Governor Edward Tiffin

File contributed to Ohio Biographies Project by:
Linda Isenbarg
23 October 2000

History of Ross and Highland Counties Ohio
Biographical Sketches
Page 223-224
Williams Bros., Publishers
W. W. Williams, Printer, Cleveland, Ohio


The story of Edward Tiffin claims priority in the annals of the gubernatorial chair in this State, and is otherwise in the front rank of Ohio's history. He was her first governor, and in all respects, in his day, one of her first citizens. He was one of the men who make great beginnings, who lay the foundations of states and empires, who led the march of civilization. To this day the now mighty Buckeye State feels the impress of his guiding and governing hand. It owes his memory a debt which can never be fully repaid.

Edward Tiffin was a native of Carlisle, England, where he was born June 19, 1766. He received a liberal education by the benificence of an uncle, from whom he was named, and had partly completed a medical course of study when his parents emigrated to America and settled in Charlestown, Berkeley county, Virginia, in 1784. He completed his course at the University of Pennsylvania, and began practice at his home at the age of twenty. He was of happy temperament, buoyant spirit, and high professional and general culture. These, with his winning manners and superior conversation, soon made him a social favorite, and co-operated to give him rapid success as a practitioner. He was married in 1789, to Mary, daughter of Robert Worthington, of Charlestown, and sister of Thomas Worthington, also afterwards a governor of the United States senator from Ohio. She proved a worthy mate of the gifted young physician, and walked with him the paths of life for nearly a score of years. This union was childless. He was again married in 1809, this time to Miss Mary Porter, a native of Delaware, who had removed with her family to Ross county, and was, like his first wife, a woman of exceptional beauty and excellence of character. The children of this marriage were; Mary Porter, afterwards Mrs. Joseph A. Reynolds, of Urbana, O., and now deceased; Diathea Madison, who resides with her sister, Mrs. Cook; Eleanor Worthington, now Mrs. M. Scott Cook, of Chillicothe; Rebecca Turner, wife of Dr. C. G. Comegys, of Cincinnati, formerly professor in the Ohio Medical college, in that city; and Edward Parker, who was also educated as a physician, but was killled by a railway accident while returning from Europe in 1853.

In 1798, Dr. Tiffin, with his wife, joined a company of emigrants from Virginia to the Scioto valley. In this party were three Ohio governors to be: himself, his brother-in-law, Mr. T. Worthington, and Mr. R. Lucas, afterwards General and Governor Lucas. They took with them their former slaves, now generously manumitted, and even more generously taken with them, instead of being turned out to the cold charities of the world. The two first named, with most of their companions, settled in Chillicothe, Dr. Tiffin taking a five-acre lot in the northwest part of the infant town and building thereupon the first stone dwelling, it is believed, erected in the Northwest Territory. He recommenced practice, enduring the hardships incident to medical business in pioneer times and afterwards, with his brother Joseph, engaged in merchandizing, in a store then standing upon Bridge street, near the river. He also, some time after, bought and improved a farm upon Deer creek, but remained there only a year. From all other private employments he returned to his first love, the chosen profession in which he was as successful here as in the older country in Virginia, standing in both among the first practitioners of the time.

Dr. Tiffin's chief name and fame, however, were to be won in a public career. He brought with him to the wild west a cordial letter of recommendation to Governor St. Clair from General Washington, in which are noted. "the fairness of his character in private and public life, together with a knowledge of law resulting from close application for a considerable time," and a knowledge of the gentleman's merits founded upon a long acquaintance." In accordance with this high testimonial, Dr. Tiffin was appointed prothonotary of Ross county during the first year of his residence therein, and appears as such upon the records of the first territorial court of common pleas held in Chillicothe in December, 1798. He remained in this position until the January term, 1803, when he was succeeded by the late Thomas Scott. Meanwhile he had been called to serve as a representative in the territorial legislature, which met in Cincinnati, September 18, 1799, when he was elected speaker of the house, retaining the post by successive elections until the organization of the constitutional convention at Chillicothe in November, 1802, when he was chosen president of the convention. He served in this position with conspicuous ability, and so approved himself to his fellow members that at the close of the session he was recommended to the people of the new State as a candidate for governor. No opposition to his election was developed at this or the subsequent gubernatorial poll, and he was twice chosen unanimously, receiving four thousand, five hundred and sixty-five votes in January 1803, and four thousand, seven hundred and eighty-three in October, 1805. A third term was offered him but was declined.

