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Monday, June 27, 2022

Reverend J. Josiah Walters

by Richard White
Copyright 2022. All rights reserved by the author.

“The Binghamton audience may not be ready to accept the doctrine Senator Tillman will advance,” according to the Binghamton Press on February 10, 1908. The newspaper did not need to name or identify the “doctrine”—virulent racism- because it preceded and followed the Senator wherever he traveled. Later that evening, his values of hatred and disdain would be presented in such detail that it spurred one resident to take a public stance and refute Tillman’s Jim Crow values. That person was the community’s new A. M. E. Pastor, and his response was a pastoral protest. He was ordained in 1905, and his name was J. Josiah Walters. He was the young pastor of a nearly 80-year-old church in a small city in the Southern Tier of New York on the banks of the Susquehanna River.

Senator Benjamin Tillman was a guest orator for the city’s annual Winter Chautauqua held in the Centenary Church, and he was the most polarizing guest speaker ever to be invited. In fact, his usual two-hour oration, entitled “The Race Problem from a Southern Point of View,” hints at the divisiveness he promoted. As he spoke, he emphasized his epitaphs and crude insults which had earned him the nickname “Pitchfork Ben.” For example, The Press on February 11 reported that he incorporated one of the most infamous and common assertions in his speech—that the Negro is but “slightly removed from the baboon.” At another point, he discussed the alleged problem of “nigger children” in integrated schools, according to Binghamton’s Broome Republican on February 11. While many in the audience cheered, anger compelled some members to walk out, giving Tillman a dose of silent contempt. In the aftermath, the need for truth prompted Reverend Walters to carry out a personal response usually called faith in action.

Walter’s powerful letter-to-the-editor of almost 5000 words appeared in The Press a few days later in the February 15th issue. Although he was not in attendance to hear the Senator’s “Tillmanic Tirade,” as he called it in the letter, he had read the coverage carefully in both local papers, thereby gaining more than the gist of the address, which was vituperative and profane. His decisive two-part analysis proved to be successful. First, he would critique the speech’s falsehoods to pinpoint inconsistencies and faulty conclusions, and second, he would review the address based on Scripture. This dual approach proved to be masterful.

Walters’ opening set the tone of the letter….” it is high time that the Tillmanic hitherto barren crusade against the American negro end….it manifests failures at every stage.” Just as cogent, he alluded to the role of the Divine in silencing perpetrators like the Senator who “pursue and persevere until militant circumstances, divine and otherwise, compel a sad and irreparable collapse” of hatred and prejudice. Tillman was bound to meet failure in his attempts to “alter the unalterable purposes of God relative to the race at issue.” As the letter reaches its closure, the author incorporates Biblical references to deflate “Pitchfork Ben’s” erroneous view “of the race problem.” He specifically drew attention to Gamaliel, and Balaam, to censure Tillman. In the end, he invited the Senator to study “something very important” in Proverbs, xxxvi, 4-5. Research has not determined if Tillman did this.

In 1908, Pastor J. Josiah Walters was a special beacon of light in Binghamton. A United States Senator presented an address based on racism that Walters repudiated with Christian thought and theology.

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

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Boxer

by Michael Mauro DeBonis
copyright © 2022. All rights reserved by the author.

On the sands of the arena, I spill my blood,
‘til I fall, where once I stood,
or blast that man, who blocks the Sun
upon my form, ‘til he goes dumb.
Fragments of mind are punched 
from thoughts,
with every blow of thunder-shots.
The storm is beyond our range to hit,
above our ken, where Olympians sit.
Roses wilt from pounding out 
of petals red;
the rains paining themselves
to make some flowers dead.
Hearts handled to beat in power and prime
leak out the life of human time,
ending dreams, before they can climb
the blue-arched lens, where stars shine.
I am a man of little coins and of many tears.
I bury my hopes in a copse of fears,
‘til I am beaten dry of years.
My light is what shines upon the ground
at Dawn, when Venus brings her fire ‘round…
Bless the morning bright and the birds’
speech of spirits, set to sound!

