1828, Part 1
New York City / State Timeline
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
Give Me Your Exiles
As we begin our survey of New York in the year 1828 we'll have a traveling
companion for much of the time. But not just any traveling companion.
"For justice stood on Stuart's side,
Though he's awa' to France to bide;
And justice felled the Tory's pride,
That morning on Balbarton."
His story actually begins six years earlier and 3,000-plus miles away.
Tuesday, March 26, 1822; 10 AM. Two men stand back-to-back in a snowy
Scottish hollow outside the Fifeshire village of Auchtertool. They raise
their 0.68-in calibre pistols—Tatham and Egg's finest—step
off twelve paces in opposite directions, turn, and fire.
Over the past year or so unsigned articles and a "scurrilous"
song aimed against Stuart, had appeared in the radical Glasgow Sentinel.
He'd stormed into the editor's office armed with a horsewhip but his bluster
failed to convince the man to reveal the author. A short time later the
paper went into bankruptcy and Stuart was able to view the legal records
and learn the identity of his critic—Sir Alexander Boswell of Auchinleck,
son of the deceased Samuel Johnson biographer James Boswell. A challenge
was issued and accepted. The two pistols went off.
It's claimed neither man had intended to actually hit the other; it's
also claimed that Stuart had never before fired a pistol. If both claims
are correct, perhaps Stuart's shot didn't go where he intended it to.
Whatever the reason, Boswell's shot missed completely. Stuart's didn't.
The ball entered Boswell's right collarbone and he slumped into the snow.
The two surgeons on hand for the duel being unable to locate the ball,
the dying Boswell was carried to his nearby home. Asked his condition,
the still-conscious man replied he felt like he "had a live head
on a dead body". The following afternoon the head joined the body.
It's said that even Stuart mourned for Boswell; if so he was joined by
an estimated 11,600 people attending the funeral, forming a procession
a mile long.
On June 10th Stuart went on trial before the High Court of Judiciary
in Glasgow, for murder. The period's equivalent of a dream team was assembled,
close to a half dozen Whig lawyers of the Scottish bar. One of them, Frances
Jeffrey, agreed the duel had taken place but argued that the provocation
was sufficient cause and excuse. The Lord Justice Clerk, the lead prosecutor,
countered that duels were unacceptable, no matter what the cause. Stuart
himself was popular in the area and a large crowd of his adherents gathered
outside the Parliament House courtroom that night, anxiously awaiting
the verdict. Deliberations went on into the small hours of the 11th. Then,
at 5 AM, the verdict of 'not guilty' was announced. Loud cheers filled
the early morning air.
Stuart had been cleared of the murder charge, but was still aware it
might be wise to make himself scarce in Scotland; just in case one of
those 11,000 mourners of Boswell's should seek their own rough justice.
After an exile of several years in France he traveled to Liverpool, England,
and on July 16, 1828, boarded the packet William Thomson for
a three-year expedition to North America—first port of call, New
York City. Pack your bags and we'll join him there next time.
The Battery's Down
On Saturday, August 23, 1828, passengers aboard the packet William
Thomson out of Liverpool, spotted the first land they'd seen in five
weeks. It had been a civilized, rather uneventful voyage, filled with
four meals a day (counting tea), evening hands of whist, reading in the
library, betting on the arrival date, and viewing currents, seabirds,
mirages, and the aurora borealis. First the cliffs of New Jersey came
into view, then the much lower land at Sandy Hook, in waters where governor
De Witt Clinton and his fellow New Yorkers had celebrated the opening
of the canal to Lake Erie, nearly three years ago. Soon the low buildings
at the southern end of Manhattan would rise above the horizon. One of
the fourteen passengers, James Stuart, survivor of an 1822 duel in his
native Scotland, arriving along with his wife for a tour of North America,
has left us his account of the city as well as the canal's route. We'll
expand on his description as we tag along.
Stuart tells how, "the spires of the churches make a brilliant appearance;
gilded by the setting sun, and towering among the trees which shade the
streets, and amongst the masts of the ships, surrounding the city on all
sides, but the north." He goes on to tell of the customs officials
arriving to seal the doors of all the cabins and looking through the passengers'
hand luggage before permitting them ashore, where hackney coaches, or
hacks, arrive to carry them to the City Hotel up lower Broadway. Built
34 years ago a few blocks north of Trinity Church, the five story building
with its 137 guest rooms, Ladies Dining Room, and concert room, is the
hostelry of choice for the well-off visitor to the city. Stuart and his
friends enter into the "European" side of the informally divided
hotel where they find themselves attended to during their stay, "by
an English waiter, formerly at Brookes's Club-House, London." The
British party felt right at home here where notables such as Governor
Clinton (who had passed away at the beginning of the year), the Marquis
de Lafayette, James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving dined and were
celebrated. Their sleep that first night however was interrupted by cries
of 'fire' out on the gaslit street, but Stuart would later write in his
travel book that, "we afterwards found that this is so common an
occurrence, that none but the firemen, who are very expert, are disturbed
by the cry."
