Fulton’s Rich History Includes Confederate President     

FULTON – The first president to visit Callaway County was not Harry Truman or Ronald Reagan surprisingly enough.

The first president to visit Fulton may not have been a US president, but he was an American president none the less.

"There’s a lot of people that think history here in Fulton started with Winston Churchill. But, Jefferson Davis’ appearance here in 1875 was the first major appearance by a political figure," Regional historian Martin Northway said.

On September 11, 1875, The President of the Confederate States of America spoke in Fulton. The night before he stayed at John Hockaday’s house. Hockaday was the Missouri Attorney General at the time.

"Spent the night up in that room up here. And, then he come out on the balcony, and they said there was a multitude of people came and got to see him in the front yard that night," Hockaday House owner Bob Holt said.

"The men and women who gathered for the dinner reception for Jefferson Davis … were both union and pro-Southern men during the war," Martin said.

Even today, history buffs make their way up Hockaday Hill to get a glimpse of the home that for a night housed the President of the Confederacy.

The next day, Davis spoke at the old county fairgrounds which is actually Priest Field at Westminster College now.

"There were 10 to 12,000 people here to hear him," Martin said.

This, at a time when the population of Fulton was at most 2,500.

Callaway County and Fulton residents were primarily southern sympathizers.

"Clearly a lot of people were here because it was Jefferson Davis and a lot of them were Confederate soldiers," Martin said.

Despite the band striking up "Dixie," Davis was not speaking to Confederates, but to Americans.

"I speak to you as Americans. I lift myself out of whatever there is of sectional or party prejudice, and I hail you all as brethren," Davis said at the time.

Davis was working as an agent for the Mississippi Valley Association, an organization funded by English investors.

"They were looking to encourage trade of agriculture and manufacturing between the Mississippi Missouri Valley and Great Britain," Martin said.

Historians say Davis received boisterous applause for his speech.

My friends, I do not know how to thank you for the kindness of my reception. If my heart, and not my lips, could breathe the sentiment I feel, I might thank you in appropriate terms," Davis said. "If I ever move to a kingdom, it shall be to the Kingdom of Callaway."

And with that single promise exuding more than enough gratitude, Davis etched his name in Fulton and Callaway County’s histories forever.

An interesting note about Davis, once the Civil War ended, he never again enjoyed the rights of a US citizen. Congress and President Jimmy Carter granted him those rights in 1978.

© 2009 , KOMU-TV8 and the Missouri School of Journalism at the  University of Missouri-Columbia

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