Islanders Serve In War-It is no secret the Lake Erie Islands have a rich and vibrant past. The folks who settled the islands were in every sense pioneers cutting out small communities upon the rocky shores. Some of these individuals played important roles and we have many to thank for what the Lake Erie islands have become today, as we stand upon the Put-in-Bay History they created for us. Most islanders can recognize many of these old island names, such as Fox, Vroman, Axtell, and Ruh to only name a few. However, as is often the case with the past, some folks are overlooked yet they should not be forgotten.
One such individual was Joseph Tulian. Joseph was certainly an interesting character and worth a moment’s time to ponder. He lived an adventurous life and had many exciting experiences, and in a way was a founding father and has a story worth remembering.
According to descendants of the Tulian family, Jose De- Rivera of Put-in-Bay traveled to Portugal in the mid-1850’s, where he hired grape grower and winemaker Joseph Tulian, returning with him to the island. Joseph was enlisted by DeRivera to establish a vineyard and wine business. Joseph was more than likely the first professional grape grower on the Put-in-Bay Bass Islands. It was while living on Put-in-Bay that Joseph was introduced to Simon Fox who was an ambitious young man working as DeRivera’s selling agent. Simon and his brother Peter purchased two-thirds of North Bass intending to sell lots off to interested parties.
More than likely the brothers took notice of how well the vineyards were doing on both South Bass and Kelleys Islands.
It seems as though Joseph wasn’t living on South Bass for very long when he was lured to North Bass and given property by the Fox brothers. This was more than likely in exchange for helping to set up the first vineyards on North Bass, which were planted in 1856, and soon most of the Lake Erie Islands were covered in vines, establishing them at the time as one of the top grape growing regions in the country. Shortly after arriving on North Bass, Joseph was introduced to one of the Fox brother’s younger sisters; they fell in love, married and started a family upon the island. This family, like many of the others, enjoyed much success resulting from the wine industry, and it was through Joseph’s help the grapes grown on North Bass were thought to be superior even to those grown on the other islands, and because of this they commanded and sustained a higher price than what was produced elsewhere.
Joseph had only been in the United States for a few years when our country was gripped by one of our darkest moments ever, the Civil War. Even though far north, the Lake Erie Islands certainly did not go untouched by this war, parents said goodbye to children
as they marched off to support the cause and a Civil War prison was built upon a nearby small island located in Sandusky Bay. Surely the thought of the prison was a cause of concern for all the islands and their residents, and rightly so. In Sept. of 1864, the Confederates hijacked two steamers loaded with Put-in-Bay island residents; this was part of an elaborate plan hatched to capture the prison and liberate many of the South’s top-ranking army officers. It was a botched attempt and the plan fell through. However, it was an eye-opener for the Islanders and they quickly set about developing an island militia for their own protection. Another incident followed soon after when in January 1865 several war prisoners from the prison did escape and made their way via the islands to Canada.
For reasons now lost in time, Joseph felt compelled to stand up for what he believed in and decided to volunteer for the war. It says a lot about Joseph and his character; after all, he was new to this country and had only been living here for around ten years when he joined up. For this man to feel so passionately about the new home he was willing to leave his wife and young family behind is a strong testament to how people once looked upon the United States as the land of opportunity, because like Joseph, many others had traveled across the oceans and were able to make of themselves whatever they wished, there were no limits, they could reach for the sky, and many did. It would not only have been a sad time for the Tulian family to say goodbye to a husband and father but the islands were a tight community and many of the residents would have felt compassion as Joseph left heading out across the frozen lake to the mainland not knowing whether he would return as he left all he knew and loved behind. Joseph enlisted with the Ohio Calvary, and was assigned to 3rd Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division of the Ohio Volunteer Cavalry, Co. F. and he headed south. This was at the time the war was coming to head and after arriving in Tennessee he was sent on to Alabama under the command of General George Thomas.
We don’t know much about Joseph’s time away and what he experienced along his journey, as he had only a working knowledge of the English language and couldn’t write it, so the family received no letters home. This must have been a very difficult time for them as they had no contact with him, and knew very little if anything about what became of him after he left for the south. The war ended a little over a year after Joseph enlisted, and the family hoped they would soon see his return. However, sadly, that was not the case, and months after the close of the war Joseph still had not returned to his island home. His family and friends by then naturally assumed he had been killed or died of sickness. The family grieved and came to terms with the situation forced upon them.
About six months after the close of the war, a lone man was spotted walking down the road leading towards the Tulian house, a stranger on the island was and is still a cause of notice. However, as it turned out, this was not a stranger at all, but actually, Joseph finally returning to his family and home. His surprise return would have been a very happy time for not only his relatives but the island as a whole and cause for celebration. He related to his family his delay in returning, which was due to the fact when the war ended, he was told it was over, given his last pay and expected to find his own way back. So he walked, all the way from Alabama,
stopping to work along the way to earn shelter and food as he continued on his homeward journey, taking a full six months, yet he finally made it. Joseph spent the rest of his life on North Bass raising his family and grapes, however, his exciting adventures didn’t end with the war, and over the years of island living, he survived many hair-raising ordeals.
I can’t help but step back and contemplate this man and others like him, to have so much passion for his island home and a country he barely knew and to be willing to possibly sacrifice his own life and aspirations so that others could continue on with their American dream is impressive to say the least. And it is the stories like these that make me proud to be from the Lake Erie Islands and one of the reasons I enjoy being a local historian, because with each piece of our island puzzle comes a fascinating story waiting
to be told, and I am happy to have had the opportunity over the years to honor these individuals by sharing their stories with you all. By Robin Burris Cadez.