As the Stuarts had traveled up Broadway on the day of arrival they may
have seen signs of recent construction along the street; on June 7th,
recent mayor Philip Hone commented on the iron water pipes being laid
outside his Broadway home a few blocks to the north of the hotel. Stuart
recounts that, "The pavement all over the city is generally good,
and the side pavements broader than in British cities." The hack
he rode in that first day was part of a rapidly improving transportation
picture. Omnibuses now ran Greenwich, Broadway, Manhattanville, Grand,
and Dry Dock routes and Asa Hall extended his single stage route from
the Exchange Coffee House at the corner of Pine and Nassau streets, all
the way to the corner of Hudson and Amos streets in Greenwich Village.
And all for the grand sum of 12½ cents.
One thing more than any other impressed Stuart that late August day. "In
the ship, the thermometer had seldom been higher than 70 of Fahrenheit.
Here it had been for some days at 90…. We were anxious, in so fine
an evening, to see something of New York, and sallied forth. But our enjoyment
was not of long duration, for the heat was so overpowering, that we were
soon forced to return." The humid, sticky, semi-tropical atmosphere
obviously was not to the liking of the gentleman from Fife, Scotland.
He was experiencing for himself the reason why today's New York psychiatrists
traditionally take August off.
When James Stuart and his family walked up the gangway of the Liverpool
packet William Thomson in 1828 they were part of the 12,817
passengers emigrating from Britain for the U. S. A similar number left
for other British colonies; a thousand and more left for Australia and
New Zealand. Emigrate to http://www. sidneyfenemore.esmartbiz.com/Liverpoolhistory/liverpool.htm
part of the LIVERPOOL MARITIME HISTORY site, for an article from the
Illustrated London News of Saturday July 6th, 1850. For some reason
the first few paragraphs are repeated; just click down about three screens
to begin the full article. What follows is a step-by-step description
of the process of arrival at Liverpool, passing the medical examination,
embarkation, and ship-board life. A continuation is promised.
Politics To Prisons
It's conceivable that Scottish tourist James Stuart, having arrived in
New York City in late August, 1828, might have asked his imported British
waiter at the posh City Hotel just what had been happening in the city
lately. He might have been told some of the more newsworthy bits.
The big news would have been the death upriver in Albany, of former three-term
mayor and present, two-term governor De Witt Clinton, on February 11th.
Nathaniel Pitcher would fill the post temporarily before losing out to
Martin Van Buren in the upcoming November elections. Pitcher would fade
from memory while Van Buren would very soon afterwards go on to fame on
the national scene, by backing the right horse—one, like Stuart,
no stranger to dueling pistols. But more of that later. A few days after
Clinton's death, bishop John Hobart was asked to deliver the eulogy but
climbed on his Episcopal high horse and declined, calling such practices
"a prostitution of religion to the purpose of secular policy."
Physician and botanist David Hosack had no such qualms (and probably made
a more interesting job of it).
The city had continued to wrestle with the quality of it's water supply,
as it would still do for a number of years yet. Stuart described the water
as, "deficient in quantity and quality . . .." This past February
had also seen the latest event in the municipal aqueous struggle when
it bought out the pond on the site of the former Beekman's Swamp, created
last year by tannery owners led by Jacob Lorillard. The water had been
advertised as having curative properties. Now it was determined the liquid
was more apt to preserve your body than cure it, having high amounts of
bark, lime and the remains of dead animal pelts. The council.decided the
quickest way to close the spring was to own it. Surprisingly, no one at
Tammany Hall decided to run it on the sly.
March had been as uneventful as New York ever gets. When the Erie Canal
opened for the season on April 1st the city began showing a few signs
of life. Probably due for an image makeover, Collect Street, named for
the former odious pond on the east side of town, was renamed Centre Street.
Police headquarters would be located on the street between 1909 and 1973.
The building was renovated for condominiums in 1987. Also this month the
trustees for the late Captain Robert Randall agreed to take the money,
from the lease of his Washington Square property to the city, and buy
land on Staten Island to establish the Snug Harbor retirement home bequeathed
in his will for, "aged, decrepit and worn-out sailors."
May would provide a particular meaning to the phrase 'up the river' as
the Newgate State Prison on Greenwich Street, the state's first penitentiary,
began its gradual shutdown. It was here where the future Father of North
American Geology, Amos Eaton, had been imprisoned from 1811-1815 as the
result of a shady land deal. By the middle of this month the new state
facility up the Hudson River at Sing Sing, begun three years earlier,
was ready to accept its full complement of male inmates. The following
year the female inmates would be shipped north as well and the massive,
two-story, overcrowded, pestiferous, 32-year-old facility in Greenwich
Village would close its doors for good. We'll join Mr. Stuart again next
time and catch up with the rest of the 1828 news.
