Monday, July 19, 2021

President Ulysses S. Grant visits the Thousand Islands

In 1872, during President Ulysses S. Grant’s reelection campaign for his second term as president, George Pullman invited the President to respite on Pullman Island. He also invited Civil War heroes, General Sheridan and Porter, among others, to join them. For the nearly weeklong visit, Pullman arranged several events, including a grand ball. 

As with most events attended by presidents, when President Grant and his entourage visited, the Thousand Islands became a national event. The press touted the Thousand Islands as the best place to summer for the rich and famous and common man alike. Because of the President’s visit and the journalists’ rave reviews, the Thousand Islands Gilded Age era burst upon the scene.

Pullman was one of the first new money millionaires to buy an island, and his influence was great. Once he bought an island, the rich and famous followed, buying islands, parts of islands, and spots on the St. Lawrence shoreline, some for as little as five dollars! During the Thousand Islands Gilded age, wealthy owners built castles, mansions, and elaborate summer homes, many of which are still standing today, including parts of Pullman Island, which I’ve visited a half-dozen times. Its history gets under your skin and captures the imagination. What would it be like back when President Grant visited?

Here’s the New York Times article that reported on the President’s August, 1872, visit to the Thousand Islands. I think you’ll enjoy the nineteenth-century reporting style. In my novel, Katelyn’s Choice, I elaborate on these events, bringing them to life through the eyes of a servant girl. (note: I corrected a few errors for ease of reading.)

ALEXANDRIA BAY, July 29, 1872

The fact that Mrs. Grant is to spend a part of August on the St. Lawrence River calls to mind the visit of her husband, which brought the Thousand Islands into prominence as a Summer resort. The Islands were said to have been discovered by President Grant. This is not true, but thousands discovered the attractiveness and charms of the Thousand Islands through President Grant's influence.


Our President’s arrival and beacon President Grant as guest of George M. Pullman on Pullman's Isle.

Friday August 2nd

All day Friday, Mr. Pullman and his guests were busy in completing the extensive preparations already made to receive so distinguished a personage, and before the hour of his arrival, every possible preparation was complete. We are reliably informed that to W. A. Angell was entrusted the decoration of the Island, and in fact, the whole affair was entrusted to skillful hand and superb taste; and we feel assured that all who visited the island during the carnival will agree with us when we say, "it was the most beautifully and thoroughly done, for which Mr. Angell is deserving of great credit."

Sherman and Sheridan among guests. About 9 p. m., President Grant and lady, accompanied by Lieut, and Jessie Grant arrived at Pullmans beautiful Isle on board George M. Pullman's private Steam Yacht, which had been placed at the President's disposal upon his arrival at Cape Vincent, and remained so during his stay.

As soon as the steamer bearing his Excellency hove in sight, the guns of Pullman and Nobby Isles, also Alexandria Bay, pealed forth their welcome, and the entire vicinity was illuminated with fireworks and at least three hundred Chinese lanterns.

The pleasure steamer Midge arrived soon after the President had landed, having on board a large party from Clayton, and again the vicinity was brilliantly illuminated with a grand display of fireworks from the Midge and Nobby Isle. Next to Mr. Pullman's, we think Nobby entitled to the greatest credit for its grand and extensive efforts in welcoming the distinguished party. Goodwin and party spared neither pains nor expense to make manifest their approval of the President and the present administration, which we doubt was not fully appreciated.

About 10 p.m., after having received the greeting of the party, General Grant sought repose with the assurance that at last an opportunity of treating himself to some genuine enjoyment had arrived, and that for a time at least he was safely housed with a party of select and social friends at the "Rational" summer residence it Geo. M. Pullman, which is situated on one of the myriads of gems set in the blue bosom of the noble St. Lawrence River, surrounded on all sides by scenes of like enchantment, such as you may have seen in the Arabian Nights.


On Saturday noon, the President accompanied by Gen Sheridan, and rowed by Win. McCue, oarsman of Alexandria Bay, started out to pass the afternoon quietly, and among the islands in pursuit of fish, which they secured in large numbers, returning only when the time arrived for dinner. Saturday evening a variety of entertainments were given by the Pullman party, and apparently enjoyed by all.


