Buffalo, Thirty-Six Years Ago - Part 1

A series of articles from the 1855 newspaper, The Democracy, taken from the files of the Niagara Journal, a newspaper, which started publication in 1819 in Buffalo, then part of Niagara County

Saturday, April 14, 1855

A kind friend has placed in our hands an imperfect file of the Niagara Journal, commencing just thirty-six years ago this very day. -

In running over in our memory the names of citizens then here and still remaining among us, we find that the number so limited that we are tempted to look carefully through the dingy, old file and to select from it such items as by the contrast of their matter with things fresh and present, shall lead to reflection, and point to the changes which, in that short time have taken place in Buffalo. The period which has lapsed is indeed a short one, estimated by comparison with cycles of the world's history, or the vast distances immediate to the rise and fall of nations and peoples, but to us, locally, it embraces almost the entire history. Less than six years before the date of the oldest of these papers, the little hamlet then called Buffalo, had been destroyed by the torch of the enemy, and from the ashes rapine had left in its course, had sprouted the feeble germ of a future metropolis. Commerce there was none; trade was but local and unimportant; intercourse with the emporiums of the sea-coast was interrupted and only existed at all at certain favorable seasons; the little village was surrounded by a wilderness, peopled by savages scarcely kept within peaceful and quiet bounds by subsidies and presents, and the West, to which the present City of Buffalo owes its prosperity and will be indebted for its future growth, was still an unknown region, dotted at remote intervals with fortified posts, but all untenanted by civilization, and with its immeasurable wealth still undiscovered and unthought of. Thirty-six years: the imagination of the wildest visionary could not have foreseen what events were in gestation and to be brought forth in that short lapse of time, and as we look through the old chronicle, fortunately reserved to us for inspection and for contrast, we shall perhaps be enabled better to comprehend the full scope and value of the word "progress", as applied to the growth of Buffalo.

The Niagara Journal was a weekly paper "printed and published at Buffalo, Niagara County, N.Y. by DAVID M. DAY," and was the lineal ancestor on one side, of one of our evening cotemporaries, the progenitor of the other side being the Patriot, the publication of SMITH H. SALISBURY. We believe that our neighbor still retains the names of both papers in the head of its weekly issue.

In the first number of the file before us are two paragraphs which contain the faint foreshadowing of great results. One of these announces that the Senate of the State had passed a bill providing for the appropriation of $12,000 for the improvement of the Buffalo harbor; which sum was to be considered as part of the "canal fund" in case the commissioners decided it could be applied advantageously for the purpose, and if not, then it was to be regarded as a loan to the individuals asking it, for the term of ten years, five years without interest, and they were to have the privilege of levying a toll upon vessels using the harbor for the purpose of reimbursing themselves. The other paragraph referred to, announces the passage of the bill appropriating $600,000 for the great western canal. This was the first appropriation made for that purpose.

Of all the advertisers in this sheet, we find the name of but one single peron who now lives among us. Mr. ALBERT H. TRACY had removed his office, and so stated over his own signature, he is still alive and an active citizen of Buffalo. Mr. JOSEPH LANDON advertises for sale "that noted and valuable Tavern Stand, pleasantly situated at the southern extremity of the village of Buffalo, and which united many and great advantages as any situation in the Western District." Few readers ****day will recognize in the above **** Yet ****. Captain Fox advertises boats for pleasure, and other parties to Fort Erie, and adds, in a significant postscript: "He will also, as usual, use his greatest exertions in saving passengers and boats' crews who may be so unfortunate as to be cast away off the mouth of the creek, in which it gives him the great satisfaction to state, he has heretofore been very successful." Buffalo Creek was not then a very accessible or commodious harbor.

Politics ran high at this; time [sic] the Journal was staunch Republican, printed and, of course, sided with DEWITT CLINTON. It is amusing to note the virulence of party spirit and the bitterness of invective, applied to persons by name, which characterized the discussion of questions. The war between Black Rock and Buffalo as to the termination of the canal had made serious differences among friends and led to a condition of animosity and bitterness between the inhabitants of the two places. The political leaders marked with the spirit of the time. But we have not the space to devote to further extracts, to-day. We shall return to the interting [sic] subject at an early moment.

