Henry O'Reilly and
Henry O'Reilly and Orsamus Turner had broadly parallel early careers
and Turner eventually finished a project that Henry O'Reilly started.
Their pioneering journalism is also the source of a recent local publication.
In 1826, O'Reilly arrived in Rochesterville to edit the first daily newspaper,
THE DAILY ADVERTISER. A 20-year-old Irish immigrant, he was already an
experienced printer. According to Blake McKelvey, "The new paper,…a commercial
journal, independent in politics, attracted favorable notice in Eastern
journals, further stimulating village growth." O'Reilly was soon deeply
involved in the village and its politics.
When the disappearance of William Morgan brought an Anti-Masonic backlash,
O'Reilly supported prosecution of the guilty, but wrote: "…we can by no
means follow…some editors in branding societies with the guilt of a few."
That alienated him from vehement anti-Masonics. He briefly went back East,
but soon returned when public opinion swung towards his position.
The next year, "Though his paper was still restrained by its Eastern
backer from taking a partisan stand, O'Reilly himself assisted in organizing
a local…committee [for Andrew Jackson]." He was also active in other ways;
for example, as a founder of the Mechanics Library. Then, he was appointed
Postmaster. Meanwhile, Rochester flourished and O'Reilly charted the growth
in print. The self-conscious boomtown asked for more, and O'Reilly obliged.
In 1838 he published "SKETCHES OF ROCHESTER, with Incidental Notices
of Western New-York. A Collection…Designed to Illustrate the Progress
of Rochester during the First Quarter-Century…." An epigraph declared:
"The soul of ENTERPRISE has changed the land!" and the dedication was
"To The People of Rochester-the laborious artisans and practical business-men-the
founders of their own fortunes, and the architects of a town which has
already attained the third rank among the cities of the Empire State."
He predicted that it would be 15th in the land by 1840 and compared its
population with that of cities around the globe, finding, for example,
that, "There is not now in the kingdom of Greece a city larger than this
of which we speak."
He cited Rochester's growth in postal revenues-from "three dollars and
forty-cents for the first quarter [of 1812, to]…about $4000 per quarter.
Such are the vast changes which are revolutionizing the wilderness of
Northern America!" Statistics, lists, and pioneers' memories jam the 400
pages and illustrations show many of its buildings. His thoroughness has
helped subsequent historians of Rochester. He assured his local reader:
"… what citizen of Rochester can find any cause for envying the growth
or prosperity of any other city either 'Down East' or in the 'Far West?'"
The volume was enthusiastically received, so he began to gather material
for a history of Western New York. But in 1842, discouraged about the
political climate here, he moved to Albany. He later embarked on a series
of business activities that we'll look in on another time.
All of which brings us to Orsamus Turner, who was born in Honeoye five
years before O'Reilly first opened his eager eyes in Ireland. Fatherless
at eight, Turner knew the hardships of frontier life, including threats
during the war of 1812. At 17 he was an apprentice printer in Palmyra.
His mother died the next year. "Fortunately," according to a Rochester
Historical Society article, "he secured an opportunity to complete his
apprenticeship in the office of the ONTARIO COUNTY REPOSITORY at Canandaigua…
[and was] well fitted… for the struggles ahead." At 21 he acquired his
own paper, the LOCKPORT OBSERVATORY and in 1827 combined it with the NIAGARA
Meanwhile, he was active politically and joined the Masons. Although
he was jailed and fined for suspected complicity in the disappearance
of William Morgan, the anti-Masonic agitations did not slow his progress.
He married and a decade later, in 1837, came to Rochester to advocate
canal improvements. He met Henry O'Reilly and their friendship blossomed,
so when O'Reilly projected a history of Western New York, Turner volunteered
or was invited to collect "recollections of pioneer settlers still living
in his neighborhood." But with the pressure of maintaining his newspaper
to support a growing family, he did not accomplish much. In 1842 a soured
real estate investment forced him to find other paid work. O'Reilly aided
his appointment as collector of canal tolls at Lockport.
Turner resumed his local history research and became interested in Joseph
Ellicott, the pioneer manager of the Holland Purchase tract that spread
from the Genesee to Lake Erie and the Niagara. When he asked O'Reilly's
clearance to write on Ellicott, he received a somewhat discouraging reply,
but O'Reilly was soon swept into other projects. By this time Turner was
interested in more than Ellicott. He projected a history of Western New
York and eventually got clearance and an unspecified amount of primary
research from O'Reilly. Turner's 666-page PIONEER HISTORY OF THE HOLLAND
PURCHASE OF WESTERN NEW YORK went into a second edition in 1850, by which
time he added a 600-page PIONEER HISTORY OF PHELPS & GORHAM'S PURCHASE,
covering the area between Seneca Lake and the Genesee. Between them O'Reilly
and Turner had written about 1700 valuable pages on the beginnings of
Rochester and Western New York.
In 1852 the careers of O'Reilly and Turner further entwined, when Turner
came here as political co-editor of a new paper, the DAILY UNION. Two
years later he returned to Lockport, bought back his old paper, but died
suddenly in 1855. Two years later the Rochester DAILY UNION and O'Reilly's
old DAILY ADVERTISER were combined into the UNION AND ADVERTISER, which
in turn was acquired sixty years later by Frank Gannett and combined with
the EVENING TIMES into the Rochester TIMES-UNION, now expired.