The Stonecutter

Solomon Powers was big in every sense of the word—he had ten siblings, five daughters, as many as sixteen stonecutting apprentices, and any number of people at his home for dinner on any given night, and fellow Gettysburg citizen J. Howard Wert described him as “an elephantine man” with a “massive frame” whose “clothes hung on him as if most unskillfully thrown into their places with a pitchfork.” He owned the town’s only stonecutting business, and he was considered the best stonecutter west of the Susquehanna River.

Solomon was born in New Hampshire, the Granite State, the eighth of eleven children belonging to Samuel Powers and Chloe Cooper. Samuel was a man of no small renown himself–during the American Revolution, at age fifteen, he joined Captain Edmund Hodge’s company, Colonel Josiah Whitney’s regiment in Massachusetts and participated in their march to Rhode Island. In 1782, Samuel married Chloe, the daughter of Deacon John and Mary Cooper. The young couple settled in Croydon, New Hampshire, where Samuel served as a colonel in the state militia and as a state representative.

When he came of age, Solomon struck out on his own. In Baltimore, Maryland, he met Catherine Atkinson, whom he married in 1832. About five years later, the couple relocated to Gettysburg with their two young daughters, and Solomon opened his highly successful stonecutting business. He cut granite from what came to be known as Powers Hill–a landmark that eventually became critical in the battle. Union artillery used it to rain fire on the base of Culp’s Hill on July 3, and the section of the battlefield was known as Artillery Hell.

Solomon’s business did well enough that he paid for all five daughters to have private educations, a fact of which he was particularly proud. They all grew to become teachers and nurses. Solomon was also active in local politics, like his father–in his case, he was vice president of the county democratic party. He and Catherine opened their home to all sorts. At his business’s height, he had sixteen apprentices; at times, apprentices would live with him for extended periods of time, and all of them found their way to his table.

A contemporary source said, “He frequently remarked that ‘if one of the boys can’t eat one pound of meat at a meal, he is sick and needs attention,’ and his good wife with the help of these children baked and cooked for this large family, Tramps, and everybody who was hungry, knew ‘Solly’ Powers, and, of course, they had to be invited to dine also.”

During the battle, Solomon and Catherine opened their home to the wounded and soon had their basement full of wounded men. According to their daughters, they nursed twenty-eight men there, though other sources have placed the number at closer to sixteen or seventeen. Catherine claimed to have seen General Reynolds brought by on a litter just after being shot and said she saw him still breathing, though not conscious.

It was this largesse of spirit that probably caused Solomon and Catherine to take into their home young Allen Frazer whose father had died young and whose family had moved to Baltimore. Allen would die tragically the day after Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and be buried in the Powers family plot at Evergreen Cemetery.

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