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Saturday, September 14, 2019

“City Hospital Charged With Prejudice Against Negro Blood Donors”

By Richard White
Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author

This was the headline of the Binghamton Press’s May 15, 1947 report on the previous night’s regular meeting of the Hospital’s Board of Managers whose agenda included a possibly contentious discussion item.

A local pastor had written them two accusatory letters concerning their Jim Crow treatment of black residents. One letter accused the Hospital administration of not accepting blood donations from Negroes for its blood bank while the other letter contended that the Hospital’s policy was keeping Negro patients out of semi-private rooms. The Press’s article reported that the pastor’s “criticism resulted in a controversial discussion.”

The Rev. John Wesley Taylor had been the pastor of the city’s Beautiful Plain Baptist Church since the 1920s, and he participated in civil rights activism. For example, when pianist Hazel Scott was banned from a performance in 1945 at Constitution Hall in Washington, he and his congregation composed a protest letter to their Congressman. On May 16, the Binghamton Sun published their entire four-part resolution which concludes with their stated opposition to “the toleration and continuance of such practices…of such indignities…to peoples of any race….” At this early stage in the modern-day Civil Rights Movement, this was the chosen approach to engage prejudice.

Two years later another injustice prompted Rev. Taylor to press a formidable institution to formulate new policies based on equality.

The Press’s thorough reportage provides at least a partial picture of the racial climate in a small Northern city shortly after the Second World War. Except for A. E. Gold who “asserted that it is the duty of the Board to fight discrimination in the hospital administration,” the rest of the assemblage stated divergent views. One manager declared that hospital service, not “civil liberties,” was a legitimate topic for their agenda, and that “we aren’t here to teach anti-discrimination.” The director of the hospital’s blood bank spoke directly to the rejection of Negro blood—“white people won’t take it…if we took Negro blood, it would just go down the drain.” The Director then said that his lab does give Negro patients transfusions if they “will accept white blood.” The Hospital’s Superintendent summed up the Board’s position when he argued that “as far as the doctors are concerned, there would be no objection to having Negro blood in the Bank, but public opinion wouldn’t allow it.” Concerning the issue of a black patient in a semi-private room shared with a white patient, the Superintendent said that there was no policy against it. But if the white patient objects, “we adjust it.” So, in Binghamton in 1947, hospital policies arose from prejudiced public opinion. In fact, due to this attitude, the Red Cross segregated blood officially until 1950.

Across the nation in 1947, Jim Crow attitudes were being widely confronted. For example, President Truman’s Commission on Civil Rights issued its recommendations entitled, “To Secure These Rights.” In New York State, the legislature enacted legislation to establish an anti-bias council in every county. In Binghamton, James J. Washington campaigned for election to the City Council. So, how long did public opinion on Negro blood impact City Hospital? When would the winds of change alter a part of the prejudiced racial landscape in a small Northern city?

Research of the city’s two daily newspapers does not provide a definitive answer in that through June, there are no related articles, letters, or editorials. Mention of Rev. Taylor was confined to his work in the pulpit. Two civil rights organizations—the 15-year-old "Interracial Association" and the one-week-old "Anti-bias Council" did not comment on the dispute. However, in Binghamton in 1947, Jim Crow met an intractable, unaccommodating, pastor whose activism mirrored civil rights developments in the United States at that time.

About the author: Richard White's articles have appeared in Civil War HistoryThe Journal of Negro History, and other publications.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The American Legion's Centennial

By Robert Yott
Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author.

This year, 2019, the American Legion is celebrating its Centennial. It was established just thirty years after another veteran organization, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), had passed its peak of power and influence; its membership diminishing. But the GAR had ensured its legacy would be secure and forever written in the annals of this country’s history. Its leaders and members, which included five US presidents, had set the standards to which future veteran organizations would aspire to and in many cases, surpass.

Initially, the Grand Army of the Republic was a political lobbying group born under the guise as being a benevolent veteran organization. Its existence was born out of necessity and for nearly a half a century its influence would affect political, economic and social policies; effects which are still felt today. To celebrate the life of the American Legion and to fully appreciate their achievements, we must first look at the past.

By November 1865, six months after the Civil War had ended, 800,000 soldiers would be welcomed home to cheering crowds. Jobs became scarce however, as the market could not absorb such a large influx of recently unemployed, abled-body veterans. While these men were off fighting, immigrants and stay-at-homes had taken their place in the workforce. Also, nearly a half-million men returned home with debilitating wounded or were discharged for ailments and disease. Their meager pensions hardly sufficed to care for their families, let alone themselves. Many veterans flocked to the cities seeking relief; a large portion resorting to begging or seeking shelter in county poor houses.

In Washington, politicians were too embroiled in a bitter battle over Reconstruction to give notice to the veterans’ needs. With no adequate hospital care or provisions provided, veterans became discouraged and various veteran organizations began to form across the country to raise awareness of their plight.

Governor Richard Oglesby and political upstart General John A. Logan, both of Illinois and both Radical Republicans, recognized the potential of these organizations and realized that, if these veterans were brought together under one banner and convinced to accept their political agenda, then a virtual voting bloc could be the result. Intending to remain anonymous and to keep their intentions under wraps, the two employed Dr. Benjamin Stephenson and Chaplain William J. Rutledge, also of Illinois, to form a new veteran organization. On April 6, 1866, the first post of the Grand Army of the Republic was established in Decatur, Illinois.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

“Every Atom Belonging to Me”

By Michael Mauro DeBonis, March 29, 2019.
Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author.

“Every Atom Belonging to Me”

Poets grab their words from ghosts,
that rise as fog, from the floors of spring.
They utter things blind to the eyes and silent
to the ears.
What the bards say comes from the ironic
dust of lips, living, dead and yet-to-be born.
Those sly, slinking, zigzagging spirits
state their dictums
in the green, unbridled blades of grass,
that shoot up from the dark ground
with all the similes, metaphors
and symbolism,
which mouths make move by wind.
Consider Whitman’s vast, un-pruned
lawn of emerald thoughts,
flowing his fire over the graves
of Gettysburg’s dead…and indeed…
all our dead. Walt’s voice was not
the ill-born breath of blight and disease
that came with the Civil War. It was
the newly-ignited star up-surging wind,
boundlessly blowing sky and sea
through Eden’s Garden,
before the Fall and after it.
Experience made Whitman’s
season-stepping verbalisms
volcanic and vacillating. Up
from Etna’s oven came Walter’s
words, dimming and glowing,
destroying and creating.
What pages from what books
will ever grow from the greenery
of your mind,
in spring, summer…or beyond?
The woods are a temple
for the singing birds…
the fields of grass
are the great churches
where our souls come
to be born or to die.

About the Poet: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, New York.  A graduate of both Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Studies) and SUNY Stony Brook (B. A. English), Michael’s work first appeared in the Village Beacon Record and the Brookhaven Times Newspapers.  Michael’s current work can be found in the New York History Review and elsewhere.  Michael is dedicated to studying and to learning the history of the great State of New York.


Leaves of Whitman: A Historical Perspective

Walt Whitman, circa 1865, photo possibly by
Matt Brady, colorized by Dana Keller.
By Michael Mauro DeBonis 
Copyright© 2019 All rights reserved by the author.

Part One: Paumanok.

Like so many other Americans before and after him, poet Walt Whitman was a man whose personality was filled to the hilt with a wide array of contradictions. He was a political liberal who openly and enthusiastically supported manifest destiny and Yankee industry, but he was bitterly opposed to and disgusted with slavery and cultural xenophobia. Unlike legions of his American contemporaries, Whitman welcomed the many different ethnicities coming to the United States during the wide span of the nineteenth century. He celebrated their mass migrations poignantly in such eloquent poems as Song of Myself and Manhatta.

