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Asahel Nichols Cole - Father of the Republican Party


Hon. Asahel N. Cole, born in Freedom, Cattaraugus county, Oct. 21, 1821, was one of the noted journalists of this county.  After a youth passed in contest with poverty he educated himself for a teacher, and won high reputation as one before he was of age.  Radically anti-slavery in sentiment he for a time entered the ministry of the Free Methodist church, and married in 1843 Margaret M. Wildman, a lady of education and culture, who exercised a great influence over him.  Mr. Cole was too strongly radical in his views to keep in peace with his brother ministers and soon relinquished preaching for lumbering.  A natural politician he was the chief organizer of the noted Friendship convention called in 1852 to organize the Free Democratic party in Allegany.  This convention was so ridiculed by its opponents that Mr. Cole in self-defense started the Genesse Valley Free Press at Belfast in 1853 to promulgate his opinions and answer misrepresentations.  He was an intimate friend of Horace Greeley for 25 years.  He called the first “Republican ” convention ever held and presented its nominations in his paper as “Republican Nominations.”  The name was suggested to Mr. Cole by Mr. Greeley in a letter written in the summer of 1854.  Mr. Cole later made his home in Wellsville, removing the office o the Free Press tither.  In 1867 he became a lawyer but never engaged in practice.  He contributed articles to the Elmira Advertiser for years under the heading “Our Easy Chair.” “A man of strong will, opinionated, hot-blooded, with not a little of temper,” he was a vigorous writer and a dealer of hard blows to his opponents, but his heart was as tender as an infant's and a deep well of poetic sympathy was hidden amid the thick underbrush of harshness in his nature. In his residence at “Our Home on the Hillside” in Wellsville, he developed a “New Agriculture,” which under his manipulation produced wonderful results.  Many inquiries are yet received by his children concerning this.

John S. Minard, Allegany County and its People. A Centennial Memorial History of Allegany County, New York, W. A. Fergusson & Co., Alfred, N.Y., 1896, p.384




A. N. Cole. The subject of this sketch was born of New England parents, in the town of Freedom, Cattaraugus county, N.Y., October 15th, 1821, and was left an orphan at the early age of four and a half years.  His father, Daniel Cole born in Rheoboth, Bristol county, Mass., was a lineal descendant of the early pilgrim of that name, settling in the neighborhood of Plymouth.  His mother, Joanna Williams, was a descendant in direct line from Roger Williams, of Rhode Island.  Asahel Nichols Cole was the third child and second son born of these parents.  The father and mother died of an epidemic in the spring of 1826, and their children, five in number (the eldest eleven, and the youngest less than a year old), were given away, or adopted, the subject of this sketch by Asher P. Hickox, of Pike now in Wyoming, then in Allegany county.  A. N. Cole may be counted as among the pioneers of the latter county.  His opportunities at school were quite limited, embracing only a fraction of each year from the age of six to sixteen.  It is safe to say that his entire period of schooling did not exceed four years in all, probably less.  His foster-father dying when he was but fifteen he was thrown completely upon his own resources and took a district school in the town of Caneadea, and commenced teaching when but sixteen years of age. Slight of figure, a mere boy, he soon found his hands more than full, the rough boys and big girls of the Claybed district proving too many for him; and after a trial of a few weeks, the stripling gave up; and returning to Hume, spent the remainder of the winter at the district school in that village.  Here were first clearly brought out the capabilities of the ready learner, so developing through after life.  He had but to look over his lessons to know them.  He was never a close student--could in fact, never stop long enough to sit down to study.  He nevertheless soon acquired a larger fund of knowledge, picked up by the way-side, than perhaps one in a hundred having greater opportunities at school.