Sunday was passed in quiet enjoyment until 2 p.m., when divine services were held. The scene and occasion made the simple and beautiful services in the wood as impressive as they were novel. At one end of a pine platform stood an evidently honest and earnest clergyman preaching the Word of the peaceful Christ. Over his head was a simple but elegant canopy, handsomely improvised out of a number of national flags. No roof but the spreading branches of the trees amid the peeping patches of blue sky covered the worshipers who occupied the platform, and the rising knolls and surrounding rocks, and who were all proud and happy citizens of the United States, the majority of whom had just gathered together from almost every corner of the country.

And there among them, the plainest and simplest looking individual of them all, with head bowed as low and eye drooping as meekly as any, and with no more pretense to superiority than the poorest of his fellow citizens beside him, knelt the chosen governor of forty-million freemen — the chief magistrate of the greatest nation in the world. It was a sight, which those who witnessed will never forget, which I am sure those who were not present would like to see. I think I am safe in calling it the most remarkable camp meeting ever held in this country. The Street of the ninth Presbyterian Church, preacher on the occasion was the Rev. Dr. formerly known as Dr. Hatfield's church, New York. He took for his text the thirteenth chapter of St. John and the seventh verse, and preached an eloquent sermon of an hour's duration on the wisdom and necessity of always placing our full confidence in God, who, however appearances may deceive our poor short-sightedness, always does all things for the best. After the service a portion of the audience paid their respects to the President after which all departed.


From 11 a. m. to 2 p. m., Mr. Pullman gave a public reception and at least two thousand people in attendance and shook the hand of our President — now, and we sincerely trust for at least one term more. After having received all comers, Gens. Grant and Sheridan took to the boat and were soon gliding downstream in quest of fishing. Anson Leonard, of Alexandria, was their guide. 

Monday evening Mr. Pullman gave the second of a series of entertainments which consisted of charades and music, and which proved to be one of the most pleasant affairs of the season.


The President visited Nobby Island. This three-story entertainment pavilion was designed with the intent to complement the existing historic main residence on the island. President Ulysses Grant was a guest of the island, and it was a popular shore dinner locale.

That evening, the grand masked ball closed the series and proved to be the most enjoyable evening of all.


At 7 A. M., U. S. Grant and party departed on a government steamer for Ogdensburg, having accepted the hospitalities of that city. 

I hope you enjoyed this look back on a special event. What strikes you most about the newspaper article? Leave your answer or comments on the post below and join me on August 19th for my next post. 

Check out Katelyn's Choice, Book 1 of the Thousand Islands Gilded Age series

Katelyn Kavanagh’s mother dreamed her daughter would one day escape the oppressive environment of their Upstate New York farm for service in the enchanting Thousand Islands, home to Gilded Age millionaires. But when her wish comes true, Katelyn finds herself in the service of none other than the famous George Pullman, and the transition proves anything but easy.

Thomas O’Neill, brother of her best friend, is all grown up and also working on Pullman Island. Despite Thomas’ efforts to help the irresistible Katelyn adjust to the intricacies of her new world, she just can’t seem to tame her gossiping tongue—even when the information she’s privy to could endanger her job, the 1872 re-election of Pullman guest President Ulysses S. Grant, and the love of the man of her dreams.

About Susan:

Susan G Mathis is an international award-winning, multi-published author of stories set in the beautiful Thousand Islands, her childhood stomping ground in upstate NY. Susan has been published more than twenty times in full-length novels, novellas, and non-fiction books.

Her first two books of The Thousand Islands Gilded Age series, Devyn’s Dilemma and Katelyn’s Choice are available now, and book three, Peyton’s Promise, comes out in May, 2022. The Fabric of Hope: An Irish Family Legacy, Christmas Charity, and Sara’s Surprise, and her newest, Reagan’s Reward, are also available. Susan’s books have won numerous awards, including two Illumination Book Awards, the American Fiction Award, the Indie Excellence Book Award, and the Literary Titan Book Award. Visit for more.


  1. Thanks for posting, and for including the newspaper article. I loved how eloquent the writer was concerning the worship service Sunday, and I chuckled over the little plug for voting Grant in for another term in the post for Monday.

  2. An interesting post. I read Katelyn's Choice. The article seems so understated after reading your novel. I found it so strange to call the President, His Excellency. The description of him during worship painted a picture of Grant so many people know nothing about.

  3. wow this is really informative. I love the history you have shared. Thank you. I so agree with Jubileewriter about the description of him during worship and what he was called.