Biography of Charles Henry Ryman (1809-1879)

by Jeanne M. Johnson.*

Charles H. Ryman was the eldest of the four Ryman brothers of Nashville, Tennessee. The others were William (ca. 1814 – bef. 1872), John (1819-1864), and Francis “Frank” (ca. 1824-1866). The well-known steamboat captain Thomas G. Ryman (1841-1904), owner/operator of the largest Cumberland River steamboat company, was Charles’s nephew, the fourth of his brother John’s six children. The Ryman Auditorium (former home of the “Grand Ole Opry”) was named in recognition of Tom’s civic contributions to the city of Nashville.

The Ryman Auditorium (postcard image from NHN collection)

The exact birthplace of the Ryman brothers is unknown, but census records do establish their origins in the state of Tennessee. The brothers spent their entire adult lives in Nashville, raising families and running businesses for many decades. No one knows exactly when the Ryman family first came to the River City. The 1830 Federal census for Davidson County includes the name of the possible patriarch of the family, Frederick Reinman. An earlier Sumner County census (1820) includes a possible variation of Frederick’s name, Ferdinand Rhyneman, suggesting that the family may have lived in neighboring Sumner County before moving to Nashville. Many variations of the Ryman surname can be found in Davidson County records, including “Rimon” and “Rineman.” The fact that Charles could not write may have contributed to the various spellings that county officials used in recording his surname.

The earliest official Davidson County document to name Charles Ryman was the record of his marriage to Prudence Mary V. Reddick (1818-1874) on June 22, 1834, in Nashville. Five years later Charles was listed in the 1839 Davidson County tax lists. One year after that, his name appeared as “C. Rineman” in the 1840 Federal census of Ward 6.

Several members of the Ryman family worked as riverboat captains (photo from NHN collection)

Charles Ryman’s occupation in 1850 and 1860 Federal census records of Nashville was listed as “steamboat captain.” According to biographies of Thomas G. Ryman, Tom’s Uncle Charlie helped pilot 26-year-old Tom’s first steamboat to Nashville in 1867 after its purchase in New Orleans. Although Tom did not have a pilot’s license at that time, his uncle did. Charles’s occupation according to every Nashville city directory from 1855-1868 was “steamboat captain,” “river captain,” or “steamboatman.” Then, from 1870 until his death in 1879, his occupation was listed as “grocer” or “grocery.” The year after Charles’s death, his widow continued to be listed in the 1880 census as “grocer.” It appears that Charles retired from his physically demanding work on the river to become the proprietor of a grocery store. The grocery store may well have been an ongoing family business: younger brother Frank, who was living with Charles, according to the 1855-1857 Nashville city directories, was also listed as a “grocer.” Failed attempts to locate the possible parents of the Ryman brothers after the 1830 census make it likely that Charles raised and supported Frank and continued to play a parental role throughout his youngest brother’s life. Matrimonial records named Charles as Frank’s bondsman in his marriage to Matilda Akin in 1844.

Charles and his first wife Prudence were childless throughout their 40-year marriage. When Prudence died on December 31, 1874, at the age of 56, the 65-year-old Charles wasted no time in marrying the much younger Kate Dailey/Daly (b. 1843 in England) seventeen weeks later on May 6, 1875. Kate and Charles were united for four years before Charles’s death from “exhaustion,” as listed in the Tennessee mortality schedule. Even so, Charles still managed to outlive his three younger brothers.

The widow Kate’s son, John Dailey/Daly (b. 1864), was living with her at the time of the 1880 Federal census, indicating that her surname when she married Charles was likely from a former marriage. In her will, dated December 10, 1874, Charles’s first wife Prudence M. V. Ryman left all her personal and real property to “my husband Charles H. RIMON.” Charles later deeded to Kate several pieces of real estate that may first have belonged to Prudence – but with the stipulation that, if their marriage ended in divorce or her death, the deeds would revert to Charles. Charles’s will left all his properties to Kate with no conditions attached. She sold the real estate to her son John E. Daly and held the mortgage herself. On February 20, 1893, she recorded the release of the mortgage in the margin of the deed and signed it as “Mrs. Kate Caulfield née Kate Ryman.” [This was technically incorrect – “née” means “born as,” and Ryman was, of course, Kate’s married name, not her maiden name.] However, the new surname led this researcher to find an 1890 Davidson County marriage record for Mike Caulfield and Kate Ryman.

*From the historical research of Jeanne M. Johnson and Ella Ryman Hauser.