The Crooked Lake Review

Spring 2004

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New York City / State Timeline

from Eagles Byte by David Minor

Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic

New York's Busy Year

In 1741 one-fifth of New York City's population consisted of African slaves. An alleged uprising that year was dealt with swiftly and lethally, with 18 blacks hanged and 13 burned at the stake, in addition to seventy banished from the colony. A relative handful of caucasians was also hanged or banished. 93 years later the city again experienced racial unrest in the streets, with anti-abolitionists as the perpetrators. Luckily there were no fatalities that time, but many black families left the city. In between these two events racial relations had been fairly calm, at least on the surface. But as we take a closer look at the city in 1825, as it prepares for both Lafayette's visit and the opening of the Erie Canal, we can pick up a slight sense of some of the undercurrents that will well up disastrously in later decades. Blacks ('negro' was the polite term at the time) were forbidden to enter theaters and places of amusement, ride in street stages or enter steamboat cabins. In churches they were likewise segregated, allowed only in certain pews set aside for their use. The diarist we know today as Octogenarian tells of walking up Broadway one day during the winter, and watching as a sober, well-dressed man walked up to a black woman who was wearing a hat covered in chinchilla fur, grabbing it from her head and throwing it into the rain-clogged gutter, snarling, "I have just paid eighteen dollars for a chinchilla hat for my sister, and I don't mean that any nigger wench shall wear one like it...."

Other immigrants, having arrived here by choice, and possessing lighter skins, fared better. Most in 1825 were still largely from northern Europe and the British Isles. Those from Mediterranean and eastern European countries, as well as Asia, would not begin arriving in large numbers until the middle decades of the century. But a trickle had begun. Among these were the Italians. Toward the end of the year the opera troupe of Manuel del Popolo Vicente Garcia arrived. The singer-composer had created the role of Almaviva in Rossini's The Barber of Seville in 1816 and his New York production now in 1825, with his daughter Maria Felicita singing the role of Rosina, broke box office records starting in late November, with $3,000 worth of tickets sold opening night. Over the winter the troupe would perform the opera 23 times. One of Garcia's fellow countrymen and a former librettist for Mozart, Lorenzo Da Ponte, in this country for twenty years now, was named the first professor of Italian at Columbia University.

Whether a native or recent arrival, all had to deal with the New York that had become their home. One newspaper of the period, the Commercial Advertiser, gives us a look at some of the perils of life in the big city scolding, "The driving of hoops upon the side walks, has become an annoyance. It is now very common to meet three or four boys, of from 10 to 16 years, even in Broadway and Pearl street, coming full tilt, one after the other, with a hoop rattling along before them. Kites are a dangerous annoyance, too." City streets had an even, shall we say, deeper, peril. The Advertiser again. "There is now a pile of manure in William Street, along side of which that of Maiden Lane would dwindle like Butter Hill by the side of Chimborazo. On the highest peak of this heap, some wicked wag this morning erected a monument, inscribed, 'Sacred to the memory of the Street Inspector.'"

The New York City of 1825 had its trend setters. A few of the sportier gents strolling up and down Broadway wore the new pantaloons from Paris, fitted to the lower leg almost like a leotard, with a strap running under the boot, but the fashion quickly turned to wider pant legs. Luxuries like these, or the new silver pens, were for the few; most would stick to good old goose quills. Such luxuries were for the well-off, such as those who went in March to see Carl Maria von Weber's opera Der Freischutz, with fireworks added, just for the heck of it. Later that month they probably attended a dinner given at the City Hotel to celebrate South America's independence from Spain. In November many of them turned up at the Grand Ball marking the opening of the Erie Canal and partied the gas-lit night away. But back on January 1st some of the less fortunate might have turned up for a different type of opening, many involuntarily. Between 22nd and 23rd streets a 19-year-old upper Broadway arsenal had been renovated, and turned into the New York House of Refuge, to house delinquent juveniles of both sexes.

The majority of New Yorkers were neither attending the opera nor becoming wards of the city, but just going on with their everyday lives and occupations. The economic focus of their city increasingly centered on the maritime trades, even before the grand opening of the Erie Canal, which would quickly transform the city into a commercial colossus. New York's piers and wharves were scenes of almost constant activity. Some firms, such as the North River Line were driven out of business as new competitors like the Hudson River Line arrived on the scene, launching the vessels Constitution and Constellation to make the run up to Albany. The steamer Washington made its inaugural run out Long Island Sound to Stonington, Connecticut. The steamboats United States and the Linnaeus would carry you to New Haven for $3. The boats weren't fast and certainly not terribly roomy; in a few decades those carrying cargo across to Jersey City would be larger. At this time state legislatures would often ban competing ships from other states, making travel more inconvenient. Voyagers from Philadelphia were required to leave their ship at Bordentown, switch to a stage for New Brunswick and board a second steamer there for the final leg of their journey. Still they managed to do all of this in just eleven hours and fifteen minutes.

