ANCESTRY AND EARLY LIFE
For this book Louis XIV of France is to blame. If he had been content to let stand the work of his illustrious predecessor Henri IV you would not have the task of pursuing the following pages. But the Grand Monarch revoked the Edict of Nantes and from 1685 on, the disheartened Protestants fled from France to find havens of toleration and peace in Holland, Germany and beyond the Seas. Hence, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said of his education, I must begin my autobiography several centuries before I was born.
Both lines of my parental stock run back to the brave, independent and indomitable Huguenots of the Sixteenth Century. The maternal line goes back some centuries farther to the Norman Conquest of England. The “Book of Levering,” which some of my family possess, gives all available documents and data of the Leverings from the time of Richard I to the present. The ancestors of my father were among the Protestants who found asylum in Holland after the revocation of the Edict. About 1700 they emigrated to the United States.
However interesting a full history might be, the matter of immediate importance is, that I was born in Baltimore, Maryland, December 17, 1828. My father’s name was John Matthews, Jr. My mother’s maiden name was Mary Righter Levering. I was named after my father’s uncle, Leonard Matthews, a bankers and president of the Sun Insurance Company of New Orleans, whose wife, Mary Jane Levering, was my mother’s first cousin.
My grandfather, John Matthews, as well as his father and my father and mother, were born in Baltimore. Grandfather emigrated to a place near Dayton, Ohio, about 1828 and there he died, aged 85. He had two sisters, one the mother of Major General George Crook; the other mother of Major General Sullivan, both of the United States Army. My grandfather had four sons, James, John, Jr., Thomas and Jacob, all of whom, except my father, accompanied him to Dayton.
These details will afford some material for thought for those who care to trace characteristics, from generation to generation. It is evident that there is much of the pioneer spirit in both parental strains, much adventurous enterprise, persistency and self-reliance.
About 1823 my father sailed as supercargo, for William Wilson and Sons of Baltimore, to Cadiz, Spain, where he purchased a cargo of wines, brandies, quicksilver, etc., thence to Valparaiso, Chile, where he disposed of his merchandise, and bought copper, hides and produce of the country, thence back to Baltimore. The supercargo acted as a merchant, having nothing to do with navigation, except directing where the vessel should go.
Afterwards he engaged in the mercantile business
at Petersburg, Virginia, under the firm name of Matthews, Levering &
Company. His partner was Thomas W. Levering, a cousin of my mother. Here
he became acquainted with your mother’s father, William Nisbet,
who was also in business in Petersburg. Later my father became book-keeper
for the wholesale auction house of Hoffman and Company. Later on he became
interested with his brothers-in-law, Benjamin Franklin Levering and Thomas
H. Palmer, in a general merchandise store at St. Francisville, Clark County,
Missouri, on the Des Moines River, ten miles from Alexandria, at the mouth
of the river, on the Mississippi, opposite Warsaw, Illinois.