1850's Middletown

1852             Prologue            October               1853   January   April   July   October


All quotes are from the Whig Press unless noted.


When I looked through the old newspapers in the Historical Society basement, I got the idea to present excerpts from the Whig Press so readers today could observe the events of 160 years ago as the residents of Middletown saw them. But to do that I had to start in the month of October. Why October? Because that is the month that Daniel Webster died.

Daniel Webster, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun were often referred to as the Great Triumvirate. Clay was born in 1777, the year after the Declaration of Independence. Webster and Calhoun were born in 1782, the year after the victory at Yorktown and the year before the signing of the peace treaty with England. These men literally grew up with the country. All three served as congressmen and senators. All three made unsuccessful attempts at the presidency, Clay and Webster multiple times while Calhoun was vice-president under Jackson but gave up further attempts in order to support secession. All three served as Secretary of State. Calhoun also served as Secretary of War and Clay was Speaker of the House several times. They also represented the three regions of the country in their time, Webster the East, Clay the West and Calhoun the South. All three men died in office, Clay and Calhoun in the Senate and Webster while Secretary of State. John C. Calhoun died in 1850. Henry Clay died on June 29, 1852 and on October 24, 1852 Daniel Webster died, bringing to an end that era in American History.

Eight and half years later, on April 12, 1861, Fort Sumter would be fired upon, beginning the Civil War. In between, Middletown was already beginning to show it would one day grow into a city and the Whig Press reported on events each Wednesday.

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—   1852   —

October 6, 1852... There are 81 female Postmasters in the United States... Death of the Duke of Wellington, who beat Napoleon at Waterloo... suspect arrested in failed attempt to rob local drug store and blow up safe... self-heating iron using a small bit of charcoal, heavier than a regular iron... daguerreotype portraits for 50 cents... publishing of Uncle Tom's Cabin As It Is, a copycat work trying to cash in on the success of Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

The Orange County Agricultural Fair and Cattle Show has an estimated attendance of 12,000 with 700 wagons coming through the Middletown gate of a plank road from a sparsely settled area on Wed.

Daniel Webster gives a speech before the Historical Society in New York City on the 150th anniversary of Washington's birth. (the year, not the day - George Washington was born on Feb. 22, 1732) He calls upon his audience to uphold the Constitution, saying that if it were broken, a better could not be made.

October 13, 1852... voter eligibility... oppression in Cuba, military rule, some American papers are banned.

October 20, 1852... extolling the virtues of Whig candidate General Winfield Scott.

October 27, 1852... the death of Daniel Webster.

November 3, 1852... a wagon was struck by a train on Saturday. The two occupants were bruised, the wagon was smashed... Van Deusen's Improved Wahpene for gray hair is available in a local drugstore. It contains vegetable ingredients only and hair is renovated and strengthened, and the natural color restored without the use of harsh chemicals.

A New York Times obituary for Daniel Webster is reprinted which refers to the splendid triumvirate of statesmen - Clay, Calhoun and Webster. It is common practice for newspapers of this time to reprint articles from distant papers as a way to transmit the news, a function now performed by the Associated Press.

November 10, 1852... election result... Democrat Franklin Pierce defeats Whig Winfield Scott

November 17, 1852   - nothing notable reported

November 24, 1852   - nothing notable reported

December 1, 1852... war worries with Spain over Cuba, diplomacy hoped for... completion of a rail line between NYC and Cincinnati, allowing for a two day travel time between them... Commodore Perry's squadron to leave for Japan.

A Prof. Suffren is giving a lecture in Montgomery on Electrical Psychology. The Whig Press does not think highly of him, stating, These ignorant itinerant lecturers are a curse to any science, and a disgrace to our highly-developed civilization.

December 8, 1852... the Governor of South Carolina has given a speech about the possibility of secession and the formation of a Confederate States.

December 15, 1852... complete election results published.

