William Clark Salt (1842-1939)

I’ve been more or less aware that William C. Salt had spent some amount of time in Washington, D.C. and that one or more of his children were born there.  This is in opposition to his having been born and raised in southwestern Ohio, and having lived a lot of his adult life there.  Every time I ran up against this discrepancy I’d wonder what the story was but never pursued looking into it.

Until I spent a week in Washington, D.C. last fall with Judy.  Most of our time was spent in the National Archives and I looked at a lot of Civil War pension files.  One of the files I got to, on the last day of our trip, was William’s application.  It was too late to make use of the Innovation Hub and scan the file, and I didn’t have the time or patience for photocopying any of it.  I did take some notes on what was in the file and information I might follow up on.

Said to have been born in 1842 in Bethel, Ohio, he enlisted in 10/13/1861 to serve in the Civil War.  He served in the 59th Ohio Volunteer Infantry and was discharged on 11/1/1864.   He had lived on the family farm before enlisting and returned to farming in Ohio when he was discharged.  He was there for 4-5 years and then, for reasons not clear to me, went to Washington, D.C.  According to his brother’s affidavit in the pension file he was there for around ten years, until about 1879.

One of the first places I looked to find his whereabouts was the 1870 U.S. federal census.  I already had an image of the census sheet he was on and when I looked at it with a fresh eye I found that he was in Washington, D.C. on the 20th of July 1870.  Ross, Orlando - 1870, croppedHe was boarding in the household of Orlando Ross, his wife and young daughter, along with several others.  It turns out that Orlando Ross was William’s first cousin (Orlando’s father and William’s mother were brother and sister).  In addition, Phoebe Hawkins (another boarder) was the sister of Orlando’s wife.  And Orlando, William, Phoebe Hawkins, and Leontine Laking were all enumerated as clerks in the treasury department.  Huh.  What was that about and how did they get those jobs (especially the three who had been in Ohio just prior to this)?

A very little bit of digging tells me that the Department of the Treasury was a very busy place just after the Civil War in part because of the decision to begin printing paper money.  Originally the sheets of printed bills had to be cut apart by hand using  scissors, which led to the Department hiring women for this job.  Men were hired to do other tasks – and not surprisingly were paid twice what the women were paid.  ‘Nuff said.

This need for more workers is the likely explanation for the migration of my subjects of interest from Ohio to Washington.  I wonder if there were flyers or ads in local newspapers that alerted Orlando and William to the opportunity, or perhaps letters from a friend or relative already in Washington.

So far I know nothing else about what William did in the Department of the Treasury and why he stayed for the length of time he did, or why he decided to move back to Ohio.  City directories I have found so far show me that he was listed in Washington, always as a clerk, through 1878.  I also know that he was back in Ohio, farming, by the federal census of 1880.

In between, he married Phoebe Hawkins, they had a son, and both Phoebe and the baby died, within a year of the marriage.  This marriage and her death were documented in his Civil War pension file.  They were also reported in the Genealogy of the Salt Family that William wrote at some point (likely late in his life).  Interestingly he did not note that it happened in Washington.  He also reported his second marriage to Minnie Hunter and the birth of their children, again without any statement about Washington (where they met and were married and where several of their children were born).  A later “rearranging” and adding to by Ruth Baker, William’s granddaughter, in 1946 added the location of Phoebe’s and the baby’s burial in Washington.  William and Minnie had lived with Ruth and her parents in the last few years of their lives.

There were several newspaper articles about William that also provide some information about his life.  In 1923 William and Minnie celebrated their Golden Anniversary which was reported.  In 1930 William reluctantly retired from his career as an editor of a trade journal in Cincinnati and the newspaper detailed his work life.  He started on his father’s farm at about age 7 and worked continuously at one thing and another until he was persuaded to retire by his children at just shy of 88 years old.  He had farmed after returning from Washington, D.C. until he was about 60 and then came to Cincinnati to make a new career.  He found work in a printing company and from about age 60-87 he worked there, enjoying the tasks and contacts and staying in touch with what was going on in the world.    The article about his retirement (which I assume he was interviewed for) noted that he still had his wife and 7 children around him and that he had only mourned the loss of one grandchild in his years.  No mention of his first wife and son, although I wonder if it was the loss of his son rather than a grandchild that he referred to.

Likewise, his obituary upon his death 10 years later at age 97 did not mention Phoebe or the baby.  I can only guess that his children had not heard much (or anything) about Phoebe.  Certainly he and Minnie were married for a significant amount of time, something more than 60 years.  She survived his death by only a few months.

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