Mrs. Francis Dana Gage
by Henry Robert Burke
Copyright 1998. Henry Robert Burke "Window to the Past"
This is about a courageous lady who tackled some of the toughest issues of her time. During the 1830s the momentum for positive change in social issues was beginning to be noticeable at the national level down to the local level.
Anti-Slavery, Temperance, Children's Welfare, Women's Rights, Labor Reform were all issues of Human rights. The word temperance is seldom used in connection with alcoholic beverage today, but from around 1800 clear through the 1930s, the word temperance was commonly used to suggest abstention, or at least moderation in the use of alcoholic beverage.
Let's look at the problem of alcohol during the time of the Northwest Territory. The Fort Harmar, completed in the spring of 1786, stood near the point on the west side of the Muskingum river, and upon the second terrace above ordinary flood water. Joel Buell, one of the first settlers at Marietta, was on the frontier as early as 1785, and spent considerable time at Fort Harmar. In his journal he states that the pay of the common soldiers was $3.00 a month (10 per day ). In his own words: "Drunkenness and desertion were prevalent evils. The punishment for drunkenness and other trifling offenses was frequently flogging to the extent of one hundred or even two hundred lashes". Buell further relates that on one instance, three of the finest soldiers at the company had repeated offenses of drunkenness, and were finally flogged for their indiscretion. A chaplain once complained to the commander; that no soldiers were not showing up for Sunday worship services. "I'll fix that!", promptly replied the colonel. He immediately issued an order that the liquor ration would hereafter be given out at the close of the Sunday's worship service. "It was a miracle", reported the chaplain "not a single man was missing!"
. Drunkenness among all classes was very common during the early 1800s and probably long before that. It is suggested that a large number of Revolutionary War Veterans died drunkards, it was in fact common practice after the war, to characterize beggars and a drunkards as "old soldiers". If one showed up on your door, here was a "doggerel" to dismissed him:
--"Who comes here?" - A grenadier.
--"What do you want?" - A pot of beer.
--"Where's your money?" - I forgot.
--"Then get you gone you drunken sot."
Later in his Journal, Buell noted: "It is impossible for this generation to conceive of the state of the society during that time (1785). Alcoholic liquids were considered a necessity of life; a sort of panacea for all ills; a crowning sheaf to all blessings; good in sickness and in health; good in summer to dispel the heat, and good in winter to dispel the cold; good for work, and more than good for frolic! So good in fact that the first dram in the morning was an "eye opener" duly followed by the "eleven-o'clocker" and the "four o'clocker", whilst the very last drink of the day was of course; the "night cap". Now having exploited the humorous side of alcohol abuse, let's approach the negative aspects that plagued people and families during those times. What was true then, is still true to day. Excessive use of alcohol can lead to many different problems. One of those is the abuse of families. So a movement to curtail the abuse of alcohol, called The Temperance Movement; and The Anti-Slavery Movement were gaining momentum during the same decades, 1830-40s.
Francis Dana Gage, born in Marietta, Washington county, Ohio on October 12, 1808. Her father was Colonel Joseph Barker, an early New England settler in the Northwest Territory. In 1829 Miss Barker married James L. Gage, a young lawyer from McConnelsville, Morgan county, Ohio, and while doing her great work, she raised eight children to maturity; four of her sons served with the Union in the Civil War.
Early in her adult life she became an active worker in the "Temperance", "Anti- slavery" and "Women's Rights" Movements. In 1851 she presided over "The Women's Rights Convention", held in Akron, Ohio. Her opening speech attracted widespread attention to the movement. In 1853, she moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where she came under repeated threats of violence because of her anti-slavery views. Twice she was the target of arson. In 1857-58 she visited Cuba, St. Thomas and Santo Domingo, and on her return to the U.S. she wrote and lectured about her travels.
Later Mrs. Gage was the editor for an agricultural newspaper in Ohio; but when the Civil War began, she went south, where she ministered to soldiers, taught freedmen, and without pay, acted as agent for the sanitary commission at Memphis, Vicksburg and Natchez. In 1863-64 she was superintendent, under General Rufus Saxton, of Paris Island South Carolina, of 500 freedmen. In an 1865 she was crippled by an overturned carriage in Galesburg, Illinois. Still she continued to lecture until 1867, when she became permanently disabled by a paralytic "stroke".
Under the pen name of "Aunt Fanny", Mrs. Gage wrote many stories and verses for children. She was a contributor to the Saturday Review and published the poems: "Elsie Magoon or The Old Still-House; "Steps Upward"; and "Gertie's Sacrifice". Mrs. Francis (Barker) Dana Gage died in Greenwich, Connecticut on November 10, 1884.
Ref: HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS of OHIO; Volume II; by Henry Howe LL.D. (1908)
(Mrs. Gage's Career was edited from "Appleton's 'Cyclopedia of American Biography", 1908.)