A new wrinkle was launched with the vessels Commerce, Swiftsure, Lady Clinton and Lady Van Rensselaer. Their passengers were accommodated in barge like boats that were towed behind the steamboats. A glance at the newspapers for a week would show the justification. On May 29th a flue of the vessel Constitution collapsed during a landing at Poughkeepsie. Three people were killed. Four more lost their lives three days later when the boiler of the Legislator blew up at her Rector Street mooring. Octogenarian went to see the wreckage and talked to one of the crew. The man had survived by immediately jumping into a large tool chest and letting the lid slam shut. These accidents were extremely common and it didn't help that the wheelhouse was often right over the boiler. Still, many were not deterred by the dangers. When the boat Sun made the Albany-to-Manhattan run in a record twelve-plus hours a poet wrote:

"Now hurrah for the steamboat Sun,
From Albany to York she come;
In hours twelve and minutes few,
The time is short the story's true."

Party Year

I mentioned the dinner given in New York City in celebration of South America's newly-gained independence from Spain. Among numerous critics of the whole affair was newspaper publisher Mordecai M. Noah who pointed out that the entire dinner, including the tone of the toasts, reflected the exclusive and excluding political bias of the New York organizers. But Noah's mind was really somewhere else about this time. The exact opposite end of the state. An early Zionist, the Philadelphia born Jewish editor had pursued a number of careers in his life—U.S. Ambassador to Riga and to Tunis, sheriff of New York City, surveyor of the city's port, judge of its Court of General Sessions and editor of six secular newspapers. Believing the time was ripe for a Jewish state in the Holy Land, but also realizing the many obstacles to such a plan, he determined to establish a sort of temporary holding area, where Jews could gather to await their new home.

Five years previously, in 1820, he'd begun negotiations to buy Grand Island, in the Niagara River. Now he'd gained a good-sized plot and was ready to launch his enterprise. Never mind that even in the far off year of 2002, the entire island would be the center of an ownership dispute between New York State and the Seneca Nation. He would probably have seen it as an inter-tribal dispute anyway, believing, as he did, that Indians were the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. Grand Island was undeveloped at this time so it was decided to launch from the frontier metropolis of Buffalo, population 2400. Noah rented a church and sent out invitations, including one to Seneca chief Red Jacket, who arrived by boat. Noah made his grand entrance to the thuds of a small number of cannon, clothed in a Richard III costume borrowed from a theatrical company (it must have seemed like a good idea at the time), and proclaimed himself a Judge of Israel, after which a Protestant minister officiated over an ecumenical service. Noah then announced that the new city of Ararat had been established on Grand Island. All well and good except for one slight drawback. There were no takers. He got a lot of publicity, much of it adverse, especially from other Jews. The only reminder of the refuge that never was, is a cornerstone engraved, "ARARAT - A City of Refuge for the Jews - Founded by Mordecai Manuel Noah in the month of Tizri 5586 Sept. 1825 and in the 50th Year of American Independence." Noah sold the land to timber interests in 1833.

An account of the early Zionist Mordecai Noah and his attempt to start a Jewish colony on New York's Grand Island is just one of the American history pieces at the site of the Jewish World Review. You'll find articles on the Jewish artist encouraged by General Robert E. Lee; Haym Solomon, financial backer of the American Revolution; Francis Salvador, a martyr of the same Revolution; and Don Solomono, Jewish Indian Chief.

And if you wish to try and understand the nearly non-comprehensible, today's version of the Kilkenny Cats who fought each other until there was nothing left but the tails, you'll find a timeline of the Jewish-Palestinian conflict, from biblical times, up through the British mandate, and on through today's bi-lateral tragedy, at in_depth/world/2001/israel_and_palestinians/timeline/ Also check at your library for One Palestine, Complete by Tom Segev.

This was not Buffalo's first celebration in the year of 1825. As mentioned, it was the 50th year of American Independence, counting from Concord and Lexington. As a highlight of the festivities, the Marquis de Lafayette had arrived the previous August and was making a year-long tour of the former British colonies. As he made his way toward western New York he'd visited previous, current and incoming presidents Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and John Quincy Adams and was yet to meet with John Adams as he ended his tour in Boston on Bunker Hill Day. He'd been to Pittsburgh and was now heading to the northeast by way of Fredonia and Dunkirk. A party of Buffalonians traveled aboard the steamship Superior to meet him at Dunkirk and escort him back to Buffalo, where he was met by the village band, two detachments of militia and anyone who was anyone in the village, then escorted to the Eagle Tavern for welcoming ceremonies.

