Note: As in the previous article on this subject (George & The Gazette, part one), I have depended heavily on the pamphlet written by Hubert G. Schmidt titled The Press in Hunterdon County, 1825-1925 as well as the abstract of the Hunterdon Gazette compiled by William Hartman.

Also, I should mention that my focus in these articles has been on the Gazette and the political developments going on while Charles George was editor. Obviously, I am leaving a lot out.

Flemington in 1827

Let us begin part two of the story of Hunterdon County’s first newspaper with some of Charles George’s observations about life in Flemington in 1827. On April 11th, he took note of the old Hunterdon custom of changing residences on the first of April, generally known as “moving day.”1 This inspired him to write about the opening of a new store in Flemington, operated by Knowles & Carhart at the north end of town. He welcomed the store and the competition it brought to existing storeowners. He was certain that both merchants and customers would benefit.

However, Flemington was not yet getting the respect it deserved. On April 25th, George wrote that the mails due from New York and Philadelphia on Monday evening did not arrive until Tuesday morning, a state of affairs that would continue until “the contractors” decided to get better delivery people. If you had to get a newspaper out on Wednesday, this would be something of an aggravation.

1827 was another election year, and by September campaigning had begun to intensify. The election was for members of the state legislature, the county sheriff and the county coroners. The Democratic-Republicans (Andrew Jackson’s party) held their caucus at the courthouse on September 1st. Two weeks later, the opposition held their convention at the Smick hotel to choose candidates for “the Independent ticket.” By September 26th, George felt it necessary to lecture his contributors on proper decorum when expressing their views.

We have long doubted the propriety of elaborate newspaper recommendations of particular individuals as candidates for public favor; and our doubts have rather been confirmed then removed, by the too frequent tendency of the practice to run into personal developments of character interesting to the public, and not always credible to the parties concerned. We shall, nevertheless, in compliance with the wishes of many of our readers, of different political views, give place to communications of that kind, requiring, in all cases, that personal feelings be duly respected, and a sacred regard to private reputation be observed.

This was a sort of preamble to a letter he published from a reader, who only identified himself as “Amwell.” George knew who “Amwell” was because he insisted, as a matter of policy, on have a personal interview with anyone who signed a letter anonymously.

“Amwell’s” letter discussed the qualifications of the candidates for sheriff: Peter Forman, the choice of the Democrats, and John Rockafellar, his opponent. “Amwell” declared that both men were competent and admirable, but he preferred Forman because he had a family to support, with the handicap of only having one arm. This, I suppose, was the “personal development of character” George was referring to. There was nothing negative at all in the letter, and George probably published it to indicate the sort of letter he would prefer for his paper.

1828, Election Year and a Personal Loss

A year later, the problem of intemperate communications had only gotten worse. This was no surprise given that Andrew Jackson was running for president a second time, against the incumbent John Quincy Adams. Feelings were running high. George received letters from supporters of both candidates, but was unwilling to let the paper be taken over by their arguments. Here is George’s editorial for September 24, 1828:

We wish our correspondents to bear in mind that we have not opened our columns to that illiberal cant which characterizes so much of the discussion (so called) of the presidential question. Nor are we willing to make them the medium of circulation to recriminatory remarks, by which the remnant of good feeling amongst us might be obliterated, and the asperity of party zealots unnecessarily indulged without the prospect of an equivalent advantage to the community, either present or future. With the imputation of ‘corruption’ in which one is so prone to dabble, we will have nothing to do, unless personal identity and positive proof be furnished to sustain its application. – A word to the wise ought to suffice, as we wish not to be more particular.

In September, meetings were held by both parties in several Hunterdon townships (Kingwood, Lebanon, and Amwell among others), the purpose being to select committees of vigilance designed to promote the election of their respective candidates. I suspect that was something new for Hunterdon.