He was first a printer and then a schoolteacher, journalist, editor of the Brooklyn newspaper Eagle…and later on a nurse. But these vocations only reveal part of the man and his vast and complex psyche.

He was born Walter Whitman on May 13, 1819, in West Hills (Huntington) Long Island. He was the son of a Quaker carpenter of English descent and his mother was of an old Dutch Long Island family. Both of Whitman’s lineages came to America well before the Revolution. And in being a true child of the 1800’s United States, the poet was a product of a truly dynamic and turbulent age. His family moved to Brooklyn early in Walt’s childhood, where he attended a few public elementary schools. Yet, Walt would always return to central Long Island as a youth during his summers, spending countless hours wandering the countryside and beaches of his very cherished Paumanok, an old Algonquin word naming the isle where he was born.

Whitman would continue to nurture and indulge his connection to the natural world as an adult and Walt would always revere it in his entirely visionary verse. Walt was both an insatiable and an eclectic reader, as a teen and as an adult. His love for books would never leave him and it bolstered his development as a poet as Walt Whitman came of age. History, religion, art, and philosophy enraptured the man consistently throughout his long and productive life, as it is testified to in Walt’s masterpiece of American literature and poetry Leaves of Grass.

Whitman would encounter the full thrust of the Romantic Movement, the Industrial Revolutions, westward expansion, the American Civil War and Reconstruction and the Indian Wars, which followed them all. His age was an age charged and energized with progress (ethical and legal), social unrest, political catastrophe, and tremendous and rapid technological and artistic development.

Part Two: Brooklyn.

Between 1846 and 1848 Whitman was editor of The Brooklyn Eagle, the dominant New York City newspaper of Antebellum America. He was to write many Anti-slavery essays in The Eagle…but it was slowly and surely poetry, which was pulling Whitman into its irresistible grasp. Whitman was steadily developing a new and very personal poetic doctrine based on his ecstatic theories and feelings of nature.

This entailed a dramatic tossing to the wayside some major old literary techniques such as anything typically using traditional and regular rhyme and meter, in his versification. The neatly pruned and planted “gardens” of Anglo-American poetry were superficial and contrived all as viable means of communication for Whitman. Poetry should mirror nature’s transcendental and wild design and structure. This meant for Walt Whitman as a poet that his poetry would be radically different than what had mainly preceded it in the whole history of British and American letters. Since nature was almost always without symmetrical borders and bounds, Walt’s poetry would imitate nature as such. The poems of his Leaves of Grass would not be mowed or trimmed. Whitman’s novel poems would turn their backs on the prevailing artistic styles of his day (and before) and they would instead become works of “…Nature without check with original energy,” as Walt describes his verse in stanza one of Song of Myself.

Whitman deviated from one literary tradition (the mediaeval and Renaissance European) and embraced another (the Judeo-Christian Biblical) one. To get rid of the “sing-songy” rhymes and regularity that Whitman so despised, he found more fitting artistic models for his verse in the Psalms of the Old Testament…and still others. His lines of verse would rely on alliteration, assonance and consonance and rich metaphorical word play. The musicality of idiomatic American English would both inhabit and thrive in Walt Whitman’s poetry.

In 1855, after years of studying and struggling with his written words, Walt composed and brought out his 1st edition of Leaves of Grass. It was a truly earth-shattering product. Ridiculed and ignored by most American literary pundits, Leaves of Grass fell mainly on deaf ears and incisive tongues. The slim volume was such that only America’s premiere philosopher and one of her best poets took notice of Walt’s breathtaking brilliance: His name was Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Sources disagree as to why Whitman was fired from his post at The Eagle. The editors of Grolier Classics say his job was ended for Walt purportedly being not Anti-slavery enough. The Encyclopedia Americana’s biography of Whitman says the opposite. He bounced from job to job in the years from 1848-1855, when his Leaves of Grass made its debut. He practiced (as many have put it) “…saying new things in new ways.” Whitman would not let his setback at The Eagle bring him to ruin. Unlike the Whitman of old, this new Whitman gave up on formalities and gave in to poetry. Leaves of Grass was not much heralded soon after its publication. American poets Emily Dickenson and John Greenleaf Whittier were both repulsed by Whitman’s new work. Whittier is rumored to have thrown his copy of Leaves of Grass into his very active fireplace and burned it. Emerson’s reaction was entirely contrary to his less observant peers.

From the early 1830’s onward, New Englander Ralph Waldo Emerson had garnered a reputation (along with Washington Irving and others) as a top-notch American thinker and as a lyricist of note. Emerson in his spiritually pioneering books Nature and The Oversoul (in addition to his other texts) exerted a huge intellectual and cultural influence (distinctly American) on the European continent and in Latin America and Canada, as well. In 1842 Emerson had written an essay called The Poet. In it, Emerson describes the need for the United States to produce a poet markedly American in style, substance and in culture. According to Emerson, up until his time, no such poet had existed in the young nation’s history. Walt Whitman had read Emerson’s powerful monograph…and he in 1855 had produced an answer to Emerson’s frenetic literary riddle…Walt’s response was Leaves of Grass. Upon the first printing of his book, Whitman mailed R. W. Emerson a freshly minted copy. Emerson’s reply came as both a bolt of lightning and as a thunderclap:

“I give you joy of your free and brave thought…I find incomparable things said incomparably well, as they must be. I rubbed my eyes a little to see if this sunbeam were no illusion; but the solid sense of the book is a sober certainty….”

Emerson had of course prefaced his critique of Walt’s poetry book with:

“I greet you at the beginning of a great career…”

Walt (then living in a very hostile literary climate) sent Emerson immediate thanks and added Ralph’s positive comments concerning Leaves of Grass to all future editions of his work. Emerson was a bit upset with Whitman for doing this…yet R. W. never yielded in his constant support for his younger student poet. Emerson and Whitman would become close and valued friends, and they would remain so for the rest of their lives. In the confused, turbulent and bloody years ahead, Walt would turn to Emerson for guidance and enthusiasm…two American character traits that seemed to go extinct with the grim coming of the American Civil War, (1861-1865).

Yet we must keep in mind that Whitman was a complex man. He enjoyed and perfected a seemingly “disembodied” form of poetry (now called free verse) because he sought to set the human soul free from the artifice surrounding it. This is not an easy thing to understand and it is something often lost in both literary and historical circles. If we are to understand Whitman as a poet, we must first understand Whitman the man. Whitman was both Romanticist and Transcendentalist, artistically and philosophically. Both cultural movements turned away from the cold, rational and emotionally removed thinking of the Enlightenment and re-embraced and elevated older and more established literary, musical and aesthetic beliefs and motifs. Romanticism and its outgrowth of Transcendentalism took hold of the physical world of nature and tried to unite it with the realms of God and human consciousness and morality.

Hence nature was a mirror, which not only reflected the “human spirit,” but one that also revealed the human soul. Transcendentalism as chronological offspring of Romanticism was not so far removed from pantheism…another way of thinking that sought to connect God to the human psyche, via the natural world.

Consider Whitman’s great preamble to one of his most brilliant poems, Song of Myself:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belong to me
as good belongs to you.

