Bio Sketch: Thomas O. Lowe (1838-1922), lawyer and Copperhead in Dayton, Ohio

Thomas Owen Lowe was born February 11, 1838, in Batavia, Clermont County, Ohio, the eldest son of John W. Lowe and Manorah Fishback.

Beginning in 1851, Tom attended Farmers College, until his father’s financial situation forced his withdrawal from the school in 1854. For a short time thereafter, Tom worked briefly as a bank clerk at Ellis & Sturges bank in Cincinnati. Then, in 1855, he accompanied his father to Dayton.

In the summer of 1855, Tom abruptly moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he worked as a bank clerk at the W. B. Shepherd bank. He eventually took a clerk position at a different bank, the Bank of Middle Tennessee in nearby Lebanon, where he remained until the summer of 1857.[1]

Upon his return to Dayton in July 1857, Tom again obtained employment as a bank clerk, at the Harshman and Winters Bank. Tom had corresponded regularly with Martha Harshman, daughter of one of the bank proprietors, during his time in Tennessee. And on November 10, 1857, Thomas Lowe and Martha Harshman (born October 1837), daughter of Jonathan Harshman Jr. and Abigail Hivling, were married in Montgomery County, Ohio. The newlyweds lived with the bride’s parents for a few months until their new home at 105 Main Street was ready; they moved into the house at 105 Main on May 27, 1858, according to Tom’s “Miscellany.”

Tom and Martha would live at 105 Main until sometime shortly before 1871, when they moved to 29 W. Fourth Street, where they lived until about 1877. From about 1877 to about 1880, they lived at 326 W. First Street. From about 1880 to about 1883, they lived at “Old No. 5 Main” (225 N. Main), and from about 1883 to 1885, they lived at 316 W. Monument Avenue.

Thomas and Martha had four children:

  1. Abbie Lowe (born October 7, 1858; died October 25, 1860);
  2. John Williamson Lowe (born October 4, 1861; died September 27, 1917), who never married and lived in Chicago;
  3. Jeannetta Lowe (born April 20, 1863; died October 5, 1869); and
  4. Nora Lowe (born March 1869; died January 20, 1958), who married Ralph Rappe McKee and lived in New York.

Although he worked in banks until the age of 34, Tom was long a student of law, first studying under his father John Lowe. He roomed with a law student while living in Lebanon, Tennessee, and he continued his law studies upon returning to Dayton. Thomas Lowe was admitted to the bar in February 1859 but continued in the banking business until May 1862, when he began his law practice.

During the Civil War, Tom disagreed with the war on several grounds, for which reason he was considered a “Copperhead,” or “Peace Democrat.” Fellow Daytonian Clement Vallandingham was the best known Copperhead. After Vallandingham’s arrest in May 1863, Tom decided that it might be prudent to spend the summer in Europe, lest he meet the same fate, since his views were also widely known. Tom returned to Dayton in the fall of 1863.

Letter from Thomas O. Lowe to the Dayton Journal, May 1863

Letter from Thomas O. Lowe to the Dayton Journal (the Republican newspaper), May 1863. (See also pg 2.)

On January 1, 1864, Tom was appointed to fill a vacancy as Montgomery County Auditor; he remained in this post until March 1865, at which time he returned to his law practice. He continued to practice law until he was elected Judge of the Superior Court of Montgomery County in October 1870. When his term expired in July 1876, he again resumed his law practice at the northeast corner of Third and Jefferson.

Tom was a member of the Presbyterian Church from his early life onward. In the early 1870s, he became increasingly active in religious activities, especially in the YMCA. In April 1884, Tom became a licensed minister of the Presbyterian Church, and at that time he seems to have given up his law practice and was solely a clergyman thenceforth.

The 1884-1885 city directory is the first entry to list Thomas O. Lowe as “Rev.” and without any other occupation. Tom is not listed in the 1884-1885 Dayton city directory or thereafter, so it may have been about that time that he and Martha moved to Richmond County, New York, where their daughter Nora Lowe McKee lived.

Thomas O. Lowe died September 2, 1922, at Staten Island, New York. His wife Martha Harshman had died March 2, 1900, at New Brighton, New York. Thomas and Martha Lowe are buried in Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio.

Thomas Lowe family is listed on the back of Jonathan Harshman's marker (Thomas's father-in-law)

Thomas Lowe family is listed on the back of Jonathan Harshman’s marker (Thomas’s father-in-law)



Thomas Owen Lowe and Martha (Harshman) Lowe on Harshman tombstone

Thomas Owen Lowe and Martha (Harshman) Lowe on Harshman tombstone



Thomas Owen Lowe, Woodland Cemetery (individual headstone)

Thomas Owen Lowe, Woodland Cemetery (individual headstone)


This biographical sketch was originally written by Lisa P. Rickey in July 2011 for the Lowe Collection (MS-009) finding aid at the Dayton Metro Library, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, Ohio, 45402; phone (937) 496-8654. Additional information about the sketch’s subject can be found in that collection and in the citations below. Please contact the library or this blog’s author for more information about how to access the original finding aid or the manuscript collection.

I have written a few additional blog posts about Thomas O. Lowe, including: “Tom Lowe considers Civil War Service” (13 May 2011) and “Tom Lowe on Becoming a Father” (17 May 2011).


Bibliography & Further Reading

Becker, Carl M. “The Genesis of a Copperhead.” Bulletin of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio 19, no. 4 (Oct. 1961): 235-253. [Dayton B L913B.]

Becker, Carl M. “John William Lowe: Failure in Inner-Direction.” Ohio History 73, no. 2 (1964): 75-89.

Becker, Carl M. “Picture of a Young Copperhead.” Ohio History 71 (1962): 3-23. [Dayton B L913BP.]

Becker, Carl M. Tom Lowe: A Lesser Angel. [Oxford, OH]: Miami University, 1958. [Dayton B L913BT.]

Broadstone, Michael A., editor. History of Greene County, Ohio: Its People, Industries, and Institutions. Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen, 1918. Vol. 1, pp. 653-656. [Genealogy Reference 977.174 H673B.]

Drury, Augustus Waldo. History of the City of Dayton and Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago; Dayton: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1909. Vol. 1, pp. 479, 781; Vol. 2, pp. 937-938. [Dayton 977.173 D796.]

The History of Montgomery County, Ohio. Chicago: W. H. Beers & Co., 1882. Book 3, pp. 222-223. [Dayton 977.172 H673.]

Lowe, John W. [Letters of John W. Lowe] [microform]. [Dayton B L9134AA.]

“Lowe Papers.” LHR File. Local History Room, Dayton Metro Library.

“Lowe, Thomas Owen.” LHR File. Local History Room, Dayton Metro Library.

Obituary of Thomas O. Lowe. Dayton Journal, September 10, 1922.

[1] It has been argued that Thomas Lowe’s time in the South contributed to the evolution of his opinions and attitudes that would later label him as a “Copperhead.” (See Bibliography: Carl M. Becker, “The Genesis of a Copperhead.”)


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