---Michael Mauro DeBonis, 01-28-2022.

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. in English Literature), Michael’s work first appeared in the Village Beacon Record and the Brookhaven Times Newspapers.  Michael’s latest work (poetry and prose) may be found in the New York History Review and elsewhere. 




Who Stole Our History?
Big Money Heist at Museum in Upstate New York Remains Unsolved

Carmen Basilio, circa 1956,
courtesy of the Associated Press

By Michael Mauro DeBonis
Copyright © 2022. All rights reserved by the author

On the 5th of November in 2015, a very singular theft took place at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York (Silkov, 1). The burglar(s) entered through a side window, which they had broken to access the building (Gray, 1). The crime of grand larceny involved the illegal and forced removal of six world boxing championship title belts from American titlists Tony Zale and Carmen Basilio (Gray, 1).

Zale called the “Man of Steel,” was the middleweight division’s unquestioned dynamo, in the 1940s, during one of boxing history’s most competitive periods for the 160-pounds weight class (Mueller, 1). Zale was an athlete of impeccable talent, skill, and courage. When reigning world middleweight champion Tony Zale lost his much-venerated crown to the equally legendary fighter from France named Marcel Cerdan in September of 1948, Tony was thirty-five years old and well past his prime (De Cristofaro, 89). He had recently emerged victorious from a horribly brutal and savage blood feud with his archrival, Rocky Graziano, from New York City (De Cristofaro, 87-89). Zale personally hailed from Gary, Indiana, where he was a true blue fan favorite there and elsewhere (De Cristofaro, 87). His three-bout trilogy with former middleweight champ Rocky Graziano, fought between 1946-and 1948 (Mueller, 1), is considered rightly as one of the most barbaric and bitterly contested in the entire modern history of pugilism (De Cristofaro, 87). The inactivity of Zale incurred during his military service in WWII (1942-1946) did much to advance his patriotism but nothing to enhance his athleticism. After World War II, “The Man of Steel” was rusty.

But Zale (1913-1997) was no ordinary fighter. After some intensive training and six tune-up fights in 1946 (Editors, BoxRec.Com), he cleared the way for his first meeting with the rough and tumble brawler Graziano, a top-ranked candidate for Zale’s highly-coveted world middleweight crown (De Cristofaro, 87). Graziano unleashed much fire and kayo power on the proud Polish-American champion, severely hurting Zale in their messy and murderous shootout before Tony miraculously rallied back and pounded Rocky senseless to the canvas in round 6 (De Cristofaro, 88).

Zale’s second bout vs. Graziano came almost a year later, in July of 1947, resulting in a huge upset and a quite different outcome opposed to their first challenge (De Cristofaro, 94). Both men let loose furious assaults from the opening bell, with Graziano absorbing a reciprocally devastating amount of blood-spilling from Zale. Graziano, however, somehow was able to withstand Tony’s supercharged blows. He successfully countered by unloading a hellacious and deadly barrage, which put Zale into a state of senselessness and hurt, causing a full 10-count against him and putting the middleweight crown on Rocky’s underdog head by way of a technical knockout in six rounds (De Cristofaro, 94).

The third Zale-Graziano fight took place on June 10th, 1948, at Ruppert Stadium, in Newark, New Jersey (De Cristofaro, 88). In defending his newly-acquired title, Rocky Graziano came out with his usual blazing attack. Zale, the cool, calm warrior, took a few heavy shots from the bull-like champion, but unlike in their first encounter, Tony did not wilt from Rocky’s fierce combinations (De Cristofaro, 88). Zale successfully avoided most of Graziano’s big haymakers before shrewdly and sharply responding with a highly concussive body and headshots of his own against the Italian-American champion (De Cristofaro, 88). Zale put the rugged Graziano into dreamland in round three and he brilliantly recaptured his world middleweight championship (De Cristofaro, 88).