The early spring of 1838 found the young man in Cleveland, Ohio, a friendless orphan, out of employment, and without a shilling in his pocket.  It was the year of the most terrible crisis known in the history of the country, and the young man was only too glad to be able to find enough to do to secure shelter under the roof and food at the table of Benjamin F. Andrews, of the Cleveland Intelligencer, and postmaster of the city of Cleveland, at that time containing a population of about 6,000.  A single incident will tell the story of the hard times prevailing.  Among other letters which came to the Cleveland post-office was one from the foster-mother of young Cole to her boy.  The postage unpaid--no stamps in those days, was eighteen and three-quarters cents.  Specie alone was received by the government, and though desiring above all else to get possession of the letter, the poor boy was compelled to wait weeks, picking up here and there a chance penny, till a sufficient sum was realized to pay the postage.  Appearance of the cholera in other cities, together with want of employment and other hardships, forced the lad to leave the city in June and set out canvassing for the Buckeye Ploughboy, an agricultural monthly published at Cleveland.  Traveling during the summer of that year, always on foot, over a large portion of the State, the young man learned much that was valuable and made available in after years.  He read books and newspapers wherever he came across them, and having at all times at hand maps, charts and books of geography, together with elementary works of an analytical character in mathematics, and taking in grammar by intuition, the late autumn of 1838 found him prepared to teach winter's school, which he did, with gratifying success, in the town of Scipio, Seneca county, Ohio, receiving in compensation $12 per month, "boarding round."  The spring of '39 found him at Plymouth, Wayne county, Mich., where after recovering from a severe attack of malarial fever, developing in the meantime into ague and fever, he took another school, that in the village of Northville, which he taught for four months, freezing with ague and burning with fever every day during its term.  Here he was so fortunate as to fall in with a young Frenchman, Theodore Lupien by name, who, an exile from his own country on account of participation in revolutionary conspiracies against Louis Philippe, had been ex-patriated.  Young Lupien's family was one of the more eminent of the Empire, and the exile received from home quarterly remittances of money, which he used with a generous hand.  Cole and Lupien became the closest of friends, taking rooms at the village hotel, and at the close of the term of the American youth was a far better Frenchman than the young scion of nobility was an American.  Cole was the first male teacher employed in the village school at Northville during the summer months, and was paid $2 per week, or $8 per month.

Leaving Michigan in the early autumn of 1839, and taking boat at Detroit, he was found a fortnight after attending a select school kept by Prof. Davis W. Smith, in the village of Castile, Wyoming county.  The succeeding winter Cole taught the district school in Castile, winning as a teacher considerable local reputation.  This was succeeded by a summer term of teaching in select way, the smaller children of the village and neighborhood.  Among his patrons in this primary school was a former preceptor in a high school at Poughkeepsie, Pro. Joseph Wildman, dwelling a little way out from the village, on a farm of moderate acreage, a fine gentleman of the olden time, and, together with his wife and family, of a literary turn of mind.  Taking a special liking to young Cole, Prof. Wildman kindly offered the young man a home in his family between terms.  In this family he gave lessons to the younger members, studying and teaching winters, the principal school being one at Hunt's Hollow, about that period (1840 and '41) a seat of culture and refinement in this section of the state, home of the Hunts, a family of note, and giving to the State a governor.  The year 1843 found A. N. Cole one of the best educated men of twenty-two years of age in either of the counties of Allegany, Livingston and Wyoming; among the youth of which he had circulated, alike as teacher and learner.  His only education of an academic character was obtained during a single term at Lima, where he began preparations for the ministry.  For a single summer he subsequently officiated as pastor over a church of Free Methodists in Rehoboth, Mass., preaching nearly every Sabbath for a period of some months, through himself connected with the Methodist Episcopal church.  The Free Methodists were radically anti-slavery; and besides this, the young man visiting among and associating for some months with kinsmen in the bay state, many of whom were abolitionists, he returned in the autumn of 1843 to his home at Castile thoroughly convinced that slavery was, what John Wesley had pronounced it, the sum of all villainies, and wherever after he stood up in the pulpit spoke out his conviction freely.  Below we will introduce an extract from one of a series of letters written by the since well-known journalist, under the head of "Our Easy Chair." These letters first appeared in the columns of the Free Press, while published at Wellsville in 1871 and 1872 by Charles M. Beecher, immediately antecedent to and during the Liberal movement of the latter year.  They were subsequently continued in the columns of the Elmira Daily Advertiser, and generally allowed to have been models in style, and replete with sentiment; justifying the compliment paid by Henry J. Raymond in pronouncing A. N. Cole the model American letter writer.  Before making the extract referred to we must supply an omission by stating that the subject of our sketch was married September 18, 1843, to Margaret M. Wildman, daughter of Prof. Joseph Wildman afore-mentioned, in whose family he had found a home.  The wife and husband were of about the same age, twenty-two at the time of marriage, the latter being but twenty-four days older then the former.  In extracts found a little further on will be sufficiently told the story of their married life.  Never was union more perfect, or domestic happiness and harmony more complete.  The tastes of the wife were, equally with those of the husband, in harmony with literature, culture and art, coming, as she did, of editorial ancestry, widely scattered and diffused over the land, and mainly of Free Soil proclivities.

As fruits of this union came the following children:  Asher P., S. Lamartine, Atie E. and Joseph Wildman Cole, the first named being at this time proprietor and publisher of the Genesee Valley Free Press and editor of the Genesee Valley Farmer, at Belmont.

