Certainly one of the more colorful stories lurking in my mother’s tree is that of the venerable (and oft-photographed) Thomas Richmond, the brother of my 5th Great-Grandfather.
He was born in December 1796 in Barnard, Windsor County, Vermont – where his parents had moved from Taunton, Massachusetts a few years earlier. At 17, Thomas was hired out by his father to work on a nearby farm for $10 per month, so the father would have money to pay his taxes.
Thomas’s prospects were slim in Barnard so at age 19, with his father’s blessing, he went west to Syracuse, New York. At the time, Syracuse – then called Saline or Salina – was a cedar swamp surrounding a spot called Salt Point. Not surprisingly, Thomas found himself in the salt trade.
All the money he made, he took back to his father. On foot. Each 240-mile stroll took six days, each way. He made two such round trips before turning 21 and gaining his majority.
Around this time, some of his brothers decided to relocate out to the Western Reserve, specifically the northeastern counties of Ohio. Thomas checked it out as well, and went to Lake County, founding the town of Richmond. He still lived in Syracuse, but the shipping end of his mercantile business linking most of the Great Lakes port towns, was run out of Ohio. He moved to Cleveland in 1841, and eventually to Chicago in 1847, where he took his place as a prominent member of the burgeoning commercial community. The first formative meetings of the Chicago Board of Trade took place in his parlor.
In 1870, he wrote a book – with one of those wonderfully wordy titles typical of the time. GOD DEALING WITH SLAVERY. God’s Instrumentalities in Emancipating the African Slave in America. Spirit Messages from Franklin, Lincoln, Adams, Jackson, Webster, Penn, and Others to the Author Thomas Richmond.
It’s a crackin’ good read – and available for free download in various places on the Internet! He describes his life, his business, and his religious beliefs. He also describes the development of his life in Spiritualism.
On that subject, there are reproduced in the book various letters he received from many famous people, mostly on the subject of slavery in America. Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Napoleon, Mary Queen of Scots… The letters were addressed to him, transcribed mostly by a Dr. Farnsworth, a “writing” medium, whose main claim to fame was his purported ability to answer sealed letters. Benjamin Franklin was a particularly frequent correspondent. And not all of their communications were political:
Your son Joseph is progressing as fast as spirits usually do. His habits when upon earth were not formed through the promptings of his own nature, but from outside influences. Men only suffer from the wrongs they originate themselves. He is destined to become a bright and useful spirit.
Your Guardian, Franklin
At some point between the 1877 death of his wife Olive (pictured above) in Chicago and the time of the 1880 Census, he had returned to Windsor County, Vermont, to live out his numerous years. Thomas Richmond died at age 95 in 1892.