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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.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“Colored People to Hold Mass Meeting and Make Protest.”

by Richard White 
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.

This was the dramatic reportage in the Buffalo Courier on Thursday, June 19, 1902. What prompted this announcement was a surge of insults and attacks on blacks with impunity by “white thugs” on Michigan Street south of Broadway. The racial situation in that part of the city was tense. The newspaper suggested that “a race war is imminent…the young colored men…have already organized into several crowds for protection.” However, one victim of the most recent assault, William P. Rhodes, proposed another option—to demonstrate publically blacks’ indignation and anger against virulent prejudice, and to demand change.

Rhodes, the proprietor of the Magnolia Saloon at 55 William Street, called for the protest meeting to occur at his business on June 20. Early on Sunday morning on the 15th, he and two companions—bartender James Dorsey* and housekeeper Jessie Wright - were accosted by a crowd of white men as they returned home from the Central RR Station. According to the Buffalo Evening News on June 16, one of the white men “made some slurring remark about the woman.” Dorsey protested, and was knocked to the ground by the thugs who then pounded Rhodes so severely that he required hospital care. But there was still more to occur.

On the 16th, the Buffalo Express best summarized what happened next when a patrolman from the 3rd Precinct arrived on the scene—“none of the assailants was arrested. Patrolman Malonney… arrested Dorsey and Wright… They were fined $5 apiece [for disorderly conduct] in sunrise court yesterday by Justice Rochford.” Later, because of Rhodes’ actions including hiring an attorney one day before the rally, and threatening to file suit to recover the fines imposed on his cohorts--four of the alleged assailants were arrested, although their cases never were adjudicated.

Rhodes’ “mass meeting” drew about 25 prominent black men, according to the Courier on June 21. Some of them made speeches that “were quiet in tone, although some criticism was made of the lack of necessary police protection…. The men then formulated an approximately 350 word resolution that reviewed the hostile racial setting caused “by thugs called men who, possessing white skins, arrogate to themselves the right to molest…any person of a different race or color….

The resolution concluded with a request for “the cooperation of all good citizens, white or black, to aid us in our denouncement of this wanton tendency to the end that we may live in harmony together.” There was no word in the resolution on a need to form groups “for protection.”

The aftermath of these events was positive. The protest meeting, and its proposal for racial harmony, generated its desired goal--the local daily papers carried no new reports on race-based attacks by white thugs near Michigan Street at least for the rest of 1902. Thanks to one black man who almost overnight became an activist for justice-- a tense racial situation subsided in a northern city. Five decades before the emergence of the modern Civil Rights Movement, an African American man successfully confronted racism in his hometown of Buffalo.

*The Courier 
is the only newspaper that refers to this man as Ralph B. Dolsey.

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

Flying Tigers Memorabilia Lands at Cherry Creek Town Museum

by Sharon Howe Sweeting
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.
Two blood chits, a short snorter, and a 1943 cloth map of eastern China have landed in a small town in southwestern New York.

These artifacts and more are displayed at the Cherry Creek Town Museum. They were given by Larry Waite in memory of his father, Second Lt. Lawrence A. Waite, who served with the 14th U.S. Air Force in the China-Burma-India Theater in 1944 with the American Volunteer Group (AVG).

The AVG was better known by a nickname: the Flying Tigers.

The AVG was founded in 1940 and led by a renegade pilot named Claire Chennault whose pursuit pilot training was criticized by his superiors but later endorsed by the U.S. War Department and the president.

Capt. Chennault had been in China for a few years assisting Chiang Kai-shek’s government in training Chinese Air Force Pilots when, in 1939 he traveled to Washington with Chinese officials to request fighter planes, bombers, supplies and parts in their war against the Japanese. By the end of 1940 the U.S. government had agreed to provide 100 Curtiss P-40 Tomahawks to China after signing a currency stabilization agreement with them.

The P-40s were made available after the RAF deemed them to be obsolete. They were painted with flying tiger “nose art” shark faces. Each plane had a pilot, a co-pilot, a navigator and bombardier. Lt. Waite served as a bombardier as evident by his pocket notebook with several mathematical calculations for dropping bombs.

The “Blood Chits” issued to the American Volunteer Group Flying Tigers in Chinese characters in case they were shot down read “This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue and protect him.” The collection at the Cherry Creek Museum includes one made of silk, worn inside the jacket and one made of a more durable material, worn on the outside.

A useful souvenir called a “Short Snorter” was also donated. The Department of the Air Force describes it thus: “Many Allied airmen in World War II made souvenirs of their travels by collecting currency from all the places they visited.” The collection of bills were taped together and signed by friends with whom they traveled. Waite’s includes 24 bills from the U.S., Portugal, France, Algiers, Egypt, Iran, India, East Africa and the Congo, British West Africa, British Guiana and Australia among others.

