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Unexpected Lincoln: Caribbean Cruising to Colorado

By David J. Kent

Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

As we've shown in our periodic Unexpected Lincoln series, connections to Abraham Lincoln sometimes show up in surprising places. The latest was on a sailing ship in the Caribbean. And there is a bonus - not only is there a connection to Lincoln, but there are also connections to Salmon P. Chase and Ulysses S. Grant as well.

I recently took a much-needed escape on a sailing cruise aboard the Wind Star, the namesake ship of the small-ship cruise line, Windstar. The trip ranged from Panama to Colombia to the ABC islands and eventually to Barbados. All of these areas have Lincoln links, mainly through the region's strong connection to slavery. In Lincoln: The Fire of Genius, for example, I discuss Lincoln's infamous August 1862 meeting with Black leaders in the White House, the one in which he pushed them to promote colonization to the Chiriqui region of Panama.

While on ship, I had dinner with Charles Ewing, who told me about his great-grandfather, Chase Withrow. It turns out Charles has an identical twin brother who is also named Chase. There's a reason for that. Chase Withrow was born in November 1839, almost exactly nine months after his father, William Edgar Withrow, had married his mother, Harriet E. Chase, who just happened to be a cousin of a certain Salmon P. Chase of Ohio. Yes, that Salmon P. Chase. [To reinforce the bond, after Harriet died, William married Harriet's sister, Hannah B. Chase.] The Withrows lived in Rushville, and then Macomb, Illinois, and frequently were visited by Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln would always chat with the children, Chase and his brother James and sister Sarah, and they developed a friendship that continued throughout their lives. In 1858, Chase would attend the Lincoln-Douglas debate at Knox College in Galesburg, sitting close to the speakers and hearing every word of the great debate. So, you could say there is a link to Stephen A. Douglas as well.

The Lincoln connection doesn't stop there. A year after the debates, the pioneering spirit convinced the 20-year-old Chase to make the trek west to Colorado Territory, settling in Central City. Gold had been discovered there, and Chase plunged into active mining, staking out claims and digging for gold, with varying degrees of success. His experience with mining operations laid the foundation for his important role in the development of mining law in the western states. He would eventually get his law degree and pass the bar, becoming a leading figure in Central City. At the time of his death in 1931, he was the only surviving member of the Constitutional Convention that drew up the Constitution ratified by the people of Colorado in 1876.

But let's not forget Ulysses S. Grant. In 1868, Grant made the first of three trips to Colorado, stopping in Central City, where Chase Withrow was a member of the welcoming committee. According to lore, the street in front of the famous old Teller House was paved with solid gold and silver bricks for the occasion. While that story seems apocryphal, there was a lot of gold and silver hanging around those parts in those days, so I suppose it is possible. Grant would welcome Colorado as the 38th state of the Union in 1876. As mentioned already, Withrow helped write the state constitution.

It was fascinating to learn about Chase Withrow from his great-grandson. Charles told me that last year he took his granddaughters to see Chase Withrow's grave in Denver's Fairmount Cemetery. A decade or so ago, he had taken his family to Central City. Withrow was one of the founders of the Central City Opera, which was directly across the street from where his law offices were (and, in fact, remain). In his honor, a seat in the Opera House is engraved with the name Chase Withrow and 1859, the year he moved there.

So, it pays to keep your eyes and ears open because Abraham Lincoln connections pop up in what might seem to be the most unlikely places. I'm thankful to have run into Charles and heard the story.

More info about Chase Withrow can be found at:


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