New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
There was nothing else for it. Mrs. James H. Hackett's seven year vacation was over; she'd have to return to the New York Stage. Her husband a Utica merchant, had been forced to close his business at the end of 1825. She opened at the Park Theatre on January 27th. Her husband would not be far behind; on March 1st he turned actor and joined his wife at the Park. He would go on to tour England several times (he was the first American actor to appear on a London stage), manage several theaters in New York, and become noted here and abroad for his Falstaff.
Other entertainments kept the city's audience amused in 1826, even after the touring opera company of tenor Manuel del Popolo Vincente Garcia returned to London at the end of September. English tragedian Edmund Kean returned from a tour to Canada (where he'd been made a Huron chief) and opened in the city on November 20th, playing Richard III, through the fifth of December; his final appearance on an American stage. There were also a number of entertainments for non-theatergoers.
Back in the spring, on March 4th, two steers, complete with ribbons flowing from their necks and oranges blunting the tips of their horns, were led through lower Manhattan to celebrate the breakup of the Hudson River ice. The unfortunate bovine celebrities ended up as the main course at a dinner that evening. Later in the year Brooklyn hosted a grand Independence Day celebration, complete with a parade of floats, engines and marching bands, concluding with a flowery speech of thanks by an official of the Brooklyn Insurance Company.
Other civic events included the opening of the National Academy of Design, and the incorporation of the St. Andrew's Society of the State of New York. Meant to be a home away from home where immigrant Scots could meet in canny and frugal fellowship, it also served to aid the Scottish poor. It may have been a member of the society who visited a recently failed enterprise, looked around the room, and scurried away to report to his senior partner that it was no wonder the business failed. Not only was there a coal fire blazing away; they also had a carpet on the floor.
The news media of the day drew a curious mixture of new blood to the city in 1826. Massachusetts poet and lawyer William Cullen Bryant got a job as associate editor and partner with the New York Evening Post; newly resigned sailor William Leggett signed on as well. They may have helped report on the election of wealthy socialite and assistant alderman Philip Hone as the next mayor. Hizzoner would take up the cause of some Manhattan property owned by the Sailors' Snug Harbor charity and promote it as new, upscale real estate. He chose the name Washington Square. The sailors would do quite well by the transaction and would one day set up a permanent home on Staten Island.
In 1736 a six-bed infirmary had opened on lower Broadway, on the site where City Hall sits today. Last year, in 1825, the facility, now located on the east side of Manhattan between 23rd and 26th streets and renamed Bellevue Hospital, had been used primarily for yellow fever victims. It was less than a year now since the Eric Canal had opened up the western part of the state. On August 19th one of the newer patients, former land agent and canal backer Joseph Ellicott, ailing and depressed, took his own life.
In June of 1881 quarry workers removing topsoil in Pembroke, New York, came upon human remains. Sifting through the surrounding dirt with their bare hands they uncovered a silver ring bearing the monogram "WM." Had they discovered the answer to a well-known disappear-ance, dating back to the year 1826? Was this the mortal remains of the Virginia-born, battle of New Orleans veteran-turned-brewer, who had gone on to become a mystery that has puzzled conspiracy theorists into the 21 century? Was this indeed William Morgan?
Morgan had left the brewing business to become a stonemason, moving from the Toronto area to Rochester, then Batavia. Like many in his trade he'd joined a Masonic lodge. His troubles began when he wrote an exposé of Freemasonry and then cranked up the marketing machinery, which did not set well with the publicity-shy, well-connected Masonic brotherhood. Morgan was jailed in Canandaigua on trumped-up petit larceny charges. On his release he was spirited away in a mystery coach, presumably toward the international border at Niagara. Accounts vary, but he was never seen again. According to rumor he was either murdered, freed into anonymity, hanged as a pirate in Cuba, or made an Indian chief out west. A body was found on the shore of Lake Ontario in 1827 that was thought to be his and then buried, but a woman came forth and claimed the clothes were those of her husband, drowned in the lake the previous winter. Not everybody bought that story. Fifty-four years later the Pembroke investigators claimed to have found scraps of paper with words like "kill," "prison" and "Henry Brown" a prominent Mason, on them. No conclusive evidence was turned up however, so the mystery continues.
