Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Perrysburg Mayor John C. Spink: A Good-Natured Man
Perrysburg Mayor John C. Spink: A Good-Natured Man by Alan Borer
It was just an old letter, and it did not seem to have anything to do with the Maumee Valley. It contained the usual enquiries about health, and mentioned a few local activities. The letter, written in 1844 by one Dorcas Carey to John Carey in Columbus, was mailed in the tiny village of Tymochtee, then in Crawford County. “Tymochtee” is a Wyandot Indian word meaning, "the creek or river round the plains.” Now unincorporated, Tymochtee had a post office until 1894, but has dwindled to a wide space in the road between Carey and Bucyrus.
Yet I was amazed to find a bit of Wood County news in this letter. In the letter, Mrs. Carey is relaying a request she had received in another letter:
“...we had recently received a letter from Lanogan (?) Hopkins of Perrysburg, soliciting the favor, for him to ask his Father to aid in the Election of John E Spink for President – Judge of that Circuit, he says that he has been informed, that you was in favor of Mr Coffinbury, but Mr Spink is every way better qualified for the Office than any other Man in the Circuit (so says he)”
It is unclear (to me, anyway) just who is asking who to curry favor with whom. The name of Lanogan Hopkins (if I am reading the letter aright) is unremarked in the records. But that of John Spink is locally famous. In 1844 he was running for the position of “president-judge,” of the Circuit Court (‘As courts were then organized, the Common Pleas had four judges-a president judge, and three associates, all appointed by the Legislature.”), but in 1833, John Spink was elected the first Mayor of Perrysburg. From 1833 to 1835, and again from 1846 to 1848, Spink served as Mayor of the town that still rivaled Toledo in presumptive stature.
Not much is readily at hand about John C. Spink (Mrs. Carey got the middle initial wrong in her letter) and his origins. He was born in 1803 or 04 in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Like many pioneers, Spink moved west, living in Silver Creek, New York, and Wooster, Ohio, before settling in Perrysburg in 1829. At least two brothers followed him to Wood County: Shibnah, a merchant, and Buckley. Buckley Spink arrived in 1837, at which time his generous brothers gave him 160 acres of land they owned in Middleton Township.
Spink undertook a numerous and colorful variety of jobs in his life. A lawyer he certainly was, and his legal skills and reputation brought him work in private practice. His legal background also served him well as mayor and in other political roles, where Spink served as Wood County Auditor (1831), County Prosecutor (1839), and Ohio State Senator (1848). But Spink also opened an insurance agency in Perrysburg, and owned a tavern in Grand Rapids (the “Stone Tavern”). In 1836, Spink was among a number of investors who bought land and laid out the Maumee River town of Marengo. They hoped to co-opt the growth of Toledo as the first town downriver of the infamous Rock Bar, which prevented lake ships from reaching Maumee or Perrysburg. The Panic of 1837 ended hopes for, and the existence of, Marengo.
In her letter, Ms. Carey hints that John Spink (or his supporter) was not above a bit of puffery on his own behalf. And in fact, Spink was a fast-talking yet warm-hearted man and had a real sense of humor. He was not above shenanigans, and for contemporaries, the name of Spink and the memory of a good laugh, probably went hand in hand. Listen to Hezekiah Hosmer, a later mayor of Perrysburg, in recollections dated 1862:
“My partner, the late John C. Spink, was ... one of the most genial, kind-hearted gentlemen I ever knew..... He was fond of conviviality and mirth, and always contributed his share of humor to enliven the leisure hours of our varied circuit experience. We were sure of a jovial evening when Spink was with us. He was full of anecdote and fun, and possessed a fine vein of quaint humor, which was ever at his command, and made him a very enjoyable companion.” (p. 78)
The laughter of 170+ years ago can still be heard in this anecdote:
In the fall of 1834, Spink met Willard V. Way at the courthouse on Front Street (Perrysburg was still the county seat of Wood County at the time). Spink, who was riding a pony, suggested that they discuss some business at Sloane’s Tavern, on the opposite side of the street. Front Street was a “sea of mud,” so Spink jokingly offered Way a ride across the street on his pony. But when Way had hopped up on the pony, it began to kick and stagger: “The farther we progressed, the more frantic became the kicks of the pony, until we got nearly across the street, and where the mire was deepest, when Spink and myself were tossed over the animal’s head into a world of trouble. When we straightened up, we found ourselves completely mud-clad. Spink’s face was in a condition to destroy identification by his most intimate friends, and even his mouth was filled...” “Way,” Spink shouted, “if we have been wallowing in the mud like two silly boys, we have the proud satisfaction of knowing that we are the two first lawyers in the county.” Way ended by pointing out that they were the only two lawyers in Wood County at the time.
Spink’s sense of fun was also apparent in his participation in the Fort Meigs political rally in June of 1840. William Henry Harrison was running for President as the nominee of the Whig Party. During that tumultuous summer, his partisans held rallies, parties, barbecues, and bonfires, where they sang of “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too.” Harrison, who had been the general in charge of Fort Meigs in May of 1813 when the British attacked, returned to Fort Meigs in 1840 to make one of his windy campaign speeches.
During the night, some opposition Democrats had thrown a log, meant to build a log cabin for the Whigs, into the old fort’s well. The Whig partisans were outraged, and built a cabin anyway, out of logs sent by well-wishers. And who was on the committee that built this cabin? None other than John Spink. The rally on June 11, 1840 was a huge success, attracting 50,000 attendants and propelling Harrison to the White House (where he died after 30 days as President). Spink may have seen the irony in this in 1841, but probably enjoyed the festivities in 1840.
John Spink, mayor, lawyer, judge, and gadfly, died in Napoleon, Ohio while on a business trip in October of 1853. He was only 49, and is buried at Fort Meigs Cemetery in Perrysburg. There is no way to know for sure that we would have found Spink a humorous man. But his contemporaries thought him so, and they knew him best.
[The author would like to thank Richard Baranowski of the Way Public Library, Perrysburg, Ohio for information on John Spink. Other sources include Ardath Danford, The Perrysburg Story 1816-1966 (1966), and Commemorative Historical and Biographical Record of Wood County, Ohio (1897).]