Joseph Sullivant was the third, last, and longest-surviving son of Lucas Sullivant, the man who settled frontier Franklinton in 1797.
Because of his work as a surveyor and land developer, Lucas Sullivant also became one of the largest landowners in Ohio.
Joseph Sullivant’s oldest brother, William Starling Sullivant, managed many of his father’s estates in central Ohio while becoming a nationally recognized botanist. Michael Sullivant, the middle brother, was a successful cattleman and was one of the founders of the Ohio State Fair.
In spite of his growing up in the shadow of this sort of family fame, Joseph Sullivant never had much trouble finding his own way.
Born in 1809, Joseph Sullivant saw his share of misfortune at a very young age. His mother had taken up the nursing of sick soldiers who were camped in Franklinton during the War of 1812. She contracted typhus and died in 1814, when Joseph was 5 years old. Lucas Sullivant never remarried, and his three sons were raised with the help of servants and nearby relatives.
While his brothers were more outgoing, Joseph turned inward. A bright boy, he quickly advanced through two primary schools his father had helped found in the new capital city of Columbus. His father then sent him to the boys boarding school operated by Bishop Philander Chase in nearby Worthington. From Worthington, he attended Ohio University and finished his education at Center College in Danville, Ky.
Returning to Columbus, Joseph spent most of the next 50 years in a variety of services, public and private, in aid of the growth and development of the capital city. He was a founding incorporator of the Philosophical and Historical Society of Ohio and was its curator and secretary for a number of years.
If there was one real passion in Joseph Sullivant’s life, it was education. He served for many years on the Columbus Board of Education. In gratitude, the board would eventually name one of its school buildings for him and place a portrait bust of him in the local high school.
He was one of the founders of Green Lawn Cemetery, a trustee of Starling Medical College and was instrumental in the establishment of the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College — later Ohio State University — in Columbus.
While he was doing all of these things, he also was quite busy with a growing family. His first wife, Margaret McDowell Sullivant, died giving birth to a daughter, also named Margaret. In 1832, Joseph married Mary Eliza Brashear, with whom he would have six children. After Mary’s death in 1850, he was married for the third time to Elizabeth Underhill, with whom he had three more children.
In 1871, Joseph Sullivant gave a lengthy talk about the early days of Ohio to the Franklin County Pioneer Association. In it, he remembered the days of his youth in central Ohio:
“We seemed to be mutually dependent and relied more on one another, and there was more neighborly helpfulness in rendering assistance, especially to the new beginners, or those weak-handed; as witness the house raisings, social chopping parties and log-rollings, huskings and quiltings. There was certainly much genuine hospitality, for although the cabins had puncheon floors and clapboard roofs, the latch string was always out, and no man was ever refused or was afraid or ashamed to share his humble fare with a neighbor or a stranger.
“The women were more accustomed to spin flax and wool than to reel off street yarn; were more familiar with the rhythmical thud of the loom and the hum of the spinning wheel than with the piano, and did not disdain to be well-versed in all household affairs, and yet were not deficient in beauty, intelligence or refinement. The extravagance, fast living, expensive habits and mad strife to get rich at all hazards and by any means that now seems to have taken possession of all classes, was not then manifest.
“The men of those days never dreamed of getting rich by fat offices, or by the sale of their political influence, or off the public by fraudulent and put-up jobs. Politics was not yet a trade, by which shysters and loafers could live. Our early settlers expected to thrive only by patient industry, and not only believed in frugality and hard work, but illustrated and supplemented their theory by actual and daily practice.
“It is in my recollection when the city of Columbus had no existence, and its present site was covered with forest, where the deer and wolf found shelter and safety amid its solitude. What marvelous changes I have witnessed since I was a schoolboy É in the old frame building on the corner of Town and High streets where now stands the commodious United States Hotel.
“É Do we not recollect when our beautiful capitol square was full of stumps and used as pasture by the state officers, and when we boys went to play ball, we had to contend for possession with McLean’s old horse and Osborn’s cow?
“Why, Sir, it seems like only yesterday when your brother William and myself É and others not recollected were careering around like young colts, in and out among the papaw bushes, near the academy, which stood on Third Street, near the present Second Presbyterian Church.
“What times we had in the summer with prisoner’s base, four-holed cat, hopscotch, round the stakes and roley boley — and in the winter, how we gathered the corn off the outlots east of Fourth Street, betwixt Town and Rich, and parched it on the old stove from Mary Ann furnace.
“As my thoughts so frequently now, travel back and dwell with pleasant recollections upon the companions and playmates of olden time —
‘How oft in the stilly night,
Ere slumber’s chains had bound me,
Fond memory brings the light
Of other days around me.’”
Joseph Sullivant died on June 24, 1882. He is buried with his family and near many of his boyhood friends in Green Lawn Cemetery.
Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.