Category Archives: Albany

The Colonial Governors of New York: The Good, the Bad, the Seditious

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Jacob Leisler

Statue of Jacob Leisler in New Rochelle, NY, by Anthony22 at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

Last time around we discussed George Rogers Howell’s comprehensive and descriptive list of the English colonial governors of New York, from his Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany, 1886. He elaborated on some of his brief tabular descriptions with some more detailed evaluations of the shortcomings of several of the governors, whom Howell notes “were often recalled on account of manifest incompetency or glaring dishonesty and fraud.” He held Albany and its citizens apart, saying “it is easy to see what Albany thought of these matters by the class of men put forward to direct public affairs at home, or to represent them in the Assemblies when they were allowed. Though generally loyal subjects of the government, at the same time they were friends of popular representation and the advancement of the true interests of the colony.”

Howell writes that at the end of Dutch rule, the English who resided in New York City were tired of the stubborn tyranny of inflexible Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant, and expected some of the liberties allowed in New England under Governor Nicolls. Apparently they were disappointed, but Howell describes Nicolls’ administration as “mild,” and notes that “he did not impair the city liberties of Albany, nor interfere with its trade. After its peaceable surrender, September 24, 1664, things went on as usual . . . It was decided that the Dutch patents must be renewed as invalid, bringing wealth to the Governor by his enormous fees for granting new titles.”

Of Francis Lovelace, who followed Nicolls, the same could not be said. “The odious Lovelace listened to nothing asked by the people. He told them that their business was to work and pay their taxes. He ordered their remonstrance to be burned by the common hangman.” Then came the brief period when the Dutch retook the colony, with Anthony Colve as Director-General. It lasted a bit more than a year; when peace was declared between Holland and England, New Netherlands was again given over to the British, and Edmund Andros was named governor, an office he served on three non-successive occasions. The “hated tyrant,” as Howell called him, “held sway over a colony of unsubmissive subjects. He filled his position as Governor about five years and a half in all, and never secured confidence and respect.” While governing from New York, he did visit Albany, usually in connection with Indian affairs (at which some writers find him quite deft). In 1676, he had a new stockade fort built

near the present site of St. Peter’s Church, so as to defend and command the whole town of Albany. It had four bastions and room for twenty-four guns. It was occupied in June, in command of Captain Sylvester Salisbury. During his time he was frequently called upon in settling church difficulties at Albany, and settling Indian questions, which he generally adjusted acceptably. Andros was loyal to his king, but oppressive. In 1689, he was arrested in Boston by the people, confined in the fort, and his under officers shipped to England.

More on that soon. After Andros’s first term, it was under Thomas Dongan that government really started to form.

Dongan called the first representative Assembly, which met at Fort James, October 17, 1683. The names of the two members from Albany and two from Rensselaerwyck are not known. This Assembly adopted a charter of liberties, and divided the province into counties, as stated in another part of this volume. During his time, the claim of the Patroon over the territory of Albany, neglected by Andros, was adjusted amicably and wisely, and Albany received its city charter July 22, 1686 … Dongan, though not in sympathy in religious views with a majority of the people, was a man of moderation and gentle manners, and attended faithfully to the interests of the colony in the matters of the French, who were still endeavoring, by religious influence, to seduce the Mohawks. He visited the new city several times, and advanced its policy by good counsel and good appointments. There was some feeling against him, chiefly on account of his religion, at a time of less liberality than now. [Now being 1886.]

Then came the abdication of King James II, the ascension of William and Mary in a “glorious revolution,” and the huge controversy occasioned by the assumption of power by Jacob Leisler. This occasioned a crisis in the colony and in Albany, and inflamed tensions with the frontier town of Schenectady. Leisler, who while in Albany had made an enemy of Rev. Nicholas van Rensselaer (and lost a lawsuit with him over a matter of theology), was appointed a commissioner of the court of admiralty in New York by Dongan, and captain of a military company in New York City when Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson took command of the colony while Governor Edmund Andros was in Maine and Massachusetts dealing with colonial aggressions against Indian tribes. There was a bit of a religious divide in the colony at the time, given that the revolution of William and Mary was not being reflected by changes in New York society and offices. Leisler was a populist, and popular, and when it was learned that Governor Edmund Andros had been imprisoned in Boston, supporters of Leisler took control of Fort James at the tip of Manhattan on May 31, 1689, renamed it Fort William, and said they would hold it until a new governor appointed by William arrived.

They sent for Leisler, who at first refused to lead them but then acceded. A committee of safety was formed, with a provisional government with Leisler in charge as captain of the fort. In June, Nicholson left for London, for his own safety. The mayor of New York and others moved to Albany, which held out against Leisler’s authority. To add to the already tense relationship between the two towns, Schenectady was home to a strong pro-Leisler sentiment. In November of 1689, Leisler sent an armed force to Albany to assist in defense against potential Indian attacks, on the condition of Albany accepting Leisler’s authority. The offer was not accepted. Three months later, the French and Indians massacred and burned Schenectady; soon after Albany accepted Leisler’s authority.

Howell was clearly a fan of Leisler:

The assumption of authority by Jacob leisler, a merchant and militia captain of New York City, made much trouble in Albany. He held his position with the approval of the people. The aristocracy were opposed to him as a Commander-in-Chief of the Province. He was acting governor for the time. Lieutenant-Governor Nicholson had gone to England, and the colony had no governor. Leisler may have been ambitious, but he was honest and patriotic. He was brave and popular. It was his purpose to give up the trust committed him by the people as soon as a Governor appointed by William and Mary should reach New York.
Meanwhile he proffered aid to protect the frontiers at Albany and Schenectady, now in danger of invasion from the French and Indians, and claimed possession of the fort at Albany and recognition of his right to command. He sent his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, to persuade the people of Albany to yield to Leisler’s government. Some of the people looked favorably upon the matter. But the city government regarded the course of Leisler and Milborne as without authority of William and Mary, and therefore seditious. The Mayor, Peter Schuyler, took charge of the fort, and successfully resisted all attempts of Milborne and his troops, who had been sent up from New York for that purpose, to take possession of it. The citizens were divided in their sympathies. They sent for aid to Connecticut, and aid came; to Massachusetts, and they were advised to yield to Leisler and have peace. This they did, because of their fear, especially after the burning of Schenectady, of invasion and devastation.

It didn’t end well for Leisler. Governor Sloughter arrived with a commission from the crown on March 19, 1691.

Leisler readily yielded the authority, claimed as from the people. He was no usurper. But the aristocratic haters of popular rule were not satisfied. They caused the immediate arrest of Leisler and Milborne, and had them cast in prison, tried and convicted on the charge of treason. Sloughter, during a drunken debauch, signed the sentence of execution, and they were hanged May 16, 1691. History writes the actors in this malicious murder as traitors against freedom and humanity.

