US Grant: President's Mother Grew Up in Horsham
(from the Daily Intelligencer page 68 - undated - by William G Shuster) . Framed copy of this article was donated to HPHA by Alvin E Outland, Pastor of the Prospectville United Methodist Church 7/18/2003.
The fate of the Union in the Civil War was largely decided by a man whose ancestors lived for generations in the Bucks-Mont.
The mother of General Ulysses S Grant grew up in Horsham Township, near the Montgomery Township border and her relatives had lived in Horsham and Bucks County for three generations.
Grant’s great-grandfather John Simpson was born in the north of Ireland in 1738. In the 1750s he and is brother William immigrated to the new world where they hoped to find success and adventure in America.
They achieved both.
William met and married a New Britain Township girl named Nancy Hines, daughter of Matthew and Ann Hines.
John fell in love with another New Britain girl, Hannah Roberts.
He purchased 164 acres of land in Horsham at a sheriff’s sale on November 30, 1763 on what is now Limekiln Pike between Chestnut Lane and Lower State Road. Here he built, or likely, expanded a log cabin on the site for his bride and family to be.
The Simpsons didn’t have long to wait for a famly. Within five years they had 3 children – William, who died young; John Jr, grandfather of Grant’s mother and Hannah, who later married Benjamin Hough of Warrington.
Both John (Grant’s great-grandfather) and Hough played important roles in the American Revolution.
By 1776, Simpson had been appointed Horsham Township Tax Collector. That appointment is indicative of of both his political sentiments and his standing in the community. Such roles were given to men who were trusted by the community. In addition, in that year of the Declaration of Independence, the Pennsylvania executive council wasn’t appointing anyone who didn’t share the rebel beliefs of separation from England.
Simpson, like his brother William, left his farm in Horsham with his wife to tend the estate and family while he went and fought for his freedom.
Grant’s great-grandfather fought for independence at Chadd’s Ford, Trenton, Brandywine Germantown and shared the bitter winter at Valley Forge with Washington and the other rebel troops.
He and his wife instilled in their children a love of liberty and country that seeped through the generations to Grant. A century later when he was fighting to preserve the Union, he may have thought often of his (great-) grandfather who had helped to bring it to birth.
One momento from those Revolutionary War years stayed for generations in the Simpson family It was the old flint-lock which John Simpson carried with him into battle and took back home again in peace.
The five and a half foot long rifle was still being used by Simpson’s descendants in the 19th century and one of them wrote, “It will shoot as far and kick as hard as any gun”.
It became a treasured relic of Simpson’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. When young Ulysses touched the stock and barrel, he knew he was touching a small piece of American history.
If John’s wife, Hannah, didn’t share in the fighting, she shared in his sentiments and in anxiety for her husband and his comrades.
There is one legend, reported by several sources but not completely verifiable, concerning her during the War for Independence.
It happened on October 4, 1777, the day of the disastrous battle of Germantown.
Hannah Simpson had been working in the bake house of the Simpson homestead. In the distance, she could hear what sounded like rumbling thunder – but it was the roar of cannon and the blast of rifles.
She kneaded the bread she was making faster, almost in time with the sporadic cannon booms, her anxiety translated into tight squeezes of the dough.
She left it to rise and came back later to bake it.
That evening, she saw defeated, exhausted - and hungry – soldiers of the rebel forces passing by the homestead.
Grant’s great grandmother quickly grabbed the hot loaves of bread she had made for her family and ran to the road. There she fed the tired citizen –soldiers.
From them she learned of the battle’s outcome and may also have been reassured of her husband’s safety.
The rebel victory at Yorktown, VA brought independence for the colonies and peace for Simpson and his family
He returned to his farm to raise his family and crops .
His son John Jr. married Rebecca Weir, daughter of a Bucks County farmer in 1793. The following spring he bought a farm about 2 miles southwest of his father’s homestead. It was here that their 1st two chidren – Mary and Samuel – were born.
In 1798, he sold the farm and moved to a homestead he rented in Whitemarsh Township. It was here that Hannah Simpson, later mother of Ulysses S Grant, was born.
It was in the old Neshaminy Presbyterian Church in Warwick, where the Simpson family had long worshiped, that the children (including Sarah, the last) were chistened.
But by 1800, John Jr. was back in Horsham again, probably living on his father’s farm which he over when his father died in 1804.
Even at that late date, according to an early historian , it wasn’t a farm as one sees today in the Bucks-Mont. “The land was principly uncleared , primitive forest and the small clearings (were) generally tilled by old fashioned methods of manual labor”.
