1828, Part 5
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
As James Stuart's party enters the northern end of Lake Champlain, making its way south aboard the steamboat Franklin, the passengers will be surrounded by echoes of three major wars, our French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812. Stuart describes at length the background and many of the incidents of these conflicts. But our focus is on Stuart's present—mid-September, 1828. At the border they pass quickly through customs and their baggage is not inspected. They pass Plattsburg on the starboard, then between Port Kent, "a thriving village, near which are considerable iron-works" and Burlington, Vermont. Crown Point and Ticonderoga sweep by. "The views in this part of the lake are strikingly varied at every change of situation", Stuart writes, " and the scenery marked and bold." Twenty-four miles past Ticonderoga or, as Stuart calls it, Ticondergo, they arrive at Whitehall, the southernmost settlement on the lake, and proceed down the Franklin's gangway, boarding another coach to continue their journey. They had originally thought to catch another steamer across Lake George but discovered they'd arrived too late in the season; the boat had stopped running. Electing to head for the upper reaches of the Hudson, and then back to the other end of Lake George, they continue on by coach.
Their vehicle passes Sandyhill, site of several Indian murders, including the scalping of Jane McCrea as she hurried to meet her British fiancee, an incident forever frozen on canvas, to grace the pages of many a New York history textbook. From here it's only another four miles to Glens Falls, population about 1,000, on the Hudson. Arriving in town late in the day on September 18th, they find, "Mr Threehouse's hotel a very good one, and the host, a French Canadian, very obliging, not at all disposed to make any difficulty in getting us broiled chickens, and other good things, though a long time after the regular dinner hour." It seems there is still enough daylight for them to visit the cataracts that give the town its name, here where the Hudson is quite different from the broad, sweeping waterway they'd traveled on from the other direction several weeks earlier.
The next morning, they hire a barouche to take them to the village of Caldwell, later given the name Lake George. The driver turns out to be the very model of an American type they hadn't run into before—a gen-u-wine Yankee. He arrives very early at the hotel and when told one of the women has a headache and won't be ready before nine o'clock, mutters, "That will not suit me so well.", as he pulls a little way off. Even so, he's ready at nine and they're off. After a few minutes he makes a vain attempt to chat with his passengers, but the presence of the indisposed lady, her headache heightened by the bright sunlight, puts a damper on the conversation for a while and the driver soon falls silent, answering only when spoken to. They arrive at Caldwell, recently settled, with its jail, newspaper office and resort hotel, and arrange for a ride on the lake in a small, hired, boat, telling their driver they'll signal him from the water when they return.
After a presumably enjoyable sail they return to shore, where the boat owner, another prototypical Yankee, tells them the price he'd originally quoted them was for the hire of the boat only, and does not include his services. With little choice, they pay up. Stuart realizes the Yankee type has a British counterpart, remarking that, "this was the first time the Yankees had come Yorkshire over us". Their fare grudgingly paid, they look around for their driver. No driver. As they stand scratching their heads, a bystander notices their dismay and informs them that their driver's probably over in the jail. Mystery solved next week.
Have you ever returned from a boat ride on Lake George, where you've been gypped by the Yankee boatman, only to find your barouche driver, another crusty Yankee, is missing and may be inside the Caldwell jail? Then you know what James Stuart must have been feeling back on September 19th, 1828. I feel a bit lazy, so we'll let Stuart tell the outcome. "We set off in that direction, and met him coming from it. He made no excuse or apology, but set about preparing our conveyance. As soon as it was ready, we got into it, but the driver showed no symptoms of setting out. We asked the cause. He was waiting, he said, for the little boy whom he had brought out with him on the driving-seat, and who would presently be with us. We began to think that the driver was disposed to treat us rather cavalierly; and I had almost asked him, whether he looked to the boy, for whom he was waiting, or to us, for the hire of the conveyance; but I recollected in time, that all altercation with the natives ought, if possible, to be avoided by persons travelling in a foreign country, and that the trouble of obtaining redress, even in cases which required it more, made it much wiser to submit in silence to a little inconvenience." Ah, the joys of travel!