Unlike today, in 1828 the state elections were held in late October, separate from the presidential and congressional elections which came later, on November 4th and 5th, as reported in the Gazette. George was able to give the results of the state elections, but he was unable to continue his coverage of the national election, due to a death in the family. On November 19th, George made this brief announcement:

A case of distressing illness, terminating in death, in the family of the editor, prevented the publication of the Gazette last week, and has also placed it out of his power to issue more than half a sheet the present week.

He did not name this person, and there was no obituary in his paper for a member of the family, but a search on Ancestry.com turned up the death certificate for one Henry H. George, born 1814, died November 13, 1828, and buried in the cemetery of Flemington’s Baptist Church. This would have been George and Mary’s eldest child, so the loss must have been keenly felt.

When the paper was resumed, after the election was over, George said nothing about Jackson’s victory, which is very surprising, as it must have been the talk of the town. However, on October 22, 1828 he did publish an “Abstract of Official Returns,” giving the vote totals for races for Council, Assembly, Sheriff (Forman won) and Coroners. The next year, he expanded this feature, providing a complete table of election results. It was printed in the October 21, 1829 issue, showing vote totals for each municipality in the county, allowing us to see where the Democrats and future Whigs tended to live. This practiced continued for a several years.2

Charles George & Temperance

It is not surprising that a man with George’s temperate personality would be supportive of the growing temperance movement in America. This example of Victorian morality made its first appearance in Hunterdon County in 1830. On April 14, 1830, this notice appeared in the Gazette:

Temperance Meeting. Agreeably to previous notice, a number of citizens of Flemington and vicinity convened at the court-house on Saturday the 10th of April, to take into consideration the propriety of adopting some measures for promoting temperance, and discouraging the use of ardent spirits.

For many years past (and many to come) drinking heavily on election day was very common. In fact, drinking heavily was pretty common all the time, especially after “frolics,” in which people gathered to accomplish large projects like building a barn or harvesting a crop. It would take many years before the temperance movement had a significant effect on this practice.

The meeting resolved that a Temperance Society be created in Flemington, with Charles George as Chairman, and also resolved that notice of the meeting be published in the Hunterdon Gazette. The fact that Charles George was elected chairman of this new organization says much about the sort of person he was and the respect he enjoyed. He continued his association with the Society up through 1838.

I will briefly note George’s news of the 1830 mid-term election for state and county offices before moving on to 1831. On October 20, 1830, George announced that “The Jackson Caucus ticket has succeeded in this county, without an exception.” Of the 16 seats in the Governor’s Council, Jacksonians won 10, and in the 50-seat Assembly, they won 36, giving them a majority of 28 votes, a pretty solid victory.

The Newspaper Business in 1831

After almost six years as a newspaper publisher, it appears that Charles George began to get restless. Once again, he offered the newspaper for sale:

Sept. 28, 1831:  TO PRINTERS. THE HUNTERDON GAZETTE, FOR SALE.

The Editor [Charles George] of the HUNTERDON GAZETTE, having it in contemplation to engage in other pursuits, offers his Printing Establishment at Flemington, for Sale. His subscription is respectable, and by proper exertions may be further increased. – The Advertising and Job-Printing of the establishment are profitable. The Printing Materials and fixtures of the Office, are in good condition. To an enterprising Printer, with a small amount of Cash at command, this opening presents a desirable opportunity of investing it to advantage. Letters (post paid) addressed to the Editor, at Flemington, New Jersey, will receive prompt attention.

He seems to have been a little ambivalent about this, as it was followed by a note to his “Patrons”:

Unless this establishment shall be disposed of by the first of November, we intend making such improvements in our paper as will, we trust, procure us a liberal addition to our present patronage. In the meantime, we respectfully request our friends to forward to us the names of new subscribers, advertisements, handbills, &c. &c. as usual – all of which will receive prompt attention.

There was no buyer, so late in 1831 and early 1832, Charles George made a gamble and, at some expense, purchased new type and installed a new printing press, hoping that the improvements would bring in more subscribers.