Meanwhile, back in 1826 New York, the recently-opened Erie Canal was already making its mark on the state, bringing in new revenues, inaugurating the golden age of canal building in the U. S. (July 4th would be a favorite launch date for future projects; this year it was the day the corner stone was laid for the Oswego Canal). 1,100 craft had locked through the canal this year; 418 had arrived in Buffalo harbor. Samuel Wilkeson, who had been largely responsible for bringing the canal to the city rather than to Black Rock, was elected a State Senator by grateful voters. In nearby Lewiston the Frontier House tavern opened its doors to weary travelers. (It's not likely William Morgan was one of them).
To the east, in Lockport, businessman Lyman Spalding built a flour mill and a sawmill, powered by canal water running down from the city's heights to the lower part of town, while William Bass and Jabez Pomeroy used the same water to run a wool-carding and cloth-dressing operation. In Palmyra, William Phelps opened a general store that is still one of Wayne County's top tourist sites. Above Albany, where the canal bypassed the falls at Cohoes, Stephen Van Rensselaer and other investors bought out the Cohoes Manufacturing Company to form the Cohoes Company for the development of water-power, installing canal engineer Canvass White as president. The new company was incorporated on March 28th. And at Juncta, which would soon become part of the Champlain Canal interface, the number of locks was doubled. Another major player in the state's economy began blossoming this year when Albany hardware merchant Erastus Corning came into an inheritance and bought an iron mill on Troy's Wynant Kill, renaming it the Albany Iron Works.
The new Erie Canal brought more than one kind of commerce to New York State in 1826, some of it meant to draw funds elsewhere. The Batavia Republican Advocate for March 10th advertised the UNION CANAL LOTTERY. For an investment of only $5, a lucky grand-prize winner could be $20,000 richer within the month. I haven't yet uncovered the winner, but further lotteries were held in the next few years, so they must have been on the up-and-up. The Union Canal was being built in Pennsylvania; workaholic engineer Canvass White was Chief Engineer on the project, as well as on the Delaware and Raritan Canal. Next year he would serve in the same capacity for the Lehigh Canal. Busy fella!
Even as canals were busting out all over, the birth pangs of competition were being felt. On April 17th the state granted a charter for its first railroad, the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, to run between Albany and Schenectady, to Stephen Van Rensselaer and others. The canal builders got a real sweetheart deal, though. The railroad had to agree to carry only passengers and also had to reimburse the canal company for any revenue lost. Principal Erie Canal backer De Witt Clinton also made out okay, being elected back into the governor's office, defeating rival William B. Rochester. It just wasn't the other man's year. He'd been named one of two U. S. delegates to an inter-American Congress called by Simon Bolivar, and ended up arriving after the conference had adjourned. The other delegate, even less lucky, had died en route, so the conference wasn't much of a success for U. S. foreign policy.
Canal towns weren't the only scene of action. Educational opportunities were emerging all over the place. The state chartered a Scientific and Military Academy at Whitesboro; Geneva College, the nucleus of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, held its first Commencement exercises, graduating five; Geneseo proprietor James Wadsworth founded an academy in the eastern part of that village. And Rochesterians could indulge in some self-education by patronizing the city's first public library. They also would find a lot to read down at their local news outlet. There was already the Monroe Republican, recently purchased by William Scrantom and several other partners. Almanac publisher Everard Peck began selling The Christian Almanack, published by the American Tract Society. A singular distinction was achieved with the founding of the Daily Advertiser, the first New York state daily newspaper west of Albany. Loud and Peck's Western Almanack wasn't about to be left behind the economic times; it replaced the "Advice to Farmers" pages with a table of interest rates.
Many people, some of whom we've already met, were chasing their individual dreams. Buffalo lawyer Millard Fillmore married Abigail Powers and moved her into his recently-built East Aurora home. Geology professor Amos Eaton lead a group of students on a field trip by way of the Erie Canal, crossing the state and back during May and early June. Quaker mill manager
Daniel Anthony moved from Massachusetts to Battenville in New York's Washington County. His daughter Susan B. was six. We'll be sure to hear more of her. Fellow Quakers from Watervliet began laying out a new colony at Lake Ontario's Sodus Bay.
Now that Buffalo was becoming a financial hub for the Great Lakes it was important for the incipient Queen City of the Lakes to maintain the proper dignity. So the village trustees decided to gentrify a few of the street names, changing existing ones chosen to commemorate partners in the Holland Land Company. No offense meant toward the Dutch, of course. Somehow Main, Niagara and Erie Streets sounded a little more refined than Willinks, Schimmelpennicks and Vollenhovens.
© 2004, David Minor
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.