Zale immortalized his legacy and his reputation as the most elite and esteemed middleweight of his era. But after three tremendous battles waged against his New York enemy, Zale’s best days in boxing were all behind him. Zale and Graziano both had physically paid dearly for their three bloodbaths, with each becoming part of boxing’s most sacred legends and lore. Canastota boxer Carmen Basilio would (just a few years later) reach heights in the sweet science as dizzying as Zale and Graziano did.

Carmen Basilio (1927-2012) was a feisty and ferocious brawler from upstate New York (De Cristofaro, 125) and a man whose courage and physical durability seemingly knew no bounds (Please see Michael M. DeBonis’ article Carmen Basilio: Thunder from the North-New York History Review, 2020 Edition). The former onion farmer from rural New York State detested long days of hard, mundane work on his family’s onion farm…but early in childhood, Carmen developed a love for boxing, and no one (in or out of the boxing ring) would ever discourage him from his chosen pugilistic destiny. And Carmen had no qualms about forsaking physically arduous work on the onion farm in exchange for what he felt was more productive (yet more physically taxing labor) training in a boxing gym. Carmen loved boxing and training for boxing (De Cristofaro, 125). The whole process of shedding the proverbial blood, sweat, and tears was little trouble for Carmen Basilio, whose work ethic for conditioning himself in preparation for boxing’s brutal warfare was equaled by almost no one (De Cristofaro, 125), with the possible exceptions of Evander Holyfield (in our own time), Tony Zale and Rocky Marciano.

After a brief stint in U. S. Marine Corp during the end of WWII, Basilio turned from amateur boxer to professional boxer, in late 1948, as a welterweight (Editors, BoxRec.Com). Basilio would go on to defeat the likes of Ike Williams, Billy Graham, and Pierre Langlois, all top-notch, world-class welterweights (Editors, BoxRec.Com). Basilio had his share of defeats along the way (one of them was against the iconic Cuban sensation and world welterweight champion Kid Gavilan in September of 1953). This highly controversial loss would embolden Basilio’s boxing efforts and increase his self-confidence as a fighter of note.

By June of 1955, Carmen Basilio had clearly emerged as the number one (147 pounds) welterweight division world title contender against the lion-hearted super-tough champion from Boston, Tony De Marco (Editors, BoxRec.Com). De Marco was a fearsome and ferocious power-puncher who displayed huge amounts of courage, skill, and durability versus his opponents in squared-circle conflicts. Basilio could match the champion in terms of valor and talent, but certainly not in kayo (knockout) power. What would be the deciding winning factor here against Tony De Marco for Carmen Basilio? Carmen Basilio’s unparalleled physical endurance would prove to be the bout’s prevailing determinant (De Cristofaro, 127). After twelve rounds of unpleasant and absolutely carnal, bloody combat between De Marco and Basilio, Basilio would take De Marco’s world welterweight crown by knockout (De Cristofaro, 127). He would repeat this feat against De Marco in defense of his title by scoring an impressive but hard-earned knockout over his valiant New England rival (De Cristofaro, 127).

In 1956, Basilio lost his world welterweight title to the very skilled warrior, Johnny Saxton, a courageous and classy American boxing stylist (Editors, BoxRec.Com). But the champion (Basilio) dominated his challenger throughout their meeting, and Carmen was removed from his welterweight championship, via a hotly contested and spurious 15-round points verdict, in Saxton’s favor (De Cristofaro, 127). Before the year was up (in September of 1956), Carmen would brutally kayo the champion in their rematch, in round number nine, to recapture his world welterweight throne (De Cristofaro, 128). The Basilio-Saxton rubber match (3rd bout) would be fought in February of 1957 (Editors, BoxRec.Com). The indomitable Basilio scored a huge knockout victory over welterweight champion Johnny Saxton in just two rounds (De Cristofaro, 128). Carmen was truly the unmitigated ruler of his welterweight division and now he viewed the brilliant Sugar Ray Robinson’s undisputed world middleweight title as potential and personal quarry (De Cristofaro, 128).