Its population may have been only 2400 people, but Buffalo did not mean to be outdone by any of the larger towns and cities along the Marquis de Lafayette's U. S. tour route. The weather must have cooperated on this early June day of 1825. As the Marquis was escorted up the stairs of the elegant platform in front of the three-story Eagle Tavern he was joined by local dignitaries. Village president Oliver Forward joined his Black Rock political rival General Peter B. Porter and Seneca Chief Red Jacket to welcome the illustrious Frenchman who fifty years earlier had been one of the midwives of the embryonic United States. After many speeches, probably none of them short, bigwigs and ordinary citizens gathered for a public reception within. Afterwards Buffalo threw a civic dinner and a public ball for Lafayette. Porter's wife Letita, one of the Kentucky Breckenridge clan, joined her husband in the receiving line. If Buffalo had had a social season, this affair would have launched it. The next morning the Lafayette party departed for more festivities at the General's home in Black Rock; a special breakfast in the courtyard of Porter's house, decorated with French and American flags, red, white, and blue ribbons and even a live eagle. After breakfast, farewells were exchanged, the noble guest boarded the packet boat Seneca Chief and departed for points east. It might seem that after such a gala occasion, followed by Mordecai Noah's visit a few months later, Buffalo would have been left pretty much partied out. Not so. The two celebrations were just the dress or technical rehearsal.

The first primitive experiments with calcium lamps and the resultant lime-light were being made by Royal Engineer Lieutenant Thomas Drummond at this time. He wouldn't get the kinks out of the invention until the early 1860s. But if he had perfected limelight right away, New York State governor De Witt Clinton would definitely be in it. He'd been out of office the past four years but was now back in Albany, and 1825 was his year. Clinton's Folly was opening and he'd get the last laugh.

We'll take our own journey across the canal route. A note about Buffalo as we leave. It's economy will get a boost this year when the Federal government provides financial compensation for the destruction of the city during the recent war. A toast to Buffalo; a smoldering ruin at the end of 1813, a city of 10,000 by 1831.

You've all heard of Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier. Oh, yes. You have. At least by his title—the Marquis de Lafayette. Most of us know he fought on the colonial side in the American Revolution. Many of us know of his involvement in the French Revolution. There's all that and much more on the website of the Lafayette Collection at Cornell University, It's not a site for those with just idle curiosity, however; the contents, including correspondence, are images. But his handwriting is fairly easy to read. So plow ahead; it's worth the effort if you want to see a large collection of images concerning the Marquis. The home page will give hints for exploring the collection, and provide a link to a few pictures. Or go directly to and use the red and blue arrows at the bottom of the page to browse the online collection. Just a quick sampling: the battle plan for the American forces deployed at Brandywine on September 11, 1777; and Lafayette's words at the tomb of George Washington, Mount Vernon, October 17, 1824; an ode to Lafayette written by a masonic "Brother" in New York, to be sung to the tune of "Hail to the Chief" during his American Tour, 1824-25; an engraving of the Lafayette family in an Austrian prison; a letter from the romantic novelist and freethinker, Mary Shelley, congratulating Lafayette on his part in the "Glorious Revolution." London, 11 November, 1830. As you can see, one busy homme.

On the Go

The charcoal stick flies across the surface of the sketch pad and the scene begins to form: The deep natural ravine through the rocky land. The double set of five large stone tubs climbing up to the village perched at the top. The wooden lock gates at each chamber's end. It's 1825. George Catlin, later to become famous as an early painter of the Far West, is honing his skills at Lockport, New York. About the same size as Buffalo, Lockport is settling down now that the construction's completed, and the log structures protecting local roofs from dynamited rock are being dismantled. A new combined court house and jail is being completed. Less than half of the canal laborers moved on when the canal was completed, the remainder forming the nucleus of a large Irish population.

Seven years after artist George Catlin portrayed the climbing flight of Erie Canal locks at Lockport, New York, in 1825, he was ascending the Missouri River, where he would turn out the paintings of the American West that would cement his place in U. S. art history. You can follow his journey at the University of Cincinnati Digital Press site "Medicine Painter" You're given a choice of three ways to navigate the site: Narrative, Location, and Contact Sheet. Each will link you to 30 thumbnails leading to Catlin paintings and drawings of his journey, including his steamboat, buffalo, Indian portraits and ceremonies, and photographs (nooo, not Catlin's) of scenery and forts along the way. Narrative will lead you through the journey, Location will allow you to locate images by either Indian tribe or nearest fort using a period map as an interface, and Contact Sheet will give you all the images in one screen (you will have to scroll unless you have a full page monitor). An interesting attempt to give viewers multiple methods of image access. A good way to pick up some interesting wallpaper images for your desktop as well.

