Posts Tagged ‘American History’

Slavery, Politics, and Elk Lick House

Thomas Morris is a forgotten titan of Ohio politics.  Serving only one term as a United States Senator from Ohio, 1833-1839, Morris left his mark on national politics because of slavery.   Voted in on the coattails of the Jackson presidency, Morris stood strong with the president on the issues of the banking system and ‘nullification”.  As time went on, he became an early opponent of slavery; this put him at odds with the Jacksonian Machine that got him elected as a result.

Thomas Morris

Thomas Morris

Born in Berks County, Pennsylvania, January 3, 1776, Morris was the fifth child of a Baptist minister and his wife.  They soon moved to Clarksburg, Virginia, now West Virginia.  Tradition holds that his anti-slavery beliefs were a result of his mother’s views.  His mother, Ruth, was the daughter of a Virginia planter.  Seeing the hardships of her father’s slaves had an impact on her to the point of not accepting four slaves as part of her inheritance.  It should be noted, however, that she also did not free them.  If indeed this was where the seeds were sown for his anti-slavery beliefs, they would not surface until his time as a United States Senator.

After a brief stint, searching for Indians in the back country, as a Wood Ranger, under the command of Captain Levi Morgan, Thomas Morris arrived at the Columbia settlement in 1795.  He worked as a store clerk for several years, married Rachel Davis in 1797, then moved to Bethel, Ohio in Clermont County in 1800.  He studied for and passed the bar to become a lawyer in 1804.  He set up shop in Bethel and soon had a successful practice as a frontier lawyer.

Thanks to his success, he rose to prominence and was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1806.  He went on to serve in the Ohio Senate as well before gaining the national stage as United States Senator from Ohio 1833-1839.  His selection by the Democrats for the senate seat was largely viewed as reward for his ardent support of the re-election of Andrew Jackson.  Morris proved his loyalty by supporting Jackson’s war with the National Bank and introducing anti-nullification legislature that passed through the government.  This may have been the high-water mark for this relationship.

As the issue of slavery raised its ugly head due to America’s expansion, legislators began to take sides based on state location and personal beliefs.  On January 7, 1836, Senator Morris introduced an anti-slavery bill in the 24th Congress, which raised the ire of South Carolina’s John C. Calhoun. In response to Calhoun’s attack, Morris stood his ground and seemingly broke what was a “gentleman’s agreement” not to broach the subject at length.  The gauntlet had been thrown down and Morris was now hailed a torch bearer by abolitionists such as Cincinnati’s James G. Birney.  While popular in those circles, his views were not so within the party that elected him.  President Andrew Jackson went so far as to “shun” him on his visit to Cincinnati.  The writing was on the wall; Morris had lost the support of his party due to his outspoken views on slavery.  As the Senator’s first term came to a close, he did not seek a second term in the senate.

Elk Lick House at Heritage Village Museum

Elk Lick House at Heritage Village Museum

Thomas Morris returned to Clermont County.  In 1840, he began to work at the Elk Lick Mill property owned in partnership by Charles White, his son-in-law, and others.  The property had a sawmill, gristmill, and distillery on site.  Morris split his time between his home in Bethel and working and staying on the grounds of the Elk Lick House compound.  It appears that with the exception of running for vice-president on the Liberty Party ticket in 1844, that most of Morris’ time was spent at Elk Lick Mills.  So much so that three mortgages were owed to Thomas Morris’ estate after his death December 7, 1844. A rise in the value of the Elk Lick property indicates that the Elk Lick House front addition was probably built while Morris was still alive, perhaps as his retirement home.  To reinforce this possibility, the census of 1850, according to researcher, Mary Laudrick, shows Charles White, Thomas Morris’ widow and three daughters all living at Elk Lick House.  Regardless, Senator Morris left his mark on the anti-slavery movement, Clermont County, and Elk Lick House.

James Presley Ball: Cincinnati Photographer

James Presley Ball

James Presley Ball

James Presley Ball (1825-1904) was a prominent African American photographer, abolitionist, and businessman. He was born in 1825 to William and Susan Ball, who were listed as free people of color in Virginia.

