The Van Wert County Courthouse

Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022

Convoy sets program on Capt. James Riley

VW independent/submitted information

CONVOY — The general public is invited to attend a historical presentation of Sea Captain James Riley at 2 p.m. Sunday, November 8 at the Convoy Opera House. 

Capt. James Riley

Captain Riley, portrayed by Darrell Groman of Bluffton, was a key figure of the frontier lands that had opened up in the western Ohio and eastern Indiana areas of the Northwest Territories 200 years ago. The year 2020 is a bicentennial year of significant events in the area served by James Riley.

Groman will “bring to life” the colorful and multi-faceted life of Captain Riley. Riley was a merchant ship captain whose brig The Commerce had been shipwrecked off the coast of West Africa during the summer of 1816. Riley’s first-hand account, “Riley’s Narratives,” documents his and his crew’s sufferings on the Sahara Desert for 36 days as captives of African Moor brothers Sidi and Sa’id Hamet. Abraham Lincoln had considered Riley’s narratives as being one of six books that had influenced his thoughts while growing up as a teenager on the plains of The Northwest Territories. 

In 1819, Riley was appointed by Edward Tiffin, surveyor general of The Northwest Territories, to be in charge of the company responsible for surveying the newly-opened lands in the west central Ohio areas of Putnam, Van Wert, and Mercer counties. In 1822, Riley laid out the town of Willshire, named in honor of William Willshire, the British Consulate   officer at Mogador, Africa, who had paid the ransom to release Riley and his crew from their enslaved captivity with the Hamet brothers.

As a student at Bluffton Elementary School, Groman was first inspired to learn about history from his third grade teacher, Minerva Hilty. As a youngster, Groman often explored Riley Creek, which runs through Bluffton, where he has lived since 1956, and flows downstream through Pandora, where he has been the town’s optometrist since 1986. 

Later in life, Groman learned about Riley’s life as a mariner, his being enslaved on the Sahara Desert, and the writer of a book that had influenced a young Abraham Lincoln. 

POSTED: 10/29/20 at 10:24 pm. FILED UNDER: News