The undeniably resilient and superbly brave Carmen Basilio and the lightning-fast and ultra-intelligent Sugar Ray Robinson would brutishly clash twice in their respective professional boxing careers (De Cristofaro, 128-129). The relentlessly punching brawler Basilio and the master technician and fight strategist Robinson’s first heavily bloody battle went (in September 1957) the full 15-rounds, with Carmen withstanding Sugar Ray’s brutish fistic onslaughts and Basilio convincingly outpunching the middleweight kingpin on the inside and to his body. Basilio scored a spectacular and legitimate split-decision points victory over the graceful, devastating, and highly-determined Robinson. Basilio’s terrific physical constitution and his unceasing and fiendishly intensive work rate, combined with his regal raw courage, simply overwhelmed Robinson’s well-schooled ducking, slipping, and wicked combination punching. It was a very memorable meeting waged between two all-time boxing greats, and their second and final meeting would be no less esteemed than their first.

On March 25th, 1958, the Basilio-Robinson rematch took place (Editors, BoxRec.Com). With added incentive and in better physical condition, Robinson superbly out-boxed the perpetually pugnacious and gallant-spirited Italian-American champion. Basilio withstood non-stop viciousness from his iconic and single-minded challenger, Robinson. Sugar Ray avoided most of Basilio’s bull-like rushes and successfully counter-punched Carmen at long-range, landing countless stinging and wicked head and body shots. In round 6, Sugar Ray landed a terrific uppercut to the champion’s left eye, causing much damage and bleeding (De Cristofaro, 128). Carmen’s eye rapidly swelled closed (De Cristofaro, 128) and Basilio, ever the brazenly nerved champion, fought courageously on for 9 more rounds until the bloodbath concluded (De Cristofaro, 128). Basilio, for his part, managed to give his stalwart challenger an absolutely carnal and wicked body attack, inflicting heavy damage to Robinson’s quite-chiseled midsection and even his head. Despite being blind in one eye, Basilio kept the fight extremely close, losing his world middleweight title narrowly to Robinson via a split-decision victory (De Cristofaro, 128-129). Although a rubber match was forthcoming between Carmen Basilio and Sugar Ray Robinson, history decided against this possibility. The two boxing dynamos were never to meet in the ring again (De Cristofaro, 129).

Basilio (in his later years) suffered two horribly brutal knockout losses to the super iron-strong Utah brawler, Gene Fullmer (De Cristofaro, 129). They were the only knockout losses in Carmen’s entire fabled and prosperous career (De Cristofaro, 129). But they are revealing to historians of the sweet science in several ways. After Basilio’s last bout against Robinson, Carmen’s best days in boxing were gone. It also shows boxing students that, although Basilio was outweighed and much smaller in comparison to Fullmer, he was still athletically capable of giving his opposition severely hellacious physical abuse. Carmen could not match Gene Fullmer in size and punching power, but he did equal Gene in terms of elite athletic durability, talent, and bravery. Fullmer was a former world middleweight champion himself, and he was naturally larger and heavier than Basilio, who was much more of a natural welterweight. It is in boxing’s welterweight division that Carmen Basilio excelled best. We will never forget his superlative achievements, or the absolutely stellar ones of Tony Zale, his mythic and dynamic middleweight predecessor.

The last bout of Carmen’s thrilling and highly revered career came against reigning world middleweight boxing champion Paul Pender on April 22nd, 1961 (Editors, BoxRec.Com). The rugged New Englander outpunched and floored the aged Basilio to retain his title via a 15-round unanimous decision (De Cristofaro, 131). It was the only time Carmen hit the canvas during his long career. Basilio retired subsequently following his loss to Pender. But he had earned three world titles in two of the most competitive weight classes in boxing, Herculean feats of undisputed brilliance not easily achieved by anyone.

Tony Zale, too retired from the fight game shortly after suffering a twelfth-round knockout loss to his middleweight title challenger, Frenchmen Marcel Cerdan (De Cristofaro, 98). Zale was badly faded following his grueling three-bout vendetta versus Rocky Graziano. However, the exceptionally valiant and totally adept Marcel Cerdan was at his athletic and pugilistic peak. Cerdan was able to outbox and outhustle Zale, despite Tony giving the French stylist a very conspicuous black eye in the action of battle. Zale’s body and strength may have been ground down to dust by his dignified conqueror, but Tony’s lion heart remained firmly intact, fighting for his championship until he could no longer stand. The former champion Zale did not insult Cerdan in any way, as he gallantly began his well-deserved retirement.

