“Six Cents and a Muskrat Tail”: Ohio Hatter John Scroggs

19th century Hatter illustration

It happens. Sometimes when I am researching one subject I come across something that I can’t resist looking into further. In this case it was an advertisement for a runaway apprentice hatter that took me down, fittingly, a rabbit hole and into the life of an early 19th century Ohio tradesman.

When his father Allen Scroggs (1717-1777) died in early winter of 1777, John Scroggs, Sr. (1766-1796) was only 11 years old. The family lived outside Carlisle Pennsylvania and his widowed mother decided to apprentice her young son to a local builder. When John completed his apprenticeship, likely around 1787 or so, he relocated to the city of Baltimore, Maryland to practice his trade. Shortly after arriving in Baltimore, and establishing himself as a builder, he married a local woman named Frances Hooke (1770-aft. 1811).

John Scroggs, Sr. worked in partnership with two other builders and eventually earned the patronage of fellow Carlisle, Pennsylvania native and prominent Baltimorean General Samuel Smith (1752-1839). Both the construction of General Smith’s Baltimore townhouse and his country home, Montebello, have been attributed to John Scroggs, Sr. and his Baltimore partners. Meanwhile, John and Frances Scroggs started a family, welcoming two daughters and two sons. One of those sons, born in 1794 and named after his father, was barely out of his crib when his father died in 1796.

The Battle of North Point, Maryland, from “The Battle of North Point, a Poem Commemorative of September 12th, 1814, and Other Poems”, 1901.

Frances Scroggs decided to apprentice her young son to a trade, and John Scroggs, Jr. (1794-1861) was bound out to a Baltimore hatter. John Scroggs’ apprenticeship ended right as the United States was entering into the War of 1812. During that conflict, John served as a private in Captain Henry Myers’ Company of the Thirty-ninth Regiment of Maryland Militia during the 1814 British campaign to assault Washington, DC and Baltimore. The Thirty-ninth Regiment played a prominent role in the Battle of North Point on the Patapsco Neck, on September 12, 1814, seven miles southeast from Baltimore. John Scroggs’ regiment held the left-hand side of the American battle line, before being forced to retire after slowing the British advance on the city.

Why and when John Scroggs moved to Ohio is still in question, but in 1822 he married an Ohio woman named Ann Shawke (1798-1882) and was living in the town of Canton, Ohio before March 1824. That month he and another hatter named Jonas Jennings announced the dissolution of their hat-making partnership in the local newspaper. Later that same year John Scroggs took out another advertisement in the Canton newspaper. This time he was advertising for the return of a young man who had been apprenticed to him. This young man was named David Richter and, based on the advertisement (below), he was not worth much to John Scroggs.

John Scrogg’s runaway apprentice advertisement in the Canton Repository newspaper, December 1824.

While what happened to the runaway apprentice has been difficult to determine, his Master’s life is much better documented. John Scroggs continued to live, work and raise his family in Canton, Ohio during the 1820s and 1830s. The Scroggs family grew to include six children and John Scroggs took on civic roles in the community, including serving as the town’s Street Commissioner. After 1839 the family relocated from their home on Tuscarawas Street in Canton to Walnut Street in the town of Bucyrus in Crawford County, where John continued to practice his trade.

The children of John and Ann Scroggs grew up to be successful and active citizens of the community themselves and one son, Jacob Scroggs (1827-1897), went on to be a successful and well-respected attorney in Bucyrus. After the death of John Scroggs from dysentery in 1861, it was Jacob that shepherded his mother’s successful petition for a pension for her late husband’s service during the War of 1812. Several years after the death of his father, Jacob replaced the Scroggs home at the corner of Walnut and Rensselaer Streets in Bucyrus with a new home. Today that home houses the Bucyrus Historical Society.

Still unknown is if anyone ever received the reward of “six cents and a muskrat tail” for the return of apprentice Daniel Richter.

The Scroggs House, and home to the Bucyrus Historical Society in Bucyrus, Ohio. (Source: https://www.bucyrushistoricalsociety.org/)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2021.


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