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The Suburbanite
  • Postcard from Canton: Cemetery's mystery of presidential proportions

  • Does old and oft-vandalized Rowland Cemetery on the east side of Canton hold the grave of the illegitimate daughter of President James Buchanan? A stone on the south side of the cemetery, located in the 1900 block of Tuscarawas Street E and behind First Mennonite Church on Third Street SE, seems to offer evidence — albeit misspelled — that the grave exists.

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  • Does old and oft-vandalized Rowland Cemetery on the east side of Canton hold the grave of the illegitimate daughter of President James Buchanan?
    A stone on the south side of the cemetery, located in the 1900 block of Tuscarawas Street E and behind First Mennonite Church on Third Street SE, seems to offer evidence — albeit misspelled — that the grave exists.
    The stone marker, its words almost washed away by the weather, sits next to a hedge and leans slightly from its age. Though reading it now is almost impossible, an inspection more than 25 years ago revealed that the woman buried there was “M. Henrietta Buchannan. Died Dec. 17, 1855. Aged 41 years.”
    A newspaper article, unidentified and undated but reprinted in 1982 by the Stark County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, perhaps provides background on the identity of M. Henrietta Buchannan, and if so explains the decades-old city legend that surrounds her.
    The article carries the headline, “Daughter of Bachelor President Buried Here.”
    “The name of the mother, the only girl whom President Buchanan ever loved, has been forgotten in Canton, but the name of M. Henrietta Buchanan (sic), the child who was proud of her father despite the fact that he never married her mother, so proud she took his name, is known to many older Cantonians who remember her.”
    Today, most of those city residents no doubt are gone. But the story lingers.
    As that story goes, Buchanan had an affair with a woman deemed by his family not worthy of him.
    “He loved. Unwisely perhaps,” the article explained. “And such a sweet young girl, demure and lovely, he loved. In warm summer evenings he met her underneath a great tree on the outskirts of (Lancaster, Pa.). It was there he whispered words of love in her ear. And there they plighted their troth.”
    Soon, she was pregnant. His parents wouldn’t allow a marriage. One night, when he returned to where they always met, she was not there. Nor did she come the next night.
    “He searched the village for her. One man declared he had seen her get on the prairie schooner passing through the village. Buchanan traced her to Canton, sent ardent messages begging the girl to marry him. But she was proud and refused.
    “The child was born.”
    The legend has it that Buchanan’s lover had stopped in Canton because she was ill. It is said Mennonites like herself who had settled here cared for her and helped her raise her child.
    Details of the story turn sad. The mother died when the child was a young woman. Her daughter followed her to the grave in 1855. The 65-year-old Buchanan became president two years later.
    A tree that once shaded the grave of “M. Henrietta Buchannan” was planted by Buchanan, the article claimed, because he “never forgot the little girl he had wronged.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The story may be true. Even more likely it is not. It would be difficult to prove the details. And it is easier to just enjoy the story.