Ralph Leland Goodrich
In his youth, Ralph Leland Goodrich sought to be
different. He was not content to blend in with the other sons of subsistence
farmers from the Susquehanna River village of Tioga, New York. Neither would he
settle for some menial trade or clerk's position in the nearby county seat of
Owego. He longed for the respect, wealth, and social standing that only a
professional position might offer. He was determined to be an attorney, a
physician, or an educator. The idea of being a minister had also crossed his
mind, but the pay was generally poor and the sacrifices were judged to be too
great. It was imperative that he achieve a level of comfort and freedom from
want. A quality education was necessary.
parents were Silas and Mary Ann Goodrich. Silas came from
Connecticut to Tioga County with his father, Eliakim Goodrich, when but nine years
old. A local obituary for Silas claims that "In childhood, youth, and manhood, he secured the affection, and respect of
all who knew him. As a neighbor, he was so peaceable, kind, and respectful, that
he made many friends, and no enemies." Though "peaceable and
kind," Silas never prospered greatly in his chosen profession as a farmer.
On land that he inherited from his father, Silas raised livestock, grew staples
such as buckwheat and corn, and supplemented the family income by selling eggs,
apples, maple sugar, and sometimes timber in the local markets. But reversals
and sickness often operated against his ever achieving financial security.
Silas -- like many others of his kin -- sought a wife, he went looking for a
relative from the old blue state of Connecticut. Silas chose a distant cousin
named Mary, the daughter of Jeremiah Goodrich and Jemima Tryon, of Wethersfield.
She was nine years his junior and in her mid-twenties when they wed. A short,
rotund woman, Mary had chestnut brown hair and dark eyes. Life in upstate New
York did not suit her at first. She longed for the social circles she left
behind in the heavy populated and cultivated region of the Connecticut River
valley south of Hartford. She was particularly close to a brother named Elizur,
a Hartford merchant in partnership with John Olmstead (father of Frederick Law
Sometime prior to 1830, Silas built a
timber frame home on his property near Glen Mary, west of Owego Creek. This
two-story Greek Revival structure with a hand-dug root cellar and brick
fireplace, became the childhood home of Ralph Goodrich and his two brothers and
four sisters whose birth years spanned from 1829 to 1842. By the time Ralph and
his twin sister Rachel were born in August 1836, Silas had constructed an
addition onto the back of the house that expanded the kitchen and provided a
bedroom on the second floor with a separate winding staircase to the main level
for the three boys who would rise early to complete their daily farm chores
without disturbing the rest of the family. In
later years, when the children moved away, Mary would rent this low-ceilinged
bedroom to boarders.
All of the Goodrich children
attended the local district schools and the four youngest, including Ralph,
attended the local Owego Academy -- a subscription school at the high school
level. Though two daughters attended female seminaries, Ralph was the only child
destined to attend college.
Neither of Ralph's two
brothers appeared to hold any desire for furthering their education. James, the
eldest son, seemed to detest school. He labored as a farmer in New York and in
Kansas Territory until the Civil War whereupon he joined the 5th Kansas Cavalry
for three years. After the war, he worked as a civilian teamster until he was
tragically trampled to death by run-away mules in a wagon train he was leading
into Indian territory. His letters suggest that he had only a
Stephen, the youngest son,
appears to have shunned his schoolwork as well, though he did manage to continue
his education through the district school. Stephen carried on the farming
tradition of his father but supplemented his income by selling sand and gravel
from his property and clerking in town.
the other hand, aspired to go to college and prepared himself accordingly. He
yearned to go to Yale or Harvard, had friends who were attending Wesleyan and Williams, but recognized that the depth of his pocket would only allow him
entrance at a local, less expensive college. His parents pledged what they could
for his education, and he sought the rest from his Uncle Elizur,
the wealthy Hartford merchant. In 1855, Ralph entered Hobart Free College in nearby
Geneva, New York -- an established Episcopal school.
in college at Hobart, Goodrich mingled with students from all walks of life.
