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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Frederick Douglass in Whitney’s Point, 1880

by Richard White


Frederick Douglass
“Bear with me kindly, for my voice is broken, and my throat is ragged and sore.” These were the words of the famous orator, Frederick Douglass, on October 22, 1880 in Whitney’s Point (now known as Whitney Point) as published a few days later in the weekly Broome Republican. In spite of a sore throat, he spoke to hundreds of people in “front of the academy” for two hours on an almost sacred topic to him — to rally voters to the Republican Party in this Presidential election year. Douglass had often stated, “The Republican Party is the ship, all else is the sea.” In the Point and elsewhere, he addressed crowds of all races about the seaworthiness of this “ship.”

For the second year in a row, the Republican State Committee selected him to campaign around the State on behalf of its candidates. After all, not only was he skilled speaker but also a devoted Republican. In fact, in 1879 in Binghamton, he addressed a crowded Ouaquaga Hall on behalf of the Party, and its gubernatorial candidate, Alonzo Cornell.

The Binghamton Daily Republican offers the most thorough coverage of this event in its October 23 issue. Most of Douglass’ speech in the Point extolled the virtues of Republicans. After all, he declared, “thanks for the magnanimity, humanity, and greatness of the Republican Party, I am an American citizen.” A “grand procession” led by people carrying flags and banners, and “a large cavalry company,” took Douglass to the stage where “a vast audience” awaited him. Not surprisingly, local Democrats were anxious. Earlier on the 22nd , the Binghamton Daily Democrat demeaned Douglass, stating that he only supported Garfield in order “to hold onto a good thing four years longer” in regard to Douglass’ position as U.S. Marshall for the District of Columbia. The newspaper concluded by suggesting that “Fred., although not a full-blooded white man, has more brains than all the [unreadable] law combined in the county.” But Douglass was at least used to such derision, and worse.

His opening remarks were patriotic, and not partisan-- Frederick Douglass profusely praised America. The Daily Republican recorded Douglass's words, some of which were,

“Ours is a great land. We see its greatness manifested in its commerce….in agriculture, invention, and the cultivation of the high arts. But it is greater in nothing than in the recognition which it bestows upon the rights of its people. We are here to exercise this afternoon one of its rights—the unchecked freedom of speech.” 

Later, he reasoned why voters must consider Republican office seekers. “Parties make candidates….Whatever may be said in behalf of a candidate it is better to know and understand the party that supports him. Parties are the assimilation of moral conditions….and principles of a people. ” Douglass must have praised to his Party’s nominee for President, James Garfield — as he would at a rally in New York City on October 25—but the Daily Republican’s coverage does not say so. (The local Democratic newspapers do not offer follow-up coverage on this rally).

Douglass did not stay in Broome County for long. His schedule required a political stump speech the next day in Woodhull in Steuben County. In Whitney’s Point, though, he illustrated why he was sometimes called “Old Man Eloquent,” especially for his devoted support of the Republican Party.


About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War HistoryThe Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Friday, February 10, 2017

“No Man’s Land” Revisited


The New York and Vermont State 1814 Border Monument and
 the 1904 Marble Obelisk on Washington County Route 153.
By William A. Cormier
Salem, New York Historian

When James and Marilyn Alcott, residents of Beattie Hollow Road, invited me to visit the deteriorating Beattie Hollow boundary monument with them, I realized that another chapter regarding “no man’s land” needed to be written.

Few people remember the long-standing, and sometimes violent, border disagreement between New York and Vermont. In particular, the land of the Town of Rupert, Vermont, bordering Salem and Hebron, was hotly contended. In fact, the boundaries between New York and her other neighboring states and Canada were contested for many years until properly surveyed, agreed upon by the surveyors of both sides, and officially approved by their respective legislatures. New York agreed to the boundary on June 8, 1812; Vermont agreed to the boundary on November 6, 1812.

According to The History of New York State, Book I, Chapter I, Pt. III, by Dr. James Sullivan, once the boundary survey had been approved, markers were to be placed every mile along the boundary of Canada, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, until uniformity was decided upon as to the placement and type of the monuments, monuments were of various sizes, shapes and materials.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Joseph Belt Case’s Impact on NYC’s on Black Residents, 1848

By Richard White

“The case has caused a great deal of excitement among the colored population, the Court room and the avenues being densely crowded…” This was the reportage in New York City’s Morning Courier on December 27, 1848 concerning the case of alleged fugitive slave from Maryland, Joseph Belt, before State Supreme Court Judge, John W. Edmonds, at City Hall. The case intensified African American sentiments so much that they held a meeting on Christmas night to record their concerns.

The case arose from the seizure of an alleged runaway slave beginning on December 20, and the quick action the same day by Judge Edmonds to prevent his forced departure. Judge Edmonds’ hearings began three days later in order to allow attorneys time to prepare. In Gateway To Freedom (2015), Eric Foner describes Belt’s chief attorney, John Jay II, as emerging “as the city’s leading lawyer in fugitive slave cases”(page 112). Jay’s studious arguments, and Edmonds’ sympathy for Belt, resulted in the defendant’s freedom on December 29. However, “the colored population” did more than pack Edmonds’ courtroom. They staged a rally, which has been a neglected aspect of the Belt case.