A short way out of Lockport lies an area where natural gas bubbles out of the ground. Next year one of Clinton's protegees, geologist Amos Eaton, will bring a group of students across the state on an expedition. They will jokingly call this spot Gasport. On the return trip just eight days later they see a rough signboard officially identifying the small community as just that—Gasport. And so it will remain.

In May, Batavia newspaper owner Oran Follett saw where the future was going to be brightest and moved to Buffalo, leaving his younger brother Frederick as publisher of his Spirit of the Times. To Batavia's east, the village of Le Roy sees the completion of it's new Eagle Hotel. At about the same time a bricklayer there named William Morgan is inducted into the Masonic order. His eventual fate will change the New York's political landscape.

Next along the route lies the village of Rochester. Population 5,000. One boasted feature of the village is the aqueduct carrying the Erie Canal over the Genesee River. Finished in 1823, it is the longest stone-arch structure in America. Unfortunately it leaks like a sieve and will need replacing in another dozen years. Local interests are wasting no time in jumping on the canal bandwagon. Elisha Johnson, Josiah Bissell and other Rochestarians found the Rochester Canal and Railway Company this year. One other up-and-comer in town we met back in 1822, when young Thurlow Weed was hired by printer Everard Peck. A shrewd character, he's gotten to know the right people, partly by buying out his boss's interest in the Rochester Telegraph, going deeply in debt to do so. When De Witt Clinton was about to be finagled out of his canal commissioner's post by political rivals, Weed tried to rally support to the governor's cause. The vote went against Clinton, but the repercussions proved fatal to the anti-Clinton faction. Weed had backed the correct horse after all. His journalistic and political star begins to ascend. As does Rochester's. One of the state's first canal boomtowns, it will soon take a back seat only to Albany in the amount of canal tolls collected.

In the future Wyoming County, a house is built this year on Warsaw's Perry Street for Deacon Seth Gates. His congressman son Seth M. Gates would later found an early abolitionist society there and the home would become the headquarters of the Warsaw Historical Society. The completion of the Erie would eclipse the town of Canandaigua, but the dignitaries from there who had traveled to Rochester would be able to console themselves with a new Ontario County Court House. It's on Main Street across from the site of the 1794 treaty with the Iroquois, and of its own future replacement. The building would one day become the Canandaigua City Hall. Farther east, the Geneva Academy is granted a charter and becomes Geneva College, the nucleus for today's Hobart and William Smith College. The medical college would graduate the first female physician, Elizabeth Blackwell, in 1849.

Dr. Joseph Warrington leveled with Elizabeth Blackwell, "Elizabeth, it is of no use trying. Thee cannot gain admission to these schools. Thee must go to Paris and don masculine attire to gain the necessary knowledge." To learn more of Dr. Blackwell's story check out http://www.nlm.nih.gove/hmd/blackwell/index.html An online version of an exhibit held at the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, in Bethesda, Maryland, the site uses drawings, maps, documents and old photographs to tell the story of the first woman to add M.D. to her name. As we well know, she was not the last. To quote the site, "The Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary opened its doors in 1868, with fifteen students and a faculty of nine, including Elizabeth, as Professor of Hygiene, and her younger sister Emily as Professor of Obstetrics and Diseases of Women." A more detailed essay on Blackwell can be found at 06071999/50-01.cfm

The new canal will be especially good news for downstate beer drinkers. Hops farmers in Madison, Oneida and Otsego counties suddenly found a nearly insatiable market for their crops, in New York breweries. Cheers!

One of the earliest groups to profit when new York's Erie canal opened in 1825 was the hop growers of the lower Mohawk Valley. New York City brewers and tavern keepers now had easy access to one of the main ingredients to what has been called liquid bread—beer. There are a number of sites on the internet dealing with the history of beer, but most are fairly limited. One of the "headiest" and most complete sites regarding U. S. Beer is the Beer History Library at There's a monthly Feature Article, and an extensive set of links to connect you to such items as: A Chronology of the U. S. Brewing Industry; Beer Barons: The German-American brewery magnates; Beer & Television: A Brief History of Beer Commercials; Diary of a 19th Century Brewmaster in his Own Words; George Washington's Beer Recipe; Kansas City Breweries: An Historic Driving Tour; Traveling Billboards; A Novel Advertising Medium: the Miss Rheingold Contest; and a four-part series on Brewing in Colonial America by beer writer Gregg Smith. History with a head on it.

