Search This Blog

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Downfall of Boss Tweed

By Anthony Ruggiero
Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved by the author



New York City’s history is rich with various instances of political triumphs and corruption. New York City’s history also has its share of political figures that have had a major influence in its continuous development. Some figures have helped changed New York for the better. Some, however, only had power to corrupt the city and get money for themselves. One of these figures is William “Boss” Tweed. Boss Tweed was the leader of New York’s Tammany Hall from 1868-1871. Tammany Hall was a major political force in New York City during the 1860’s and early 1870’s. However, in 1871, Boss Tweed’s reign came to an end when he was exposed for major fraud. After this exposure, Tweed’s life was never the same and he died penniless on April 12, 1878. In order to understand why Boss Tweed was ultimately exposed, it is important to learn about the man himself and the events that led to his downfall in 1871.

The life of Boss Tweed began on April 3, 1823, in the Lower East Side of New York City. In his early life, he was proficient in being a chair maker, saddler, clerk, and bookkeeper. He also opened a law office in 1860. However, he only had little knowledge of the law. According to Hirsch (1945), “he extorted large fees for political favors” (p.268). This would be a common action of Tweed later in his life when he led Tammany Hall. After stints as a volunteer fireman in 1848 and a Congressman from 1853 to 1855, Tweed was on his way to becoming a major political force in New York City.

Tweed’s major political rule began in 1863 when he was elected chief of Tammany Hall. During that year, the Draft Riots occurred. The United States was at the height of the Civil War. To fight the Confederate states, Congress passed a draft that stated that all men between the ages of 20 and 45 were liable to fight for the Union states. When the draft was enforced in New York City on July 13, 1863, disaster struck. Riots emerged, and over 100 deaths were the result. As a result of the riots, Manhattan was in a troubled state. Many people had moved away, especially African Americans, and property damage was immense. Tweed, however, was not going to let this get in his way. According to Munson (2005), “Through involved and astute political maneuvering, Tweed managed to have Tammany Hall designed as the main administrative apparatus of President Lincoln’s draft in the city” (p.83). Tweed found ways to solve the draft situation. According to Hamill (2005), “Tweed worked on managing the draft mess, creating a system of exemptions (cops, firemen, militia members) and case-by-case hardship exemptions for heads of impoverished families.” This was Tweed’s first big victory in New York City. This victory helped Tweed to escalate to the main leader of Tammany Hall in 1868 when his corruption would begin.

Tweed’s reign of corruption began in 1868 when he became both the chief of Tammany Hall and New York’s state senator. During this reign, he was assisted by four men: New York’s Governor John Hoffman, City Chamberlain Peter Barr Sweeney, Comptroller Daniel Connolly, and New York City’s mayor A. Oakey Hall. They would later be known as “Tweed’s ring”. Tweed, along with his ring, wanted to take control of all the city’s finances. To do this, he created a charter that would be passed in 1870. According to Hirsch (1945), “The charter turned over control of the municipal treasury to Tweed and his henchmen by creating a Board of Audit for the city” (p.269). Also, Tweed became the commissioner of the public works of New York in 1870. This position is what let Tweed perform his corrupt acts.

Tweed focused on public projects in New York City as a way to increase his profit. One way Tweed did so was overly inflating the prices of benches he paid at the store. According to Lynch (1927), “Tweed purchased three hundred benches at the rate of five dollars each, a total of $1,500.” The cashier of the Home Insurance Company was there to bid in some of them. Tweed told him he would let him have them at the price he paid, as the insurance man only wanted seventeen. Tweed turned the remaining benches over to the furniture house of Ingersoll and Company. The benches were sold for six hundred dollars each” (p.241). This made a huge profit for Tweed: $168,300, to be exact. Tweed would also set up contracts that included bills that were priced way higher than they should have been for the work performed. For example, a contract stated that a carpenter was to be paid $360,751 for a month’s worth of work. However, this carpenter hardly worked as there was barely any woodwork done. Another example of Tweed’s corruption was during the construction of City Hall Park. According to Simkin (1997), “Tweed also organized the building of City Hall Park. Originally estimated to cost $350,000, by the time it was finished, expenditure had reached $13,000,000”. One final way Tweed corrupted through the city was through the Brooklyn Bridge project. According to Greenspan (2013), “Tweed facilitated up to $65,000 in bribes to New York’s aldermen to win their backing for a $1.5 million bond issue. He then became a major holder of bridge stock and joined a committee charged with managing the project’s finances.” This was not his most successful endeavor as he was arrested before big money started to come in. Overall, it was estimated that Tweed stole up to 200 million dollars from the city. However, Tweed’s corruption could not last forever. In 1871, Tweed would go from a multi-millionaire and powerhouse to a broke, penniless man who was about to face trial. There were three factors that led to Tweed’s downfall: Thomas Nast and his drawings, the Orange Riots of 1971, and the Tweed Courthouse.

