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Martin Van Buren Bates
and Anna Hannon Swann

Captain Martin Van Buren Bates

Captain Martin Van Buren Bates and Wife Anna Swan with Friend Lei McFarland
CAPTAIN MARTIN BATES and ANNA SWAN, posed for this picture with friend Lei McFarland. Essie Wright Quillen Collection
Martin Van Buren Bates, (See 1860 Letcher Co KY Census), The "Kentucky River Giant" b 9 Nov 1837 Perry Co., KY d 19 Jan 1919 Seville, Ohio at 81 years of age; s/o John Wallis Bates and Sarah Walthrop. Martin Van Buren Bates m. 17 June 1871  in the "St. Martin in the Fields Church", London, England to Anna Haining Swan (aka Hannon Swann) b 6 Aug l846 New Annan, Nova Scotia d 5 Aug 1888, 1 day before her 42nd birthday, buried Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville OH, d/o Alexander Swan and Ann Graham. Martin Van Buren Bates was the famous "Kentucky Giant" who was known for being a perfectly formed giant person. He was very handsome. Anna Swan was a giantess and she and Martin worked in the circus as the tallest couple. Children of Martin Van Buren Bates and Anna Haining Swan;

Sister Bates (on cemetery marker) b 1872 weighed 18 lbs. 27 inches long died at birth, buried Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville, OH.

Baby Bates (male) (on cemetery marker) b 19 Jan 1879 weight 22 lbs 28 inches long, lived only 11 hours, buried Mound Hill Cemetery, Seville OH.

Martin Van Buren Bates
and Annette Lavonne Weatherby

Martin Van Buren Bates, (See 1860 Letcher Co KY Census), The "Kentucky River Giant" b 9 Nov 1837 Perry Co., KY d 19 Jan 1919 Seville, Ohio at 81 years of age; s/o John Wallis Bates and Sarah Walthrop. Martin Van Buren Bates Martin m. 1901 Seville, OH to (2) Annette Lavonne Weatherby b 1870 d 1940, d/o J. W. Weatherby. Annette Lavonne Weatherby was of average height.

Articles About Martin Van Buren Bates.
More about Anna Haining Swan.
More About Anna and Martin
More About Martin V B Bates

When the War Between the States broke out, Martin Van Buren Bates left Emma Henry College in Virginia to enlist as a private in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry. Although only sixteen at the time, he already stood a little above six-feet tall.

Apparently the youngster conducted himself well on the battlefield, for over the next couple years he received several promotions, the last as a captain in the Seventh Confederate Cavalry.  All through the war, and for several years afterward, Captain Bates kept growing. By his own account, he finally stopped in his twenty-eighth year, after having reached a height of seven feet and eight inches and a weight of four hundred and seventy pounds.

After the war, the Whitesburg, Kentucky, giant earned his living by exhibiting himself in the United States and Canada. In 1870, Judge H. P. Ingalls, a well-known promoter, asked him to come to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and join a company he was organizing to tour Europe. There his eyes beheld Anna Haining Swan, a seven-foot, eleven-inch Scottish lass from Nova Scotia, and a courtship began.  In April, 1871, Judge Ingalls' company sailed for England. The two enormous sweethearts became an instant hit with the British public, and on June 2 1871, Queen Victoria commanded their appearance at Buckingham Palace.

Two weeks later, on June 17 1871, the former Confederate captain and his fiancée, attired in her white satin gown with orange blossoms, spoke their vows before a large crowd in London's historic St.-Martin-in-the-Fields Church. Wedding presents from Queen Victoria included a cluster diamond ring for the bride and a watch and chain for the groom. The wedding made world headlines and put the Bates in the record books as history's tallest known married couple.

After a brief honeymoon, the couple returned to London where they gave a private reception for the Prince of Wales, who invited them to be his guests at Marlborough House. They appeared a second time before the Queen, at Windsor, then set out on a tour of the provincial towns in England and Scotland.

