Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Future

From the Maine Farmer, 12 August 1897:

Thomas Edison, the noted electrician, says that the day of the electric motorcar that will sell for something like $100 is surely coming.  There are no insurmountable difficulties in the way.  The thing is feasible enough, and an army of inventors is at work upon it.  When it comes the bicycler will have the choice of working his own passage or having it worked for him.  Some of them pretend to like the former, but with the alternative in reach the chances are that they will develop an indolent and luxurious preference for the latter.  The vehicle is certainly on the way, various in type and function, and Mr. Edison's declaration that it will speedily arrive is the more significant from the fact that he ought to know what he is talking about.  When it comes, we want one adapted to clay and sand, hills and ledges, before it can take the place of the good old Morgan horse.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Merciless Planter and Two Generous Negroes

From the American Magazine and Historical Chronicle (1743-1746); Feb 1746

Originally published in the London Magazine, October 1745:

SIR, A gentleman newly come from Virginia, where he has liv'd there ten Years past, and whose Veracity may be depended upon, entertain'd me with an Accident of so extraordinary a Nature which happen'd not long since there, that I thought it might deserve a place in your Magazine.

A Planter of that Country, who was Owner of a considerable Number of slaves, instead of regarding them as human Creatures, and of the same species as himself, used them with the utmost Cruelty, whipping and torturing them for the slightest Faults.  One of these thinking any Change preferable to Slavery under such a Barbarian, attempted to make his Escape among the Mountain Indians, but, unfortunately, was taken and brought back to his Master.  Poor Arthur (so he was call'd) was immediately order'd to receive 300 Lashes stark naked, which were to be given by his Fellow-Slaves, among whom happen'd to be a few new Negro (so they call those Slaves just brought from Africa), purchas'd by the Planter the Day before.  This Slave, the Moment he saw the unhappy Wretch destin'd to the Lashes, flew to his Arms, and embrac'd him with the greatest tenderness: The other return'd his Transports, and nothing could be more moving than their mutual bemoaning each other's Misfortunes.  Their Master was soon given to understand that they were Countrymen and intimate Friends, and that Arthur had formerly, in a Battle with a neighboring Nation, sav'd his Friend's Life at the extreme Hazard of his own.  The new Negro, at the same Time, threw himself at the Planter's Feet with Tears, beseeching him, in the most moving Manner, to spare his Friend, or at least to suffer him to undergo the Punishment in his Room, protesting, he would sooner die ten thousand Deaths than lift his Hand against him.  But the Wretch looking on this as an Affront to the absolute Power he pretended over him, ordered Arthur to be immediately tied to a Tree, and his Friend to give him the Lashes; telling him too, that for every Lash not well laid on, he should himself receive a Score.  The new Negro amaz'd at the Barbarity so unbecoming a human Creature, with a generous Disdain refus'd to obey him, at the same Time upbraiding him with his Cruelty; upon which, the Planter turning all his Rage on him, order'd him to be immediately stripp'd and commanded Arthur (to whom he promis'd Forgiveness) to give his Countryman the Lashes himself had been destin'd to receive.  This Proposal too was receiv'd with Scorn, each protesting that he would rather suffer the most dreadful Torture than injure his Friend. This generous Conflict, which must have rais'd the strongest Feelings in a Breast susceptible of Pity, did but the more enflame the Master, who now determin'd they should both be made Examples of, and to satiate his Revenge, was resolv'd to whip them himself.  He was just preparing to begin with Arthur, when the new Negro drew a Knife from his Pocket, stabb'd the Planter to the Heart, and at the same Time struck it to his own, rejoicing with his last Breath, that he had reveng'd his Friend, and rid the World of such a Monster.

What a glaring Instance is here of Barbarity in one bred among Christians; and of a noble, disinterested Friendship, and true Greatness of Soul in these two unhappy Wretches!  Had they the Happiness of a proper Education, and been bless'd with the Lights of Christianity, such Genius's, in all Probability, would have exerted themselves in a glorious Manner for the Service of their Country, or all Mankind.  Then what Manner of Excuse can we make for treating this Part of our Species with such Contempt and Partiality?  What in an European would be called a glorious Struggling for Liberty, we call in them Rebellion, Treachery, and Perseverance we term Obstinacy, and Melancholy (the constant Attendant of Slavery in the thinking Soul) Sulkiness, and a savage Gloominess; nay, we put them so little on the Footing of common Humanity, that there is only an insignificant Fine set on a white Man that murders any of them.