While many members of the city might have been outsmarted, one prominent figure was not. This figure was a German political cartoonist for Harper’s Weekly, Thomas Nast. Thomas Nast was a member of the Republican Party, so he was already opposed to Tweed’s political views. Tweed was a Democrat. However, Nast’s dissatisfaction went much beyond the difference in political parties. Nast viewed Tweed as a greedy politician who was only out for his personal gains. These opinions proved to be a strong influence in New York in 1871. “A man that can appeal powerfully to millions of people must be admitted to great power in the land. No writer can possibly possess a tenth part of the influence which Mr. Nast exercises. He addresses the learned and unlearned alike” (“Mr. Thomas Nast,” 1872). In Nast’s drawings, Tweed is depicted as an overweight, greedy villain stealing the city’s money. One of Nast’s most famous drawings is “Twas Him.” In this cartoon, Nast asks the question, “Who stole the people’s money.” In the cartoon, Tweed’s ring is arranged in a circular shape. Tweed and his four biggest supporters are placed in the front. They are all not taking responsibility for fraud as they all point to the men that are beside them. This pointing goes on until the men reach Tweed. Tweed stands there, not pointing at anyone. Nast does this to emphasize that Tweed is the mastermind of the fraud. These cartoons began to worry Tweed. According to Hinckley (2002), “Tweed is said to have once remarked that he feared Nast more than the other pesky reformers at the papers - because even though Tweed was confident that most of his supporters could not read, they could look at pictures.” Tweed feared Nast for a good reason. According to Hinckley (2002), “It helped give political reformers like Samuel J. Tilden, a one-time Tammany honcho himself, the public support to oust Tweed and his cronies.” Nast helped to change the political atmosphere of New York City. His drawings were a big influence on Tweed’s verdict of guilty of fraud and graft in 1873. However, Nast was only one contributor to Tweed’s downfall. The Orange Riots of 1871 became the turning point for Tweed. After the riots occurred, Tweed and Tammany Hall began to crumble, losing supporters from left and right.

The Orange Riots took place on June 12, 1871. This was only eight years after the Draft Riots had occurred. During the Draft Riots, Boss Tweed was seen as this great hero. He was the one who helped to solve the draft problem in New York City. Would Tweed be viewed as a great hero this time? The answer to that would be no, not exactly. The riots stemmed from a rivalry between two groups: the Irish Protestants and the Irish Catholics. This rivalry began all the way back in 1690. “The real roots of the trouble went back to 1690, nearly 200 years before, when the great Battle of Boyne was fought in Ireland. On that day, the adherents of William of Orange, the champion of Protestantism, won a complete victory over James II, the Catholic Champion. Ever since Protestant and Catholic Irishmen have looked upon the anniversary of the Boyne with diametrically opposite feelings” (“The Orange Riots of Fifty Years Ago, 1921). There had already been a riot in 1870 between the two groups. The Protestants organized a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Boyne. The Catholics were not happy with this and started a riot. This riot resulted in over eight deaths. In 1871, the Protestants proposed another parade. Tweed and Tammany Hall allowed the parade to happen to show that it can hold New York’s stability. Unfortunately, this did not happen. A riot again emerged. It was worse than in the previous years. The riot resulted in 60 deaths.

The Orange Riots had large negative impacts on Boss Tweed and Tammany Hall. Before the riots, Tammany Hall held a strong grip on New York City. They kept it stable, or so everyone assumed. The Orange Riots ruined that reputation. Tweed could not maintain control over the two Irish groups. This led to a loss of faith in Tweed that was never recovered. The most interesting part about the Orange Riots is it led to Tweed’s downfall, but not in exposing his corruption. This was for an entirely different reason. This exposed Tweed’s failure to keep the Irish under control, a group that he has always tried to help. If things could not get any worse for Tweed, his dream of building a courthouse turned into a nightmare.

Tweed’s dream of building a courthouse began in 1858 when $250,000 was laid out for the cost of constructing the courthouse. However, as usual with Tweed, $250,000 was well below what would be the actual cost of the courthouse. According to Dunlap (1986), “All told, the documented cost of the courthouse was put at $8 million with estimates of its actual price tags-kickbacks to the Rings included- going as high as $14 million” (p. B5). This is an incredibly high cost for the construction of a building in the 1800s. One of the reasons why the cost was so high is what Tweed paid the construction workers. According to Barry (2000), “A furniture contractor received $179, 729 for three tables and 40 chairs. The plasterer, a Tammany functionary, named Andrew J. Garvey, got $133, 187 for two days' work” (p. B5). These high amounts came from fraudulent bills. Since these bills were not legal, little to no work was performed, thus delaying the construction and increasing the costs.

At this point, Tweed was unstoppable. He was incredibly rich and had a wealthy body of supporters. However, in July 1871, along with the Orange Riots, Tweed encountered a huge dent in his plan. According to Barry (2000), “In July 1871, two low-level city officials with a grudge against the Tweed ring provided the New York Times with reams of documentation that detailed the corruption at the courthouse and other city projects. The newspaper published a string of articles teasing out the details day by day before publishing a special supplement. Those articles coupled with the political cartoons of Thomas Nast in Harper’s Weekly, created a national outcry and soon Tweed and many of his cronies were facing criminal charges and political oblivion” (p. B5). This dent had officially ended Tweed’s reign. In 1873, he was convicted of fraud and sentenced to twelve years in prison. He only served one year as he managed to escape and go to Spain. However, he was soon found with the help of Thomas Nast’s cartoons. He went back to prison, where he would remain there for the rest of his life. Boss Tweed died on April 12, 1878. He was broke and unhealthy, a shadow of his former self.

William “Boss” Tweed definitely made a name for himself in New York City. He was one of the most controversial political figures to ever grace the city. At first, he seemed like an honest man who had his sights on the welfare of the city and its people. This was seen through how he handled the Draft Riots in 1863. He helped to stop them and provide a more peaceful environment in the city. As the years went on, his seemingly honest persona would start to show its true colors. Instead of protecting the well-being of the city, he was stealing from it time and time again. When all was said and done, he is said to have robbed up to 200 million dollars, an incredibly high amount in 1871. However, his greediness got the best of him. Tweed’s love of greed was prominent during the construction of the courthouse. Thomas Nast’s cartoons, in addition to the Orange Riots, changed Tweed’s reputation for the worse. In fact, these would change it for the rest of his life. He spent the rest of his life in and out of jail. He died a man without a cent. Boss Tweed is a classic tale of the tragedy of greed. One who has a love of money will find ways to get it, even if it means stealing. He may be initially successful at getting money, but it will only be a matter of time until it will start to crumble and completely fall apart. William Tweed is a perfect representation of this, a man who went from a millionaire to a man who had lost everything due to his love of the dollar bill.