Whitman was here showing sublime reverence for the individual human soul…and he was putting into poetry the uniqueness of the American character. But he does not raise his singular personality above anyone other’s, because “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” Whitman was saying in these spectacular lines human individuality is not necessarily what sets human beings apart from each other…but it is more of something that unites all people, for all time. The opening lines to Whitman’s Song of Myself are hence a lofty and philosophically intricate metaphysical statement. Whitman was also saying that in God’s plenty, differing views among people do not divide them…it is varying opinions on all matters which bonds God’s children together…“For what I assume you shall assume…”And this prevalence of opposing human attitudes is as universal as the atoms that make up human anatomy and physiology. Our differing viewpoints as individual people link our collective human consciousness together, because our human souls “belong” to the human opinions our minds compose…and vice versa.

To the Transcendentalists nature and the human soul were inextricably joined to each other. In being so, the human soul could be reborn at death…because the human soul followed the cyclic progression of the natural world’s seasons (Transcendentalists believed). As winter gives way to spring…the death of a loved one (in the physical realm) would give way to an immortal life in the hereafter, Emerson and Whitman concurred. The shapeless human spirit hence “transcended” the material body it inhabited on earth. In describing the central symbol of his book, the grass, in section 6 of Song of Myself, Whitman comments, “…I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation…now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.” The grass itself is first depicted by Walt as an artifact of nature only. But then subsequently Whitman comments the grass is the new manifestation of a human soul, formerly deceased, and now living again as a recently formed being in God’s creation.

Romanticism, which took the religious, sexual, emotional and mystical ideologies of Western and even Eastern thought, infiltrated much of American mainstream thinking. Herman Melville and Edgar Allan Poe are notable examples of the Romantic Movement in America. But Ralph Waldo Emerson spawned Transcendentalism. It was carried on in unique ways by his protégés Henry David Thoreau and Walt Whitman. It must be noted that Transcendentalism was primarily a New England cultural phenomenon and it did not have the same bite in the American South as it did in the Yankee North. Like Romanticism, Emerson’s school of thought sought to rebel and usurp the Age of Reason, which had founded the American homeland. So both Romanticism and Transcendentalism were literally revolutionary for their historical times. Empirical and scientific thinkers such as Ben Franklin and Voltaire did not probe deep enough into human psychology (for Whitman), as did Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is why Whitman revered the older sage and emulated him to a large extent.

Brooklyn was always home for Whitman, as was the whole of Long Island and New York City. Prior the Civil War Walt Whitman acted as a sort of itinerant Socrates (or so Grolier says). He would wander the city and its environs and walk among and talk to the common folk. Walt Whitman asked New Yorkers questions about all things, endlessly conversing with them. Walt would rid himself of office attire and dress in denims and laborer’s shirts. Long and wild hair of his would seldom be groomed. Walt was self-actualizing himself as a poet and sage. He was both to “talk the talk and walk the walk.” Whitman was seeking from both New York City and Long Island material to draw for Leaves of Grass. This was so, whether he sang of workmen in the street or of the running of the Brooklyn ferry. Walt was also to find inspiration for his great book elsewhere.

Part Three: The Civil War.

For two years, between 1857-1859, Whitman edited the Brooklyn Times. He was again let go from the paper because of what readers considered Walt’s radical ideas on human sexuality, abortion and slavery. Whitman’s poetry continued to deepen intellectually and spiritually during this time. As a result, Leaves of Grass was slowly and surely expanded and revised by Whitman. Yet, it was also during these years that the United States of America steadily moved towards a growing political and then finally a catastrophic military conflict over slavery. By early 1861, the Union stronghold of Fort Sumter, South Carolina was attacked and seized by the newly created Confederate Army. The Civil War was now in full swing and a nation’s new President, Abraham Lincoln, was now confronted with the Herculean task of defeating a dogged, hostile enemy on the battlefield and quelling much social unrest over the human rights failure of Afro-American bondage, not only in the deep South…but also along the border states. America was literally being ripped apart.

America’s entry into the Civil War had been pre-ordained with the passage of the Federal Constitution in 1787. In the Constitution, civil rights had only been guaranteed for white males. But colored people of both sexes (specifically living south of the Mason-Dixon line) were still deprived of American citizenship under the law. Slavery as a socio-economic and legal institution in the U. S. South was thereby left to flourish. The failures of the Missouri Compromise, the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott Case to resolve the unjust and tyrannical issue of slavery (in America) and the ineptitude of President James Buchanan’s administration to successfully negotiate the matter peacefully between Northern abolitionists and Southern plantation owners, were all factors which greatly contributed to the Civil War. Yet the War had arrived, and the North, under Lincoln’s leadership, had to win the horrible military conflict, in addition to finally ending slavery in its entirety.

While the War raged between the Union and the Confederacy, Whitman “…worked as a volunteer nurse in (Union) Army hospitals in Washington, D. C.,” comments literary critic and historian Lance Ashworth. Mr. Ashworth continues Whitman’s kind and careful treatment of wounded Yankee and rebel soldiers gave the great poet “…some small fame for this service…” because Whitman was “… a sensitive and passionate humanitarian…” Numerous historical records do not dispute this unambiguous and concrete fact.

Untold human carnage was spilled during the American Civil War, in every arena and vicinity it was fought. Whitman looked with earnest respect and hope to a leader who would not only bring the Union to victory, but one who would terminate the evil American institution of slavery forever. This man Whitman was referring to was President Abraham Lincoln…often called the “poet-President,” because of Lincoln’s own very profound and elegant prose. This aspiration was partly fulfilled (according to our own National Archives) on January 1st, 1863, with Lincoln’s executive order, commonly called by Americans as the “Emancipation Proclamation.” Lincoln’s Presidential decree formally ended slavery in every state in open rebellion against the United States. The 13thAmendment added to the

U. S. Constitution (as informed to us by the National Archives again) on December 18th, 1865, formally and legally ended slavery everywhere in America, in permanence.

Lincoln had not disappointed Whitman or the United States by his termination of slavery and by his asking Northerners to show Southern rebels “the better angels of [their] nature,” in forgiving them for their treachery towards the North, once the Civil War was concluded. Lincoln wanted a smooth and peaceful reclamation of power during the Reconstruction era, in allowing clemency for all Southern states and their citizenry, to again be admitted into the Union (as Federal territories) and for Southerners to resume being Americans once more. Yankee vengeance upon the South was to be avoided at all costs. These thoughts Lincoln expressed succinctly in his Second Inaugural speech.

Abraham Lincoln’s life was brutally and prematurely ended by an assassin’s bullet, in early April, of 1865. Lincoln’s ethical and political vision had been achieved (also in part due to General R. E. Lee’s surrender to General U. S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, at roughly this same time). But the Union victory came at a most terrible cost to the country. With Lincoln’s demise, Walt Whitman and America were both left shattered. Whitman’s poetry and America would be forever changed.

Part Four: The Elder Statesman.

There is no doubt that the historically defining event of Walt Whitman’s life was the American Civil War. Yet even after this vile and disastrous conflict was over, Whitman and the remainder of his countrymen were forced by circumstance to move forward with their lives. Lincoln’s ungodly assassination and the War itself badly traumatized the nation. And a new despondence and melancholy filled Whitman’s verse. In poems such as Drum Taps and O Captain! My Captain! Whitman poignantly and realistically gave life and breath to his painful wartime memories, to the point where they have had lasting literary excellence bestowed on them by numerous literary critics and they have become a permanent part of America’s vast cultural heritage.

