What Crown Pointers Were Reading
The following is another article written by Elmer Eugene Barker written in 1949. “What Crown Pointers (NY) Were Reading One Hundred Years Ago.” From the Hancock House’s archive collection this writer has edited the article and added illustrations to the original article as published in NYSHA’s New York History, January 1950.
The job of country postmaster one hundred years ago must have been satisfying. Many postmasters, we may be sure, found other ways than reading postal cards to fill out their hours of duty. Their job brought them into close personal touch with all their neighbors and was always full of human interest.
“Squire” Fenton was postmaster of Crown Point, in Essex County, New York, in 1849, when two youths of that community joined in the gold rush to California. In a letter that Charles Franklin Hammond of that town wrote to his son John in California one can look in on a scene in which the postmaster played a neighborly and sympathetic part. Mr. Hammond wrote,
“My dear son, — It is now ten months since you and Robert took your departure, and the last three months have been long and anxious months to me and to many others, up to the 12 inst., when we had the unspeakable pleasure and satisfaction of receiving tow letters from you, one dated September 5, at Pueblo de Los Angeles, and one October 5, at San Francisco. Both came by the last California mail ….. The mail arrived here at midnight that brought your letters (passenger and mail steamboats were running on nightly as well as daily schedule on Lake Champlain at that time) – and as soon as Esquire Fenton discovered that they were superscripted by you, he started for our house and called us up, and Frank at the store, and Fenton and Frank stayed until Frank had read them both to us, and a happy time we had.”
George Brown was postmaster at the same place in 1846-1847 and in 1857-1860. He must have been a meticulously systematic person. There were no postal cards then to occupy his attention so he spent his time, when not doing the actual work required by his official duties, in keeping a journal in which he listed all the newspapers and magazines that passed through his office, together with the persons who subscribed to them. These lists now, a century later, through light on the reading tastes of a rural community in northern New York and what periodicals were available as these came through the mails into their homes.
At that time this community’s means of communication with the outer world, aside from roads, was by steamboat on Lake Champlain during the summer and in winter over the frozen lake or by road nearly forty miles to Whitehall, where a railroad connected with Troy and Albany (NY), thence by either steamboat or train to New York City. Yet some, at least, of the residents were far from being provincial and, in spite of conditions of travel that would deter us, they made frequent trips for business and for pleasure to Albany and Troy, to Boston and New York. Mr. Hammond wrote to his son John that he and son Tom had returned from New York where they had been to hear Jenny Lind (1) sing, quite as one at the present day might write about having gone there to hear a favorite opera or to see the rodeo. New York and Philadelphia newspapers were scanned not only for news of the world and the nation but also for information on markets and for sailings and arrivals of shops to and from ports in Europe and South America, and from Panama bringing the California mail.
Jenny Lind – 1850
I am indebted to the late Reverend George H. Buck of Crown Point for calling attention to the journal of George Brown, the postmaster. Mr. Buck compiled from it two lists of periodicals and two lists for subscribers, one for the years 1846-1847, the other for 1857-1860. The earlier list enumerates 80 newspapers and magazines, few of which are still extant. Many of these titles suggest the subject matter of their contents but many give no clue whatever in this way. The uninformed person has to guess at it. The later list has 96 different publications. They contain quite a number not in the earlier one. Three hundred subscribers are listed in 1846-1847, four hundred eighty-eight in 1857-1860. (Note: The U.S. Census gives the population of the Town of Crown Point in 1850 as 2378 whites, in 1860 2251 whites and 1 black.).
Mr. Buck noted that “about half were news weeklies, the rest weekly or monthly publications, farming, religious, temperance, musical, and “parlour.” … In writing to me he mentioned certain individuals of particular interest to each of us as family relations. He wrote, with dry hummer.
