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Captain Bates Autobiography
2009 By William P Thayer and
James and Karen McCauley

This writer was so fortunate several years ago, at considerable expense of time and money to acquire the only existing copy of Captain Bates' Biography written and published by him in 1880.

On page 10, Captain Bates concludes his wife's biography with the following sentence: "Mrs. (Anna Swan) Bates weighed four hundred and thirteen pounds and stands seven feet eleven and a half inches in height."

Then he begins his own biography as follows:

p3 "Boy, Soldier and Man"

"John W. and Sarah Bates were the proprietors of an extensive farm in Whitesburg (being the only post office at that time), Letcher County, Kentucky.

Here in a section of country noted for good horses, beautiful women and noble men they raised seven boys and five girls. While the father stood six feet two inches in his stocking feet and weighed two hundred and twenty pounds, the mother reached only five feet one inch in height, and weighed but one hundred and fifty six pounds. Martin Van Buren was the youngest of the family.

I was born on November 9, 1845. My growth was gradual and it is probable, that owing to that fact each portion of my body developed equal and symmetrically.

I was educated in Emma Henry College, Washington County, Virginia. When I was fifteen I stood six feet in height and was to all appearances a man. At that time the war between the States was commenced.

The son of a slave owner with the principle of States rights predominating within me I felt it my duty to tender my services in defence of what I believed the right.

I enlisted as a private in the Fifth Kentucky Infantry, C. S. A., on the 15th of September 1861. The regiment was commanded by Col. John S. Williams now a United States Senator from Kentucky. I served with the regiment until November 14, 1863, being promoted several times. I then became first lieutenant of Company A, Virginia State Line Troops under command of Col. John B. Floyd. This organization was afterwards disbanded and merged into the Seventh Confederate Cavalry. Colonel Clarence J. Prentis commanded this body of men. I was assigned to the command of Troop A, and afterwards promoted to the rank of Captain, continuing thus until the close of the war. My army experience served to bring into active use every muscle of the body and to enable me to endure hardship.

I continued to grow until I was twenty-eight years of age. I now measure seven feet eleven and a half inches in height, and weigh four hundred and seventy-eight pounds. I took in my company at Knoxville, Tennessee, and after turning over State property to the authorities I made my way to Cincinnati, and finding my immense proportions was the object of wonder I decided, for want of something better to do, to exhibit myself as a curiosity. I made my first bow in this line of business on the eighteenth day of July 1865. For five years I travelled, visiting all parts of the United States and Canada. Finally I accepted an offer of Judge Ingalls to make a tour of Europe and joined him at Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was then I met my wife and as our history from that time blends into one I shall for the future treat the subject jointly."

Here follow the highlights of: The Tallest Man and Wife That Ever Existed

Taken from the Captain's own book in much abbreviated language: Viz.:

April 22, 1871, The couple left New York on the City of Brussels of the Inman Line accompanied by Judge H. P. Ingalls.

May 2, 1871, arrived at Liverpool, and spent a week at the Washington Hotel.

May 19, 1871, arrived in London and gave a reception at the Willis Rooms on Kings Street to editors and medical men exclusively.

May 29, 1871, gave first public reception at same place.

June 2, 1871, Ordered by royal command to appear before Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, at Buckingham Palace. The Queen expressed her pleasure in the warmest terms and presented us with several valuable presents.

June 17, 1871, we were united at the Church of St. Martins in-the-Fields facing on Trafalgar Square. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Rupert Cochran, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, who was assisted by the Rev. Dr. Roberts and the Vicar of St. Martins. Bridesmaids were Mlle. Augustine and Mrs. Dr. Buckland. My Best Man was the Honorable Henry Lee, scientific editor of "Land and Water." Judge Ingalls gave the bride away. We were married just as the morning service was over on Saturday. I had previously rented and furnished a house at 45 Craven Street, where the wedding breakfast was served by the celebrated caterers, Spears and Bonds. After breakfast, we started for Richmond, where I engaged rooms at the "Star and Garter."

June 21, 1871, We returned to London and gave a private reception for the Prince of Wales at Masonic Hall. The Prince was accompanied by his staff, the Grand Duke Vladimir of Russia and Prince John of Luxembourg. We appeared twice more before the Queen, once at Buckingham Palace and once at Windsor Castle. Also had the honor to be the guests of the Princess of Wales at Marlborough House, and her sister, the Princess Christina, second daughter of the King of Denmark. We then exhibited at Crystal Palace and several theaters. The week before Christmas found us in Edinburgh, Scotland and Glasgow.