About the author: Anthony Ruggiero currently a High School History Teacher in New York City, New York. In addition to teaching, I have been published in several magazines and blogs. For example, I have been published previously in History Is Now magazine, Historic-U.K.magazine, Tudor Life magazine, Discover Britain magazine, The Odd Historian magazine, the Culture-Exchange blog, Inside History magazine and The Freelance History Writer blog. Through continuing to research and write, I am able to share my findings with my students in order to engage them in their learning and help them succeed. My work can also be viewed on my Twitter handle: @Anthony10290122





References

Barry, D. (2000, December 12). The courthouse that Tweed built seeks to shed notorious past. The

New York Times, pp. B1, B9.

Dunlap, D. (1986, May 5). Boss Tweed's courthouse: An elegant monument to corruption. The

New York Times, pp. B1, B5.

Greenspan, J. (2013, May 23). Ten things you may not know about the Brooklyn Bridge.

Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-

Brooklyn-bridge

Hamill, P. (2005, March 27). Boss Tweed: The fellowship of the ring. [Review of the book Boss

Tweed: the corrupt sol who conceived the soul of modern New York]. The New York

Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/27/books/review/boss-tweed-

the-fellowship-of-the-ring.html?_r=1

Hinckley, D. (2002, November 11). The Tammany tiger. New York Daily News, p. 31.

Hirsch, M. (1945). More light on Boss Tweed. Political Science Quarterly, 60(2), 267-278.

doi:10.2307/2144524

Lynch, D. (1927). "Boss Tweed”: The story of a grim generation. New Brunswick, New Jersey:

Transaction.

Munson, S. (2005). Tammany's boss. Policy Review, (132), 82-86.

Simkin, J. (2014, August 1). William Tweed. Retrieved from http://spartacus-

educational.com/USAtweed.htm

Ybarra, T. (1921, July 10). The Orange Riots of fifty years ago. The New York Times, pp. 4-5.

Mr. Thomas Nast. (1872, March 20). The New York Times, p. 4.




What caused the Harlem Riot of 1935?

By Anthony Ruggiero
Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved by the author

Race and the discrimination between them have always been a stain in the history of the United States. The conflict between the two themes has been a very common phenomenon over the years. One of the most significant events of the 20th century, the Harlem Riot of 1935, has manifested these two factors.

The initial riot took place in Harlem, New York on March 19th, 1935. The riot erupted when rumors spread that police apprehended a 16-year-old black-Puerto Rican boy named Lino Rivera, for stealing in a store. Witnesses had assumed that the police killed the boy when they saw a hearse pull up to the store. Although it might seem strange that a full-scale riot ensued due to this issue, it was the circumstances of the people of Harlem who lived there during that time period that caused it. The Harlem Riot was a direct result of years of racial tension, massive unemployment, the idea of black pride, and the influence of Sufi Abdul Humid. Harlem was a diverse area filled with many ethnicities; the Jewish community was particularly dominant. The white community clashed with the expanding black community. The black community soon faced struggles in things such as housing. During this time, New York was also feeling the effects of the Great Depression, which left many jobless. This also greatly affected the black community in Harlem who were already faced with discrimination. The idea of Black Nationalism spread rapidly which stressed the idea of creating black jobs. This also would lead to Sufi Abdul Humid's rise to prominence as he backed the idea of gaining white-dominated jobs.

At one point in time, the area of Harlem was heavily dominated by the Jewish community. The area was even nicknamed, “Jewish Harlem.”[1] However, a massive influx of blacks into the community put an end to that. Black communities during this time period were scattered along streets such as West 130th street and West 146th that collectively became known as, “Darktown.” As the black community began to expand into white communities so did resistance and violence. For example, Adolph B. Rosenfield who was an employee of the Property Owner’s Improvement Association, was in some ways successful in a resistance movement to keep blacks out of the area by 90th street, 110th street, Riverside Drive, and Central Park West during the 1910s. In the 1920’s, Jews also participated in efforts lead by Harry Goodstein and the West Side Property Owner’s Association to keep the black community from advancing to 127th street. Many Jews simply left Harlem in protest of the growing black community and moved to areas such as the Bronx and Brooklyn. This meant that the city’s population began to decline and lost revenue. Despite this, with the declining number of Jewish people in the community tensions between the Jews and Blacks began to lessen.[2]However, the years of discrimination had left its mark on the black population.

The years of racial discrimination greatly affected the black communities abilities to gain jobs and income. Many of the establishments were white-owned. In a survey of business establishments it was determined that only twenty-four percent of these establishments hired black workers for low paying jobs, and fifty-nine percent did not hire black workers at all.[3]According to a study made by the Milbank Memorial Fund in 1933, the family income for black families declined from $1,808 in 1929 to $1,019 in 1932. Black skilled workers suffered the greatest percentage during this time with forty-nine percent loss in income.[4] Unskilled workers also suffered greatly as well as they had only made $1,600 in 1929, which was already below the average income rate. The deductions of income lead to many housing issues for blacks in Harlem. A New York Urban Team reported that forty-eight percent of blacks in Harlem paid two times as much in their income in rent just for a standard four-bedroom apartment compared to a white tenant in New York City. Many blacks had to move into lodgers, which lead to much overcrowding. [5]

