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Biography of Jason Clarke Swayze
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Jason Clarke Swayze. Judged by the standard which must be applied to the men of his time and circumstances, Jason Clarke Swayze had many of the elements of greatness. He guided his life through a period of tense factional struggle, and always kept his rudder true and in the direction which his conscience told him was right and just. Kansas, and the City of Topeka particularly, has a just pride in recalling the record of this man.
His home was in Kansas at Topeka from 1873 until his tragic death on the streets of Topeka. He was born in 1830 at Hope, New Jersey. He learned the printer’s trade under Horace Greeley on the old New York Tribune. For a time he conducted a weekly periodical in New York City. About that time he married Kate Edwards, who was then a well known actress upon the American stage, and after his marriage he engaged in writing plays and was also manager for his wife. During their residence in the East two children were born: Julia Harriet and Oscar Kepler.
Late in 1860 Mr. Swayze went south with his family to tour the Southern States. Their plays were somewhat tinged with Northern sentiment, and consequently did not prove popular in the South. The outbreak of the war in 1861 found Mr. Swayze at New Orleans, where he was conscripted for service in the Confederate army. Watching for his opportunity, after about three weeks he escaped to the Union lines. In the meantime he had been allowed to bring his family as far as Griffin, Georgia, where he was compelled to leave them. At Griffin another child was born, while he was away, and named Annie Laurie. The mother died there in May, 1862.
After his arrival within the Union lines, Jason C. Swayze volunteered in the Union army, being mustered in as a captain and assigned to the staff of General Sherman as a scout. He served until the close of the war in that capacity, and as scout penetrated the enemy’s lines many times, and was of material assistance to the Federal cause. A price was set on his head by the rebel authorities, but he was never captured nor wounded.
After peace was declared he made his way south to Griffin, Georgia, where his wife was buried and where his children were living. He then bought the Griffin Citizen and conducted it under the name The Bugle Horn of Liberty. From a quarto he changed it to a sixteen-page magazine. After publishing two issues, the establishment was raided, the office wrecked and the press and fixtures destroyed, and the proprietor was ridden on a rail through the streets, was then mounted on a barrel and given a limited number of minutes to live unless he foreswore allegiance to the United States Government and hurrahed for Jeff Davis. He proudly refused, and succeeded in fighting his way clear of the mob. At that time in addition to his position as editor he was also United States Commissioner of the District of Georgia, and agent of the Freedmen’s Bureau. Though constantly persecuted until about the time he left, he never wavered in his determination to hold fast and try to carry out the undertaking which had brought him South. Upon the reorganization of his office he founded and published the American Union, which in 1868 was moved to Macon, where he continued it with no small degree of success until 1873. It is a proof of his remarkable courage, persistence and determination when it is recalled that in publishing this newspaper he was unable to secure the services of a single white man. One white boy came to him and served as an apprentice, but all the rest of his help was colored people, except his own children, who became printers.
He had always been a great admirer of Horace Greeley and in 1873 acted upon that editor and statesman’s famous advice to “go West.” He removed his newspaper plant to Topeka and began the publication of the Topeka Blade. Its diminutive size, and the fact that it was printed in nonpareil type, led the public to nickname it the “Postage Stamp.” That “postage stamp” has an interesting place in the history of the Kansas press. It was enlarged and changed hands from time to time, and now it is the great and influential Topeka State Journal.
Mr. Swayze conducted this paper as long as he lived. Forty years ago Topeka was still almost a frontier town. Conditions of society had not become thoroughly settled after the terrible times of “bleeding Kansas” and its position on the western frontier also served to keep alive some of the border ruffianism. If he had one trait more than another it was that of dauntless courage. He was also incorruptible, was outspoken, called a spade a spade, and his courage of action was not less than courage of speech. He proved an outspoken foe of fraud and graft in every form, and naturally antagonized certain elements and the more so because the expression of his paper could not be controlled or influenced by money. He attacked men regardless of the position they occupied, and as he could not be silenced by bribes, his death was an almost inevitable result.
Jason C. Swayze was murdered on the streets of Topeka March 27, 1877. For his second wife he married Jennie Erwin. She became the mother of two sons, Horace Greeley Swayze and J. Clarke Swayze, Jr.
Oscar Kepler Swayze, a son of this distinguished Kansan, has long been prominent in journalism and in public affairs at Topeka. He was born at Brooklyn, New York, January 19, 1860, and was thirteen years old when the family came to Topeka. Practically all his education has been acquired in the school of experience. He grew up almost in a newspaper office and has been a printer and newspaper man most of his active career. For two years he was city editor of the Topeka Daily Capital and was foreman in that plant for three years.
He has inherited the strong political tendencies of his father and is a stalwart republican. In 1912 he was elected county clerk of Shawnee County and was reelected in 1914. Mr. Swayze is a Knight Templar Mason, a Shriner, a member of the Modern Woodmen of America, the Improved Order of Red Men, the Maccabees and belongs to the Topeka Commercial Club and the Topeka Press Club. On November 30, 1884, he married Hetty McPherson of Brownstown, Indiana.
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