Similar Enthusiasm Seldom Seen Nowadays, Says Observer
Political Tactics Are Recalled

by Egbert T. Bush, Stockton, N.J. published in the Hunterdon County Democrat, November 3, 1932

Mr. Bush stated at one time that he did not chose the headlines for his articles—that was left to the editors of the Hunterdon Democrat. So, although he does discuss those July 4th toasts, there is much more in this article.

A number of old newspapers, kindly loaned me by F.V.D. Fisher of Stockton,1 furnish subjects not for amusement only, but also for comparison and serious reflection.

One of them has been preserved for more than 150 years, to carry us back through all the intervening struggles and triumphs of the country, into “the days that tried men’s souls.” “The New Jersey Gazette, Published by Isaac Collins,” bearing date of July 12, 1780, has this advertisement: “One Hundred Dollars Reward. Strayed away on the 29th Day of May last, a middle sized Red Cow with a white face, has very small horns and black spot over each eye. Whoever takes up said cow and delivers her to Mrs. Doughty, in Trenton, shall have the above reward and expenses.” One can almost see Mrs. Doughty in her distress over the probable loss of her precious cow, offering $100 of her little savings in hope of recovering what must have been of still greater value to her. It looks like putting a high estimation upon an ordinary cow. But she does not say it shall be in coin, and it is hard to estimate what $100 in the currency of those parlous times may have been worth.

Note:  Inflation caused by the worthlessness of Continental paper money was at its peak in 1780.

Here is another and still more astonishing offer: “Five Hundred Dollars Reward. Whereas the store of the subscriber was attempted to be set on fire last night by some villain or villains, by putting a lighted match under the bottom of the back door, Whoever detects the incendiary or incendiaries, or gives me information thereof, so that he or they be convicted of the fact, shall receive the above reward. July 11, 1780. Anthony Maraquier.” From this we infer that people then made greater effort to detect and punish crime than we are making now or have been making for a long time. If a “lighted match put under the back door,” with no actual damage following, could call forth the offer of such reward, what would have been likely to follow conviction of actual destruction of the building? It takes much more than the finding of a suspicious-looking match to gain attention now, not to mention the offer of substantial reward. Drink Patriotic Toasts With Guests An interesting news Item says: “The 4th instant being the anniversary of American independence, the same was announced in the town by a discharge of thirteen pieces of cannon at twelve o’clock. A number of Gentlemen of the town repaired to the Thirteen – Stars, where a handsome dinner was provided; after which the following toasts were drunk;” Then follows the enumeration of just thirteen toasts, all timely and patriotic, as the number implies. The item closes with this statement: “The whole was conducted with a cheerfulness, good order and decency, which should ever characterize the Freemen of America.” The point for serious reflection is, Does such conduct always characterize the meetings of the Freemen of America to this day? The “Thirteen Stars” was evidently the leading tavern of the day, and its name indicates the patriotic enthusiasm of its proprietor.

You can learn about the Thirteen Stars Tavern by visiting Wikipedia’s article on The French Arms Tavern in Trenton, also known as Blazing Star Tavern, City Tavern and City Hotel. The tavern had the name “Thirteen Stars” from April 1, 1780 to February 1781. From this we can conclude that the celebration of the Fourth of July had to take place in Trenton in 1780, only four years after the Declaration of Independence was written. 

There are other advertisements that set us to comparing old times and old chattels with those familiar to us: “Four Hundred Dollars Reward. Made his escape on Monday the 3rd Instant from the subscriber, a Negro Man that can scarcely speak a word of English, about 5 feet 7 inches high, who was confined in Trenton goal and advertised to be sold on Thursday the 27th of July instant” &c.  Amwell, July 5, 1780.  Joshua Corshon, Sheriff.” Poor Negro! He was evidently a new arrival from Africa, with no knowledge of where he was or how far from his kindred. Yet freedom, even in an unknown land whose people he could not understand, and in spite of all its perils, was preferable to captivity. The thought of his desperate flight for liberty, and of the inhumanity which had brought it about, makes one feel that some progress has been made after all. “To be Sold. A strong, handsome Negro Woman, Nineteen years old, with beautiful female child six months old, both very healthy; the wench has been used to cook for a genteel family, can sew, and do every kind of housework; has had smallpox and measles, is very neat and sober. * * * The lowest price is One Hundred Pounds York currency or Its equivalent, Enquire of Printer.” Empty Puzzlers Popular With Editor “The True American, Published at Trenton, N. J., by William Prall,” dated July 8, 1826, has the following rather silly problem among its many good things:

This William Prall was William Livingston Prall (1788-1848), once the storekeeper at Prallsville, and the son of John Prall, Jr. After Prall and his partner, Jacob Lambert, went bankrupt in 1820, Prall moved to Trenton where he was Clerk of the NJ Assembly in 1821, and probably the first State Librarian. By 1826, he was editor and publisher of The True American newspaper. That didn’t last long—he was living in New York City by 1829 where he continued to work in the publishing business.

