Recalling an honest man, ‘the noblest work of God’

old waxhaw graveyard

A number of notable individuals are interred at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery in South Carolina’s Lancaster County, just south of the North Carolina state line.

These include Andrew Jackson Sr., the father of the seventh US president; William Richardson Davie, who led American troops in the Revolutionary War, served as governor of North Carolina and is considered the founder of the University of North Carolina; and James Witherspoon, lieutenant governor of South Carolina from 1826-28.

One individual who doesn’t garner the recognition of the above but is certainly worthy of acknowledgement is William Blair, who came from Ireland to the US in the early 1770s.

Like many of the men buried at Old Waxhaw, Blair served the American cause in the Revolution. His contributions are etched onto the horizontal slab that sits atop a “chest tomb,” a brick and mortar edifice constructed over his grave.

Blair’s epitaph contains more than 300 words, engraved in fine script that must have taken a stone carver a fair bit of time to craft.

It details the date of Blair’s birth and death, that he arrived from County Atrium at age 13 and that he was preceded in death by his wife Sarah, who rests next to him.

What’s of particular note, however, is the description of Blair’s involvement in the American Revolution, and his life afterward:

“He was a Revolutionary Patriot: – And in the humble Stations of private Soldier and Waggon master. it is believed he Contributed more essentially to the Establishment of American Independence than many whose names are proudly emblazoned on the page of History. With his Father’s waggon he assisted in transporting the baggage of the American Army for several months. – He was also in the battles of the Hanging Rock. – The Eutaw, Ratliff’s bridge, Stono – and the Fish dam ford on broad river. …”

View of William Blair's gravestone at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Click to see bigger image.

View of William Blair’s gravestone at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Click to see bigger image.

The engagements referred to are the battles of Hanging Rock, Aug. 6, 1780; Eutaw Springs, Sept. 8, 1781; Ratliff’s or Radcliff’s Bridge, March 6, 1781; Stono Ferry, June 20, 1779; and Fishdam Ford, Nov. 9, 1780.

Given that there were more battles and skirmishes fought in South Carolina than any other American colony during the Revolution, it’s almost a certainty that Blair saw action at other encounters, as well.

Just as interesting is what follows after the details of Blair’s service:

“In one of these battles (it is not recollected which) he received a slight wound: but so far from regarding it, either then or afterwards, when it was intimated to him that he might avail himself of the bounty of his Country and draw a Pension (as many of his Camp associates had done) he declared that, if the small Competence he then possessed failed him, he was both able and willing to work for his living; and if it became necessary, to fight for his Country without a penny of pay. He was in the Language of Pope, The noblest work of God – an honest man. ‘No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode; (There they alike in trembling hope repose) The bosom of his Father and his God.’”

Blair died on July 2, 1824, at age 65. He and his wife Sarah had seven children, including one son, James, who served four terms in Congress.

Today, Americans remember the likes of George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette and John Paul Jones when they’re able to recall any military leaders from the Revolution War at all.

But were it not for William Blair and thousands of others like him, men who served dutifully during the conflict and then quietly went about the business of building a nation, it’s difficult to imagine that the Founding Fathers’ ambitions would have ever been realized.

(Top: View of Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Lancaster County, SC.)

Renovation set for 180-year lock keeper’s house in Washington

lock keepers house washington

Amid the many monuments and memorials found on the Washington Mall, one structure stands out for a very different reason. The Lock Keeper’s House of the long-defunct Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is a 180-year old structure that sits at the intersection of Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW, approximately 1,000 feet north of the National World War II Memorial and less than 1,500 feet northeast of the Washington Monument.

Originally the eastern terminal of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the structure was erected around 1835, part of an extension of the C&O Canal. The building was constructed as the house for the canal lock keeper, who collected tolls and kept records of commerce on the waterway.

Plans are underway to restore and relocate the venerable structure, part of a $7.5 million refurbishment that will take approximately two years to complete, according to an upcoming edition of American Heritage magazine.

The two-story stone block structure will be moved back from the busy intersection as part of the restoration.

The effort is being bolstered by a $1 million donation from the American Express Foundation, which will assist  National Park Service and Trust for the National Mall plans to renovate the house. The venerable structure will be used as a gateway to the revitalized 38-acre Constitution Gardens and nearby monuments.

The C&O Canal began as George Washington’s idea to open the Potomac River as an all-water transportation route to the Ohio River Valley, according to the C&O Canal Trust.

Within the nation’s capital, the canal passed along the present line of B Street in front of house, emptying into Tiber Creek and the Potomac River.

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Grandsons of John Tyler – US president born in 1790 – still alive

john tyler

It seems rather remarkable, but two grandsons of John Tyler, the 10th president of the United States and a man born less than year after George Washington was first inaugurated as president, are still alive.

Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr., who turned 90 this week, and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, who turned 86 last November, continue chugging along, nearly 175 years after their grandfather assumed the nation’s highest office.

John Tyler was born in Virginia in 1790. He was elected vice president in 1841, and ascended to the Oval Office a month later when President William Henry Harrison caught pneumonia and died after making an hour-long inaugural address in cold, rainy weather.

Tyler was the first vice president to become president on the death of sitting chief executive.

Tyler’s first wife Letitia was an invalid at the time he became president and died soon thereafter. He later married Julia, who was 30 years his junior, making him the first president to be married while in office.