English scholars of The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry (2nd edition) Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair on page 22 note that Walt Whitman stayed on in the nation’s capital, following the close of the Civil War. In 1865, Whitman earned a cushy office job in the Bureau of Indian Affairs, yet he was later on rudely dismissed from it after half a year had passed. His boss, one James Harlan, lifted a copy of Leaves of Grass up from Whitman’s desk one afternoon, and after reading some of the poet’s passages in it, Harlan fired Whitman for writing material that the Puritanical supervisor deemed “of dubious morality,” as Grolier describes the incident in their accurate account of it. The introspective but tough-spirited Whitman soon obtained another clerkship in the Attorney General’s Office, where he remained a valuable member of its staff until he endured a horrible stroke in 1873. Whitman was in his fifties at this point, and he was crippled by his stroke. After years of struggle, Whitman did indeed learn to walk again. He moved to Camden, New Jersey to live near his younger brother, George Whitman. During this time Whitman continued to write and he even lectured on verse. His poetry did not decline in luster or in scope. Literary giants such as Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde paid him high personal tributes, firstly Wilde in 1882, and then secondly Twain in 1889. And Whitman’s fame at this time was spreading like wildfire throughout Europe. In countries such as France and Germany, Whitman was becoming a perennial smash hit…though not so much in America and in Britain, where his work was largely neglected.

Whitman (now a silver-haired sage) was to earn a meager salary from the royalties of Leaves of Grass. And he earned some extra money through his public speaking. He bought a small house of his own in Camden and he spent the last few years of his life in the pleasant company of friends and family members. His last days were filled with joy and comfort. Other well-known artists visited him and gave his work huge accolades. Whitman was not pleased with America’s growing materialism…but he did believe in the great power of poetry and in art to redeem the souls of men, in addition to the power of God, to do the same. Whitman died on the 26th of March 1892, in Camden, New Jersey. Walt was 73 years old. His home subsequently became a national memorial, and it remains so, to this very day.

Decades passed and Whitman’s novel and spectacular work was to fade from the literary scene as American and British Victorian aesthetics favored more traditional verse forms and poets. But as World War I concluded, major American poets Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, and others, rescued Whitman’s reputation from years of dereliction and obscurity. The British poet (and also a visionary) D. H. Lawrence exalted Walt Whitman for Whitman’s poetic daring and unmitigated willingness to depart from the direction of established literary styles and conventions, while never compromising substance. Hart Crane, a brilliant American poet whose work spanned the Roaring Twenties and the early Depression, also deeply respected Whitman’s work, and to a large degree, imitated it. The American Beatniks of 1950’s (notably poet Allen Ginsberg) placed Whitman on an even more elevated footing, and the Beatniks (also called Beats) often referred to Whitman as their almost kingly progenitor. History, after nearly seventy years, has yet to prove them wrong.

About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, New York. A graduate of both Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Studies) and SUNY Stony Brook (B. A. English), Mr. DeBonis’ work first appeared in the Village Beacon Record and the Brookhaven Times newspapers. Michael’s latest work (poetry and prose) can be found in the New York History Review and elsewhere. Mr. DeBonis is dedicated to studying and to learning the history of the great State of New York.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

North Country and Irish Famine Relief

By Harvey Strum of The Sage Colleges
Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author

“Already have most parts of the State and other parts of the Union, been moving on this Subject, and shall the citizens of Ogdensburgh---of the county of St. Lawrence, be the last or the least in rendering their aid? “: asked the executive committee of the St. Lawrence County Irish Relief Committee in their appeal to the residents of St. Lawrence County to contribute to Irish and Scottish relief during the Great Hunger in Ireland.1 Throughout St. Lawrence County andthe North Country residents rallied to the cause of Irish and Scottish relief. Isaac Stone, the minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Watertown, wrote a letter to the local newspaper calling on “Fellow Christians! Brethren in Christ!” proposing a public meeting “for the purpose of considering the condition of the people of Ireland” to devise a plan to raise donations “to bestow for their relief.”2 The editor endorsed Rev. Stone’s appeal “and we hope to see his suggestions seconded by a general move of the public.”3 Meeting on February 23rd, the citizens of Watertown issued an appeal to the people of Jefferson County “let, then, contributions in money, in provisions, and in clothing, be liberally made, and forwarded with the least possible delay to the scenes of suffering.”4 The residents of Watertown met at the local Universalist Church while the people of Ogdensburg met at the Presbyterian Church suggesting the ecumenical nature of American famine relief in 1847.

Three times in the 19th Century Americans joined in a voluntary campaign of Irish relief in 1846-47, 1862-63, and 1879-80. When members of the Jewish congregation Shearith Israel met in New York City in early 1847 to donate to the Irish victims of the Great Famine they joined in a statewide and national nonpartisan and ecumenical effort: “Our citizens have come forward with promptitude and generosity; contributions have poured in from all classes, from all sects.”5 According to the New York State Irish and Scottish Relief Committee, based in Albany, contributions raised in Albany represented “the equally mingled contributions of the Protestant and Roman Catholic, native and foreign-born citizens of the City of Albany.”6 The New York State Committee sent the donations to the Roman Catholic and Anglican (Episcopalian)archbishops of Ireland via the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Dublin, the primary distribution center of American aid during the Great Famine. The people of the North Country joined in this non-partisan and ecumenical effort. Most contributions from the North Country got channeled to either the State Committee or to the New York City Irish Relief Committee, the largest relief committee in the country that forwarded aid to Ireland.

Americans organized relief committees in almost every village, town, and city in the country, because President James K. Polk considered government aid to Ireland unconstitutional. Congressman Washington Hunt of Lockport in the House and John Crittenden of Kentucky in the Senate, both Whigs, proposed appropriating $500,000 for Irish and Scottish relief. The bill passed the Senate with Whigs and Democrats voting for the bill, but President Polk threatened to veto the proposed aid if the bill passed the House. Enough Democrats listened to the President and killed the legislation in the House. Instead, people across the country followed the suggestions of a public meeting, chaired by Vice-President George Dallas, in Washington in early February 1847. Many members of the House, Senate, and Supreme Court attended the meeting and drafted resolutions calling on Americans in every village, town, and city in the country to establish voluntary relief committees, collect aid, and send it to major port cities, like Boston or New York for shipment to Europe. This is exactly what the people of the North Country did. In St. Lawrence County, for example, every town established a relief committee to collect food, clothing, and money for Irish and Scottish relief.7

A potato blight hit Ireland and Scotland in 1845 and lasted to 1852 and in some districts to 1854. Over 1.5 million died in Ireland out a pre-famine population of 8.4 million in 1840. Thousands died in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Word of the famine appeared in the American press in November 1846. Repeating news from British newspapers the St. Lawrence Republican reported: “the famine in Ireland is very severe, and many are dying of starvation.”8 Similarly, readers of the Essex County Republican in Keeseville could read of the “immense destitution” in the Highlands of Scotland and “in Ireland the poor have been reduced to the sad extremity of existing without the potato.”9 Readers of newspapers in the North Country learned of the impact of the famine starting in November 1846.