December 22, 1852... report of the death of actor Lusius Juius Booth on the Mississippi... Actually Junius Brutus Booth, who died on November 30, on a Mississippi riverboat from a fever contracted after drinking contaminated river water. His sons included Edwin Booth, considered by some to be the greatest American actor of the 19th century, and John Wilkes Booth, who killed Abraham Lincoln. (Wikipedia)

December 29, 1852... County and Town expenses reported including salaries for the year and totals for assessed values and taxes.

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—   1853   —

January 5, 1853   - nothing notable reported

January 12, 1853... President-Elect Pierce's train has an accident near Andover, Massachusetts. His car rolls down a 20 foot bank. Pierce and his wife survive but their 12-yr old son is killed.

January 19, 1853... unusual spring like weather gives way to bitter cold

January 26, 1853... Cincinnati has a new horse drawn steam fire engine which can be ready in five minutes and shoot six streams of water... stock is being sold for a new plank road from Middletown to the south. The intent is to attract more railroad traffic with better road access to the surrounding area.

February 2, 1853... I do not ask that woman may fill offices in the Cabinet, or represent the army or navy. I do not urge them out to command ships, or build railroads, to harangue in public places, or fill pulpits. These are matters that I leave entirely to human capabilities. But I do ask that no civil disabilities be attached to us, any more than to our brothers, in regard to these positions. If we aspire to them, and prove ourselves inconsistent, the world will readily learn the fact, just as it learns eventually to detect any inconsistency in the other sex. — Mrs. E. Oakes Smith.

... a lecture was given at the Middletown Lyceum by Mrs. E. Oakes Smith to the largest audience of the season but, though praising her ability and agreeing with the cause, the Whig Press believed that the idea will be received with more of public favor a generation hence than it now is.

... a local businessman predicts Middletown will grow to 5,000 people in four years... lack of vacant housing and shops is keeping many businesses and mechanics from moving to Middletown... two railroad accidents occurred, both resulted in a fatality... Sullivan County Sheriff offering a $20 reward for the arrest of John Hutchinson who escaped from jail.

Darkey Rumpus. — A colored person, named James Mitchell, received a severe stab in the thigh, while in company with several darkies at an Oyster Saloon in Port Jervis, on the evening of the 24th ult. Two of the fellows engaged in a fight, during which knives were drawn, and on attempting to separate them he received the wound. One of them was arrested — the other left for New York the next morning. The cut came near severing an artery. *

* It is the purpose of this series of articles to inform the readers about life in Middletown 160 years ago. This will inevitably include items of a sensitive nature. To exclude them would be a disservice to both the living and the dead. — Editor

February 9, 1853... the Austrian government is following Prussia's example and has ordered that daguerreotypes be taken of all serious railroad accidents to aid in investigation.

February 16, 1853... a Boston naval architect has proposed plans for a steamship 700ft long that can travel at 25 mph and carry 3,000 passengers... several Poughkeepseians have left for the Australian gold fields... nine ships in New York and seven in Boston are currently loading for Australia... one person was injured when a locomotive blew up (boiler explosions due to poor maintenance and materials were a significant problem in this era — Editor)... construction will begin soon on the Middletown and Unionville Plank Road... the Whig Press complains about hasty and ill-considered legislation coming from Albany and they suggest that better pay, to attract better men, and requiring attendance, so lawmakers are present for all debates and votes, may improve the situation.

February 23, 1853... the Chronometer, a new type of bank lock that can be set at night to be unlocked at a given time in the morning and not before, costs $600... prominent Boston doctor declares tobacco a powerful vegetable poison and from his experience, long term chewing or smoking is harmful... Cornelius Vanderbilt's steam yacht will be finished next month... brakeman on the Erie Railroad killed when he falls between the cars... there are 229 miles of gas pipes in New York City... Rockland County shoemakers are striking for higher wages... Susan B. Anthony attended a Women's Temperance meeting in Poughkeepsie on the 11th... 12,000 miles of railway areunder construction in the United States, valued at $300,000,000 with half expected to be finished this year... the Albany Atlas suggests licensing drinkers instead of vendors. The Whig Press believes that, like many good ideas, it would be impossible to enforce.

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