John F. Sutherland
John F. Sutherland was a horse trader, an occupation which didn't command much respect because of the presence of some unscrupulous dealers. The Hamilton native was an exception. In local and national transactions, Sutherland built an honorable reputation.
"When I first knew him, no man in Hamilton would think of buying a fine, high-priced horse without first consulting John Sutherland," wrote Dr. Henry Mallory. "His love of horse is only exceeded by his love of mankind," said the physician of his Civil War comrade.
Sutherland was born in Hamilton in 1820, a son of John and Nancy Ramsey Sutherland. His father, an immigrant from Scotland, is considered Hamilton's first resident merchant. He settled here after serving General Anthony Wayne's army as a packhorseman.
The son, after attending an academy or college in Springfield, returned to his father's 287-acre farm outside Hamilton (in the vicinity of present Millville Avenue and Washington Boulevard).
By the early 1840s, the younger Sutherland was an active horse dealer. His business extended beyond Butler County. In pursuit of his occupation, his obituary said, "many trips were made south as far as New Orleans and east to New York."
In 1861, at the start of the Civil War, he interrupted his business to attempt the formation of a company of cavalry. Other men assumed leadership of the unit, allowing the 41-year-old Sutherland to concentrate on utilizing his horse knowledge.
Through a letter from a friend of his father, Sutherland was introduced to Winfield Scott, general in chief of the U. S. Army. Scott, learning of the Hamiltonian's equine knowledge and experience, assigned Sutherland to direct the packhorse trains which hauled supplies from Wheeling to Union soldiers in the mountains of western Virginia. It was similar to the duty his father had performed about 65 years earlier at Fort Hamilton.
Soon his full attention was on acquiring horses suitable for army service. The quartermaster department awarded Sutherland several large contracts.
"One of these contracts was to supply 12 cavalry regiments with horses. Mr. Sutherland was so careful in his purchase of the stock that not a single horse was rejected by the government," noted the writer of his obituary. Based on about 900 men to a regiment, that contract would have involved more than 10,500 horses at about $130 a head.
Such an accomplishment was unusual. Mismanagement and scandal dominated the Civil War horse procurement system. There are numerous examples of the army receiving shipments of horses that had been unfit when purchased, and abused and neglected during transport to camps and supply depots.
Sutherland's experience in buying and transporting horses led to another war-time venture that backfired. In partnership with several New York investors, Sutherland "established a trade by steamers along the Mississippi."
The two-way trade involved shipping much-needed supplies to the liberated areas of the devastated South in exchange for cotton. The bales of cotton were hauled on steamboats to Cincinnati.
When some shipments reached the Queen City, government agents seized and sold the cotton as Confederate contraband.
For several years after the Civil War, Sutherland spent extended time in Washington, lobbying Congress to compensate his associates for the confiscated cotton. He wasn't able to convince enough congressmen and Sutherland and his partners absorbed the loss of several thousand dollars.
He had limited involvement in several businesses after the war, "but never devoted himself to business exclusively," his obit noted. He died in 1899 in Mercy Hospital and was buried in Greenwood Cemetery.