Howell had worse things to say about the next governor. He said that Fletcher was one of the most arrogant and covetous governors, who “visited Albany as most of the Governors did, to display his authority . . . Boastful of military skill, he was cowardly and imbecile in action. A hater of all religion, he was a professed Episcopalian, and made himself odious by an endeavor to make it the only sect recognized by the State and supported by general tax.”

Next, the Earl of Bellmont’s brief terms “were those of judicious management.” Lord Cornbury “left a record of unscrupulous villainy and licentiousness that puts his name in lasting contempt.” Governors Hunter and Burnet were better received, but William Cosby “was narrow in his prejudices and a petty tyrant. The famous Zenger libel case occurred in his time, in 1734.”

Howell went on. More tomorrow.

English Colonial Governors of New York: A Rogue’s Gallery

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Howell, in his “Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany,” gave us an excruciatingly detailed listing of the English colonial governors of New York, running from Richard Nicolls in 1664 to the final military governor, Andrew Elliott, in 1783. We’re sure there are some stories to look at here (for instance, how many times could Cadwallader Colden serve as governor?), but what makes this list invaluable and amusing is Howell’s description of the character of nearly every one of the men who served as governor. Where someone served more than once, as happened more than once, he went to the effort to provide a different description of his character for each term.

We have, partly in order to save space, given the [below] tabular history of the Colonial Governors. Dates often conflicting have been written down from sources considered most reliable. So far as Albany County is concerned, there is little more to be said about them. The official residence was in New York City, and they seldom came to Albany except for a recreation trip, or for making a show of their importance, and to receive demonstrative recognition from the well-to-do and loyal people of the second city in their government. Good policy made it best for them, sometimes, to meet the Indians here in council, to make presents and have a good talk with them. They came with pomp, dressed in blue and gold trimmed coats, with gold-laced hats and showy ruffles. They expected processions and feastings, and every demonstration of joy and respect from the people. Policy granted as much; but sensible men were glad when it was over and expenses paid.

These men were usually of intemperate and licentious habits; of weak or mediocre talents; given to their appetite; ruled by their mistresses and favorites. Dissolute in morals, they were often broken down in strength. They gave formal attention to the religion of the Church which best pleased the King.

They generally had no interest in the welfare of the people. All were foreign born; most of them incompetent pets or members of the English aristocracy. Penniless, useless and dependent at home, they were sent abroad to get rich by robbing the people, and to serve the King – whose sycophants they were – in any way to please him and aggrandize themselves. They sought to associate with themselves the wealthy and influential, from whom they received adulation and flattery, in order to secure favors in petty offices, sensual pleasures and land grants. They kept aloof as much as possible from the toiling people, and asked of them only taxes to pay exorbitant salaries and carry out selfish schemes.

Just in case you wondered where Howell, writing in 1886, was coming from, he did go on:

Most were interested specially in making land grants, because most productive of wealth. No industries were encouraged. Rents were fluctuating; lands were at low value; trade was paralyzed; taxes high and oppressive during most of these years. The official terms of most of these governors were short, and marked by few incidents of importance as proceeding from them. They were often recalled on account of manifest incompetency or glaring dishonesty and fraud. In vain the public, as they gladly saw the departure of a ruling governor, hoped that the next would be a wiser and better man.

So, from the time of the surrender of the Dutch in 1664, with the ousting of the “stubborn tyranny of the inflexible old Governor” Peter Stuyvesant, we had this impressive list of the haughty and insolent, the arbitrary and odious:

English Colonial Governors of New York

NameService BeganTime of Service
(Y - M - D)
RankCharacter
Nicolls, RichardSept. 8, 16643 years, 11 months, 9 daysColonelMild and prudent.
Lovelace, FrancisAug. 17, 16684 - 11 - 25Sir, ColonelArbitrary and oppressive.
Evertse, Cornelis
Bencker, Jacob
Aug. 12, 16730 - 1 - 7Council of War
Calve, AnthonySept. 19, 16731 - 1 - 21Director-GeneralPrudent and energetic.
Andros, EdmundNov. 10, 16743 - 0 - 6Sir, KnightArbitrary and odious.
Brockholles, AnthonyNov. 16, 16770 - 8 - 21Military Commander
Andros, EdmundAug. 7, 16782 - 5 - 6Sir, KnightA hated tyrant.
Brockholles, AnthonyJan. 13, 16812 - 7 - 14Captain
Dongan, ThomasAug. 27, 16834 - 11 - 14ColonelLiberal and politic.
Andros, EdmundAug. 11, 16880 - 1 - 28Sir, KnightArrogant and selfish.
Nicholson, FrancisOct. 9, 16880 - 7 - 24MajorBrave, irascible, loose morals.
Leisler, JacobJune 3, 16891 - 9 - 16MerchantBold, honest and earnest.
Sloughter, HenryMarch 19, 16910 - 4 - 7ColonelIntemperate and licentious.
Ingoldsby, RichardJuly 26, 16911 - 1 - 4MajorHaughty and insolent.
Fletcher, BenjaminAug. 30, 16925 - 7 - 13 Military OfficerBigoted, weak, covetous and corrupt.
Coote, RichardApril 13, 16981 - 1 - 4Earl of BellomontEnergetic and discreet.
Nanlan, JohnMay 17, 16991 - 2 - 7
Coote, RichardJuly 24, 17000 - 7 - 11Earl of BellomontA worthy officer.
Smith, William
De Peyster, Abraham
Schuyler, Peter
March 5, 17010 - 2 - 4Councilor(s)Wise and true; friends of the people of the Colony.
Nanlan, JohnMay 19, 17010 - 11 - 14Lieutenant-Governor
Hyde, EdwardMay 3, 17026 - 7 - 15Lord CornburyHaughty, vicious, intolerant.
Lovelace, JohnDec. 18, 17080 - 4 - 18Love LovelaceWeak and inactive.
Schuyler, PeterMay 6, 17090 - 0 - 3CouncilorA true patriot.
Ingoldsby, RichardMay 9, 17090 - 0 - 16MajorArrogant and exacting.
Schuyler, PeterMay 25, 17090 - 0 - 6ColonelVigilant and trusty.
Ingoldsby, RichardJune 1, 17090 - 10 - 9Major
Beeckman, GerardusApril 10, 17100 - 2 - 4Councilor
Hunter, RobertJune 14, 17109 - 0 - 7GeneralLiberal and just.
Schuyler, PeterJune 21, 17191 - 2 - 26CouncilorJudicious and equitable.
Burnet, WilliamSept. 17, 17207 - 6 - 28
Montgomerie, JohnApril 15, 17283 - 2 - 16Vain and useless.
Van Dam, RipJuly 1, 17311 - 1 - 0CouncilorUpright and trustworthy.
Cosby, WilliamAug. 1, 17323 - 7 - 9ColonelUniversally detested.
Clarke, GeorgeMarch 10, 17360 - 7 - 20
Clarke, GeorgeOct. 30, 17366 - 10 - 2
Clinton, GeorgeSept. 2, 174310 - 1 - 8AdmiralUnreliable and unpopular.
Osborne, DanversOct. 10, 17530 - 0 - 2Sir, BaronetCommitted suicide.
De Lancey, JamesOct. 12, 17531 - 10 - 21LawyerDecided and energetic.
Hardy, CharlesSept. 3, 17551 - 9 - 0Sir, Knight
De Lancey, JamesJune 3, 17573 - 2 - 1LawyerLoyal and influential.
Colden, CadwalladerAug. 4, 17601 - 0 - 4Scientific, unpopular.
Colden, CadwalladerAug. 8, 17610 - 2 - 18Honest, impolitic
Monckton, RobertOct. 26, 17610 - 0 - 22General
Colden, CadwalladerNov. 18, 17610 - 7 - 22Loyal, not popular.
Monckton, RobertJune 14, 17621 - 0 - 14
Colden, CadwalladerJune 28, 17632 - 4 - 15Learned, not gracious.
Moore, HenryNov. 13, 17653 - 9 - 29Sir, BaronetGenial and incompetent.
Tryon, WilliamJuly 9, 17712 - 8 - 28Loyal, but not popular.
Colden, CadwalladerApril 7, 17741 - 2 - 21Learned, esteemed, but hated.
Tryon, WilliamJune 28, 17754 - 8 - 25Respected, but not loved.
Robertson, JamesMarch 23, 17803 - 0 - 24Military Governor
Elliott, AndrewApril 17, 17830 - 7 - 8Military GovernorAmiable

