Strangers to Us All Lawyers and Poetry

Charles Hammond

Virginia & Ohio

William Turner Coggeshall, The Poets and Poetry of the West: With Biographical and Critical Notices 68-70 (Columbus, Ohio: Follett, Foster and Company, 1860):

WHEN Charles Hammond was born, September, 1779, his father resided in Baltimore county, Maryland. He emigrated to Ohio county, Virginia, in 1785. As soon as Charles was large enough to work in the wilderness, he was required to assist in the severe labors incident to pioneer life. He delighted rather in the duties of the night, than in those of the day; for, when supper was over, under his father's instruction, he either read or studied, or listened to discussions of grave political questions, literary recitations, or historical descriptions. His father could recite whole plays of Shakespeare, and had committed to memory Young's Night Thoughts, and other poems.

Early in life, Charles manifested all aptitude for writing. He exhibited a vein of poetic satire, in rude verses about his father's neighbors, which secured him several severe whippings. Flogging taught him caution, but did not dull his satire -caution as to the manner in which he published his verses; but, in reference to personalities, exasperating because felicitously descriptive, neither flogging in early, nor threats and bitter abuse in after-life, could teach him discretion. Because he loved his pen and his book, and though a steady, was a reluctant laborer on the farm, his father determined that he should be a lawyer. Then did he, for the first time, attend an institution of learning. He was taught English and Latin grammar for a few months, when he entered the office of Phillip Doddridge, of Wellsburg, Virginia, as a law student. He studied not only law, but political economy and the philosophy of history. He was a thorough and judicious reader, and rapidly gained influence among those with whom he became acquainted.

In 1801, Mr. Hammond was admitted to the bar. He opened an office in Wellsburg, Virginia. Practice came slowly. He had leisure for political reading, and he did not fail to improve it advantageously; nor was he ashamed, when he had no briefs to prepare, to resort to other labor for his daily bread. He posted books, and settled accounts for merchants, that his own personal accounts might be liquidated and his wardrobe renewed. He wrote frequently for the newspapers, between 1801 and 1812, on political questions; but on account of the audacity of his spirit, and the keenness of his satire, did not always readily find a publisher for his articles. In 1813, being then a resident of Belmont county, Ohio, he determined to start a paper of his own. In August, 1813, the first number of the Ohio Federalist appeared, at St. Clairsville. It was a super-royal sheet, published by John Barry, for C. Hammond. Its motto was characteristic—a quotation from Cowper, in these words:

"In freedom's field advancing firm his foot,
He plants it on the line that Justice draws,
And will prevail, or perish in her cause."

In 1817 the Federalist was discontinued. In 1816 Mr. Hammond was elected a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, for Belmont county; and he was re-elected in 1817, 1818 and 1820. In 1822, having been unsuccessful in agricultural speculations, by which he had hoped to make a fortune, he removed to Cincinnati, for the purpose of pursuing his profession closely, and, as he said, determined to let newspapers and politics alone. He was not able to keep that determination.

During 1823 and 1824 he wrote frequently on local and national questions. In 1825 he succeeded Benjamin F. Powers, as editor of the Cincinnati Gazette. It was then published semi-weekly, and its motto was—"Measures, not Men." It became a daily in June, 1827, and Mr. Hammond was its editor till 1830, without a salary. He then demanded $1000 per annum, and it was paid him for a few years, after which he received one-third of the profits, until April third, 1840, when, in the sixty-first year of his age, he died.

In 1823, when the office of Reporter for the Supreme Court of Ohio was created, Mr. Hammond was appointed to fill it. He was the Reporter until 1838, when he retired from the bar. The first nine volumes of Ohio Reports were by him.

As a legislator and as an editor Charles Hammond was an earnest advocate of a general system of internal improvement, and of a thorough common school system. He was with the friends of education when the first general law for the encouragement of schools was passed, in 1821; and in 1836, while he stood alone among the political editors of Cincinnati, in vigorous rebuke of the abolition riots, which, by attempts to destroy the liberty of the press, disgraced that city, he was foremost among those who cheered the self-sacrificing friends of education, then laboring for an intelligent revision of the school law of 1825.