Initially, reports of mass starvation in Ireland did not lead to organized activity in the North Country. Quakers and Irish Americans organized public meetings in major cities, like Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Savannah in November and December 1846. The arrival of the packet Hibernia in Boston in mid-January 1847 and Sarah Sands two weeks later in New York City brought reports of starvation and death in Ireland. The press in the North Country printed accounts of the grim news for the people in their communities to read reinforcing the previous accounts from November. “There is scarcely a county in Ireland but feels the presence of the gaunt spectre---famine,” the editor of the Herkimer Democrat concluded.10 The editor of a Watertown paper told his readers that based on the news recently brought from Europe: “It is really heart-sickening to read them--- whole families dying of starvation, and buried in a common grave, without coffins, and the bodies destitute of clothing!” 11 According to the Richland Courier, in Pulaski, Oswego County, “the accounts that reach us from this unhappy and distracted country are truly appalling.”12 The major newspaper in St. Lawrence County reprinted the stories from the British press brought by Hibernia and Sarah Sands “of starvation of the most dire description” killing many people in Ireland.13 “This distress in Ireland is unabated,” reported the Oswego Palladium based on news from Sarah Sands.14 Trying to be sensitive to its subscribers, “we will not shock our readers by giving the disgusting details of the famine which is daily carrying off its victims by the hundreds in Ireland,” noted the Essex County Republican in Keeseville.15 Residents of Plattsburgh and Clinton County learned “the destitution and suffering among the laboring population of Ireland…are almost incredible."16 By publishing these accounts, the press in the North Country raised public awareness of the crisis in Ireland. Anyone living in the North Country who read a newspaper in February 1847 could learn of the mass starvation and death in Ireland. This would lead to action in communities from Maine to Texas, including the villages and towns of the North Country. Newspaper editors encouraged and pushed their communities act and organize meetings for Irish relief. “Let all who can give any, even a trifling sum, stand ready to assist in this benevolent enterprise of saving their fellow men from starvation,” the editor of a Keeseville newspaper told his subscribers.17 The editor wanted the people of Essex County to joyfully donate to Irish relief, “let us not give grudgingly,” and urged the people of Keeseville and Essex County to contribute immediately because of the emergency in Ireland.18 The editor of an Oswego newspaper called on the residents of his county “to contribute something for the alleviation of the sufferings and woes of a literally starving and perishing people---Are we not right, Citizens of Oswego?”19 Newspapers in Watertown encouraged residents to join the national movement for Irish relief. One editor pushed his readers: “thousands and thousands will be saved from absolute starvation by the prompt benevolence of the American people.20 Another Watertown editor pleaded “shall not this village and county do something to alleviate the widespread suffering in the Emerald Isle?”21 The appeal from a Plattsburgh editor was direct and simple: “The starving people of Europe must be saved. The holy work is cast upon the American people. “The people of Plattsburgh and Clinton County would respond.22 He understood that Americans had an obligation to help the starving people of Ireland and Scotland. Residents of Clinton County must join in this national effort of voluntary philanthropy.Editors made it an issue of local pride that their communities participated. The press did the public’s business and demonstrated the public service role of journalism in stimulating participation in the campaign for Irish and Scottish relief.

To promote donations from New York City, Quaker Jacob Harvey emphasized the remittances sent by poor Irish New Yorkers to their friends and family in Ireland. Harvey expressed pride that the “Irish in America have always remitted more money, ten times over, than all foreigners put together.”26 During 1846 New York City’s Irish sent $808,000 to their suffering relatives and friends in the Emerald Isle. Some of the newspaper editors in upstate New York reprinted Harvey’s accounts from the New York press to show the charity of the Irish and to encourage people in their own communities to donate. “The poor Irish laborers in the Cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, have remitted small drafts to their starving brethren in Ireland during the past year, the large sum of $1,001,660! This speaks volumes in favor of the benevolence of the Irish,” the Washington County Journal stressed to its readers.27 According to the editor of the Plattsburgh Republican “we published a few days since the statement of Mr. Harvey of New York, that the laboring Irish, male and female, of that city, have remitted to their poor friends in Ireland…$808.000” in order to remind subscribers of the charity of the poor Irish as an example for the people of Clinton County to follow.28 The editor of the St. Lawrence Republican in Ogdensburg printed the same story with the same goal, to encourage the residents of St. Lawrence County to donate to Irish and Scottish relief.29

A Watertown newspaper cited another upstate paper, Roman Citizen, for an example of the of the Irish heart. Apparently, the local Irish had collected $700 and “through their pastor…to their famishing brethren in Ireland.” This charity was noteworthy because the Irish were primarily day laborers who “are struggling hard against poverty.”30 Another Watertown newspaper “heard of several contributions made direct to Ireland by our adopted citizens which were very liberal, and characteristic of the Irish character.” The editor of the paper reported on remittances in Watertown to promote contributions from the people of Jefferson County.31 From Essex County the “Irish citizens of the valley of the Ausable have contributed …one thousand dollars this winter for the relief of their countrymen at home.”32 The Keeseville editor commented at length about the remittances of $25 a year by an Irish servant girl working for one of the locally prominent families. The servant girl wanted to send $50 in 1847 to friends in Ireland. Surprised by the poor Irish girl’s remittance, the editor wrote “such instances of benevolence are refreshing to the philanthropist in these days of selfishness.”33 In Plattsburgh Irish Catholic residents collected $1,800 and sent it via Rev. J. Rooney “to their suffering friends and relatives in Ireland.”34 Bishop John Hughes, in New York City, agreed to forward remittances from Irish Catholics in upstate New York to kith and kin in Ireland. Newspaper editors in northern New York highlighted the generosity of the Irish in their communities along with reprinting the report by Jacob Harvey of Irish remittances in New York City to promote the cause of Irish relief.

Citizens of Ogdensburg met on March 1, 1847 at the Presbyterian church to discuss the Irish Famine, and elected Henry Van Rensselaer to chair the meeting. Van Rensselaer “made some eloquent remarks” about the situation in Ireland followed by Judge John Fine who addressed the meeting “with warmth and eloquence.”35. One of the resolutions adopted by the meeting stressed the “thrilling tales of woe and starvation throughout the laboring classes of Ireland and North Britain {Scotland}.”36 The misery in Ireland and Scotland should lead the people of St. Lawrence County “to aid, as far as we can, the amelioration of such misery” and impel us to “rush forward and proffer our abundance to those gaunt and famishing men and women.”37 The Executive Committee created district committees in Ogdensburg to solicit donations and forwarded circulars to every other town in the county to contribute. David Judson, one of the members of the committee, volunteered that the St. Lawrence Steamship Company would transport to Oswego, without charge, all contributions of food and clothing. Members of the Executive Committee also drafted an appeal to the citizens of St. Lawrence County that they had a moral obligation to help as a people “blessed with abundance” to alleviate the suffering of the Irish who are dying “for the want of food.”38 In its appeal the Executive Committee emphasized that residents of St. Lawrence County as a people of plenty must help the starving in Europe. After reminding the people of the county of the actions for famine relief occurring in other parts of New York and the United States they asked a question: “shall the citizens of Ogdensburgh---of the county of St. Lawrence, be the last or the least in rendering their aid?”39 Pleased by the actions of the meeting the editor of the St. Lawrence Republican concluded: “all parties and all classes are thoroughly impressed with the importance of action” noted “the zeal with which they have gone to work.”40 A few days later the Executive Committee met on March 6th to appoint members of the ten district subcommittees for the town of Oswegatchie, and recommended that the committeemen circulate subscription papers within in their assigned neighborhoods.41 Members of the Executive Committee sent out a notice that “all persons desirous of aiding the cause” give their donations to the Treasurer, G.N. Seymour. If residents wished to donate food or clothing they should leave it at “the committee’s ware-room, under the Customs House, at the corner of the bridge.”42

Over the next three months the Executive Committee collected the contributions of the people of Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County. Henry Van Rensselaer gave twenty barrels of flour, and Stephen Higbee donated ten yards of satinett for Ireland. Widow McCullough sent one and half bushels of wheat, Irad Spooner one bushel of barley, and Chiron Spooner donated eighteen pounds of pork. Isabella Maguire donated a ham and Hon. George Redington sent in fifteen bushels of wheat and one barrel of pork. Widow Vollans contributed one bushel of corn while Arthur Gilmore donated one pork shoulder for Ireland. In late March, the Massena Irish Relief Committee forwarded 237 bushels of wheat and eight and a half bushels of corn for Ireland. Potsdam’s Relief Committee collected 89 bushels of wheat, 131 bushels of rye, twelve bushels of corn, six bushels of beans, and fourteen barrels of flour. Citizens of Potsdam also donated six hundred and fifty dollars for Irish relief. Members of the Presbyterian Church in Hammond collected $66 for Scotland.43 The Scotch Church in Waddington sent thirty-two barrels of wheat flour, two barrels of oatmeal, and thirteen barrels of corn meal for Scotland. As another example, the Associate Reformed Church, in Oxbow, split its donations between Scotland and Ireland. This sampling of donations of food suggest the widespread support in St. Lawrence County for helping the Irish and Scots in 1847.