While they waited they tried to engage the driver in conversation, so as to learn a bit more about the area but he, having been squelched earlier in the day, pretty much clammed up. Eventually the boy returned, the coach set off again, and the driver, whose name they learned was Spencer, recovered his good humor, regaling them on the trip back to Treehouse's hotel with stories of the epic battles between the French and the British seventy years ago and, learning they were from Edinburgh, entering into a discourse on New York's public schools and finally segueing into the large numbers of locals that already were moving off to the western part of the state and even the far reaches of the Great Lakes. Arriving back at the hotel the travelers enter, confer, and agree to invite Spencer to have supper with them. Stuart finds him in the barroom where the pleasantly-surprised driver, thanks him, but declines. "His family," he said, "expected him, and he must go home. Perhaps, Sir," he added, "you was not aware that the High Sheriff of the County was your driver to-day. We are very neighbourly here. The horses expected for you this morning had not come in, and I could not refuse my neighbour, mentioning his name, when he applied to me. I have good horses, and would have been sorry to disappoint a stranger." Ah, the joys of travel! The boy, by the way, had been the son of a prisoner carrying linens to his incarcerated parent. Stuart also mentions that the Jewish newspaper publisher Mordecai M. Noah, who we met back at the time of the Erie Canal opening, had recently been elected High Sheriff of New York City.
The following day it was back in the coach again for the seventeen-mile trip down to Saratoga Springs. Even at this early date this town of over 2,000 year-round residents had long been a popular New York resort. Indian agent Sir William Johnson had visited in 1771, his friend Philip Schuyler built a road from his Hudson River property at nearby Saratoga shortly afterwards, and even President George Washington had come to call. The place had four or five churches, which took turns staying open during the off season, a number of fine residences, some of them in the new Revival style, inspired by Greek independence fighters, and four large resort hotels, getting ready to close for the season. The Stuarts, who were going to spend some time here, elected shortly to move to a boarding house. We'll explore the area with them next time.
Those of you who have trouble keeping their barouches, phaetons and sociables (I'm not making this up) apart might want to hitch up your browser and check out the Glossary of Carriages at http://www.bbno.freeserve.co.uk/glossary.htm You'll find the above, plus breaks, cabriolets, char-a-bancs, fargons and wagonettes along with their distinguishng characteristics. Many were more prevalent in Britain in the early 1800s, but a number had also popped up this side of the Atlantic by James Stuart's time. Click on "See the Carriages" at the bottom for a window with links to photos of a few of the vehicles. True techies can also find detailed illustrations at the web site of the Carriage Museum of America in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, at http://www.carriagemuseumlibrary.org/evolution-traps.htm . There's a lot of detailed history there as well. So, See the USA in your Cabriolet.
By the time the Stuarts arrived in Saratoga Springs, September 20, 1828, the resort town was about to roll up its sidewalks and go into hibernation for the winter. The travelers were planning on staying on through the end of the following month, so overlooked the four main hotels in town—the Congress Hall, the United States Hotel, and two others he doesn't name—choosing instead a more modest, year-round hotel. Horse racing was in the future in 1828, music festivals and video betting terminals even farther off, but the town had drawn visitors from all over the country as well as from Europe for a number of years, and not just for the medicinal mineral waters, although Stuart is interested in noting the composition of these—mostly muriate of soda, mixed with carbonates of lime, soda, magnesia and iron (with a little carbonic acid gas added, for that extra zing). Bottled Congress water, named after the large hotel, became a popular Saratoga export. The town's arts center was this same hotel, which six or seven years earlier had hired black Philadelphia composer and bandleader Francis Johnson, described as "inventor-general of cotillions", to spend a number of summers playing for guests and hosting balls and concerts. He'd also composed music for Lafayette's 1824 return to Philadelphia. Beyond music, the town sported "public reading-rooms, library, and ball-rooms, and a newspaper press." Stuart notes that games of drafts, or checkers, are played in bar-rooms all over town; card games are seldom seen.
