Salmon P. Chase

Salmon P. Chase was a senator, governor, Treasury secretary and chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. He started out in Keene (briefly) as a teacher.

Ithamar Chase was a resident of Cornish when he married Janette Ralston of Keene in 1792. Janette was the daughter of Alexander Ralston, owner of the Ralston Tavern in Keene. Shortly after the death of Alexander Ralston in 1810, the Chases, with their several children, moved to Keene so that Ithamar could operate the tavern.

One of their sons was Salmon, named after an uncle. This young boy first attended school in Keene in what he called “a dark room on Main Street.” He later studied under Rev. Zedekiah Barstow at the old Wyman Tavern. Barstow later recalled that young Salmon was a raw and uncouth lad, but very talented and an apt scholar.

Ithamar Chase invested his wife’s inheritance into Keene’s glass industry. The glass business failed and Ithamar Chase died in 1817, leaving the family quite poor. Consequently, the Chases’ young son went to Ohio to live with his uncle in 1820.

He soon returned to Keene and completed his studies with Barstow. Salmon Chase was then hired to teach in the District No. 3 schoolhouse in neighboring Roxbury. At the age of 15, he was younger and smaller than some of his pupils. One account of his time there indicates that some of the older boys did not care for his teaching and carried him outside where they deposited him in the snowbank. The school committee felt that he could not handle the job and released him after two weeks. Chase then went on to study at Dartmouth, where he graduated in 1826. Following graduation, he went to Washington, D.C., to study law and opened a practice in Cincinnati four years later.

Chase became interested in politics and was elected a United States senator from Ohio at age 41 and later governor of Ohio. Chase ran for president in 1860, but the nomination went to Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln won the election and appointed Chase as his secretary of the Treasury.

Chase was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1864. He held the position until his death and was honored by having his portrait placed on the $10,000 bill.

From his humble beginnings in Keene, Chase went on to become one of the most distinguished statesmen of his day.

Alan F. Rumrill is executive director of the Historical Society of Cheshire County, which has been collecting, preserving and sharing the history of the region since 1927. It’s on Main Street. To learn more about its public programs and collections, visit hsccnh.org.