William Henry Harrison Is My Distant Cousin. His Statue In Piatt Park Should Go

Jul 3, 2020

Vamoose, cousin Billy.

Take your horse, William Henry Harrison, and ride out of town. Don't stop until you hit North Bend. That's your tomb up there on top of the hill, my man; rest in peace.

Yes, William Henry Harrison, the ninth president of the United States who lasted only 31 days in office in 1841 before dying of typhoid or pneumonia or something, is a cousin of mine, umpteen times removed. This, according to the genealogical research of my late mother, Norma Wilkinson, who developed a backside of iron after countless hours of sitting at microfiche machines in public libraries across the eastern United States.

And, God bless her, the hard work paid off. It not only got her into the Daughters of the American Revolution but established a relationship with not one, but two American presidents – William Henry and his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, who was the 23rd president, wedged between the non-consecutive terms of President Grover Cleveland from 1889 to 1893.

It may explain why her own father, a Pennsylvania coal miner who died of black lung when she was a little girl, was named Harrison Ramsey.

Cincinnati City Council Member Chris Seelbach has circulated a motion among his colleagues to have the equestrian statue of William Henry Harrison removed from the west end of Piatt Park Downtown. Many have complained about Harrison, who at one point owned as many as 11 slaves and left behind more than his share of pro-slavery writings.

Here's a nice run-on sentence from my misguided cousin:

"Is there any man of common sense who does not believe that the emancipated Blacks, being a majority, will not insist upon full participation of political rights with the whites; and, when possessed of these, they will not contend for a full share of social rights also?"

Typical scrambled, self-serving nonsense from a blowhard politician of the 1830s.

Harrison's brush with slave-owning came when he was serving as governor of the Indiana Territory, having bought as many as 11 slaves out of his native state of Virginia over the years. But, as part of the Northwest Territory, slavery was not legal in the Indiana Territory, so he kept them outside of its boundaries and occasionally imported them one by one as indentured servants.

Claiming to own another human being is repulsive enough, but he was not a big-time slave owner.

Less talked about is his record as a butcher who slaughtered hundreds of Native Americans as a general of the American army charged with driving the indigenous people out of the territory. He acquired his nickname – Tippecanoe – from the battle of Tippecanoe, where he defeated the Confederacy of Indian warriors of various tribes led by the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh.

At Tippecanoe, Harrison's soldiers scalped dozens of dead Indians left behind on the battlefield – their war trophies.

The first major battle he fought against the Indians led by the Shawnee Chief Blue Jacket at Fallen Timbers, near Maumee in northwest Ohio was in 1794 and was a decisive victory for the Americans. In 1813, the general's army defeated the Confederacy and its British allies in the Battle of the Thames in Canada, killing Tecumseh in the process.

It was the death knell for Native American culture that had thrived in the Northwest Territory since prehistoric times.

Swell guy, that cousin of mine, eh?

He settled down on a small farm near North Bend after his military career. He was a national hero among white males for his brutal beat-down of the Shawnees.

At the time of his election as president in 1840, he held a political office – Hamilton County Clerk of Courts. (Take note, Aftab Pureval! You may have discovered the path to the White House!)

The one and only thing he did in his month as president was die.

Eventually, the great marble tomb that stands on the hillside overlooking North Bend and the Ohio River was completed and the 9th president was put to rest there for eternity. I've visited inside the tomb several times with local historians and William Henry has plenty of company inside – family members, including his son John Scott Harrison, the only man in U.S. history to be the son of one president (William Henry) and the father of another (Benjamin).

"There are a number of reasons why Harrison's statue doesn't belong in this city,'' Seelbach told WVXU. "A slave holder, a general who wiped out Native Americans.

"Sending him out to North Bend seems to be a good solution,'' Seelbach said.

And, he said, Cincinnati Council members recently received a letter from the state of Ohio saying that the state, which operates the Harrison tomb in North Bend, is willing to pay for the move.

In that case, be gone, cuz.

Don’t let the door hit you on your big behind on your way out.

And don't tell anybody out in North Bend that we're related.

Credit Jim Nolan / WVXU

  Read more "Tales from the Trail" here.