1828, Part 6
New York City / State Timeline
from Eagles Byte by David Minor
Year-by-year tracing the growth of the early days of the Republic
James Stuart decided that the 1828 Federal elections in Ballston Spa were not as exciting as he had expected them to be. The big surprise was, the rest of the state was much also calmer than anyone had a right to expect. Historian Andrew Burstein has recently stated, "The spite-filled campaign was even more relentless and retaliatory than that of 1824." The results were to be one of the major watersheds in U. S. politics. And there were foreshadows of our own time.
Jackson had won the popular vote back in 1824, but William H. Crawford had acted the spoiler and the electoral vote had gone to John Quincy Adams. Jackson was out to take back the White House he considered rightfully his. He had new allies this time. The year after William Morgan had come afoul of the Masons a body had been recovered that his wife had identified, mainly because the teeth looked the same. Now, with anti-masonic fever at a boiling point, it didn't really matter who that body had been. The sentiment was, ". . . a good enough Morgan till after the election." Many of the Federalists (read 'establishment') had been Masons, so it seemed right and natural that the anti-Masons should team up with the Jacksonian Democrats of the South and the West, and send the Federalists packing.
Slander and invective catapulted back and forth as the campaign heated up. As we've seen before, Adams was accused of procuring the services of his child's nanny for the Czar of Russia, and of acting the aristocrat. spending public funds on a pool table for the White House. Adams' adherents gave as good as they got, accusing Jackson of stealing another man's wife, and one of low morals at that (Rachel Jackson would die within weeks after the election and Jackson would never forgive her slanderers). They also focused on his dueling, and his arbitrary execution of army mutineers in 1814 and 1815, comparing him to Richard III.
As October and November approached most would agree that it was going to be a very bumpy ride. Using popular local terms for the two factions, former New York City mayor Philip Hone reported during the three-day November election period, "A gang of several thousand Loco-foco ruffians paraded the street last night with clubs, and assaulted and drove out several of the Whig processions." The following day he updated his report. "The fire is out, the powder expended, and the smoke is passing away. The election throughout the state ended when the sun went down."
Over across the state in Buffalo there had been a bit of excitement as well. A local resident described how Jackson supporters had erected a flagpole on the corner opposite the polling place a day prior to the election and proposed to fly a banner there with Jackson's likeness on it the next morning. The Adams men swore to tear the flag down, the Jacksonites to physically defend it. The next morning the flag went up, assault forces approached, defenders found new allies, and a standoff resulted. As the eyewitness reported, "No demand was made and the flag waved, and General Jackson was elected President without bloodshed in Buffalo". And none seems to have been shed elsewhere in the state. This time. Buffalo also saw one of its own elected. To the state assembly. Lawyer by the name of Millard Fillmore.
James Stuart remarks on 1828's U. S. national election, "Very soon after this election, the excitement created by it appeared to us to have altogether subsided, and no traces of ill humour seemed to remain with those most opposed to each other. They associated with each other as if nothing had happened to interrupt their harmony. We have heard it often observed in this country, that differences on political subjects, or at election meetings, are unattended with those estrangements which they occasion elsewhere, where votes, and the rights to vote, are subject of purchase and sale."
It was all over but the shouting, most of which was done by the exultant adherents of victor Andrew Jackson. The White House celebration next March on Inauguration Day would raise the bar high for fraternity parties down into our own time. With the Ballston Spa election non-excitement over, James Stuart and his wife settled in for a few weeks. They'd been pretty much on the go since stepping ashore at New York City in late August and now, in mid-November, they could use a good rest. At least as much rest as a good son of the Scottish Enlightenment could handle.
"On the 18th of November, we made an excursion to the township of Galway, with a view to see Mr Stimson's farm, about eleven miles from Ballston Spa. Mr Stimson is a very enterprizing person, has an extensive farm, a large hotel, and great stores as a merchant. We are told that there is no farm within our reach at present so well entitled to notice." And Stuart certainly knows how to notice. You'd think that a village named Galway would have been founded by the Irish. But a fair-sized portion of the population of County Galway had only been there since Cromwell's time and had originally come from Scotland; so it was the Scots-Irish who came to this part of Saratoga County and chose its name.
Stuart may have been looking forward to a nice chat with Earl Stimson about good old Scotland but he was to be disappointed. Appointments were rather hard to set up and confirm in this pre telegraph age and Stimson was off on business elsewhere when the Stuarts, driven by Mr Burtis, arrived. ". . . but Mrs Stimson was extremely communicative and obliging, most especially considering that we had no introduction to her." Stuart isn't specific but it's likely she assigns someone to show them around and they're off for the grand tour of the 800-acre farm, half of which is in active production.
He comments extensively on everything. Stimson practices crop rotation, starting with maize or Indian corn, used primarily as feed for livestock with the unused portion plowed under for fertilizer, what we today would call "green manure." The yield is about 560 bushels per season. Then the land is turned over for barley, then once again for wheat. The soil of the county has been described as primarily heavy clay and Stuart comments on the fact that while Stimson uses manure more than most New York farmers, with good results, he could stand to use even more. "Making, therefore, the necessary allowance for change of circumstances and situation, there does not seem to be any ground for charging the American agriculturist with want of knowledge, or of activity and enterprize." As for 'enterprize,' Stimson also raises flax, potatoes, vegetables such as "turnips, ruta-baga, pease, lucern", and 400 chickens. More rural matters next time.
While describing Earl Stimson's farm in Galway, New York, James Stuart mentions that Stimson also has "a large hotel, and great stores" but concentrates on the farming operation. It's possible that if he had more than one day for his visit he would have been able to see more of Stimson's non-farm business.
