MARTIN VAN BUREN BATES - - THE KENTUCKY RIVER GIANT
By: Patty May Brashear
My son Jamie Brashear sitting in Martin's guest chair.
Anna Hanan Swann Bates' chair.
This is the chair Martin had built for Anna. The arms open up and is where she kept her sewing notions, thread, needles, lace, ribbons.
Martin and Anna continued to tour for periods of time appearing with the W. W. Cole Show and with P. T. Barnum. Members of these shows occasionally visited at the Seville home of the Bates.
Detroit Free Press
July 7, 1878 Detroit - An advertisement for W. W. Cole's Great Show announced that "The Two Giants," Captain M. V. Bates and wife would exhibit with the show in Detroit on July 29, 1878. The W. W. Cole show would exhibit at all principal points in Michigan beginning July 23 in Niles, Michigan. Captain & Mrs. Bates are described as each being eight feet high (lacking half an inch). One Ticket Admits to All! Admission 50 cents; Children 25 cents." Circus, Museum, Menagerie and Congress of Living Wonders.
187_ The St. Louis Globe Democrat in an interview entitled "Tallest Man and Woman Living-Interesting Facts Concerning the Intelligent Couple - Descriptive Details - The Clothes They Wear -- Eight Yards of Silk in One Dress! Their Theory About Giants - A Devout Church Member - Their Bridal Tour - Before Queen Victoria," describes the reporter's reaction to his first meeting with the giant couple. The reporter, "after being ushered into the presence of Captain and Mrs. Bates, he found himself confronted by two as perfectly formed as he had ever seen. The first impression was one of awe, and it occurred to the interviewer's mind that half the truth had not been told. A feeling of insignificance overcame him, and he appeared to sink to the Lilliputian dimensions of "Tiny Jack' The Giant Killer," that historical personage so dear to the juvenile mind. The reporter described Mrs. Bates as an exceedingly fine looking lady and Captain Bates as "A Perfect Apollo in Figure" and quite a Chesterfield in manners. The interview discussed the giant's home; the making of their clothing, their health and family. It is reported in this interview that Capt. Bates was 7' 11"and weighing 478 pounds.
On January 19, 1879 a baby boy was born to Martin and Anna but he lived only eleven hours. The baby boy was at birth the size of a six months old child and was in all respects normal. He was 28 inches tall and weighed 22 pounds. Anna did not fully regain her health and on August 5, 1889 died. Martin ordered from Europe a monument in her likeness to be placed on her grave.
Baby of Martin VanBuren & Anna Hanan Swann Bates. A cast of their baby at left as compared
to a six month old and newborn.
Martin later remarried Annette Weatherby and sold the giant home and moved into town. On January 7, 1919 Martin died of nephritis, an older term used to denote disorders that involve the kidneys, usually an inflammation of one or both kidneys. He was buried in the Mound Hill Cemetery at Seville with Anna, the baby boy and Anna's sister Margaret.
John Henderson Craft, a nephew of Martin Van Buren Bates, in the book, "A Family Called Craft", by Joella Craft Collier, 1985, lists the family of Martin Van Buren Bates as follows:
"My mother, Martha Bates was the daughter of John W. Bates of Letcher County. Her mother was Sarah Waltrop--Welsh extraction. John W. Bates came from Russell County, Virginia to Letcher County, Kentucky about 1810. He was sheriff of Russell County and by was broken up [sic[. He had a fine farm on Clinch River and slaves. He then emigrated to repair his fortune. He prospered in Letcher County and rose to wealth owning much land and stock. She was a sister of Robert Bates of Knott County and Martin Van Buren Bates the Kentucky giant. He now lives 30 miles from Cleveland at Seville, Medina County, Ohio and is engaged in raising fine stock, horses, cattle and sheep. he married a woman from Nova Scotia, a giantess, about his height, six foot ten inches. He weighs 360 pounds."
He has his second wife who weighted 119 lbs. when he married her. She is an Ohio woman. He went through the war as a rebel soldier in the Cavalry. He was captured at Pikeville and then to Camp Chase but was soon exchanged. He is about 60 years old. His last visit here was about 1891 or 1892. His conversation was largely about religion. He is a member the Missionary Baptist Church. John W. Bates had children as follows: John W., Margaret (Payne Johnson), Martha (Craft, my mother), Eliza (Joel Wright), Jess married Asbury, James married Adams, was murdered in Letcher County during the war, Robert of Knott County, Urick [sic) married an Adams, lived in Letcher died in the Rebel Army at Warm Spring on Holston, Sarah (Wm Mullins) lives in Clay on Rockcastle, Henderson married a Robison in Virginia, lived and died in Letcher, left a family. Mary Jane died at 16. Martin Van Buren, he is the youngest.
He was married in London. (The pictures of him and his bride are here. J.J.D.) Queen Victoria gave him a watch proportioned to his size. It struck. He was a fine swimmer. We were boys together, fought, played and played tricks together. He inherited the home farm in Letcher County and farmed up to the war, was a model farmer. He began to travel immediately after the war. He is remarkably well proportioned. The Bates family were simply strong, robust people. None extra large, Urick weighed only a 140. James weighed 200 lbs."
In Letcher County an article in the local paper," The Mountain Eagle," dated March 18, 1937 reports that Martin VanBuren Bates was born in Letcher County at the mouth of Boone where Kona is located now. It gives a brief description of Captain Bates.
Another article in "The Mountain. Eagle", dated January 1, 1941 by a local resident, Burdine Webb, writes about "interesting Stories Cluster Around Kona and Boone Fork." Mr. Webb relates in this article the birth and experiences of Martin Van Buren Bates.
On March 5, 1970, Arthur Dixon wrote an article for The Mountain Eagle entitled "Letcher County Giant Martin Van Buren Bates and His Huge Wife Won Hearts of All". This article also guess us facts about his birth and life. It tells about Martin teaching in Letcher County before the war and his reasons for not remaining at his home after the war. "I don't want any part of the trouble that's coming to these hills," Martin Bates confided to his nephew, John Wright. "I've seen enough bloodshed. I didn't want any more. It also, as the other articles have done, gives details of Martin's life after leaving Kentucky. He was sensitive enough to foresee the coming of the feuds which had their actual beginning in the hatreds engendered by the Civil War. We learn in this article about Martin acquiring the nickname "Baby" when he was 11 years old and weighed 170 lbs.
Byron Crawford, a reported for the Courier Journal, wrote an article dated March 30, 1981 titled "A Truthfully Tall Tale About A Mountain of A Man." He reported that Martin was a normal child till he turned seven when he began to grow rapidly and by thirteen he weighed 300 pounds and soon he height was proportionate to his weight and he continued to grow until he stood 7 feet 11 inches tall, and weighed 525 pounds and that one of his boots could hold one-half bushel of corn.
Martin VanBuren Bates in his Civil War Uniform
The late Mrs. Essie Quillen of Neon, Kentucky had in her possession an embroidered handprint on the cloth where Capt. Bates had placed his hand and traced it. Rough measurements show that from the bend of the wrist to the end of the middle finger measured ten and one-half inches. The wrist measured four inches across. The width of the hand at the palm measured about five inches. A tracing of the sole of one of his boots measured seventeen inches in length and five and one-half inches in width. Mr. Crawford relates that much of his information was taken from papers in the possession of Bates' descendants in Letcher County, Kentucky.
The Bates Farm at Seville, Ohio
The Bates Farm at Seville, Ohio
Martin VanBuren Bates at a World War I vintage street fair in Seville, Ohio
Martin Van Buren Bates married Anna Hanan Swan at the Parish Church in the Parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, County Middlesex on June 17, 1871. Thousands of people, drawn both by the uncommonness of the spectacle and the disarming good nature of the pair, tried to attend. Queen Victoria herself gave them two extra-large diamond-studded gold watches as wedding presents.
Anna Swan Bates was born August 6, 1846 in New Annon, Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Canada. She died August 5, 1888 in Seville, Ohio. Martin ordered a statue of her from Europe for her grave.
Martin and Anna had two children. The first, a little girl, was born in England and died at birth in 1872 while they were in England. The second, a little boy was born in 1879 in Seville, Ohio and lived eleven hours. He was 30 inches long, head circumference 19 inches, weighed 23 3/4 pounds, feet 6 inches long. He, his infant son, as well as Anna's sister Margaret, are buried along with his parents in the Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville Ohio.
The gravesite of Anna Hanan Swann Bates showing the monument from England
Martin Van Buren Bates was born November 9, 1837 (his death certificate gives his birth date as November 9, 1945 but Martin's age is 12 in the 1850 Letcher County, Kentucky Census.) He died January 7, 1919 in Seville, Ohio. Both Martin & Anna are buried in the Mound Hill Cemetery at Seville, Medina County, Ohio.
Wedding ring of Martin VanBuren Bates as compared my
(Patty May Brashear) wedding ring. Martin made copies of
his wedding ring to sell as souvenirs at the circus.
Martin VanBuren & Anna Hanan Swann's wedding picture
Death certificate of Martin VanBuren Bates
Seville Historical Society Museum, Seville, Ohio Wendell F. Inskeep - provided documents to me Personal Picture Collection
Various Newspaper Articles & Advertisements Book "A Family Called Craft" 1850 Letcher County, Kentucky Census
Letcher County, Kentucky Court Records
This article was written by Patricia "Patty" May Brashear & compiled by Nancy Wright Bays.
The material on this website is copyrighted (C) 2001 by Patty May Brashear & Nancy Wright Bays
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