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Homer during the Civil War & the Nation’s Centennial

First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln
by Francis Becknell Carpenter of Homer

In 1845, the United States annexed Texas, and a war for territorial expansion ensued with Mexico. The result was the taking of the northern half of Mexico, which included California, where gold was discovered in 1849. Americans from North and South moved westward in search of gold and fertile farm land. This opened debate over the Southern desire to take slaves as “property” protected by the Constitution into the West. When the ability to compromise failed, a War Between the States — then called “the Rebellion” — broke out in April of 1861. President Lincoln put forth an order for 75,000 volunteers to come forward to quash the rebellion. Later, Homer called for a special town meeting for August 19, 1862. By a vote of 360 to 3, a resolution was carried calling for “fifty dollars to be paid to each person who should volunteer from the town of Homer from July 2nd 1862 until the whole number of the quota should be raised… under the two last calls of the President of these United States.” The bounty was raised to higher amounts over the next three years. Three months short of the war’s end in 1865, the amount was $400 per volunteer who enlisted for one year, $500 for two years, and $600 for three years. Three men were to receive bounties for having secured substitutes to enlist in their places.

To preserve the Union and end slavery, men from Homer served in such regiments as the 76th and the 157th, and men from Homer made the ultimate sacrifice. Among them, Private William Carpenter, Francis B. Carpenter’s 28-year old brother, died from wounds received at Gettysburg, and Asa Moore, a 17-year old bugler, starved to death in July of 1864 at the infamous prison camp at Andersonville, Georgia.

The Spanish-American War of 1898 and the international military conflagrations of the twentieth century would exact their price, as well. Homer names would appear on casualty lists well into the 21st century, right up to the name of Private Shawn Falter, who died in Iraq on January 20, 2007.

It was in Washington, D.C., in 1862, that Homer’s William Osborn Stoddard was asked to make copies of an order President Lincoln had drafted. It was the Emancipation Proclamation calling for the freeing of slaves in the rebel states and beginning the process that would lead to the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery forever in the United States. In 1866, Francis B. Carpenter returned to his hometown with the painting he did in 1864 of Lincoln that would make this native son famous. The First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation before the Cabinet was exhibited on October 8. To see it, people filed up the stairs to what was later called the Keator Opera House on the third floor of the Barber Block on Main Street. Eventually, with the help of his good friend Stoddard, Carpenter would see the painting come to hang, as it does today, in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. In 2007, Harold Holzer, acclaimed Lincoln scholar and Senior Vice President for External Affairs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, credited Homer’s Carpenter with being “the most important artist ever to portray Abraham Lincoln.” Both Stoddard and Carpenter wrote books about Lincoln and life at the White House in the 1860s. These are primary sources used by Lincoln scholars to this very day. Stoddard even described how he had the pleasure of introducing Homer’s Jacob M. Schermerhorn and his daughter Anna to President and Mrs. Lincoln during the wealthy businessman’s visit to the Executive Mansion.

Of course, Lincoln would never have been President were it not for the fine detective work of a man born in a log cabin on the Scott Road in 1809, the same year Lincoln was born in a log cabin in Kentucky. Eli DeVoe was his name. He was one of the men involved with thwarting a plot to assassinate the President-elect on February 23, 1861, when his train was scheduled to stop in Baltimore while en route to the nation’s capital. Ironically, in 1865, DeVoe would participate in arresting two of the conspirators in the successful plot to assassinate Lincoln and the unsuccessful attempt made on the life of Secretary of State William H. Seward (from Auburn, New York). Thus, three lads who grew up in Homer played pivotal roles in the life and iconic imagery of Abraham Lincoln.

Yet another local hero of the era was Sgt. Llewellyn P. Norton of Company L, 10th New York Cavalry. For having charged, on horseback, a Confederate artillery position and for capturing two men and a fieldpiece, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The actual presentation, however, was not made until 1888. Upon returning from the war, he lived in the house at the northeast corner of the Green and sold insurance.

William Osborn Stoddard made a visit to the Village of Homer in 1863, just after the battle of Gettysburg had been fought. He found the place changed. The Common was now a park-like Green with a newly-built edifice of brick for the Congregationalists. These projects, along with a new cemetery west of the village, the Glenwood, were all spearheaded by the civic-minded Paris Barber. Paris was one of the sons of the merchant Jedediah Barber. “Uncle Jed,” in 1863, was rebuilding his Great Western store after the first one was destroyed in a fire in 1856.

In 1867, “Uncle Jed” was in his 31st year (out of 33) as president of the academy’s trustees, and the original school needed to be replaced. On April 2, 1867, at a special town meeting, consideration was given to a resolution calling for the raising of $20,000 in taxes “for the erection of a new Academy building in the Village of Homer” to replace the edifice constructed in 1819. 466 were in favor of the tax, and 140 were opposed. A new school was built. Others would go up on the same site through the ensuing years.

In 1876, the United States was one hundred years old. For the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Paris Barber planned to construct a colossal human figure made entirely of the stalks, husks, and tassels of corn. For the design of “King Corn,” he consulted Francis Carpenter, the portraitist he had befriended and abetted in the 1840s. Finding his lifelong friend and benefactor too ill to make the trip to Ithaca to seek financial support for the project from Cornell University, Carpenter went in his place. No financial support was forthcoming, and the project terminated in the spring of 1876 with the death of Paris, just two weeks after the death of his father, Jedediah.

To celebrate the nation’s centennial locally, the Reverend William A. Robinson prepared a “Sketch of the History of Homer N.Y.” and read it on the Fourth of July. The oration began with these words: “To compress a hundred years into twenty minutes is a feat rivaling the achievements of the railroad and the telegraph in annihilating space.” If only this “unofficial” town historian could see what the technology of 136 additional years has done in “annihilating space.”