****Transcriber's note: Portions of the bottom of the page were missing.

Monday, April 16, 1855

Turning again to the musty file of the Niagara Journal, we learn that "a Daily Stage had recently commenced running on the route between Buffalo and Canandaigua, which was to continue through the season. Post-Coaches were to be employed as soon as they could be obtained." S.P. BEEBE advertises "tobacco, snuff, and cigars." We well recollect BEEBE's store, which was situated near where BARNUM's Variety Store now stands, and can never forget the awe with which we were wont to contemplate the pyramids of black balls, painted upon the door of the little old building, suggestive of powder to be had within. We then supposed them to typify cannon-shot, but have since had reason to look upon them as pictorial failures at representing the heads of powder kegs.

There is news, more than a month old, but the latest intelligence received, from the Spanish Main, where BOLIVAR was then triumphantly carrying the standard of freedom in revolutionary contest. Many Americans are named as among the Republicans, and not a few of whom had been officers in our then recent war against Great Britain. HENRY R. SEYMOUR advertises the New York "Literature Lottery," with only twice as many blanks as prizes, and "bank bills exchanged as usual." His office was "one door north of Pomeroy's Coffee House," that is on the site of MILLER, ORTON & MULLIGAN's Book establishment. Mr. POMEROY kept the hotel afterwards known as the "Buffalo Hotel," and "Buffalo House," as refinement crept in. He was a good deal of a Federalist, and once, during the war, was attacked and narrowly escaped being killed, by some Maryland troops who were stationed here. The riotous "Baltimore Greens," who were chiefly Irish, were dispersed by a troop of Flying Artillery, who came to the rescue.

The issue of May 4th contains matter of considerable interest. First there is the "Act to authorise the construction of a harbor at the mouth of Buffalo Creek, on Lake Erie. Passed April 7th, 1819." The Act is too long to extract in full, but its chief provisions we can give. The Controller was authorized to loan, out of any money not otherwise appropriated, to JONAS HARRISON, EBENEZER WALDEN, HEMAN B. POTTER, JOHN G. CAMP, OLIVER FORWARD, ALBERT H. TRACEY, EBENEZER JOHNSON, EBENEZER F. NORTON and CHARLES TOWNSEND, all or any of them, the sum of $12,000, payment to be secured on bond and mortgage, and with interest after five years. This was to be expended under the direction of the Canal Commissioners, in the "construction of a harbor at the mouth of Buffalo Creek, on Lake Erie, for the safety of vessels navigating on the said Lake; and the said persons above named, or a major part of them, shall execute a joint bond to the people of the State of New York, in the sum of $5,000, which shall be regarded as stipulated damages," for the faithful expenditure of the money. Can any one, now-a-days, conceive that it was only at such a personal liability, and under such restrictions, that means were obtained for the construction of a harbor which annually shelters millions upon millions of property? The Act goes on to provide that the Commissioners, if not of the opinion that the interests of the Canal were to be subserved by the building of the harbor, might turn over the labor to the individual bondsmen, who could then proceed with the work, and levy tolls upon tonnage, to reimburse themselves and the State. What it finally cost in treasure, human life, and human exertions to say nothing of obloquy, contempt, and ridicule, to actually build our harbor, we shall one day have to tell. The story is one of more than trivial interest to us here, and especially to the descendants of the men who were the heros of it.

We find a song, born out of a hotly-contested election in Massachusetts, which will bear reprinting. The key to its meaning is to be found in the fact that BENJAMIN AUSTIN, one of the candidates for Lieut.- Governor of that State, adhered pertinaciously to the cocked-hat, as he was said to do to the principles of his Revolutionary ancestry. The song was original with the Boston Patriot, and here it is:
I like the old man with the three-cornered hat,
   It reminds me of 'seventy-five.
When the hearts of our fathers went pat, pit-a-pat,
   And Liberty scarce was alive.
I like the man with the three-cornered hat,
   And the honest old visage that shows under that;
It bids me remember the tale I have heard, the aged report of old time.
   When the ship Massachusetts by Hancock was steered,
And a three-cornered hat was no crime!