The administration of Governor Tiffin had some marked characteristics and events. It was a transition period, and an important one. It called for no ordinary qualifications in the man who grasped the helm of State, but he proved equal to the occasion. A sketch of his career, prepared by his son-in-law, Dr. Comegys, includes the following notice:

     "His state papers are brief, but clear in their suggestions for the enactment of all those measures that would open roads, develop agricultural and mineral resources, advance education, protect the frontiers, and favor immigration. The highest proof of his qualifications and administrative power is seen in his repeated, unanimous election. The most notable feature of his gubernatorial career was the arrest of the Burr-Blennerhasset expedition. In the latter part of 1806, Burr collected numerous boats and quantities of stores in the neighborhood of Blennerhasset's Island, below Marietta. Governor Tiffin, learning that the expedition was ready to sail, dispatched a courier to the commandant at Marietta and directed him to occupy a position below the island, where, with a field battery, they could command the channel. Burr, seeing that his plans were discovered and the impossibility of running the blockade, abandoned the expedition and fled. The press of the eastern States lauded Governor Tiffin for his prompt and successful destruction of the nefarious scheme, and President Jefferson, in his letter to the Ohio legislature, February 2, 1807 [also in his message to congress, twenty days thereafter], commends the governor for his promptness and energy in destroying the expedition."

Governor Tiffin left the executive chair, finally, in 1807, to take the seat in the United States senate, to which he had been elected by the last preceding legislature. He served only during the tenth congress, resigning at the close of the session, in 1809, from the overwhelming grief at the loss of his first wife, who died the previous year. He made his mark in the senate, however, serving on leading committees, by a special vote being added to the committee on fortifications and public defences--at that time an important one, in view of the preparations for war with Great Britain--and procuring the passage of several measures which greatly aided in the development of his new State.

Returning home, Dr. Tiffin now devoted himself for a time to agriculture, but was called from the plow at the next fall election to represent his fellow-citizens in the State legislature, where he was again chosen speaker of the house, and by a unanimous vote. He was successively re-elected representative and speaker, until shortly after Madison's accession to the presidency in 1813, when he was tendered, wholly without solicitation or expectation on his part, the office of commissioner of the general land office, then just created by congress. He accepted the post, and organized and administered the affairs of the new bureau with great ability. His office is noted, in history, as the only one of the departments or bureaus of the government, all whose records and papers were saved when Washington was captured and destroyed by the British in 1814--a fact which well exhibits the energy and promptitude of Governor Tiffin's action. After about three years's service, President Madison gratified Mr. Tiffin's desire by effecting an exchange of official positions between him and Mr. Josiah Meigs, surveyor general of the west. The office of the surveyor general was accordingly removed to Chillicothe, and Governor Tiffin entered upon its duties. His supervision and administration of the office, involving the handling of a large and complicated business and of many thousand dollars per year, was so satisfactory that he was continued in its charge by Presidents Monroe and Adams (John Quincy), until the accession of President Jackson, his entire term thus lasting fifteen years, and until within a few weeks of his death. This occurred at his pioneer home in Chillicothe, after an illness of nearly ten years, on Sabbath evening August 9, 1829. He was aged sixty-three years one month and twenty days.

Governor Tiffin came to this country a member of the Church of England, in which he had been reared, and remained in its communion for some years after his arrival. In 1790, however, upon the formation of a Methodist church at Charleston, himself and wife united with it; and, his gifts of speech and excellence of character presently attracting the notice of Bishop Asbury, he was consecrated by that great founder of American Methodism, as a lay or local preacher. In this capacity he never thereafter fully ceased to serve during his long private and public career. His fervent and able preaching is still a tradition in many of the settlements along the Scioto valley, and he often served the infant church in Chillicothe to acceptance. His religious sympathies were not altogether diverted from the old association; and he also read the service and selected sermon, at times, to the Epoiscopal society in the town, when it was without a rector. He was not a speculator, or specially eminent as a financier; but managed his business affairs prudently, and died possessed of a handsome property. A plain marble monument, in the cemetery on the hill at Chillicothe, does honor to his memory.

Back to Alphabetical Index

Graphics from: