The John Wiggins Flora family of Carthage, Kentucky, 1898. John is forth from the left in the top row. He filed suit against the Longworth family over the Thanksgiving holiday in 1894.
The Thanksgiving day headline in the 1894 Cincinnati Enquirer read “Thanksgiving: What shall we eat, and how will it be cooked and served? Delicacies of the season found in the Market. Venison is cheap at 35 cents a pound, prairie chickens are not so plentiful as they used to be and can be purchased for $1.25 a pair. Rabbits can be bought for 10 to 15 cents, depending on their length Wild ducks of which there is a good supply bring $1 a pair, while tame ducks are worth from 80 cents to $1 a pair. Quails at $3 a dozen are high, considering that birds are not scarce this fall.” So Greater Cincinnatians before the turn of the century were eating more than just turkey at their tables.
One family across the river, in Carthage, Kentucky, was sitting down to their farm country Thanksgiving and reading headlines about themselves further down the same page that morning. Wild Campbell County turkey made their table and a host of side dishes made from fresh milk from their livestock and fresh farm produce. They were also enjoying oyster dressing, a dish that would come down in the family, along with the Flora name for many generations.
Their patriarch John Wiggins Flora was suing the Longworth family for his supposed share of Nicholas Longworth’s fortune. He claimed that he was born the illegitimate child of Eliza Longworth Flagg in 1822 and carried across the river by a member of the Longworth family to a childless farm couple, James and Sarah Flora. Since then he had raised a large family and made a name for himself as a community leader.
The headlines ripped open the Longworth family parlor doors and exposed a skeleton in their closet that had been rumor in Greater Cincinnati for over 70 years. The case slandered one of the richest families in the U.S. and was scandal in high society from east coast to west coast. John Flora was betting his family farm, which would pay for the cost of the case if he wasn’t able to prove his parentage and rightful share of the Longworth fortune. He had great reputation as a community leader. He was Justice of the Peace in Campbell County for over 25 years. He served as election official in some post Civil War contentious elections.
What was even more contentious was the legal teams for each side. Former Ohio Governor Joe Foraker was Flora’s lead lawyer. Foraker was one of the most powerful Ohio Republicans and was contending to be the party candidate for president for the 1896 election. His Republican political rival was Bellamy Storer, the husband of Maria Longworth, who started the Rookwood Pottery. He had been an Ohio congressman for two terms and was vying for a third in 1894 before the filing of the Flora Case. But the Hamilton County Republicans blockaded him from the third term and Charles Phelps Taft , owner of the Times Star and resident of what is now the Taft Museum, was supported in his place. A bitter feud between Foraker and Storer ensued in the paper, and McKinley ended up being the Republican from Ohio who ended up becoming President in the 1896 Election. Bellamy would be sent off to Belgium for a foreign minister position and out of the way of Foraker.
So, the Flora case prevented two powerful Hamilton county Republicans from the chance to become President. The case drug on for two years, revealing the 70 year history of Greater Cincinnati from pioneer days to modern turn of the century America. And, in true form of Gilded Age law slanting toward the rich, Flora was up against a behemoth to prove his ancestry. Flora would lose the case, have to sell his farm, and fall on the support of his large family.
John Wiggins Flora was my third great grandfather, and this was a story we heard about from my grandfather at the Thanksgiving table, over oyster dressing and all the wonderful sides from my grandmother’s recipes. I always admired his bravado to take on the richest family in the area to get the answer to his life’s question, “Are you my Mommy?” And every Thanksgiving I wonder if DNA would answer that question today decisively.