Troy, by the way had staked its own claims to fame at the beginning of the year. On January 3rd the Rensselaer School of Theoretical and Practical Science, better known today as RPI, first opened for classes. Slightly over a month later Hannah Lord Montague, wife of a fastidious blacksmith, patented the first detachable shirt collar. The Arrow Collar Company was to later build its main factory here. And it was here that two years earlier the Troy Sentinel published a slight bit of verse called "Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus." There's a bit of a controversy in our own time as to who actually wrote it; that's another story. There was one resident population that would not be celebrating the gala events during the canal celebration. Earlier in the year, down in the western section of the Manhattan village of Greenwich, the Newgate State Prison closed its doors forever and the inmates were transferred to a new upstate facility. At capacity 1,200 inmates, each of whom warden Elam Lynds described as, "a coward, a wilful lawbreaker whose spirit must be broken by the lash," could be housed in cells only three-and-a-half feet wide. Sing Sing, the Bastille on the Hudson, was in business.

Meanwhile, down in Manhattan, we join the celebration, now in progress. The waters of Lake Erie and the Atlantic have been joined in wedlock and the partying is getting underway. The various and varied units of the grand procession had begun forming down at the Battery by nine that morning. 1252 firemen prepare to march. They will be accompanied by 59 separate groups, including horsemen, a band, foresters with axes to "cut down the trees and clear the earth for cultivation," tillers of the ground, measurers of grain, representatives of nearly every trade or craft imaginable, ordinary citizens, students of Columbia College, the clergy, literary societies, "strangers of distinction," political bigwigs from Albany, and canal engineers and commissioners. Marching six abreast, they depart from lower Manhattan an hour before noon and march north. It's reported that the entire procession took an hour and a quarter to pass any given point. All this while the fleet from Sandy Hook is steaming back up into the upper harbor, and those on the decks can see and be seen by the marchers parading up the west side of the city, the whole timed so that those on the boats can land, disembark and join the tail end of the procession. The serpentine mass of people, 7000 strong, winds its way up beyond Canal Street, crosses the island on Broome Street, and heads south on Pearl Street. When they reach the Battery they wheel clockwise and head back north, along Broadway to City Hall. As eyewitness William Stone puts it, "Every society and occupation seemed to have been engaged in a laudable strife, regardless of the expense, to excel each other in the richness of their banners, and the beauty and taste exhibited in their badges and other decorations." Over 100,000 people cheer them on from the margins of the carriage-clogged streets, nearly 2/3 of the entire population of the city.

A mosaic of images of the evening's festivities pepper Historian Stone's description. "Rays of glory, containing a motto, illustrative of the dependence of the fine arts upon the success of commerce.... Fortune embarking on board of a Canalboat, loaded with bags of money, ...columns with the names of worthies, ...fireworks shooting forth alternately showers of fiery serpents and dragons, gorgons, and hydras, and chimeras dire, ...volcanic eruption of fire-balls and rockets...diverging like rays from a common centre, then floating for a moment like meteors of the brightest light, and falling over in a graceful curve, presenting a scene magnificent and enchanting."

It's estimated that nearly ten thousand spectators attended the evening extravaganza. At one point, fireworks coordinator Richard Wilcox attains a grand total of 15,000 criss-crossing fireballs in the sky at one time. It's a happy, exhausted crowd that finally disperses to try and catch a few hours of sleep. For Clinton and many others the rest would be brief. The next day would feature a reception on the steamer Chancellor Livingston for all of the officials involved. They all rested for a day (Sundays were taken seriously then). Monday night a grand ball marks the end of the celebration, and Tuesday the voyagers from the west prepared to return home. It was great fun and it was just one of those things, that would never be forgotten by anyone who had been there. William Stone has the final word. "They have built the longest canal, in the least time, with the least experience, for the least money, and to the greatest public benefit."

2004, David Minor
1703, . . . 1784, 1785, 1786, 1787, 1788, 1789, 1790, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1794, 1795, 1796, 1797, 1798, 1799, 1800, 1801, 1802, 1803, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, 1809, 1810, 1811, 1812, 1813, 1814, 1815, 1816, 1817, 1818, 1819, 1820, 1821, 1822, 1823, 1824, 1825, 1826 , 1827, 1828, Pt. 1
The Eagles Byte New York City / State Timeline is from David Minor's radio scripts for Simon Pontin's Salmagundy radio program on WXXI-FM (91.5). David can be heard every Saturday morning at 10:15 talking about various aspects of world history.
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