“The Barkers and the Bucks were not cluttered with many periodicals. A New York or an Albany weekly was about all. John Barker had the Albany Evening Journal. Essex County Republican, and the The Voice of Freedom, Brandon, Vt. Sam Barker took the Journal and the Republican and the New England Puritan, Boston. Sarah Barker had the Dayspring, Boston. My ancestry is revealed as not literary. Helan Buck had only the New York Tribune. He was still taking it in my childhood. I remember him of a winter evening sitting at a table reading it with two tallow candles, one on either side. No daily paper appears on the lists until 1857 when John C. Hammond gets the New York Daily Tribune. The next year Bogue indulges and the succeeding year C.P. Forbes. (Note by G.H. B. – Gummed postage stamps were authorized by Congress in 1847. Use not required till 1855.) The Hammond’s were far ahead of other Crown Point people in the records. John C. Hammond was the most extensive reader, all subjects. Charles F. Hammond had a shorter lists, but good sized.
The Hammonds, by the way, were the leading family in those times of this community. Their business interests were large. Measure in standards of their day, and varied. They had sawmills back in the Adirondack Mountains and shipped their lumber by canal boats to downstate markets. They developed iron mines and made the ore into pig iron in their own blast furnace (and carried on) a mercantile and banking business of considerable volume (as well as) numerous other enterprises. John C. Hammond subscribed in 1846 to the New York Farmer & Mechanic, Cold Water Buttery, Albany Evening Journal, both weekly and semi-weekly. Genesee Farmer, Christian Parlour Magazine, New York Public Express, Self-Instructor, New York Mirror, New York Public Schools. In 1857 he received the Colonization Journal, New York Observer, and the New York (Daily) Tribune.
Charles F. Hammond, his brother, in 1846-1647 subscribed to Dayspring, Musical Gazette, New York Mirror, Dispatch (Wilson & Co.), Essex County Republican, Farmer & Mechanic. In 1857-1860 his reading matter is largely supplied from Philadelphia, as he is getting Alexander’s Messenger, Episcopal Recorders, Saturday Gazette, — all published in that city, beside Gem of the Prairie (Chicago), and the Bee (Ovid), Jane Hammond, his wife, is listed in 1846-1847 as receiving the Musical Gazette, Albany Evening Journal, Dayspring, Parley’s Magazine. Their sons in the later period were subscribers and receiving publications in their own names, John who had gone to California in 1849, now 30 years of age or more, takes the Cosmopolitan Art Journal, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated newspaper, New York (weekly) Tribune, New York (semi–monthly)Tribune, New York Independent, Porter’s Spirit of the Times. His brother Tom, eight years younger, has Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper and the New York (daily) Tribune.
Scientic American – 1849
Allen Penfield, a brother in-law of John C., and Charles F. Hammond, was also engaged in the lumber and iron business. In 1846-1847 his reading ran largely to religious publications, — Christian Parlour Magazine, Bible Society Record, Christian Reflector, Home Missionary, Temperance Union, – but with a sprinkling of business and politics and general culture, – African Repository, Graham’s Magazine, New York Observer, American Messenger, Dispatch, Dayspring, Troy Whig. His daughter Lucy took the Musical Gazette (she played the melodeon). Then years later we find him reading the Musical Pioneer, Colonization Journal, New York Independent, Journal of the American Temperance Union, New York (daily) Tribune. Inasmuch as direct railroad connections with Albany and New York were not established at Crown Point until 1874 and the Penfield’s lived six miles from the post office, a daily newspaper was something of an anomaly for them to be taking. His son James at this time is listed as getting the Musical Pioneer, Knickerbocker, and Home Journal.
The Crown Point Iron Company, organized by the Hammonds and owned by them at that time, is listed in the second period as subscriber to the Bank Note Register, and New York Clipper. The latter, being the first publication devoted to interests of the stage, convinces one that the C.P.I.Co. was not an altogether “Soulless Corporation”. As we have said, this was a family company, which may explain the otherwise seemingly irrelevant, if not irreverent, reading taste of a business organization!