James Ashley, Sr.

James Ashley, Sr.James Ashley, Sr. was born in 1824 in Allegheny County Pennsylvania.Unless otherwise noted all information is included in R. Horowitz, "James A. Ashley: A Biography" (Ph.D. diss., The City University of New York, 1973). Two years later, the Ashley family moved to Portsmouth, Ohio in the southeastern part of the state. As the son of an ordained minister, James Ashley received much of his education at home from his parents. During his early years in Portsmouth, young Ashley became aware of the evils of slavery.

At age sixteen, Ashley ran away from home to serve as a cabin boy and clerk on the numerous boats that traveled the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. After several years of wandering and self-reflection, James returned to Portsmouth. With the help of Edward Johnson, he established the Portsmouth Democrat, but published only two issues because of a lack of funds. Failing at the newspaper business, Ashley studied law under a local attorney and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1849. A lack of interest, however, meant that he rarely practiced law.

During his years in Portsmouth, Ashley became active in the underground railroad, which helped slaves escape to the north. By 1851 he no longer felt safe in southeastern Ohio and decided to move to Minneapolis, Minnesota. On his way west, however, Ashley made a permanent stop in Toledo. During a short trip home to Portsmouth in November, Ashley married Emma J. Smith. Returning to Toledo with his new bride, Ashley opened a drug store. Two years later he began publishing The Monthly Visitor with the intention of advertising his business.

Ashley ran a relatively successful pharmaceutical store, but his interests turned to politics. His hatred of slavery turned his interest to a passion and Ashley dreamed of one day running for a seat in the United States Congress. Following these instincts, Ashley secured a delegate's position to the 1856 Republican National Convention. When he returned to Toledo, Ashley and his fellow Republicans devoted much energy to promotion of the Republican nominee, John C. Fremont. Although they were unsuccessful, Ashley's campaigning and strong anti-slavery sentiment helped him win election in 1858 to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Ashley dedicated his political life to the abolition of slavery. His record as a congressman and his strong anti-slavery stand are well documented. The highlight of his political career came in 1863 when Ashley introduced the first proposition to amend the U.S. Constitution and abolish slavery. In 1865 he helped to secure passage of the thirteenth amendment. Two years later, he played a key role in the effort to impeach President Andrew Johnson.

In 1868, Ashley lost his bid for reelection to Congress, but he did not give up the political life. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Ashley as governor of Montana Territory, but his harsh criticisms of the republican administration led to his removal from that office in 1869. Ashley returned to Toledo to practice law and switched his political allegiance to the Democratic Party. In 1875, the Ashley's, including their son, James Jr., moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan where Ashley became interested in the possibility of building a railroad extending from Toledo to the Michigan peninsula. Always the man of action, James, Sr. purchased several railroad terminals in Toledo and, with the help of James Jr., began building the extension which soon became known as the Toledo, Ann Arbor and Northern Michigan Railroad. The line began regular service on July 1, 1878. For the next sixteen years Ashley devoted the majority of his time to the railroad.

In 1893, Ashley suffered a severe attack of diabetes. While on a fishing trip in the summer of 1896, he became sick again. On September 16, he died from a heart attack. His body was returned to Toledo for interment at Woodlawn Cemetery a few days later.

James Ashley, Jr. was born in Toledo in 1854. He received his primary and secondary education there and then attended Cornell University. Ashley moved to Ann Arbor with his parents and while there earned a law degree from the University of Michigan. ("Jim Ashley, Railroader, Patriot, Dies," Toledo Blade, 3 November 1919.) In 1875, his father put him in charge of construction for the Toledo, Ann Arbor and Northern Michigan Railroad Ibid. Later, James Jr. helped to design the first car ferries for use on the Great Lakes. He also built water-power plants in Maumee and Defiance (Ibid.). Ashley became a prominent member of Ohio's Republican party. After the outbreak of World War I, Ashley joined the activities of such patriotic groups as the Defense League, the Liberty Loan and the Red Cross. James Ashley, Jr., died of a heart attack in November 1919.


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