A collection of bicentennial biographies from Chautauqua County, N.Y. featuring Reuben Fenton (Carroll), Thomas Horan (Dunkirk), Alonzo Cushing and William Cushing (Fredonia) and David Parker (Ashville). Originally broadcast on local radio stations July 4 – July 8, 2011.
No. 126 – Reuben Fenton
Reuben E. Fenton was born in the Town of Carroll on July 4, 1819. He was the youngest son of George W. Fenton, an early settler in the region. Fenton went to school in a local schoolhouse in Carroll and at the age 15 he left to attend school near Cincinnati. Two years later he returned and finished his education at the Fredonia Academy and spent two years as a student at the law office of the Waite brothers in Jamestown.
As a young adult, Fenton left his studies due to ill health and embarked on the lumber trade in southeastern Chautauqua County, in which he was successful. In 1840 he was elected a colonel of the New York State Militia. He got his start in politics running for and winning the seat of Carroll town supervisor, which he held from 1846 to 1852.In 1852, Fenton was elected to Congress as a Democrat. In his first term in Congress, he strongly opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, a leading measure of his party. Fenton unsuccessfully tried to persuade President Franklin Pierce to oppose the bill, and as a result cooperated with the Republican party. He lost reelection in 1954 but was again elected in 1856 and served four consecutive terms.
In 1864 Fenton ran for and one the office of New York State Governor. He was reelected in 1866. Fenton was known as “The Soldiers’ Friend” for his efforts to help returning Civil War veterans. Fenton worked to remove tuition charges for public education, helped to establish six schools for training teachers, and signed the charter for Cornell University.
In 1868, he was among the candidates to be Vice President but the nomination went eventually to Schuyler Colfax. In January 1869, Fenton was elected a U.S. Senator from New York and served from 1869 to 1875. Fenton died on August 25, 1885. His body was interred at the Lakeview Cemetery in Jamestown.
After his death, a building at The State University of New York at Fredonia, Fenton Hall, was named in his honor because he had attended the previous incarnation of the school, the Fredonia Academy. His former home in Jamestown is the site of the Fenton History Center. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
No. 127 – Thomas Horan
Thomas Horan was born in Dunkirk in 1839. Not much is known about his early life only that he remained in the area until becoming an adult. At the age of about 21 years, following the start of the Civil War, Horan enlisted in the Union Army on May 28, 1861 and was attached to company E., 72nd New York Infantry.
Horan served in the Union army for the next two years, eventually being promoted to rank of Sergeant. On July 2, 1863, he and the rest of his company was present during the Battle of Gettysburg. During the fighting, Horan bravely led his regiment of Union soldiers in pushing back a group of confederates from Florida and Horan himself captured the regimental flag of the 8th Florida Volunteer Infantry. For his conduct and bravery in battle, he was later awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Horan continued to serve in the Union Army for much of the remainder of the war and was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness on May 27, 1864. Following the war he returned home and lived in Dunkirk the remainder of his life, dying on January 4, 1902 at the age of 62.
No. 128 – Alonzo Cushing
Alonzo Hersford Cushing was born January 19, 1841 in what is now the city of Delafield, Wisconsin. At the age of six his family came to Fredonia, where his grandfather, Zattu Cushing, was the first permanent settler.
Cushing graduated from the United States Military Academy in the class of June 1861 and became active in the Civil War. In July 1863 Cushing commanded Battery A, 4th U.S. Artillery at Gettysburg, and was hailed by contemporaries as heroic in his actions on the third day of the battle.
On July 3, the third day of the battle, Cushing was wounded three times. First, a shell fragment went straight through his shoulder. He was then hit by a shell fragment, which tore into his abdomen and groin. Despite being grievously wounded, Cushing continued to command his battery due to the limited amount of men left. Because he could not shout over the sounds of the battlefield, he was held aloft by his 1st Sergeant, who faithfully passed on his commands. Cushing was killed when a bullet struck his head at the height of the assault. He was 22 years old.