Led by a civil rights activist, Jeremiah Powers, a protest meeting was organized in Terence Hall on Church Street on December 25, no doubt due to the pressing nature of the case. As Chairman, Powers orchestrated the writing a five-part resolution that underscored their anger, as reported the next day in the New York Tribune. Section 1, for example, emphatically declares that the kidnapping of Belt “is an alarming outrage upon all the social and civil rights and guarantees of the citizens of New York.” Section 2 states that the case “affects the security of every colored man, woman, and child in the City.” Sections 3 and 5 refer to the principles “of the process of law” and ”due process” in any case like Belt’s. However, when these two legal principles are ignored, then Section 4 mandates that “no colored person ought to allow themselves to be arrested as a slave upon any conditions whatsoever: at the risk of life itself….they should deem it a question of life and death, to be settled on the spot….” This pointed language entails no reading between the lines.

Edmonds’ decision to free Belt sparked a display of deep relief that was covered across this State. On December 30, for instance, the Geneva Gazette, described the final scene as follows: “[Belt] was borne in triumph from the City Hall by a large company of colored people who rent the air with acclamations of joy,” and apparently left the City. Due to circumstances in New York City at the time, a black man was not enslaved, and freedom prevailed.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War History, The Journal of Negro History, and other publications.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

From Boyhood to the Battlefield and Beyond: Cherry Creek Seven at Verdun at the end of The Great War


By Sharon Howe Sweeting and Joanne Mansfield


CHERRY CREEK NY November 2016 

Kindled by the eyewitness accounts written by Private Donald D. Curtis to his father Edgar, we researched the other six lads traveling with the Buffalo New York Regiment called into service on July 15, 1917, and drafted into the US Army as the 106th Field Artillery on August 4, 1917. Our lads enlisted in June/July 1917 but most did not travel overseas until June 1918 following training at Camp Wadsworth, South Carolina.

A letter headed “Somewhere on the Atlantic” dated June 1918, describes the journey with the flotilla including the troop carrier, destroyers and smaller vessels and introduces us to the lads. First we meet Curtis’s friend Harold [Harold Blaisdell], and then Fowler [Laverne Fowler]. Next we meet Abbey [Charles Abbey], Dick [Richard Langworthy], Dub [Hobart James] and Hub [Ray Hubbard].

“We Cherry Creek fellows have been together a great deal, playing 500 [Rummy]. Our band plays twice a day – morning and afternoon. They are improving too. ” [Hub plays the bugle.]

“I hear they got a couple of submarines off the Jersey coast yesterday. They put up all the important news they pick up on the wireless. I see Harold a great deal. There is a Y.M.C.A. man on board so we can get books. You can’t get away from the Red Cross or the Y.M., they are everywhere.”

“Harold and I are sitting behind a life boat writing. We have a wonderful view from here. Just water everywhere but it is such a pretty color. . . . Probably Dad is up the lake fishing now. We might be sailing on Chautauqua now only this ship is about as wide as those boats are long.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Black Citizens Celebrate Battle of Fort Wagner

By Richard White

“The forty-ninth anniversary of the battle of Fort Wagner will be celebrated by the colored citizens tomorrow.” 

 This was the announcement in The Auburn (New York) Citizen on July 17, 1912, although the newspaper did not have to remind many readers of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry’s gallant charge on the Confederate fort near Charleston in 1863. After all, Harriet Tubman—who nursed wounded soldiers there—was a leading resident in the small city in central New York. In fact, her Home for the Aged was dedicated just four years earlier. In addition, veterans of the 54th lived in the city.

Auburn was the site of numerous events that commemorated themes from the War Between the States due to a vibrant, active African American community.

In 1909, they observed the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. One year later, they assembled at the A.M.E. Zion Church to honor the memory of John Brown. Most recently, they celebrated in 1911 the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Black citizens of Auburn were well-skilled in holding commemorations in recognition of pertinent Civil War era people and events.

Yet there is no record of a planning committee which organized the day’s program. However, the program began with a luncheon for the veterans and guests at the Tubman Home, although she did not attend. The local black veterans were Edward Watkins, Perry Williams, John Ware (on occasion spelled Waire), and Thomas Parker. A prominent guest included “Major” Alexander H. Johnson who was a drummer in the 54th. On July 17, The Auburn Semi-Weekly Journal briefly critiqued this opening event, simply noting that the attendees “listened to a number of speeches and reminiscences.” There was no shortage of reporting on the evening’s exercises at the A.M.E. Zion Church where a patriotic and musical program would occur.