There may have been another reason for upgrading the paper. According to Hubert G. Schmidt, there was talk of a second newspaper to be published in Flemington, and George, who thought competition among store owners was a good thing, was not pleased at the prospect of competition in his own line of work. He seemed to think that publishing a paper that served all sides of the political spectrum qualified him for a monopoly. On January 11th he wrote:

That we are well persuaded two papers could not be supported at this place; and that it would be better to yield an undivided support to one, than, by attempting to divide the business of the county, hazard the downfall of both, and thus deprive the People of the convenience and benefit of the Press, at the Seat of Justice of the County.

This Gazette is designed to be a County Paper. – In politics, we are moderate from inclination as well as interests. It shall be our purpose to give correct and authentic information of the movements of all parties; and also, as in duty bound, to render to those in authority a fair support in all measures calculated to promote the public weal; without either a blind attachment to men on the one hand, or a vindictive censure of measures we may conscientiously disapprove, on the other. [Charles George]

I suspect that the Democrats were contemplating a paper of their own, which they eventually got in 1838 when the Hunterdon County Democrat was established. But even without competition, George was in need of funds. On September 25, 1832, he was obliged to mortgage his house and lot for $1,000.3 The mortgage was given to one of his strongest supporters, Isaac G. Farlee, who was among those who first met to discuss getting a newspaper for Flemington. I can’t help but wonder if he financed his ‘improvements’ this way.

1832, A Temporary Retirement

Delivering a newspaper in a rural area during all kinds of weather was no easy feat. George relied on deliverymen and stage drivers, but those fellows were not always reliable. In April 1832, George was obliged to post this announcement:

Our subscribers on the road from Ringoes to Lambertsville [Old York Road, Route 179] are informed that the stage driver on that route refuses any longer to deliver their papers, although we have heretofore paid liberally for the service. We advise the citizens in the vicinity of Mount Airy to apply to the Post-Master General to grant them a Post Office at that place, that they may be accommodated with papers and letters without being dependent on the caprice of stage drivers.4

On April 25, 1832, Charles George announced once again that he intended to cease publication of the Gazette, with a deadline of May 2d. And once again he described his equipment and the state of the business in fairly glowing terms.

“The type on which the body of the paper is printed (Long Primer) is nearly new, having been procured last December. The other founts, with the job, letter, etc., are in excellent condition, some of them entirely new and well assorted. The Press, a large superroyal [sic], Ramage make, also nearly new. The Office Fixtures are very complete.” This time he gave no reason for his decision. . . .

On May 2d, Charles George wrote what he thought was his final editorial:

This number will close the publication of the Gazette by its present proprietor, for any thing he now knows to the contrary. He avails himself of the last opportunity that may offer, to tender to his patrons his grateful acknowledgements for their friendly consideration and support; and wishes they may long live in the enjoyment of health, peace, and happiness.

In relation to the course which he has pursued, for the seven years during which it has been his lot to conduct a paper in this place, the Editor would remark, that he has acted under a decided conviction of the moral responsibilities which, in his humble opinion, properly pertain to the station and duties of all who wield the machinery of the public press; and he trusts, that if he has not always supplied that kind of aliment most palatable to the diversified tastes of his readers, he has at least been careful to withhold whatever might bear injurious upon those obvious principles of moral rectitude which constitute the bonds of society. His aim has been to do good as well as to please. How far his efforts may have been successful, he leaves for others to determine.

His thanks are due to his editorial brethren, for their repeated instances of kindness, and their uniform attention and politeness towards him. – May they reap that remuneration for their arduous toils, and the many personal sacrifices inseparable from their vocation, which it has not been his good fortune to realize.

Hubert Schmidt did not have access to all of the issues of the Gazette in 1832. It was his understanding that the paper ceased publication under Charles George after May 2d. But apparently, George was unable to sell his business successfully. Possibly he made a sale that later fell through. In any case, he was back at work by December, 1832. The new series of the Gazette starts with Volume I, No. 1, on December 12, 1832. But the only issue of the Gazette for the new series at the Hunterdon County Historical Society is dated December 19th, and it did not include an explanation for why the paper was being resumed.