“One Cloverdale submits this problem: If a man six feet high travels round the earth, how much greater will be the circumference described by the top of his head, than by his feet?” Certainly no exact answer could be obtained. The nearest approximation possible—which may have been sufficient to satisfy the requirement of the questioners if not the mathematical fact—might be obtained by assuming a positive circumference for the earth at a given longitude, and assuming such circumference to be a perfect circle, unaffected by hills or dales, mountains or oceans. But with such assumption, the problem becomes so simple that any eighth-grade pupil should be able to solve it by wasting a great many figures and no great mentality. This would probably have been overlooked, had it not forcibly recalled some of the “puzzlers” that were showered upon me in my early days as a teacher. Somehow the wise ones for miles around thought it would be fun to stump that young “Swamper.” Some of these problems were indeed puzzlers, though few of them were of any other use. I was foolish enough to spend hours over some of them, but just lucky enough to get answers that satisfied me and the propounders. At least, none ever ventured to send back a rejection—perhaps because each feared that I might actually know while he was somewhat doubtful about his own knowledge.

Bush is referring to himself as “that young ‘Swamper,’” by which he meant that he was, as a young man, a resident of the Great Swamp, or as known today, The Croton Plateau. That may sound a lot better, but it’s still a swamp.  And now, here come the toasts:

A report of a meeting of the “Society of Cincinnati” names the following toasts: “The President, Senate and House of Representatives.” Imagine a large and influential society drinking to that toast now! Or to this one: “The Secretaries of the four great Departments of Government.’’ The following might get a respectful response even now: “The memory of General Washington, the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night;” and, “Our fair country women, the mothers and daughters of freemen.” Perhaps the last one might meet some hecklers. How about this?— “The State of New Jersey: Small in territorial dimensions but gigantic in patriotism and public virtue.” Some non-conformist would be likely to quote: “Lo, what a falling off was there, my countrymen!”

Remember that Mr. Bush was writing during Prohibition, when life in America was far more violent and disruptive than it had been in the late 18th century.

An item in the same issue tells of the death of “Thomas Jefferson on the 4th of July.” After eulogizing his services to his country, it continues: “Since writing the above, intelligence has reached us of the death of Hon. John Adams, former President of the United States, who died on the 4th of July about 6 6clock in the evening.” That two men, each so active, in the affairs of the country, political opponents but personal friends, should die on the same anniversary of their country’s independence, has often been remarked as a strange coincidence. If memory serves aright, we used to read that the last words of Adams were these: “Jefferson still lives.” Certainly, these were given as the last words of one about the other. Mulberry Experiments Recalled In the issue of “The New Jersey State Gazette,” dated February 5, 1836, we find an advertisement of Italian mulberry trees for sale in large or small quantities, making this appeal: “The trees are thrifty and from three to four feet in height and are insured to grow. The prices are very moderate and persons wishing one thousand shall have them delivered to any point in New Jersey, any less number will be delivered at Camden, Burlington, Columbus, Bordentown and Trenton. Even for but one package of a dozen trees will be supplied several hundred silk worm eggs, a pamphlet giving all necessary direction for managing the silk worm, reeling silk, &c.” For some time before and after that date, the farmers of New Jersey were deeply interested in trying to produce raw silk at home instead of importing it at great expense. They were led to believe that, with proper food—the right kind of mulberry leaves—the enterprise would prove successful. Hence the importation or home production of those “Italian mulberry trees.” But our climate proved unsuitable to the Asiatic strangers, and the enterprise had to be abandoned. No doubt the promoters made the enterprise pay handsomely, as did the promoters of the “wine plant” a generation later. But the farmers, as usual in such cases, “paid the fiddler.” I remember that in our dooryard grew what was called a “paper” mulberry tree.2 Why “paper,” I do not know. It bore no berries. This tree gave rise to talk about the “time when we used to plant mulberry trees for feeding silk worms. Whether our tree was or was not of the silkworm kind, it was cut down as a nuisance about 75 years ago, and was the only one of the kind that I have ever seen.

People Told of Worthless Literature Another advertisement in the same paper is headed, “Peter Simple Novels.” The price is to be thirty-seven and a half cents. The publisher, Louis A. Godey, Philadelphia, says: “The constantly increasing demand for the novels of Captain Marryatt has induced the subscriber to commence the publication of his entire writings.” Then he lists them as follows: “Frank Mildmay, Newton Foster, King’s Own, Peter Simple, Jacob Faithful, Pacha of Many Tales, Japhet in Search of a Father, Naval and Military Sketches.” The title “Peter Simple” appears to be dominant, giving name to the whole line of works, as apparently it well might do. Who ever heard of this author or of any of his works? But such is fame—glittering today; tomorrow, where? How many are likely a hundred years hence, to know anything about the flashy, popular authors of this generation, or about any of their productions? A few may survive. But one may possibly be pardoned for hoping—because of consideration for the readers of those distant days—that the number will be small.