One of the opening speeches was delivered by Rev. C. A. Smith, a member of the 54th, who discussed its Commander, Colonel Robert Shaw. Auburn’s Democrat Argus reported the next day that later Smith joined a local chorus in singing, “The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground,” whose lyrics originally were inspired by the regiment’s attack on Fort Wagner. One of the two representatives of the local G.A.R.---which was segregated—made brief remarks but there were no speeches by local elected officials. In addition, two women delivered recitations. The program concluded with a drumming exhibition by Johnson, which prompted the Argus to declare that “he had not forgotten how to handle the sticks.”

On July 18 the following year, the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Fort Wagner was observed in cities and towns across the nation. The black citizens of Auburn, however, expertly organized and presented their own extensive, patriotic observance in 1912.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Proselytizing for Profit and Consuming Self-Help: Fowlers and Wells Phrenological and Water-Cure Publications


by Mary Miles, PhD



“Phrenology is prospering with a mighty rush,” Orson Fowler, publisher of the American Phrenological Journal, declared in 1849; “it is effectually shaping the public mind.” Fowler had reason to boast. His publishing firm of Fowlers and Wells was a clearing-house for information on some of the most prevalent public interests of Americans in the nineteenth century. They popularized phrenology, a system of character analysis built around the belief that intrinsic personality traits are revealed in the physical shape and appearance of the head, and hydropathy, a doctrine that promoted the healing powers of water. Fowlers and Wells used print material to advance these reform movements. They sold over 90,000 copies of The Phrenological Almanac in 1846. During 1850, they circulated The American Phrenological Journal to 30,000 subscribers. In 1852, they printed 50,000 copies of The Water-Cure Journal and hoped to garner 100,000 yearly subscribers by 1860. They sold books about phrenology and the water-cure by the dozens. What factors enabled the Fowlers to wield such influence in American culture?[1]

Orson and Lorenzo Fowler, their sister Charlotte, and her husband, Samuel Wells, were all born between 1809 and 1820, and grew up in western New York State. Growing up in the “burned over district” the Fowler siblings and Wells developed a deep appreciation for the power of religion and reform to transform society. As children playing in a newly settled landscape etched by dramatic gorges, cresting waterfalls, and deep lakes, the young Fowlers and Wells explored a region whose geographic and demographic conditions nourished a wide range of unorthodox religious and reform movements. This striking countryside was mirrored in the imaginations of the Mormons, Spiritualists and Mesmerists who moved across it.[2] Upwardly mobile, Protestant families in the Northeast, such as the Fowlers and Wells, were in the vanguard of a newly emerging reform ethic in America. By the mid-nineteenth century, Americans were eradicating the perceived barrier between practical and spiritual pursuits by attacking social and political problems with religious passion. Their religious beliefs compelled them to believe that the worldly arenas of politics, society, and economics had sacred significance.[3]

The young Fowlers and Wells emerged from this background to enter the publishing world in the midst of dramatic changes in printing and reading practices.[4] Americans had always recognized the power of text. Protestants enshrined the Word at the intersection between the individual believer and God. Revolutionaries rallied support through political pamphlets and founders engraved their government structures in documents. Patriots in the new nation depended upon words -- Biblical axioms or historic lessons -- to inculcate the virtue that they believed was essential in a republican citizenry. Virtuous reading material was sure to dominate the limited libraries in most homes where Bibles, almanacs, and perhaps some historic texts became worn with use over the years. In the early national period, the book business was small and localized, limited to expensive, imported texts. The relative expense and scarcity of books meant that reading was a controlled, orderly activity as Americans scrutinized their limited volumes in search of moral lessons.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Timon’s Treasure: The Forgotten Reliquary of St. Joseph’s Cathedral

Detail of object

by Paul Lubienecki, PHD
©Copyright 2015. All rights reserved by the author.



On a sunny day in August 2011 Msgr. James Campbell, then rector of St. Joseph’s Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, received an unusual phone call from Sr. Eve Amadori, SSJ. “I think I have something that belongs to you,” she advised. The archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph was reorganizing and cataloguing the various items held in storage by the Sisters when she discovered a long lost object in a closet at the Sister’s headquarters in Clarence. Apparently this large item, which measures two feet by three feet within an elaborate frame, is some type of a beautiful ornate embroidered reliquary. This only heightened the intrigue. Where did it come from and why was it there? Who made it and for what purpose?


Further inspection by Sister Amadori uncovered a fragmented handwritten note on the back of the reliquary and some writing on the rear panel of the frame. The note indicated that the Diocese of Buffalo placed the reliquary with the Sisters of St. Joseph. However there was no detailed information as to a date of the transfer or for what reason. Realizing that it was the property of the Diocese, Sister Amadori placed the framed reliquary in the trunk of her car to return it to the Cathedral.

After Msgr. Campbell received the reliquary he and Sister attempted to put together the pieces of this sacred puzzle to determine its origin and history. Msgr. Campbell noticed five wax seals on the reserve panel. The markings had symbols indicative of a bishop or other high ranking clergy in the Catholic Church. This signified that the reliquary was authentic as certification of such a religious item needed proper seals by a bishop or Vatican official. Unfortunately, the faded wax seals made identification of an exact source nearly impossible. Also on the bottom at the back was a label: “Genesee Picture Frame Co.”