In the middle of June, the Executive Committee forwarded the last of the supplies collected from the citizens of St. Lawrence County to the New York City Committee, closed its books, and issued a report of its activities. Drafted by Daniel C. Judson, chair of the Executive Committee, and S.N. Sherman, secretary, the report expressed pride that the appeal of the committee “to their fellow citizens of the county, was more promptly and generally responded to, from the lateness of the season they had reason to expect.”44 The committee collected 315 barrels of provisions, mainly wheat flour, for Ireland, and 52 barrels, mainly wheat flour and corn meal,for Scotland, worth over $3,000. Cash contributions amounted to $446.25 according to Treasurer G.N. Seymour. Provisions and money were sent to Oswego, and then to the State Irish and Scottish Relief Committee in Albany ending up at the New York City committee. In its report, the Executive Committee especially thanked the local Irish Relief Committees in Canton, Potsdam, Massena, and Waddington for their prompt actions to collect provisions and money and praised Potsdam because “the aggregate of subscription exceeds any other town.”45 Judson, Sherman, and Seymour, on behalf of the Executive Committee congratulated each resident of St. Lawrence County who donated to Irish and Scottish relief because “each individual whose name is enrolled as one of the contributors must feel proud of having borne his part in the deed of charity.”46

By July, the provisions intended for Ireland reached New York City. The New York City Irish Relief Committee sent part of the donations aboard Saour to Galway and part on Free Trader to Cork for distribution by the Society of Friends in Dublin amongst “the most needy and deserving.”47 In many ways St. Lawrence County served as a model of famine relief in 1847.A public meeting established a voluntary citizens committee in Ogdensburg which acted as the county committee recommending the creation of relief committees in every village and town from Brasher to Waddington. Local committees sprang up, like those in Canton or Waddington, to solicit donations. Anyone who could donate, from Isabella Maguire’s donation of a ham to Ransom Lovejoy with a bushel of wheat, joined this voluntary campaign of Irish and Scottish relief. Women as well as men contributed to Irish relief. The relief campaign became a people’s movement where average citizens gave money or food in what became a national cause of international philanthropy. In neighboring Jefferson County, a Watertown newspaper promoted the cause of Irish relief by publishing an appeal from a New York City newspaper in early February.48 A week later, Rev. Isaac Stone, the minister at the Methodist church in Watertown, wrote a letter to the editor reminding readers “the cries of a starving population on the other side of the Atlantic have reached our shores.” The Bible and Jesus Christ demanded that the people of Watertown and Jefferson County act to aid the Irish---“we have delayed action too long on this subject!”49 Rev. Stone urged the citizens of Watertown to meet as soon as possible to devise a plan to raise funds for the Irish. The editor informed his readers of the meetings held in other towns and cities for Irish relief in the United States. After seconding Rev. Stone’s s suggestion, the editor asked “shall not this village and county do something to alleviate the wide-spread suffering in the Emerald Isle?”50

Following the recommendations of Rev. Stone and the editor of the Northern State Journal the people of Watertown met on February 23. 1847 at the Universalist Church to discuss Irish relief. As another Watertown newspaper editor observed “the church was tolerably well filled, considering the extreme cold” and citizens attending felt it their “duty to contribute something to the Relief Fund.”51 Eli Farwell, the chair of the meeting, called for a divine blessing that Rev. Stone provided. A committee drafted resolutions and an address to the people of Jefferson County. The preamble to the resolutions emphasized the misery of the people of Ireland and “it is a duty imposed upon us all, by the obligation of humanity—by all the holy ties of Christianity, as men and as Christians” to help the starving Irish people.52 Resolutions adopted at the meeting expressed approval of the relief meetings held around the country as an encouragement for the residents of Jefferson County to “go and do likewise.”53 The resolutions and the appeal to the people of Jefferson County stressed the bleak situation in Ireland that demanded action to help people starving to death. One of the resolutions asked each town and village in the county to collect money, provisions, and clothing as soon as possible for “the relief of the starving and destitute poor of Ireland.”54 The appeal made the point that as a people of plenty with abundant supplies of food Americans must help the Irish. In every town and county meeting in the North Country authors of appeals stressed this theme. People living in a nation with abundant harvests had an obligation to aid the starving in Europe.

The local newspapers championed the cause of Irish relief and commended the actions of the citizens of the county. Residents contributed $375 at the meeting, and The Jeffersonian noted “several ladies---God bless them all for their active benevolence---contributed liberally.”55 Women actively participated in Irish and Scottish relief, but committees in the North Country did not include women as members, and women did not organize separate committees. In other parts of the state---for example, Binghamton and Brooklyn, women established their own relief committees. In Binghamton and Brooklyn women played a significant role initiating public meetings for Irish relief. However, in the North Country women’s roles remained confined to sending in donations.

Because of the urgency of the crisis the editor of The Jeffersonian “suggested the necessity of immediate attention throughout the county in behalf of suffering Ireland.”56 Another Watertown newspaper, published a few days later, expressed pleasure that the meeting “was well attended, and all seemed anxious to cast in their mite to the Relief Fund,”57 People of Watertown donated $600 by early March, and the editor reported that Brownville and Hounsfield “have already raised liberal sums.”58 He expected other towns to follow their example, and they did. Carthage, for example, held a “spirited meeting” and “a fair sum raised.”59 The editor reminded readers that the county appeal requested the clergy in each church take up subscriptions. Newspaper editors and public meetings in the North Country and throughout the country frequently asked for the participation of the clergy of all denominations. In Jefferson County, a few of the congregations that contributed included the Catholic churches in Rossie and Sterlingville; Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian churches in Watertown. Meanwhile, the Watertown and Jefferson County Irish Relief Committee used the money donated to buy corn meal which it sent to Rome and forwarded by railroad to the State Committee in Albany. By end of August, contributions from Jefferson County reached New York City, and went on the Rochester to Liverpool and then to the Society of Friends in Dublin.60