May 19, 1872, Our first child, a daughter was born, and died at birth. She weighed 18 pounds and was twenty-seven inches tall. On advice of Doctors we left England and travelled on the continent for pleasure, only giving receptions when requested by Royal Command. After touring Ireland, we decided to return to America.

July 2, 1874, We left England on the "City of Antwerp". We toured the west. Then, having decided to be a farmer, I bought a 130-acre farm near Seville, Medina County, Ohio, building a house, later known as: "The House the giants built." I stocked my farm with blooded cattle, mostly shorthorns. My drafthorses were the Norman breed, with a pair of Clydesdale carriage mares eighteen hands high. The seasons of 1878-79 found us the leading attractions of W. W. Coles Bros. Circus, Menagery and Museum.

January 19, 1879, Our second child, a son was born, only to again die at birth. He was 28 inches tall, weighing 22 pounds, and perfect in every respect. He looked at birth like an ordinary child 6 months old.

This ended their Circus days, and they settled down on their Seville Farm. And here Captain Bates' booklet ends.

Several years ago this writer spent three days at Seville and Medina, Ohio, gathering up the rest of Captain Bates' story, from where his booklet ended in 1880. Here follow the chief facts gathered from the Captain's neighbors, newspaper clippings etc. Viz.:

1889, Aug. 5th,

Mrs. Anna (Swan) Bates, wife of Captain M. V. Bates of Seville, Ohio died. She was a faithful and beloved member of the Seville Baptist Church, and a teacher in the Sabbath school. Her funeral was postponed for a week, pending the arrival of her parents from New Annan, County of Colchester, Nova Scotia. Oct. 23, 1889,

Bates-Weatherby, The Captain takes a second wife. At the home of the bride at Troy, Ohio, married by the Father of the bride, the Rev. J. W. Weatherby; Mr. M. V. Bates of Seville, Ohio and Miss A. LaVonne Weatherby of Troy, Ohio. They continued living on their farm one mile east of Seville, until 1901, when Captain Bates had a great sale at the farm, selling all his stock, tools, crops, etc., and retired with the second Mrs. Bates to their town house in east end of Seville. But previously in 1898, he made a trip back to Kentucky to settle his father's estate. And on this same trip he sold all the Bates lands in and around Kona to W. H. Potter, who moved his family from Potters Fork in the old Bates home, until they built their two-story dwelling at the mouth of Boone Creek. All the Bates buildings were torn down, when Railroad was built through Kona, in 1911-13. Not a sign of the place is left, where the "Tallest Man, who Married the Tallest Woman that ever lived" was born. A parking place in front of a large garage on road leading to old Kona, marks the spot where the old Bates house stood. Nov. 9, 1911, From a newspaper clipping:

"Mr. Robert Bates came to Seville last Thursday morning and gave his Brother Captain M. V. Bates a happy surprise. Mr. Bates is a man of medium height, 86 years old, and had made a remarkable trip for a man of his age. Six weeks ago he started from his home among the mountains in Whitesburg, Letcher County, Kentucky, and took his invalid son to Hot Springs, Ark. This is the first time in sixteen years the brothers have seen one another, so there were many things to tell, etc."

A Giant Shirt

A shirt company at Catskill has just finished a shirt for Captain Martin Van Buren Bates, the Ohio Giant, which is said to be the biggest garment of the kind ever made in America. Its length is 74 inches, waist 96 inches, sleeve from the middle of the back measures 63 inches, neck 25 inches, wristband 18 inches. It took nearly six yards of muslin 1 and yards wide, and the material alone cost $2.50 wholesale.

Captain Martin Van Buren Bates and his second wife continued to live in their townhouse in Seville from 1901 to 1919, to his death. He died of hardening of the arteries and lost most of his great weight. Remembering the long delay in the burial of his first wife, through the building of a special coffin, Captain Bates had his own coffin built many years before his death. It was made of the finest heavy oak, lined with copper. Before his death he had a female figure carved from the finest white marble mounted on a triple granite base, set up in his lot in Mound Hill Cemetery, between his farm and the town of Seville. The entire monument stands some 18 feet high. The head stones are: Martin Van B. Anna H. Babe Sister. Captain Bates' widow continued to live in the town house until her death in 1940. Her body was claimed by a sister in Florida, and is buried there.

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