In a Breast sensible of the least Touches of Humanity, Compassion must arise to see our Fellow Creatures (for they are not the less for being of a different Climate and Complexion) reduced to the most abject State in the whole Creation; and how base is it to add to the Weight of their Misery by the barbarous Usage they generally meet with!  To take those unhappy People, without the least Provocation, from their own Country, from every Thing that is dear to them, a tender, loving Wife and Children, perhaps, and plunge them into irredeemable Slavery, is shocking to think of!  Nay, the Misfortunes does not end here, for their Posterity in general are to undergo the same Fate, and Life, which Heaven design'd the first and greatest Blessing, is to them a continued Scene of Misery.  Hope, the great Comforter of Mankind, is forever excluded; nor have their Masters any more Regard to their immortal Part, never instructing them in the Lights of Christianity, themselves forgetting the chief Precept of it in their Usage of them, viz. Doing as they would be done by.

The only Arguments that can be urg'd in Defence of this barbarous Trade, are, That the Slaves they purchase are such beforehand, and that it is but an Exchange of Savage for Christian Masters; nay, that it is saving the Lives of thousands of them, who would, otherwise be sacrificed to their Idols; but, in Reality, tis the Europeans who are the Idols, to whose Cruelty and Avarice these poor Wretches are sacrificed.  Tis they who are the Authors of all the Wars, Bloodshed, Treachery, and we so condemn in them.  Tis to get them Slaves they do this, and practice Crimes unknown among them before the Arrival of the white People; and when an European Ship appears on the Coast, 'tis a future Forerunner of the Rapine, Murder, and the greatest Calamity.  Then how unworthy human Nature, and how opposite the Rules laid down in the Gospel by our great Master, is that kidnapping Sort of Traffick!  But in a free People, as the English are, who on all Occasions show the greatest abhorrence of Slavery, 'tis doubly criminal.

Nature is not so partial as to confine her Favours to any Nation or Climate; Virtues as well as Vices are the Produce of all Countries, and a Nobleness of Soul among these Savages, as we call them, often breaks forth in spite of that Cloud of Ignorance that hangs over them; nor indeed, it is possible, when one reflects on the surprising Revolutions, Arts and Sciences has made, but that some Centuries hence, they may be transfer'd to Africa or America, and the Natives of these Countries have it in their Power to revenge the Injuries done to their Forefathers on the Europeans, who may, at that Time, make as despicable a Figure in the World as the Natives of those Places now do.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Belle Boyd, Civil War Confederate Spy

From the New York Times, July 20, 1862:

This famous rebel agent is thus described by a correspondent of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Her acknowledged superiority for machination and intrigue has given her the leadership and control of the female spies of the Valley of Virginia.  She is a resident of Martinsburgh where at home, she has a pious good mother, who regrets as much as anyone can, the violent and eccentric course of her daughter since the rebellion has broken out.  Belle has passed the freshness of youth. She is a sharp-featured black-eyed woman of 25, or care and intrigue have given her that appearance.  Last summer, whilst Patterson's army lay at Martinsburgh, she wore a revolver in her belt, and was couried and flattered by every lieutenant and captain in the service who ever saw her.  There was a kind of Di Veron dash about her, a smart pertness, a quickness of retort, and an utter abandon of manner and bearing which were attractive from their very romantic unwontedness.

The father of this resolute, black-eyed vixen is a Paymaster in the Southern army, and formerly held at place at Washington under our Government.  She has undergone all that society, position, and education can confer upon a mind suited to the days of Charles the Second, or Louis the Fourteenth--a mind such as Mazarin or Richlieu would have delighted to employ from its kindred affinities.

Well this young woman I saw practicing her arts upon our young lieutenants and inexperienced captains, and in each case I uniformly felt it my duty to call them aside, and warn them who she was.  To one she had been introduced as Miss Anderson, to another as Miss Faulkner, and so to the end of the chapter.  She is so well known now that she can only practice her blandishments upon new raw levies and their officers.  But from them she obtains the number of their regiments and their force.  She has, however, a trained band of coadjutors who report to her daily -- girls aged from 16 upward -- women who have the common sense not to make themselves as conspicuous as she, and who remain unknown, save to her, and are therefore effective.