The Peculiar Institution

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The Duke de la Rochefoucauld, an exile from revolutionary France who seemed to have a genuine appreciation for the post-revolutionary United States, was, as a foreign visitor, sometimes blunt in his assessments of what was going on. He found the inhabitants of Albany “extremely dull and melancholy,” and despite praising the hospitality of his host John Schuyler in Schuylerville, he called the son of the General indolent for his choice to sell hay rather than using it for cattle. But because of his status as an outsider, he gives us one of the few contemporary views, albeit a brief one, of the “peculiar institution” of slavery, which was more prevalent than we like to remember in the Capital District and was certainly a fixture in the lives of all the leading families. This is what little he had to say on that:

Labourers may be procured here in great abundance; their wages are three shillings a day, if they be wanted; but the usual daily labour is performed by negroes, who are very numerous, so that there is scarcely a house without one or two of them; John Schuyler keeps seven. The negroes, it is generally asserted, enjoy more happiness, as slaves, than if they were free. This might be the case, if liberty were bestowed on them, without their knowing what to do with it. But upon the whole, such maxims of morality fall with an ill-grace from the lips of a free people. The negroes, it is true, are kindly used in the state of New York; but it is also true, that, the convenience of having them constantly at hand for any work set apart, the labour of white people is less expensive, than that of negroes. To keep slaves is, therefore, a bad system, even in this point of view.

He spoke much more of slavery in his travels, though not of that in the Albany area. When he was writing, it was possible but by no means certain that the slave trade would end in 1808, the earliest date allowed by the Constitution. The Slave Trade Act of 1794 took the first step toward getting the United States out of slavery, and Rochefoucauld wrote at a time when there was still resistance.

There are some ships from Providence engaged in the accursed traffic of negroes, in contempt of the orders of Congress, by which it has been forbidden. The merchants concerned in this trade persuade themselves, that Congress cannot alter the constitution; and therefore think, that in spite of whatever Congress shall order, they may continue the slave-trade till 1808, the year fixed in the Constitution for its final cessation. They allege farther, that every state possesses a right to decide for itself in regard to this traffic; and that the state of Rhode-Island has not, as yet, made any enactment against it. They therefore purchase negroes, and carry them to sale in Georgia, where there is no prohibition of any sort against the trade. Nearly twenty ships from the harbours of the United States are employed in the importation of negroes to Georgia, and to the West-India isles.

I am surprised, that, while there is so strong and general a disapprobation of this whole trade, and while it is in such direct contradiction to the spirit of freedom, and to the predominant sentiments throughout America, Congress should neglect to interpose, and entirely suppress it here. I was informed, that this is about to happen ….

In Rhode Island, Rochefoucauld noted that “negroes are almost the only servants to be seen.” In Connecticut, servitude had not been abolished, as it had been in Massachusetts; “It is here ordained by law, that every negro born in the state since the year 1784, shall, at the age of twenty-one years, be declared free.” He spoke of this transition to freedom, which was considered as respect for property, to be “flagrant injustice … The case of Massachusetts, which in respect to slavery, stood in the same situation with Connecticut, and in which there were, at the time of the general emancipation, a greater number of negroes in servitude, sufficiently evinces the futility of this pretence.”

The community have there experienced no unfortunate consequences from the emancipation of the negroes. Few of these have made any criminal abuse of their liberty. Neither robbery nor murder is more frequent than before. Almost all the emancipated negroes remain in the condition of servants; as they cannot enjoy ther freedom, without earning means for their subsistence. Some of them have settled, in a small way, as artisans or husbandmen. Their number is, on the whole, greatly diminished. And on this account, the advocates for slavery maintain, that the negroes of Massachusetts have not been made, in any degree, happier by their general emancipation. None of them has, however, returned into servitude in those states in which slavery is still suffered by the laws. None has died of want. Massachusetts has delivered itself from the dishonor of the most odious of all violations of the natural liberty and the inextinguishable rights of the human species.

Want to read the rest of Rochefoucauld’s travels? There’s a Google for that. This all came from Volume II. There are others.

Albany, 1795: “They live retired in their houses with their wives”

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As we were discussing yesterday, in 1800, François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld, under the title of Duke de La Rochefoucauld Liancourt, published his Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, In the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797. Albany came up a few times.

After talking quite a bit about the state of shipping in Albany in the mid 1790s, Rochefoucauld gives a general description of the old city of Albany:

Albany contains six thousand inhabitants, two thousand of whom are slaves, as the laws of the State of New York permit slavery. The old houses are built in the Dutch style, with the gable-end to the street; the pyramidal part rising in steps, and terminating in a chimney decorated with figures, or in some iron puppets. All the buildings, which have been erected within these last ten years, are constructed of bricks in the English style, wide and large.

The revenue of the city amounts to about thirty-five thousand dollars a year. It possesses a great quantity of land in the neighbouring country, and also sells the quays on the river at two dollars and half per foot, and a ground-rent of one shilling, which is irredeemable. This revenue is partly owing to the economy of the administrators, who have hitherto endeavoured rather to enrich the city than to embellish it, and render it more convenient. The Senate is, at present, composed of young men, who promise to take care of these articles. But, from the ignorance, apathy, and antiquated ideas, which prevail in this city, it is much to be apprehended, lest the results of their exertions should prove but very trifling for a long time to come. I almost incline to think, that young people here are old born.

