The Crooked Lake Review

Winter 2005

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1828, Part 1

New York City / State Timeline

from Eagles Byte by David Minor

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 it!

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?

2005, 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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