Grant had a lifelong love of horses.

Hear what Ulysses had to say about things like school, work, and hanging out. Learn what happened to him when he left the familiar comforts of home and family behind. Find out what it was like to walk In His Shoes. Is it anything like walking in your own?

Chapter 1: Child of the Frontier
Chapter 2: School Days
Chapter 3: Work
Chapter 4: Horsing Around
Chapter 5: Leaving Home 

Child of the Frontier

I was born on the 27th of April, 1822, at Point Pleasant, Clermont County, Ohio. 
-- Ulysses S. Grant

All things considered, Ulysses had a pretty good childhood. Georgetown, Ohio, was a prosperous town, and his father Jesse did better than most men in it. Jesse was able to expand their house to accommodate Ulysses and his younger siblings (two brothers and three sisters). While there was lots of work to do around the family tannery, there were also plenty of books to read, rivers to fish and swim in, and horses to ride.


Story: How do you get a name like "Ulysses," anyway?

What did his parents do... just pick it out of a hat or something?

According to one of Grant's biographers, that's exactly what they did.

Apparently, the young Mr. and Mrs. Grant were having a hard time deciding on a name for their oldest child. So, relatives dropped suggestions into a hat. Suggestions included "Theodore" and "Albert," but the names finally drawn were "Hiram" and "Ulysses."

The story goes that Grandfather Simpson dropped both of these names into the hat. He suggested Hiram because he thought it was a handsome name. Supposedly, he got the name Ulysses from Greek mythology. So, the boy was named "Hiram Ulysses Grant." But his father never called him Hiram, only Ulysses.  

-- adapted from Hamlin Garland (1898)


See results from a poll about Grant's Family

 


 

Memoirs Excerpt: Grant's Family Tree

Mathew Grant, the founder of the branch in America, of which I am a descendant, reached Dorchester, Massachusetts, in May, 1630...

My great grandfather, Noah Grant, and his younger brother, Solomon, held commissions in the English army, in 1756, in the war against the French and Indians. Both were killed that year.

My grandfather, also named Noah, was then but nine years old. At the breaking out of the war of the Revolution, after the battles of Concord and Lexington, he went with a Connecticut company to join the Continental army, and was present at the battle of Bunker Hill... He married in Connecticut during the war, had two children, and was a widower at the close...

My grandfather married a Miss Kelly and in 1799 he emigrated... to Ohio, and settled where the town of Deerfield now stands. He had now five children... My father, Jesse R. Grant, was the second child -- oldest son, by the second marriage.

My grandmother Grant died in 1805... [My grandfather] was not thrifty in the way of "laying up stores on earth," and, after the death of his second wife, he went, with the two youngest children, to live with his son Peter... [My father] remained with the Tod family only a few years, until old enough to learn a trade...

My father setup for himself in business, establishing a tannery at Ravenna... In a few years he removed from Ravenna, and set up the same business at Point Pleasant, Clermont County, Ohio...

[My father's] thirst for education was intense... Books were scarce in the Western Reserve during his youth, but he read every book he could borrow in the neighborhood where he lived. This scarcity gave him the early habit of studying everything he read, so that when he got through with a book, he knew everything in it... Even after reading the daily papers... he could give all the important information they contained... 

-- Ulysses S. Grant (1885)


Interview: Geoffrey Perret on Life on the Frontier

I think it's important that Grant grew up on what was then the Western frontier. The line of permanent settlements in the 1820s runs more or less along that Indiana -- through Indiana and Kentucky and southwestern Ohio. And that in some ways was the most dynamic part of the country in terms of its evolution. It was not a provincial backwater, strangely enough. It was both a provincial backwater compared with places like Boston, Philadelphia, New York, but it was also a place where something important is happening to American society and in American politics.

And where the great national drama, great moral drama of slavery is being played out. This is where Northern abolitionists are establishing underground railroad stations to help blacks escaping from the South. And these issues then were part of what Grant grew up with.

Life on the frontier was very hard. Grant's father is one of the exceptions. He's not, you know, the least bit typical. His father was a tremendous success. (Most of the people who went out to the frontier were poor, and they were poor until the day they died.) Very few people prospered on the frontier. It was an uncertain and difficult place. But there was this belief that, because it's new (and this is an American, very American belief) that if something is new, somehow it's-- it's got to be better. Being different is somehow better. Being new is somehow better. And I'm sure there was a lot of that sentiment, that attracted people out there to begin with after people who were born there, like Grant, that is part of the atmosphere in which grows up of -- living in a country with infinite possibilities.


Max Byrd on Grant's parents

Jesse was determined to be prosperous and a family man. He drew up a little schedule of his life. At age 25, he was going to take a wife and he very nearly did. He was a few years late, but he had a schedule. He was going to be orderly and systematic and, above all, very prosperous and stable.

Jesse Grant was a hard man. He was a braggart and a blowhard. He arrived in the town of Point Pleasant, Ohio and one week later he had sent his first letter to the editor. And after that, it seemed it was a never ending stream of opinions from Jesse. He was not a, an incapable man. He was self-taught. In part, this was a reaction against his own father's, uh, ignorance, uh, as he saw it. He had the largest library in his part of Ohio. Thirty-five books. And there's every reason to think that the young Grant read them through or, or read in them. But Jesse made everybody mad. He got on people's nerves.

There was a hard side to him. He was a hard businessman, for one thing. Not known to show mercy in business dealings. And he was very successful. He had the first brick house in town. And that hard brick outside was sort of Jesse's hard brick inside, too. He was tough.

I have a line in my book, uh, horrible mother, worse father. I think Hannah Grant was, was an extraordinarily difficult woman to be around. Grant must have imbibed his habit of silence from her. She was notorious for her silence, which often came across as piety. She was thought to be a pious woman. She thought almost everything that came up was somehow offensive and sensual. She was always on guard against pride. And being quiet was one not to catch yourself being proud.

When Grant accomplished something she said nothing. And she showed very little affection. There's an anecdote of Grant going next door to say good-bye to a neighbor lady when he goes off to West Point. And she hugs him and gives him a kiss and wishes him well. And Grant's very surprised. He said, "In my family, we don't do that." And I think he meant his mother didn't do that. When Grant was president, she never went to visit him. When Grant came home actually, I think after -- after Vicksburg. She said something like, "Well, Ulysses, I guess you're a great man now," and turned around and walked into the next room and went to the kitchen -- just left him.

So she was a difficult person to be around with. A very withholding person. And part of Grant took after her.

Next: Ulysses at School


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