Monday, July 27, 2009

The Life of Alonzo Wheeler Jerome

Alonzo Wheeler Jerome was born March 8, 1834 at Four Mile Point, New York. Little is known about his life, and nothing of his early years.

At the age of almost 30, with the United States fighting its Civil War, Jerome was drafted into the Union army in September of 1863, where he served as quartermaster until he was transferred, in April 1865, as quartermaster sergeant, to the 26th infantry regiment of the United States Colored Troops, under the command of Colonel William B. Guernsey, on Long Island, New York.

The 26th USCT served under the Department of the South (Union Army) in South Carolina and was very active on Johns and James Island, Honey Hill, Beaufort, and a number of other locations.

While it is not know when Jerome took up playing chess, it is known that shortly after arriving at their first camp, the soldiers of the 26th immediately went about building both a chapel and a school; the latter, as many of the soldiers expressed an interest in learning to read and write. Might there have been time for the royal game, as well?

Jerome was mustered out of the army as a 2nd Lieutenant in August 1865, at Hilton Head, North Carolina. He returned to Mineola, New York, where he worked in a factory that manufactured agricultural machinery. It was here that Jerome first played his gambit, he said, against G.J. Dougherty.

He moved to Paxton, Illinois in 1868, where he took up the position of manager of a hemp and flax company.

On March 6, 1873, Jerome married 21-year old Jane “Jennie” A. Ostrom, of Paxton. Like Jerome, Jenny had been born in New York.

The Jeromes had one child, a boy, born 1874, who apparently died young (or was institutionalized), as he appears in one census at age 6, but not in future censuses.

Jerome’s public life as a chess player apparently began when a game of his, a King’s Gambit, appeared in the March 1874 issue of the Dubuque Chess Journal. The next issue carried the “New Chess Opening” article. The July issue carried the first Jerome Gambit game that he played against William Shinkman.

In 1875, Jerome and Brownson met and played their games, later printed in the Journal. In one game Brownson offered the McDonnell Double Opening – 1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc4 3.b4 Bxb4 4.f4. It is not surprising that he was intrigued by the Jerome Gambit.

Two 1876 games by Jerome were published by the Dubuque Chess Journal, one, a Jerome Gambit, against Shinkman, and the other, a postal odds game (Queen for Queen’s Rook) against the child chess prodigy (later, chess problemist) Frank Norton.

When the Dubuque Chess Journal ceased publication in 1876, it was replaced by the American Chess Journal, and Jerome continued his campaign on behalf of “Jerome’s Double Opening” in its pages for two more years.

News about Jerome then grows scarce. J.W. Miller occasionally mentioned him in his chess column of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette and S.A. Charles referred to him in his Jerome Gambit writings.

In 1884, of course, Jerome was healthy enough to travel to the Cincinnati Mercantile Library and play a few games with his gambit against Miller.

In 1899, citing diabetes and heart problems, Jerome applied for a disability pension. By that time he and Jennie were living in Springfield, Illinois, where he was working as a guide in the state capital building.

Alonzo Wheeler Jerome died from the complications of a gastric ulcer March 22, 1902 in Springfield, Illinois. He was survived by his wife.

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