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  Summer 2014 Issue Excerpts

Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Summer 2014 issue.
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Kennard article layout

The Father of Lincoln, Nebraska: The Life and Times of Thomas P. Kennard ∙ Thomas R. Buecker


During the nineteenth century enterprising businessmen, land agents, developers, and other entrepreneurs swarmed into the territories and new states of the trans-Mississippi West. Most sought opportunities for fortunes and empires in new regions opened for settlement. In Nebraska, one of the most successful and influential such individuals was Thomas Perkins Kennard, a dapper yet shrewd businessman and politician. During his lifetime he was celebrated as the father of Lincoln, but today is mostly remembered as the namesake of the home he built, the Kennard House, the oldest remaining structure in the city’s original plat. As both Lincoln and Nebraska approach sesquicentennial milestones, the time is right for us to look back on his remarkable career.


Thomas P. Kennard came from a Quaker background. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, was formed in England by George Fox in 1651. Quakers believed that religious comfort and inspiration came by the voice of God speaking to each soul without an earthly mediator. Under the leadership of William Penn, Pennsylvania became a refuge for Friends as well as all other creeds. Quakers favored plain ways, governed by “The Discipline,” rules set to establish and reinforce Quaker beliefs and lifestyles. Worship was held several times a week in local homes or meeting houses. Monthly meetings were held to admit and transfer memberships, record births, marriages and deaths, and enforce discipline and disownment for violations among members.


Even though Kennard grew to maturity in the company of his parents and other relatives, in later years he admitted, “I have comparatively no knowledge of my father’s and mother’s family back of themselves.” According to family record, the father of John Kennard, the second great-grandfather of Thomas P., may have come over from England on the same ship as William Penn and settled near Philadelphia. For several decades his family remained as farmers near Cheltenham, a small village just north of Philadelphia. In the 1730s John relocated his family to a Friends area in nearby Bucks County. Later, Thomas Kennard, the father of Thomas P., was born at Cheltenham in 1786.


About 1790 Levi Kennard, Thomas’s father, moved his family from Pennsylvania to Maryland, where they joined the Deer Creek Monthly Meeting, at the village of Darlington in northeastern Harford County. While the family remained at Deer Creek, Thomas married Elisabeth Metcalf in December 1813. A man with a somewhat restless nature, Thomas moved his family the next year to Belmont County in eastern Ohio, an area long settled by Quaker farmers. There in October 1814, a son was born; six weeks later, his first wife died. In 1815 Thomas remarried to Elisabeth Jenkins; nine children (eight sons and one daughter) were born to the union, including the seventh son, Thomas Perkins, born December 13, 1828.


While in Ohio the Kennard family lived on a ninety-six acre farm three miles north and east of St. Clairsville, the county seat situated on the National Road. Over the ensuing years, the family belonged to the Short Creek, Plainfield, and Flushing monthly meetings. Thomas Perkins’ birth was duly reported in the Plainfield record. Thomas Sr. had a typical frontier farm, with two to three horses and three head of cattle. By 1830 he had reduced his farmland one-third to become co-owner and operator of a water-powered grist mill.


During the early 1830s, Thomas wanted to move further west, this time into central Indiana. In the fall of 1833 he made a trip to Henry County, an area of Quaker settlement some thirty-five miles east of Indianapolis. After purchasing land near Greensboro, he returned to Belmont County and sold his land and mill interests. The next year the Kennard family journeyed west via the National Road into Henry County. In 1836 Thomas Sr. purchased (and moved his family to) a partially cleared 160-acre farmstead one mile north of Greensboro. There he finally settled down. The family transferred their membership to the Milford Meeting house in Wayne County, and later to the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting in nearby Madison County.


As a boy Thomas P. worked on the farm and had little time for formal schooling. By his own account, when sixteen years old he had only one year of schooling. About this time he determined to seek other means of making a living rather than farming, and took up an apprenticeship at the local woolen mill southeast of Greensboro. With his older brother Jenkins, he spent four years learning the woolen trade. Then Kennard spent two years traveling and working at other mills to gain further knowledge of the cloth making craft. In 1850 Thomas returned, and with Jenkins bought the Springdale Mill, and jointly operated it for the next several years.


About this time Thomas P. made two decisions that shaped his future. First, he decided to become a lawyer, not seen as an ideal career choice by his fellow Quakers. Friends were advised to avoid lawyers as “law suits against fellow Quakers were strictly forbidden along with the oaths that might be required in a court of law.” Not to be deterred, Kennard made an agreement with a prominent law firm in New Castle, the county seat, to borrow law books, which he read in evenings after the mill closed. Every other Saturday afternoon he returned to New Castle to be quizzed and assigned further readings.


Secondly, in January 1852 he was married to Livia E. Templeton by a local Baptist Elder. As Quaker records were kept in abbreviations, that September the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting simply recorded: “9-9-1852 Thomas [Kennard] Jr. dis for mcd” (dismissed for marriage contrary to discipline). He did not repent and “condemn” his misconduct, and was not again mentioned in the minutes. Even though Thomas P. was never again part of any organized religious affiliation, he maintained attributes of his Quaker upbringing.

The entire essay appears in the Summer 2014 issue.


Big Elk article layout


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