Frederick Douglass on the Albany of 1847

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The remarkable and legendary Abolitionist was a frequent visitor to Albany. In 1845 he placed his oldest daughter, Rosetta, with 2 Quaker sisters, Abigail and Lydia Mott, who lived on Maiden Lane near Broadway; she lived quite comfortably for about 5 years under their care and tutelage. (They were cousins of Lucretia Mott, the women’s rights activist and abolitionist; they too were politically active and were conductors in Albany’s Underground Railroad.)

In 1847 Douglass wrote a description of Albany to a friend. (In 1845 he had become world famous after publication of his memoir about his life as a slave and flight to freedom in 1838.)

By way of background: at the time he wrote the letter Albany was the 10th largest city in the U.S., with a population of about 50,000. In the period between 1820 and 1850 the population of Albany exploded. Between 1820 and 1830, it doubled, due to the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825. Between 1830 and 1850 the population doubled again.

There were signs of growing pains all over the City that was bursting at the seams in 1847.

The staid Old Dutch village has been overrun by businessman and politicians. Its geography worked for and against it. The Canal had been the catalyst for a manufacturing hub in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. The last slaves in New York State had been freed 20 years before; Albany has been the largest slave holding county in the State for at least 100 years previous. There were many free persons of color struggling to get a foothold in the middle class, while simultaneously advancing the cause of Abolition elsewhere in the country and providing a path to freedom in Canada for those poor souls in slave states. Immigrant populations (mostly German and Jewish) had begun pouring into country through the harbors of New York and Boston. Many made their way to Albany, as a gateway to the vast lands of the west; some stayed here. Like any Boomtown, It became a mecca for hucksters, grifters and speculators.

In the fall of 1847 Douglass had traveled to Albany (and Troy) for a series of meetings and speeches. And while Douglass found a few things here to praise — it’s fair to say he came away rather unimpressed by the city of Albany, which at the time was a key center for politics and transportation.

From a letter Douglass wrote to the abolitionist Sydney Gay in October of that year after leaving the city:

“Situated on the banks of the noble Hudson, near the head of navigation, Albany is the grand junction of eastern and western travel. Its people have a restless, unstable, and irresponsible appearance, altogether unfavourable to reform. A flood of immorality and disgusting brutality is poured into the city through the great Erie Canal, and the very cheap travel on the Hudson facilitates the egress of a swarm of loafers and rum-suckers from New York. I have received more of insult, and encountered more of low black-guardism in the streets of this city in one day than I should meet with in Boston during a whole month.”

Douglass touches on the history of slavery in Albany and the city’s apparent inertia in the face of reform.

“Like most other metropolitan towns and cities, Albany is by no means remarkable for either the depth or intensity of its interest in reform. No great cause was ever much indebted to Albany for assistance. Many reasons might be given, accounting for the tardiness of its people in matters of reform in general, and Anti-Slavery reform in particular. I believe that many of its wealthiest and most influential families have either been slaveholders, or are connected with slaveholders by family ties, and it is not too much to presume that they have not been entirely purified and cleansed of the old leaven. Their influence is yet visible on the face of this community.”

“The evil that men do lives after them.” Thirty years ago, and slaves were held, bought and sold, in this same goodly city; and in the darkness of midnight, the panting fugitive, running from steeples and [d]omes, swam the cold waters of the Hudson, and sought a refuge from Albany man-hunters, in the old Bay State. The beautiful Hudson as then to the slaves of this State, what the Ohio is to slaves in Virginia and Kentucky. The foul upas has been cut down for nearly thirty years, and yet its roots of poison and bitterness may be felt in the moral soil of this community, obstructing the plough of reform, and disheartening the humble labourer. Many efforts have been made to awaken the sympathies, quicken the moral sense, and rouse the energies of this community in the Anti-Slavery cause — but to very little purpose. many of the best and ablest advocates of the slave, including George Thompson, of London, have wrought here, but apparently in vain. So hard and so dead are its community considered to be, our lecturers pass through it from year to year without dreaming of the utility of holding a meeting in it; all are disposed to think Slavery may be abolished in the United States without aid of Albany. Like Webster, of New Hampshire, they think this a good place to emigrate from.

