“The Saddler’s Legacy”: The Hanby Family’s Story Begins with Fairer Than Morning

Rosslyn Elliott signing a copy of Fairer Than Morning at the Everal Barn, Westerville, Ohio

Today, author Rosslyn Elliott launched her first book, Fairer than Morning (Thomas Nelson Publishers, May 2011), at the Everal Barn and Homestead in Westerville. First in “The Saddler’s Legacy” trilogy of historical fiction based on the true story of the Hanby family, this book tells the tale of Will Hanby and Ann Miller.

William Hanby (1808-1880) was born in Pennsylvania, the oldest of five children. After Will’s father died, his mother “bound” nine-year-old Will to a Quaker farmer for six years. In 1823, Will indentured himself to a harness and saddle maker, but ran away to Ohio after three years of mistreatment by his master.

In 1828, Will was working near Somerset, Ohio as a saddler’s apprentice, becoming his partner after eight months. In 1830, he married Ann Miller, his partner’s daughter.  The next year, Will became a preacher for the United Brethren Church.  Later, Will edited and published a newspaper called The Religious Telescope, was elected the 15th Bishop of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, was a temperance crusader and operated a station on the Underground Railroad.  In 1847, Will helped found Otterbein College and moved his family to Westerville so his eight children could have the opportunity to receive a college education.

The flute that young Benjamin bought with his own money, and the case that he made for it, at the Hanby House

Benjamin (1833-1867), the oldest of Will and Ann’s children, studied at Otterbein to become a minister. Two days after graduating from Otterbein in 1858, Benjamin married Mary Katherine Winter, a fellow Otterbein graduate and Westerville native. Benjamin taught school in western Ohio and was a minister in the United Brethren Church, but he is best known for his musical compositions. For example, “Darling Nelly Gray” (1856) is based on a true story about a runaway slave named Joseph Selby, and “Up on the Housetop” (1864) is a well-known Christmas song.

One of 12 chairs that Will made as a wedding present for Ann in 1830, together with a desk that Benjamin made circa 1850, Hanby House

In 1926, the Westerville house where Will, Ann and their children lived from 1854 to 1870 was for sale. A Pittsburgh banker bought the dilapidated house for $1,500 as a birthday present for his wife, Dacia Custer Shoemaker, a Westerville native and Otterbein graduate. With help from a grant from the W.P.A., funds raised by the Benjamin Hanby Memorial Association and the support of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, Mrs. Shoemaker restored the home that was built in 1846 and moved it to a new site on West Main Street in Westerville. Benjamin and Mary’s son, Brainerd, was on hand for the house’s dedication in 1937. Mrs. Shoemaker was the curator for the house until 1950, researching and writing about the Hanby family. In 1983, the Westerville Historical Society published her book, Choose You This Day: The Legacy of the Hanbys.

The Otterbein Choir singing "Santa Claus" ("Up on the Housetop"), Everal Barn, Westerville, Ohio

During today’s launch party, the Otterbein Choir sang four of Benjamin Hanby’s songs, including “Who Is He In Yonder Stall?” and the original version of “Up on the Housetop” (first titled “Santa Claus”). Rosslyn Elliott read the winning entry in a local history essay contest for students and described her inspiration for the series.

The parlor of the Hanbys’ home, where “Darling Nelly Gray” was written and first performed

We visited the Hanby House yesterday, where two knowledgeable guides told us many interesting details about the Hanbys, their possessions and other cultural artifacts and practices of their day. You can visit the house too, during weekends from May through September. Elliott’s second book in the series will be about Benjamin and is scheduled to be published in February 2012.

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