With a slice of military history presented in this small American town museum, an airman, a friend and a neighbor is remembered.


Byrd, Martha. Chennault: Giving Wings to the Tiger, 2003.

Office of Air Force History. The Flying Tigers: Chennault’s American Volunteer Group in China. 2015

About the author: Sharon Howe Sweeting is the Cherry Creek Town Historian and Museum Curator (Smithsonian Trained) and a Trustee of the Chautauqua County Historical Society.

Monday, March 21, 2016

“Hitlerism Invades America” Supporters of Hitler in New York City and the Nazi Threat in America, 1930-1934

by Dr. Robert G. Waite
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.

“Hitlerism has invaded America,” warned Samuel Duff McCoy, an investigative journalist, in his 1934 exposé of the mounting tide of support for Nazi Germany throughout the United States.[1]  Following months of work on the activities of pro-Nazi individuals and groups that had become especially active following Hitler’s takeover of power in January 1933, McCoy, winner of a Pulitzer Prize, authored a series of articles that revealed the range of activities of those involved, largely recent immigrants from Germany, and their efforts across the nation to bring Nazism to America.  “The invasion is upon a systematic and nationwide scale,” he wrote in the first of the articles.  “It has been laid out and is being carried out by men professing allegiance to the principles of the Nazi Party in Germany.  It has been the approved and, in repeated instances, the active support of official representatives of the Reich.”  McCoy described these efforts in depth and provided specific examples.  His articles included copies of documents and photographs that substantiated his findings.  There could be no doubt about the extent of the pro-Nazi infiltration of America.  McCoy named those most heavily involved with the concerted efforts to establish Nazi organizations in at least 20 cities, those eager to promote in this country the ideals of National Socialism.  In 19 communities he found that the local Nazi groups had their own storm troopers’ unit, young thugs who wore swastikas, Nazi uniforms, and drilled much like their namesake, Hitler’s SA.  Their purpose was much the same, too, to maintain “order” at meetings and to intimidate dissenters and foes.[2]   New York City was at the center of these efforts, these activities.

Though not the first to call attention to these activities--other journalists had written articles for local newspapers and The American Hebrew and Jewish Tribune ran a series in October 1933--McCoy provided the most thorough, all-encompassing and widely read coverage.  He built upon the wide-spread interest sparked across the nation by the series in The American Hebrew, a New York based weekly.  As its editor wrote in the October 20th edition, “The press of the whole country quickly responded to the startling disclosures made by The American Hebrew last week.”  For the articles revealed the existence of Nazi “cells” in many cities, the formation of “storm trooper” units, “newspapers fed with material from Berlin,” agents traveling the nation to coordinate pro-Nazi activities, paid radio announcements, and materials brought into the country through diplomatic channels, “a perfect replica of the Hitler tactics and organization imported to America.”  These “astonishing facts” generated widespread interest and sparked real concern about these foreign efforts to undermine fundamental American rights and beliefs.[3]  

Thursday, March 10, 2016

George H. Frost, 1796-1872: Cherry Creek Pioneer Resident and Underground Railroad (UGRR) Conductor

By Sharon Howe Sweeting, Innkeeper
Cherry Creek Inn

Several reliable sources describe the character and activities of George H. Frost who came to Cherry Creek in 1823 and in his log home at the corner of Southside Avenue and Union Street in the Village ran a hotel/tavern, a post office, and shoe shop. In several respected local histories, Frost is portrayed as an outstanding, upright citizen, a Baptist and Abolitionist.

But is some of this just local lore, I have wondered, or can it be documented? My partner-in-research, Joanne Mansfield, and I set out to prove such claims by these various authors using official records such as census reports, contemporary church proceedings and military files. In the process we discovered several conundrums.

George H. Frost was born in 1796 in Dartmouth, Bristol County, Mass., on the Rhode Island border. According to Charles Shults in Historical and Biographical Sketch of Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County, New York (1900), George H. Frost learned about the Revolutionary War struggles for the equal rights of all men from his parents. He personally knew many veterans of the War.

“Into the very fiber of his existence was born and bred an intense love of justice and of country,” according to Shults. However, we were unable to locate official documentation regarding his parents.

