Dr. and Mrs. Griffith left historic imprint during Civil War years
An advertisement from the Missouri Courier. Accessed via genealogybank.com
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
Damp and chilly weather at Hannibal, Mo., in mid October, 1861, motivated Col. Moses M. Bane, of Payson, Ill., in command of the 50th Ill. Regiment, to seek temporary shelter. Col. Bane and two others, Lieut. Lewton and Q.M.S. Ranson, were invited into the rural home of Dr. Robert Hiram Griffith, for a respite.
While Dr. Griffith was in St. Louis at the time, Mrs. Griffith and others in the family welcomed the officers with both hospitality and pleasant conversation.
In a letter of gratitude published in the Hannibal Daily Messenger on Oct. 16, 1861, Col. Bane described the Griffith home as a “comfortable mansion,” and also wrote: “They were exceedingly kind to us, affording us every accommodation and comfort that could be desired.”
Col. Bane noted an unusual circumstance regarding the Griffith family: “The whole household is strongly Union, and also own slaves.”
Dr. Griffith’s slaves, as of 1855, when Dr. Griffith penned his will, included Robert, John, Anderson, and Clara Jane, the latter whose estimated birth date was 1854.
Despite his own personal situation, Dr. Griffith worked among the abolitionists in Northeast Missouri, negotiating for political reform in order to systematically free those held in bondage. In addition, he made provisions in his own will to emancipate his slaves.
Dr. Robert Hiram Griffith was born circa Sept. 21, 1800, a native of Sussex County, Delaware. After graduating from the Medical College of Baltimore, Md., Dr. Griffith practiced medicine in Laurel, Del., and then came to Missouri - specifically Palmyra - in 1836.
After practicing medicine in Palmyra for a decade, Dr. Griffith and his wife, Mary Ann Houston Griffith, made plans to move to Hannibal. Dr. Griffith went into the dry goods business with George Bacon, establishing a commission business on Front Street.
As early as 1859 the Griffiths were residing in the house in which they would live the rest of their respective lives, later addressed 222 Market.
In 1938, while sharing his memories of early Hannibal with a Courier-Post reporter, 84-year-old Charles F. Armstrong said that, “Dr. Griffith owned all land between Market street and Broadway from Arch street to Houston street. The doctor's office was on the present site of the Levering hospital and was approached by a high board sidewalk.”
In May 1859, Dr. Griffith subdivided the land he owned between the streets that were then known as Market Street Extension (Broadway Extension) and the Plank Road (Market Street). He offered for sale, at a public auction, 140 lots, reserving 50 to 60 lots for himself as his homestead.
A total of 91 lots were sold at the auction, at an average of $264 per lot.
Mary Ann Houston Griffith
Referred to as “Mrs. Dr. Griffith” by the Hannibal Daily Messenger on Dec. 18, 1861, Mary Ann Griffith was at that time president of the soldier’s Relief Circle, or Ladies Aid Society, which met weekly at the school room of Miss Lizzie Horr, on the north side of Center Street, between Third and Fourth.
In December 1861, the women were seeking donations of coarse unbleached muslin and woolen yarn to be used in aid for the soldiers.
Other active members included:
Mrs. Elizabeth W. Dunning, sister of Mary Ann Griffith.
Mrs. (Mayor) Green
Mrs. T.R. (Sarah Benton) Selmes
Mrs. L.L. Campbell
Mrs. D.F. Breed, corner Maple Avenue and Broadway.
Miss A. Chambers
Mrs. Haines, Fourth Street.
Several of these women devoted much of their time to offering comfort and care to the wounded soldiers within the hospital.
Evidence was offered in a previous story in this series that in 1861 the aforementioned Col. M.M. Bane had rented the home of Jackson Riley, located opposite Central Park on Center Street in Hannibal, to be used as a military hospital and later recruiting offices. Also during the war, an old armory in South Hannibal was converted into a military hospital, to be used as such for a short time.
As Hannibal is located on the banks of the Mississippi River, injured soldiers were transported by steamer to locations along the river where care could be given by both military and local physicians. Dr. Griffith was among the physicians who volunteered services to the wounded.
A few names of soldiers who died in Hannibal were culled from Hannibal newspapers:
John Coleman, a private in Capt. Keener’s company of the Ill. 26th, died in the hospital in December 1861, after an illness of about two months. He was from Mulberry Grove, Bond County, Ill.
E.Z. Thompson, a private in Co. F., Captain Polks, of Conkey Town, Vermillion County, Ill.
John W. Coffman, a private in Co. A., Ills 26th, died at the hospital of Typhoid fever, aged about 21 years. Wadson, Effingham County, Ill.
James O’Boy, Edward Freel and Samuel Hardesty, each of whom died in March 1862.
Dr. Griffith died in 1864. His biography in “History of Marion County 1884” notes that he “retired well and in the morning was found dead.”
Mrs. Griffith married Southey A. Polk in 1873. Mrs. Griffith Polk died in 1887, and her second husband died in 1894. All three are buried in Hannibal’s Riverside Cemetery.
Levering Hospital, built upon the site of the Griffith homestead, opened in January 1903. The building was a gift to the city by A.R. Levering, who at the time was president of Farmers’ & Merchants’ Bank.
Read about Hannibal’s military hospital:
An advertisement from the Hannibal Messenger, May 22, 1859. Accessed via genealogybank.com
Sanborn Fire Prevention map, 1885, showing Lot 1, Griffith’s Addition, where Dr. Robert H. Griffith and his wife, Mary Ann Houston Griffith, lived during the Civil War and beyond.
Sanborn Fire Prevention map, 1913, showing Lot 1, Griffith’s Addition, where Levering Hospital was constructed on land where Dr. Robert H. Griffith and his wife, Mary Ann Houston Griffith, lived during the Civil War and beyond.
Levering Hospital, circa 1903. Anna Schnitzlein photo, from this author’s files.
Mary Lou Montgomery, retired as editor of the Hannibal (Mo.) Courier-Post in 2014. She researches and writes narrative-style stories about the people who served as building blocks for this region’s foundation. Books available on Amazon.com by this author include but are not limited to: "The Notorious Madam Shaw," "Pioneers in Medicine from Northeast Missouri," and "The Historic Murphy House, Hannibal, Mo., Circa 1870." She can be reached at Montgomery.email@example.com Her collective works can be found at www.maryloumontgomery.com