Thursday, October 9, 2014

MILHOLLAND | Sept. 26–John, Sr., Dies, 1895

John Milholland (1819-1895)
John Milholland, father of John E. Milholland and grandfather of Inez Milholland, died in Paterson, N.J. on September 26, 1895.

I have some papers relating to his investment in electricity generation in Essex County, N.Y. but not much is known about him except what his son John E. Milholland wrote about him in his diaries.

Here is the one-paragraph obit in the New York Times, Friday, September 27, 1895, p. 8.
John E. Milholland’s Father Dead  Paterson, N.J., September 26. - John Milholland, 77 years old, father of John E. Milholland of New-York, died here to-day. He was a widower. He was born in the north of Ireland, and came to America when young. He was for many years a farmer. Since 1870 he has made his home with his daughter, Mrs. B. J. Worden of this city. He leaves five children.
John E. Milholland (1860-1925) grave.

At the time of his father's death in 1895, John E. Milholland (1860-1925) was riding high. In 1894 his anti-Platt organization in New York City was strong. He disbanded it in 1895. He was a  newspaper editor, labor negotiator, and developer of tubes for mail delivery.

John E. Milholland was born in 1860 on the "Meadowmount" property in Lewis, NY. After a fire that killed his mother and a sister, John Milholland took his son back to Derry in Ireland. John E. Milholland writes of the fire in his diary with great emotion.

The Milhollands returned to the United States. John E. Milholland attracted the interest of a local Congressman in New York City, who arranged for his tuition to be paid. Milholland became editor of the Ticonderoga paper and then the NY Tribune. At the Tribune, John E. became famous for settling the printers' strike with the help of his brother, who was the shop steward of the printing plant.

He organized the Pneumatic Tube Company which built the underground mail tube system in NY. His daughter Inez had a big dispute with him over some ethical issue in the handling of his business affairs. He sold the NY system to the Boston Company. He then built the system for Philadelphia and got a ten-year contract to carry U.S. Mail. He used the money to improve his Meadowmount estate.

He was also one of the last of the Lincoln Republicans, certainly in New York State by the time he died. In 1905, he wrote a book called The Negro and the Nation. It is extensively sourced by Shawn Leigh Alexander in his book An Army of Lions: The Civil Rights Struggle Before the NAACP.  John E. fought the Republican Platt Machine in New York City. As a Scotch-Irish American, he was a staunch Presbyterian.

Milholland took out a one-year lease at 500 Fifth Avenue for the Constitution League, which he founded and had racial injustices at the top of its agenda, including (on its letterhead) over-incarceration, especially racial minorities.

W. E. B. Du Bois was one of his partners in this cause and was involved with the Constitution League in 1906 when it took on a military case. Mary Church Terrell, a civil rights advocate, representing the League, met with Secretary of War William Howard Taft to discuss the Brownsville affair. She asked Taft to suspend the soldiers’ dismissal and to rehear of the case. Meanwhile the League did its own research and succeeded in getting Senate hearings. These interventions resulted in reinstatement of only 14 soldiers out of 167. Sergeant Saunders, 1st sergeant of Company B, 25th Infantry and the recipient of an extant letter dated December 8, 1906 from Terrell with her papers in the Library of Congress Manuscript Division (ID #na011), remained dismissed after 25 years' service, less than two years short of retirement with a pension. In 1972 the army conducted a new investigation and the order of 1906 was reversed but there was only one survivor, Dorsie Willis, who received some compensation.

Milholland was the first Treasurer of the NAACP when it was formed in 1909, perhaps the only WASP member of the founding board. The formation of the NAACP followed the race riots in Springfield, Mass. in 1908. The President was Moorfield Storey of Boston; the Chairman of the Executive Committee was William English Walling; Treasurer was John E. Milholland; Disbursing Treasurer was Oswald Garrison Villard; Executive Secretary was Frances Blascoer; Director of Publicity and Research was Dr. W. E. B. DuBois (the only African American on the Board).

On May 18, I corrected the Wikipedia entry on the NAACP because it omitted the name of John E. Milholland from among the founders. The following is posted on the website:
5/18/08 John E. Milholland Added to NAACP Entry in Wikipedia as First Treasurer. Until today, the Wikipedia entry for NAACP omitted Milholland from its description of the founders. The founding was scheduled for February 12, 1909, the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, and this is considered the founding date of the NAACP although it actually took place in May. The entry reads as of today: "On May 30, 1909, the Niagara Movement conference took place at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House, from which an organization of more than 40 individuals emerged, calling itself the National Negro Committee. Du Bois played a key role in organizing the event and presided over the proceedings. Also in attendance was African-American journalist and anti-lynching crusader Ida B. Wells-Barnett, co-founder of the NAACP. At a second conference, on May 30, 1910, members formally called the organization the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and elected the first officers (as reported by Mary White Ovington): • National President, Moorfield Storey, Boston • Chairman of the Executive Committee, William English Walling • Treasurer, John E. Milholland (a Lincoln Republican and Presbyterian from New York City and Lewis, NY) • Disbursing Treasurer, Oswald Garrison Villard • Executive Secretary, Frances Blascoer • Director of Publicity and Research, Dr. W. E. B. DuBois."
True to his beliefs, Milholland challenged Wilson's postmaster-general on race issues. He paid a big price. Wilson was reelected in 1916, despite the best efforts of his daughters Inez (who gave her life in the effort) and Vida. John E. Milholland lost both his daughter and his company's contract with the U.S. Post Office.

After 1916, he seems to have taken a big step backward in his ability to finance projects, although his letters continue to show his effort to be generous to the causes he believes in. W. E. B. Du Bois wrote asking for $1,000 for a trip to Europe and John E. Milholland wrote back that this amount was his total giving to the Constitution League.

In his later years he was "land poor" - he had a large property in Essex County but not enough money to maintain the lifestyle he had intended for it. Inez's sister Vida writes that she regrets having squandered her jewelry on travel expenses to accompany Inez in 1916.

In August 1924 he had a Swan Song, as he again complained about the lack of diversity in the "Forward into Light" Pageant that was held on his property.

He died a year later. The Oubliette Library includes a note in the W. E. B. Du Bois Collection from Mrs. Milholland to Du Bois thanking him for his sympathy note. Mrs. Milholland wrote, after John E. died, that his main legacy was the huge Meadowmount property; the bonds were largely worthless. She went about selling off pieces of the property to raise money.  Calvin Tomkins of the New Yorker (soon to be 90 years old, and still writing!), who grew up near the Milhollands, told me he purchased a small piece of the property and sold it decades later.

See also: John E. Milholland and the Platt Machine in New York

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