The period referred to in succeeding extracts was about the one of 1850, when, weary with the collisions growing out of differences between himself and the ministry of the Methodist church, Mr. Cole had given up preaching and found his way into the woods as a lumberman; and immediately antecedent to an event since made familiar to most Allegany people-- that of the so-called “Friendship convention,” wherein, in the language of Mr. Cole himself, he says:

“The Friendship convention was advertised by ourself and two others, B. F. Robbins and Peter Robertson, to be held at Academy Hall, in the village of Friendship, on a given evening-- we think it was the summer of 1852-- and is generally understood to have been called as a Republican convention. This, however is a mistake.  The call was for a convention to organize the free Democratic party in the county of Allegany.  Letters had been written and circulars sent out to hundreds of the early Free Soilers, and from the responses received we looked forward in confidence to a full representation from Friendship and neighboring towns.  The day of the convention came, as the sun declined in the west, we wended our way on foot from Basswood Cottage to Friendship, a distance of about four miles, over a lofty hill quite like a mountain.  It was dusk when we reached the portals of the Academy.  There was no sign of a light in the hall, nor was a human being anywhere to be seen, either about the doors, or even in the streets of the village.  Ascending the stairs, we groped our way along into the hall, where for a full half hour we remained all alone in our glory.  Despairing of seeing much of a “convention,” we philosophically resolved that our better way was to get back if possible to Basswood Cottage without being discovered.  In this however, as it turned out since, somebody saw us either in the coming or going, and communicated the facts of the cast to Horace E. Purdy, editor of the Republican Era, published at Oramel, Allegany county.  The ensuing week there appeared a full column of proceedings, with any number of capitals and astonishers, wherein he who now sits in the Easy Chair saw himself astoundingly advertised as chairman, secretary, committee on resolutions, and above all, as chief cook, bottle washer, and orator of the day, making a speech of a full hour's length amid tremendous cheers by A. N. Cole!”  It was these manufactured proceedings of the Friendship convention which sent us a few months later out of the woods, and made us an editor.  Everywhere we went we were pointed out, and boys and men were heard to exclaim: 'Look! look! there goes the Friendship Convention.'  These badgerings were utterly intolerable.  Mrs. Easy Chair was especially annoyed, and kept saying, 'Do, dear husband, buy a printing press, and make for that Hunker editor,' or words to that effect.  'But we'll likely enough starve,' said we, 'and there will be nobody able to buy the baby a new dress.'  We'll live on saw-dust porridge,' said she, 'and I'll make dresses of fig leaves or something, so you'll only buy a printing press and make for that Hunker editor; and so we did that very thing, and hence came the Genesee Valley Free Press, an institution in its day having a wonderful history.”

Basswood Cottage, the home to which Mr. Cole and family had retreated, and which is represented in the accompanying engraving was a log cabin in the pine woods, and is thus pictured by the graphic pen of the since widely known journalist, in an “Easy Chair,” appearing in the Elmira Advertiser, under date of February 24th, 1875: “The spot chosen for our dwelling place was as wild, sylvan and rustic as any to be found amid the primeval forests of Allegany.  Our house was one built of logs, unhewn, but not rudely so, or without architectural pretensions; in a humble way -- a neat cottage with wings, a portico in front, over which ran climbing roses, while ivy twined and morning glories in sinuous wanderings and windings found their way to the very roof of the cottage.

“Flowers bloomed in the door-yard, planted, cared for and watered by the ever-busy hand of Mrs. Easy Chair.  In the rear of the house was a lofty hill, quite like to a mountain, from the base to the brow of which rose up tall pines, oaks, maples, beeches, birches and basswoods, the shadows of which fell upon us daily as the sun went down before its time in the west.  In the front of the north was a carpet of greensward, partially shaded by beautiful trees, planted by nature's plastic hand; and scattered here and there maples of second growth, with spreading branches.  On the left was a garden, where was early cultivated that taste of horticulture since grown to be a passion.  Beyond the greensward and the garden, and crossing the road near by, was a bright and crystal stream, on the banks of which in summer played two little children, since grown to manhood.  Sitting betimes at the door rocking a cradle in which slept an infant, was Mrs. Easy Chair, mistress of that sylvan home.”