In one of humanity’s most savage and feisty sports, Tony Zale spectacularly acquired two world titles in boxing’s most hotly-contested weight class. Zale had earned and defended his crown against many of the best middleweights who had ever lived, and he had beaten them soundly. Like Al Hostak, Georgie Abrams, Fred Apostoli, and Rocky Graziano. When Zale pulverized the super-punching Graziano to regain his world middleweight throne in 1948 (their rubber match), Zale had become the first boxer to regain the middleweight championship of the world since Stanley Ketchel accomplished the task four decades earlier, with Ketchel’s 1908 knockout win over Billy Papke (De Cristofaro, 88). This was only the second time in boxing history that such a mystifying and backbreaking win had been successfully brought to fruition in the world's middleweight ranks (De Cristofaro, 162).

Since 2:45 a. m. of November 5, 2015, the suspects of this major burglary remain at large and unidentified by New York State and Federal law-enforcement authorities (Gray, 1 and Krull, 1). After hours of operation, the thieves shattered a side window to enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame when the building was unoccupied (Gray, 1). The intruders purportedly took advantage of weak security measures at the IBHOF when they struck, such as the lack of any onsite security guards and lack of any closed-circuit video surveillance systems (Silkov, 4). The thieves then approached and smash the glass showcase, which housed the six stolen world championship boxing belts (Gray, 1). The robbers swiftly exited the IBHOF before the police showed up onsite two minutes later, responding to the museum’s burglar alarm (Mueller, 1).

Four of the missing world title boxing belts belong to the Basilio family, and two of them belong to the Zale family (Krull, 1). The belts are adorned and studded with various jewels and precious metals, and their supposed combined monetary value is estimated to be $300,000.00 or greater (Mueller, 1). It is (therefore) factually correct to say this specific theft is the most expensive one involving boxing memorabilia ever (Mueller, 1). Criminal investigators have also described this reptilian heist (digging into the case) as the product of very seasoned and organized burglars (Mueller, 1). Five of the six stolen boxing belts are all original Ring Magazine ones (Gray, 1), which means their individual artistic craftsmanship is both extremely impeccable and wholly nuanced. The Ring boxing belts are masterpieces of human design and handiwork.

In all the thirty-plus years of the IBHOF’s history, the nefarious suspects who committed the crime successfully executed the only attempted heist there (Gray, 1). The number of culprits involved in the huge left is still being debated among law enforcement officials investigating the crime (Gray, 1). The boxing belts are not just highly significant historical objects. They are all very personal family heirlooms. “They [the belts] are our family heritage,”’ said Haley Zale, Tony’s niece and the Zale family spokesperson (Mueller, 1). Haley Zale has stoically and sharply helmed a global “Bring Back the Belts” effort (Mueller, 1). Ms. Zale will not let the public forget of the crimes committed against her family and the Basilios. Why should we then let them pass from our minds and hearts, as well?

The International Boxing Hall of Fame is the fight game’s most sacred and golden shrine. Despite financial rewards amounting to $20,000.00 dollars, funded by former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson and other concerned parties (Silkov, 5), leads trickling into investigators have been scarce (Mueller, 1 and Silkov, 7). It is both tragic and ominously ironic that it should be Basilio’s trophies stolen from the IBHOF. Basilio’s life and achievements inspired the founding of the IBHOF in Canastota, New York, Basilio’s hometown (Silkov, 3). Basilio remains Canastota’s most esteemed athlete and one of her favorite sons.

From the very beginning, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been involved in this case, along with the Canastota Police Dept. (Mueller, 1). No arrests have been executed by authorities conducting this investigation thus far (Mueller, 1 and Silkov, 4). When the thieves broke into the IBHOF on November 5, 2015, they stole the most lucrative merchandise housed by the museum (Silkov, 2). Rumors concerning the thefts being the result of an inside job are currently unconfirmed (Silkov, 5). The FBI is determined to locate the perpetrators of the IBHOF 2015 theft, despite the fact that clues regarding this case are so scant.