Situated on the banks of the noble Hudson, near the head of navigation, Albany is the grand junction of eastern and western travel. Its people have a restless, unstable, and irresponsible appearance, altogether unfavourable to reform. A flood of immorality and disgusting brutality is poured into the city through the great Erie Canal, and the very cheap travel on the Hudson facilitates the egress of a swarm of loafers and rum-suckers from New York. I have received more of insult, and encountered more of low black-guardism in the streets of this city in one day than I should meet with in Boston during a whole month.

Excerpted in part from a February 2, 2016 post in All Over Albany.com

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Kenwood and the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Albany

The Convent of the Sacred Heart, Kenwood, on the southern border of the city has been purchased by a developer and is undergoing substantial renovation to become Kenwood Commons – “a serene island of tranquility and luxury in the heart of New York’s vibrant Capital District is being transformed into a very special community centered around art, culture and wellness offering the highest level of luxury housing, recreation and hospitality.”

So we thought it was time to tell you its history and show you some pictures so you can get better sense of its significance in our city.

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Kenwood

Kenwood was initially constructed between 1842 -1845 as a summer home for Jared Rathbone and his family. (Rathbone owned a large stove manufacturing company in Albany, was one of the wealthiest men in the City and had been mayor from 1838-1841.)  The house was built in the midst of  about 75 landscaped acres and named after Rathbone’s ancestral lands in northwest Scotland. The site for Kenwood was selected to take advantage of views of the Hudson and the Catskill mountains to the south. It was an extravagant summer “cottage”, of th type built  by many men of  similar wealth across the country at the beginning of the industrial revolution.

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The builders were a Mr. Smith who did the carpentry work and David Orr, the mason.  Orr would go on to be one of the richest men in the city, with vast real estate holdings, including a “mansion” on Philip St.  The house design was called a “Pointed Villa” – a romantic unrestrained Tudor Gothic style.

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In 1845 Rathbone died suddenly and in 1848 his widow Pauline married Assemblyman Ira Harris, a widower. The families blended; the Rathbones moved from their Elk St. home to the Harris house at 28 Eagle St., on the other side of Capitol and Academy Parks.  Kenwood was put on the market in the 1850s by Rathbone’s son Joel. It was purchased by the Roman Catholic order of nuns, the Sisters of the Sacred Heart.

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4The Sisters first came to Albany in 1852, opening a house and school on North Pearl Street. By 1855, a larger house was purchased; in 1859 the Society bought Kenwood. The Order established the Female Academy of the Sacred Heart on the site. The school was successful and construction on a new school began in 1866. The first wing of the building, extending from the northeast side of the Rathbone house toward the north, was completed in 1867. In 1868, a noviate wing was completed using parts from the dismantled Rathbone house.

The construction of the existing chapel was completed in 1870. It too is in a generally Gothic style and incorporated materials from an earlier structure.

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(In the 1870s Albany annexed a portion of Kenwood (including the first mile of the turnpike, the toll-gate, and the Rathbone estate).

Here are some images of the school and the convent in the latter part of  the 1800s.

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13Most of the original outbuildings survived well into the 20th century, including a gardener’s cottage, gatekeeper’s lodge, smokehouse and carriage barn. Other outbuildings were razed in the 1980s.

 

 

 

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In 1975 Kenwood Academy merged with St. Agnes Girls School (an Episcopal institution dating back to the 1870s on Elk St. in Albany) to form the co-educational Doane Stuart School. The campus was occupied by Sisters of the Convent of the Sacred Heart and staff and students of  Doane Stuart until 2009 when the School relocated to a new campus in Rensselaer, New York. The Kenwood sale was completed in August, 2017.

