WHERE ULYSSES S. GRANT COURTED JULIA DENT
Immediately after Ulysses Simpson Grant graduated from West Point, he was sent to Jefferson Barracks, at St. Louis. His military duties were not so arduous that he was unable to accept the invitation of Fred Dent, a former roommate at West Point, to go with him to the Dent homestead on the Gravois Road, four miles from the Barracks.
The young second lieutenant did not have to be urged to repeat his visit. In fact he went so often that the road between the Barracks and the Dent farm became as familiar to him as his old haunts on the banks of the Hudson. He did not meet Julia Dent at first, for she was absent at school, but he found enough attraction in a sister to make him a frequent visitor.
Then came the eventful day when he met seventeenyear-old Julia. The courtship was by no means a long-drawn-out affair; the young people were engaged before Grant was ordered to the Mexican border, though the fact was not announced until his return to St. Louis in May, 1845. The marriage took place in August, 1848, after the close of the Mexican War.
For some years Mrs. Grant was a soldier’s wife.
Grant took her with him to Detroit, but he left her at her old home in St. Louis when he was transferred to the Pacific Coast. In 1853 he accepted a commission as captain, which he soon resigned, determining to return to the East. Several unfortunate speculations had left him without funds, and he was indebted to a friend in San Francisco for transportation.
“I rejoined my family to find in it a son whom I had never seen, born while I was on the Isthmus of Panama,” Grant said in his “Personal Memoirs.” ” I was now to commence, at the age of thirty-two, a new struggle for our support. My wife had a farm near St. Louis, to which we went, but I had no means to stock it. A house had to be built also. I worked very hard, never losing a day because of bad weather, and accomplished the object in a moderate way.”
After working as a farm laborer for a time, he built a cabin on sixty acres given to Mrs. Grant by her father. ” Hardscrabble,” as he called the four-room log house, was the home of the Grant family for several years. This cabin, which was on the grounds of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis, and White Haven, must both be counted homes of the family at this period. Fred, Nellie, and Jesse Grant were all born in White Haven.
Ready money was scarce, but the father of a growing family felt the necessity of providing for their wants. ” If nothing else could be done I would load a cord of wood on a wagon and take it to the city for sale,” he wrote in his Memoirs. ” I managed to keep along very well until 1858, when I was attacked by fever and ague. I had suffered very severely and for a long time from the disease while a boy in Ohio. It lasted now over a year, and, while it did not keep me in the house, it did interfere greatly with the amount of work I was able to perform. In the fall of 1858 I sold out my stock, crops and farming utensils at auction, and gave up farming.”
The family remained at White Haven for a time, and Grant tried to make a living in the real estate business. His partner was a cousin of Mrs. Grant. The income of the business was not sufficient for two families, so he soon gave up the attempt. “He doesn’t seem to be just calculated for business, but an honester, more generous man never lived,” was the remark of one who knew him at this time.
In the meantime he had taken his family to St. Louis. He made one further attempt to support them there. Learning that there was a vacancy in the office of county engineer, he applied for the position, but the appointment was to be made by the members of the county court, and he did not have sufficient influence to secure it. So the move to Galena, Illinois, in May, 1860, be-came necessary. There, in the leather business, he earned but eight hundred dollars a year. And he had a family of six to feed.
A year later he responded to the call of President Lincoln, and began the army service that made him famous.
White Haven was built in 1808 by Captain John Long, who had won his title during the Revolution. Later the house and three hundred acres of the original farm were sold to Frederick Dent, who, at one period, had ninety slaves in the slave quarters still to be seen at the rear of the house.
Through Mrs. Grant the entire property came into the possession of General Grant. At the time of the failure of Grant & Ward, the farm was pledged to William H. Vanderbilt, who sold it to Captain Fuller H. Conn of St. Louis. Captain Conn disposed of it in a number of parcels. One of these, containing fifteen acres and the old homestead, was purchased by Albert Wenzlick, who makes his summer home in the house where Ulysses S. Grant met Julia Dent.