After reporting on numerous meetings for Irish relief held across the country, the editor of a newspaper in Lewis County, asked “are there not some in this village who would gladly contribute their mite for that most praiseworthy object?” The editor in Lowville reminded citizens in Lewis County they could send donations to Watertown, and the people of Lowville must “give from their abundance to those in want.”61. People listened to the editor and on March 11th the paper published a notice by a group of citizens calling on the community to attend a meeting on the 13th “to adopt measures to assist in relieving those who are suffering and dying of starvation in Europe.” Organizers of the meeting for Irish relief told their fellow citizens to bring donations, food, and clothing and if they could not attend “send your aid.”62 The Northern Journal’s editor encouraged residents to attend and donate with the same enthusiasm as “characterized meetings held in our neighboring villages.” He also requested “our female friends” to “send in their donations of clothing” for the Irish.63 Citizens of Lowville met, established a relief committee, and appealed to people in other towns in the county to donate. Constableville, for example, held a meeting and raised $100. The people of Lewis County, a rather sparsely inhabited county, joined in the national cause of Irish relief, and sent what they could in money, food, and clothing. “The destitution and want are beyond all description, and unless relief can be procured from this country of abundance, Ireland, especially will become ‘one great lazar house of the dead,’”a group of citizens of Plattsburgh argued in an appeal to residents of Plattsburgh to meet at the Court House on February 15 “to take into consideration the starving condition of the inhabitants of Ireland and Scotland.”64 In their opening address to the people of Plattsburgh the citizens committee requested that the clergy appeal for donations from their congregations and suggested that neighboring towns in Clinton County create their own relief committees to expedite raising funds for Ireland and Scotland. At the public meeting resolutions adopted stressed the distress in Ireland and Scotland and the obligation of the people of Clinton County living in a land of abundance to “afford such relief ad may be in their power to those of their
fellow human beings and brethren thus perishing with hunger and want.”65 Residents attending the meeting established a Central Committee with William Haile as chair and G.V. Edwards as secretary and treasurer. Members of the Central Committee established subcommittees in the town to canvass for subscriptions of cash, wheat, oats, corn, beans or peas.

A few weeks later Plattsburgh’s Central Committee reported “the latest news from Ireland gives us the most frightful accounts of misery, death, and want for food and clothing.” Members of the Central Committee wanted the people of Clinton County to understand the bleak situation in Ireland to encourage speedy donations to the relief cause. The committee instructed each town committee in the county to solicit subscriptions in each school district “that the humane feelings of every individual may be appealed to.”66 Over the next four months the Committee collected food and cash and sent the contributions to Myndert Van Schaick, chair of the New York City Irish Relief Committee, and John J. Palmer in New York City who handled donations for Scotland. 67

“Starvation---unrelenting, hopeless Starvation---seems to be staring almost every poor Irishman, woman, and child in the face,” warned the Oswego Palladium as it encouraged the residents of Oswego County to organize a meeting for Irish relief. The editor cited the examples of the recent relief meetings in Albany and Washington to stimulate action.68 Residents responded by attending a meeting on February 18th, “crowded to overflowing” for Ireland. People attending the meeting quickly subscribed $1,000, and “in proportion to the population and means of Oswego, her subscription is larger than has been made anywhere.”69

Similarly, in mid-February a newspaper in Keeseville in Essex County reported on the famine in Ireland and suggested “the duty of other people to hasten to their relief?”70 Responding to the appeal from the newspaper’s editor and clergymen in several of the churches in Keeseville townspeople met at the Methodist church on February 23rd. Elected chair of the meeting the Hon. George Simmons spoke about the suffering in Ireland, and several other individuals, including two ministers, delivered speeches about the famine and the need to help the Irish. Resolutions adopted at the meeting declared that the famine excited “the deepest sympathy…and demands the most prompt and decisive action for its relief.”Americans living in a “land with abundant harvests” must aid the starving in Ireland.71 The meeting elected a committee of nine---Keeseville Committee for the Relief of Ireland to solicit donations. In their appeal to the people of Essex County the committee emphasized that “vast numbers in that devoted land are dying from absolute and literal starvation.” Once again, citizens were reminded that they lived in a land of plenty and faith in “our common Savior” required charity and action now for “whilst we delay, men, women, and children are writhing with the pangs of hunger and dying of famine.”72 The editor of the Essex County Republican praised the committee and fund raising because “now is the time to establish the character of America as the friend and aider of the unfortunate and suffering of the world.”73 When contributions from Essex County reached the State Irish Relief Committee in Albany, Theodore Olcott, Treasurer, commended the committee, “nobly and handsomely done!” 74

The comment of Olcott provided a brief statement of praise that applied to all the people of the North County counties who participated in the famine relief campaign. People contributed what they could from twenty-five cents to twenty-five dollars, and donated food, whether the one bushel of corn from Widow Volans or the twenty barrels of flour from Henry Van Rensselaer. Myndert Van Schaick, the chair of the New York City committee, in writing to use it came from “those who depend on their daily labor for their daily bread.”a75 The Irish and Scottish relief campaign in 1847 in the North Country and United States turned into a people to people movement of kindness and generosity by Americans to starving people in Europe.

Newspaper editors, politicians, and clergy acted as the catalyst to push residents, whether in Ogdensburg or Keeseville, to organize meetings for Irish relief. Americans, whether in Virginia or the North Country acted in the same way. They established temporary committees that solicited donations of cash, food, and clothing, sent them to larger committees for transportation to Europe and disbanded when they accomplished their objective. In the nineteenth century, Americans joined voluntary organizations----churches, political parties, benevolent societies, and the famine relief committees adhered to this pattern of behavior. Although anti-Irish feeling would develop in the 1850s with the Know Nothing movement in 1847 the movement for Irish relief did not view the Irish as the despised “other.” People in Clinton County or St. Lawrence described the Irish as brethren who shared a common humanity and Christianity---not hated Catholics. Residents of North Country communities identified with the plight of the starving Irish and Scots and felt a moral obligation to help. Resolutions and appeals adopted by Irish relief committees repeatedly argued that Americans with abundant harvests must aid those in distress. The editor of the Essex County Republican understood that Americans could become the leaders in international philanthropy and in 1847 they did.

Americans of all religious denominations participated in this voluntary movement. Catholics,
Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, Reformed, Universalists, Quakers, etc. all
worked together to help Irish and Scots.

About the author: Harvey Strum is a professor of history and political science at the Sage Colleges. His most recent publications include American aid to Ireland during the Civil War in New York Irish History. 2016 and impact of World War I on the Jews of the Capital District, HRVR, Spring 2016.

