Grant and Julia's Time at White Haven
Julia Boggs Dent (1826-1902, 1850s photo
left,) was the eldest daughter of the seven children
born to Colonel Dent. Julia spent much of her childhood on the White Haven
plantation. Julia was at boarding school in St. Louis when Ulysses S.
Grant first visited White Haven in the summer of 1843. Grant had just been
assigned to the Fourth U.S. Infantry at Jefferson Barracks, an important
military post located south of St. Louis. Ulysses enjoyed visiting the Dent
home where he debated politics with the Colonel and went horseback riding
with Dent’s youngest daughters, Nellie and Emma. In February of 1843 Julia
returned from school and Ulysses’ visits soon focused upon spending time
with her. The following spring, when Ulysses learned that his regiment was
being reassigned to Louisiana, he immediately rode out to White Haven to ask
for Julia's hand in marriage. The marriage was delayed until August 22,
1848, after Ulysses' return from the Mexican-American War. In November of 1848 Julia left White Haven to
become an Army wife and lived on the army bases that Ulysses was posted to in Michigan and New York. She did
return to White Haven in May of 1850 to give birth to the Grants' first
child, Frederick Dent Grant. In 1852 Ulysses was forced to leave his
family behind when he was transferred to California. Julia returned to White
Haven with young Frederick after giving birth to a second son, Ulysses S.
Grant, Jr. Ulysses found the separation from Julia and his family too much
to bear and in 1854 he resigned his commission and returned to White Haven.
The Grants were
active in the management of the farming operation at White Haven. Colonel
Dent had given Ulysses and Julia 80 acres of the White Haven property when
they were married and in 1855 Grant built a four-room, two-story log cabin.
This acreage is north of the White Haven House in what is now St. Paul's
Churchyard Cemetery and a historical marker marks the location. The cabin
was completed in just three days and was facetiously called "Hardscrabble"
(meaning "yielding a bare or meager living with great labor or difficulty")
because the cabin was so crude and homely. Three months after the Grants
moved into "Hardscrabble" Julia's mother died and Colonel Dent asked the
Grants to return to the main house so Julia could help raise her younger
sisters. The Grants were forced to abandon the farm and move to St. Louis in
1858 due to depressed agricultural prices, a June frost, and illness. During
the Civil War Julia and the children spent much of their time at White Haven
with Grant visiting them when on leave. In 1863 the Grants began purchasing
the White Haven property from Colonel Dent. After the war the Grants
relocated to Washington D.C. because of his military duties but they often
returned to White Haven for rest and relaxation.
During Grant's presidency, he made preparations for retirement at White
Haven. Caretakers managed the farm by raising crops, constructing barns, and
breeding horses. Following his presidency Grant settled in New York City in
1881 where he formed a brokerage firm with Ulysses Jr. and Ferdinand Ward.
It so happened that Ward was a Ponzi scheme artist ahead of his time and the
firm collapsed in 1884. The Grant's lost ownership of White Haven when it
was used to pay off a personal debt to railroad magnate William Henry
Vanderbilt in 1884. When Vanderbilt tried to return the home to him, Grant
refused, insisting that he pay his debt. Grant died a year later in 1885 of
throat cancer. Julia's last visit to White Haven was in 1894 when she
attended a social function held by Luther Conn who had purchased the
property in 1888. Julia spent her remaining years in Washington D.C. where,
supported by the sales of Ulysses' memoirs, living in comfort as a "Grand
Dame" until her death in 1902.
Slavery at White Haven
Many visitors to
White Haven are surprised to learn that the plantation made use of slave
labor during the time Grant lived here. Missouri was a slave state up until
the time of the Civil War and the areas along the Mississippi and Missouri
Rivers were known as "Little Dixie" because of the large cotton plantations
that made intensive use of slave labor. The interpretation of slavery at
White Haven and how Grant was influenced by his experience here is an
important part of the mission of this historic site.
When the Hunts
purchased the property from William Long in 1818 there existed “several good
log cabins” which provided potential quarters for their five slaves. Colonel
Dent considered himself a Southern gentleman and by the 1850s eighteen
slaves lived and worked at White Haven. Julia Dent recalled childhood
memories of slave children as her playmates. After returning home from
boarding school, Julia noted the transition of these children from playmate
to servant. During Grant’s management of the farm he worked side by side
with Dan, one of the slaves given to Julia at birth. Grant, who came from an
abolitionist family, often debated the slavery issue with the Colonel, an
ardent southern Democrat known for his support for secession over the issue
of slavery. A unique video of these debates can be seen during visits to the
In 1859, Grant freed William Jones, the only slave he is known to have
owned. During the Civil War, some slaves at White Haven simply walked off,
as they did on many plantations in both Union and Confederate states. A
Missouri constitutional convention abolished slavery in the state in January
1865, freeing any slaves still living at White Haven.