Skip to main content

History and education in those Highland County hills of yore, Part 6

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve been examining the life and times of Gen. Joseph Jefferson McDowell, the uncle of the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews, a pioneer of education in Highland County in the 1800s.

Gen. McDowell moved to Highland County in his 20s, engaged in agricultural pursuits, then moved to Hillsboro in 1829 and engaged in mercantile pursuits.

Entering politics, he was a member of the Ohio State House of Representatives, in 1832, served in the Ohio State Senate in 1833 and was appointed Brigadier General of the Ohio State Militia in 1834.

He studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1835 and commenced to practice law in Hillsboro. In 1843, he was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth and Twenty-ninth Congresses, serving until 1847. An unsuccessful candidate for election, he resumed the practice of law and engaged in agricultural pursuits until his death.

He passed away Jan. 17, 1877 at the age of 76 and is buried in the Hillsboro Cemetery.

Obituaries were a lot different in the 1800s than they are now. They were often more flowery in those days, but sometimes didn’t list family who survived or who went before. Considering Gen. McDowell was a Congressman from Hillsboro, served in the Ohio legislature and was a prominent attorney, I would have thought he would have received a much grander sendoff, if you will, than a bit of space on Page 4 of the local newspaper with the headline, “Death of Gen. J.J. McDowell.”

Here is what was written in that Jan. 25, 1877 edition:

Another of our oldest and most honored citizens has been suddenly taken from our midst, by the relentless hand of Death. Gen. Joseph J. McDowell died on Wednesday night of last week, at his residence, after a short illness, of acute Laryngitis, or inflammation of the larynx. He attended prayer meeting at the Presbyterian Church on Monday morning, but after returning home, took a severe chill, and complained of some soreness of the throat, but none of the family supposed him to be in any danger until a few hours before his death.

Gen. McDowell was a native of North Carolina and came to this county about the year 1824. For a number of years, he was engaged in farming, and was afterwards for a time in the mercantile business in this place. About the year 1832 he was elected to the Legislature, and served three years. In 1835 he was admitted to the bar, and the next year associated himself in practice with Col. Wm. O. Collins, and continued to labor in his profession until 1843, which he was elected to Congress, and re-elected for a second term. After the expiration of his second term, he retired from official life and devoted himself to his profession and the care of his farm until about the year 1860, since which time he has almost entirely ceased to practice law, and spent most of his time in superintending his farm.

His title of General was conferred upon him while a member of the Legislature, when he was appointed Major General of the Ohio militia.

In politics, he was always a Democrat, and was recognized as one the of most influential leaders of his party in Southern Ohio. As a citizen, he was liberal and public-spirited, of which his arduous efforts in behalf of the Southern Ohio R.R. (Railroad) enterprise, a few years ago, when he was past the age of 70, will be remembered as a conspicuous instance. Honest, frank, genial and kindhearted, he enjoyed in an eminent degree the respect and esteem of all who knew him, without distinction of party.

He was always a friend of Temperance, and took a great interest in the remarkable Temperance movement known as the “Crusade,” which commenced in this place in the winter of 1873-4. He attended nearly all the meetings, and greatly encouraged and aided the women by his advice and active sympathy.

About a year ago, he united with the Presbyterian Church, of which he has been an active and steady member. He was born Nov. 13, 1800, and was consequently in the 77th year of his age.

The funeral services were held Sunday afternoon, at the Presbyterian Church, which was crowded, many being unable to obtain admittance. Remarks were said by the Pastor, Rev. W.J. McSurely, and Rev. J.M. Trimble, and Rev. Mr. Clark, of the M.E. Church and Rev. Bowen, of the Episcopal Church, assisted in the exercises. The remains were followed to their last resting place in the Cemetery by a long train of sorrowing relatives and sympathizing friends, and by the members of the Bar in a body.

“Life’s fitful fever is over, he sleeps well.”

Peace to his ashes, and honor to his memory.

That was 537 words in that 1877 newspaper obituary/article. For Gen. Joseph Jefferson McDowell, “life’s fitful fever (was) over, he sleeps well,” and has been for 53,357 days -- or 146 years, 1 month and 1 day of this writing. His wife was Sarah McCall McDowell (1805-1885), and they had nine children. They lived in a two-story brick house which is located at present-day 337 N. High St. in Hillsboro. Sarah McDowell was the vice president of the local Temperance Crusade.

In the obit, you might have recognized a few prominent names of that era. William Oliver Collins, an attorney, politician and Army officer, was the namesake for Fort Collins, Colorado. Collins’ son, Caspar, was the namesake of Casper, Wyoming. Caspar Collins was a U.S. Army officer who was killed in the 1865 Battle of the Platte Bridge Station against the Lakota and Cheyenne at the age of 20. The Rev. Dr. William Jasper McSurely was the spiritual backer of the Hillsboro Temperance Crusade, and the Rev. Joseph McDowell Trimble was the son of Gov. Allen Trimble and Margaret McDowell Trimble. Margaret McDowell Trimble died at the age of 21, and Gov. Trimble’s second wife, Rachel Woodrow Trimble, was the mother of Eliza Jane Trimble Thompson, famously known as Mother Thompson of the Temperance Crusade. Margaret McDowell Trimble was also the sister of Gen. Joseph J. McDowell.

Let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

Add new comment

This is not for publication.
This is not for publication.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
Article comments are not posted immediately to the Web site. Each submission must be approved by the Web site editor, who may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours for any submission while the web site editor reviews and approves it. Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number and email address is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.