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Friday, April 28, 2017

The “Great War Governor” from Windham by Walter Lunt

“Windham Then and Now” - The fourth in a series of historical topics about Windham’s unique history and heritage

As the 200th anniversary of his birth approaches, the legacy and influence of Windham’s “favorite son,” John Albion Andrew, extends into the 21st century. Andrew was born and raised in South Windham. He attended Bowdoin College and became the 21th governor of Massachusetts during the American Civil War, serving from 1861 to 1865.

In 2007, the newly elected 71st governor of Massachusetts, Duval Patrick – following tradition – selected the portrait of a former chief executive to hang behind his desk in the governor’s office. He chose John Albion Andrew. “At a time of great divide in America, he demonstrated a willingness to change the status quo and encourage others to do the same,” said Patrick, “I am proud to display his portrait . . . and hope that I may govern with the same compassion and foresight that he demonstrated.” Patrick served until 2015.

THEN: Birthplace of Gov. Andrew
Andrew was born in a small single-story, wood frame house in the Little Falls section of Windham in May of 1818. In his lifetime, he would be immersed in some of the most significant issues of the 19th century: temperance, civil war, emancipation, reconstruction and even divorce laws.

His parents, Jonathan and Nancy (Pierce) Andrew came to Windham from Salem, Massachusetts and purchased the house of Dr. James Paine (an early Windham physician) on Depot Road. Jonathan established a grocery business on the corner of Depot and Main (now River Road), which he later moved to a location near the bridge in South Windham. The two were highly regarded citizens of the community. Nancy had been a teacher (or preceptress) at Bridgton Academy, Jonathan a general trader and Deacon of the Congregational Church (“Windham, Then & Now,” March 24, 2017). 

Their oldest child, John Albion Andrew, would later be remembered by C.O. Stickney, writing in the Boston Sunday Globe around 1898 as, “One of the best and most popular of boys raised in (Windham) bright, likeable and full of fun.” Many remarked on his unusual ability of elocution. 

At age 14 he would deliver an inspiring talk on the evils of drink at a public temperance meeting. It was considered a remarkable performance for a young boy. A story often told by Albion, as he was known by all in Windham and Gorham, probably reveals the origin of his strong feelings on prohibition. It seems that his father sold “ardent spirits” at his store, the sale of which was highly “remunerable.” Through the thin walls of the house on Depot Street, Albion and his siblings would eavesdrop on frequent bedtime conversations between his mother and father. Mother was a fervent supporter of the early temperance movement, and would use this time to urge her husband to end the sale of alcohol in his store. This, according to Albion, went on for months when, finally one night, his father stopped his wife in mid-refrain to announce, “I stopped selling spirits several weeks ago.”

NOW: What Andrew's birthplace looks like today
Albion and his siblings were “home-schooled.” Jonathan built a tiny schoolhouse behind the home where he and Nancy tutored their children. Albion eventually attended Bridgton Academy where his mother had once taught. He entered Bowdoin College, class of 1837, where one of his classmates later observed “(His) college life was the flow of generous impulses and noble purposes, rather than the display of brilliant talents and extraordinary scholarship.” He was also known as a joker, a mimic and a general cut-up. A cousin, Nathan Church, said that the governor “Could not only pray and preach like old Parson Smith of his native town, but could also slay his audiences with impersonations of politicians and other well-known preachers.” Church also said, “He could have had success as a comedian.”

Following college, John Albion Andrew entered the bar in Massachusetts and opened a law practice in Boston. He was noted for his strong defense of poorer clients and for his wit and anecdotes. His firmly held beliefs on the issue of slavery and other reform movements, led him to politics, and by 1858 he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he opposed the Fugitive Slave Law and used his position to defend fugitive slaves and raise money for their legal fees and shelter. He became an early organizer of the new Republican Party and rallied for Abraham Lincoln at the Chicago Presidential Nominating Convention.  Their relationship while he was governor would become thorny due to the President’s handling of various war issues. Andrew, notorious for his lack of patience, criticized Lincoln for holding off delivering an emancipation declaration until late in the war, and for what he perceived as the president’s reluctance to accept blacks in the Union armies. 

As governor, he won high national praise for the early formation of militia regiments, even before the start of the war. As a result, Massachusetts would furnish the first volunteer regiment to reach Washington and the first to fight in the Civil War. 

http://windhamtheater.org/Andrew traveled the countryside in his recruiting efforts, visiting Windham and other Maine towns in his appeal to organize volunteer regiments. The late Ernie Knight, author of several books and articles on local history, once told a gathering of local history enthusiasts in Windham that Northern townspeople, in general, did not want their husbands and sons to fight their Southern brethren, even though they had always been willing to take up arms when necessary. But because the recruiter was “our native son of renown,” Andrew succeeded in garnering enlistments.

Following Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Andrew succeeded in organizing a regiment of black soldiers – the famed 54th Massachusetts Regiment which came to be known for its heroism and sacrifice.

In his Valedictorian Address in 1865, Andrew called for reconciliation with the South rather than punishment, “The halls of legislation are the arenas of debate, not of muscular prowess . . . we must secure the constitutional, civic liberties and franchises of all the people.”
Andrew returned to his private law practice after the war, focusing much of his time on reforming the archaic divorce practices of the day.

Former Gov. Patrick was inspired by Andrew
On October 30, 1867, the Great War Governor of Massachusetts died, age 49, following a “fit of apoplexy” (a stroke), after tea, at his home on Charles Street in Boston. He and his wife, Eliza Jane are buried in Hingham where they lived during most of their time in the Bay State. A marble statue of Andrew overlooks the site, as one biographer described it “. . . not tall in stature, but colossal in majesty of power and purpose.”

Interred in Windham’s Brown Cemetery near the corner of Depot Street and River Road are several members of the Andrew family, including the governor’s mother, Nancy, who died in 1832, and his grandfather, John Andrew, who passed away in the 1790’s. Mossy headstones identify their resting places. The burial ground, one of Windham’s oldest, is within sight of the old Andrew home, still standing today at the hilltop on Depot Street. The current owners, Paul and Sandy Penna, say it’s a “quaint old house,” a white wood-frame cottage that still retains much of its 18th century charm.

According to Sandy, “The house itself is the original structure with many of the original wide pine flooring boards.” Built in 1792 by Windham’s second physician, Dr. James Paine, it was later purchased by Albion’s father, Jonathon Andrew, who greatly improved it. The house may have once faced toward the main (River) road. Early sketches show a classic portico front doorway flanked on either side by two windows with shutters, a center chimney, adjoining carriage shed, all fronted by an early version of a picket fence. Now in its 225th year, the house is one reminder of Windham’s historic and revered son. Others include Albion Road and the John A. Andrew School, which stood near-by for nearly a century. At Windham High School in the early 1960s, many former students still recall the essay assignment in junior year English: The John A. Andrew essay contest on the topic “What it means to be an honest man.”

Fast forward to the 2000s and the name continues to reverberate as the significant source of guidance and inspiration for Massachusetts’ first African-American governor. 

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