He next appears in 1814 at 17 or 18 years of age as a private in Capt. Joseph Lord’s Company NY Militia, from Nassau, Rensselaer County, as a substitute for Theron Webster. On March 22, 1820, he married Zerviah Sherman in Nassau. (War of 1812 Pension Application Files) However, Shults reported that the marriage took place in Bennington in Genesee County. Both Andrew Young in A History of Chautauqua County, New York (1875) and Shults find them in the spring of 1823 in the log home in Cherry Creek which served as their residence, hotel/tavern, shoe shop and post office. In 1830 the first Town meeting was held at the G.H. Frost hotel; he also served as a town supervisor and Justice of the Peace. (Shults)

Local Baptist Church records confirm that he served as a deacon of the church whose early congregation figured prominently in the underground railroad. This connection might have been influenced by Fredonia Baptist Deacon Eber M. Pettit (1802-1885) who authored “Sketches in the History of the Underground Railroad” (1879) although Cherry Creek was not specifically mentioned as were the nearby towns of Leon and Ellington.

Frost was outspoken in his opposition to slavery, denouncing the Atherton (US Senator D-NH) Gag proposing to ban “Congress from discussing petitions which mentioned bringing slavery to an end” (Wikipedia). He also opposed the Lecompton Usurpation which protected the rights of slave holders and especially the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law passed by Congress to provide for the return of escaped slaves. (Shults)

In 1838 or 1839 we find the family removed to a farm 6 miles NW of the village in what is now Farrington Hollow, formerly Vermont Hollow. The home appears on the 1854 Map of Chautauqua County and on the 1867 and 1881 Atlases of Chautauqua County. Away from the prying eyes in the Village perhaps might make it easier to hide slaves.

Obed Edson in History of Chautauqua County (1894) wrote that “After 1845, George H. Frost of Dartmouth, in Bristol County Massachusetts and his wife Zerviah Sherman Frost, turned their home in Cherry Creek, Chautauqua County NY into an Underground Railroad waystation. The Frosts pioneered the Cherry Creek Settlement in 1823 and opened a tavern and inn. In addition to farming, storekeeping and operating the Post office, they supported local efforts to rescue slaves and earned respect for greatheartedness.” Shults described it thus: “and for a long time [he] was actively engaged in the services of the ‘Underground Railroad’, so called, and many a fugitive slave was assisted by him on his secret journey in his effort to escape bondage to Canada. In his house he sheltered and fed alike the traveler and the fugitive slave.”

Another conundrum: Fugitive slaves were usually hidden in out buildings and barns. Were Frost’s invited into the house? According to a family who lived in the house at 7165 Route 85 in the 1980s, the signs of hidden passages and hiding places still remained. Also, for an illegal, secret organization such as the U.G.R.R., why were G.H. Frost’s activities described in such detail?

Whatever the truth is, we do know his devotion to his moral principles and belief of equality for all men lasted a lifetime. He remained a Lincoln Republican to the end and retired back to the village around 1867 where he lived in a house across the street from his original log home. He died there in 1872. The 1881 Atlas of Chautauqua County lists the property as belonging to Mrs. Frost. He rests from his labors in cemetery plot 113 up the hill behind his house. Also in cemetery plot 113 lies a Ruth Harris who died on Feb. 5,1865. His mother perhaps?

Additional source: Phelan, Helene C. And Why Not Everyman? An account of Slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the Road to Freedom in New York’s Southern Tier. 1987

About the author: Sharon Howe Sweeting is a CCHS trustee and owner of the George N. Frost House, which is now known as the Cherry Creek Inn.

Famed Walker Passed Through Cuba, NY in 1909

By Dave Crowley
Cuba Town and Village Historian
Copyright © 2016. All rights reserved by the author.

There was a time in the Victorian era when “long distance” athletes were attracting the attention of thousands of people across the country. That was when “professional pedestrianism” was in its heyday. And the greatest walker of that era was Edward Payson Weston who passed through Cuba, NY at least once. This is evidenced in the photo above. My grandfather, Fordyce F. Hammond,(#1 in the photo at far left) was among those who witnessed his trek through Cuba where he posed for a picture at the Erie Railroad Depot. Others identified in the photo with Mr. Weston (#9) are #5, Mr. Ringrose and #11 Art Bernard.

It was the election Abraham Lincoln that unknowingly put Weston on the road to fame. Weston lost a bet with a friend on the outcome of the 1860 US Presidential election, which Lincoln won. As the loser of the bet Weston was to walk 478 miles from Boston to Washington to attend Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861.

He began his payoff walk at Boston’s State House at one o’clock, February 22nd, which gave him 10 days to hike the 478 miles to the Capitol. He was then 22 years old, weighed 130 lbs., and was 5’7” tall. He pegged off the first five miles in just 47 minutes before settling into a steady 3.25 miles per hour pace. At every town throngs waited for him and cheered him on. A serious delay took place outside of Leicester, Mass., where he encountered foot-deep snows and fell down several times. He kept plodding on arriving in New York the morning of February 27.