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.
Goodrich’s 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 acquired from his relatives, 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.
When 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 in March 1828. 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 where her ancestors had lived for generations. She was particularly close to a brother named Elizur, a Hartford Dry Goods merchant in partnership with John Olmsted (father of Frederick Law Olmsted).
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 rudimentary education, perhaps compounded by deafness at an early age.
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.
Ralph on 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.
While 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.
Graduating from 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.
The diaries that follow span the period from 1859 to 1867, taking Goodrich from his home town of Owego, 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. I have also included an alphabetized index to all of the names of people mentioned by Goodrich in his 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:
Diary 1: July 21, 1859 to February 6, 1860
Diary 2: February 7, 1860 to May 15, 1860
Diary 3: May 16, 1860 to August 18, 1860
Diary 4: August 19, 1860 to October 22, 1860
Diary 5: October 23, 1860 to March 10, 1861
Diary 6: February 14, 1861
Diary 7: April 7, 1862 to October 31, 1863
Diary 8: November 1, 1863 to March 18, 1864
Diary 9: January 30, 1865 (diary fragment)
Diary 10: March 19, 1865 to April 8, 1867
Diary 11: July 1, 1866 to September 16, 1866
Diary 12: No date (diary fragment)
Goodrich 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.
Regrettably, 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 marched out of Little Rock with his comrades on their way to Kentucky but it does not appear Goodrich made it any farther than Memphis. Evidently he became ill and was hospitalized there for a time. We have evidence of his being in Franklin, Tennessee, in February 1862 but apparently still too ill to join his comrades encamped near Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Following Grant’s capture of Confederate Forts Henry and Donaldson early in 1862, the 6th Arkansas was withdrawn through Tennessee into northern Mississippi and Goodrich joined them in this retreat. Shortly thereafter, he 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 he was risking his life for a cause 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. His subsequent diary entries mention his efforts to avoid conscription throughout the remainder of the conflict in war-besieged Little Rock.
To listen to a song about Ralph Leland Goodrich written & performed by Little Rock artist Tucker Cummins, click here.