Monday, January 23, 2017

A Courtroom Mystery

by Erin Doane, curator

I was recently summoned for jury duty at the Chemung County courthouse. This turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to learn a little more about local history. When I entered the courtroom I saw a familiar face. There was a marble bust sitting in a carved niche behind the witness stand that looked very much like a bust we have at the museum. The courthouse bust was labeled “Hathaway” but I was sure that the one at the museum was listed in the collections database as being of John Arnot, Jr. Fortunately, I was chosen to serve on the jury so I had some more time to study the statue.

Interior of the Chemung County courthouse, Dec. 29, 1896
The bust can be seen in the background on the right.
 I tried to hold the image of the courthouse bust in my mind when I went back to the museum during the lunch recess but I was still unsure if they were indeed the same. On day two of jury duty, I asked if I could take a picture of the bust to compare it to the one here. The court officer kindly allowed me to do so as long as I was quick about it. 
The fuzzy picture I took of the courthouse bust.
Back at the museum, I stood in collections storage before our statue, comparing it to the photo I had taken. Others on staff stood and contemplated the two as well and we decided that they were indeed the same man.

The bust at the museum
So, we had two matching busts but who were they depicting – Hathaway or Arnot? The identity was very quickly cleared up when Kelli, our education coordinator, handed me the biography file of Colonel Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr. Inside was a picture of the bust at the courthouse, some biographical information, and documentation of how and when the museum had received an identical bust. This was the fastest history mystery I’ve seen solved in a while.

I had never heard of Colonel Samuel Gilbert Hathaway, Jr. even though in a 1961 letter historian Clark Wilcox called him “probably one of the most respected men ever to live in Chemung County.” A January 29, 1889 article in The Evening Star praised the colonel’s “stately step, manly form and genial countenance.” In his 1892 book, Our County and Its People, Ausburn Towner described Col. Hathaway as “an exceptional man in physical proportions and mental capacity” and declared that “his many virtues so far outweighed his faults that the latter are forgotten and the former treasured as a heritage that belong not only to the county, but to all mankind.” So, who was this exceptional, respected, stately, manly man?

Image of a young Col. Hathaway published in
March 3, 1940 issue of the Elmira Telegram
Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr. was born January 18, 1810 in Freetown Township, Cortland County, New York. He was the oldest son of General Samuel G. Hathaway and is said to have gained the title of colonel when he served on his father’s staff at age 18. He graduated Union College and began studying law in Cortland before moving to Elmira in 1835. He was admitted to the bar in 1836 and became a well-respected attorney in the city. In 1842 and 1843, Col. Hathaway represented Chemung County in the State Assembly. He was known as the “Democratic war horse of Chemung Valley.”

The Civil War began in April 1861. After more than a year of fighting, President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for 300,000 additional volunteers. Col. Hathaway answered the call by helping to raise ten companies of soldiers to form the 141st New York Volunteer Infantry. He served as commander of the regiment which was made up of men from Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben Counties. The 141st was mustered in for three years of service on September 11, 1862 and mustered out June 8, 1865. In the meantime, the regiment was involved in many engagements including the Siege of Suffolk, the Battle of New Hope Church, the Siege of Atlanta, and Sherman’s March to the Sea. The 141st lost a total of 249 men in action and from disease including Col. Hathaway.

Col. Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr., 141st New York Inf.
Image from the Library of Congress
On February 12, 1863, the 141st moved from Miner’s Hill to Arlington Heights, Virginia but Col. Hathaway did not go with them. He resigned his post because of a heart condition and returned to Elmira. On the advice of his physician, Dr. W.C. Way, he moved into his father’s home in Solon, New York to convalesce. His condition did not improve and on April 15, 1864, Col. Samuel G. Hathaway, Jr. died.

Several years earlier, Col. Hathaway’s father, General Hathaway ordered a plaster bust of himself to be made by Edward Chase Clute. Gen. Hathaway was so pleased with Mr. Clute’s work that he ordered a bust of each of his family members. He intended to have the plaster models taken to Italy to have marble busts sculpted from them but the Civil War prevented that from happening. Gen. Hathaway died in 1867 but Miss Elizabeth Hathaway went to Italy sometime later and had the busts made. One may assume that she had two (or more) made of Col. Hathaway.

And I did find out when these two busts ended up at the courthouse and the museum. A November 14, 1884 article in the Elmira Star Gazette reported that the bust of Col. Hathaway would “soon ornament the Chemung county court house.” The museum received our bust in 1992 as a transfer from the Tioga County Historical Society in Owego, New York.

Could there be a third bust of Col. Hathaway out there?
Glass-plate negative by Robert Turner, Jr.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun mystery to solve for a curator having to serve on jury duty!