- Historic Sites
“We Are All Descended From Grandfathers!”
and… …a glimpse at the grandfathers of the candidates exhibits the wonderful diversity of American life
June 1964 | Volume 15, Issue 4
By the time the railroad and the telegraph came to Phoenix and Prescott, homes of the two main Goldwater stores, Big Mike was getting ready for a rest. In 1883 he retired to live out his remaining twenty years in San Francisco, and the stores in Phoenix and Prescott were carried on by his two able sons, Morris and Baron, the latter the father of the present candidate. There were, to be sure, three wilder boys, one of them a wandering ne’er-do-well, one a salesman, one a professional faro dealer in the Northwest. All this is in the frontier tradition, although the trio drops out of the prosperous scene into which Barry Goldwater was born in 1906. Barry was three years too late to see Big Mike, but not too late to come under his strong individualistic influence. Meanwhile, the enterprise that began in a peddler’s wagon was doing ten million dollars’ worth of business by 1962, the year in which the family sold out to a chain and, one might say, brought the private Goldwater frontier to a close.
“Richard Milhous Nixon is an authentic product of the American pioneer tradition,” says William Costello in The Facts About Nixon , a book published during the 1960 campaign. “On both sides of his family he traces his ancestors back to Colonial times. In the main they were farmers, artisans, tradesmen.… In the words of his wife, Pat, ‘We come from typical everyday American families that have had to work for what they got out of life but always knew there was unlimited opportunity.…’ Like most Americans, Nixon is barely a generation removed from the soil. He has no ties with what passes today for an aristocracy.…”
It would be hard to argue with Mr. Costello, or with Mrs. Nixon, in their estimates of the long, useful, unspectacular record of the Nixons in America. A George Nixon fought at the Battle of Princeton in 1777, and the grandson of this old Revolutionary soldier, another George Nixon, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1821, married a lady named Margaret Ann Trimmer. They were living in Washington County in that state when she gave birth to Richard Nixon’s paternal grandfather, Samuel Brady Nixon, on October 9, 1847. In 1853, the growing family moved westward to a farm in Elk Township, Ohio. Subsequently George Nixon, who was then forty, enlisted in Company B, 73rd Ohio Infantry, and died of wounds received at Gettysburg. Not long after his widow also died, leaving eight orphan children—that endlessly recurring tragedy in the annals of plain people.
It is known that Samuel Brady Nixon married in 1873, bringing his bride, Sarah Ann Wadsworth, a storekeeper’s daughter, to live on a farm in Swan Township, Vinton County, Ohio. The former Vice President’s father, Francis Anthony Nixon, was born in 1878. When Sarah Ann died Frank was only seven, and was sent to live with his uncle. The boy left school in the fourth grade, becoming a farm hand and Jack-of-all-trades, drifting with the tide of anonymous migrants to southern California. At various times he was a potato farmer, a sheeprancher, a painter, and a trolley motorman in Los Angeles. The country end of his run was in the town of Whittier, where he married into the Milhous family; they were Quakers who had helped settle the community of Friends. Frank Nixon became a Quaker too. In 1912 he bought some land in Yorba Linda and planted a lemon grove, which proved to be a failure. How could he know, as he sold out, that oil would later be discovered under the unfruitful trees? Eventually he started a filling station in Whittier and this prospered enough to provide for a frugal, strict, but happy household, one which might have been indistinguishable from hundreds and thousands like it—except for what would happen later to the second son, Richard.
But for this boy, the grandfather too would belong to the vast anonymous company of the ordinary dead. He farmed. He taught school, according to the few available facts. He is known to have carried the mail from the depot at Orland, Ohio, to the post office at Hue. After his wife died he married again, had another son, died in 1914, and was buried in the New Plymouth Cemetery—facts which can be gleaned from the files of the Republican Tribune of McArthur, Ohio. Thus ends the story of Samuel Brady Nixon, the exception among the seven elders considered here, the prover of the rule, a common man untainted by aristocracy, unscarred by worldly success.
The city of Scranton, Pennsylvania, owes its founding to two fairly rich properties: a deep seam of clean-burning anthracite coal, which is now pretty well played out, and a family named Scranton, which seems on the contrary to possess infinite durability. The Scrantons came originally from Guildford, England, to East Guilford (now Madison), Connecticut. By the mid-eighteenth century they held military office, property, and slaves in that land of steady habits; by the mid-nineteenth some of them had pushed westward over the Poconos to the Lackawanna Valley of Pennsylvania, rich in coal, iron, and opportunity. They began smelting in a little village called Slocum Hollow, and by the time the smelter had grown big, the town was named for them. Railroads came, especially the Lackawanna, “The Route of Anthracite” (and spotless Phoebe Snow), and everything prospered.