The state of Ohio was organized in 1803 from the Northwest Territory after a bitter struggle between the party of Arthur St. Clair, governor of the territory, and the "Chillicothe Junto," which favored immediate statehood for the section east of the mouth of the Great Miami River. The leader of the latter group was Edward Tiffin, who was elected the first governor of the new state.
Edward Tiffin was born in Carlisle, England, on June 10, 1766, and attended the Latin school in that city. At the age of twelve he apprenticed himself as a student of medicine. He completed his apprenticeship in 1783 and came with his parents, Henry and Mary Parker Tiffin, and four brothers and sisters to America, where he settled with them in Charles Town, Virginia, now in Jefferson County, West Virginia. He began the practice of medicine here while still only seventeen years of age, and apparently soon had a sizable practice.
That he was a respected member of society in his Virginia home is evidenced by the fact that his name is found on the lists of "Gentlemen Justices" appointed by the governor of Virginia, and also by the fact that in the late 1780's (the exact date is uncertain) he married Mary Worthington, daughter of a wealthy landowner, Robert Worthington, and sister of Thomas Worthington, who was to become Ohio's sixth governor.
Although reared in the Episcopal Church, Tiffin and his wife came under the influence of the Methodist revival in 1790 and joined the Methodist Church. Two years later Tiffin was ordained a deacon by Bishop Francis Asbury and throughout the rest of his life continued to serve the church as a lay preacher.
Tiffin, like many other Virginians, felt the appeal of the West, and in 1798, emigrating with his family and that of Thomas Worthington and their recently manumitted colored servants, settled in the wilderness village of Chillicothe on the banks of the Scioto River in the Ohio country. Tiffin, who was thirty-two years old at the time, has been described as a vivacious, florid-faced English gentleman of medium height with pleasant manners and extraordinary conversational powers. He had already won considerable reputation as a physician and surgeon. He continued to practice his profession under the trying conditions of the frontier.
Tiffin carried with him from Virginia a recommendation for public office addressed to Governor St. Clair and signed by George Washington. A few months after Tiffin's arrival in Chillicothe the governor appointed him prothonotary of the territorial court of common pleas. This was the beginning of a long public career in Ohio. He served as speaker of the territorial house of representatives, 1799-1801, and as president of the constitutional convention in 1802, where his authority to determine the membership of committees was an important factor in policy-making in that body.
He was elected governor of the newly organized state almost without opposition in 1803 and again in 1805 for a second term. It was during his second term that he received a commendatory letter from President Jefferson for his efficiency in foiling Aaron Burr's expedition. Before the close of his second term he was elected by the general assembly to the United States Senate. He took his seat in 1807 but resigned in March 1809. After the death of his wife in July 1808, he expressed a wish to return to his home near Chillicothe and resume his medical practice and farming. He did not long remain a private citizen, however, for a few months after his return to Chillicothe he was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives, where he served two terms as speaker, 1809- 11. In the fall of 1812 he was appointed by President Madison commissioner of the general land office, an office which had just been created. Tiffin successfully organized the land records, and his foresight saved them from destruction when the British invaded Washington in 1814. In the fall of the same year he secured the approval of the president to exchange offices with Josiah Meigs, then surveyor general for the Northwest, in order to be able to reside at home. Tiffin by this time had remarried and had one daughter. His second wife was Mary Porter, by whom he had four daughters and a son.
Tiffin continued in the office of surveyor general for fifteen years under the administrations of James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, all of whom praised his work. He was relieved of the office only a few weeks before his death.
During the last four or five years of his life Tiffin suffered severe nervous headaches. In spite of that fact he continued to supervise the work of his office and farm and to give his professional services to the poor of the community who called upon him. He died on August 9, 1829, and was buried in Grandview Cemetery at Chillicothe.
Edward Tiffin had had a distinguished and versatile career. He was a skillful physician, an able lay preacher, an efficient and respected public servant, and a man of highest integrity. The city of Tiffin, Ohio, is named in his honor, and the state may well take pride in her first governor. The Ohio Historical Society
S. WINIFRED SMITH
Ohio History Center 800 E. 17th Ave. Columbus, OH 43211 © 1996-2012 All Rights Reserved.