Ball learned daguerreotype photography from John B. Bailey of Boston, who was also a “free man of color”. Daguerreotype photography was invented in 1839 and marked a milestone in photographic history as people could now easily carry around a portrait of their loved one.  Today, most photographs are made from images printed to paper from transparent negatives. The daguerreotype was a polished copper plate upon which an image was directly exposed. Since no negative was used in the process, each daguerreotype was one of a kind. Each photograph had a mirror-like surface, ornate case, and was small enough to hold in the hand or carry in a pocket. It is no wonder the daguerreotype was primarily used for portraits and became immensely popular through the 1850’s.

Ball had opened a one room daguerreotype studio in Cincinnati in 1845, but business was sluggish, so he closed the gallery and became a travelling photographer. He settled briefly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then in Richmond, Virginia, before returning to Cincinnati in 1849.

Ball opened another daguerreotype studio in downtown Cincinnati in 1851. Two years later, he moved the studio to a larger location at 30 W. Fourth Street and hired 9 employees. The gallery was known as “Ball’s Great Daguerrian Gallery of the West” and became one of the notable photography galleries of the United States.

Due to the studio’s success, Ball opened a second gallery in downtown Cincinnati at 120 W. Fourth Street with his brother in law, Alexander Thomas. The Ball & Thomas gallery also prospered and soon became known as the finest photographic gallery west of the Allegheny Mountains. Ball Mammoth

In 1855, Ball published one of his most significant works – an abolitionist pamphlet accompanied by a 600 yard long panoramic painting titled “Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade; of Northern and Southern Cities; of Cotton and Sugar Plantations; of the Mississippi, Ohio and Susquehanna Rivers, Niagara Falls & C.”

Ball ended his partnership with Alexander Thomas in 1860, but the Ball & Thomas gallery remained as Thomas C. Ball, J.P. Ball’s younger brother, continued the studio until the death of Alexander Thomas in 1875.

Ball began to have financial difficulties around 1865 and ultimately left Cincinnati in 1871.  Before he left Ball gave his son an interest in his gallery and the name was changed to Ball & Son.

During his career, J.P. Ball became known as an accomplished photographer and had the opportunity to photograph a wide mix of people. Some of the more notable subjects include P.T. Barnum, Frederick Douglas, Charles Dickens, Jenny Lind, the family of Ulysses S. Grant, and Queen Victoria of England. Ball also captured a country in transition as he photographed common pioneers, slaves, soldiers, and immigrants. His works were featured in exhibitions at the Ohio Mechanics Institute expositions held in 1852, 1854, 1855, and 1857. He also won the bronze medal for photography at the 1857 exposition.

A sampling of Ball’s portraits can be viewed at the Cincinnati History Library and Archives. 

Origins of our Flag and Flag Day

Most people associate the Fourth of July with the birth of our nation and Flag Day, celebrated on June 14th every year, barely gets a second look. Why do we have a special day commemorating the Flag and why June 14th?


The Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act on June 14, 1777, which established an official flag for the new nation. The Act “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

 flag, first


This is the design that became the Official United States Flag on June14th, 1777. Each star and stripe represented a Colony of which there were thirteen, united nearly one year earlier by the Declaration of Independence. The only President to serve under this flag was George Washington (1789-1797). This Flag was to last for a period of 18 years until stars were added for other states that entered the union.

The idea of a day specifically celebrating the Flag is thought to have begun in 1885 by a school teacher in Wisconsin. The date of June 14th was chosen because it was the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777, which was the official adoption of the American Flag design. The day became known as “Flag Birthday”, which eventually became Flag Day. The celebration of Flag Day spread and by the late 19th century, many communities throughout the United States were having ceremonies in the schools where children would carry a small Flag while patriotic songs were sung.

On May 20, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson made a Proclamation establishing Flag Day on June 14th. Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after the proclamation, but it wasn’t until August 3, 1949 that National Flag Day was signed into law by President Harry Truman.



 flag, star spangled banner



This Flag became the Official United States Flag on May 1st, 1795. The 15-star, 15-stripe flag was authorized by the Flag Act of January 13, 1794, adding 2 stripes and 2 Stars. The two stars and stripes were added for the admission of Vermont and Kentucky into the union. This flag was the only U.S. Flag to have more than 13 stripes. It was immortalized by Francis Scott Key, when he wrote the poem The Star Spangled Banner, during the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Sept 13, 1814. This flag design lasted for 23 years, until 1818. Realizing that the addition of a new star and new stripe for each new State was impractical, Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818 which returned the flag design to 13 stripes and specified 20 stars for the now 20 states.