The weather remains in the seventies, the departing resort guests seem to have taken the flies with them, and the foliage is slowly racing into display mode. The Stuarts settle into the life of the town. He reports that fresh apples and peaches are pared, quartered, and set out in the sun to dry, often on house tops. On Sunday, October 12th, a day the Baptist Church is the only game in town, they inadvertently observe a funeral. Several of the mourners wear white gowns and yellow straw bonnets, the only black apparel being a crepe band around their headgear. The burial ground is non-denominational, and individual fenced-in family burial plots are often sited near the house. The Stuarts take the obligatory tour of the battlefield on October 27th, slightly more than 51 years after Burgoyne's surrender, and he later explains to his British readers, painful as it may be, the details of that martial turning point. Returning to the hotel that night he notes that the exact same excellent dinner they are eating is also being served to their coach driver. "This is an example, and one of the most common every-day kind, of the equality practised in this country." Which may seem to us an appropriate coda to the day's history lesson.
On Halloween they leave Saratoga, move on to Ballston Spa, seven miles away, and settle themselves into a boarding house run by a Mrs. Macmaster, rather than the grander Aldridge's Hotel or the Sans Souci. They note that doors are seldom locked at night, as was also the case back in Saratoga. Their only complaint is that the rooms are sparely furnished and the beds have no side curtains, accentuating the colder nights that are coming on. On November 5th, Stuart reports, " I had been at Ballston Spa but a very few days, when a meeting for election, one of the most important that has ever occurred in this country, was held." Over the next several weeks we'll zoom out and follow the rest of New York as the changing of the guard, the fifth, fundamentally changes the political complexion of the Stuarts' temporary home.
When James Stuart and his wife arrived in Ballston Spa on October 31, 1828, they had been traveling through New York State for over two months, staying a few days at most in any one place; now they were ready to settle down for an extended off-season visit in this resort town to the north of Albany. Last week Stuart mentioned that the national elections were in progress. Four years ago Andrew Jackson had been defeated for the country's highest office by John Quincy Adams. The two men were about to square off again.
On November 5th Stuart took himself off to one of the hotels, where the balloting was to take place for the third and final election day, made his way through the twenty some men milling around the door, was shown to a seat by a local friend Anson Brown, and waited for the show to begin. He was to be disappointed. "The excitement occasioned by the election generally was declared by the newspapers to be far greater than had ever been witnessed since the declaration of independence in 1776. . . I was therefore prepared for some fun, for some ebullition of humour, or of sarcastic remark, or dry wit, to which Americans are said to be prone. But all was dumb show, or the next thing to it. . . so quiet a day of election, both without and within doors, I never witnessed either in Scotland or England. I did not see or hear of a drunk person in the street of the village or neighbourhood, nor did I observe any thing extraordinary . . . We were residing close by the hotel where the election took place, and in the evening the tranquillity was as complete as if no election had occurred." Things had been more exciting elsewhere, for some time previously.
Anyone who feels U. S. elections in the 20th- and 21st-centuries are too drawn out and complicated, would have been struck speechless in the late 1820s. True, there were only 24 states at the time, but there were no nationally agreed-on rules; each of the 24 had their own methods of choosing the electors. Delaware's and South Carolina's electors were chosen by the legislatures; Georgia chose electors for Jackson only; the other 21 states put up one man for each party. (By the way, in 1824, it had been a four-way race). Now it was one full year since New York had held what was a primary in all but name, back in November of 1827, at which time each party, Adams' National Republicans and Jackson's Democrats, nominated their man. To add to the balloting confusion—different states, different dates—and not just one day apiece. Some states had begun in October and as returns trickled in those could influence voters who had not yet gone to the polls.
New York City last year was giving birth to a new phenomenon—machine politics. The population was swelling by hundreds of immigrants, mainly Irish, but a significant number of Germans as well. The new arrivals saw opportunity to rebuild old lives. The young political organization, named for the semi-legendary Indian chief Tammany, saw bodies. Bodies that could head for the voting places in large numbers. Bodies that would not have their nonexistent voter registration checked. Bodies that could hand election officials their pre-printed, pre-filled-out ballots. Bodies that could hand Jackson the nomination and then be called on to return Tammany's past kindnesses and help give Jackson a majority of both popular and electoral votes now in 1828. Next time we'll follow the race across the rest of New York.
© 2006, David Minor