We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot


Welcome to Ten Roads! This blog is intended to be a place for me to share my (generally Civil War-related) thoughts and experiences. I try to update once a week at the very least. All comments and readers are greatly appreciated!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The internment of J. Allison Eyster

Call me strange, but I really enjoy doing hours of research on random people I find whilst reading Civil War-related materials. It's my idea of a good time.


Browsing on the Valley of the Shadow site late this afternoon brought to my attention one J. Allison Eyster. Chambersburg's wealthiest merchant during the war, Eyster possessed about $82,000 in assets (today equivilent to approximately $1,776,000.)

The man obviously had a knack for business, as he was quickly awarded the contract to supply provisions to the soldiers at Camp Slifer. Besides the contract, Eyster also did what we can infer to be well over $11,000 of sutlering to Patterson's army. And this is apparently what got him into trouble.

Eyster was taken prisoner near Winchester, Virginia on the day after First Manassas without any discernable cause. He was first imprisoned in a Richmond tobacco warehouse with several other civilian prisoners, men from Waynesboro, and then detained in the County Prison until his release in early October.

From the reports of commissioners on various political arrests in the official records of the Confederate Army:
"He [J. Allison Eyster] is a Pennsylvania [sic] and a resident of Chambersburg. He is a wealthy merchant, well known in Baltimore; addicted sometimes to intemperance. He voted for Lincoln, but declares that he was entirely opposed to the war. He acted as a sutler in some sort to Patterson's army, selling it a large amount of goods on account of which there is still due to him he says about $11,000, to collect which he says he followed that army into Virginia, where he was arrested at the instance of his connection, Jonas Chamberlain, of Frederick County, whose affidavit is herewith returned. Chamberlain says that Eyster came to his house very drunk, and came into Virginia in a drunken frolic under Patterson's pass. I see no reason to detain Eyster unless as a hostage for the safety of our people who are in the bands of the enemy."

While doing the research on Eyster, I noticed that a great many of the prisoners in the other reports had been arrested for basically no reason. This caused me to do some research on habeas corpus during the war. I'd known that Lincoln had suspended it in response to riots and whatnot, but I never realized (or really even thought about it for that matter) that Davis had suspended it as well.

New York Times (Oct 7 1861)
The War of Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (p. 1427)
Valley Spirit (May 1, Jul 31, Oct 9 1861)

Crossposted to Civil War History.

1 comment:

David Eyster said...

Nice write-up on Joseph Allison Eyster, better known as J. Allison Eyster. Thank you. Thought you might be interested in JAE's obituary ... provides additional information and the "rest of the story."