As a journalist, Mr. Hammond described himself when, in answer to strictures upon the Gazette in 1832, he defined what he thought an editor ought to be:

The legitimate vocation of a newspaper, is to circulate useful intelligence, and promulgate just and impartial views of public affairs. An editor should be one in whom confidence could be reposed, for soundness of judgment, integrity of purpose, and independence of conduct. He should possess varied knowledge and large experience; and he should feel his station to be rather that of a judge dispensing justice, than that of an advocate making out a case. He should be zealous of the truth, and of that chiefly; and he should feel that to deceive purposely, was infamous; to deceive from credulity or inattention, highly reprehensible. He should distinctly comprehend that those who differ from him, might be as honest as himself, and as well informed too; and he should know how to respect, while he opposes them.

In a poem, published soon after Mr. Hammond's death, William D. Gallagher fitly characterized him:

Man had his sympathies, not men!
   The whole he loved and not a part!
And to the whole he gave his pen,
   His years, his heart.

*  *  *  *  *  *

He asked no leader in the fight—
   No "times and seasons " sought to know—
But when convinced his cause was right,
   He struck the blow.

While editor of the Gazette Mr. Hammond often indulged the talent for satirical verses, manifested by him when a boy-but upon political or local topics. In earlier life he wrote several poems of more than ordinary merit, and he was always prompt to recognize and encourage evidences of poetic abilities among the young men and women of the West.

Charles Wells Hammond was one of 14 children born to George Hammond and his wife Elizabeth Wells.

George Hammond and his wife Elizabeth Wells were early settlers of what is now Brooke County, West Virginia, moving there from Baltimore County, Maryland about 1787 when it was still part of Ohio County, Virginia. Members of old Maryland families, George was born October 29, 1748 in Baltimore County to Benjamin and Margarite (Talbot) Hammond, and Elizabeth was born February 4, 1758 at Garrison Forest, Baltimore County, to Francis and Ann (Tevis) Wells. George secured a license to marry Elizabeth on June 11, 1779, and at least their first five children were born in Baltimore County before their move west. They purchased 50 acres on Buffalo Creek in Ohio County on October 6, 1788 from Charles and Elizabeth Wells, and later enlarged their holdings there. George and Elizabeth were parents of fourteen children who survived to adulthood, although there are still questions about the order of birth for some of their children. George died October 27, 1813 at home, and his widow died April 8, 1830 at East Springfield, Ohio, at the home of their son Harry. George and Elizabeth were buried on their farm, but their remains were later removed to Brooke Cemetery in Wellsburg where their gravestones can still be seen. [George & Elizabeth (Wells) Hammond, Brooke County, West Virginia Genealogy]

A Life of Charles Hammond: The First Great Journalist of the Old Northwest
Francis Phelps Weisenburger
43 (4) Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly 337 (1934)

Biographical Sketch


Charles Hammond, Strictures Upon the Constitutional Powers of the Congress and Courts of the United States Over the Execution Laws of the Several States in Their Application to the Federal Courts (Cincinnati: Morgan, Lodge, and Fisher, 1825)


Roswell Marsh, Biography: The Life of Charles Hammond, of Cincinnati, Ohio (Steubenville, Ohio: Printed at the Steubenville Herald Office, 1863)

William Henry Smith, Charles Hammond and His Relations to Henry Clay and John Quincy Adams, or, Constitutional Limitations and the Contest for Freedom of Speech and the Press. An address delivered before the Chicago Historical Society, May 20, 1884 ([Chicago]: Pub. for the Chicago Historical Society, 1885) [online text]

"Charles Hammond," in William Coyle (ed.), Ohio Authors and Their Books 270 (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1962)

Research Resources

Charles Hammond Papers
Ohio Historical Society
Columbus, Ohio