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Thomas Ewing

Jurist and statesman, b. in West Liberty, Virginia, U.S.A., December 28, 1789; d. at Lancaster, Ohio, October 26, 1871

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Ewing, THOMAS, jurist and statesman, b. in West Liberty, Virginia (now West Virginia), U.S.A., December 28, 1789; d. at Lancaster, Ohio, October 26, 1871. His father, George Ewing of New Jersey, who had served as an officer in the Continental Army after the Revolution, settled in the Northwest Territory, in the Muskingum Valley, and then, in 1798, in what is now Ames Township, Athens County, Ohio. Here, amid the privations of pioneer life, Ewing was taught to read by his elder sister, Sarah, and by extraordinary efforts acquired a fair elementary education. At the age of nineteen he left home and worked in the Kanawha salt establishments, pursuing his studies at night by the light of the furnace fires. He remained there until he had earned sufficient to enable him to enter the Ohio University at Athens, where, in 1815, he received the degree of A.B., the first degree conferred by any college in the western country. Ewing then studied law at Lancaster, Ohio, and was admitted to the bar in 1816. He entered into a partnership with his preceptor, in the firm of Beecher & Ewing, and then, after Mr. Beecher’s death, with his own son Philemon, in the firm of Ewing & Son. He achieved high prominence as a lawyer and won notable success at the state and national bar.

In March, 1831, Ewing entered public life as a member from Ohio of the United States Senate, and became prominent therein, with Webster and Clay, in resistance of the acts of President Jackson and in support of Whig measures. He upheld the protective tariff system of Clay, and presented one of the first of the memorials for the abolition of slavery.

In March, 1837, on the expiration of his term, he resumed the practice of the law. Upon the election of President Harrison, he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury in March, 1841. He prepared the second bill for the recharter of the Bank of the United States, and, on its veto by Tyler, he resigned from the cabinet, in September, 1841. In March, 1849, he was appointed by President Taylor secretary of the then recently created Department of the Interior. He organized the department, and in his report to congress urged the construction of a railroad to the Pacific. On the death of Taylor in 1850, Ewing resigned from the cabinet and was appointed senator from Ohio to fill an unexpired term. On the expiration of his term in March, 1851, he returned to the practice of the law. In 1860 Ewing was appointed by the Governor of Ohio a member of the famous Peace Conference, and he was prominent in the efforts to avert the secession of the Southern States. During the war he unreservedly supported the government, and his judgment on matters of state was frequently sought by Mr. Lincoln. When the capture of Mason and Slidell brought England and the United States to the verge of hostilities, Ewing sent Mr. Lincoln the famous telegram that was decisive of the whole trouble: “There can be no contraband of war between neutral points.” It was his advice that finally prevailed and secured the freeing of the envoys and the averting of hostilities. Conservative in his opinions, Ewing opposed the radical measures of Reconstruction at the close of the war and supported the administration of President Johnson. In February, 1868, after the removal of Stanton, the President sent to the Senate the nomination of Ewing as Secretary of War, but it was not confirmed.

Descended of Scottish Presbyterian stock, Ewing, after a lifelong attraction to the Catholic Church, entered it in his latter years. Reared outside the fold of any religious body, he married, January 7, 1820, Maria Wills Boyle, daughter of Hugh Boyle, an Irish Catholic. He was deeply influenced by the living faith and pious example of his wife during their long married life, and all his children were reared in the Faith. In October, 1869, Ewing was stricken while arguing a cause before the Supreme Court of the United States and he was baptized in the court room. In September, 1871, his lifelong friend, Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati, received him into the Church.

PHILEMON BEECHER, eldest son of Thomas, b. at Lancaster, November 3, 1820; d. there April 15, 1896. He graduated in 1838 from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, and then entered upon the study of the law. Admitted to the Bar in 1841, he formed with his father the firm of T. Ewing & Son. In both State and Federal courts, through his grasp of the philosophy of the law and his judicial temperament, he won a place beside his illustrious father. He was also the main support of his father in his political life and labors, and was an active figure first in the Whig and then in the Republican party. In 1862 he was appointed Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. Being opposed to the Reconstruction measures of his party he took part in the Liberal Republican movement. He was nominated to the supreme bench of Ohio in 1873. During the sixties and seventies he engaged in the banking business, and was prominent in the development of the Hocking Valley coal-fields. The later years of his life were spent in retirement.

