By Thomas Palmer
For the next few weeks, we will take a look at the life of a former Galionite whose name you have likely heard because of a clothing company he established over a century ago.
The man’s name was Henry D. Lee.
1869 map of Windsor County, Vermont showing farm of A. Mosher
All good tales have an interesting place of beginning — be it Hobbiton in Lord of the Rings, Kansas in the Wizard of Oz, or Privet Drive in the Harry Potter book series.
The life story of Henry David Lee began about 1849 in Randolph, Vermont. It is thought that his parents, tailor Michael Lee and his wife Margaret (or Mary) Ann Cunningham, were Irish immigrants. After marrying in 1836, the couple had at least ten children before Michael’s untimely death when Henry was three years old. 1 2
What happened next for young Henry is the point of some conjecture. With so many children, life for the young widow Lee was certain to have been difficult, and as a result Henry may have been “farmed out” to work for a family with the surname Mosier. 3 The 1860 census does show a 12-year-old Henry Lee living with Alanson and Azoliah “Mosher” on a nearby farm (see map image above). While no occupation is listed for the young man, he is recorded after Mosher family members and right before a 70 year old family servant.
Students of Galion history may well note some parallels between the disadvantaged early years of young Henry and a certain William Montgomery Brown. Once each reached adulthood, however, their lives took very different paths.
At some point in the 1860s Henry is said to have moved to nearby Tunbridge, Vermont with just $1.50 in his pocket, having been “released” from the Moshers. He attended school and was offered a teaching position, but that was not his plan. 4 Instead, he set out to gain new experiences and opportunities in far-flung Ohio.
The patterns of American migration were hard wired throughout much of the 19th century. When enterprising young men came of age (women, of course, had fewer options at the time), they often turned and looked west. Why Galion in particular became Henry’s destination is not known.
Some writers have suggested that Henry Lee reached Galion in the early 1870s, but we now know differently. An earlier date must have been the case, as evidenced by his recorded marriage in Galion to Emma L. Colburn on August 2, 1869. 5 Emma was a couple of years older than her husband, and was the daughter of Main Street merchant William Colburn. The 1870 census saw the Lees and Colburns living on West Main Street not far from Public Square.
1870 Census for Galion showing the Colburn and Lee household
While he may have been employed at the time of his marriage, it was likely his marriage to Emma that brought him his first experience with a higher standard of living. Some of William Colburn’s frugality and drive to succeed probably impacted him as well. 6
1 A portion of the information obtained in the first three chapters is taken from the National Register of Historic Places nomination form for the HD Lee Manufacturing Complex in Salina, Kansas, submitted to the National Park Service in May 2008. That nomination form has its own set of citations, and I will refer to that document as “NRHP Form” instead of typing out each citation. The document is internally inconsistent, however. It plainly states that Henry Lee’s birth year was 1857, for instance, but also refers to sources that give the date as 1849. That latter year is much more realistic and matches censuses and Henry’s death certificate. Interestingly, a 1908 passport application for Lee has both 1849 and 1850 as his birth year (he was using it for a trip to Turkey, of all places)!
The nomination form also uses “David” and “Daniel” for Henry’s middle name. One biographer also used “Daniel.” Most sources have “David,” however, and as there is no known public or legal document that has his middle name, that is what I will use as well.
2 Ancestry.com’s most complete record on the Lee family states that the family had ten children, and that two children were born after Henry.
3 NRHP Form
4 NRHP Form
5 The marriage certificate filed at the Crawford County Courthouse shows that the couple was married by someone with the last name “Ruth.” The first two initials are difficult to read. Still, this was undoubtedly Rev. Francis J. Ruth, a man with his own unique life story. His mother was an innkeeper whose establishment was host to President George Washington. After coming to Ohio, Ruth officiated at the 1840 laying of the cornerstone for Galion’s “Union Church.” At the time of the Lee marriage, Ruth was pastor at the English Lutheran Church, today’s First Lutheran Church. This is interesting as the Lees later affiliated with Galion’s Methodist congregation; perhaps the Colburns were Lutherans
6 William Colburn is said to have initially settled in Iberia (a few miles southwest of Galion). Opening a general store, he took advantage of war-induced inflation and saw real success. He moved to Galion and opened a store in a one room structure next to the house where his daughter Emma would live out her life. For Galionites, that would be the current location of Keller Auto Parts to the immediate east of the Galion Theatre. Colburn is said to have been miserly and refused to switch to gas, continuing to use tallow candles. Mansfield News Journal, May 27, 1923. At the time of his death in 1879, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the First National Bank of Mt. Gilead. Galion Sun-Review, October 25, 1879.
Each Saturday, we share a post about local history. We call this series “Galion History Corner,” and we will be sharing not only stories about our shared heritage but also updates on history news here in southeast Crawford County.
This series is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Bernard M. Mansfield, whose “Your Historical Galion” was a fixture in weekend editions of the Galion Inquirer. Dr. Mansfield was a friend and family physician, and he inspired the current generation of Galion historians to continue his work.