Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Secret Society in Kentucky

The Secession Ball in Charleston has been generating a lot of interest in the blogosphere, and even in the mainstream press to some extent, recently. Secession was, obviously, a topic of much discussion and debate 150 years ago as well, as South Carolina's declaration was soon followed by similar pledges from other states in the deep south. The future of  the upper south and border states was not so clear, at least until the attack on Fort Sumter and President Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops, after which the upper south states decided to leave the Union as well.

This question still remained unsettled in the border states of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Kentucky, however.  Below is an article I found which discusses Kentucky's possible secession and potential reaction to such a decision. Newport is in the very northern part of the state, along the Ohio River, just across the river from Cincinnati, and just east of Covington, across the Licking River.
From the Covington Journal of May 18, 1861, this letter mentions an interesting rumor that never had the chance to come to fruition. This is an example of the mixed sentiment in this area at the time, as well as the uncertainty of how the state would proceed. All three men mentioned here, including the letter-writer, were lawyers and politicians in Campbell County (which includes Newport), so they likely knew each other, though Boyd obviously took a different view of national politics than the other two did. 

Below the letter I have included the biographical information I have been able to find about each of these men.

Newport, Ky., May 17, 1861

To the Editor of the Covington Journal: 

Sir: I am informed that there is a secret society in this city, who have taken an oath, that in the event that Kentucky, by a legitimate vote of her citizens, should determine to go with her sister States of the South, they, the members of this association, are to take up arms against the State, and join their friends of the border free States, in a raid upon the loyal sons of Kentucky. G.P. Webster and Gus Artsman, are two of the prominent leaders. I have the names of others; but withhold them for the present. I have also the names of gentlemen from Covington, who have been officiating in this matter. It is proposed to extend this anti-Southern or Abolition association throughout this county, and other border counties. These men will be remembered by the people of Kentucky for their wicked and hidden designs upon their peace.

F. A. Boyd

F.A. (Frederick) Boyd
Boyd, was born in Mason County Kentucky in 1815 and moved to Campbell County as a boy, along with his father. He graduated at the top of his law school class at the Cincinnati Law School in 1836, where he was highly regarded, and h became a lawyer in Newport. Health issues eventually slowed him down, and affected how much work he was able to do, but he was elected to the Kentucky Legislature in 1849, where  he served two terms. He then was chosen mayor of Newport in 1853, before becoming County Judge when his four-year term in Newport expired.  In 1868, he was a Kentucky representative at the Democratic National Convention in New York, where Horatio Seymour was nominated for President.

Judge Boyd passed away in 1891, as the oldest member of the Campbell County Bar, and apparently had earned much respect during his life based on resolutions passed by the County Bar and its members.

I did find it interesting that none of the articles I could find mentioned his apparent sympathy towards the South. Perhaps this was a sign of reconciliation and respect, or perhaps the coming of the war and Kentucky's insistence on remaining in the Union convinced him to keep his views to himself.

Gustave Artsman
Colonel Gustave "Gus" Artsman was born in Germany in 1829 and came to the United States in the mid-1840s before settling in Newport around 1854. He was elected Campbell County Circuit Court Clerk in 1856 and remained in that position until 1863. His obituary says he resigned in 1863 to become a Major in the 23rd Kentucky Volunteers during the Civil War, but I have not been able to find his name in that unit's records. I do wonder if there was another spelling (perhaps Anglicized somehow) that might show up in the records, but I have not yet found it.

Another article mentions that he was placed in charge of the Home Guard units in the area in 1863.

In 1872, he became Master Commissioner of the Campbell County Chancery Court, a position he held for 20 years.  His obituary says he was a Mason, dedicated to his church and a member of the "Loyal Legion" by which I believe it means the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States

He passed away in 1902. Among his pallbearers were Samuel Bigstaff and Colonel A.S. Berry, both of whom were Confederate soldiers in the Civil War.

George P. Webster
I have found less information about him than the others, but in 1862, the Covington Journal reported that: "George P. Webster of Campbell county, has resigned his seat in the Legislature, to accept the office of Assistant Quartermaster General."  Several other articles in the war years mention him performing his duty in this role from Covington and even moving to Cincinnati and then St. Louis after the war.

He had also served as the Campbell County Attorney, at least in 1856, as well, so it is likely that his profession enabled him to become acquainted with Boyd and Artsman.

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