Hopefully this post will provide a small bit of insight into some of our ancestor’s lives and their viewpoints during the time in which they lived.
The identity of my great-grandfather Schuyler Colfax’s mother was a mystery, but thanks to his unusual name, the mystery was solved. Read this post to find out about how we found her. However, the victory of solving one mystery usually is followed by the frustration of uncovering more. Such was the case of Schuyler’s distinctive name. Why did his parents name him Schuyler Colfax. Where did the name come from? Is it a family name?
Our Schuyler was born in 1868, during the reconstruction of the south. His father and his uncles fought for the Union and were prisoners of war. His uncle, Eli Langley, died at the prison camp at Andersonville.
His father Braz was captured and sent to a camp in Richmond, VA.
The family appear to be Union sympathizers so it isn’t surprising they would name their son after a prominent United States politician – Schuyler Colfax. During the time of reconstruction, Colfax was well-known public figure. While I love history, I do have gaps in my knowledge and I had no idea who Mr. Colfax was or his place in American history. But he must have made an impression on my great great grandparents, so I had to find out more about him.
Schuyler Colfax, 1823-1885 was a member of Congress, representing Indiana, from 1855-1869 and was the Speaker of the House from 1863-1869. He went on to serve as Grant’s Vice President from 1869-1873.
He was an opponent of slavery and joined the Radical Republicans (not to be equated with today’s radical republicans). Colfax strongly supported the Freedman’s Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Act.
One can assume that one or both of my great grandfather’s parents, Sarah Hutchison and William Braz Langley, were fans of the former Vice-President at the time of Schuyler’s birth. While we can research and document facts about our ancestors, we can only guess at the inspiration and motives behind their decisions.
Having hiked this area of Eastern Tennessee I can attest to the isolation of the dark hollows of the mountains. Those hills and valleys are unforgiving. The people of this area, during that time, were supposedly uneducated and illiterate. Perhaps, but they weren’t stupid and knew how to survive in that rugged land and along the way had developed strong opinions about how their country should be governed. Opinions and beliefs strong enough to die for. How were those opinions formed? How did they receive their news? Newspapers? Circuit preachers? Traveling politicians? It will be interesting to find out.
As for the Vice-President, unfortunately the Mobilier Scandal of 1872 ruined his political career. He was never convicted of wrong doing, but the damage had been done and he lost his bid for renomination. Stepping down from politics, Colfax became a successful lecturer until his death in 1885.