The Resting Boxer, Roman bronze
sculpture, circa 300 BC, photo courtesy
of The Italian National Museum of
Rome, 2022

What remains to be said about this despicable act is that the missing boxing belts represent rewards to two men (Zale and Basilio) that were earned through the literal spilling of their blood. Zale and Basilio’s stellar accomplishments occurred in what could be the sports world’s most savage and carnal of endeavors. But to add insult to vile injury, the criminals behind the IBHOF heist coldly and selfishly stole not only the property of the Zale and Basilio families but also those families’ individual history and memories. The latter matters as much as the first. The robbery at the IBHOF does not erase or subvert Zale and Basilio’s superhuman sacrifices, but it does injure them. This is so, especially considering the corrupt and cowardly way Zale and Basilio’s property was seized, unlike the champions, who had to exhibit the utmost human bravery to gain possession and ownership of their revered trophies. History and the law will judge these crooks harshly, perhaps more than the law. But only history can ever solve this as yet enigmatic riddle.




1)   S. De Cristofaro, Boxing’s Greatest Middleweights, copyright 1982,  

       Rochester, New York

2)   The Editors, BoxingRec.Com, February 25, 2022,

3)   Tom Gray, The Ring Magazine, November 10, 2015,

4)    Melissa Krull, Spectrum News 1, November 18, 2020,

5)    Richard Mueller, Sports Collectors Daily, November 6, 2017,

6)    Peter Silkov, The Boxing Glove, November 4, 2018,




If you have any information regarding this case, please contact the Canastota Police Department at (315) 697-2240, (or) you can contact the FBI’s Buffalo field office at (716) 856-7800.  Thank you.



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

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Gibson Train Wreck

by Maude Ennick
©2002 All rights reserved by author.

Editor’s note: At 5:21 AM on July 4, 1912, the worst rear-end collision in railroading history, at the time, happened three miles east of Corning, NY at the Gibson train station - near today's Corning Country Club. It involved three trains that had left Elmira. Freight train No. 393, passenger train No. 9, and Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Express train No. 11. Just minutes after leaving Elmira, No. 11 rear-ended stopped train No. 9 and the stopped engine of No. 393 in Gibson, New York. The great accident left thirty-nine people dead and eighty-eight injured. Ms. Ennick's great uncles Frank and Henry Roemmelt were among the survivors.

It was beginning to be a beautiful Fourth of July, 1912. Sightseers and daytrippers had boarded trains all the way down the line as far as Brooklyn and Newark bound for the sites of Buffalo and Niagara Falls. On schedule, Delaware, Lackawanna, & Western freight train No. 393 left Elmira, New York at 3.50 and after experiencing engine difficulties it was pulling into the siding area of the Gibson [New York] Station to address the problem. After about twenty of its cars cleared the tracks, a drawhead broke and left several remaining unpowered freight cars stranded on the main line. The conductor quickly threw the signal to warn No. 9 of upcoming trouble and to prevent it from crashing into train No. 393’s cars still on the main line. Gibson Station’s flagman, Edward Lane, posted the warning signals including a “warning automatic semaphore” one mile east of Gibson, and sent a man down the tracks with a red flag to a point a half mile from Gibson. He also posted a “double danger semaphore signal” at 300 yards from the rear of train No. 393.

No. 9 left Elmira at 4:47AM bound for Buffalo and Niagara Falls with holiday excursionists from Brooklyn, Scranton, Binghamton, and Elmira. The engineer was T. J. Hartnett of Elmira, and the conductor was Howard Staples of Elmira. As Hartnett came into Gibson he saw the warnings, slowed down, and finally came to a full stop. Hartnett found No. 393 in trouble while uncoupling the cars. It was slow work for No. 393 and so Hartnett in No. 9 prepared to help push No. 393’s remaining cars into the siding.

