Jack Brubaker

Jack Brubaker

Frederick Dent Grant, first-born son of the 18th president of the United States, left the 7th Cavalry just before George Armstrong Custer marched with his regiment to annihilation at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Grant was the last officer to escape the disaster.

When the Scribbler, a college English major, told his history-major friends that story during his sophomore year in college, it quickly became a joke. From then on, anyone who repeated a mildly interesting but trivial historical tidbit was said to have produced a “Fred Dent Grant.”

Today’s column contains two “Fred Dent Grants.”

The first concerns the last surviving member of Keziah Wolrich’s family.

Keziah, a free Black woman, was U.S. Rep. Thaddeus Stevens’ first housekeeper. She married Ephraim Wolrich, who was not free. Stevens purchased his freedom, made him an indentured servant, grew dissatisfied with his work and sent him away. Keziah tried, unsuccessfully, to commit suicide.

It all turned out even worse. Keziah, her husband and one of their two children died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1837.

In 1857, the surviving child, a fellow named Bill, asked Stevens to help him go to New York City and get a job on the steamship Central America. On the return trip to New York from California, laden with thousands of pounds of gold, the Central America sank off the coast of South Carolina. Bill and everyone else on the ship drowned.

The Central America and its treasure were discovered in 1988 and now, following a long legal battle over who actually owns the gold, you can buy pieces of it, at inflated prices, on the Internet.

Thanks to Jim McMullin, of Lancaster, for sharing this story via an Oct. 6, 1883, column in the Lancaster Inquirer that featured an interview with Lydia Smith, Stevens’ second and far better known housekeeper.

The second “Fred Dent Grant” has been prompted by an item in the 2022 Baer’s Almanac, as edited by Linda L. Weidman, daughter of Gerald S. Lestz, former editor of the almanac as well as Scribbler of this column.

Weidman collects interesting and curious stories to supplement the weather forecasts, gardening ideas, folklore and other old-timey stuff in the nearly two-century-old, Lancaster-based almanac.

One of these items is a brief biography of Hannibal Hamlin, Abraham Lincoln’s obscure first vice president. Hannibal Hamlin’s vice presidency, by itself, is a Fred Dent Grant — but it gets better.

The almanac states that Hamlin died in Bangor, Maine, during a card game in 1891. That sent the Scribbler searching for other trivia about the man. And bingo! It turns out that Hamlin also was playing cards in his Washington hotel room when he learned that he had won the vice presidential nomination in 1860.

“I neither expected it or desired it,” Hamilton, then a U.S. senator, wrote to his wife. “But it has been made and as a faithful man to the cause (the abolition of slavery), it leaves me no alternative but to accept it.”

The U.S. Senate’s capsule history of Hamlin elaborates: “The irritated senator complained the interruption ruined the only good hand he had had all evening.”

There apparently is no record of the cards Hamlin was holding when he expired during his final game of cards.

That, too, may have been the best hand he held all evening. Imagine how irritating it would be to leave this melancholy vale when you’re about to win the entire pot!

Jack Brubaker, retired from the LNP staff, writes “The Scribbler'' column every Sunday. He welcomes comments and contributions at scribblerlnp@gmail.com.

What to Read Next