Ulysses S. Grant




St. Louis Republican, July 24, 1885

Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson was a mulatto slave who belonged to Frederick Dent, the father-in-law of Ulysses S. Grant. Mary lived with Ulysses and Julia and came to know U. S. Grant well, cooking, cleaning and tending to the Grant children. Following Grant's death, Mary Robinson's recollections of him were published in a St. Louis newspaper, and appear in full below:

"Mrs. Mary Robinson, a highly intelligent, copper-colored Negress, who spent the greater portion of her life as the trusted slave of the Dent and Grant families, is spending the evening of her long and useful life at 3305 Caroline avenue. She is nearly 58 years of age. Besides being much more intelligent than the average representative of her race, she is a keen observer and possesses a remarkably strong memory. In conversation with a REPUBLICAN reporter yesterday afternoon concerning the early events of Gen. Grant's life, she expressed herself about as follows:

I lived with the Dent family from my childhood and remember the first visit Gen. Grant made to the old homestead on the Gravois road. He had just graduated from West Point and was an exceedingly fine looking young man. At first sight he fell in love with Miss. Dent, afterward his wife, continuing his visits to the house with great frequency. Old man Dent was opposed to him, when he found he was courting his daughter, and did everything he could to prevent the match, but Mrs. Dent took a great fancy to him in his venture. Mrs. Dent used to say to me: I like that young man. There is something noble in him. His air and the expression of his face convince me that he has a noble heart, and that he is will be a great man someday.

The lovemaking of the couple was interrupted for sometime by the Mexican war, in which Grant was called upon to serve, but when he returned he consummated the courtship by leading the young lady to the altar. He came home from the Mexican war in the spring and was married during the summer following. Then he was sent to a military post in Oregon. His father disliked to have him so far away from his family and sent word to him to come home, promising to start him in business if he resigned his position. He resigned and came to St. Louis, but his father failed to redeem his promise. This disappointed the young man so sorely that he took to drinking. He felt he had been induced to give up a good position without being afforded an opportunity to improve his financial condition.

At this time, or during the year 1853, he resided on Walnut between Fifth and Sixth streets, where he came within an ace of dying.

One day he was carried into the house in an unconscious condition with a fearful wound in his head. We were told that his horse had run away and thrown him, and a friend with whom he was riding, to the ground. His friend escaped uninjured, but he was badly so badly hurt that the attending physicians watched him closely night and day for more than a week, fearing he would not recover.

After his recovery he established his residence on his farm, which adjoined that of Mr. Dent, on the Gravois road. He built himself a large log house with four rooms and lived in it very comfortably, I have seen many farmers, but I have never saw one that worked harder than Mr. Grant. He plowed, split rails, and drove his own team. In fact, he had two horses called Bill and Tom which he prized so highly that he would never allow anyone but himself to drive them. I may saw he was very fond of all kinds of domestic animals. One of his pets was a large dog called Leo. I, being the cook of the household, often found it necessary to go out and catch chickens for dinner. Leo always helped me. All I would have to do would be to point out the chicken I wanted to Leo and he would grab it for me.

Mr. Grant sat and watched us one day while we were catching chickens. After I secured all I needed Leo continued to catch them. This amused Grant very much and, turning to me, he said 'Mamie, the dog has gone into business on his own hook, since you and he dissolves partnership.' Grant was a very kind man to those who worked for him, and he always said that he wanted to give his wife's slaves their freedom as soon as he was able. He was very fond of high living, however, and was an inconstant smoker all his life. On the farm he smoked a pipe, which his wife threw away whenever she could find it. She did not object to cigars, but she detested the pipe.

One day I had a the toothache and smoked the Generals pipe to stop the pain. The pipe was very strong and made me very sick. In those days I often heard doctors tell him his incessant smoking would kill him. At that time he chewed tobacco excessively also. Grant as I have said, was a splendid farmer. He raised a great deal of corn, potatoes and other vegetables for table use. Most of his leisure time was spent reading. He was one of the greatest readers I ever saw.

The quiet unassuming manner of General Grant always struck me as being one of the most remarkable traits of his character. I have often heard his relatives of this in connection with a daring feat he performed during the Mexican war. Just before Gen. Scott fought his way into the City of Mexico he called twelve officers to him and asked if any of them were willing to go over to Gen. Taylor and ask him whether he had enough ammunition to last two hours, adding that if Gen. Taylor had that amount of ammunition he could win the day. The trip to Gen. Taylor's headquarters was extremely hazardous one, and not one of the twelve officers was willing to undertake it.

