As it were

Joseph Sullivant and the riflemen

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Joseph Sullivant was a man who, more than most of his friends, had a long memory of what life had been like in early Columbus.

He was the youngest son of Lucas Sullivant, the founder of frontier Franklinton, and he literally grew up with the villages at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers.

Born in 1809, he retained vivid memories of Franklinton as an armed camp and the men who marched off to fight.

Late in his life he wrote reminiscences of the major events of his life and some of the people he had encountered. As we will see, he often wrote with a somewhat less than serious attitude about the subject at hand -- in this case, the Franklinton Riflemen.

"Having mentioned the Franklin Dragoons, I will go on and say that they and the Franklinton Riflemen were military companies having their origins in the War of 1812, and kept up their organization for many years thereafter. These companies were the wonder, the pride and the glory of my early boyhood. I had the most unbounded faith in their prowess, which I had frequently seen tested in sham battles; and I knew that, on parade days, they consumed prodigious quantities of tobacco and whisky, exploits only then possible to hardy men."

"When the Grand Duke of Saxe Weimer visited this country he passed through Columbus, staying all night. Clinton Work, John Overdier, Israel Crosby, myself and other boys were very anxious that this representative of the crowned heads of Europe should be duly impressed with the power and greatness of our country, and especially with the martial bearing of our people; in fact, we rather wished to intimidate him, and prove that it would be exceedingly dangerous for any European nation to meddle with us."

"For this purpose we concluded the very best thing was to give him a sight of the Franklinton Riflemen, whose uniform was quite showy; white breeches and a yellow cotton cloth hunting shirt with white fringe; a leather belt around the waist, carrying a hunting knife in a black scabbard in front, and in many instances a tomahawk behind. The plume in the hat was tall, but rather stiff, composed of chicken feathers, tied on around a stick. Each man carried an old-fashioned rifle with shot pouch and powder horn."

"We tried very hard to get a parade, even offering to help pay for an extra drum and fife and furnish free whisky, but the time was too short and greatly to our regret, the Grand Duke left without witnessing the martial display intended to impress him. Our patriotic wish will be better appreciated when it is remembered, the Duke was almost fresh from the great battlefields of Europe, where he himself had been a grand commander in the vast armies which the allied sovereigns had put in motion to crush the first Napoleon. However, even now, I have little doubt if the Duke had been fortunate enough to have had a sight of the Franklinton Riflemen, he would have been astonished."

The original local militia companies in central Ohio and elsewhere across the state lasted until well into the Nineteenth Century.

It was only after the Mexican War in late 1840s that the generation that founded them began to fade away and new companies composed of younger men began to take their place.

In the mid-1870s, Joseph Sullivant began to set down his memories of the central Ohio he had helped create.

"He attended the two first classical schools established in Columbus and was sent to the boy's boarding school at Worthington, Ohio, under the control and management of Rev. Philander Chase, Bishop of Ohio. ... From Worthington, he went to the Ohio University, and finally to Centre College, Kentucky ... was the projector of Green Lawn Cemetery, selected the site and became a member of its first board of trustees, and was for several years, president of the corporation."

"For many years devoted much attention to the public schools of the city, was member of the Board of Education, and for several years president thereof ... and (is) serving his second term as trustee and secretary of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College" (now the Ohio State University).

Mr. Sullivant was a rather busy man. Yet for all of this he always looked back wistfully to the world he once knew.

"With the lapse of years, the writer feels almost a stranger in the city whose wonderful transition and whole progress he has witnessed even from the time when the wild deer found shelter and safety amid the tangled vines and brushwood which then covered our present streets, and before the wolf had been frightened from his lair by the woodman's axe; when the leafy monarchs of the primeval forest still held possession of the very spot where now stands the grand capital, whose lofty dome catches the first beams of the rising sun and flings back the golden rays at its setting."

Joseph Sullivant died on June 24, 1882. He is buried in Green Lawn Cemet- ery.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As it were column for ThisWeek News.

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