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Upon their return to the States, the Bates decided to take a vacation tour of the West and Midwest, then buy a farm and settle down. While in Ohio, they passed through Seville.  That country appealed to them, so Captain Bates purchased one hundred and thirty acres of good farm land near the town and drew plans for a house big enough to accommodate giants. "The house he built on that farm ... astounded visitors of ordinary size for 70 years," writes Lee Cavin. "It had 14-foot ceilings in the principal wing. The doors were 8 feet high.

The furniture was built to order. Captain Bates delighted in seeing normal-size people dwarfed in his house, saying, 'Seeing our guests make use of it recalls most forcibly the good Dean Swift's traveler in the land of Brobdingnag.

"In 1878, 1879, and 1880," continues Cavin, "the giant couple returned to the road as members of the W. W. Cole Circus. This circus, founded in 1871, was noted because it was the first to play many western towns.  Its special train was close on the heels of railroad construction throughout the area. The reasons for the return to the road of the couple should be familiar ones to anyone who has built a new home. According to Seville contemporaries, the cost of the giant house exceeded expectations."

Mrs. Bates bore the Captain two children. During the second year of their British tour, an eighteen-pound daughter died at birth. In the winter of 1879, after a difficult delivery, she gave birth to a twenty-three pound boy that measured thirty inches in length. How-ever, the child died the next day. In 1888, after years of declining health, Anna Swan Bates also died. The Seville Times devoted three columns to her obituary.

Anna left $500 to each of her parents and $7500 to be divided equally among her six surviving brothers and sisters. A large trunk containing some of Anna’s possessions was shipped to New Annan. Some of the contents included her wedding dress, her Bible, and her gold watch and chain.

Her wedding dress and letters were destroyed in a fire at her sister, Eliza’s house in Truro, in 1947; her watch is in the possession of a grand-nephew; her Bible is with her great grand-nephew; and the chain from her watch was divided into six one-foot sections and are still within the Swan family. Martin kept most of Anna’s jewelry.

About a dozen years later, Captain Bates married Lavonne Weatherby, a daughter of the pastor of the Seville Baptist Church, which he and his first wife had long attended. The new Mrs. Bates stood just over five feet tall.  Seville's most famous resident lived seventy-four years, but in January, 1919, he finally yielded to a lingering illness.

After Anna's Death

(Source Link no longer working)

After Anna’s death, Captain Martin Bates lived in their Seville home until 1900 when he married Lavonne Weatherby, the daughter of a minister. Lavonne would not live in the giant house and they moved to a new house at 56 E. Main Street in Seville.  Elouise Rohrer, a member of the First Baptist Church in Seville, was a child when she knew Captain Bates. She remembered Bates had a parrot that he taught to say “Hello, El-ou-ise!”.

Whenever she walked by the house the parrot would call to her from its cage on the porch. He also taught the parrot to yell “Get off my property” at a neighbor that Bates wasn’t fond of when he cut across the lawn.  In January 1919 Bates died at the age of seventy-four after having been ill for quite some time. After the trouble he had getting a proper size casket for Anna, he had his made ahead of time and kept it in his shed until it was needed.

It took twelve pallbearers to lift the casket and it was too long for the hearse, so the end was padded and the doors tied. Martin was buried in Mound Hill cemetery along side Anna. All of the giant’s personal belongings were divided up among his wife and friends. Anna’s diamonds were left to Lavonne and later sold. Lavonne died in 1940 and was buried in Pennsylvania.

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Anna Haining Swan

Anna Swan Bates and Sister Maggie Swan

Anna Swan towers over her sister Maggie Swan, who visited the Bates at their farm near Medina, Ohio (Courtesy Medina County Historical Society)

Born at Mill Brook, Nova Scotia, in 1846, Anna Haining Swan joined P. T. Barnum's gallery of wonders in the early 1860s and became the best known giantess of her day.

