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In the summer of 1862, Fitz Henry Lane visited Major General John C. Fremont’s camp at Coffin’s Beach, Gloucester, and sketched Fremont’s Encampment at the Loaf. Fremont was supposedly recuperating there after his run-in with Stonewall Jackson at Cross Keys, and whatever the speculation about the impact the Civil War had on Lane, here was his chance to talk with someone with first-hand experience.
Visitors from town were presented to Fremont by his aide-de-camp Major Leonidas Haskell, who—having been born and reared in West Gloucester—was acquainted with many of them. Lane may well have had an extra “in,” as he and Leonidas were distantly related, had a mutual “intimate friend” in Joseph L. Stevens, Jr., and Lane’s housekeeper (since his schism with the Winters), was Elizabeth (Haskell) Galacar, Leonidas’ wife’s aunt.
In his youth, Leonidas was a farmer, shoe maker, and mariner. He was five feet eight, with a stocky build and dark complexion. In 1846, at the age of twenty-five, he married Elizabeth Galacar’s niece, Sarah Elizabeth Haskell, and three years later went to California with thousands of others to seek his fortune. He did not, however, go prospecting for gold but instead put his ship the "Ganges" up for sale and began trading in what he called “general merchandise.” He prospered, bought thirteen acres at Black Point in San Francisco, and built a compound there that was soon filled with his East Coast relatives. Maj. Gen. Fremont became a close friend and neighbor, and his wife, Jesse Benton Fremont, was later to write that the Haskells had great wealth and very “English” tastes; enjoying fine horses, dogs, and sailing.
In the next decade, Leonidas continued his merchant-trader business but also dabbled in various get-rich-quick schemes. He was part-owner of a passenger ship running to Vancouver and back. He was a corporator of a company granted land to construct a railroad and telegraph line from Missouri and Arkansas to the Pacific Coast, and later obtained the right to build and operate a telegraph line from San Francisco to Fort Yuma. He was also politically active during this period, especially in the anti-slavery movement, having learnt about emancipation at the knee of his aunt Mehitable Haskell. (Aunt Hitty, who lived in West Gloucester, was a preacher, lecturer, advocate for women’s suffrage, and an abolitionist, who numbered among her friends Lucy Stone and Wendell Phillips.) Leonidas, like his friend Joseph L. Stevens, Jr., became a Free Soiler, and while Stevens went to Kansas to gauge the situation there, Leonidas got elected to the California senate on the Anti-Lecompton ticket.
Being an abolitionist was not the safest pursuit, and Leonidas lost two good friends to the cause: the Hon. William I. Ferguson and Senator David C. Broderick. In 1858, Leonidas was a pall bearer at the funeral of Ferguson, who had been slain in a duel with George Pen Johnston, Clerk of the U.S. Circuit Court. The following year, Leonidas acted as second for fellow Free-Soiler Broderick in his duel with David S. Terry. Broderick was mortally wounded by Terry and carried to Leonidas’ house where he died three days later.
In 1860, Leonidas bought the house of his Black Point neighbor, the marine artist J. Edwin Moody, and mortgaged his old house to John C. Fremont. Moody and F. H. Lane had become friends while both worked at Pendleton’s, and Moody was a frequent visitor to Gloucester where he married Emma Foster, a relation of Joseph L. Stevens, Jr.’s wife.
In August of 1861, Fremont, who was then commander of the Western Army, asked Leonidas to join his staff in St. Louis, Missouri, appointing him Director of Police and giving him the rank of captain. When Fremont moved on to Virginia, Leonidas accompanied him as Assistant Chief of Cavalry. At the Battle of Cross Keys in June ,1862, Leonidas behaved so capably that he was commissioned a major and aide-de-camp by President Lincoln. Fremont then ordered him to take command of a company of scouts. Eleven days later, Fremont resigned his commission and departed for New York and points east. Leonidas accompanied him.
By June of 1863, Leonidas’ California coterie had broken apart. His wife and children joined him in New York, while Elizabeth Galacar may have gone to Salem, where her husband enlisted in the 22nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (and died on the battlefield five months later). Leonidas may well have intended to return to San Francisco, but in October of 1863, the commanding general there was ordered to take military possession of Point San Jose [Black Point], and erect a battery there. The question of ownership was to “be determined hereafter.” The ensuing arguments over title and compensation dragged on in the courts for years, depleting both Leonidas’ wallet and health.
After their return to the east coast, Leonidas did not engage in any further active duty, and resigned his commission June 4, 1864. He did, however, join with Fremont in various business ventures, most of which were abysmal failures.
In 1866, Leonidas, Fremont, and three others drew up a contract with the Costa Rican government to build a railroad from Caldera to Limón to facilitate the exportation of coffee. Their confident title - the Costa Rica Railroad Company (CRRC)—temporarily concealed the fact that they actually had no money whatsoever to invest in the project. The Costa Rican representative was an expatriate Prussian and the CRRC group used his name to entice the Prussian government to invest in the enterprise. Prussia was a relatively new country at the time and eager to get a toehold in the Caribbean. Contracts were signed and monies agreed, but when a suspicious Count von Bismarck sent a ship to investigate, he found that the CRRC existed only on paper. They did not even have an office in Limón.
Leonidas was no stranger to questionable business ventures. When his wool trade broke up in 1858, his freighters sued him claiming he owed them thirty-seven thousand dollars. In 1859, he was accused of obtaining the original deed to the New Almaden cinnabar mines by “trickery.” In 1861, he was implicated in a war profiteering scheme involving the purchase of mules. In 1864, Leonidas was in Washington, D.C. appearing as a witness in a cotton scam being investigated by the Secret Service. He was also implicated in a scheme to smuggle the rebel spy Beverley Tucker (who was later a conspirator in Lincoln’s assassination) through the lines. There was no proof that he had made any money on the cotton deals and he appears to have turned state’s evidence, thereby avoiding prosecution.
In his later years, Leonidas’ health was deteriorating. After his experience at Cross Keys he was treated for malaria and spinal meningitis. By August of 1867, he had lost the use of his hands and right eye. Unable to work, he, his wife, and their eight children returned to their West Gloucester homestead where he was attended by Dr. William H. Hull and Joseph L. Stevens, Jr.’s brother, Dr. George B. Stevens.
Despite his handicaps, Leonidas traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the hearings on compensation for his losses in both the army mule fiasco and the Black Point property seizure.
On January 17, 1873, a Bill for the relief of the Black Point claimants was accepted. Two weeks later, the United States Senate passed “An Act for the relief of the heirs and legal representatives of Leonidas Haskell” which allowed them to adjudicate for the losses suffered over the mules. Sadly, both rulings came too late for Leonidas, who had passed away at the age of forty nine on January 15. Three of his children were very sick with measles at the time, so his wife had left him in the care of a “devoted friend,” undoubtedly Elizabeth Galacar, who, just a month later, also died in Washington, D.C. Joseph L. Stevens, Jr., who had provided Lane with a grave and brought Elizabeth’s husband’s body back for burial, now did the same for both Elizabeth and Leonidas.
– Stephanie Buck (March, 2015)
Notes and Additions
Notes and Additions to Sarah Dunlap and Stephanie Buck, Fitz Henry Lane: Family and Friends. (Gloucester, MA: Church & Mason Publishing; in association with the Cape Ann Historical Museum, 2007)