Grant who then ranked as a lieutenant, mounted his horse and made the trip under a heavy fire. He returned with the message that Gen. Taylor had enough ammunition to last until midnight, thus giving information that was of vital importance for Gen. Scott to know. Gen. Scott allowed this circumstance to slip from his mind and Grant never spoke of it. Other officers around him were promoted, but he kept his own counsel and said nothing about his desire to be promoted. Scott's attention was finally called to it by one of Grant's friends, and as a result Grant was made a captain. I tell you this because it shows Grant was remarkable for his silence under all circumstances.

He was quiet at home as well as in public. He would lose his temper like other men, but I never heard him utter an oath in my life. He attended the Centenary Methodist church of this city, but he was not a professor of religion.

I could tell you enough about Mr. Grant to fill a good-sized book. He loved his wife and children, and was the kindest husband and the most indulgent father I ever saw. At one time he was very poor, but both his wife and himself always looked on the bright side of things. One day-I will never forget the circumstances-Mrs. Grant was sitting in a larger rocking -chair talking to some of her relatives about family matters. She referred to the financial embarrassment of her husband and then added: But we will not always be in this condition. Wait until Dudy (meaning Grant) becomes President . I dreamed last night he had been elected President. The rest all laughed and looked upon it as a capital joke. The idea that her husband, who was then a very poor farmer, would ever become president of the United States. Mrs. Grant always had great confidence in her husband, and she never relinquished the belief that he was destined to become one of the greatest men of the nation.

Well, After Grant had farmed as long as he desired, He moved to St. Louis, and established his residence on Seventh and Lynch streets. This change he made shortly before the opening of the war. I am now about to tell you one of the most extraordinary events in his life. He became a candidate for county surveyor. One day while his wife and myself were putting down a carpet he walked into the room. After watching us in silence quite a while he turned to Mrs. Grant and said in a careless way, Julia, I believe I will go to Mme.------,(naming a famous fortune teller who was in the city at the time) and get her to tell me whether I will be elected. He then went away from the house and remained away several hours. When he returned he addressed his wife in an unconcerned way saying Julia, I am going to be beaten at the coming election. I will come within an ace of being elected, but I will be beaten. In a short time we will leave the city and I will engage for a time in a mercantile business. Something will happen very soon and then I will begin to rise in the world.

"Nonsense," replied his wife. "You will be elected, Dudy, for everyone says you cannot be beaten. The fortune teller told you what was not true when she said you would be defeated."

This lecture failed to have any effect on Grant as he appeared to believe the fortune -teller's prophecy would come true: and strange to say the prophecy did come true. Grant was defeated. A month later he went to Galena, Ill. and managed a store. A few months later still the war broke out . He was placed at the head of a regiment 1500 men. While his regiment was encamped in Illinois at the beginning of the war he paid his father-in-law, Mr. Dent, a short visit at the family residence on the Gravois road. He and Mr. Dent sat up talking all night . I heard part of their conversation, and can remember what was said very distinctly to this day. Dent was opposed to Lincoln, and tried to induce Grant not to fight with the Union army. He wanted him to cast his destiny with the South. This Grant refused to do, saying he could obtain a commission as brigadier -general as soon as he wanted it.

"Then why do you not take the position? inquired Mr. Dent. It certainly pays better to be a brigadier general than it does to be a colonel." Grant fired up at this, and looked at his father-in-law in a determined way, and declared he would never accept the position as brigadier general until he had won it with his sword. The interview between the general and his father-in-law was a very long and heated one. It was not satisfactory to either, I imagined, at this time.

Grant was always fond of fast horses. He was mounted on his race horse, Nellie, a very fleet-footed animal when he performed his daring ride to the camp of Gen. Taylor during the Mexican war. I have heard him describe the wonderful speed this horse exhibited when he made that perilous trip of two and a half miles exposed to showers of bullets from the rifles of the enemy. He appeared to look upon Nellie's conduct as more courageous than his own. While on his farm Grant entertained a great deal of company, including officers from Jefferson barracks who called on him frequently. At home he often expressed his opinion about people, and I never knew him to make a single mistake in judging a man's character. I saw him last at the Lindell hotel, after he returned from his trip around the world, and he received me very kindly and it seemed to me that he was mighty glad to see me."



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