(Much of the narrative was prepared by Walter Wheeler, architectural historian at Hartgen Archeological Associate for the Historic Albany Foundation in 2012.)

Albany: Birthplace of the “Gray Lady”

Albany and the New York Times

Albany in 1848

Albany Harbor in 1856 (ed was a bustling place, sitting at the crucial intersection of the Erie Canal and the Hudson River. Goods from the American Midwest flowed into Albany through the Erie, Champlain and Oswego canals, and were transferred at the canal basin for shipment to New York City. This flow supported large numbers of wholesale and retail businesses. According to the 1840 census, Albany had 53 commission house, 35 importing houses, 440 retail dry goods stores, 612 grocery and provision stores. And because those goods had to be paid for, there was also a busy financial connection between Albany and New York City, already then the financial center of the country. Albany’s population was also growing quickly: from 24,000 in 1830, the population had reached almost 34,000 by 1840 and would exceed 50,000 by 1850.

St. Paul’s vestry elected in 1848 was representative of this thriving business environment. The two wardens were businessmen with ties across the state and region: William H. DeWitt, a dealer in lumber, and John Tweddle, a malt and hops merchant. Both of these businesses involved major trade across the state and throughout the region, and an especially strong connection with New York City. Two of the vestrymen were also major businessmen. Four vestryman were involved in banking and finance; only two were professionals (one a doctor, the other an attorney).

Bank Note Brokers

Of the four vestrymen involved in banking and finance, two were bank note brokers. At that time, regional banks could issue paper currency. Currency issued by Albany banks was accepted at full value here, but only at a reduced value in New York City; the reverse was true for currency issued by New York City banks. Bank note brokers made their money by buying Albany bank notes at a discount in New York City and carrying them back to Albany where they were redeemed at full value; they could then purchase New York City bank notes at a discount in Albany, and redeem them at full value in New York City. One of our vestrymen reported routinely carrying $20,000 in cash on the steamboats between the cities in this operation.

These two bank note brokers, members of our vestry, were Edward B. Wesley and George Jones. Both were New Englanders, both born in 1811, who had come to Albany for business. And it is they who were instrumental in establishing the New York Times.

Edward Barton Wesley

Born in Leicester, Massachusetts, Wesley came to New York City as a young man. He found employment with a steamboat line that ran between New York City and Albany and quickly learned that he could make extra money by speculating in goods (fish, butter, eggs, vegetables, “nearly everything in the market”) in the New York markets, and shipping them to Albany where he sold the produce for a profit. From this beginning, he moved into brokering bank notes. By 1845, he had set up a brokerage partnership in Albany with Norman S. Washburn. That same year, he was elected to St. Paul’s vestry for the first time.

George Jones

Jones was born and raised in East Poultney, Vermont. As a teenager, he worked as a clerk and errand boy in a local grocery store. There Jones became friends with Horace Greeley, who was a printer’s apprentice in a newspaper operated by the owner of the grocery store. Like Wesley, Jones went to New York City as a young man. After other business experience, in 1841 he found employment with his friend Horace Greeley, working in the business office of Greeley’s New York Tribune. Here he met Greeley’s editorial assistant, Henry Jarvis Raymond, who was destined to become the third principal in the founding of the New York Times.

In 1842, George Jones moved to Albany, at first running the Albany News Depot, a news agency selling newspapers from New York City and other major cities of the United States and England, as well as magazines and books. In about 1847, he sold the News Depot, and started brokering bank notes, using a desk in the offices of Edward. B. Wesley. It was shortly after this that Jones was elected to St. Paul’s vestry for the first time. Jones had several personal connections to members of St. Paul’s: he also rented office space from Leonard Kip (a member of the church, and brother of William Ingraham Kip), and one of his closest friends was banker Edward E. Kendrick, our treasurer and a member of our vestry.