Shortly after the birth of Sarah, Rebecca Weir Simpson died. She was buried in the Warwick church graveyard and Simpson began looking for another wife ad mother for his children He found her in another Bucks County girl, Sarah Hare, whose parents were friends of Simpson’s parents. He married her on June 4, 1803.
It was she who helped mold the character of Hannah and her influence was so strong that hers was the voice that determined the name for Grant when he was born years later in Ohio.
Tradition commonly assumes that “Ulysses” was somehow linked to Grant’s father’s new England heritage.
But the family themselves left an account of what happened in Ohio. At that time, Hannah and one aunt wanted to name the boy Albert Gallatin, in honor of a famous financier. Another aunt wanted to call him Theodore. Grandfather John Simpson wanted to name the boy Hiram.
But grandmother Sarah Hines Simpson’s will carried the day. She was, wrote one historian, “a woman of considerable intelligence and education and an ardent admirer of Homer’s warrior hero Ulysses.”
She wanted her first grandchild to be named for him.
The parents of the baby finally agreed to the grandparents wishes and named the boy Ulysses Hiram Grant.
Sarah Ware, wrote one of her other grandsons “had a commanding and attractive presence and was mentally and morally above the average. Her mind was liberal, sympathetic, and well-improved by wide acquaintance with books and intelligent minds. She was of plain, domestic tastes and graceful winning manners.
These were traits she passed on to her step-daughter, Hannah, as she grew up to become a young woman in Horsham.
She was known as a girl with common sense and religious.
Jesse Grant, who married her shortly after the Simpsons moved to Bethel, Ohio later described her “handsome but not vain.” She had by then joined the Methodist Church and it “never had a more consistent member”.
“Her steadiness, firmness and strength of character have been the stay of the family through life. She was always careful and most watchful over the children but not austere.”
Grant himself later recalled that in spite of primitive conditions then in Ohio, his mother Hannah never complained of hardship, toil, or depression. He recalled he never saw her shed a tear and that while she never boasted, she was very proud of her ancestry and family history.
These were traits that Hannah developed while a girl in the Bucks-Mont. In addition to working wit her parents on the farm, she also visited with other branches.
One place she probably visited often was the home of her aunt Hannah and uncle Benjamin Hough, who was postmaster of Warrington (PA). The Houghs lived in the large stone house (in what is now the Hatboro Federal Savings and Loan Association) at the corner of Easton and Bristol Roads (HPHA note - think this is Street Rd, not Bristol Rd)
The house itself was famous. It had been built by John Barclay, a member of General John Lacey’s guerillas who roamed the Bucks-Mont in the Revolution. Barclay became a justice of the peace in Bucks County and was appointed President Judge of the county courts in 1789. In 1790 he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention ad later served as mayor of Philadelphia.
He was one of the founders of the Insurance Company of North America (now Cigna).
The large and substantial house which he built he sold to Benjamin Hough in 1803. It was here that the Simpson family probably moved after John Simpson sold his farm before 1817 in preparation to move to Point Pleasant, Ohio.
It was there that Hannah married Jesse Root Grant in 1820 and raised a family of 6 children, one of them being Ulysses Hiram Grant.
By the time young Grant went to West Point, though, the name Hiram had been dropped and replaced with the name of Simpson.
There are several explanations for this One is that he didn’t care for the name which his grandparents had chosen for him. As a child, friends mocked his first name and called him “Useless”. In addition, the initials of the three names Ulysses Hiram Grant produced “UGH” – a word of which others switched to “HUG”.
Some historians say, therefore, that Grant himself dropped the Hiram and substituted Simpson. Others say that the congressman who appointed him assumed the middle name was Simpson and so called him in the appointment.
In any case, Grant preferred it to the name he was christened with.
In 1843, young Lt Grant came to Bucks County to visit the home of his aunt and uncle Hough. He probably also visited the homestead on which his mother grew up in Horsham. He returned for another visit to the home of his ancestors in 1854.
Jesse Grant believed his son was a “child of destiny” especially after a phrenologist predicted he would have a distinguished future after reading the bumps on his head.
Hannah Grant was less vocal than her husband but confident in her child’s eventual success.
She was unable to attend his inauguration as president in the 1870s, her age prohibiting the journey. By then she was living in Kentucky. She never went to the capital during his administration, possibly because her moral nature was offended by the reported corruption of the Grant administration.
But she remained proud of her son himself and his role in preserving the Union, She knew the Simpsons of Bucks-Mont would also have been proud.