Happy birthday, Mr. Governor: A profile of Tiffin — doctor and politician
By Vicki Johnson
Edward Tiffin, the man who would become Ohio’s first governor and Tiffin’s namesake, was born 250 years ago in Carlisle, England, in June 1766.
The city was named after Edward Tiffin by city founder Josiah Hedges after he served with Tiffin in the Northwest Territory legislature.
“Hedges did it as more of a political gains deal,” said David Misner, who portrays Tiffin as a living history figure. “But what better person to have a town named after than Edward Tiffin?
“He was a prominent political figure at that time, even so much so that George Washington wrote a letter of recommendation to the governor of the Northwest Territory at that time in order to let him know this man was very well versed in law, very learned and very fair.
“It was unusual to have that type of letter in the political realm,” he said. “That’s how he actually was pulled into the whole political system.”
Misner, who has been portraying Tiffin for about two years, is a Tiffin native who graduated from Columbian High School in 1995 and now lives in Florida with his wife, Samantha, and their sons Cody and Brogan and daughter Kayl.
He said he lived in Tiffin a couple years ago when some of Tiffin’s history leaders started talking about celebrating the 250th anniversary of his birth.
“I was on the Winterfest committee and Mary Lewis had mentioned they were still looking for an Edward Tiffin,” he said. “The more I thought about it, the more I thought I could do it.”
He recently had completed three years in military service, and he said he always enjoyed historical re-enacting.
“I got with Mary and that’s kind of how it started from there,” he said.
Misner said a portrayal of Tiffin was the brainchild of Ken Davison, a professor at Heidelberg University.
“He has really studied Edward Tiffin,” Misner said.
And Misner, in turn, has researched the city’s namesake. The family traveled back to their hometown for the birthday party at Tiffin-Seneca Heritage Festival in September and to pass along their knowledge.
Misner said he didn’t know much about Edward Tiffin when he decided to portray him, and said not many people in the area know the former governor’s story so he’s happy to let people know about what he’s learned.
“That’s the thing I’ve enjoyed the most about it,” he said. “You really dig deep to find information about the person you’re portraying.”
The problem becomes condensing the information into a short presentation when talking to people, he said.
Most of his information is from a book published in 1897 called “Life of Edward Tiffin, first governor of Ohio,” by William Edward Gilmore.
Misner said Gilmore was assisted in writing the book by Tiffin’s youngest daughter soon after his death.
In the back of the book, Misner said, there’s a description of Tiffin, and he said he looks a bit like him, except Misner is 4 inches taller.
“He only sat for one portrait and it was done on a tintype,” he said.
The portraits of him are taken from the tintype and the details were added by artists.
“The biggest thing that piqued my interest is the fact that has was such as American patriot even though he was born in Carlisle, England,” Misner said. “He was willing to dive in and take what George Washington was doing and run with it. And he was not even born in this country.
“He was just able to jump on board to help Ohio become what Ohio is today,” he said. “He was an intelligent man.”
Misner said Tiffin was first and foremost a doctor. At age 12, Tiffin was apprenticed to a doctor in England, and by the time the family emigrated to Virginia in 1783, he was in his late teens and ready to set up his own medical practice.
However, Tiffin wasn’t allowed to practice medicine without certification, so he attended Jefferson School of Medicine.
“He went in and took three lectures and then he was able to get his certificate and start practicing medicine,” Misner said. “He actually had one the bigger and more prominent practices in Virginia for a while.”
Tiffin also was a lay minister in the Methodist church.
He married Mary Worthington while in Virginia.
“She was from the family that ended up founding Worthington, Ohio, but at that time they were in Virginia,” he said. “Her parents had slaves.”
He inherited the plantation and the slaves when Mary’s parents died. He then set the slaves free and sold the estate. Some of the slaves remained with the family and worked for the Tiffins.
“That’s when they moved north to the Northwest Territory, to the area that would become Chillicothe.
“He was the first and only doctor in Chillicothe for a while,” Misner said.
It was during that time that his political career started.
“He didn’t really want to get into politics,” Misner said. “He was studying law, so he ended up becoming a lawyer as well, and was eventually a judge.”
March 3, 1803, he was inaugurated as Ohio’s first governor in Chillicothe, Ohio’s original capital.
“Edward Tiffin is not only was he the first governor of Ohio, he was head of the legislature that wrote the Constitution that made Ohio become a state,” Misner said.
During his time as governor of the brand-new state, Tiffin faced several challenges.
According to Ohio History Connection, there was tension with American Indians, especially with the Shawnee and chief Tecumseh, who wanted to unite native tribes against people invading their territory in Ohio and the Indiana Territory.
“Tiffin also was concerned with the British in Canada and along the Great Lakes, including on American soil,” the History Connection website said. “The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolution, required the British to withdraw all of their soldiers from America. The British failed to do this. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, the British provided natives, including Tecumseh, with weapons to battle the United States.
“Tiffin was re-elected as governor in 1805, remaining in office until Jan. 1, 1807.
“In 1807, the state legislature selected Tiffin to replace Thomas Worthington as a senator in the United States Senate. Tiffin resigned the position in 1809, hoping to return home to continue his medical practice.
However, he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives and his fellow legislators selected him as speaker of the House.”
It was during these years that Mary Worthington died after 19 years of marriage. They had no children. Tiffin then married Mary Porter in 1809, and they had five children — four girls and one boy.
In 1812, Ohio History Connection said President James Madison named Tiffin chief commissioner of the U.S. General Land Office. When the British invaded Washington during the War of 1812, Tiffin moved the records of his office so they would not be seized or destroyed.
In 1814, Tiffin became surveyor general of the northwest, which allowed him to return to Ohio. He served as the surveyor general until his death.
As surveyor general, it was Tiffin who set up the division of the state into counties and townships.
“His main contribution was making sure county lines were symmetrical,” Misner said, “to keep people from selling the same property two or three times.”
Misner said Tiffin also was instrumental in improving roads.
He knew the need for better roads first hand because he rode horseback to tend to his patients.
“Tiffin didn’t use a wagon or buggy, but he rode on horseback to tend to his patients,” he said. “He didn’t stop for weather.
“He knew every single path in middle to southern Ohio, which helped him later decide where roads should go.”
Tiffin also helped to improve the mail system and the judicial system.
Misner said he was one of the first to debunk the Arron Burr conspiracy. Burr, who was vice president at the time, allegedly was trying to make Texas and the Louisiana Purchase into a separate country.
“What he wanted to do was go down and reclaim it and wanted to make it another country separate from United States,” Misner said.
Burr was convicted of treason and imprisoned.
“A lot of this all started with Edward Tiffin finding out about this and taking action,” Misner said.
“One of biggest things, too, for me is the whole time he did all this, what he really wanted to do is practice medicine,” Misner said.
He treated people of all classes and all injuries and illnesses. Malaria, which was a common illness carried by mosquitoes, was his downfall. The illness confined him to his bed.
But that didn’t stop him from helping his patients.
“He was actually in bed sick, and he made his workers bring his patents to his bed so he could continue to practice medicine.”
Tiffin died in 1829 at age 63 before he an opportunity to visit the city named after him.