All Three in Albany in 1850

So, by January 1850, both Wesley and Jones were in Albany, working as bank note brokers in the same office, and serving on St. Paul’s vestry (they were both reelected in April 1850) and the vestry’s finance committee. Jones’ former colleague Henry J. Raymond was also in Albany, having recently arrived as a newly elected member of the New York State Assembly.

Jones and Raymond had discussed creating their own newspaper during their time together on the Tribune in 1841 – 1842, but nothing had come of these plans. Thurlow Weed, politically powerful owner of the Albany Evening Journal, had offered to sell his newspaper to Jones and Raymond in 1848; that offer fell through when one of Weed’s partners refused to sell his shares. Jones and Raymond again discussed the newspaper idea during the legislative session of 1850, but the time seems not to have been right.

Across the Icy Hudson in 1851

The plans only became concrete in early 1851, with Raymond again in Albany, in this legislative session having been elected Speaker of the House. There are two stories about how the discussions were renewed, and both involve a walk across the ice-covered Hudson River, from Albany to the Hudson River Railroad station in Rensselaer.

According to one account, Jones and Raymond were walking across the Hudson to meet Raymond’s father’s train. “When half way over,” Raymond again suggested a new newspaper. Jones responded that he was doing well in his bank note business. Raymond pointed out that a bill was pending in the Assembly which would make the business far less profitable and suggested (jokingly, perhaps) that it would be in his interest to see that the bill passed, if it would encourage Jones to join in his venture.

According to the other account, it was Jones and Wesley who were crossing the Hudson in order to buy copies of the New York newspapers when Jones asked Wesley to join him in his plans with Raymond.

Founding of the New York Times

Whatever the sequence of events, the bill on bank note brokers did pass, and both Wesley and Jones joined Raymond. The original partnership was known as Raymond, Jones & Co., with Jones and Wesley each putting up $20,000 in cash to begin production. The company’s Articles of Incorporation were signed by Raymond, Jones and Wesley. The first issue of the new newspaper, then known as the New York Daily Times, was issued on September 18, 1851, with Henry J. Raymond as editor, and George Jones as business manager.

Jones’ and Wesley’s later roles at the New York Times and St. Paul’s Church

When Jones resigned after only six weeks’ due to bad health, Edward B. Wesley became the Times business manager, and served in that role for most of the newspaper’s first ten years. At the end of his long life, he was angered that Jones was given more credit than he as a founder of the newspaper. Jones, he argued, may have had a larger role in the initial founding, but he (Raymond) was the one who built it up over a decade and ensured its survival.

Edward B. Wesley was on St. Paul’s vestry for a total of seven years, from Easter 1845 until Easter 1852. He lived the rest of his life in New York City, and died there in 1906 at the age of 95, his obituary in the New York Times describing him as “The Dean of the Speculators.” He would be pleased to know that it also gave him full credit as a founder of the Times, as well as the Union Trust Company.

After his resignation, George Jones was not involved with the newspaper for many years. When Raymond died suddenly in 1869, however, he returned to the Times and was its publisher for twenty years.

As long-time publisher of the New York Times, Jones deserves considerable credit for its success. In 1870 – 1871, he supported and encouraged the Times’ investigative journalism into the abuses of Tammany Hall. Jones refused a bribe of $5 million (the equivalent of well over $100 million today) by the city controller, Richard B. “Slippery Dick” Connolly, to stop the attacks.

George Jones was on St. Paul’s vestry for a total of eight years, from Easter 1848 until
Easter 1856. He also lived the rest of his life in New York City, and died there in 1891.

Conclusion

Although Wesley and Jones were not Albany natives, and lived here for less than twenty years, we can take pride in  the role our city played in bringing them together in business and in the vestry room of St. Paul’s Church. The next time you pick up a copy of the New York Times, remember the thriving business, financial and social connections between the city of Albany and New York City in the 1850s that brought the newspaper into being.

By Paul Nance from Grains Once Scattered