Family Stories

Charles Phister – Abolitionist in Maysville During the Civil War – Mason County

While researching the Phister and Blaine families I found this article on Charles Phister, one of the few Republicans among the many Democrats in pre-Civil War Maysville, Mason County.  This article from The Chicago Tribune, reprinted in The Evening Bulletin at Maysville, has him reminiscing about the war and his life, then aged 80 years.  The thought that stuck with me was that even though his family sympathized with the south, including his brothers, they talked about their differences, conversed and gave opinions, but never gave up on each other.  Perhaps we could learn something from that message.

More about this family in the coming week

The Evening Bulletin, Maysville, Mason County, Kentucky

Thursday, October 19, 1899

Mr. Charles Phister

Tells A Chicago Journal of an Exciting Incident of His Life in Maysville During the War

(Chicago Tribune)

In the life of Charles Phister, now eighty years old, and who has been in Chicago during the last summer, is epitomized in the story of what was suffered by supporters of the union and of abolition who lived in the South prior to and throughout the war of the rebellion.  For Mr. Phister claims the distinction of having been hung in effigy by his fellow-townsmen of Maysville, Kentucky, because he voted for Abraham Lincoln, and of having been the only person in Maysville who cast a vote for Fremont for President – in that case standing alone in his community for the cause of abolition.

Mr. Phister for some months has been the guest of his son, Walter Phister, 4739 Kenwood Avenue, but soon will leave for his home in Kentucky, where he was born and has spent all his life, except when away on brief visits.  Some of the facts and incidents in his own life that are typical of the times referred to Mr. Phister tells as follows:

“I was the first man who voted the Republican ticket in Maysville.  I voted for General Harrison in 1840, and was the only man who voted for General Fremont for President in 1856.  I voted for Abraham Lincoln in 1860, for which four others and myself were hung in effigy that night, one being S. L. Blaine, uncle of James G. Blaine; John T. Dye, the wealthy lawyer of Indianapolis, and myself are the only ones now living of the five.

“Two of my schoolmates later held rank among our country’s greatest Generals.  One was General William Nelson, whose amusement when a boy was riding old sows, getting thrown off and his arm broken.  This happened three times to my knowledge.  Luckily for him, his father was a doctor.

“General Grant attended the seminary of Maysville at the same time I did; it was near my home.  This was just before he went to West Point.  When he came back from West Point the steamer on which he arrived landed at our place on the Ohio River for Grant to visit his former teachers, Rand and Richeson, and his old schoolmates.  The seminary was an institute for both males and females.

“Grant, being then a modest, bashful young man, he would not go into the school – afraid of the girls, I suppose.  He stood outside the seminary, and we all shook hands with him as the first cadet we ever saw.  This was about sixty years ago.  General Grant is dead, but I am still living and blest with good health and good eyesight.  I never had to wear specs – never had a fit of sickness.

“In the time before the war it was a dangerous thing for any man in the section where I lived to be known as an abolitionist.  That is why it happened that I was hung in effigy in 1860 for voting for Lincoln.  At night, after five had voted that day for Lincoln, a few citizens got the devil in them and stretched a rope across the street, from the church to the court house – some said to hang us on, but they only hung us in effigy after midnight, and then set us on fire, rang the court house bell, shouted ‘fire,’ and then skedaddled.

“Those were perilous times for us union men and our families, but we lived through it, and, thank God, it is all over now, and the people of the North and South are united in one family again.

“I believe I suffered more and was threatened more than any one else in our section, although my brother, Judge E. C. Phister, was a Democrat and sympathized with the Confederates.  He and I had great talks about the matter, and after the war was over he acknowledged I was right and he was wrong.  All my brothers are now dead.  My children were all strong for the union and my wife and girls would keep making flags and hang them out, one or more, all the time – though the rebels would tear them down, especially at night.  We managed to keep the home, though once we had to leave it.  A large body of rebel soldiers, with about a hundred horses, came to ransack the town and get the money of the banks; but it had been sent to Cincinnati for safety.

“They were determined to get me and threatened to tar and feather me because of my union principles; but they did not get me.  The Methodist minister and I hid up high, where we could see the rebels hunting and prowling around for me all night.  They stole all my grain from my corn crib, which held 1,400 bushels, to feed their horses.

“Once I had to flee from home and take my horses and wagon and my family and cross the river into Ohio, as our lives were in danger, but we were spared, for the Lord was on our side.”

Mr. Phister is still strong and in good health, a fact he attributes to life-long abstinence from the use of either liquor or tobacco.  It is his boast, too, that he never uttered an oath.  His business life was that of a prosperous lumber merchant.  His family has been prominent in Kentucky for generations.  He was elected as a delegate to the Chicago convention that nominated Lincoln for President, but did not attend owing to illness in his family.

Categories: Family Stories

2 replies »

  1. This caught my eye since my maternal ancestors, Willetts, were in Maysville, KY. Interesting that he had to hide to keep from being hung or tarred and feathered for voting for Lincoln (Republican) instead of the Democrat who was supported by the Confederates. How did they know who he voted for? Did they post a list of who voted and which candidate they voted for?

    Things and names sure have changed.

  2. That is quite a story. I am looking forward to reading more posts about this family. Thank you.

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