The Gazette’s Printing Press

Printing Press, c.1834

Running a 19th-century local newspaper was challenging work, and not just because it was hard to get people to pay their subscriptions. It was physically hard work. Printing presses had not advanced very much since the 18th century when Benjamin Franklin labored at one. It took considerable strength to imprint the text onto paper, and it had to be done repeatedly. By the late 1820s, wrought iron presses had replaced the heavy wooden ones of Franklin’s day. Pictured is a press that was built in Philadelphia about 1834. It is probably similar to the one used by Charles George,5 although there is no way of knowing whether or not it actually belonged to Charles George. It was later owned by the Milford Leader, but that paper was not founded until 1880. After that paper folded, the press stood in the lobby of the Hunterdon County Democrat’s building on Minneakoning Road. When the Democrat moved to a different location, the press was donated to the Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead in Lambertville, which is where it can be seen. In fact, the farmstead has a “Print Shop” where one can learn all about printing in the 18th and 19th centuries. (Visit http://www.holcombe-jimison.org/printshop.html.)

1836, Another Presidential Election

Hubert Schmidt was missing not only the issues published in late 1832, but all the rest of them up until July 18, 1838. It is a shame that he did not have access to the Gazette for the years 1836 and 1837. The country was in turmoil during that time, and I would have benefitted from Schmidt’s opinions on how Charles George was handling it.

1836 was another important election year. Andrew Jackson, who had won re-election in 1832, was no longer a candidate. In 1836, his vice president, Martin Van Buren, was on the ballot as the Democratic nominee. Perhaps because he had four opponents, including the Whig candidate, William Henry Harrison, Van Buren won easily.

That, of course, was not what the Whigs had intended. This was their first presidential campaign, and apparently they had a lot to learn. The four candidates were strong in their respective sections of the country, and the Whigs thought that each of the four could defeat Van Buren in those areas. However, very little of this was discussed in the Gazette.

Charles George had made it clear that he was not going to take sides in any political contest. But it was not easy to maintain a middle position, especially for editors of a newspaper that was aimed at supporters of both parties. That was not a problem for a Trenton paper like the Emporium and True American, which was solidly behind the Van Buren administration.

As a result, much of the local political news and commentary was not included in the Gazette in 1836. One exception was the Fourth of July toasts. This year the holiday was celebrated jointly by Lambertville and New Hope (and apparently not in Flemington—or if it was celebrated there, no one bothered to report it).

After the parade came a dinner, served at the Lambertville House, run by Samuel Carhart. The usual toasts were given—to the success of the Revolution, to agriculture, to freedom and liberty, etc., etc. There was only one toast that clearly hinted at the politics of the day:

By J. Probasco. May the aristocracy of our country be crushed in its infancy, and the usurpers of republicanism be banished from the soil of freedom.

By “aristocracy” Probasco meant supporters of Jackson and Van Buren, who had gotten a little high-handed in the way they gave out positions to their own supporters. Also the caucus system that was used to select their candidates had developed a certain exclusivity that many found annoying and anti-democratic.

During Jackson’s administration, the two-party system evolved from its beginnings under Jefferson and Adams, to a contest between those favoring Jackson’s somewhat populist approach to managing the economy and those preferring a more Hamiltonian approach. Even so, by the 1830s, there was a great deal of consensus on the role of government. But the party differences not only remained, but grew more intense, as shown by the creation of the Whig party in 1834. In New Jersey the guiding principles of the two parties were really not all that different, and yet they managed to find things to argue about.6 The caucus system was at the top of the list.

The Caucus System

Discussion of politics in the late 1830s must take into account what was known as the Caucus System. Starting in 1800, the caucus, a gathering of party leaders, either in Congress or in state legislatures, was where candidates for office were nominated. There was nothing democratic about it. After Jackson’s election, the caucuses began to be phased out in favor of conventions. In the late 1830s in Hunterdon County, the administration party of Jackson and Van Buren was still using the caucus system. It became a rallying point for its opponents.