The reports that she is personally impure are as unjust as they are undeserved.  She has a blind devotion to an idea, and passes far the boundary of her sex's modesty to promote its success.  She, with all her faults and devotions to ideas, which are at the foundation of our political and social disorders, has not yet lost the crowning virtue of woman.  Reporters who thus attack a woman, defenceless within their province, exceed the license which justice and fairness even allot to outlaws.

During the past campaigns in the Valley, this woman has been of immense service to the enemy.  She will be now, if she can.  She, therefore, should at once be passed beyond our lines, sent to Richmond, and allowed to remain with those with whom she deeply sympathizes.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tried to Escape

From the New York Times, February 3, 1892:

Two life prisoners make a bold attempt at Denver.

Denver. Feb 2 -- "Pegleg" Watson, the Rio Grande robber who was recently sentenced to imprisonment for life, was prevented by the merest chance Sunday night from adding another victim to his list.  With Bert Curtis he made a desperate effort to escape from the county jail and for a time the wildest excitement prevailed.  "Pegleg" was provided with a weapon in the shape of a razor, but Curtis was without any.

Since they were sentenced they were incarcerated in the east wing of the jail, with the other United States prisoners.  They were told to be ready in a day or two to go to Detroit to the United States prison.  They evidently did not like the idea of leaving the West, and the plan of escape was formed.  The men are allowed a certain time each day to exercise, and are given the privilege of walking up and down the corridors.  After they are locked into their cells the guard examines each cell to see that all is right.

"Pegleg" and Curtis concealed themselves in the corridor after the prisoners were ordered to their cells, and the instant the guard opened the door to enter the corridor they sprang upon him.  A sharp-edged razor was placed at his throat and he was told if he uttered a word it would be his last. The man's face paled, and he felt the hands of the train robbers feeling for the keys.  He shouted at the top of his voice.  The guards in the office heard it.  There was a rush of feet across the tiled floors, and the guard, knowing aid was coming, struggled with the two robbers.  They knew as soon as he did the game was up, and they released him just as the other guards dashed into the corridor.

They were hustled into separate cells, and the razor was taken from "Pegleg".  Where he got it is a mystery which will call for an investigation.  Both robbers were defiant, but disappointed.  They will be closely watched until they are taken away, and everybody in the county jail will breathe easier when they are gone.  This is the second time these men have attempted to escape.  Both are desperate and have no intention of remaining in prison for life if they can help it.

Latest Intelligence: Particulars of the Explosion of the Steamer George Washington - Sixteen Persons Killed

From the New York Daily Times, January 16, 1852:

Grand Gulf, January 14.

The explosion of the boilers of the steamer George Washington, on her way from Cincinnati to New Orleans, took place a little above here this morning; shortly after which she took fire, and was entirely consumed.  Capt. Irvine was badly scalded, and the first clerk, William Carroll, was killed.  Among those killed and missing were the following:

William Carroll, first clerk; Mr. James Treat; Phillip, the first cook; the first fireman; six deck hands and six deck passengers, names unknown.  They are all supposed to have been burned with the boat.

The following is the list of injured.  Capt. Irvine, badly scalded; Mr. Pearce, second clerk, do.; Daniel Clemmens, engineer, do.; Martin Dunn, second mate, injured; Wiley, third engineer, do.; Mr. Moore, watchman, do.; James Moore, first mate, do.; C. D. Clemmons, passenger, do.; J. B. King Kendall, passenger from Kentucky, slightly scalded; Castin Wheeler, second cook, do.  The books and papers of the boat were all lost.  The Washington had two barges in two laden with stock and freight both of which were burned.  The steamer, J. S. Chenowith came down about four hours after the explosion, and took on board the surviving officers and crew.  The George Washington and her freight were fully insured.

Saturday, August 25, 2012


Because of many years researching genealogy, I have spent an inordinate amount of time reading historical newspapers.  More times than I can count, I have been sidetracked away from my original goal (an obituary, wedding announcement, etc) by a particularly interesting story.  Whether it's about the man with the wooden leg who started a fire, advertisements claiming their product can cure everything from a cough to a arthritis to baldness, or more serious subjects relating to long forgotten obituaries, or politics of the time, each gives a unique view into our history.  I will be attempting to capture some of that here, in this blog.  Should be fun to see what we can discover!