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Capt. John B. Rhodes

JB Phodes 1
Captain John Brown Rhodes

Captain Rhodes was born on Nov. 20, 1817 at Hanover Township in Columbiana County, Ohio. He comes of English ancestors who were among the early settlers of the Old Dominion. From Virginia they scattered some years later to newer portions of the country, the father of  John B., taking up his abode in the Western Reserve and being one of the pioneer settlers of Ohio.  With the pioneer instinct of his ancestors, John B. Rhodes, on becoming a young man, left the home of his childhood and turned his face westward, Illinois being his objective point.

Captain J. B. Rhodes came to Savanna in July, 1841, where he first engaged as a clerk in the store of J. W. White. He continued employment until March of 1843, and then engaged in the sheep trade, going to Ohio and bringing out a large drove. After disposing of his sheep interest, upon which he made a reasonably fair profit, he re-engaged as a clerk for eight months, with White's successor in business, and then became a partner.

The partnership continued one year, when Captain Rhodes bought out the interests of his partners and became sole proprietor for six years.

Rhodes served as Carroll County Sheriff from 1846-1850 and one of the county’s first tax collectors. Many times he advanced the tax money for the majority of the farmers, who in turn paid him at the time their crops were sold. ln his later years he proudly boasted that “no man had ever defaulted for a dollar in these transactions.”

He remained out of business for two years, and then formed a partnership with W. L. B. Jenks, with whom he remained in business until 1852.

He then sold those interest and engaged in steam boating for over 25 years, He bought an interest in the steamboat "Martha No. 2," and was also the captain of the “Dubuque”, becoming a large stockholder in the Northern Line Packet Company.

Dubuque Riot
A sketch of the riot aboard the Dubuque, that was piloted by Capt. John B. Rhodes of Savanna. 

On July 29, 1869, what began as an argument ended as a race riot on the steamer Dubuque as she made her way north from Davenport under the command of Capt. John Rhodes and she had more than 30 men in her crew, over two dozen of them black. She carried nearly 100 passengers on the cabin deck and almost twice that number in the steerage and freight deck below.

Following the normal customs, the clerk went to collect steerage tickets after stationing Moises Davis, a black deckhand, at the top of the stairway. No one was allowed upstairs until all tickets were collected.

A quarrelsome Irish lumberman named Mike Lynch attempted to gain the upper deck and was refused. There was a short fight which he lost. Under the influence of drink and angry, he gathered 20 of his friends and led a rush at Davis.

In the battle that followed, the raftsmen joined in and soon the fight spread to include all the black boatsmen. At Hagy’s Landing near Hampton, 16 back men gained the shore amid a hail of shots and thrown missiles but since Rhodes was told the boat would be burned if he stopped for help, the Dubuque continued up river, The fight went on and it wasn’t long before Davis and four other black men either jumped or were thrown into the river and drowned. The only other black men aboard who survived did so because the other passengers hid then

Lynch and another man left the boat at Camanche in time to avoid capture at Clinton by a posse alerted by the men reaching safety at Hampton.

Twenty men were placed in irons and returned to Rock Island where nine were finally tried in June of 1870. Judged guilty, they were sentenced from one to three years. Ringleader Lynch was eventually caught, tried and sentenced to 10 years for his part in the crime.

In 1846 he married Mary Jane Pierce, the first white child born in Carroll County and the daughter of original settler Aaron Pierce. Rhodes constructed what was known as the Steamboat House at what is now 1019 North Main Street. The home was surrounded by a large metal gate and had a large cupola on top.

They had eight children: Esther (1847-1852), William Pierce (1850-1928), Henry Clay (1853-1939), Edward B. (1856-1856), Laura Pierce Rhodes Fairbank (1858-1944), John Brown (1860-1934), Thomas Brown (1860-1950), and Richard G. After the death of Mrs. Rhodes in 1877 he re-married in 1881 to Lydia D. Gansley Craig-Rhodes.

After retiring from steam boating, he engaged in the grocery trade with his son, Richard G., until his death.

Rhodes House drawing
The Rhodes House on the north end of Main Street.

Rhodes Family 1
The Rhodes family gathers for a picnic at their home.