A prominent farmer and stock raiser of Cooper County, Missouri, and the founder of Ravenswood Farm, Nathaniel Leonard was born in Windsor, Vermont, on June 13, 1799, and grew up on a farm near Lewistown, New York. After a brief engagement with the American Fur Company in Chicago, he moved to Missouri in 1824, where his older brother, Abiel Leonard, had established himself as a lawyer. With Abiel’s financial backing, Nathaniel purchased eighty acres of land in Cooper County. From this modest beginning, he founded Ravenswood Farm. This celebrated farm eventually grew to encompass nineteen hundred acres. In 1832 Nathaniel married Margaret Hutchinson, and their union produced six children.
Leonard is best remembered as a leader in the establishment of the purebred cattle industry in Missouri. In 1839 he purchased a purebred shorthorn bull named Comet Star and a purebred heifer called Queen for $600 and $500, respectively; these purchases formed the foundation for the Ravenswood herd that went on to earn an international reputation and produce some of the highest-priced cattle of the nineteenth century. Leonard also enjoyed considerable success in jack-stock and mule breeding, and was an acknowledged leader in Missouri’s lucrative mule industry. At the time of his death on December 30, 1876, Leonard was able to pass on to his heirs the Ravenswood Farm and four nine-hundred-acre farms in Saline County in addition to cash and livestock.
Leonard’s fourth child, Charles E. Leonard, inherited Ravenswood and continued to improve its celebrated shorthorn herd. In 1872 he married Nadine Nelson, the daughter of wealthy Boonville banker James M. Nelson. In 1880 Nelson financed the construction of the brick Ravenswood house, a spacious mansion built in the Italianate style. The house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and has been photographed by the Historic American Buildings Survey.
This article was first published in Lawrence O. Christensen, William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds., Dictionary of Missouri Biography (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999), and appears here by permission of the author and original publisher.
Ashton, John. Historic Ravenswood: Its Founders and Its Cattle. Columbia, MO: E.W. Stephens, 1926.
Culmer, Frederick. “Selling Mules Down South in 1835.” Missouri Historical Review 24, no. 4 (July 1930): 537–49.
Denny, James M. “Vernacular Building Process in Missouri: Nathaniel Leonard’s Activities, 1825–1870.” Missouri Historical Review 78, no. 1 (October 1983): 23–50.
Dyer, Robert L. Ravenswood. Columbia, MO: Tiger Press, 1969.
Gall, Jeffery L. “A Search for the Rising Tide: The Letters of Nathaniel Leonard, 1820–1824.” Missouri Historical Review 76, no. 3 (April 1982): 282–301.
Nathaniel Leonard Papers (C2525). State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia Research Center.
Published September 17, 2021; Last updated September 27, 2021
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