Family Ties: John and Portia Gage Were Two of Vinelands Earliest Free Thinkers. Son Jared Was Expelled From College and Later Became a POW Fighting for the North


Vintage Vineland

By Vince Farinaccio

A Columnist for the Grapevine Newspaper

Since Jared Gage had grown up in a family that didn’t back down from causes it considered important, he chose not to abandon Thomas and Mary Gove Nichols, free love advocates and owners of the therapeutic center, Yellow Springs Water Cure, situated near Antioch College in Ohio. The outlook of the couple had raised the ire of college president Horace Mann, and Gage’s defense of his friends placed him under the watchful gaze of Antioch’s administrator. But he wasn’t the only one being observed.
According to Shameless: The Visionary Life of Mary Gove Nichols by Jean L. Silver-Isenstadt, “W.N. Hambleton, a student who ran the bookstore, had… put up notices advertising the Nicholses’ works for sale and declaring that ‘error alone fears investigation.’ Hambleton had attended the American Hydropathic Institute…The day after posting the notices, Hambleton was given the choice of ceasing to sell the Nicholses’ books or of leaving Antioch. Outraged, he chose to leave…Jared received a similar ultimatum directly.
Incensed by what he considered the limitation of his constitutional freedom, Jared attended the public meeting at which Thomas Nichols sought unsuccessfully to diffuse the community’s wrath. Near the start of the summer vacation, Jared posted a notice that he had for sale a variety of works on spiritualism and social reform. He also began to board with the Nicholses down at the Water-Cure and to use their baths. He considered Mary and Thomas old friends.”
The notice caught the attention of Mann, who visited Gage in order to examine the books for sale. Among the collection, he discovered works by the Nichols. “Jared’s was a clear act of defiance,” Silver-Isenstadt writes. “When Mann attempted to forbid Jared’s sale of any books on free love, Jared ‘refused to acknowledge the right of the ‘faculty’ to prohibit any lawful business.’ He told the college president that he did not consider their conversation conclusive.”
It wasn’t long before Jared was expelled. But the college must have felt the true grounds for dismissal wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny. Silver-Isenstadt explains, “The technical issue for which the faculty voted him home to his parents ultimately did not involve the sale of books; it related to Jared’s decision to board with the Nicholses. The thirty-sixth rule of the college declared that ‘without permission of the faculty, students will not be allowed to board with families in the village, who take boarders of the other sex…’ ” Gage left the institution by the end of September but remained in the area. Shortly afterward, the college voted to remove donor copies of Mary Lyndon from its collections along with “books presented by J. D. Gage.”
According to one online source, Gage, influenced considerably by his free-thinking parents, had been “expelled by Horace Mann from Antioch College for being too liberal.” He eventually became a Spiritualist and settled in the State of New York to join the Oneida Community, a religious commune, before returning to his family in Illinois.
But with the onset of the Civil War, Jared’s life would take a different path. According to online sources, he enlisted with the 14th Illinois Infantry, Company E and entered the battlefield. His father’s Autobiographical Notes provide a brief account of his military life, informing us that his son “served constantly until at the battle of Pittsburgh Landing [April 6-7, 1862] he received a ball in his shoulder that disabled him & he returned home as soon as he was able & within three months recovered enough to return to duty, but his cousin, Leonard Kellogg, who fought by his side was shot and killed in that battle. Jared went with his regiment, besieged and took Vicksburg, then to Atlanta near which he was taken prisoner.”
Jared’s capture occurred on October 4, 1864, and it’s the timeframe in which he became a prisoner that determined his fate. He was sent to a fairly new prison in Georgia that had opened in February. John Gage, along with the rest of the country, would soon learn the name of the facility, referring to it as “that rebel death pen Andersonville, where [Jared] nearly starved to death and was kept till the close of the war [and] never recovered his health…”
Next Week: Andersonville

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