He puts me in mind of a sturdy old oak,
   that has weathered the rude, pelting blast.
Tho' a limb by rude lightning was torn off and broke,
   The well-rooted trunk holds it fast.
                           I like &c.

I like the old trunk, for its scions will prove
   An honor to Liberty's shore -
The ornament beauty, and pride of the grove,
   When the storm-shattered oak is no more.
                           I like &c.

The persecutions of the Princess of Wales are adverted to, and her fame defended. We fear it did not avail much against her tyrannical husband, the beastly creature called "the first gentleman of Europe." There is a column of news from South America, which, if reprinted to-day, would be just as fresh as our latest from that revolutionary country. PAEZ flourishes, a perennial patriot, as hard to kill as SANTA ANA himself. Cognate with the case of longevity, is that other and equally mythic personage Junius of whom the editor tells us that Sir PHILIP FRANCIS, just dead, had said nothing in his will. The frigate Congress was to sail round the world, with some twenty or thirty midshipmen on board, to train her officers and crew, and show the American flag to foreign nations. She was the first American man-of-war that ever passed through the Straits of Sunda.

We must conclude our notice of this interesting file, for to-day, with a marriage notice. We shall continue to refer to the ancient and precious documents, at an early opportunity. The following we find under the marriage-head:
At New York, by the REV. A.J. STANSBURY, His Excellency DEWITT CLINTON, to Miss CATHERINE JONES, daughter of the late Dr. Thomas Jones, of New York.

Tuesday, April 17, 1855

In the columns of the Niagara Journal for May 4, 1819, appears the following paragraph:

"The fine Steam-Boat Walk-in-the-Water, Captain Fish, left this port for Detroit, last Thursday evening, for the first trip this season, with upwards of one hundred and fifty passengers."

In another place in the same sheet is the advertisement of "The Lake Erie Steam-Boat, trip every week except the third week in June, to Detroit and back, touching each way at the principal American towns on the shore. Leave Black Rock every Friday at 4 o'clock P.M., accidents and unavoidable delays expected." This advertisement "all the Albany papers, the Boston Chronicle, New York Advocate and Evening Post, Philadelphia Aurora, Baltimore Patriot and National Intelligencer, were requested to insert twice-a-week for four weeks, and to send their bills to J.B. STEWART, Buffalo. This was the only steam-vessel running on Lake Erie, and continued to be so for several years. She was finally beached, to save her passengers, in the Bay, abreast the foot of Main Street, we believe during the year 1821 or '22. We wish we had the cut to exhibit to our readers, which appears at the head of the advertisement. The Walk-in-the-Water had run but one season prior to this time, and was the first steam-boat that ever ran upon these waters. The Ontario, on Lake Ontario, was two years older but even this craft never came into what is now our harbor. She used to come-to in the Bay, fire a gun, and if any passengers were to be landed, they came ashore in boats; the steam-boat then ran down to Black Rock. The arrival of this craft was a great event here, and at the sound of her gun, which was echoed by a similar explosion from a piece of ordinance, kept in service by Captain WINTHROP FOX, who had his residence at the foot of Main street, and followed by the raising of his flag, all the unemployed portion of the inhabitants would assemble upon the grassy slopes of the Terrace, where now stands the Western Hotel, to witness her approach.

The same number of the Journal contains an account of the launch, at Pittsburgh, of the steam-boat Western Engineer, which was to transport Major LONG's expedition to the Yellowstone river. The history of that exploration is probably well known to our readers, the vessel was 75 feet long, with 13 feet beam, drew only 19 inches of water, and had stern wheels, like those now somewhat in use on western rivers. Her steam was exhausted through the mouth of a serpent, which formed her figurehead, and, as her machinery was entirely hidden, we cannot wonder at the terror with which Major LONG tells us, the Indians fled from this "fire-canoe."