This led too many blacks living in Harlem questioning white domination of black communities during this time period. This resulted in many blacks demanding the creation black jobs headed by black residents. To convince other blacks that this newfound nationalism could be effective, they actually used Jews as an example. Booker T. Washington stated, “get money, like the Jew…who now has recognition because he has entwined himself about America in a business and industrial way.” However, this idea was ultimately unsuccessful. Many all-black jobs were low revenue jobs, for example: barber shops, beauty salons, and taxicabs. An example of a company that failed, which also negatively affected the black community in Harlem, was the closing of the A.P.H Taxicab Company in 1932, which was the largest privately black-owned company in New York. It was estimated that six hundred Harlem residents lost their jobs.[6]Another major reason the all-black business plan did not work was black shoppers still preferred to shop at Jewish-owned establishments that were in Harlem. Jewish-owned businesses offered a more variety of goods at cheaper prices. During the Great Depression, these Jewish-owned businesses offered credit to black buyers, which meant they had a longer period of time to pay for items they were unable to provide money for at that time. A woman from Harlem stated that her mother always suggested she continue to buy from Jews, because “they let us have anything we need even when we don’t have any money”,[7] thus proving that white dominance in the black community was still intact.

The idea of creating all-black jobs was essentially a failure. There were either not enough jobs or they failed completely. The only other alternative was to gain white-collar jobs in white-dominated establishments. This is when Sufi Abdul Humid began gaining a prominence as a leader of this idea at the beginning of 1932. Humid relocated to Harlem from Chicago, after having success in the city in a different jobs campaign which he and the Chicago Whip, a black newspaper at that time, had run. Although the reasons are unknown as to why he relocated to Harlem, he certainly made his presence known. With his tall body structure and flashy appearance, Humid was often seen at the forefront of rallies on 125th street, which is the center of Harlem’s stores for clothing or other commercial items. Humid urged his followers not to purchase items from white stores, that would not hire them for jobs. At one point, Humid would go along the stores on 125th street and exclaim, “Share the Jobs!” Humid was somewhat successful in this approach. In June of 1934, Martin Weinstein, the new owner of Koch’s Department stores declared that his clerical staff would be one-third black workers. The original owner and founder, H.C.F Koch, had closed at one time Harlem’s largest department store, in protest to the expanding black community. However, it seems the primary reason Weinstein made this statement was to avoid confrontation with Humid and his growing followers.[8]

All of these issues erupted on March 19th, 1935. A 16-year-old black, Puerto Rican boy named, Lino Rivera, stole a penknife from the Kress Five and Ten store on 125th Street. Both the store owner and the assistant manager witnessed Rivera steal the knife and managed to capture him before he was able to getaway. A police officer, who was patrolling the area, was called to the scene to investigate. When asked if he wanted to press charges, the store owner instructed the officer to let Rivera go. In order to avoid the large groups of people who were surrounding the store, the police officer took Rivera out through the back entrance of the store. When one of the witnesses saw the police officer take Rivera away, she shouted that they were going to the back of the store to beat Rivera. An ambulance arrived later to take care of the store owner and the assistant manager, who suffered injuries while trying to apprehend Rivera themselves. When the ambulance left empty, many of the people surrounding the store assumed that Rivera had been killed. Shortly after the ambulance left, a hearse parked across the street from the store. The driver was actually visiting his brother-in-law, who was inside the store. The gathering crowds immediately assumed that the hearse was there to take away the body of Rivera. The police officers who arrived at the store attempted to persuade the growing crowds that Rivera was still alive. However, the people began to demand that the police bring Rivera out of the store, but police officers objected to the crowd's demand and claimed that the situation was under control and it was none of their concern. This angered the crowd and rumors spread through Harlem that the police had killed the boy. The result was large organized mobs that would destroy and loot stores.[9]

The riot was ended the following day when the New York Governor of the time, Herbert Lehman, assured white store owners that the situation was under control and handled. During the riot three African Americans were killed, and over sixty were reported injured. Seventy-five people were also arrested, and it was also reported that a majority of these people were black. The riot also cost the city $200 million in property damages.[10] The Mayor of the city during that time period, Fiorello La Guardia, attempted to improve the conditions for blacks by gaining them jobs in hospitals and other government-related jobs following the riot but could take away all the burdens that the black community still faced in Harlem.[11]

Although the Harlem Riot of 1935 can be viewed as a misinterpretation by a group of people who were assuming that the police had killed Lino Rivera when they had not, their assumptions and actions can be understood by the circumstances prior to the riot. Years of racial discrimination, poverty, and influences by others in the black community culminated in this chaotic event that rocked New York City in the early twentieth century. With the outcome being no resolution for the black community, one thing was clear: that the problems between the black and white communities were far from over.


About the author: Anthony Ruggiero currently a High School History Teacher in New York City, New York. In addition to teaching, I have been published in several magazines and blogs. For example, I have been published previously in History Is Now magazine, Historic-U.K.magazine, Tudor Life magazine, Discover Britain magazine, The Odd Historian magazine, the Culture-Exchange blog, Inside History magazine and The Freelance History Writer blog. Through continuing to research and write, I am able to share my findings with my students in order to engage them in their learning and help them succeed. My work can also be viewed on my Twitter handle: @Anthony10290122

            
 Bibliography


[1] Winston McDowell, “Race and Ethnicity During the Harlem Jobs Campaign, 1932-1935,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol.69, No.3/4 (Summer-Autumn, 1984), pg.135.
[2] Ibid, 136. 
[3] Winston McDowell, “Race and Ethnicity During the Harlem Jobs Campaign, 1932-1935,” The Journal of Negro History, Vol.69, No.3/4 (Summer-Autumn, 1984), pg.137
[4] Ibid, 136.
[5] Ibid, 137.
[6] Ibid, 137.
[7] Ibid, 138.
[8] Ibid, 138.
[9] Wang, Tabitha. "Harlem Race Riot (1935) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed." Harlem Race Riot (1935) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.blackpast.org/aah/harlem-riot-1935>.
[10] Wang, Tabitha. "Harlem Race Riot (1935) | 
[11] The Editors of Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. "Harlem Race Riot of 1935 (United States History)." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Dec. 2014. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1987838/Harlem-race-riot-of-1935>.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Rocky Point Post Office and Its Stamp on History

By Michael M. DeBonis
Copyright © 2020All rights reserved by the author.