End Notes

1 Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, March 2, 1847.
2 Isaac Stone to the Editor, Watertown Northern State Journal, February 17. 1847
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid, March 3, 1847.
5 “Meeting of the Jewish Population of New York in Aid of Ireland,’ Occident, 5:1 (April 1847).
6 Charles Jenkins, Chair, Irish Relief Committee, Albany, to the Society of Friends, Dublin, April
28, 1847, Albany Committee of Irish Relief Papers, Albany Institute of History and Art, Albany,
7 For the original copies of the bills, Original Senate Bills and Resolutions’, 29th Cong., 2nd
Session, (S184-Sen 29A-B4), Records of the Senate, Record Group 36, National Archives,
Washington, D.C. For the President’s veto, Milo Qualify, ed., The Diary of James K. Polk During
His Presidency, 1845-49 (Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1910), Vol. II, March 2, 1847, 307-08.
8 Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, November 24, 1846. Also, see November 17th.
9 Keeseville Essex County Republican, November 11, 1846.
10 Herkimer Democrat, February 4, 1847.
11 Watertown Northern State Journal, February 11, 1847.
12 Pulaski Richland Courier, February 25, 1847.
13 Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, February 2. 1847 for Hibernia. Sarah Sands in
February 16, 1847.
14 Oswego Palladium, February 16, 1847.
15 Keeseville Essex County Republican, February 20, 1847.
16 Plattsburgh Republican, February 13, 1847.
17 Keeseville Essex County Republican, February 27, 1847.
18 Ibid.
19 Oswego Palladium, February 16, 1847.
20 Watertown Jeffersonian, February 26, 1847.
21 Watertown Northern State Journal, February 17, 1847.
22 Plattsburgh Republican, March 6, 1847.
23 Lowville Northern Journal, March 11, 1847.
24 Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, March 2, 1847.
25 Ibid, February 16, 1847.
26 Jacob Harvey to Jonathan Pim, December 28. 1846, in Society of Friends, Transactions of the
Society of Friends During the Famine in Ireland (Dublin: Edmund Burke, 1996 reprint of 1852
original), 218.
27 Union-Village Washington County Journal, January 28, 1847.
28 Plattsburgh Republican, January 30, 1847.
29 Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, February 2. 1847.
30 Watertown Jeffersonian, February 20, 1847 citing Roman Citizen, February 19, 1847.
31 Watertown Northern Journal, March 3, 1847.
32 Keeseville Essex County Republican, March 13, 1847.
33 Ibid.
34 Plattsburgh Republican, April 3, 1847. Also, for earlier remittances, February 27, 1847.
35 Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, March 2, 1847.
36 Ibid.
37 Ibid.
38 Ibid.
39 Ibid.
40 Ibid.
41 Ibid, March 9, 1847.
42 Ibid.
43 Ibid, March 23, March 30, April 13, April 20, 1847.
44 Ibid, June 15, 1847.
45 Ibid. For the list of contributors in Massena, see June 22, 1847.
46 Ibid, June 15, 1847. For contributions from St. Lawrence County, Account Book, Theodore
Olcott, February 15-September 9, 1847. Albany Irish Relief Committee, Albany Institute of
History and Art. These are the records of the State Committee and a rare example of the
original manuscript records surviving.
47 James Reyburn, Irish Relief Committee, to D. C. Judson, Chairman, etc., July 23, 1847,
published in Ogdensburgh St. Lawrence Republican, July 27, 1847. Also, see Transactions, 337
for the Free Trader.
48 Watertown Northern State Journal, February 10, 1847. The paper published an article from
the New York Commercial Advertiser.
49 Ibid, Rev. Isaac Stone to the Editor, February 17, 1847.
50 Watertown Northern State Journal, February 17, 1847.
51 Watertown The Jeffersonian, February 26, 1847.
52 Ibid, Watertown Northern State Journal, March 3, 1847; Watertown Spectator, March 9,
1847. The three Watertown newspapers carried accounts of the relief meeting.
53 Ibid.
54 Ibid.
55 Watertown The Jeffersonian, February 26, 1847.
56 Ibid.
57 Watertown Northern State Journal, March 3, 1847.
58 Ibid.
59 Lowville Northern Journal, March 25, 1847.
60 For Jefferson County’s contributions, item 35, Receipts of shipping costs and Account Book,
Theodore Olcott, February 15-September 9, 1847, Albany Committee, AIHA.
61 Lowville Northern Journal, March 4, 1847.
62 Ibid, March 11, 1847.
63 Ibid, and March 25, April 1, 1847.
64 Plattsburgh Republican, February 13, 1847.
65 Ibid, February 20. 1847.
66 Ibid, March 6, 1847.
67 Ibid, July 3, 1847; General Irish Relief Committee. Aid to Ireland: Report of the General Relief
Committee of the City of New York (New York: The Committee, 1848),25, 35, 44.
68 Oswego Palladium, February 16, 1847.
69 Ibid, February 23, 1847.
70 Keeseville Essex County Republican, February 20, 1847.
71 Ibid, February 27, 1847.
72 Ibid.
73 Ibid.
74 T.W. Olcott to O. Keese,2nd, Treasurer, March 12, 1847 in Keeseville Essex County
Republican, March 20, 1847. For a brief report of the committee, see March 13th issue.
75 Myndert Van Schaick to Henry Burch, June 14, 1847, Aid to Ireland, 96.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Silver Scribe

by Michael Mauro DeBonis, May 4, 2019

The paddlewheel poet, piloting The River of Rivers,
those words he would float, he shook into shivers!
He went west with the Sun, looking for
some silver and a little gold, as well.
He found much of nothing…no such treasures
to sell!
But in a tavern idle, lonely and cold,
he snatched a tale with a title…and one to be told!

The fires were raised, to burn out the rain!
Sam was the man, who called him Mark Twain.

Such were the stories he worked into wealth…
to make our minds move, from sickness to health.

A misplaced knight and racing frogs,
a prince and a pauper…boys lazy as logs,

all had yarns to weave into wits.
With pages and a pen, he made phrases from fits!

Soon a wife came and children, too.
Riches and renown were his, right and true.

Is happiness a thing that can tell a man lies?
But sorrows were his. They fell from his eyes!

Livy was dead and all his children but one,
and to him joy was gone…long, long gone.

He wore a white suit, spotless and clean.
He walked into a saloon, wild and mean.
But time had stopped, for all at this scene.

He joked, he smoked, with his cigarettes lit!
Men knew not their troubles, and grudges quit.
His hair was silver as well-cleaned ore.
His skin was creased and easily it tore.
But this man was a man, who could not bore!

Words left his mouth, fusing fire and air.
Then as smoke settled, he was not there.

About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, NY. Michael’s first work appeared in the Village Beacon Record and the Brookhaven Times newspapers. Michael’s latest work may be found in the New York History Review (poetry and prose) and the New York History Blog (prose only). A graduate of SUNY Stony Brook (B. A. English) and Suffolk County Community College, Mr. DeBonis is dedicated to studying and to learning the rich and diverse history of the great State of New York.

The Tale of the Silver Scribe

By Michael Mauro DeBonis

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved by the author

Part 1: Lonely Man…Big City

It is an early, autumn day in October of 1908. The leaves on Manhattan’s many trees have only recently begun to go from green to yellow, orange and red. A tall thin man wearing an immaculate white suit and smoking a cigarette makes his way into a lonely dimly lit Fifth Avenue saloon. The man’s eyes flash lightning and pride…but they do not exude arrogance or superiority. His wavy-tufted mane of silver-stranded hair and his equally sable moustache make him resemble an aged lion, though now somehow faded, but still very much mighty. He casually sits down on a stool at the bar and he is instantly recognized by the tavern-keeper as Mark Twain, the American novelist, and comedian, par excellence.

What these two discuss we’ll never know. But these things are certain: Mark Twain speaks directly and clearly. His words are always as sharp as his wits…and Twain’s wits are always razor sharp. In this early autumn, Mark Twain has already entered the winter of his life. Yet the ghost of this man is not ready to die. Mark Twain still has one more story left to tell.

He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the small Missouri village of Florida, on November 30, 1835. Four years later, Clemens’ father, John Marshall Clemens, moved his family to the rural riverside town of Hannibal, also in Missouri. Sam and his brother Orion spent countless hours roaming the countryside there, fishing and wandering in the woods. Samuel Clemens was magnetized to the great Mississippi River, which dominated and bordered his little hometown. The Mississippi’s many steam-powered paddle wheelers haunted the young Clemens’ mighty imagination. When Samuel came of age, he would become quite a skilled pilot of these now fabled water vessels.

At eighteen, Sam fully completed an apprenticeship on a newspaper Orion had worked on, as well. After a decade of steady newspaper journalism and riverboat piloting, the Civil War broke out, and everything in Samuel Clemens’ life forever changed. The War Between the States closed the Mississippi and Clemens’ job as a riverboat pilot (not an easy occupation for anyone) came to an abrupt end. Immediately thereafter, Samuel joined the Confederate Army. He resigned and swiftly left his unit after two weeks. Clemens was not willing to endure the hardships of military combat and fight for a cause he did not believe in (slavery).