Shortly after 5:00AM, D. L. & W. Express No. 11 left Elmira carrying the United States mail and more Fourth of July excursionists on their way to Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Engineer William Schroeder held the throttle of the 100-ton engine as it came booming through Big Flats. There was a thick early morning mist rising from the Chemung River.

Simultaneously in Gibson, many passengers on No. 9 had gotten off to stretch their legs and walked along the tracks while No. 9 moved No. 393’s cars to the siding. Down the line at the half-mile warning, Flagman Edward Lane already saw the impending tragedy - No. 11 missed all three warnings and plowed into the back of No. 9, pushing into the back of No. 393.

As the day, and days following unfolded; facts and rumors flew. According to reports made by Lackawanna officials, Schroeder was one of their oldest and best-trained engineers. As usual, he was giving “everything he had” to get to Buffalo and Niagara Falls will the mail closely behind No. 9 as he had done repeatedly many times before. Through the straight stretch in Big Flats engineers liked to run 80 and even 90 mph., Schroeder's estimated speed was 65 mph when he passed the first warning and was still at 65 mph when he passed the flagman. He saw No. 9 at 100 yards in front of him. He jammed on the reverse without cutting off the steam. The quick reversal of power was too great, and the train jumped the tracks. The momentum caused the train to be a projectile with only 50 yards to impact. The reversal of power threw Schroeder out of the cab’s window, and he landed on his head and shoulder, and he lay near the tracks as his train shot past him and into the back of No. 9. It ploughed straight through No. 9 demolishing its last three coaches and squeezed together the Pullman cars until “they looked like a closed accordion.” Then it stopped. Schroeder awoke hurt and surveyed the “inferno.” Some passengers and crew were alive and moving. Among the injured passengers from Elmira were Bernard Strauss, Frank and George Roemmelt, Herman Hart, Edna Keigler, and M. H. Taylor.

Mangles bodies lay “in every way.” Schroeder could not speak or move for three hours and then wandered away and walked back to Elmira - a distance of 14-and-a-half miles. Elmira’s undertakers worked all day and night and by 9:00PM, all the bodies were ready for burial. Corning was not in a mood to celebrate the Fourth and quickly cancelled its fireworks display. Rescuers took the living passengers to Corning. The injured passengers were taken to Elmira’s St. Joseph’s Hospital.

William Schroeder lived on the second floor of 1015 Lake Street in Elmira, about 4 blocks from the train yard, and his attending physician reported him to be in a state of “complete mental collapse.” His doctor recommended “complete quiet for many days.”

When word of the wreck reached the railroad authorities in Scranton, Pennsylvania, investigators began quick journeys to Gibson. Superintendent E. M. Rine [in Scranton] stated that Flagman Lane “is held equally responsible with Schroeder for not properly flagging a train.” Schroeder was responsible for “running past signals.” In his report, Rine stated, “Train No. 9 was composed of seven sleeping Pullmans, a buffet car, and two coaches, and was stopped at Gibson - where a freight train blocked the main line. Edward Lane, flagman of train No. 9, went 2,000 feet with flags and fuses to stop the express train due at the station in a few minutes. He set and lighted the fuses - green in color - meaning ‘caution’ and waited for the train. Lane claimed that Schroeder’s train ‘came at a high rate of speed and shot past him without seeing the warnings.' Lackawanna cited Lane as partly to blame because Lackawanna’s Book of Rules states: Torpedoes shall be used in foggy or stormy weather.”

Lane said he heard the train coming and expected it to slacken its speed. Officials said Lane failed in his duty by “not placing torpedoes on the tracks to warn the express train.”