Here is another paragraph, showing what was thought, thirty-six years ago, of the trip to Mackinac. It is from a New York paper:
"The swift steam-boat Walk-in-the-Water is intended to make a voyage, early in the summer, from Buffalo, on Lake Erie, to Michillimackinac, on Lake Huron, for the conveyance of company. The trip has so near a resemblance to the famous Argonautic expedition, in the heroic days of Greece, that expectation is quite alive on the subject. Many of our most distinguished citizens are said to have engaged their passage for this splendid adventure." On the 11th of May, the little weekly contained the tidings of the receipt in London of the news that Spain had ceded Florida to the United States. The English papers talked then just as they have of the annexation of Louisiana, Texas, and California, calling us all manner of hard names, and threatening dire revenge. But we weathered the storm, fortunately.

Here is a little paragraph, showing to how providential an accident we are indebted for the preservation of an old citizen, whose loss would have been severely felt:

MELANCHOLY ACCIDENT - A Mr. Anson Graham, of Paris, Oneida Co., who went passenger in the Steam-Boat on her first trip, fell overboard, on the evening that the boat left this place, and was drowned. We understand that he, with Mr. R.B. HEACOCK, of this village, were leaning upon the railing in the gangway, which gave way, and he was precipitated into the water under the wheel. Mr. H. came very close near sharing the same fate, but was most fortunately caught by a fellow-passenger, as he was falling."

Here is a prophetic sentence, from a London paper. After speaking of the rapid growth of the United States, it says: "A middle-aged man may live to see the time when the Americans will enquire of us what business we have to fish on their shores or beds."

An Agricultural Society had been formed in Chautauqua county, the formation of one was proposed in Niagara. Captain WM. GATES, commanding at Fort Niagara, announces that "hereafter a signal-gun will be fired, at the Fort, to apprise the neighboring inhabitants of the desertion of any man from the post." Thirty dollars was then, as now, the reward for the apprehension of deserters.

In the next number we find that the steam-boat had made a fine trip to Detroit and back, having accomplished the run in five days. She left again, with one hundred passengers. Emigration seems to have been pretty brisk, even then. A new poem, from the pen of Lord BYRON, is announced; also a new series of "Tales of My Landlord," and CRABBE's "Tales." The U.S. ship-of-war Ontario had returned from a cruise. She had entered the Columbia river, taken possession of both shores in the name of the Union, and watered in California, at a Spanish settlement. The Legislature of this State had passed a law obliging lottery managers to employ a boy, with his sleeves rolled up, to draw the tickets from the wheel. From Utica we learn that the work on the canal was progressing finely, and that many labor-saving machines had been introduced to aid in expediting the labor.

The steam-boat, on her next trip, was detained three days off "Cleveland," in a storm, not being able to land her passengers. J.W. Moulton had removed his office to the corner next to Dr. CHAPIN's, and opposite TOWNSEND & COIT's. We recollect an anecdote of this old gentleman, which was current among the old inhabitants. He was a great agriculturalist, and made himself somewhat conspicuous by his affectation of knowledge on the subject of vegetables. He had a model garden on the corner of Ellicott and Seneca streets to which he used to devote all the leisure afforded by his not very lucrative practice as a lawyer. No stranger could come to town without being shown the wonders of the village, MOULTON's garden, and the owner became rather annoying in his egotistic hobby-riding. On one occasion, Governor CLINTON came to Buffalo, and, of course, the place was greatly excited by the unusual honor. Him MOULTON beseiged and obtained his promise that he would visit the model garden. Accordingly, after running breathlessly to the inhabitants, and informing them that a good opportunity to see the Governor could be had by following him, Moulton waited upon "His Excellency," and escorted him to the garden. But astonishment, vexation, and chagrin seized him, when he discovered that some wags had been before him, and every cabbage-plant in the place seemed ambitiously endeavoring to climb a sturdy pole, firmly driven into the ground by its side. POOR MOULTON! He afterwards wrote a History of New York, which was no better than his horticultural performances. He was the butt of the little village while he remained in it, and the practical jokers were never tired of quizzing him. He occupied a little one-story wooden office, which one night was removed, while he was inside, and he woke to find himself the admired of all passers-by on Main street, the very centre of which his tenement occupied. But we must cut short our extracts for to-day.

Go to Democracy 36 Years Ago - Part 2 for more of the story of Buffalo in 1819.