Looking at George Baker Anderson's 1988 history of Saratoga County as well as some internet databases we can obtain a few more details on Stimson, as well as on his wife, Mehitable. Anderson mentions that as early as 1810 Stimson had a "store, hotel, boardinghouse and meat packing establishment," as well as stores in the village of Galway and in Broadalbin.
A number of sources refer to Stimson as 'General', probably for service in the War of 1812. Year 1811 records list him as paymaster; the following year he shows up as a captain. He may have been promoted during the conflict or perhaps 'General' was a courtesy title. In the years after Stuart's visit Stimson would go on to serve in prominent church and civil positions and become a presidential elector three Federal elections from now (he voted for Harrison). Records for the second half of the century mention the sale of the "Stimson Hotel and Coaching Inn."
But it's the farm Stuart concentrates on. There's not much to see this late in the season. Crops are usually planted in the second half of May and harvested in October; occasionally early November. By now most of the seasonal day labor has probably left for the year. Wages are about a dollar a day. A former hand, Jarvis M. Skinner, mentions elsewhere that he worked a year on the Stimson farm in about 1820 for around $110, but that was probably just for the season. The labor that they perform Stuart calls, "work in which women are employed in Britain, such as hoeing, assisting in cleaning grain, and even milking of cows, . . ."
He adds that threshing machines are much rarer here than in Britain. "Thirty-five or forty bushels of corn per acre is considered a good average crop on land suited to it, well-prepared, and well-managed, but 150 bushels have been raised on an acre." Stimson has also set other local acreage records. Sixty-two bushels of barley, five tons of timothy, as well as 357 bushels of potatoes on half an acre. In general Stuart has nothing but praise for local farm operations. "We find all the farmers in this part of the country, whom we meet in our pretty extensive perambulations, communicative, and well-informed on the subject of their management, perfectly aware of the importance of fallows and green crops; but generally of opinion, that they dare not attempt that system, on account of the high price of labour in this country in relation to the value of land. . . "
Their tour over, the Stuarts return to their hostess. "When we returned from the fields, we found a very nice dinner prepared for us, and a bottle of wine on the table. Mrs Stimson had previously dined, but gave us the pleasure of her company; and was, I believe, not less inquisitive in putting questions to us respecting land-management in Scotland, than we respecting that in this neighbourhood." The wine was probably a necessity around here, since good water was hard to find, mainly because of the same minerals in it that made nearby Saratoga Springs a mecca for the health-challenged. The Stuarts and their driver Burtis are pleasantly surprised to find that the meal and the drinks are on the house. Mehitable Stimson is unwilling to make such agreeable and knowledgeable guests pay for their meal. Their horses get to put on the feedbag for free as well.
Their visit to the Stimson farm over, the Stuarts head back for Ballston Spa. Our journalist adds a brief sidebar on local roads. "Roads are made and kept in repair by the work of the inhabitants actually called out. The roads are not usually covered with small broken stones, but are merely formed in a rough way, so as to keep off the water, and the holes and ruts are immediately filled up with clay, or earth, when they occur, It is astonishing how well such roads answer the purpose, though certainly very inferior to our Macadamized roads, or to well-made roads of any description; but there are so few rainy days in this country, and the ground dries so rapidly after rain, that we have seldom seen deep ruts or holes in the roads, and have for the most part proceeded on our journies in the stages at the rate of six and seven miles an hour."
Back at Ballston Spa that night, they stay for two more days then, on the 21st, board a stage for Albany, 23 miles away, planning to make Boston before winter sets in. They arrive, only to discover they've already waited a bit too long; scheduled service to Boston has already halted for the season. So, while making arrangements to hire a private coach, they put up at a hotel described only as "Mr. Le Met's hotel," where several out-of-town members of the state legislature are in temporary residence. After some bargaining they procure a coach and a regular change of drivers for a flat fee of sixty-one dollars, just under 400 of today's dollars. They catch the horse ferry across the Hudson and proceed east.
Passing Greenbush, Stuart points out that Congress has set aside between 2 and 300 acres for the cultivation of the mulberry tree. This will be part of an eastern seaboard attempt to raise silkworms, a goal first proposed by another visitor, Swedish scientist Pater Kalm, back in the late 1740s.
Moving on, they approach the Massachusetts border, making a stop at Lebanon Springs to visit the Shaker Colony founded there in 1785 as the spiritual center of their faith. The 1828 population is between 600 and 700 Shakers. Stuart is impressed with this religion, with its seven injunctions, that "consists more in the practice of virtue than in faith. . . We had no introduction to these people, but there was no hesitation on their part in showing us their houses, work-houses, and sale rooms, all of which are patterns of order. We bought some trifling articles." (not much has changed for tourists in the last 176 years). "Their clothes are much like those of Quakers. They showed us their church, which is a clean, comfortable place of worship. We asked and obtained permission to return, to be present on Sunday, the day following that on which we were with them. A violent storm of snow and hail prevented their meeting." We'll take leave of the Stuarts as they make their wintry way into Massachusetts.
While traveling around the eastern U. S. over the next year-and-a-half they will return to lower New York several times, and we'll join them when we return to New York in 1829 and 1830. Not to keep you in suspense until then—apart from nearly a decade of exile after his 1822 duel, James Stuart will suffer nothing worse. He will publish his journals in 1833, publicly refute his critics in 1834, and die in his bed, in London, November 3, 1849, enthusiastically stirring up controversy right to the end.
© 2006, David Minor