By the time Newgate Prison began transferring prisoners to Sing Sing
in 1828 the New York State prison system had another facility in operation
upstate in the Cayuga County village of Auburn. Constructed in 1827,
when Newgate had already seen twenty years of service, it would, for
many years, fill the needs of the state's correctional system. For a
history of the two facilities head for http://www.correctionhistory
.org/auburn&osborne/miskell/html/whyauburn_intro .html on the site
of the New York Correction History Society and read John N. Miskell's
multi-page Why Auburn? —the Relationship between
Auburn and the Prison. Period illustrations include Newgate Prison,
a map of the Auburn area, Auburn's first electric chair Old Sparky (you
can click for a link to Sparky's history), and the manufacture of your
auto license plates (if you're from New York). Interested in learning
more about the NY corretional system (city and state)? Visit the society's
home page— http://www.correctionhistory.org —and start exploring.
Republican Customs are Observable
With only five days to spend in New York City, from August 23rd to the
28th, 1828 Scots traveler James Stuart didn't have a lot of time to spend
on amusements such as the theater. He does mention taking a peek inside
the Bowery Theatre. As we saw in our previous visit to the city, the gas-lit
playhouse had a busy season last year, presenting the first matinee performance
in America and hosting such European favorites as English diva Maria Malibran
and controversial dancer Francisquy Hutin and her scandalous tutu. Perhaps
Hutin scandalized the theatrical gods Thespis and Terpsichore as well,
for on May 20th, several months before Stuart boarded the Liverpool packet,
the Bowery Theatre went up in flames, with the loss of two lives and $600,000
in damages. A popular place, it had been rebuilt in just 90 days and he
did get chance to peek inside, declaring, "I was glad to get out
of it, though a very handsome house, as fast as possible. It was filled
to suffocation in one of the hottest evenings I ever felt." Stuart
couldn't have known it, but the builders might better have named the Bowery
Theatre the Tinderbox. It was destroyed by fire in 1836, in 1838, and
in 1845. The latter version, rebuilt, was christened the Thalia in 1879.
The name change wasn't much help. The Thalia would burn down in 1923.
And again in 1929.
Each morning of their visit Stuart, his wife, and members of their party
would break their fast, the City Hotel providing, "fish, beef-steaks,
broiled chicken, and eggs in large quantities." They were all amused
by the method New Yorkers had of eating their eggs, first breaking the
shell, then dumping the contents into a wine glass, and mixing it up with
salt before eating it. Then they would all head out, in various combinations,
to see the sights, Stuart's wife even taking the ferry to Brooklyn with
several gentlemen of the British party. All the seats were taken when
a group of females came aboard. The ferry attendant announced, "ladies,
gentlemen" and the men with seats gave them up to the new arrivals.
Stuart reported, "It behooved them to have done so, whoever the females
might be, mechanics' wives, or even in what we should call the lower orders
of society." Everyone noticed there was less difference in spoken
language between themselves and the North Americans than there would have
been between London's West Enders and its Cockneys. Other novelties drew
the visitors' notice. Shops were called stores; shopkeepers were less
obsequious ( this is New York ! ); insects called katydids made an overpowering
noise in the evenings; and the guest chambers of this, one of the city's
two finest hotels have no indoor bathrooms for washing up, let alone,
"proper accommodation of a different, but still more necessary description."
Their waiter did point out a courtyard behind the hotel containing, "a
row of temples alternately for males or females." Talk about roughing
The newspapers that seem to lie on every doorstep in town early each
morning contained other novelties. Legal notices proclaimed the provenance,
"The People of the state of New York, by the Grace of God, free and
independent." The pages contained great amounts of statistical information,
political news and public works notices. Large amounts of newsprint was
devoted to advertisements. Out on the streets the pavements were covered
against the heat by awnings, boiled Indian corn was for sale by vendors,
store goods spilled out onto the sidewalks, and brass nameplates on the
doors omitted the word Mr. "The governor of the state—the
merchant worth a million—and the mechanic,—have their names
engraved on the door-plates in the very same style."
James Stuart and his fellow Brits found the "proper accommodation"
of a New York luxury hotel more than a bit lacking. But were we to be
transported back in time to London's fanciest "temples" we
would be equally appalled. To get some ideas what our ancestors had
to go through, so to speak, visit http://www.theplumber.com/h_index.html
where you'll find PlumbingSupply.com's History of Plumbing, from Babylonia
down through today's ceramic sensations. You'll find links to topics
such as the Roman & English Legacy, Plagues & Epidemics, The
Men That Made the Water Closet (yes, Virginia, there is a Thomas
Crapper), White House Plumbing, and The Chinese invention of the toilet
2000 years ago. The lack of public toilets is not an old problem either,
as you'll see if you follow the link to the International World Toilet
History and read a paper presented by Dr. Bindeswar Pathak, Ph.D., D.Litt.
at the International Symposium on Public Toilets held in Hong Kong.
The next-to-the-last link at the top of the page is only for the more
scatalogically-minded surfer. Can you resist?
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.