A bank, which was instituted here four years ago, promotes the trade of Albany; it consists of six hundred shares of four hundred dollars each, only half of which have hitherto been paid. The yearly dividend is nine per cent, besides what is deducted for the expence of the building in which the bank is kept.

There is in Albany a Dutch Lutheran church of a Gothic and very peculiar construction; the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, German Protestants, and Methodists, possess also churches in this town.

The price of land, in the vicinity of Albany, is from sixty-three to seventy-five dollars per acre. Some lands near the river are still dearer. These are remarkably good; but those, which are situated more backwards, are but of a middling quality. Agriculture is not attended to with peculiar care; the farms lie half in grass and half in corn. No country had ever stronger incitements to perfect its agriculture and industry; for none was ever furnished with outlets more safe and less expensive.

Some manufactories have been established at a small distance from the town, among which is a glass-house, in which both window glass and bottles are made. The former is pretty smooth, and the manufactory is carried on with much activity. Mr. Caldhowell [James Caldwell] possesses also near the town extensive works, where tobacco, mustard, starch, and cocoa-mills, are turned by water, and even every accessory labour is performed by the aid of water machinery. The tobacco-mill is the most important part of these works; about one hundred and fifty thousand pounds are yearly manufactured.

The Duke goes on to relate how when Caldwell’s works burned down in July 1794, both his friends and the state legislature stepped up with assistance to ensure he could rebuild, and that volunteer labor helped to rebuild his works, which employed fifty persons at the time, “some of whom receive one hundred dollars a year; children, nine years old, can earn from six shillings to one dollar a week.” He goes on to note that elsewhere there were tanning yards, corn, oil, paper and fulling-mills, where common day-laborers could receive four shillings and sixpence per day, and up to seven shillings in harvest season.

The Duke, who was of course in exile from post-Revolution France, seems not to have been a fan of the denizens of Albany. While having nothing but good to say about the Schuylers and Van Rensselaers, who no doubt hosted him during his journey, his views of the average citizens is in line with what others observed from the time:

Hospitality to strangers seems not to be a prominent feature in the character of the inhabitants of Albany; the few, with whom we got acquainted, looked extremely dull and melancholy. They live retired in their houses with their wives, who sometimes are pretty, but rather aukward in their manners; and with whom their husband scarcely exchange thirty words a day, although they never address them but with the introductory appellation of “my love.” Exceptions, undoubtedly, exist in regard to the charms of the ladies, as well as to the conduct and conversation of the husbands; but, it is asserted, they are very few.

 

Albany Shipping, 1795

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François XII de La Rochefoucauld (1747-1827)Around 1800, François Alexandre Frédéric de La Rochefoucauld, under the title of Duke de La Rochefoucauld Liancourt, published his Travels through the United States of North America, the Country of the Iroquois, and Upper Canada, In the Years 1795, 1796, and 1797. In it, the Duke devoted substantial coverage to Albany.

The Duke had, it must be said, something of a shipping fetish. In writing of Albany, he noted that the history of the city occurs in all descriptions of the United States, so he chose to skip over it, but noted the extensive shipping trade.

Ships of eighty tons burthen sail up to the town; and the trade is carried on in vessels of this size. A sort of sand-bank, three miles below Albany, renders the navigation rather difficult; yet it is easily cleared with the assistance of pilots acquainted with it, and no ship arrives without one of them on board. This impediment, it is asserted, might easily be removed at a trifling expence; and ships of a much larger size might then anchor near the city.

He wrote that the trade of Albany was chiefly the produce of the Mohawk country, as well as articles of trade from Vermont and New Hampshire. He noted that the exports chiefly consisted of timber and lumber of every sort, potatoes, potash and pearl-ashes, grain, and manufactured goods.

These articles are, most of them, transported to Albany in winter on sledges, housed by the merchants, and by them successively transmitted to New York, where they are either sold for bills on England, or exchanged for English goods, which are in return sent from Albany to the provinces, whence the articles for exportation were drawn. Business is, therefore, carried on entirely with ready money, and especially in regard to pot-ash; not even the most substantial bills are accepted in payment.

Somewhat contradicting his earlier estimate of ship size, he reports that:

The trade of Albany is carried on in ninety vessels, forty-five of which belong to inhabitants of the town, and the rest to New York or other places. They are in general of seventy tons burthen, and make upon the average ten voyages a year, which, on computing the freights outwards and homewards, produces a total of one hundred and twenty-six thousand tons of shipping for the trade of Albany. Every ship is navigated by four men; the master is paid twenty dollars a month, if he have no share in the ship, the mate fifteen, and a seaman nine. There is also generally a cabin-boy on board, or more frequently a cook, as few ships have less than eight passengers on board, either coming up or going down. The freight of goods is usually one shilling a hundred weight; but this varies, according to their value, or the room they occupy.

The trade of Albany is very safe, but seems not to be very profitable. The neat proceeds of a voyage amount upon an average to about one hundred dollars, which makes for the whole year one thousand dollars for a ship, a profit by no means considerable. If you add to this the money paid by passengers for their passage, which amounts to ten shillings a head, making from seventeen to twenty dollars a voyage, and from one hundred seventy to two hundred dollars for the ten voyages, which are made in the course of the year, the whole yields but a very moderate profit, which is however increased by the sale of the goods. This is as yet the usual way in which trade is carried on by this city; it deprives the merchants of Albany of a considerable profit, and throws it into the hands of those of New York. Some of the former undertake indeed voyages to England, Holland, and other countries; but, for this purpose they charter New York vessels. These are the bolder people; and are called men of the new notions, but their number is small.

He noted that there were several areas where Albanians were missing the boat, so to speak. They failed to sail directly to Europe, which would have cut out the middle-man of New York and busied the ships when the river navigation was iced up. They failed to trade horses and mules, while Connecticut merchants were doing a thriving business exporting them to the Antilles. He warned that two newer towns were threatening to take over Albany’s role despite being somewhat further away, having shallower water and smaller ships. Those towns were New City (now Lansingburgh) and Troy.

New City contains about sixty or seventy stores or shops, and Troy fifty or sixty. These new-settled merchants all prosper, and their number is daily increasing. The merchants of Albany, it is reported, view this growing prosperity of their neighbours with an evil eye, and consider it as an encroachment upon their native rights. If this be true, the jealousy of the merchants of Albany must be the result of their ignorance and confined views.

Thanksgiving, 1847: Albany Invents the Turkey Trot

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Thanksgiving, Albany, 1847Munsell’s “Annals of Albany” gives us this description of Thanksgiving in Albany, 1847:

[Nov.] 25. Thanksgiving day; dark and gloomy … A foot race at the Bull’s Head; principal competitors Steeprock and Smoke, two Indians: Smoke won the race by 50 yards, making 10 miles in 1h. 11s.; the track heavy after a rain; 500 spectators supposed to have been present … Brilliant northern light in the evening.

Bull's Head, AlbanyThe Bull’s Head, according to Phelps’s The Albany Hand-book, was the second site of Albany’s cattle market, coming after it moved from Washington Ave. (at Gallup’s, between Swan and Lark). It was north of the city on the Troy Road, and in the 1840s hosted the New York State Agricultural Society’s annual show, effectively the State Fair (which then rotated among cities); the site later became part of Mid-City. It featured a racing oval that was used in horse races and, at least on this particular Thanksgiving day, foot races.

There was also a Bull’s Head Tavern there for many years, at least through 1901, listed as opposite Garbrance Lane (now Simmons Lane). Much earlier, the Bull’s Head was run by Josiah Stanford. A biographer of his notable son, Leland Stanford, concludes that Lafayette was entertained by Stanford in 1824 or 1825, most likely at the Bull’s Head.

 

 

Where to find old Albany newspapers

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In the last couple of entries, we presented George Rogers Howell’s inventory of the papers that had been published in Albany up to the 1880s, and those that were still very much going concerns when he was writing his Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany in 1886. Many of these newspapers (and others that Howell may not have included) are still available, in some form or another.

The New York State Library keeps a very helpful listing of all Albany County newspapers that are available on microfilm and paper throughout New York. If you’re looking for The Argus, you may well be in luck. The more obscure papers remain more obscure. The library’s listing is here.

The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America project is sadly short on digitized New York newspapers generally, and Albany papers are completely absent from its list. But if you’re researching elsewhere, it may be helpful; it’s here. However, if you just want some bibliographical information or are searching for locations that the State Library may not have covered, you can search the LOC’s entire database. It also includes some digitized forms that may not be publicly accessible but available to researchers (just to make sure the history doesn’t leak out).

Anyone who has been doing upstate New York historical or genealogical research in the past decade or more has likely been immeasurably aided not by a library or archive site, but by one determined man with a scanner and a will: Tom Tryniski’s Fultonhistory.com has reached well past Fulton for many years, and is the premiere resource for a wide range of newspapers. Highly searchable, very well-scanned.

I’m reminded by a commenter below that there is the collection of New York State Historic Newspapers.

And for a very local view, if you’re interested in more recent events in Bethlehem, the Spotlight from that community is online.

The Albany Institute of History and Art has a collection of newspapers; I don’t know their rules for access, but the inventory is located here.

And of course there’s the Albany Public Library.

Albany Newspapers, 1886

Published by:

The Cultivator and Country GentlemanLast time around, we presented Howell’s catalog of major (and perhaps not so major) Albany newspapers going back to the very first in 1771. In his “Bi-centennial History of the County of Albany,” from 1886, he also described the then-current state of media affairs in the capital city:

Newspapers Published in Albany at the Present Time.

The Albany Argus made its first appearance on Tuesday, January 26, 1813. It was published semi-weekly; Jesse Buel, editor and owner. On August 18, 1825, it issued its first daily paper. The Daily Argus and The Albany Evening Atlas were united February 18, 1856, under the name of Atlas and Argus, with Calvert Comstock and William Cassidy, publishers and editors. On April 6, 1865, they were succeeded by William Cassidy. It became The Argus again, Monday, May 15, 1865. On May 6, 1865, The Argus Company was organized. William Cassidy, editor; Daniel Manning and J. Wesley Smith, associates. S.C. Hutchins and St. Clair McKelway have been recent editors. James H. Manning is present editor. Sunday paper issued since May 13, 1877. Argus Building, southwest corner of Broadway and Beaver street. [Still there, by the way.]

Albany Evening Journal. B.D. Packard & Co. published the first number of The Journal, March 22, 1830. It was a strong Anti-Masonic paper. Thurlow Weed was the editor for over thirty years, and rendered it highly influential over the entire State. George Dawson succeeded him as editor. Weed & Dawson Co. and Dawson & Co. have been publishers. The Albany Journal Company published its first copy under the editorship of John A. Sleicher, March 17, 1884, with W.J. Arkell as President; J.W. Drexel, Secretary; James Arkell, Treasurer. The printing-house and office are at No. 61 State street. [Later, the Albany Evening Journal would be headquartered in an ornate annex to the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Headquarters.]

Albany Evening Times, originally the Albany Morning Times, was started Monday, April 21, 1856, by Barnes & Godfrey; then published by Alfred Stone, David M. Barnes and Edward H. Boyd; later by Samuel Wilbor. March 1, 1861, the Times was consolidated with the Evening Courier, and was first issued as an evening paper September 25, 1865. Albany Weekly Times first appeared July 16, 1872. It was for a few years published by the Times Company. Since May, 1881, Theophilus C. Callicot has been the editor and proprietor, at No. 401 Broadway.

Albany Morning Express was started September 13, 1847. In 1854 it was published by Munsell & Co. In 1856 its name was changed to the Daily Statesman. The Express was revived by Stone & Henley, its original proprietors, May 4, 1857 with J.C. Cuyler, editor. In 1860, the publishers were Hunt & Co. Albany Weekly Express, issued August 4, 1881; Sunday edition, March 4, 1883. Albany Express Company: Edward Henley, J. C. Cuyler, Addison A. Keyes and Nathan D. Wendell. Printing-house, southwest corner Green and Beaver streets. A recent change has made Prof. Lewis, editor, and W.F. Hurcombe, publisher.

Daily Press and Knickerbocker. First number of Sunday Press, May 13, 1870; Daily Press, February 26, 1877; Daily Knickerbocker, September 4, 1843; Press and Knickerbocker united, August 10, 1877. The Weekly Press and Legislative Journal was issued for the first time, January 8, 1873. The Press Company is composed of John H. Farrell, Myron H. Rooker and James Macfarlane. Printing-house, 18 Beaver street.

Evening Post. First issued October, 1860, by R.M. & E. Griffin; editor, R.M. Griffin. Present publishers, M. & E. Griffin, No. 7 Hudson avenue.

Albany Evening Union. The Union Printing and Publishing Company first published this paper Monday, May 29, 1882, at their office in Beaver Block, South Pearl street. On Monday, July 16, 1883, John Parr became editor and proprietor, and published the paper from No. 28 Beaver street. Fred W. White is now president and editor.

Freie Blaetter, started by Henry Bender & August Miggael in 1852; now and for many years conducted by August Miggael at No. 26 Beaver street. German daily paper. Der Sontagsgast, issued since 1882 as a supplement to the Saturday edition. Office, No. 44 Beaver street.

Taglicher Albany Herald. This German daily was first published by Jacob Heinmiller, Tuesday, October 10, 1871; was issued as Der Albany Herold on February 11, 1869. The present office is at No. 87 Westerlo street.

The Cultivator and Country Gentleman, a weekly paper since January 4, 1866. As a monthly it was first published as the Cultivator, in March, 1834, and conducted by Jesse Buel, J.P. Beekman and J.D. Wasson. It was subsequently published by W. Gaylord & L. Tucker, and by L. Tucker & Son, who united it with The Country Gentleman, which was started by Luther Tucker and John T. Thomas, January 6, 1853. It is ably conducted by L.H. & G.M. Tucker, editors and proprietors.

The Catholic Telegraph, first issued in Albany, January, 1880. Telegraph Publishing Company was incorporated June, 1882. M.J. Ludden, editor.

The Guide, I.O.O.F. D.H. Turner, editor. First published, February 15, 1881. Issued every two weeks. D.H. Turner & G.B. Powers, publishers.

Albany Law Journal. Monthly. First number published January 9, 1870. Isaac Grant Thompson, editor; Weed, Parsons & Co., publishers, Nos. 39 and 41 Columbia street. Present editor, Irving Browne.

Our Work at Home. Monthly. Was first published at the rooms of the City Tract and Missionary Society, September, 1875. Charles Reynolds, editor. The present editor is George Sanderson, Jr. Office, No. 9 North Pearl street. It is the organ of the City Mission and Tract Society.

The Voice was first published as a monthly, January, 1879, at 401 Broadway. Edgar S. Werner, editor and proprietor, No. 59 Lancaster street.

Forest, Forge and Farm. Published in Albany since June, 1882. H.S. Quackenbush, editor and publisher, Tweddle Building.

Poultry Monthly. First issued by the Ferris Publishing Company, November, 1879. Office, 481 Broadway.

The Medical Annals was first published in January, 1883, by a Committee of Albany County Medical Society. Burdick & Taylor, 481 Broadway, are the present publishers. Dr. F.C. Curtis and others, editors.

Newspapers Published in Other Places in the County.

Coeymans.

Coeymans Gazette; started in 1863 by Gilbert C. Vincent; sold to Willard Pond in 1864; then to Henry Brook; afterwards to McKee & Springstead. Professor Thomas McKee became sole editor and proprietor in December, 1869, and finally took it to Greenbush as the Rensselaer Gazette.

Coeymans Herald, weekly. S.H. & E.J. Sherman, editors and proprietors.

Cohoes.

The Cohoes Advertiser; started in February, 1847, by Ayres & Co.

The Cohoes Journal and Advertiser succeeded the above in January, 1848; continued by same firm until January, 1849

The Cohoes Cataract succeeded the above; published by Silliman & Miller from June, 1849, to Sept ember, 1851; then sold to James H. Masten, who published it until January, 1867; then sold it to Anthony S. Baker, its publisher until January, 1870, when it was bought again by J.H. Masten.

Cohoes Daily News. J.H. Masten, proprietor.

Cohoes Regulator. Alexis Wager, publisher; weekly.

La Patrie Nouvelle. J.M. Authier, editor and publisher, weekly.

Green Island.

Green Island Review. Henry L. Gilbert, editor and proprietor; weekly.

Knowersville.

Knowersville Gazette; a local weekly, recently published. [Knowersville is now known as Altamont.]

Rensselaerville.

The Rural Folio, started in January, 1828, by C.G. & A. Polliner, and continued two years.

West Troy.

West Troy Advocate; started October, 1837, by William Hollands; continued by his widow and son, after his decease.

Watervliet Daily Democrat; started by Allen Carey, January 20, 1859.

Albany County Democrat; started in 1860. Allen Carey, editor; weekly.

Watervleit [sic] Journal. Treanor & Hardin, proprietors; weekly.

Shakers (P.O.)

Shaker Manifesto. Edited and published as a 4to [quarto] monthly, by Rev. G.A. Lomas.

 

Albany: Newspaper Town

Published by:

Albany Gazette, 1771George Rogers Howell’s “Bi-Centennial History of the County of Albany,” which covered the city and county through that bi-centennial year (dating to the charter) of 1886, tried to “give a list of all periodical publications of any importance issuing from the press of the county since the very first newspaper printed in the city in 1771.” He noted that the sources were sometimes incomplete or contradictory with regard to dates, and I haven’t made an attempt (yet) to correlate these with a similar listing of publications at the Library of Congress. Someday that’ll happen.

It’s hard to remember how important Albany was in the early days of the republic. Right through the Civil War and almost into the 20th century, the Albany press mattered. Partly because of its position as the seat of state government, partly because of its proximity to New York City, partly because it was at the head of the Erie Canal, Albany was a cauldron of political thought and action, a place where a young congressman named Abraham Lincoln, on the stump for presidential candidate Zachary Taylor, would come to meet with publisher/kingmaker Thurlow Weed.

It was also a place where technology advanced, and for a while (a fairly long while) was one of the most important publishing centers in the country. It was in Albany that steam first drove a printing press, in Albany that massive publishers like J.B. Lyon grew.

As Howell notes, the very first newspaper printed in the city was in 1771, the Albany Gazette. It was far from the last. Here is Howell’s listing of just the more major papers that were published up through 1886. It’s arranged a little oddly, giving the year and the date, where known, that the newspapers began; in some years there were multiple publications commenced, in others none. There may be more up-to-date information somewhere, and we may follow up on a few of these, but here is Howell’s original list:

 

1771.–November. Albany Gazette, published by James & Alexander Robertson. Discontinued about 1776, the publisher having joined the British and gone to New York City.

1782.–June 3. New York Gazette, or Northern Intelligencer, weekly. Balentine & Webster, publishers. The name was changed and Balentine left out.

1784.–May 28. The Albany Gazette, weekly. Charles R. Webster, publisher. May 25, 1789, semi weekly. United with the Albany Advertiser, March 1817, and so continued until April 14, 1845.

1788.–January 26. The Albany Journal, or Montgomery, Washington and Columbia Intelligencer. Charles R. & George Webster, publishers. Semi-weekly, winter and summer. In connection with the Gazette. Discontinued May 25, 1789. February 11, The Federal Herald. Removed from Lansingburgh by Claxton & Babcock, and soon after returned. The Albany Register, weekly; John & Robert Barber until 1808; Solomon Southwick until 1817. Revived in 1818 by Israel W. Clark.

1796.–November. The Chronicle, John McDonald. Joseph Fry, printer, whom Henry C. Southwick succeeded. Discontinued in 1799.

1797.–The Albany Centinel. Loring C. Andrews; afterwards Whiting, Backus & Whiting. Discontinued, November 10, 1806.

1806.–November 11. The Centinel revived in The Republican Crisis. Backus & Whiting, and then Isaac Mitchell, publishers. 1808, Harry Croswell & Co.; William Tucker, printer. In 1809, name changed to The Balance and New York State Journal, Crowswell & Frary. Removed to Hudson in 1811.

1807.–The Guardian. Van Benthuysen & Wood, Court street, three doors below Hudson street. Continued about two years.

1812.–April 11. The Albany Republican. Samuel R. Brown. Succeeded by Mr. Romain. Finally taken to Saratoga.

1813.– January 26. The Albany Argus, tri-weekly, semi-weekly and weekly. Founded by Jesse Buel. A daily in 1825. The Croswells, Comstock, Cassidy and Manning have been among its publishers and editors. Now the Argus Co. publish it.

1813-14.–The Stranger, 8vo, published by John Cook.

1815.–June. The American Magazine, monthly. Horatio Gates Spofford [sic]. Discontinued May, 1816. September 25, Albany Daily Advertiser. Theodore Dwight, editor. John W. Walker, printer. In March, 1817, William L. Stone consolidated it with the Albany Gazette. Published by the Websters as Albany Gazette and Advertiser until April 14, 1845. June 3, Christian Visitant, 4to [meaning quarto], by Solomon Southwick. Continued two years. The Friend, 8vo [meaning octavo], monthly, by D. & S.A. Abbey. Continued one year. The Statesman, published and edited by Nathaniel H. Carter, a graduate of Dartmouth College. Removed to New York in 1818.

1819.–June 5. The Ploughboy. Solomon Southwick, editor; John O. Cole, printer.

1820.–Albany Microscope, started by Charles Galpin and continued few years.

1822.–August 3. The Oriental Star, weekly. Religious. Bezaleel Howe.

1823.–National Democrat. William McDougal. Published at Albany and New York. Discontinued April 7, 1824. Revived April 20, by Solomon Southwick.

1824.–May. Religious Monitor, monthly. Chauncey Webster. Removed to Philadelphia.

1825.–August 8. The Albany Patriot and Daily Commercial Intelligencer. George Galpin.

1826.–July 25. National Observer, weekly and semi-weekly, by George Galpin. Continued four years. Edited by Solomon Southwick.

1826.–April 22. Albany Daily Chronicle. Chas. Galpin & M.M. Cole; also, Albany Morning Chronicle, John Denio & Seth Richards. Discontinued in 1827.

1826.–Escritoire, or Masonic and Miscellaneous Album, started by E.B. Child. February 3, 1827, changed to American Masonic Record and Albany Saturday Magazine, E.B. Child. Changed to American Masonic Record and Albany Literary Journal, January 30, 1830. May, the Albany Christian Register, by L.G. Hoffman. J.R. Boyd, editor. Christian Register and Telegraph united with the Journal (of Utica) and published by Hosford & Wait as the Journal and Telegraph, November 21, 1831. About this time Lewis G. Hoffman published the American Masonic Register, five years.

1827.–May. The Antidote, by Solomon Southwick, editor; Webster & Wood, publishers. The Standard, weekly, by Matthew Cole. August 4. The Comet, by Daniel McGlashan, editor. October 13. The Albany Signs of the Times and Literary Writer, Daniel McGlashan, publisher; J.B. Van Schaick and S.D.W. Bloodgood, editors.

1828.–The Morning Chronicle, daily, by Beach, Denio & Richards. Albany Chronicle, semi-weekly.

1828.–The Age, by Galpin & Sturtevant.

1828.–December 27. Albany Times and Literary Writer, James McGlashan, publisher; Bloodgood and Van Schaick, editors.

1828.–Albany Minerva, by Joel Munsell.

1830.–January 30. The Albanian, semi-monthly, Arthur N. Sherman. March 22. The Albany Evening Journal, Thurlow Weed, editor; B.D. Packard & Co., publishers. April 3. Farmers’, Mechanics’, and Workingmen’s Advocate, McPherson & McKercher. April. Albany Bee, J. Duffy, W.S. McCulloch & C. Angus.

1831.–September 7. Albany Literary Gazette, John P. Jermain, editor; James D. Nicholson, publisher. November 21. Journal and Telegraph, Hosford & Wait. Temperance Recorder, monthly.

1832.–January 5. Daily Craftsman. Roberts and James, editors. The Albany Quarterly, 8vo, by Albany Historical Society; edited by J.R. & S.M. Wilson. One volume issued.

1833.–February. American Quarterly Hemp Magazine. Continued two years.

1834.–March. The Cultivator, conducted by Jesse Buel, J.P. Beekman, and J.D. Wasson. April 5. The Daily News, Hunter & Hoffman. Albany Whig, by J.B. Van Schaick & Co.

1834.–January. American Temperance Intelligencer, monthly.

1835.–October 12. The Albany Transcript, C.F. Powell & Co., a penny paper.

1835.–May. The Silk Worm, monthly; two years; then changed to The Silk Worm and Sugar Manual; discontinued in 1858.

1836.–The Zodiac, Monthly, by Gen. De Coudrey Holstein. The Common School Assistant, by J. Orville Taylor.

1838.–January 6. The Family Newspaper, weekly, by Solomon Southwick. July 4. Daily Patriot, an anti-slavery paper, by J.G. Wallace.

1840.–The Jeffersonian, a campaign paper, by Horace Greeley. September 19. The Unionist, a daily campaign paper, by J. Munsell, C. Loveridge, and others. Tomahawk and Scalping Knife, short time. Albany Patriot, by J.C. Jackson, four years. The Rough Hewer, daily, campaign.

1841.–Albany Atlas, by Vance & Wendell. William Cassidy and H.H. Van Dyke became editors in 1843.

1842.–The Irishman, by H. O’Kane, seven weeks. The Sunday Tickler, by C.W. Taylor. Albany Switch, by H.J. Hastings; afterwards by E. Leslie. November 13. Youth’s Temperance Enterprise, J. Stanley Smith; three years.

1843.–September 4. Daily Knickerbocker, by Hugh J. Hastings. Weekly Knickerbocker, June 8, 1857. The Subterranean, by James Duffy.

1844.–Albany Spectator.

1845.–April 9. The Albany Freeholder, a weekly anti-rent paper, by Thomas A. Devyr. The Gavel, by Joel Munsell. The Scourge, by Woodward & Packard. Vesper Bell, by Abbott & Crosby.

1846.–December 8. Albany Herald, by A.B. Van Olinda. The Balance. December 17. Albany Morning Telegraph.

1847.–District School Journal, By Francis Dwight. The Castigator, by M.J. Smith. September 13. Albany Morning Express, a penny paper, by Stone & Henley; discontinued March 22, 1856. Albany Weekly Express, issued February 1, 1851.

1848.–Christian Palladium, by Jasper Hazen; removed to New Jersey in 1855; was called Christian Herald from 1849. The Busy Bee, by E. Andrews, two years. The Castigator, by Mortimer Smith, editor.

1849.–May 15. The Albany Daily Messenger, a penny paper, by B.F. Romaine, editor. June 30. Sunday Dutchman.

1850.–February 16. Albany Daily Times, by Heron, Furman & Thornton. Half-Dollar Monthly, by B.F. Romaine. Journal of the New York State Agricultural Society; published many years. Albany Evening Atlas.

1851.–September 1. Albany Daily Eagle, a penny paper, by John Sharts; four months. January 4. American Mechanic, by J.M. Patterson. Carson League, removed from Syracuse, by J.T. Hazen & T.L. Carson. Albany Minor and Literary Cabinet, by J.H. Carroll & W.M. Colburn. October 11. The Cithren, by Warner & Hooker. Northern Light; continued about three years; conducted by Messrs. Dix, Beck, Dean, Delavan, Hawley, Johnson, Olcott, and Street; a well edited literary paper, as its editors’ names indicate.

1852.–Temperance Recorder. September 11. Family Intelligencer, by Rev. Jasper Hazen; then by J.T. Hazen. The New York Teacher, conducted by James Cruikshank, T.W. Valentine, Francis Dwight, and other teachers, as the organ of the New York State Teachers’ Association, for several years. Albay Freie Blaetter, by August Miggael.

1853.–February 1. Evening Transcript, first Albany penny paper, by Cuyler & Henley. Prohibitionist, organ of New York State Temperance Society; edited by Prof. A. McCoy; in 1857, united with Journal of American Temperance Union.

1854.–Family Dental Journal, monthly, by D.C. Estes.

1855.–July 21. State Police Tribune, by S.H. Parsons & R.M. Griffin. Removed to New York.

1856.–March 23. Albany Daily Statesman. April 21. Albany Morning Times, by Stone & Co. September 8. Albany Evening Union, a penny paper; James McFarlane. Albany Volksblatt, by George Herb.

1857.–Albany Microscope, Charles Galpin. May 4. Albany Morning Express, J.C. Cuyler, editor; Stone & Henly, publishers. Albany Evening Herald, changed to Albany Evening Union, June 29, 1857.

1858.–American Citizen. Evening Courier. August. The Hour and the Man, daily and weekly, by George W. Clarke & John J. Thomas. October. Mercantile Horn, weekly, gratis. Voice of the People, campaign paper. December. Evening Standard, by R.M. Griffin & Co. Independent Press; only a few months. Astronomical Notes, edited by Prof. Brunow. American Magazine, monthly, by J.S. & B. Wood; about one and a half years. The Gavel, two years, by John Tanner. State Military Gazette, by C.G. Stone; removed to New York.

1863.–January 17. Standard and Statesman.

1865.–October. Albany Evening Post, a penny paper, by M.&E. Griffin.

1883.–Outing, by Outing Publishing and Printing Company, 59 North Pearl street. Removed to Boston.

1881.–The Inquirer and Criterion, weekly, by Charles S. Carpenter; February 20, 1882, by Burdick & Taylor. Discontinued January 5, 1884. Republished as The Inquirer, April 30, 184. Now discontinued.

Tomorrow: Today’s newspapers (assuming today is 1886).

Edward C. Delavan, Temperance Advocate

Published by:

Edward C Delavan

We talked a little bit about Edward Delavan and his role in developing the temperance hotel that became Albany’s premiere gathering place for 50 years before it burned spectacularly, but his life deserves a little more examination. As noted before, Edward Cornelius Delavan was born in a place called Franklin in 1793. (One biography says Franklin was in Westchester County, of which I find no proof; another says it was Franklin, PA, which is out in the western part of the state.) His father died when he was relatively young and the family moved to Albany. Delavan apprenticed to a printer, Whiting, Backus and Whiting, from 1802 to 1806. They were the publishers of the Albany Centinel until 1806, when for unknown reasons the Centinel ceased publication and was replaced by a paper with the unlikely name of The Republican Crisis. Possibly during this transition, Delavan left and went to Rev. Samuel Blatchford’s school in Lansingburgh for two years (All this according to American National Biography). After that he clerked in his older brother’s wholesale hardware business, rising to partner and then moving to Birmingham, England in 1815 to become the firm’s import agent.

An effusive tribute to Delavan in Winskill’s The Temperance Movement: And Its Workers, Volume 1 wrote that the Delavans were Huguenots who came over with the others who left France for a home in the new world. It said that Delavan came to Albany in 1802, and that “The first book he read, after the New Testament, was the Life of Benjamin Franklin, which led him to choose the trade of a printer, and he entered the office of the Albany Daily Advertiser, which at that time was published by Whiting, Backus, and Whiting. Here he labored for four years.” [Actually, the Advertiser doesn’t appear to have existed at that time, first being published in 1815, but the Centinel did.]

This biography claims that Delavan was the first American (“other than diplomatist”) to land in Liverpool after the declaration of peace in the War of 1812, and that he spent seven years in Birmingham, where he became intimately acquainted with Washington Irving. In 1822 he returned to America, and established a hardware importing business in Hanover Square in New York City. It is mentioned that the Erie Canal’s opening led to extensive trade, but this story doesn’t recount that he made money in real estate as a result of the canal’s opening. “Having been eminently successful in business, Mr. Delavan retired to Albany,” in about 1827, and moved to Ballston in 1833. Was the hardware business then so lucrative that the average dealer could retire by the age of 34? Not quite.

I’m not sure it’s quite forgivable, even given the spirit of the temperance movement, that The Temperance Movement omits just exactly how Edward Delavan got so rich: he imported wine. Lots and lots of wine. But somewhere along the line he had a change of heart about wine, and told that story that his “attention was directed to the temperance question by the example of a drunken servant, who was reformed by signing the pledge, and became a useful citizen . . . [Delavan] found that out of fifty of his early acquaintances no less than forty-four had been utterly ruined by intemperance.” Delavan became a very vocal advocate of temperance. He led the State Temperance Society for several years, paid to launch the American Temperance Union, and bankrolled extensive printed literature on the subject. His efforts led to New York’s brief flirtation with prohibition in 1855.

Delavan presidential declarationEven among temperance advocates, his zeal was extreme, as he fought against wine (even communion wine) at a time when most advocates were only concerned with hard liquor. He famously accused Albany’s brewers of using diseased water, attracting a libel suit; the facts, however, were on his side. He had or made significant connections on a national level; his “Presidential Declaration” regarding ardent spirits was signed by James Madison, Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, James K. Polk, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln. He spent years collecting the signatures. Some of his correspondence with Lincoln is preserved in the Library of Congress, as are the tracts he was permitted to send to the Union troops imploring them to avoid drink.

“Mr. Delavan printed upwards of one thousand millions of pages of temperance literature ­– more than enough to wrap the whole of our earth in paper.” He carried his mission overseas, even meeting with King Louis Philippe of France. He appears to have devoted his entire life to temperance, until he died on Jan. 15, 1871, at the age of 78. “To the surprise of many, he left nothing to the antiliquor movement and gave his property, valued at $800,000 to $1 million, to his family. Liquorless towns in Wisconsin and Illinois were named in his honor.”