The British Penny Black
When we think of the United States Postal Service, we think of it firstly as a communications
network and secondly as a courier business. The Postal Service of modern America was forged and founded in the fire of the bloody Revolutionary War (1775-1783), on July 26, 1775, by an act from the second Continental Congress (History.com, 1). It selected Pennsylvanian and newspaper mogul Benjamin Franklin as the United States’ first Postmaster General (History.com, 1).

Franklin was America’s first great polymath; he was renowned worldwide as a scientist, inventor, journalist, and printer. He is regarded by contemporary American literary scholars, and as one of the finest prose stylists in the history of the United States. Yet, his role (and importance) as the first steward and director of the U. S. Postal Service is not fully known, or appreciated, by his own people. Despite being famed as the writer of Poor Richard’s Almanac and his Autobiography, Franklin was also, by 1753, chosen by the English crown as one of two Postmasters General for British North America (History.com, 1). And before this, Benjamin Franklin served the public as Postmaster General of Philadelphia (History.com, 1).

During his tenure as first U. S. Postmaster General, Franklin “…made numerous improvements to the mail system, including setting up new, more efficient colonial routes and cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York…”(History.com, 1). He additionally “…debuted the first-rate chart, which standardized delivery costs based on distance and weight,”(History.com, 1). Franklin occupied his position until the end of 1776 when the Continental Congress put him on a boat bound for France, where he would serve the fledgling American nation as a diplomat (History.com, 1). Franklin “…left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain,” (History.com, 1).

Franklin and his successors hence created a very viable and well-functioning postal service, which greatly facilitated communication and commerce amongst the thirteen new states, and, by such actions, greatly added to America’s national security and military readiness.

But Benjamin Franklin’s fertile imagination could only catch glimpses of the United States Postal Service’s true potential, namely as an outstanding agent in commemorating and spreading the great people and events of American history and documenting them brilliantly by way of numerous U.S. postage stamps. Modern self-adhesive postage stamps would be created only about sixty years after Franklin’s death in 1790 (Bruns, 476). These stamps were the legendary “Penny Blacks” printed by Great Britain and were initially for sale at most U. K. post offices on May 1, 1840 (Bruns, 476). The Penny Blacks are considered the world’s first modern (self-adhesive) postage stamps (Bruns, 476) and each stamp boldly depicted a bright white-sketched likeness of Queen Victoria’s visage, in profile, as a foreground, and then shown against a stark black background (Bruns, 476, and Kehr, 738). This cameo-similar rendering of Britain’s distinguished monarch was in use “…for over 60 years…”(Bruns, 476).

“The United States issued its first official postage stamps (5- and 10-cents denominations) on July 1, 1847”(Bruns, 477). These stamps portrayed images of Benjamin Franklin (on five-cents stamp) and George Washington (on ten-cents stamp), and they were issued and created by a March 3, 1847 act of Congress (Bruns, 477 and Kehr, 738). Such postage stamps from both the United States of America and Great Britain would quickly establish philately (the aesthetic, scholarly, financial, and historical collection of stamps), as a unique field of endeavor and it would globally transform how people came to see the world in cultural and geographic terms. Postage stamps (as well as other revenue stamps) sharply defined any Western nation’s political, historical, and artistic values, via how the symbolism, designs, and personages illustrated on these stamps were printed and shown to their respective publics.

Modern American philately is a direct historical descendant of Western sigillography (the study of ancient seals, stamps, and symbols). It is a sibling historical discipline concerning American and European numismatics (the careful study and collection of coins and paper money) and heraldry (the systematic formulation and meaningful descriptions of coats of arms). Postage stamps, by being created by established world governments, must then be considered as official state and legal documents of their specific home countries, and as such, are to be correctly deemed as part of the pubic and historical records of modern times. This also is to say that mail stamps convey (more often than not) messages much more significant than “Proper postage paid.”

The great State of New York has its history closely interwoven with the history of American philately. This is so because New York State’s history is America’s history. To make this observation and conclusion unambiguous and properly contextualized, consider the following:
The Roosevelt Blue


  • From at least 1778, and forward, New York State’s great Excelsior seal became the official and supreme symbol of New York State, both on its flag and on its legal documents (NYSED.gov, 1). It remains so to this day, and the seal of the great State of New York’s custodian is New York’s Secretary of State (NYSED.gov, 1). New York State’s notaries public often use, as part of their notarial seals, the official New York State coat of arms engraved on their stamps, and they are entitled to do so by NY State law, being all empowered by New York’s Secretary of State. NYS notaries public (however) are not required by NYS law to use New York State’s official coat of arms when working with legal documents, as this is optional (NYS Notary Public License Law, 24). Many American philatelic designs closely mirror American state seals.
  • American President (and former NY State Governor) Theodore Roosevelt, a great polymath like Franklin, had his visage proudly imprinted of several U. S. postage stamps, specifically the exquisite Roosevelt Reds and the Roosevelt Blues, of the early and mid-20th century. Both stamps vividly celebrate the life and times of “T. R.”
  • A distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, U. S. President (and another former NY State
    Franklin D. Roosevelt inspecting his
    stamp library.
    Governor) Franklin Delano Roosevelt was amongst the twentieth century’s foremost authorities, designers, and collectors of philately. FDR was an expert’s expert on mail stamps in general, and he was a huge proponent of using revenue (and postage stamps) to strongly advocate for American history and culture (e.g., the “duck stamps” of the U. S. Dept. of Wildlife Conservation). His illustrious and copious collection is now part of his Presidential Museum in Hyde Park, New York. 

