Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, May 20, 2012 pg. 13
During the years preceding the Civil War, there were political views supporting states rights which concluded that the South had a right to secede from the Union and conduct itself as it deemed fit, including continuing slavery. Those in the North who held this viewpoint were nicknamed "Copperheads." Albion had several prominent persons who held that very unpopular viewpoint. Head of the local Copperhead movement was William V. Morrison (1817-1882), teacher at Albion's "Little Red Schoolhouse." Morrison was a prominent leader of the Democratic Party in Michigan and was a member of the 1850 Constitutional Convention. The 1927 article "Michigan Democracy in the Civil War" stated, "During the War of the Rebellion Morrison was one of the most conspicuous Copperheads in Michigan, conspicuous alike for his intellectual superiority and uncompromising opposition to the War." Continuing with the article, Morrison wrote a report in 1863 which was approved by the Michigan Democratic Party which officially "went on the record against the President [Lincoln] and other officers of the government in the prosecution of the War."
The "States' Rights" Copperhead viewpoint was espoused in the local Democratic newspaper, the Albion Mirror. According to Cole family history, its editor, Lawrence W. Cole (1812-1894), became so unpopular here for his views that he had to barricade himself in his newspaper office in downtown Albion to "protect his press and life," as one researcher has written. Meals were hauled up to him via a rope and pulley system at the office. Cole's pro-slavery and anti-Union views were well written by him in various columns dating back to the 1830s in several publications. Incidentally, the Cole house on S. Albion St. at the end of W. Center St. was demolished in 1993 and a Habitat-for-Humanity home was constructed in its place.
Albion's 10th Village President (1867) George N. Cady was also part of the local Copperhead group and trained under the tutelage of William V. Morrison.
Local hardware merchant Augustus Porter Gardner (1817-1905) was another person to take note of during the period. His viewpoints were well known not only locally, but across the state as well, even years after the Civil War and ended. His lengthy obituary in the Detroit Tribune in 1905 included the headline "Albion Man Defended Slavery Till His Death." "He was always opposed to war and believed that it was always possible to evade it…He believed the Civil War was unnecessary," the obituary stated.
Even area clergymen were involved. One such Copperhead was Methodist clergyman Rev. Andrew Mason Fitch (1815-1887), after whom Fitch St. is named. Fitch was a devoted agriculturalist, as well as an agent of the Albion Seminary. The 1931 article mentions "he was somewhat of a politician of the democratic faith…He was in those days affiliating with the disloyal element in society, [and] was classed as a Copperhead."
Another Methodist clergyman was Rev. William Farley (1807-1872) who served Supervisor of Albion Township several terms from the 1830s through 1856. Because of his Copperhead views, he never succeeded in getting re-elected to that office after 1856. He subsequently served as treasurer of Albion College during the Civil War period.
The most blatant ecclesiastical example however concerns the Methodist minister Rev. Andrew Jackson Eldred (1825-1910). He had helped form the 12th Michigan Infantry at Niles, of which Company D consisted of Albion men. Eldred served as Chaplin, and participated in the historic Battle of Shiloh in 1862. Eldred left the regiment in 1864 and was appointed pastor of our local Methodist Church during 1864 and 1865. Researcher Dennis Kutzner writes in his article "Divine Connections:" "Church laity, knowing Eldred was a Democrat, believed he had left his regiment because he endorsed the Democratic peace platform of giving the South their wish to be independent. Laity sent word to the Bishop they would not pay Eldred if he, indeed, came to Albion."
According to the 1931 article Eldred "so disgraced his fellowship that most of his congregation, joined by members of his former charge at Dowagiac, petitioned church authorities for his expulsion and the War Department at Washington for his arrest and conviction for treasonable utterances." When he came to Albion, many left the church, which also refused to pay him a salary. When asked the question "what are your politics?" he would reply "I am an ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I am here on His business." That situation had a happy ending however. The History of Calhoun County (1913) by Washington Gardner, pg. 461 states, "Afterwards there came the greatest revival in the history of Albion. The church which had refused to estimate him a support at the beginning of the year paid double the customary salary."
From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photo of local Copperhead leader William V. Morrison.
Albion "Copperhead" William V. Morrison
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic