Category Archives: Albany

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 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

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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 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.


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


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

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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

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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.”

The Delavan House Fire

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Delavan House fire 1894 MNY19598

From the Museum of the City of New York, the aftermath of the 1894 Delavan House fire in Albany.

Remember how at the Delavan House “every possible care and attention have been paid to the means of escape in case of fire”? In the last days of 1894, that wasn’t enough. has a summary that was printed in the Fort Wayne, Indiana News, dated Dec. 31, 1894:

Delvan [sic] House Destroyed and Several Lives Lost in the Flames
Woman Leaps from Window and is Fearfully Mangled –
Falling Wall Buries a Fireman –
Many Are Badly Burned and Otherwise Injured –
Greater Part of the Guests Lose All their Clothing.

Albany, N. Y., Dec. 31. — The candidacy of the several men for speaker of the assembly received a startling baptism of fire here last night, for the Delvan [sic] House, that famous hostelry known from Maine to California, the center of all big state political events for 40 years, was completely destroyed. Fire is not an uncommon visitor, but fire such as this has seldom been seen. It was 8:30 and the political headquarters of both Mr. Fish and Mr. Maltby were filled with politicians and newspaper men. State Factory Inspector Connolly, who had been in the lobby with a number of people, started to go up the elevator. He remarked that he smelled smoke and suggested an investigation. Before it could be begun there were cries of fire from different parts of the house simultaneously.
Delavan house fire 1894 MNY20326The outburst of flames before an alarm could be given to arouse the inmates of the rooms was something appalling. Up the elevator shaft there shot a solid column of flames, up the staircase near this perfect sheet, another column. Fortunately the guest list was not very large, and a majority of those registered were politicians and were down on the second floor. There was rush for the stair in the front and the servants’ stairs in the back, where the flames had not yet reached, and in a few minutes there was a tumbling mass of humanity coming down on these few means of egress. Those on the two upper floors could not avail themselves of the exits, for the flames were rushing along the corridors, and people on the street, who had not yet seen the flames, heard a crash of glass and saw figures come tumbling out the windows.

Within 10 minutes after the first note of an alarm, at least 12 persons were dangling on the insufficient rope fire escapes or hanging on to the window sills.

The department arrived quickly, but it took some time to get ladders up, and in the meantime some of the people had dropped to the street. On the right side of the building there appeared at the window, surrounded by smoke, a man and a woman. The man had hold of the woman trying to persuade here to wait for help, but she broke away and sprang out. She struck a balcony and rebounded to the street. The man waited for a ladder and was taken down in safety. The woman was his wife and she will probably die. In ex-Speaker Malby’s room, which was to the rear of the elevator shaft where the fire first appeared, there was the greatest excitement. About 20 politicians were there, including Congressmen Weaver and Curtis, Senator Kilburn and Mr. Maltby. In getting out Mr. Robbins had his face badly burned.
Delavan House Fire 1894 MNY9607In Mr. Fish’s headquarters there was less hurry because they were near the stairs. All got down safely, but the majority left their baggage. E. A. Manchester of Auburn, postmaster of the assembly, ran toward the baggage-room for his grip, returning he found his way blocked with flames and smoke and rushed back to a window. He smashed it out and slid down the rope fire escape.

Although five stories high, there were no outside fire escapes and the only means left for people in the cut off rooms was to use the rope fire escapes. B. F. Heilman of Brooklyn, was in the third story. He opened his room door as soon as he heard the cry of fire. A burst of flame made him look to the window as the means of escape. In an instant he had but two alternatives – a fiery dearth or a jump. He chose the latter and plunged through the window. When he was picked up from the sidewalk he was found to be badly injured. He will die. His wife who was in the room with him tried the fire escape, but it either broke or else she failed to hold to it, for she too came to the pavement heavily. Her right leg was broken, her left ankle dislocated and she was badly burned about the face and head.

In less than 15 minutes after the fire started the entire structure was wrapped in flames. From the windows of the each of its five stories smoke poured in the volumes and a few minutes later the flames belched forth. In 20 minutes the building resembled a seething crater and it was plain to the thousands of spectators who had gathered that it would be entirely destroyed. Edward Walsh, a reporter, was caught in the hall. Before he could get out he was badly burned and had to be taken to the hospital. Of the 100 or more guests at the hotel not one is known to have saved more than the clothes on their person. The Delavan House was 50 years old and was one of the most famous hotels in the country. The total loss is estimated at $500,000, with an insurance of $300,000. A falling wall buried a fireman, but he was taken out and is not thought to be dangerously hurt. One of the incidents of the fire was the escape of Miss Martin of New York. She was in the fourth story window on the Steuben street side when a ladder was raised. A messenger boy rushed up and broke the window, thus freeing her.

The tragedy played out over a number of days, as at first it was not known how many were in the hotel, how many had escaped, and how many perished. In the first days, it apparently wasn’t even clear whose job it was to figure that out – a bit surprising, given that this was a long way from the first big fire in Albany’s history. Nevertheless, on Jan. 2, 1895, the New York Times reported that:

The search for the bodies of servants and perhaps guests – for now inquiries are being made by friends of persons who were supposed to be in Albany on Sunday – who perished in the fire which destroyed the Delavan House Sunday night will begin to-morrow morning by direction of Mayor Wilson.

Under the city charter it is neither the duty of the police nor the Fire Department to recover bodies in a fire. The duties of the police cease when they have called ambulances for the injured, and the Fire Department has no further office than to extinguish the fire. Yesterday only two streams of water were played on the ruins. To-day there were half a dozen. Fire Chief Higgins informed the Mayor that the department had ben too busy since Sunday to pay much attention to the Delavan House ruins. Mayor Wilson and other city authorities held a consultation to-day and decided to proceed with the search for bodies to-morrow, and to afterward determine the question from which fund to take the money . . .

All the injured in the City Hospital including Mr. Heilman [who had jumped from a fourth story window, along with his wife], are expected to recover. Edwin M. Moore, one of the proprietors of the Delavan, is critically ill with pneumonia as the result of exposure during the fire.

The confusion had gotten bad enough that a local contractor offered to excavate the ruins and search for bodies, saying on Jan. 3 that it was a disgrace the city had let such a long time pass without doing anything to recover the bodies. The property owners said they had hired their own contractor and that work to search for bodies would begin on Jan. 4, five days after the fire. It was noted that 400 tons of coal stored in the cellar were still burning.

On Jan. 8, the Times reported that additional bodies had been found, bringing the total to eight, including “Simon Meyer, a coffee man; another is identified by parts of the clothing as that of Agnes Wilson, a chambermaid.” The paper saw fit to report that “Myers” (as he was spelled in another article), the coffee man of the hotel, was a very sound sleeper. The Times report indicated some question of whether the proprietors had done anything to stop the spread of fire, and that a firehose at the site had suffered from very low pressure. Low water pressure was cited as a factor in other fires, including one at Helmes Manufacturing, that occurred around the same time.

On Jan. 19, the Times reported that Benjamin Heillman, of Brooklyn, succumbed to his injuries. “In jumping from the window, Mr. Heillman struck a balcony and received internal injuries. His wife was badly injured and is disfigured for life.” They were on their bridal tour and had only just arrived at the hotel the night of the fire.

The Delavan House fire provided some serious impetus for improvement in firefighting in Albany. In that same Jan. 19 report, the Times said that “the Fire Commissioners to-night voted to station fifty-four paid firemen in the fire engine houses at $60 a month, each to employ a permanent assistant engineer at $1,500 a year, and erect a new fire engine house for an additional steam fire engine in the vicinity of the big hotels. The present department is made up of “call men,” the alarm being given on church bells. The striking apparatus on these bells is often out of order, causing much confusion when an alarm is being rung.”

There were already paid engineers, drivers and so forth, as described back in 1884, but this appears to have been a big step forward in paying the firefighters themselves. The description of the alarm system doesn’t seem quite right, as we know that Albany put a fire alarm telegraph system in place in 1868 precisely to get away from the reliance on bells. It’s entirely possible that the fire alarm system was interrupted by an 1894 fire at the Central Fire Alarm Station in the City Building at South Pearl and Howard.

The Delavan House, founded 50 years earlier by temperance advocate Edward Delavan, was not rebuilt, but several years later the new Union Station began to rise in its place.

The Delavan House

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Delavan House from Empire StateWe haven’t talked enough about the Delavan House, which was one of Albany’s premiere hotels for nearly 50 years. It was founded by Edward Delavan, who was born in 1793 in Westchester County. After his father died, the family moved up to Albany and Delavan apprenticed to a printer, then clerked in his brother’s hardware store before becoming the store’s buyer abroad in Birmingham, England. He ventured into importing wine, speculated in real estate that happened to be along the path of the Erie Canal, and became fabulously wealthy. Back in Albany, he was converted to the temperance movement, renouncing the very thing that had made him rich, helping to found the New York State Temperance Society and even fighting against sacramental wine. His zeal for reform never waned throughout his life, and he employed the latest technology of steam printing to create and direct mail anti-alcohol pamphlets, including sending them directly to troops in the Civil War. It was written that he printed “upward of one thousand millions of pages of temperance literature.”

Delavan HouseIn 1845, he established the Delavan House on Broadway, noted as a temperance hotel (although a number of accounts call into question how strictly temperance was observed in what became one of Albany’s most important gathering places). It took up a good portion of the east side of Broadway between Steuben and Columbia, backing up against Montgomery and very well situated for the railroad trade.

1888’s The Empire State: Its Industries and Trade provided a nice description of the history of the establishment:

Delavan House, T.E. Roessle & Son, Proprietors. – A perfect exponent of the truly American science of hotel keeping is the widely known Delevan [sic] House, Albany, N.Y. In every way the Delavan is a representative hotel, sharing equally with two or three others the reputation of standing at the head of the hotel business in the capital city. In truth it has never been called to compete with other hotels, for since it was opened, it has always had a select, influential and extensive patronage from the best classes of the community. The guests of the Delavan House have the best of accommodations, fare and service; this ably managed and superior hotel renews on its registers year after year the names of numbers of our prominent citizens, senators, assemblymen, tourists, etc., who make it their permanent home when in the city of Albany. The hotel was built by the Delavan estate in 1845, and was opened in 1849 by T. Roessle, who conducted it till 1867, when the Lelands succeeded to the management. In 1882, Messrs. T. Roessle, Son & Co. (grandfather, father and son), became proprietors and continued the business till 1885, when the present firm of T.E. Roessle & Son assumed control. The partners, Messrs. T.E. Roessle and E.O. Roessle, have had great experience, who have made a name and reputation for the Delavan House not only in Albany but throughout the entire country. Mr. T.E. Roessle is also proprietor of the Fort William Henry Hotel, Lake George, N.Y., and likewise of the famous Arlington, Washington, D.C. The Delavan is a spacious and substantial five story building, covering the entire block, and contains 400 rooms available for guests. It has latterly been thoroughly renovated. All modern improvements are here, including safety passenger elevator, steam heat, electric lights, annunciators, telegraph office, barber’s shop, billiard rooms, etc. The Delavan is handsomely furnished throughout, while its rooms are the largest and best ventilated in the city. The sanitary arrangements are complete, while every possible care and attention have been paid to the means of escape in case of fire. The culinary department is under the supervision of a distinguished French chef, while everything of the finest quality is to be found in the menu. In fact so complete is everything in the Delavan, that visitors having once stopped here are certain to return when again visiting the city. Mr. E.O. Roessle is one of Albany’s public spirited citizens. He is secretary of the N.Y. Hotel Men’s Association, and is a major on General Parker’s staff, Third Brigade. Guests ever remember with pleasure their delightful stay at the Delavan House, which challenges comparison and criticism with any similar establishment in the United States.

Delavan himself seems not to have been much or long involved in the hotel business, and no wonder, as he was still heavily involved in the temperance movement that brought prohibition to New York for a brief few months starting in 1855. He retired to Schenectady and died there in 1871.

Tomorrow: Those means of escape prove insufficient.

The National University at Albany

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Albany Law School on State Street 1879-1926 albany ny

The Home of Albany Law School from 1879-1926

Yesterday we read the exhortations of Samuel Ruggles, champion of improvement, for the establishment of a National University at Albany. So, what happened with that?

The dream of a national university was as old as the dream of our nation itself.

The idea was first attributed to Samuel Blodget (sometimes Blodgett), who was said to have, in General Washington’s presence in 1775, suggested that the damage done by the militia to the colleges in which they were quartered could be made good:

Well, to make amends for these injuries, I hope after our war we shall erect a noble national university at which the youth of all the world may be proud to receive instructions.

In the establishment of the Federal City, in which Blodget had a hand. Washington clearly intended there be a national university established; although he acknowledged it “may be properly deferred until Congress is comfortably accommodated and the city has so far grown as to be prepared for it, the enterprise must not be forgotten….” A number of members of the Constitutional Convention wanted provision for the university, “in which no preference or distinction should be allowed on account of religion,” to be included in the Constitution. It was omitted, in the end, not because a national university was not desired, but because a number of states felt the provision to be superfluous, and that it was clear the government had the power to create such an institution. (All this detail and vastly more can be found in John W. Hoyt’s “Memorial in Regard to a National University.”) In presidency after presidency, the issue was raised, without action. The issue faded and then, Hoyt says, rose again after 1849, when “something was done toward founding a national university at Albany, New York.”

The subject appears to have been first publicly broached at Albany by Henry J. Raymond, in the State legislature of 1849. Finally, by agreement between leading educators, scholars, scientists, and statesmen, in the year 1851 a preliminary arrangement was made for the organization of a university of the highest type, as the same was then apprehended, and in accordance with the following governing principles:

[1] The concentration of the ablest possible teaching force for each and all the departments of human learning.

[2] The utmost freedom of students to pursue any preferred branch or branches of study.

[3] Support by the State, for a period of two years, of one student from each assembly district, to be chosen by means of open competitive examinations, so conducted by competent examiners as to exclude all considerations but that of real merit; such public support to be had, however, only after at least fifteen departments had been so endowed as to command the best professional talent the country could afford.

The movement awakened so much interest among distinguished educators that conditional engagements are said to have been made with such men as Profs. [Louis] Agassiz, [Benjamin] Peirce, [Arnold] Guyot, [James] Hall, [Ormsby M.] Mitchell, and [James Dwight] Dana.

The result was an act, passed April 17, 1851, incorporating the University of Albany. Forty-eight city residents were named as trustees, empowered to create departments of medicine and law, and others as might be deemed desirable. The law school was organized that month, with Thomas W. Olcott as president of the board of trustees, and the first course of lectures begun in December 1851 by Amos Dean. This, of course, became Albany Law School, which merged into Union University in 1873.

A department of scientific agriculture was established, in which would be lectures on geology, entomology, chemistry and practical agriculture. A course on the connection of science and agriculture was begun in January 1852 by Prof. John F. Norton of Yale College. Prof. James Hall and Dr. Goodly also lectured.

In March 1852 came a further clamor (some of which we read about yesterday) for the establishment of the national university at Albany, with meetings in the Assembly chamber on March 10, 11 and 12 of that year, and much, much speechifying. Out of it all came the Dudley Observatory, which Hoyt described as the third institution inaugurated as part of the proposed national university, though it is less than clear if the agricultural arm was still functioning by the time the observatory sort of opened in 1856. At its inauguration, many spoke of the need to establish a great national university, though by that time none of the speakers seemed to be suggesting that these three-ish institutions in Albany were it, and one went so far as to say that “in order to be national it should be located upon common ground. Under existing circumstances it would be wholly impracticable in New York, or Alabama, or anywhere outside the District of Columbia.” He suggested the states have a role in both governing and paying for the institution.

Eventually, the Dudley Observatory, Albany Law School, and Albany Medical College (which predated the legislative call for such a school) would all become part of the loose federation known as Union University, created in 1873. The State Normal School became the NYS College for Teachers, which in 1962 finally fulfilled the promise of a university in Albany with the creation of the State University of New York at Albany.

Whether the legislation that originally constituted the University of Albany was ever amended or repealed, we have not determined. But it was more real than a national university ever was.

Exists there a more unterrified democrat than a Steam Engine?

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Samuel Bulkley Ruggles

Samuel B. Ruggles, NYS Assemblyman and Canal Commissioner

19th century prose can be tough to get through, and exhortative speeches even more so. But sometimes if you can wade through the effusiveness you can find (perhaps to your dismay) that some things today are very much the same as they were 160 years ago. As an example, we present this impassioned plea of former Assemblyman and Canal Commissioner Samuel B. Ruggles, arguing for the establishment of an institution of higher education in Albany in 1852.

As there never yet was a War that did not end in Peace at last, so the Internal Improvement struggle in this State has found its end, and Peace prevails. In the language of a distinguished personage on another occasion, “the era of good feeling has arrived.” Anti-improvement men have disappeared and cease to exist. We are all improvement men – all determined and desirous, however differing as to the mode or degree, to do all we lawfully can for the physical, and, as I trust it will be found, for the intellectual improvement of the State.

People would put up with a lot in their speechifying back then. They had no DVRs to get home to, no phones to fiddle with. This was it for the evening’s entertainment. He went on:

For, what was the theory in regard to public works? Was it not that they would lessen not only natural but commercial and social inequalities; that they would place the poor by the side of the rich – inferior districts by the side of the superior; the agricultural by the side of the trading communities; and, so far as Nature’s laws would permit, would equalize the condition of all?

Then he compared education to a steam engine. As one does.

The steam engine, concentrating within itself the strength of hundreds of animals and thousands of men, furnishes a single power by which we traverse earth and ocean. It does more. It breaks down and obliterates, not only commercial, but social distinctions; for, does it not place in the same vessel, and seat side by side in the same vehicle, the high and the low – the lofty and the humble – the lender and the borrower – Dives and Lazarus? Does there, can there, exist in nature or art, a truer, an honester, a more unterrified democrat, than a Steam Engine? From the moment Steam entered the world, aristocracy was doomed, and the final enfranchisement of society from artificial distinctions, absolutely and most effectually secured. And what is the whole magnificent series and chain of railways, spreading throughout our land and binding every part in harmony and union, but one vast democratic machine for equalizing the condition of the people?

Which was true as far as it went. Unfortunately, old Ruggles didn’t foresee the gasoline engine, which would get the aristocracy back into their own carriages well away from those pesky borrowers, and consign the low to public transit while the high curse its very existence. But we digress.

But here, just at this very point, we suddenly encounter a school of political philosophers, not very numerous – for God be praised, the race is nearly extinct – whose great delight it is to proclaim aloud that “the world is governed too much” and that government has no right to do more than “protect every man in his life, liberty and property, AND THERE TO STOP.” They, therefore, hold broadly and boldly, not only that it is not wise, but that it is not lawful for a State to educate its people – that it has no right to found public schools, build public works, endow public charities, guard the public health, or in fact to exercise any one of the beneficent functions, which have so much exalted the character and promoted the happiness of our people –but that all these objects, no matter how large or how important – no matter what amount of concentrated means or power they may require – may be safely left to the liberality of individuals.

Oh, well, thank goodness that breed of philosopher is extinct. Ruggles points out that if only to protect property ample and extended education would be necessary. He called that whole doctrine mischievous, cruel and destructive, “the diseased offspring of feeble heads and cankered hearts.” No less true today.

Why could we, the people of this great State of New-York … merely to gratify a dreary and barren political abstraction, depopulate our ten thousand school houses, and all our seats of learning, – turn out into the field and forest our eight hundred thousand children – empty into the streets all our orphans, all our aged, all our helpless – cast forth into outer darkness all our sick, all our insane, and fill our whole land with lamentation and wailing? Would we, could we, in the face of all our swelling commerce, dry up all our noble channels of intercourse, tear up all our railways, root out all our aqueducts, and throw down all the monuments of energy and perseverance, which have made our favored commonwealth the admiration of the civilized world? If it were for a moment possible that a State like ours … could consent to be thus vilely mutilated, thus shorn of all its manhood and all its creative energy – that cold blooded theorists could thus be permitted, like unclean birds, to pick off all its flesh and features, leaving only the naked skeleton of a State behind, – better were it blotted out forever ….

Ruggles was on to something. But what was he on about?

Not being in any sense a man of science myself, and knowing little else than my duty to hold it in the highest respect, it is with unaffected diffidence that I venture to speak on such a subject and in the presence of men like those around me … The question, then, for an intelligent community like ours, willing, at least, to benefit its material condition is this – Shall science, so exalting and yet so useful – so sublime, yet so humble, be monopolized by the learned few who chance to be the first to seize it, or shall it belong to all the people and be distributed in the largest and most liberal measure among all alike? We think they can give but one answer. We think they will claim, as they may lawfully claim, the same inherent, primary, fundamental right to knowledge, which they claim to liberty itself; and will take due care that nothing shall stand in the way of their acquiring this, their greatest treasure.

Ruggles was speaking (we needn’t add, passionately) on behalf of the creation of the University of Albany. This was in 1852. This proposed university was also described as the National University (more on that here). The State Normal School had been established in 1844, but its focus was on the preparation of teachers; it was not an institution of general knowledge as such. Ruggles and others were arguing for something much broader in scope. Unfortunately, the University of Albany came to naught. Albany had another chance when Leland Stanford, born in Watervliet, married to a well-to-do Lathrop, was seeking to create an institution of higher learning in honor of his deceased son. If stories are to be believed, a little touch of greed on the part of the Rural Cemetery Association scotched that deal. It wouldn’t be until 1962 that the NYS College for Teachers, successor to the Normal School, would be transformed into the State University of New York at Albany.

It’s sad that today, the types of voices Ruggles thought to soon be extinct are actually predominant.