As previously mentioned in this text, modern American philately has its lineage directly rooted in European sigillography. How do we know this? Written historical documents tell the tale, and they do not lie. One of humankind’s earliest written documents is the clay inscribed ancient Egyptian Palette of King Narmer, a royal proclamation, dating to circa 3,500 BC (King, 10). The regal visage of Narmer, standing in victory over his newly conquered foe, is unique in historical annals for two reasons: The first reason being that it portrays ancient Egypt’s very earliest (known) and official pharaoh. The second reason is that Narmer is shown to be uniting upper and lower Egypt by the result of his conquest, thus becoming Egypt’s undisputed ruler. Whether or not, the recently discovered “scorpion” seal of King Scorpion predates the reign of King Narmer is open to debate in historical circles, revolving around the specialized field of Egyptology.

In any event, Narmer’s image on his palette is one of history’s most antique seals, stamps, and sigils (used synonymously here with the term symbols). Notarial seals and stamps are nearly as old as regal (and state) ones. Thus the scribes of ancient Egypt, who all held venerated positions in ancient Egyptian society (King, 8), passed on their stenographic and notarial professions to those royal, state, and municipal scribes of classical Greece and Rome. From there, historically, Greece and Rome (and especially the Roman Catholic Church and the Byzantine Empire) passed on the notarial trades to the states of mediaeval and Renaissance Europe. And America’s European forbearers brought notarial practices with them to the New World. On Columbus’ first sailing expedition to the Americas, a Spanish royal notary was present to copy down and verify Columbus’ discoveries in the Caribbean, “On October 12, 1492, Rodrigo de Escobedo, of Segovia, was the first notary in North America. He sailed on the [Spanish] flagship Santa Maria, as Secretary of the Fleet, landing with Christopher Columbus, and recording the event in legal documents. He witnessed documents as a royal notary for King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile.” (Lucas, 1).

Thus, we can say, with absolute certainty, that notarial stamps (first being created over 4,700 years ago) are substantially older than postage stamps, which all came about much, much later, at nearly 200 years before our present time. And postage stamps and notarial stamps, although sharing a common ancestor (sigillography) and although being closely related, are not the same. Postage stamps are mainly philatelic stamps, while notarial seals are purely sigillographic ones. Their difference can be succinctly summarized by both of these stamps’ functions. Notarial seals and stamps witness and attest the legal veracity of a signer’s name on written instruments. In contrast, postage stamps and seals (minus their historical and cultural roles) are designed to facilitate the transport of written documents only.

The first of three American (but New York-oriented) philatelic stamps to be discussed here is the unambiguously brilliant Roosevelt Red stamp, which was “…issued on November 18, 1955, in New York City, the place of Roosevelt’s birth,” (Rod, 1). “The 6-cents stamp was very versatile when issued, as it met both the two-ounces first-class letter rate and the one-ounce domestic airmail rate” (Rod, 1). The unmitigated ruby-like beauty of this stamp vigorously burns the young Theodore Roosevelt’s 42-year-old mien upon the eye of its looker, very much radiating the lofty rouge fire of early morning dawn. The intensity of “TR’s” eyes and countenance is both overwhelming and sincere, but it is not superfluous. Roosevelt’s exterior image reflects the true inner vibrancy of his singular character and soul. President T. Roosevelt is in total control of his person, and his gaze is the gaze of sunrise, bearing novel energy to the U. S. Presidency, which was lacking from many years before his tenure as Commander-in-Chief (1901-1909). The likeness of Theodore Roosevelt on the Roosevelt Red is “…reproduced from a photograph of a Philip A. De Laszlo painting.” (Rod, 1). This fact is soundly verified by the U. S. Stamp Gallery (Editors, 1). The Roosevelt Red boldly celebrates the life of the 26th President of the United States. At the time of his Presidency, Roosevelt “…was a widely respected historian, naturalist, and explorer…”(Rod, 1).

The second (U. S.-New York State-related) postage stamp I will mention in my text is the much earlier created Roosevelt Blue. It illustrates Theodore Roosevelt as a “…hero of the Spanish-American War and the Battle of San Juan Hill…”(Juell, 1) on an exquisite appearing 5 cents stamp. Unlike the Roosevelt Red, which was crafted by Victor S. McCloskey, Jr. and Charles R. Chickering, of the U. S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, (Rod, 1) the Roosevelt Blue was designed by artist Claire Aubrey Huston and engraved by one John Eissler (Juell, 1). “Issued in 1922, the stamp was commonly used on letters to foreign destinations” (Juell, 1). On the Roosevelt Blue (named so for the stamp’s pervasive blue ink), Theodore’s facial expression is starkly studious, dignified, and stubbornly rugged. This is a portrayal of Teddy Roosevelt made towards the end of his second Presidential term in office. The image was taken from a photograph of Mr. Roosevelt shot in 1907, by the firm of Harris and Ewing (Juell, 1).