I was very amused to read this assessment of Marryat’s work. Bush is referring to Capt. Frederick Marryat (1792-1848), who composed A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions in three volumes, published in 1839. For students of life in early 19th-century America, it is an interesting, if somewhat disparaging view of Americans in the 1830s. You can read about Marryat on Wikipedia. And you can read volume one which focuses on the eastern seaboard here, although it has little to say about New Jersey. Do a search for “Jersey” and you should get Chapter Six, at the Paterson Falls. Chapter 8 describes how Americans (specifically New Yorkers) celebrated the Fourth of July in the 1830s.

In the issue of The New Jersey State Gazette dated July 5, 1844, we find an advertisement of “Aaron Carman’s Self-Sharpening Plough,” with testimonials from farmers. These appear to be all that could be desired by the seller. But the plow had evidently not been tested among such “blue jinglers” as hurt my toes in boyhood. On one occasion, which often comes to mind after a lapse of 70 years, the long, sharp nose of the Bowne Plow that I was using, struck a fast jingler and snapped off to the length of scarcely more than an inch. As a matter of discipline in cautious driving, I had to plow about six acres of stony sod ground with that stub of a nose “as you fixed it.” The punishment was simple, but of no effect because the accident was unavoidable, the stone being a perfect “blind.” There was no perceptible sharpening, however. I had never heard of that wonderful “self-sharpening plough” until now, and am doubtful about its success.

“Blue Jingler” is an old term applied to the argillite stone that is found everywhere on the Croton Plateau. It is a hard, impervious, but very brittle rock, usually blue, but also comes in gray and dull orange. The stuff is a challenge to garden on, but it was probably much worse to plow it on foot with a horse. I was surprised that he wasn’t using a Deats plow, the very popular farming tool designed and marketed by Hiram Deats. But the internet came through again, providing a copy of the patent (No. 259) that Samuel Hartpence and John D. Bowne of Kingwood took out in 1837 for their new plow design.

Tactics of Old Political Campaigners As a reminder that proper amenities in Presidential campaigns were not strictly observed in those days, the following may be of interest: “Henry Clay” (then a candidate for President) “is a Drunkard and a Profligate. Go ask any Person who has been at Washington while Henry Clay was a Member of Congress, and he will tell you that, night after night, Henry Clay has reeled home to his lodgings, almost dead drunk. Daniel Webster and Henry Clay sat night after night over the brandy bottle, until they both became so intoxicated as not to be able to sit erect, and have wallowed on the floor together like beasts.” This diatribe was copied from an opposition paper. Of course the copying editor got even as well as he could, summing up as follows: “This is a specimen of the fiendish personal abuse to which the Loco Focoes are driven in their desperation.” Of course, we do not do things so bluntly in this “enlightened age.” But he who listens to the bitter politicians of any party, and has both the ability and the inclination to measure them and their insidious attacks, will find them appealing to the same ignoble traits in human nature—passion and prejudice.

Ever the wise observer, our Mr. Bush. It would be refreshing to have him around today to comment on our political situation.

Illustration from the Hunterdon Gazette, Feb. 8, 1844

Illustration from the Hunterdon Gazette, Feb. 8, 1844

“Loco foco” was a peculiar term applied by Whigs to the populist Democrats of the Jacksonian era. They were devout foes of Henry Clay, who was the leader of the Whig party. Only a Whig paper would use that derisive expression of “Loco Focoes.” Since the previous article came from the New Jersey State Gazette of July 5, 1844, I suspect that is the source for this article, especially since Henry Clay was running for president in 1844. (He had also tried it in 1824 and 1832. After three tries, he struck out.) More on the subject of Toasting the Government: There were some years when the Fourth of July toasts were not so flattering to the government. In 1826, even as the country celebrated 50 years of its existence, the celebrants in Flemington and Lambertville were not unanimous about “toasting the government.” Some gave toasts to “the Administration,” i.e., President John Quincy Adams. But, as you can see in my articles on the Jubilee (here and here), many of the toasts were to Adams’ opponent, Andrew Jackson. There were some years (1835-37, 1840, 1845, 1851-53) when there was no celebration in Hunterdon County worth reporting in the newspapers. According to Snell (p. 324), the last one celebrated in Flemington was in 1860. And an unfortunate event it was. According to the Hunterdon Gazette (July 11, 1860), there was less of the patriotic fervor than in the past, and far too much “pride or policy.”

