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Deciphering the politics of the past


One of the risks of doing genealogy is the "Oooh, my ancestor was a bad dude." The classic form of this in the United States is discovering slave owners in one's ancestry. I periodically poke at my great, great grandfather, John Veeder Plantz, because I think he was kind of a bad guy. I know he left his home in Mohawk around the time the Civil War got started, and he turns up living with his future father-in-law and family in the next census in 1870. He'd shaved some time off his age, perhaps to be more appealing to his much younger future wife, my great, great grandmother, Susan Hamlin. Susan's sister was another of my great, great grandmothers and there's a persistent family rumor that this marrying a cousin thing was maybe something the Hamlin branch had engaged in for a while, but I haven't seen any really obvious evidence of it. Yet. [ETA: Oh, lookee. There it is on page 83 of Andrews' history of Audubon County. I'm so confused by this paragraph I'm going to go sleep now and put it all together tomorrow:

"His children were ... James, adopted, married Sally, daughter of Reuben Hamlin; William (see record of him in the following paragraph); Eleanor, married her cousin Charles, son of Nathaniel Hamlin." That's an earlier Nathaniel than the one I'm carrying on about, obviously. Who Reuben Hamlin might have been is completely unexplained. William is the father of the Nathaniel I'm on about.]

Anyway. John's twin brother George served on the Union side of the War of the Rebellion, but there is no evidence of John's service and that move plus removing years from age plus turning up pretty far west (Iowa) shortly after the war looks a lot like draft avoidance to me.

And then there is the problem of the Millards. I have a great uncle whose middle name was Millard, and whose daughter is very curious about the source of that middle name. Susan's sister Clarinda or Clara married John Millard Allen, so I always assumed the great uncle got it from him (his grandfather) and in the back of my head I figured that was one of those "pick a name from a favored politician/president". Lots and lots of people named their kids Millard around that time. But when Millard Fillmore isn't a joke about irrelevancy, Millard was kind of a bad dude, too, responsible for the Fugitive Slave Act, among other things. If John's middle name is Millard, then John's dad from Tennessee probably wasn't entirely anti-slavery. Family legend suggests that John Allen wound up with the Hamlins because of a falling out with a previous generation over the slavery issue, but John's dad William wound up in Exira, too, so I figured the story had gotten confused as to which generation had the falling out, but who really can tell at this late date?

It seems abundantly clear that the families in Exira weren't exactly pro-Union or pro-abolition. Quite the contrary! Clara and Susan's youngest sibling was named Robert E Lee Hamlin -- and he was born in 1868.

What to make of all this? Iowa sent a lot of young men to fight on the Union side of the War of the Rebellion, but they had their fair share of residents opposed to Lincoln, abolition, and the war in general. With that in mind, I scrounged around to find that biography of Nathaniel, to see if it made any more sense now, having an effort to restore and expand upon my extremely limited understanding of the politics of the time.

http://www.onlinebiographies.info/ia/audu/hamlin-n.htm

"He was the first postmaster appointed at Hamlin's Grove postoffice, and held the position until the election of Abraham Lincoln. He has always been an old-style Jacksonian Democrat, and was appointed postmaster under General Taylor's administration. For two years he was county supervisor. Instead of Mr. Hamlin's seeking the office it sought him, and politics was in a healthier condition than it is to-day."

As one of the first settlers in the county, and along a route taken by those traveling to the western frontier, opening his home to travelers, it's not hard to imagine how John Plantz found himself working for Nathaniel Hamlin. If John was indeed dodging service during the war, I cannot imagine Hamlin having a problem with that.

John's trouble with neighbors later in life over how he fed his pigs seems really quite harmless by comparison.