Roosevelt’s demeanor sublimely glows in sapphire luster, as he cleverly peeps out of his picture. His look is of a man, certain of his person, place, and purpose. Theodore Roosevelt was a great reformer, anti-trust crusader, and conservationist. He was responsible (almost single-mindedly) for the development and construction of the Panama Canal (U. S. Stamp Gallery, 1) and the establishment of the U. S. Park System (Kenmore Stamp Co., 1). The omnipotent-like ruby color of the Roosevelt Red (noting the origin of this stamp’s name) monopolizes Teddy’s face and presence there, and it is not lost to the human eye. But the Roosevelt Red, being dissimilar to the Roosevelt Blue, in this respect, shows Theodore Roosevelt as the young firebrand he was in 1901 when first assuming the mantle of Chief Executive of the U. S. Constitution. TR’s subtly frenetic visage in the later 1955 Roosevelt Red stamp stands opposed to the much more experienced, sager, and cooler demeanor he exhibits in the 1907 image of the Roosevelt Blue (issued in 1922).

No American did more in the twentieth century to modernize the United States Postal Service than did Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The 32nd President of the United States (and like his cousin, Teddy, a proud New Yorker) “…implemented numerous stamp-related initiatives during his terms of office, including the establishment of first-day ceremonies, and the introduction of philatelic windows at local post offices,”(Ghedini, 1). FDR also “…reviewed and approved more than 200 postage stamps during his Presidency…”(Ghedini, 1-2) and “…personally submitted several hand-drawn designs that went on to become stamps.”(Ghedini, 2).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “As part of the Works Projects Administration, …maintained hands-on participation in the construction of 406 post office buildings nationwide.” (Ghedini, 2). FDR’s love for philately came early on in his life (Ghedini, 2) as familial relations “…regularly sent him foreign postage stamps while engaged in trade overseas.”(Ghedini, 2). The young Franklin Roosevelt “…embraced the hobby as a means to bolster his interest in geography and world history by [his] documenting various facts related to each stamp’s origin and its significance to the issuing country’s heritage”(Ghedini, 2). Later in his life, after being badly paralyzed by the Poliovirus, FDR would credit “…his involvement in the hobby as having saved his life.”(Ghedini, 2). And as U.S. President, F. D. Roosevelt personally engineered the design and imagery of more than one major postage stamp, and he superbly mobilized the USPS to sell and market them (Ghedini, 2). These novel practices forever upgraded the USPS and did much to enrich and disseminate the study of philately, around the world (Ghedini, 2). FDR’s innovations with creating new U. S. postage stamps and his tremendous expansion of the USPS generally spanned his very difficult years in guiding America through the national tragedies of the Great Depression and WWII.

The final U. S. postage stamp, based upon an esteemed New Yorker, to be discussed here will be 2019’s Walt Whitman Stamp. The USPS issued Whitman’s stamp on September 12, 2019 (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). Walt Whitman was one of America’s finest poets of the nineteenth century who “…is considered by many to be the father of modern American poetry “(Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). Whitman brazenly novelized free-verse poetry in English with outstanding and profound results. The 2019 Whitman Stamp brilliantly commemorates Whitman’s life as both a Civil War-era poet and a nurse. Whitman followed the Union Army during several terrible campaigns during the Civil War (1861-1865), and he spent much time helping Yankee and rebel soldiers recover their health. Walt’s momentous and visionary contribution to American literature was his epic poetry anthology Leaves of Grass.

Walt Whitman
2019 USPS stamp
The 2019 Whitman Stamp shows a silver-haired and bearded Whitman, neatly resting his head on his
left hand, while Whitman’s Merlin-like visage deeply looks at his viewers, ruminating on various things (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). What Walt Whitman is thinking in this picture, we cannot know. But his gaze here is a benign one. The 2019 Whitman Stamp is “…based on a photograph [of Walt Whitman] taken by Frank Pearsall in 1869,”(Walt Whitman Initiative, 1) five years after the brutish Civil War terminated. Behind the meditating poet extends the flowering purple branch of a lilac bush, as one sigil, with a hermit thrush (another sigil) sitting on it (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). Both the lilac bush and the hermit thrush quietly and symbolically allude to Walt Whitman’s somber and majestic elegy written for Abraham Lincoln, “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). The Walt Whitman 2019 Stamp was designed by artists Sam Weber and Greg Breeding (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1). “The words THREE OUNCES indicate its usage value” (Walt Whitman Initiative, 1), and the Whitman Stamp is unique for its high aesthetic appeal. As of June 2020, the Whitman Stamp is still available for purchase at most U.S. Post Offices.

The history of the Rocky Point Post Office begins in post-Civil War New York State. While the Era of Reconstruction bitterly gripped the still badly wounded USA, which was only then starting to heal from The War Between the States, a prosperous Long Island farmer petitioned the Federal Government to create a post office at Rocky Point, on February 24th, 1872 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). The Brookhaven Town farmer’s name was Sylvester D. Tuthill (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Tuthill’s petition was subsequently granted, as he was sworn in as the first Rocky Point Postmaster on March 6th, 1872 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Tuthill ran one of the tidiest farms in Suffolk County (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1), and his business interests ranged from agriculture to public service and sailing (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1).