Barnum proclaimed that his four male giants stood above eight feet and advertised Miss Swan's height as seven feet eleven inches. However, according to Dr. A. P. Beach, her physician when she lived at Seville, she only measured seven feet nine inches.

One of thirteen children born to Scottish immigrants Alexander and Ann Swan, Anna grew so rapidly that at age six she already stood as tall as her mother.  By age sixteen she towered seven feet high and had many curious people following her through the streets.

Barnum, in his autobiography, recounts that he "first heard of her through a Quaker who came into my office one day and told me of a wonderful girl, 17 years of age, who resided near him at Pictou, Nova Scotia, and who was probably the tallest girl in the world.

"I asked him to obtain her exact height. He did and sent it to me, and I at once sent an agent who in due time came back with Anna Swan. "She was an intelligent and by no means ill-looking girl, and during the long period she was in my employ she was visited by thousands of persons."

In February, 1864, Barnum took his American Museum to New York where crowds flocked to see the curiosities. But on July 13, 1865, fire broke out in the museum and spread so quickly that the giantess barely escaped. Rescuers found Miss Swan at the top of the stairway "in a swooning condition from the smoke."

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Because of her great size, it took eighteen men using a block and tackle to remove her from the burning building. The blaze reportedly cost her every-thing she owned except the clothes on her back. Her trunk, which the fire destroyed, contained $1,200 in gold plus a sizable amount of "greenbacks."

In 1870, Miss Swan met Captain Martin Van Buren Bates from Letcher County, Kentucky, when the two giants joined Judge H. P. Ingalls' company for a tour of Europe.  The next year, following their presentation to Queen Victoria, they were married in London's historic St-Martin-in-the-Fields church.  After a grand tour of England and Scotland, the couple returned to the States and bought a farm near Seville, Ohio.

The giantess gave birth to two "abnormally large" children, but both soon died. In 1888, tuberculosis claimed her own life. In its obituary section, the Seville Times described Anna Swan as a learned woman who "at an early age developed an inquiring mind" and a thirst for knowledge.

"Even when independent of the resources of her native home," the newspaper added, "she continued her habits of study; she had thus acquired a breadth of information and a facility of expression which made her very interesting as a companion and conversationalist....

Her knowledge of the world was wide and varied, a fact which in no small degree added to her ability to entertain and instruct."

Source: The Courier Journal-Louisville, Kentucky-Monday Morning-March 30, 1981 Article written by Byron Crawford-Courier-Journal Columnist Article entitled: A TALL TALE: A Letcher babe grew to be a mountain of a man.

In 1837, at the mouth of the Boone Fork of the Kentucky River, a son was born to John W. and Sallie Bates of Letcher County. They named him Martin Van Buren Bates.  He was a normal child, they say until he turned 7. He grew so rapidly that his parents, afraid that he might die, would not permit him to do much work.

Old papers, now in the possession of Letcher County clerk Charlie Wright, a great- nephew of Bates, indicate that by 8, Martin could quote most important dates and events and had developed what was called "almost a photographic memory."

By 13, the lad weighed 300 pounds and appeared to be obese. But soon his height was proportionate to his weight and he continued to grow until he stood 7 feet 11 inches tall and weighed 525 pounds!

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It is recorded in several places that one of his boots cold hold one-half a bushel of shelled corn. While still very young, Bates became a schoolteacher and the late Arthur Dixon, writing in The Mountain Eagle, a Whitesburg newspaper, 11 years ago, said that a former student described Bates' voice as rumbling "like a bull bellowing."

When the Civil War broke out Martin volunteered to fight for the Confederacy. A copy of an article from a scrapbook said to have belonged to a Mrs. Sam Collins Sr. stated that Bates was "a fierce and capable fighter, " and that, although he enlisted as a private, he won a battlefield promotion to the rank of captain.

