NELSON H. VAN VORHES, Representative from Athens county, was born in Washington county, Pennsylvania, January
23, 1822, and removed to Athens county, Ohio, in 1832, where he worked at farming during the spring, summer and
fall months for several years, in order to obtain a livelihood and the means to secure the advantages, during the
winter season; of the rustic common schools of that day. In the latter part of 1836, his father having purchased
The Western Spectator newspaper, at Athens, and removing to the county seat, Nelson H. Van Vorhes, entered the
printing office as an apprentice. In this field he labored diligently for six years, during a good portion of the
latter part of which time (his father then serving as Representative and Senator in the State Legislature) he was
required to take upon himself the conduct of the paper and the business of the office, the schooling thus obtained
qualifying him in a measure for his career as an editor and publisher, which he successfully followed until 1861
taking an active and efficient part, not only in the political questions of the day, but in behalf of the railroad
and other public improvements which have been, and are now, conspiring to render Athens one of the most productive
and noted counties in the mineral region of the State.
In 1850 he was elected a member of the Legislature (Lower House) from the counties of Athens and Meigs, and served
during the last session under the old and the first session under the new Constitution aiding materially in the
election of Hon. Benjamin F. Wade to the United States Senate (the Free Soilers at the time holding the balance
of power) and, though one of the youngest members, served on three, and was Chairman of two, of the Standing Committees
of that body. He was returned by the voice of his constituents at the following election, and was, before the close
of the term, by a State Convention of his party, placed on their ticket as a candidate for Secretary of State;
but the Whigs being then in a hopeless minority he failed of an election his own party, at that election, for the
first time after the organization of the then political parties, returning a Democrat the late Judge S. B. Pruden)
to the State Legislature.
In 1854 he was elected to the office of Probate Judge, but, in September following, resigned this position to accept,
for the third time, a nominatiøn for Representative, to run in opposition to Judge Pruden, beating him by
seven hundred and fortynine majority, and receiving the highest majority given to any one on the State or county
His political party being largely in the ascendant at that time, in the Legislature, he was, by a vote of more
than twothirds of the Whigs in the Lower House, in caucus, selected as their candidate for Speaker, and, of course,
elected he being the first presiding officer to occupy the Speaker's stand in the new State House. The satisfactory
manner in which he discharged the duties of this responsible and arduous position, may be gathered from the fact,
that only once, during the first session, was an appeal taken from his decision (and then by an amicable understanding;
and that, at the close of the term, Hon. James M. Smith, a member of the opposition party, offered a resolution
declaring that the "industry, ability and impartiality with which he had discharged the arduous duties of
Speaker," entitled him to the "sincere thanks and cordial remembrance" of the members; which resolution
received a unanimous vote in its favor. During this term he not only discharged the duties of presiding officer,
but took an active part in behalf of some of the important measures pending, and for the second time aided in the
election of Hon. Benjamin F. Wade to the United States Senate.
In 1857 Mr. Van Vorhes was again nominated by his party for the Lower House, and elected by seventy majority greater
than that given for Hon. Salmon P. Chase, then running on the same ticket for Governor. At the opening of the session
he was again complimented with his party vote for the Speakership, but the Democrats being then in the ascendant,
Mr. Van Vorhes, of course, was not elected.
After thus serving for eight years as a Representative in the State Legislature, he was, in August, 1858, nominated
by his political party for Congressman in the Eleventh District, Hon. V. B. Horton having declined a renomination.
He was, however, after a most exciting and hotly contested canvas, defeated by only two hundred and seventy seven
votes, although at the election the previous year the same counties gave a majority of two thousand one hundred
and seventy six for Payne (Democrat) for Governor, and one thousand five hundred and sixty eight over the vote
for Chase and Van Trump combined his own county, as usual, giving him the largest vote cast for any one on the
In 1860 he served as delegate in the Chicago Convention that nominated Mr. Lincoln, and took an active part in
the canvas that followed, both on the "stump" and in the columns of The Athens Messenger, which paper
he still continued to publish and edit.
At the breaking out of the rebellion Mr. Van Vorhes, having disposed of his newspaper, enlisted as a private in
the first company of infantry raised at Athens. At the election of officers, he was selected its First Lieutenant,
and commissioned as such by Governor Dennison the company having, upon its organization, been ordered to Camp Dennison
and there attached to the Third Ohio Regiment. In a few days thereafter, and before being mustered into the United
States service (it having been determined to establish other military camps throughout the State), Lieutenant Van
Vorhes was detailed by Governor Dennison to proceed to Athens and establish and take charge of "Camp Wool."
In that capacity he did efficient service, aiding in clothing, arming and equipping a number of regiments preparatory
to entering the field.
Not liking this sort of soldiering, Mr. Van Vorhes resigned his position at Camp Wool, settled up his accounts
satisfactorily with the State, and was again commissioned a First Lieutenant by Governor Dennison, and attached
to the Eighteenth Ohio Regiment, as its Quartermaster, under Colonel T. R. Stanley. This noble and efficient regiment
he accompanied in all its severe and hazardous marchings, under General O. M. Mitchell, through Kentucky, Tennessee
and Alabama, being frequently detailed by his brigade and division commanders to discharge important duties outside
his own regiment.
In August, 1862, while in the field, Mr. Van Vorhes was surprised by a telegram announcing that Governor Tod had
appointed and commissioned him as Colonel of the Ninetysecond Regiment, then being organized under a call of the
President for additional troops. He again resigned, and soon thereafter reported at Camp Marietta, Ohio, and assumed
the duties of his new position, aiding in getting his regiment in readiness for the field, and which, in October
following, was ordered to proceed to the Kanawha Valley and report to General Lightburn.
After spending most of the winter in a somewhat active service under Generals Scammon and Hugh Ewing, the Ninety
Second, together with other Ohio and Virginia regiments, was ordered to proceed, under General Crook, to the Army
of the Cumberland, and embarked on steamers for Nashville, Tennessee, and subsequently for Carthage, in the same
State. But the severe labor and exposures of this campaign proved too much for the already impaired constitution
of Mr. Van Vorhes. An attack of pneumonia and hemorrhage of the lungs broke him clown completely. After confinement
in the hospitals of Carthage and Nashville for weeks, and his life almost despaired of, he was induced to resign
and quit the service.
In 1869 he was for the fifth time nominated and elected to the office of Representative, this being his tenth years'
service in that capacity.
He is Speaker of the present House.
Biographical Sketches of the
State Officers and of the members
of the Sixtieth General Assembly
of the State of Ohio.
By: W. Sarwin Crabb.
Ohio State Journal Book and Job Rooms.
Columbus, Ohio 1872
Ohio State Officials and the 60th General Assembly
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