Thursday, November 9, 2017

Birth Dates of Notable Kentuckians: November 9, 1845 - Martin Van Buren Bates


From The Kentucky Encyclopedia –
Martin Van Buren Bates, known as the "Giant of Letcher County" for his extreme height, was the son of John W. and Sarah Bates, born on November 9, 1845, in Whitesburg, Kentucky. Although none of his family members was above average height, Bates at age fifteen was already six feet tall, and by twenty- eight he had reached his maximum height of seven feet, eleven and a half inches, and weighed 478 pounds.

Bates was attending Emory and Henry College in Virginia when the Civil War broke out. On September 15, 1861, he joined the 5th Kentucky Infantry under the command of John S. Williams. He was promoted to first lieutenant of Virginia State Line Troop's Company A and was later raised to the rank of captain, serving until the end of the war. Bates moved to Cincinnati and on July 18, 1865, began to use his size for monetary gain by touring in exhibitions throughout the United States and Canada. In November 1870 Bates went to Elizabeth, New Jersey, to meet with his manager, Judge H.P. Ingalls, who was making plans for a group exhibit in Europe. In New Jersey Bates met Anna Hanen Swan, the "Giantess of Novia Scotia," equal to him in height, who had recently toured Europe with P.T. Barnum. The two were married on June 17, 1871, in London while on tour. They were received by Queen Victoria on three occasions. Returning to the United States in July 1874, the couple purchased a farm in Seville, Ohio, where they custom-built a house with fourteen-foot-high ceilings, eight-and-a-half-foot doorways, and specially made furniture. Bates used Norman-bred draft horses to farm and a pair of Clydesdales pulled their carriage.

On several occasions the couple returned to the road, traveling with W.W. Cole's Circus, Menagerie and Museum. Throughout his life, Bates never toured with Barnum, and rarely traveled with tent circuses, preferring instead to hold receptions where he and his wife could meet with guests. He wrote an autobiography, The Kentucky River Giant (probably published posthumously), which described the couple's life. The Bateses had two children, both of whom died at birth. Their daughter was born on May 19, 1872, in London. A son, born on January 18, 1879, in Seville, was thirty inches long, and weighed twenty- three and three-fourths pounds; it was claimed to be the largest human baby born up to that time.

Anna Bates died on August 5, 1889, and was buried in Seville's Mound Hill Cemetery, where Martin built a memorial to her. He married Lavonne Weatherby in 1900. The giant died on January 14, 1919, and was buried next to his first wife.

Selected Sources from UK Libraries:

Bates, Martin Van Buren. A Historical Sketch of the Tallest Man and Wife That Has Ever Existed, Captain Martin Van Buren Bates and Mrs. Bates, Formerly Anna Swan ... S.l.: S.n., 1968?], 1968. Print.
B B3185, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection

Cavin, Lee. There Were Giants on the Earth! Rev. Paperback ed. Loudonville, Ohio: Hanover Pub., 1982. Print.
B B3185ca, Special Collections Research Center - Biography Collection

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