Following his death, Cushing was posthumously promoted to first lieutenant and his body was interred in the West Point Cemetery. His headstone bears the inscription “Faithful unto Death.”
No. 129 – William B. Cushing
William Barker Cushing was born November 4, 1842 in Delafield, Wisconsin. At the age of five his family came to Fredonia, where his grandfather, Zattu Cushing, was the first permanent settler. He was the youngest of four brothers, the second youngest being Alonzo Cushing [see above] who lost his life in the Battle of Gettysburg.
Cushing was raised in Fredonia and attended school at the U.S. Naval Academy. However he was expelled for pranks and poor scholarship. At the outbreak of the Civil War, however, he pled his case to U.S. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles and was reinstated and went on to acquire a distinguished record, frequently volunteering for the most hazardous missions. His heroism, good luck and coolness under fire were legendary.
What defined Cushing’s military career was his daring plan and its successful execution to destroy the Confederacy’s ironclad ram CSS Albemarle. The powerful ironclad dominated the Roanoke River through much of the war and by the summer of 1864 the U. S. government decided that something should be done to either capture or destroy it. On the night of October 28, 1864, Cushing and a group of 14 men made their way up river and were able to detonate an explosive charge, sinking the vessel. Only Cushing and one other man in his group were able to escape.
After the war Cushing continued to serve in the Navy and eventually earned the rank of Captain. While he was on leave at home in Fredonia, Cushing met Katherine Louise Forbes and the two eventually married and had two daughters.
Cushing suffered from severe back pain the remainder of his service in the Navy, and it’s believed it may have been caused during the sinking of the Albemarle. His health deteriorated so that by December 8, 1874, it became impossible to care for him at home and he was removed to the Government Hospital for the Insane. Commander Cushing died on December 17, 1874 and was buried on January 8, 1875 at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, Maryland.
Five ships in the U.S. Navy have been named USS Cushing after him, the last one was decommissioned in September 2005. A memorial to the Commander hangs in Memorial Hall at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis. In the hall hangs a portrait of Commander Cushing in full dress uniform. Nearly all of the other portraits in the hall are of admirals.
No. 130 – David B. Parker
David Bigelow Parker was born in Ashville in 1842. He was raised in the area and like many men his age, Parker enlisted in the Union Army at the start of the Civil War, joining the 72nd New York State Volunteers. It is said that Parker felt a sense of duty to the North, largely because he was a very strong supporter of President Abraham Lincoln.
In 1864, he met General Ulysses S. Grant at an officer’s meeting. There, General Grant outlined his entire campaign plan to Lieutenant Parker and asked him to make arrangements to begin delivering the military mail. As a result, Parker began to personally carry dispatches directly from General Grant to President Lincoln.
In addition to serving as a message courier between General Grant and President Lincoln, Parker was also asked to devise a system to pay soldiers serving in the Army of the Potomac. Grant wanted to pay his soldiers before sending them to battle, but it was difficult to do so by providing them money in the field. Parker created a money-order system that allowed the payments to be mailed directly to the soldier’s families. The money-order system worked so well that it continued to be used after the war, all the way up to present time.
Following the Civil War, Parker became U.S. Marshal for Washington D.C., appointed directly by Abraham Lincoln. Later he become the Chief Postal Inspector for the United States Post Office, during which time he developed the railway mail service, rural free delivery, and registered letters.
Parker eventually returned to Western New York and became one of the founders of First Bank of Salamanca in 1883. He then headed to Boston to serve as superintendent of the New England Telegraph and Telephone Companies. Later he was manager of the New York City Telephone. By the end of the 19th century he was back in Western New York working for the Bell Telephone Company in Buffalo. He retired as company director 1907.
Parker died on September 22, 1910. A historic marker has since been placed in front of his childhood home in Ashville, located next to the Ashville Library.
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.