A man of stern will, opinionated, hot blooded, with not a little of temper, whenever A. N. Cole has come into collision with an opponent he has struck the kind of blows described as follows by Horace E. Purdy in his Free Press, published at the time at Horseheads, and since, and at present as a daily, at Elmira:

“Before us stands an old plaster-of-paris inkstand.  It looks as though it had come from the hands of its maker away back in the days of the Revolution.  It was probably brought into the old Genesee Valley Free Press office when that paper was first started in Belfast, Allegany county, by A. N. Cole, over twenty years ago.  As we look at its venerable form, we imagine how many times Cole has dipped his pen into its depths in writing bitter things in condemnation of the political ideas of the writer of this paragraph-- of the many good and many bad things he has written in a political way-- drawing upon this old inkstand as the fountain through which h was to transfer his thoughts to the paper before him.  We think of that Friendship meeting, and query in our own mind whether the resolutions adopted on that memorable occasion were written with ink from the now dusty vessel before us.  We think the political conflicts of past years, in which Cole and ourself stood face to face in the fight-- both believing implicitly in the correctness of our political ideas, and both striking blows which such a conviction could alone nerve our arm to give.  Both were enthusiastic in the defense of our parties, and both were ready and willing to stand where the fight raged fiercest.  And now the fountain from which this inky war was carried on stands empty and dry before us.  Cole has dropped the party quill and taken to law, and we are still laboring at the stone of Sisphys and seeking to earn our bread by furnishing food to the mental appetite of a capricious and exacting public.  Our arm is not as strong for the fight as it was twenty years ago, but we feel a satisfaction in the reflection that in those twenty years we have put behind us much of sorrow, much of suffering, and much of disappointment and regret.  Those years can never come back again, and the memories of their happiness linger with us, as the last rays of golden sunlight linger upon the mountain tops.”

Having called its first convention, and run up at masthead in his paper its first ticket under the head of “Republican Nominations,” A. N. Cole has been widely spoken of as the “father of the Republican Party.”  This, however, Mr. Cole has always answered by saying, “Not so, at all; that honor is due to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune.” Messrs. Greeley and Cole were intimate friends during a period of fully a quarter of a century, and it was in a letter written by the former to the latter in the summer of 1854 that suggestion was made of the name since put on by the great party of freedom.

To trace the life of Mr. Cole throughout, making even the merest mention of his undertakings, activities, speeches, writings, temporary rebuffs and successive triumphs, would fill an ordinary volume.  He has been found not unfrequently at fault, but his errors are generally conceded to have been those of the head rather than the heart.  On reaching the age of forty-six he was admitted to practice law in all the courts of this State, but prides himself with never having had a case in court, nor would he have on any account.  He took hold about the period of his admission to the bar of the subject of rapid transit, and soon took front as an advocate before legislative committees at Albany, subjecting himself in some degree to criticism by rivals as a lobbyist.  This he disclaimed, and with good reason, since he was never thus regarded at Albany, holding at all times a social position as good as the best, the friend and associate of the proudest American statesmen, embracing presidents, governors, justices of courts of final appeal and senators of State and nation.  At the present writing he comes and goes weekly to and from his printing office, and at the age of fifty-seven, though playing in his easy chair the part of Peter Parley, by putting on the old man, appears as young and full of life as ever.  It is doubtful in fact, whether a more active man can anywhere be found in the Sate, as frequently denominated “Old Ubiquitous” as the “Old Man of the Mountain,” a title not unfrequently applied to him.  Here in conclusion, is the text of his little poem entitled

“Our Easy Chair”

Tis here that we sit in our easy chair,
With face to the setting sun
And think of the dreams we early dreamed
when the journey was first begun;
Of all of the work we have found to do,
And the little that we have done;
And at times we feel like stopping the wheels,
And the going down of the sun,
That the final grain may not drop out
From the sands so running away,
Till finished our work, and fully played out
Is the part we have striven to play.
Fond were the dreams we early dreamed,
And a few have been fulfilled:
And others have rudely blighted been,
And others, again, were killed.
Some in the bud, in the blossom some,
Most ere the fruitage came,
And whether is one or the other,
It's now to us all the same.
Line upon line are we writing,
Sadly, at sombre times,
Telling of battles fighting,
Ready and reckless rhymes;
Here of the good and the gracious,
There of the grand and the great,
Putting in all the love we can,
Leaving out all of the hate.
Here, did we say? no, never
Knew we the thing in our life,
Mid all of our battles fighting,
Battles of storminess strife.
Who can afford to envy?
Who can afford to hate,
In view of the past so all behind,
And before, of the golden gate?
Golden gate of the future,
Open and all ajar,
Only a little further on
Seen in the twinkling star:
Dreamed in the dreams of poets
And prophets, so oft o'ertold;
Only a little further on
Seen are the gates of gold.

[Source: History of Allegany County, New York, New York: F. W. Beers & Co., 1879, pp 360-362 (Wellsville)]


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