President Donald J. Trump's impeachment currently dominates the news. He is not the first president to be impeached and may not be the last. My family has a connection to an impeached president. No, not President Trump; my connection is to Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached.
Andrew Johnson was born into a very poor family 29 Dec 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. He never attended school and, at the age of 10, he was apprenticed to James Selby to learn the trade of a tailor. It is said that educated citizens would go to Selby's tailor shop and read to the apprentices. One of those citizens was Hugh Wolstenholme, born in England, former Anglican priest, and my great-great-great-grandfather.
According to legend, Wolstenholme spent hours each day reading to the apprentices as they worked. Among the apprentices who listened to Wolstenholme was Andrew Johnson, who was so inspired that he, along with others, accepted an invitation to gather at night to learn to read. And so, the tradition of Hugh Wolstenholme helping future-President Andrew Johnson learn to read was born. Is it true? Several references in research on the Wolstenholme family indicate it is, but nothing in the Johnson family references, thus far, names Hugh Wolstenholme as playing a part in Johnson's education. Some references speak vaguely of a scholar teaching Johnson to read, but they never name the scholar.
Although he was legally bound to serve James Selby until he was age 21, Johnson and his brother, also apprenticed to Selby, ran away after serving only about five years. Andrew eventually returned to Raleigh, hoping to buy out his apprenticeship. When that was unsuccessful, he moved to Tennessee, where his career in politics began. Johnson became mayor of Greeneville, Tennessee in 1834, served in the House of Representatives and Congress and held various other offices and then was chosen by President Abraham Lincoln to be his Vice President in 1864. When President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Andrew Johnson became President, but angered Congress with his pardons and amnesty issued to former rebels. He endured the impeachment and trial, and was not removed from office. He was the only United States President to be impeached and face a trial until William Jefferson Clinton became the second in 1998.
Meanwhile, Wolstenholme's life took a different path. He left Raleigh and settled in the mountains in far western North Carolina. In the 1980s, while visiting the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I came across the papers of John Hewitt (1848-1920), who wrote his memoirs, "My People of the Mountains," in 1918. Hewitt was the great nephew of Hugh Wolstenholme. Since he personally knew his great-uncle, Hewitt is our best source of information on Wolstenholme, whom he described as a "well-known hermit of the area."
When he was age 65, Wolstenholme was described as over "six feet tall, with steel gray eyes and shaggy eyebrows. His dress included a Quaker style hat, corduroy jacket, knee breeches of 'Kentucky jeans,' buckskin leggings, high-top rawhide shoes and a beaver skin cloak." Few records have been found to verify the details of Wolstenholme's life and this is the only reference found to give his physical appearance.
Wolstenholme had several children, including a son, also named Hugh, but who lived primarily in Davidson County, Tennessee and was my great-great-grandfather. Shortly before the Civil War, the elder Hugh moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where it is stated he died in the poorhouse when he was over 100 years old. The funeral, it is said, was conducted by Rev. Jarvis Buxton of Trinity Episcopal Church and the burial was in Asheville. No proof has been found, however.
Several years ago, I visited The North Carolina Room at Pack Memorial Library in Asheville in the hopes of finding some clue to Hugh Wolstenholme Sr.'s life. Nothing was found. Even searching for information on him through another son, Henry Fanshaw Wolstenholme, a tailor in Asheville, yielded nothing new. I checked county records plus newspapers. Nothing! He is listed on the 1860 Buncombe County, North Carolina census, but not thereafter. On that census he was age 80 and living in the home of Dr. Madison and Isabel Greenwood, who were not thought to be related to Hugh.
So, as I hear about President Trump's impeachment and pending trial, I can't help but think of President Andrew Johnson and the man who taught him to read. Now, if only I could find proof this happened.
1860 Buncombe County, NC census, Ivy and Flat Creek, roll M653-889, page 336, Ancestry.com.
Papers of Louise Littleton Davis (1890-1994), Tennessee State Library and Archives, AC #1710-29.
John Hewitt. My People of the Mountains, 1918, The Southern Historical Collection, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1980s (full date not recorded).
William S. Powell. "Hugh Wolstenholme," Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, University of North Carolina Press, 1994, https://www.ncpedia.org/biography/wolstenholme-hugh.
"Andrew Johnson," Wikipedia, https://wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Johnson.
"Of Notable Ancestry," The New York Times, 17 June 1901, obituary of Mrs. Susanna Bradwell Hewitt, mother of the Rev. John Hewett. She was the niece of Rev. Hugh Wolstenholme.
Published 16 Jan 2020, Western Kentucky Genealogy Blog, http://wkygenealogy.blogspot.com/