He married at Lancaster August 31, 1848, Mary Rebecca Gillespie, a sister of Eliza Maria Gillespie (Mother Mary of St. Angela of the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame, Indiana). He was a man of wide culture and a writer of vigorous and limpid English. He was ever foremost where the interests of the Church were concerned, and was a delegate from the Diocese of Columbus to the Catholic Congresses of 1889 and 1893.

HUGH BOYLE, third son of Thomas, b. at Lancaster, October 31, 1826; d. there June 30, 1905. He was educated at the United States Military Academy at West Point, and in 1849 went to California, returning to Lancaster, in 1852, to enter on the study of the law. On his admission to the Bar, he practiced in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1854 to 1856, and then, in partnership with his brother Thomas, at Leavenworth, Kansas, from 1856 to 1858. In April, 1861, he was appointed brigade-inspector of Ohio Volunteers with the rank of major, and in August, 1861, was commissioned colonel, commanding the Thirtieth Ohio Volunteer Infantry, and rendered conspicuous service. In November, 1862, he was commissioned brigadier-general. He took part in the operations against Vicksburg, and his command led in the assault of May 22, 1863. In July following he was appointed to the command of the Fourth Division, Fifteenth Army Corps. In the operations about Chattanooga he led his division in the assault upon Missionary Ridge and its capture. In the latter part of the war he was placed in command of the district of Kentucky and at its close was brevetted major-general. In 1866 President Johnson appointed him Minister to The Hague, which post he filled until 1870. On his return to the United States, he bought a small estate near Lancaster, in 1876, on which he lived until his death. He was married at Washington, D.C., August 3, 1858, to Henrietta Elizabeth Young. He was a man of wide culture, and an interesting writer. He published several stories, among them “The Grand Ladron, a tale of Early California“, “Koche, a King of Pit”, “A Castle in the Air”, and “The Black List”.

CHARLES, fifth child of Thomas, b. at Lancaster, March 6, 1835; d. at Washington, June 20, 1883. Commencing his studies at the college of the Dominican Fathers in Perry County, Ohio, he later attended Gonzaga College, Washington, and the University of Virginia. In 1860 he began the practice of law in St. Louis, Missouri. The Civil War breaking out soon afterwards, he was commissioned a captain in the Thirteenth Infantry of the United States Regulars in May, 1861, and in the Spring of 1862, joined his brother-in-law, General William T. Sherman, in the Arkansas and Mississippi campaigns. In the siege of Vicksburg he was thrice wounded. On the 22nd of June, 1862, he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel and assistant inspector-general of volunteers, and on the 15th of June, 1863, inspector-general of the Fifteenth Army Corps. He served with much distinction in the Atlanta campaign and the famous march through Georgia. On the 8th of March, 1865, he was commissioned brigadier-general, and on the mustering out of the volunteers was transferred to the regular force, from which he resigned as brevet-colonel on the 31st of July, 1867. He was brevetted three times in the regular service for gallant and meritorious services at the Vicksburg and Atlanta campaigns. After his retirement from the Army, he took up his residence in Washington and began the practice of law, in which profession he obtained considerable prominence. In 1873 he accepted the appointment of Indian Commissioner, and labored energetically to restore to the Catholic Indian Missions the schools among the Indians which they had maintained for twenty years. Pope Pius IX, May 3, 1877, created him a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great. General Ewing married Virginia, daughter of John K. Miller of Mt. Vernon, Ohio.

ELEANOR BOYLE (MRS. WILLIAM TECUMSEH SHERMAN), daughter of Thomas, b. at Lancaster, October 4, 1824; d. in New York City, November 28, 1888. She was educated at the Visitation Convent at Georgetown, D.C. In 1829, just after his father’s death, William Tecumseh Sherman, the subsequent famous General of the United States army, then a boy of nine years, was adopted by Mr. Ewing, reared in his household, and appointed by him to the U.S. Military Academy. Sherman married the daughter of his benefactor, May 1, 1850. She was devoted throughout her life, after the duties of her household, to the relief of suffering and of want, and to the advancement of the Church. Mentally, she inherited the brilliant intellectual powers of her father and was a true helpmate of her husband in his distinguished career. She was the author of “Thomas Ewing, a Memorial”, published in 1872. Father P. J. De Smet, S.J., the missionary among the Indians, was an old and intimate friend of the Shermans, and through this intimacy Mrs. Sherman was led to take a special interest in the cause of the Catholic Indians. Her influence and great personal exertions were of much assistance at Washington, to her brother, General Charles Ewing, in the work of saving and promoting the missions for the Catholic Indians.


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