True, most were from his home state. But many were sons of Episcopalians from
Southern states where there was a dearth of colleges. Here in the debate
classrooms on the shores of Lake Seneca, Ralph witnessed first hand the dramatic
sectional differences in culture and politics expressed by the students from the
North and the South on the eve of the Civil War. For some inexplicable reason,
Goodrich seemed to favor the Southern lifestyle. He didn't object to slavery.
His Southern friends had convinced him that the abolitionists were only stirring
up trouble, misrepresenting the institution and slandering their fathers. To
Goodrich, life in the South held a certain charm and he longed to visit or
possibly live there one day.
Hobart Free College in 1858, Goodrich returned to his parents home near Owego, New
York and began to read law in the law office of Nathaniel Davis and Willoughby
Babcock. For over a year, Goodrich prepared himself to take the bar exam. When
he failed to pass the exam in November 1859, Goodrich attributed the failure to
bad luck rather than his obvious lack of preparation. It was a humiliation too
deep to bear and he determined to leave his hometown as soon as a suitable
position might be found somewhere as a school teacher.
diaries that follow span the period from 1859 to 1867, taking Goodrich from New
York, to South Carolina, to Florida, and finally to Arkansas where he found a
home and (eventually) a career in the capitol of Little Rock. For completeness,
I have included several letters written both prior to and following the period
of time covered by the diaries.
One final comment
about the Goodrich diaries which are housed in the archives of the Arkansas
History Commission; only portions of two of the twelve separate diaries had
actually been transcribed prior to this undertaking. For reference purposes, the
diaries of Ralph Leland Goodrich include:
1: July 21, 1859 to February 6, 1860
2: February 7, 1860 to May 15, 1860
3: May 16, 1860 to August 18, 1860
4: August 19, 1860 to October 22, 1860
5: October 23, 1860 to March 10, 1861
6: February 14, 1861
7: April 7, 1862 to October 31, 1863
8: November 1, 1863 to March 18, 1864
9: January 30, 1865 (diary fragment)
10: March 19, 1865 to April 8, 1867
11: July 1, 1866 to September 16, 1866
12: No date (diary fragment)
was faithful to his diary during this period, making entries on nearly every day
though they were sometimes cryptic. There is an occasional gap in the record
caused by page losses and even longer gaps in the record toward the end of 1864,
1865, and 1866 as Goodrich slumped into a an ever-increasing state of insobriety.
no diary remains from the one year period between April 1861 through March 1862.
It was during this period that Goodrich served in the Confederate army. From
September 1861 to March 1862, Goodrich was a volunteer in Company A of the 6th
Arkansas Infantry, also known as the Capital Guards. Within days of enlisting,
Goodrich accompanied his unit to Kentucky and wintered near Bowling Green. It
does not appear that Goodrich was ever engaged in battle. Following Grant's
capture of Confederate Forts Henry and Donaldson early in 1862, the 6th Arkansas
was withdrawn through Tennessee into northern Mississippi. Goodrich appears to
have obtained a medical disability discharge that fortuitously enabled him to
return to Little Rock just prior to the Battle of Shiloh. Years later, the 6th
Arkansas would proudly earn the sobriquet, "First in, Last out." But
for Goodrich, his military career might best be described as "Last in,
First out" (as documented by company muster rolls). In my opinion, it would have been
uncharacteristic for Goodrich to not have kept a diary during this momentous
episode of his life, but if one was kept, it has long since been either destroyed or
mislaid. It seems clear that Goodrich quickly came to realize that he was
risking his life for a cause that he did not fully embrace and so he shamelessly
sought a medical disability discharge -- considered necessary at the time but
perhaps proving somewhat unmanly and embarrassing to him in later years. Almost no evidence remains of
Goodrich's Confederate service, and this may be intentional.