OBITUARY: From the Pennsylvania Scrap Book Necrology, Volume 44, p. 95: "THE DEATH OF J. ALLISON EYSTER. A FORMER PROMINENT BUSINESS MAN OF CHAMBERSBURG. The Oldest and Last of the Sons of George S. Eyster -- End of a Long and Notable Career -- Imprisonment in Libby -- Generous to a Fault -- His Keen Recollections of Joe Pritts and the Log Cabin Campaign -- His Father, George S. Eyster, a Prominent Business Man During the First Half of the Present Century. After a prolonged illness from dropsy and Bright's disease, J. Allison Eyster passed away peacefully at one o'clock on Monday, at his residence on East Market street, in the 78th year of his age. His first severe illness was while he resided in Philadelphia, when his life was despaired of for a week, and from it he never fully recovered. Three and a-half years ago he moved back to Chambersburg, if possible to recuperate, but while he had seasons of rest it was seldom that he was well enough to venture away from home. J. Allison Eyster was the oldest and last of the four sons of the George S. Eyster, of Chambersburg, George Eyster, for four terms assistant U.S. treasurer at Philadelphia, James C. of the Mint, and William, a banker of Duluth, Minn., having some years preceded him to the grave. He is survived by one sister, Annie, widow of the late John Scott, Philadelphia, who was United States Senator from Pennsylvania 1869-'75. Besides his wife, Elizabeth Heyser, he is survived by four children -- Mrs. F.C. McCowan, Philadelphia; Mrs. Frank B. Harrison, Englewood, N.J.; and George S. and J. Allison Eyster, Jr., Halltown, W. Va. Mr. Eyster received his early education in Chambersburg, and for a time was a student in Washington College, where he was a classmate of the late James G. Blaine. Part of his youth was spent in the printing office of Joe Pritts, after which he made a tour of the West on horseback. This was to see the country and perchance to locate, but at the earnest solicitation of his father, who exacted the promise before he started, he returned home and became his partner in the general merchandising, a relation he sustained until the outbreak of the civil war. He then became the senior member of the firm of Eyster Bros., a house noted for its extensive business in the dry goods and all lines of merchandise. At the beginning of the war, through the head of the firm, the house became the chief supply of many articles for the various military encampments in the vicinity of Chambersburg. He had as well for some years been engaged in other enterprises. He for a time conducted the strawboard mill, north of town, which was the site of the plant of Wolf Co. In 1862 he formed a partnership with William Heyser in the manufacture of white printing paper, the firm becoming the successors of Wolff & Heyser, at the Hollywell Mills, south-west of town. In 1873 he disposed of his interest to William Heyser, and located at Halltown, W. Va., where he built and equipped a strawboard mill. His first years at Halltown were not attended with success, but since 1875, although sustaining heavy losses by fire and store, the skillful management for which he was always known was rewarded with success, and enabled him to recover his fortunes. In this he was materially assisted by his son, Geo. S. Eyster, who some years ago became his partner. The strawboard mill at Halltown is one of the best equipped establishments of the kind in the country. The chief owner had the means and enterprise to keep it abreast with the times, and accordingly found no difficulty in meeting the most progressive competition. Mr. Eyster built a number of houses in Chambersburg, previous to the civil war, "Eyster's Row," East Washington street, and several residences on North Main, being among the number. The more notable erected by him after the burning of Chambersburg, was what is known as the "Cressler block," on South Main street. It was while he was making settlements with army officers in the vicinity of Winchester, Va., for the supplies furnished to the various camps in this county, alluded to, that he was made a prisoner. After transacting his business he made a call on some friends in Winchester, and it was in that place he was arrested and taken to Libby prison. His prominence as a business man made him a valuable catch for the President of the Southern Confederacy, and it was when he was about to be removed from the tobacco warehouse to Castle Thunder for safe keeping, that he was fortunate in making the acquaintance of Commander Albert Kautz, U.S.N., also a Yankee prisoner, and was given quarters with him and the Commodore. The Commander, in our townsman, in notes of prison life printed in Harper, February 1898, says: "I soon found we had quite an acquisition to our mess; and later on as we grew short of funds, he [Eyster] was able to supply us by means of a draft on Baltimore. My friend Eyster one day managed to get his release through the courts." From the notes referred to Mr. Eyster was a favorite in prison and regarded as a benefactor by his unfortunate associates. As a business man J. Allison Eyster had few superiors. It was on account of his generous nature that he did not amass great wealth. He was until he arrived at the age of three score and ten, a man of fine physique and admirable presence. Possessed of a cheerful disposition, and with a flow of genuine wit, he was a charming centre in business and social circles. His help to the helpless was unostentatious and his benefactions many. His liberality with mess-mates in Libby but illustrated his character in this respect from young manhood. James G. Blaine, when he met a citizen of Chambersburg, would always inquire about his chum of College days, J. Allison Eyster, who was his close friend, adding: "He always had plenty of money." Mr. Eyster made Halltown his summer home. During the winter months he resided with his family in Philadelphia, his son having supervision of the mill during this time. He never lost his attachment for his native town. Here it was, when failing health compelled him to retire from active business, that he spent the last years of his life. His recollections of the town and its old citizens when he was a boy, were given to congenial friends with the delightful spice for which he was so well gifted. He learned the printing trade with Pritts, and told with admirable humor of the exciting events of the campaign of 1840, and later his association with Merklein in the publication of the Tilthammer, a campaign paper. With an old hand press mounted on a wagon the Tilthammer was printed during the procession of industrial interests at a monster whig mass-meeting parade. Pritts, he said, was a writer of some ability and very attentive to business. Mr. Eyster, with J.L. Heffelman, was one of the roller boys while "Border Life" was running through the press. He told of an incident that took place in the sanctum while the aged Pritts was engaged and deeply absorbed in the writing of an editorial. Then, as it has ever been since the custom, the country editor was expected to turn aside from his work and entertain visitors when they called. Joe Kilgore, a noted character of Path Valley, called to see the editor to have a talk. Pritts, like Greeley, when engaged on an editorial, did not like interruptions and kept on writing while Kilgore stood by. Finishing a sentence Pritts looked up and recognized Joe with an apology. "Never mind," said Joe, "I was just struck with the ------ superfluctuating band you write." Pritts, he said, was a good conversationalist and delighted to entertain his friends. He was deeply interested in the success of "Border Life," a publication however which must have caused him pecuniary loss. Mr. Eyster said that in those early days a great deal of book printing was done in Chambersburg. There were two bookbinders in the town, Thomas J. Wright and a German, who conducted the business on South Main street, by the name of Schreiber. Eyster also helped to do the press work on an old Ramage press for the printing of Cobb's speller, which was a reprint. This was for Mr. Wright. Mr. Eyster's father, George S. Eyster, came to Chambersburg as a young man in 1820 and was employed as a clerk in one of the leading general merchandising stores of that period. The proprietor employed him with the understanding that he was to be given a partnership if he gave satisfaction. This his employer afterwards refused, notwithstanding the fact that the young man had in every way filled the bill and increased the business. He accordingly started in business for himself, and speaking the German language and a good business man, he at once became the leading merchant of Chambersburg, a relation which he sustained during the remainder of a long career. The funeral took place yesterday morning from the late residence of the deceased on East Market street, Rev. Dr. Crawford, assisted by Dr. Schaeffer, conducting the services. The honorary pall-bearers were Col. T.B. Kennedy, S.M. Linn, E.J. Bonbrake, Esq., John R. Orr, Esq., M.A. Foltz, John P. Keefer, L.D.C. Houser and Geo. A. Wood. Interment in Cedar Grove cemetery."

C. David Eyster
Ukiah, CA
formercityboy@yahoo.com

P.S. Interested in all information relating to the Oyster/Eyster family.

Yore