A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, featuring James Strang (Ellington), Ellen Yates Miller. (Jamestown), George Pullman (Brocton), Edith Ainge (Jamestown), and Gertrude Williams (Kennedy). Originally airing on local radio stations March 21 – March 25 2011.
No. 51 – James Strang
James Jesse Strang was born March 21, 1813, in, Cayuga County, N.Y., the son of Clement Strang and Abigail James Strang. In June 1836, James moved to Clear Creek in the Town of Ellington and began practicing law in nearby Randolph. In November of that same year, he married Mary Abigal Perce in Silver Creek. While living in Chautauqua County, Strang also served as owner and editor the Randolph Herald and as Ellington postmaster for five years. On Aug. 18, 1843, Strang and his wife loaded their belongings into a carriage and left their home in Clear Creek for Burlington, Wis.
A year after arriving in Wisconsin, Strang met the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, in Nauvoo, Ill. Despite an earlier philosophical skepticism, Strang became a Mormon convert and was ordained an elder by Smith.
Smith assigned Strang to found a branch in Burlington and while Strang was away, Smith was killed. Shortly thereafter Strang produced a letter naming him as Smith’s chosen heir. He was challenged by Brigham Young, and Strang led those who accepted him to Nauvoo, Ill., and eventually to Beaver Island, Wisc., where he formed a colony in 1848. It grew in a short period of time and soon had the numbers to elect Strang to the state legislature. A disruption, known as the “War of Whiskey Point,” grew between the Mormons and non-Mormons of the area and by the early 1850s, most of the non-Mormons had left the Island.
The ensuing degree of absolute power went to Strang’s head, and he had himself crowned king and began taking additional wives. Attempts to oust him by legal means failed, and in 1856 he was assassinated by two disgruntled followers. His people were then driven off the Island by an unruly mob.
No. 52 – Ellen Yates Miller
Ellen Yates Miller was born and raised in Jamestown, graduating with the class of 1900. After completing school, she worked in the dry goods and notion store of Samuel Thompson on Main Street, Jamestown.
In 1918 Yates Miller entered the field as a candidate for the Republican nomination for the office of Chautauqua County Clerk. She nominated in the party primary and elected at the general election. This made her the first female county clerk in New York State History. Yates Miller then held office from 1919 until her death in 1940. At that time, she had held public office longer than any other woman in New York State’s history. She was opposed in only one primary, and was serving her eighth term at the time of her death.
Yates Miller also played a role in organizing the State Association of County Clerks, and served as the secretary-treasurer of that organization from 1921 when it was formed. She was active in the American Legion, Dunkirk-Fredonia Zonta Club, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the County Public Health Committee, and the County Republican Women’s Club.
A historical marker was dedicated to Ellen Yates Miller’s accomplishment and can be found in front of the Chautauqua County Courthouse in Mayville.
No. 53 – George Pullman
George Mortimer Pullman was born on March 3, 1831, in Brocton, but his parents soon moved to nearby Portland. Shortly after the death of his father, Pullman dropped out of school at the age of 14 and went to work in a general store, becaming the main source of income for his family. In 1848 he joined his older brother in Albion, N.Y. where he worked as a cabinetmaker.
In 1853 Pullman became a general contractor and helped move several buildings that stood in the way of a project to widen the Erie Canal. Upon completion of that work in 1855 he moved to Chicago, where he entered the business of raising buildings onto higher foundations to avoid flooding.
In the 1860s Pullman made a name for himself nationally when he developed a railroad sleeping car, the Pullman sleeper, or “palace car.” By arranging to have the body of President Abraham Lincoln carried from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill. on his car, he received national attention and the orders began to pour in. Throughout the rest of the 1860s Pullman designed more service trains known for their luxurious amenities. He also created a model of using former slaves to serve various duties on his trains, making him the became the biggest single employer of African Americans in post-Civil War America.
In 1880 Pullman built a new plant south of Chicago and in an effort to solve the issue of labor unrest and poverty, he also built a brand new town adjacent to his factory. This move was initially hailed by the national press, but by 1894, business began to fall off and Pullman cut jobs and wages while increasingworking hours. This led his workers to launch the Pullman Strike, a violent upheaval which spread throughout the union and was eventually broken up by federal troops.
Pullman’s company town was found to be “un-American” and he was forced to divest ownership in the town, which was then annexed to Chicago. Pullman died of a heart attack in 1897. He was 66.
No. 54 – Edith Ainge
Miss Edith Ainge was born in England in September 1874. She was the daughter of William and Susan Ainge, who had a total of ten children. The family came to the United States in 1884 and eventually settled in Jamestown.
As an adult, Ainge worked for state suffrage in New York as early as 1915. She eventually began practicing a more militant approach to women’s suffrage and by the spring of 1917 she had moved to Washington D.C. to join the National Women’s Party and began picketing in front of the White House. By summer, police in the nation’s capitol had started arresting women picketing in for suffrage. On July 14, Ainge and 15 other women were arrested, tried and sentenced to serve 60 days in the Occoquan, Virginia Workhouse. There, the women staged hunger strikes, and some were force-fed brutally and otherwise treated violently.
The mistreatment did not dissuade the members of the NWP and by New Years Day, 1919, they had staged a “Watch Fire Demonstration” in front of the White house. Ainge was the first member to light a fire in an urn, while a fellow member tossed copies of President Woodrow Wilson’s speeches into fire. Other protesters held a banner reading “President Wilson is Deceiving the World When He Appears as the Prophet of Democracy.” The women were arrested again and released again, only to hold other similar protests. The effort was to exert pressure on Wilson to secure the remaining two votes necessary for Senate passage of an amendment granting women the right to vote.
On June 14, 1919, Congress finally approved an amendment to the constitution granting women the right to vote. It was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920.
From September 1917 to January, 1919, Ainge had served a total of five jail sentences. After securing the right to vote for all women, she returned to Jamestown where she lived – and voted – Until her death in 1948.
No. 55 – Gertrude Williams
Gertrude A. Harris was born in the Town of Poland, July 2 1868. As an adult, she became married Stanley Williams and had two daughters, Beryle and Mildred.
Williams was the first woman justice in New York State. She was elected soon after the amendment was made to the Constitution providing for the election of woman to the office of justice of the peace. From 1920 to 1924, she held court in her home in the village of Kennedy, on the Kenedy-Frewsburg Rd. (Rte 62).
An early newspaper account mentions Williams and her court. In involves the dances that were commonly held in Kennedy and the “Rowdism” that was often present. The aticles says that everyone who attends the dances “must behave, or they will fare ill in court before the woman judge, who is determined to wipe out the dance hall disturbers who attend merely for the purpose of creating a disturbance.”
The home that Williams held court in and the hotel mentioned in the article both burned in 1937. The foundation of the Williams home is still on the property and can be viewed from the roadside.
Gertrude Williams died in Lockport on October 3, 1961. In 2005, a historical marker was erected, noting her accomplishment of being the first female justice of the peace in New York State.
Ref: Rebecca Lindquist, Town of Poland Historian
Bicentennial Biographies is a not-for-profit radio project designed to raise awareness and increase interest in local history. It is brought to you as a public service by the Chautauqua County Historical Society throughout 2011 to celebrate the county’s 200th birthday. To learn more, visit www.McClurgMuseum.org or contact your local historical society.
– J. Sample