It states in part: "He engaged in battles over much of the South and his fame spread among the Yankees who talked a great deal about "that Confederate giant who was as big as five men and fights like fifty." When Captain Bates returned to his home in the mountains after the war, there was much feuding and fighting in the hills and he wanted no part of it.

According to the papers that belonged to his descendants, Bates joined a circus that agreed to pay his expenses, plus $100 a month. Eventually he joined the John Robinson Circus where he was paid $400 a month and became the star attraction.  Captain Bates was a great showman, who wore fine clothes, ate the best food and traveled all over the world.

It was while on tour in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that Martin met his wife, Anna Hannon Swann- who was 8 feet tall! The circus hired Miss Swann and the two were married while on a tour of London.  Queen Victoria met the couple and was deeply impressed with their size and pleasant personalities. As a wedding gift she had a watch made for each of them, a watch proportionate to their size. It is said that each watch cost $1,000 and that Bates' watch, on a gold chain, was "as big as a saucer."

The two giants remained with the Robinson Circus for seven years, each drawing enormous salaries, which made them very wealthy. It is often said by those who have studied the couple that they were extremely well-proportioned to have been so large. Indeed, in pictures of them by themselves they look quite like a normal couple.

Essie Quillen of Neon, KY is a great niece of Martin Van Buren Bates and although she was born in 1900, 19 years before Bates died, she never saw "Big Uncle" as they called him. "My mother told me all I know about," Mrs. Quillen told me. "My father was Captain Bates' sister's (Eliza Agnes Bates) son (Samuel J Wright). (Essie Wright Quillen was the daughter of Samuel J "Kinky Haired Sam" Wright and Martha Jane Reynolds).

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In the late '90s (1890's) he (Captain Bates) came down here and visited my Grandmother Wright. (Essie's Grandmother Wright was Eliza Agnes Bates Wright, the wife of Joel Ellis Wright).

He persuaded her to let him take her son, my father Samuel J "Kinky Haired Sam" Wright, up to Ohio and let him go to school. When "Big Uncle" died he bequeathed my father $4,000 cash. "He was a lovable human and my father said that this woman (Anna) was one of the sweetest women that he ever knew."

Among Mrs. Quillen's mementos of "Big Uncle" are his embroidered handprint, on the cloth where Captain Bates had placed his hand and traced it. I took some rough measurements and here is what I came up with: From the the bend of the wrist to the end of the middle finger measured 10 and one-half inches.  The wrist measured 4 inches across. The width of the hand at the palm measured about 5 inches. A tracing of the side of one of his boots measured 17 inches in length and 5 and one-half inches in width.

Anna and Martin Bates never had any children that lived, although they lost two babies soon after birth. Bates is quoted as having written that the first was a girl who weighed 18 pounds at her birth in 1872 and seven years later a boy was lost soon after birth who weighed 22 pounds.

The Bates' finally settled down on a 130-acre farm near Seville, Ohio in Medina county where they built a house to accommodate their size. It had 14 and one-half foot ceilings and doors 8 and one-half feet high. The furniture was also custom made for giants which brought great amusement to visitors and to the Bates' as well.

Sadly, Captain Bates was left alone when Anna died. He is said to have rejoined the W.W. Cole Circus sometime thereafter, and even remarried but this time to a woman of regular size who weighed 135 pounds. Mrs. Quillens records list the second wife's name as Annette Yvonne Weatherby (aka Lavonne) of Cincinnati, Ohio. Captain Bates died in 1919 at the age of 82. He is buried in Medina County Ohio.

I am indebted to Essie Quillen and Charlie Wright of Letcher, the captain's great-niece and great-nephew and his great-great-nephew Cossie Quillen of Whitesburg for information and pictures provided for the story about this wonderful Kentuckian.  Cossie Quillen was the son of Essie Blaine Wright and Willie M Quillen and can be found with his siblings on the webpage of Essie's parents at This Link.



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