The Van Buren party was not shy about associating themselves with the caucus system. The Emporium and True American announced on September 3rd that

The Democratic Republican of the county of Hunterdon, favourable to the “caucus System” and the election of Van Buren and Johnson, will meet at the Court-House in Flemington THIS DAY.

And in the September 10th issue, reporting on the Hunterdon Caucus, held at Flemington on September 3rd, the editor reported that 1200 people had attended.

Entire unanimity upon the great principles they were there to sustain prevailed. By a unanimous vote it was determined that the Caucus system embraced the favorite mode of county organization, and that the democracy would rally round it and under it, and thus preserve it from all the attacks, intrigues and traitorisms of federalism.

That is the sort of rhetoric that Charles George abhorred. The anti-Administration party (which became the Whig Party) saw the caucus system as indicative of a tendency toward aristocracy. As one person who attended the Democratic caucus on September 3rd declared in an unsigned letter published on September 14, 1836:

– In attendance at our Caucus the 3d inst. I was some little amazed to hear some talk of the Court ticket, and the Court party ! aware that amongst European politicians there was a court party – but to hear these terms made use of in this free republic, was to me matter of astonishment ! I said to myself, have we come to this?

Political activists of the day were not above some dirty tricks. On Wednesday, September 28th, Charles George wrote:

Some person thought proper to impose upon us, and through our columns upon the public, by sending us an unauthorized call for a Whig meeting at the court-house on Monday last. David Stout, Esq. has publicly disavowed his sanction to any such call – of course no such meeting was held. Such tricks upon travellers generally result in begetting contempt for those who are silly enough to practice them.

David Stout (1779-1849) was a judge of the Orphan’s Court in Hunterdon, and a Jackson supporter, presumably in the know concerning that party’s strategies. I do find the statement confusing. It was published on Wednesday, September 28th, which means that the phony Whig meeting was called for Monday the 26th. But Hartman’s abstracts do not show any such notice, either true or false, prior to September 26th in the Gazette. And just before the editorial this announcement appeared:

AMWELL.7 At a meeting of the citizens of Amwell opposed to the Baltimore nomination, held at Flemington, Sept. 26, 1836 . . . On motion, the following persons were appointed delegates to the Whig State Convention to be held in Trenton on the 29th instant. {names follow}

So, clearly, some kind of Whig meeting did in fact take place on September 26th. Which makes Charles George’s apology somewhat baffling.

There is much more to say about the Caucus System and the election of 1836, too much for this article. Van Buren won the presidency. Wm. H. Harrison would have to wait until 1840 when the Whig party finally reached maturity. But the outcome for the New Jersey Legislature was a split. Henry S. Hunt, anti-administration, was elected to the Council (State Senate). The Assembly winners were divided between administration supporters (John Hall, Wilson Bray and Joseph Brown) and administration opponents (John Blane and Andrew Larason). Oddly enough, John Blane was also nominated by the Van Buren party. (There must be a story there.) John Runk ran for sheriff as an independent, and won.

In 1837, an economic upheaval changed things dramatically, which will be related in the next chapter in this story.

Footnotes:

  1. See “April Fool’s! We’re Moving.”
  2. An analysis of party preferences by municipality in 19th century Hunterdon would be an interesting exercise, something to put on my list of pending articles.
  3. Hunterdon Co. Mortgage Book 53 p. 264.
  4. Hunterdon Gazette, April 11, 1832.
  5. The likely date of manufacture comes from research by Robert Oldham and Adam Ramage. That information came from a personal email by Catherine Thomas Langley, Feb. 9, 2017.
  6. That is the contention of Richard P. McCormick in his book The Second American Party System; Party Formation in the Jacksonian Era (Chapel Hill, 1966).
  7. In 1836, the township of “Amwell” consisted of Flemington, Lambertville and the surrounding towns, which had not yet been created: Raritan, Delaware and East/West Amwell.