In many places it is a mere question of dollars and cents whether a celebration shall be undertaken. “Will it pay?” is the first consideration to be settled. If there is a reasonable prospect that by the display of some great “attraction,” no matter what, a large number of people with money to spend will be drawn into a place, the business men are called upon and readily subscribe one dollar for every two or five they expect in return. In this way the annual commemoration of this most momentous event in our national history is reduced to the level of a mere mercenary speculation, and if, upon due reflection, it is not believed to hold out a sufficient pecuniary inducement, there is an end to all further trouble about the matter. Taking this view of affairs we say no celebration at all is creditable. Last Wednesday there was a high time in Flemington. All sorts, sizes and colors, congregated early in the day, and went it with a looseness. In short the rowdyism throughout the after part of the day was a disgrace to the occasion, and will be a knock down argument against attempting to commemorate the glorious Fourth soon again in Flemington.

The celebrations were interrupted by a major fire in Flemington that was eventually put out by a sudden downpour. If toasts were given later in the day, after the fire was put out, the Gazette failed to mention them, which is a shame, given the strong feelings that people had about politics in 1860. And so it was, that hardly any celebrations were reported in the 19th-century papers after this date. In some years, celebrations were sponsored by the Sabbath Schools, but these did not involve parades down Main Street followed by dinners and toasts. Mention of celebrations after the Civil War ended are few and far between. In 1866, Frenchtown arranged for “Ringing of Bells and discharge of Cannon; a Procession; Orations; Soldiers honored. Fire Works in the evening.”3 And in 1870, High Bridge “displayed numberless starry banners, and the new and handsome stores of Malachi Neighbor were beautifully festooned with evergreens and flowers. The store of William Lance was also handsomely festooned.”4 During the Bicentennial Year, 1876, a real effort was made to celebrate on the Fourth. Planning began in June, and a long list of committee members was named, two from each town except for Lambertville and Raritan (Flemington).

The meeting was called to order by appointing Col. Andrew Van Syckle as Chairman and George H. Large, as Secretary. It was believed that $1,000 would cover the costs and John C. Hopewell pledged that Raritan Township would raise $500 of this. A committee was formed to work out the details of said celebration: Clinton Township: Col. Andrew Van Syckle & David K. Hoffman; High Bridge: Lewis H. Taylor and Peter A. Beavers; Alexandria: Philip Apgar and Carter Alpaugh; East Amwell: John C. Durham and Jacob S. Manners; West Amwell: George H. Matthews and Bloomfield Blackwell; Clinton Borough: Nathaniel W. Voorhees and Eli Bosenbury; Bethlehem: Joseph C. Smith and William Bowlby; Holland: George W. Van Syckle and Peter A. Hart; Kingwood: Mr. M. K. Reading and John W. Lequear; Lambertville: Samuel Lilly; James F. Boozer; Jeremiah Hayhurst; Clark Pierson; Phineas K. Hazen and Isaac S. Roberts; Readington: Aaron Thompson and Newton Sharp; Union: Frederick A. Potts and Sylvester Taylor; Tewksbury: Joseph C. Farley and Samuel Clark; Delaware: Isaac S. Cramer and Ferdinand S. Holcombe; Frenchtown: Charles S. Joiner and William T. Srope; Lebanon: Joseph Bonnell and David H. Banghart; Raritan: John C. Hopewell; Robert J. Killgore; William G. Callis; David Van Fleet; John P. Rittenhouse; Nathaniel G. Smith; Atkinson J. Holcombe; Andrew T. Connet; Rev. T. E., Vassar and George H. Large.

Frenchtown also made a special effort and named a “Committee of Arrangements” on June 22, 1876:

Frenchtown is making extensive preparations for the Fourth of July. The Committee of Arrangements consists of Charles S. Joiner; Rev. Cornelius S. Conkling;, Peter S. Kugler; Joseph C. Cook; Josiah Butler; William T. Srope; Adam S. Haring; Simeon R. Opdyke; John R. Hardon; Edwin G. Williams and Thomas Palmer.

Despite these efforts, after 1826, there were no more news reports of grand dinners and lengthy toasts–to the government, the ladies, or anyone else.  The practice was nicely suited to the times (1780 through 1826), but politics, war, and the temperance movement put an end to it. Footnotes:

  1. Bush is referring to Frank Van Dyke Fisher (Dec 1870 – 13 May 1937), a Delaware Twp. farmer and one of the nine children of John B. Fisher and Deborah Bunn. Frank Fisher married Delilah C. Bodine on December 13, 1895. They lived on Covered Bridge Road, not far from Delilah’s parents, John E. and Jane Bodine.
  2. Once again, Wikipedia comes to the rescue, with a page describing Broussonetia papyrifera, better known as paper mulberry.
  3. Hunterdon Republican June 29, 1866.
  4. Hunterdon Republican, July 7, 1870.