November 1991

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Rochester Publications



Robert G. Koch

Last month we sampled some of the publications coming out of Rochester from 1816 to 1834, the year of the city's incorporation. In this article we'll see what publications emanating from here in the quarter century before the Civil War suggest about life-concerns in Rochester.

Sermons, religious tracts, theological works, grammars and letter-writing, elocution and arithmetic books, almanacs, periodicals like The Genesee Farmer and Gardener's Journal, a weekly "devoted to agriculture, horticulture and rural economy"—these continued to be staples of the local publishing scene. But new themes and concerns were surfacing as well.

There is leisure now for verse, some of it book length. Yonnondio, or Warriors of the Genesee: A tale of the Seventeenth Century by H. C. Hosmer, of Livingston County, ran to 269 pages, was published in New York and possibly here as well. Some was reformist verse: for example, The Washington Harp. A collection of hymns, songs, odes for temperance meetings and festivals.

A Narrative of the Life of Mary Jemison (the Indian captive "white woman of the Genesee") finally, in 1840, came out in a Rochester editon after appearing first at Canandaigua in 1824 and in England and Buffalo. It has gone on to many other editions in the century since.

Other works of regional history began to appear, including local editor Henry O'Reilly's 1838 account of the community's first quarter century. Works for students and adults looked back on the American Revolution, and A Lecture of the Discovery of America by the Northmen, five hundred years before Columbus, was the vanguard publication of a series intended to upstage Columbus.

An anti-slavery address by a prominent local citizen, Myron Holley, appeared in 1837, and many anti-slavery works followed during the quarter century before Emancipation.

Various works of business and political "intelligence" appeared, including a Report on the Tonawanda Railroad Company, a mayor's report on "supplying the city with water, city directories, abstracts of local and state laws, horticultural catalogues, and railroad and travel guides.

Religious and reformist stirrings of the period are reflected in publications on Spiritualism (History of the Strange Sounds or Rappings, heard in Rochester and Western New York), on socialist communal experiments (Boa Constrictor, or Fourier Association Self Exposed), millenialism in an address "with Reasons for believing Christ's Second Coming, at hand," and Capital Punishment, shown to be a violation of the Principles of the Divine Government..., among other works. In 1854 The Stranger in The Synagogue authentically described and explained Jewish Worship.

Intellectual interests included publication of a lecture on phrenology, a piece on "the Antiquities of Central America," an art catalogue, translations from German poets, a book on the Arctic regions, and in 1859 a privately printed 302-page book on The Alarming State of the World.

Meanwhile, in 1851, two important books on American Indians appeared here: Henry R. Schoolcraft's broad-brush account of The American Indians, and Lewis Henry Morgan's League of the Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee, or Iroquois, an anthropological classic.

More sensational fare appeared sporadically in the two decades before 1860. For example, a fictional series by a County Judge, Mysteries of Rochester; The Landlord and the Tenant; Laura, The Sicilian Girl; and his presumably factual accounts of "Misery, Vice, Shames, and Oppression in the City of the Genesee." Others detailed a doctor's use of strychnine to commit murder and a wife's murderous collaboration with her brother to end her marriage. When local scandal was lacking, a sensation-trial story was imported from San Francisco.

But for the most part Rochester seemed an earnest community, reporting on its evolving water system, fire protection, militia companies (soon to be called on in the national struggle), its religion, morality, and laws and the past on which it was building.

© 1991, Robert G. Koch
Index to articles by Robert G. Koch
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