Family History in the Context of US History recently sent out an email newsletter focused on “Where History and Family History Meet” and it reminded me of the first time I started to think about how my family experienced the history I already knew about. In a turn of events that I’ll no doubt write about here, I found myself with a family genealogy that a distant cousin had put together in the 50s and submitted to the Library of Congress. Aside: no that doesn’t mean we were a famous family–anyone can submit their genealogy to the Library of Congress. 

This genealogy talked of my 4th great grandfather campaigning for William Henry Harrison on horseback in 1839. It was like a lightbulb went off in my head–oh right,these people aren’t just names I plug into a database. It seems obvious, but until that point I just hadn’t thought about how they fit into their own present day America much.

I know that my 4th great-grandfather, Jerome Drais, was born in Virginia. Someone in his family, I’m not sure if it was his father, fought in the War of 1812 and received a land grant in Ohio for his service.  As a young boy, Jerome was moved to Ohio and  married a woman whose family had followed a very similar route: Germany –> Virgina –> Ohio. Her father had been a Captain in the Ohio Militia during the War of 1812.

Now that I’ve read about William Henry Harrison, I know that he, too, was born in Virginia and lived in Ohio. He was also the commander of the Army for some time during the War of 1812 and resigned. For a number of years before he ran for President, Harrison held various political offices in Ohio.

Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Harrison campaigned as a Whig for the 1840 presidential election, with John Tyler as his vice-presidential running mate. They were cast ast the everyman candidates vs. Van Buren, the wealthy elitist. Meanwhile I think they were all pretty wealthy.  The famous song Tippecanoe and Tyler, too was their campaign song, referencing Harrison leading the Battle at Tippecanoe successfully.

So did Jerome get swept up in the times? Harrison was the first person to ever really campaign hard for president. He also campaigned as a war hero who lived in a log cabin during a huge economic depression and folks related to him. They blamed people like Van Buren. Whatever it was, he rode around Fayette County in Ohio and campaigned.

Alas, Harrison had the shortest presidency ever. He gave the longest inauguration speech ever (2 hours!), without a coat or hat on a cold, wet day. He soon got sick. Within a month he had died and John Tyler became President. Jerome lived through another ten presidents and a Civil War in which five of his sons fought–two were prisoners of war and one (my 3rd great grandfather) was wounded at Gettysburg. It’s amazing to think of the things he lived through.

*Random fascinating fact: two of John  Tyler’s grandsons are still alive!