Tyler was rather prolific. He fathered 15 children: eight with Letitia and seven more with Julia. Five of his children by his second wife lived into the 20th century and one repeated the pattern of his father.

Tyler’s 13th child, Lyon Gardiner Tyler (1853-1935), had three children with his first wife Anne Baker Tucker Tyler and three more with his second wife Sue Ruffin Tyler, whom he wed after Anne’s death. When he wed Sue Ruffin Tyler, Lyon Tyler was 70, twice her age.

While one of the latter three children died in infancy, Lyon Gardiner Tyler Jr. lives in Franklin, Tenn., and Harrison Ruffin Tyler, lives at Sherwood Forest Plantation, the Tyler’s historic family home in Virginia.

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Houdon’s Washington: Sublime artistry

Houdon's Washington

The most valuable piece of marble in the United States is said to rest in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va.

Jean-Antoine Houdon’s sculpture of George Washington, completed in the early 1790s, is insured for $50 million.

Carved from Carrara marble, it depicts a life-sized Washington. Standing 6-foot-2-1/2 inches, Washington’s right hand is on a cane while his left arm rests on a fasces, on which is slung his cape and sword. At Washington’s back is a plow.

He is shown wearing his military uniform; Washington wished to be depicted in contemporary attire, rather than that of antiquity popular in Neo-classical sculpture.

Chief Justice John Marshall, a contemporary of Washington, said of Houdon’s work, “Nothing in bronze or stone could be a more perfect image than this statue of the living Washington.”

The statue is so realistic that Washington’s uniform is shown missing a button toward the bottom of his waistcoat, just as his real-life uniform appeared at the time.

“Houdon’s statue alludes to the similarities between Washington and the ancient Roman General Cincinnatus who, when Rome no longer needed him, gave up his military power and returned to the simple life of a farmer,” according to the website of Virginia General Assembly. “The artist carefully balanced the military and civilian elements of Washington’s career: his sword is by his side, and he rests his left hand on a fasces (a bundle of rods, which was a Roman symbol of power), but he carries a civilian walking cane and stands next to a plow.

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The wacky world of the early US high court

John Jay Court

John Marshall became chief justice of the United States on this date in 1801. Marshall would sit on the high court until 1835, and his opinions laid the basis for American constitutional law and made the US Supreme Court a co-equal branch of government, along with the legislative and executive branches.

But what of Marshall’s predecessors?

The best known of the three men to lead the Supreme Court before Marshall was John Jay, who, among other things, helped write the Federalist Papers with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

During Jay’s nearly six years as chief justice (1789-1795), the high court ruled on just four cases, rather remarkable considering today the court receives petitions to hear some 7,000 cases annually.

Jay resigned as chief justice in June 1795 after being elected governor of New York. President George Washington named John Rutledge of South Carolina, an original high court associate justice who had resigned in 1791 to become chief justice of the South Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Sessions, to replace Jay.

Washington’s appointment took effect immediately as the US Senate was not in session.

However, Rutledge’s time on the court proved one of the shortest in the history of the nation. He was a vocal opponent to the Jay Treaty of 1794, which resolved issues remaining from the Revolutionary War but left many Americans unhappy.

His opposition cost him support in the administration and the senate. In addition, questions about his mental stability, driven at least partly by partisanship, were making the rounds.

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Set of Founding Fathers’ signatures up for sale


A rare collection featuring the signatures of all 56 men who signed the US Declaration of Independence will be put up for sale by a New England auction house tomorrow.

RR Auction of Amherst, NH, is auctioning off the Proctor-Sang-Newell Collection of Signers of the Declaration of Independence. RR Auction calls the collection one of the finest quality sets ever offered for sale.

“Most of the examples are substantial-length letters, many of which feature significant historical content by some of the nation’s most important Founding Fathers,” the company writes in promotional material.

The key signature in the Proctor-Sang-Newell Collection is said to be that of Georgia signer Button Gwinnett. There are just 51 examples of his autograph known to exist – and only 11 in private hands, according to RR Auction.

Individual examples of Gwinnett’s autograph have sold for as much as $150,000, making his signature by far the most valuable American autograph.

Gwinnett, born in 1735, had a relatively short public life, being elected to the Georgia Provincial Assembly in 1769 and serving briefly as the provisional president of Georgia in 1777 before being killed in a duel later that same year.

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Washington’s Constitution fetches nearly $10 million

A 223-year-old book containing George Washington’s copies of the Constitution and Bill of Rights sold for nearly $10 million at an auction Friday evening in New York.

After an intense bidding war with an unidentified party, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, charged with the preservation of Washington’s residence just outside the US capital, purchased the book for $9.82 million, according to Agence France-Presse.

The sale price was $8.7 million; with the commission bringing the total to nearly $10 million, according to auction house Christie’s. Original estimates were that the work could fetch between $2 million and $3 million.

The manuscript, bound by Thomas Allen of New York in 1789, was one of a set of three. The other two copies went to future President Thomas Jefferson and John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

The 106-page book, bound in white leather, features Washington’s signature on the document’s first page. The documents contain notes in Washington’s handwriting, including notations of the responsibilities of the president.

“It’s an exciting day. We are thrilled to be able to bring this extraordinary book back to Mount Vernon where it belongs,” said Ann Bookout, a spokeswoman for the Mount Vernon Ladies Association.

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