By 1808Delaware

Nestled within the serene grounds of the President’s mansion at Ohio Wesleyan University once stood a majestic weeping willow tree, whose roots trace back to a remarkable historical lineage. The tale of this tree’s ancestry begs the question we ask our readers today.

A Journey from St. Helena

The origins of this distinguished weeping willow date back to the early 19th century on the isolated island of St. Helena. It was here, near the grave of the exiled French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, that a small sprig of willow began its journey. This sprig was broken off and brought across the seas to the United States, where it found its new home on the grave of Mrs. Wheeler.

From President Hayes to Ohio Wesleyan

As the tree grew and flourished, it caught the eye of President Rutherford B. Hayes during a visit to the tomb. Hayes took a sprig from the thriving tree and planted it in his own yard in Fremont, Ohio, where it too prospered into a large, graceful willow.

In President Hayes’ own words from his horticulture diary in April 1884, he writes:

“April 1884
10 Cold — threatening snow.
16th —with Fanny planted the first beech trees ever in the grove — Except water beeches. One near main gate—one on Buckl. Av. South of locust—one in clothes drying yard and one near Dr Webbs tree. Died .85
Also cut off twigs from the Napoleon—Washington weeping willow + put them in Nursery near South end of Main path from Stable South. 28 Ap. 1885 growing well.”

Years later, in a chain of events marked by a blend of curiosity and horticultural interest, a piece of this tree made its way to Dr. Payne’s farm. Dr. Payne, serving as the President of Ohio Wesleyan University at the time, planted this piece in his lawn. Under his care, the weeping willow thrived and grew, becoming a proud testament to its historical journey.

A Call to the Community

The question now arises: does this tree have any descendants that continue its noble lineage?

We are reaching out to the community and historians alike to uncover whether any progeny of this renowned weeping willow survive to this day. Have you encountered a willow tree in your area with a tale linked to Napoleon or President Hayes? Your insights and stories could help piece together the continued journey of this extraordinary tree.

Source: Cincinnati Enquirer; Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museum; Image by kiwi from Pixabay


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