bride in his middle age and to keep up with the social whirl that she seems to have enjoyed. And he was well-respected in spite of being an atheist, of all things, a controversial way of thinking for the period then and still by today’s standards.

Alonzo's final resting place in Chicago, Cook County, Ill

It's hard for me to imagine he was able to accomplish all of these things and lead the life he did without some divine assistance. Or, perhaps he and Daniel Webster had something in common and there wasn't anything divine about it.

Whatever the truth was for Alonzo during his lifetime, I am sure he was set straight after his death. Perhaps he was met by his long dead mother and his father Amos and his beloved Ellen. And maybe Captain Cloutman led the way through the Pearly Gates.