While visiting New Orleans in Louisiana in late February of 1885, Sylvester Tuthill died (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Shortly after being buried at nearby Yaphank, NY, his wife was sworn in as rustic Rocky Point’s second Postmaster and first Postmistress, on March 17th, 1885 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Ann Eliza Tuthill “…continued [on as Postmistress] just short of 16 years” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Ms. Tuthill “…lived to age 75 and is buried with her husband in the Yaphank Cemetery” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). The Tuthill’s ran their pastoral north shore Long Island post office from the dining room of their home, as affirmed by their great-grandson Samuel Tuthill (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). In the late nineteenth century, “It was common practice to operate a post office from a farmhouse or a general store,” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). John E. Laws, one of the Postmasters of Rocky Point, who succeeded Ann Eliza Tuthill, continued this procedure in the years just before World War I (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Laws operated his post office from a small building on his property, at the south side of what is now NYS Route 25A, near modern-day Hallock Landing (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1). Irene Hallock Dickinson, an old resident Rocky Point, verified this point of fact, as do also maps of Rocky Point, dating from the early 20th century (Aurucci-Stiefel, 1).

Frank H. Tuthill, of Rocky Point, NY, succeeded John Laws as Rocky Point Postmaster, and he was appointed as such on August 15th, 1913 (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). “He followed in the tradition of his parents, Sylvester and [Ann] Eliza Tuthill, who [first] introduced the post office to Rocky Point”(Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). Frank Tuthill ran the Rocky Point Post Office from his residence (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2), and he altered his home’s architecture to do so (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). During his lifetime, Frank Tuthill held many governmental Long Island offices (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2) such as Brookhaven Town Trustee, Trustee of Rocky Point School District No. 9, and Rocky Point Postmaster (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). When he died in June of 1926, Frank Tuthill had perpetuated a family legacy, which was devoted to the U. S. Postal Service “…for over forty years.” (Aurucci-Stiefel, 2). William H. Fry replaced Tuthill in July 1926.

From the time of Fry and forward, the Rocky Point Post Office had one outstanding Postmistress after another, amongst them: Carol A. Fry, Anne Cardona, Mary Mushler, and Gladys Behn (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3). Ms. Behn was replaced by Margaret Doherty (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3). From the Roaring Twenties to the current day, as Rocky Point grew in population and settlement size, the Rocky Point Post Office dramatically modernized itself in two ways:

  • It ceased operating from family-owned general stores/homes from around the mid-twentieth century onwards, eventually finding a permanent location on NYS Rte. 25A, in Rocky Point, in a state-of-the-art mail-handling building.
  • In 1984, the Rocky Point Post Office added an auxiliary branch on the grounds of McCarrick’s Dairy Farm, to properly accommodate the mailing demands of an expanding Suffolk County hamlet (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3).

Other more contemporary Rocky Point Postmasters and Postmistresses are Joseph J. Terranova, Frank J. Kolb, Carmine Pluchino and Margaret Young (Aurucci-Stiefel, 3). The current location of the Rocky Point Post Office, besides boasting an excellent postal staff, is itself a building dedicated to its local history. Natalie Aurucci-Stiefel, the Chief Historian of the Rocky Point Historical Society and some of her dedicated Historical Society members, artfully decorated the Rocky Point Post Office with antique pictures of Rocky Point and old photos of the Tuthill family, Rocky Point’s first Postmasters. They also created a beautiful wall painting of the fabled RCA Radio Central, which was “…the world’s largest transmitting station, from 1921-1978,” (Rocky Point Historical Society, 1) and itself was based in Rocky Point, New York. Aurucci-Stiefel is a tremendously dogged and thorough historical researcher and genealogist. It is due to her superlative efforts and those of her inspired colleagues from the Rocky Point Historical Society that visitors to the Rocky Point Post Office may learn something of Long Island’s history.



About the Author: Michael Mauro DeBonis is a poet and a historian from Long Island, NY.  A graduate of Suffolk County Community College (A. A. in Liberal Arts) and SUNY Stony Brook (B.A. in English Literature), Michael’s work first appeared in The Village Beacon Record and The Brookhaven Times Newspapers.  Mr. DeBonis is a diligent student of New York State and American history.  His latest writing (poetry and prose) can be found in the New York History Review and elsewhere.


Bibliography:

Natalie Aurucci-Stiefel. “The Post Office at Rocky Point,” The Rocky Point Historical Society, Rocky Point, New York (September 2019).

Franklins R. Bruns. “Postage Stamps,” Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 25, New York, NY, USA: The Americana Corporation, copyright 1970.

Gloria Ghedini. “Book Review of Anthony Musso’s ‘FDR and the Post Office: A Young Boys Fascination; A World Leader’s Passion,’” The Branch, Poughkeepsie, NY, February 2010.

History.Com. “U. S. Postal System Established,” Editors, November 24th, 2009-July 28th, 2019.

Rod Juell. “5 Cents Roosevelt,” Arago Philately.Com, May 6th, 2006.

Earnest A. Kehr. “Philately,” Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 21, New York, NY, USA: The Americana Corporation, copyright 1970.

Kenmore Stamp Co. “6 cents Theodore Roosevelt,” Editors, 2019.

Charles King. Hieroglyphs to Alphabets. New York, NY, Crane Russak & Company, copyright 1977.

Jerry Lucas. “Notary with Christopher Columbus 1492,” ABC Legal Docs.Com, 2015.


NYSED.Gov. “New York State Flag and the Great Seal of the State of New York,” Editors, NYSED.Gov-NYS Library, September 25, 2019.

“New York State Notary Public License Law,” Editors, Passbook Exams, National Learning Corporation, copyright 2010, Syosset, New York, USA.

Rocky Point Historical Society. Rocky Point Historical Society.Org Home Page, 2020.

Steven J. Rod. “6 Cents Roosevelt,” Arago Philately.Com, May 16th, 2006.

U. S. Stamp Gallery. “Theodore Roosevelt,” Editors, U. S. Stamp Gallery.Com, 2019.

Walt Whitman Initiative. “USPS Walt Whitman Bicentennial First Day of Issue Stamp Ceremony,” Editors, September 12th, 2019.