On July 9, the Elmira Star-Gazette reported that the “train had missed its first warning because Fireman Huntley was talking to Schroeder about too much water in the boiler.” They adjusted the boiler, and as Schroeder turned around to talk to Huntley, and the crash came. On July 10, the newspaper reported, “Schroeder’s  wife was not home [on July 3] but he was home with relatives.” In the morning (July 3), he repaired the front doorbell to be sure that the railroad's call person could wake him. He left home for [Elmira’s downtown] at 12 noon, was gone for two hours, and then returned home and was with women relatives until 6:00 PM. Then he went to one of their houses for dinner. He came back with them to his house around 7.00 PM. Then he went to someone’s house on Oak Street and came back before 8:30 PM. Around 9:00PM he went downtown again and visited several saloons. The newspaper reported that Timothy Houlihan saw him at 9:30 PM on Lake Street and believed him to be sober. Charles Sharp, a waiter at the Senate Café, claimed he saw Schroeder first at 12 midnight on July 3/4. He believed Schroeder to have taken “two drinks of gin” before 12. Schroeder ordered a steak but “did not drink alcohol.” After, Schroeder went with Sharp to Falsey’s Café. Sharp had a[n] alcoholic drink and Schroeder had mineral water. They were only there five minutes. Then they went to Kelly’s Saloon where they each had another drink (Schroeder had another mineral water). Schroeder supposedly went home around 12:30, but Charles Klapproth, a saloon owner, saw him downtown [on Lake Street] at 12:30 and reported Schroeder as “sober.” On July 11, the Star-Gazette reported that Schroeder returned home between 12:00 and 1:00 AM a few hours before he took his ill-fated run. The railroad call boy came twice, once at 3:00AM and because Schroeder did not respond, again at 4:10AM. Schroeder responded to the second doorbell ring. Sharp said the next time that [Sharp] saw Schroeder was after the wreck and [Schroeder] told him that “the fireman was to blame.” On July 15, the Star-Gazette reported that Schroeder said that he had two drinks of gin for rheumatism in the whole day before the wreck. Schroeder said he was not on Lake Street at 12:30 as he went to sleep at 12:10.

Schroeder worked 42-and-a-half years for the D. L. & W., and was the engineer of train No. 11 for nine years. He had lived in Elmira for twenty-six years, and before that he lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

On July 16, the newspaper reported the “train had similar problems [the boiler problem] earlier but was working [when it left Elmira].” “They [Schroeder and Huntley] were looking at the foaming water in the boiler and trying to fix the two injectors. It worked for two minutes. Schroeder went out on the running board. Between the mechanical problem and his conversation with Huntley, Schroeder missed the three signals. He did see the rear of No. 9 and pulled the reverse lever thinking he was pulling back the throttle.

Schroeder was charged with murder and spent the rest of the summer and fall holed up in his house. The trial was to take place in Bath, New York in November [1912]. The day the trial was to commence it was decided that there was "insufficient evidence" and Schroeder's case was dismissed much to the courtroom's surprise. Schroeder, though not guilty in the eyes of the law, suffered the rest of his life with taunts and jeers.

Today’s major train wrecks in United States are well documented, but in researching incidents of many years ago, the facts are less easily found. The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) began its work studying railroad train wrecks in 1911 and continued into the 1970's when the NTSB assumed their role. There are only 80 reports for 1912, but the statistics in the report on the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad wreck of October 3rd (Volume 2 File 091) show a total of 13,698 accidents that killed 772 people and injured 15,096. The reports give a good insight into the workings of the railroads in the early 1900s and the fight of the ICC for improvements in operations and infrastructure to reduce the transportation industry’s accident rate.

Brand, John.  Telephone conversion, July 1993.
Elmira Advertiser, July 5, 1912.
Elmira Star-Gazette, July 13 -17, 1912.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Aid from Central New York to Ireland During the Great Hunger

by Harvey Strum, Russell Sage College

Copyright © 2022 All rights reserved by the author.



“Our only desire being that this little contribution which we are able to make shall be so 
disposed of as to alleviate, to a great extent as it can, the sufferings of our brethren, the 
afflicted people of Ireland,” expressed the hope of the Irish Relief Committee of Utica. In 
1846-47 the people of New York from Erie County to Suffolk County and from Malone to 
the Bowery rallied to the cause of Ireland. Residents of central New York joined in this 
statewide and national movement of voluntary philanthropy as the United States emerged 
as the leader in voluntary international philanthropy. More aid came from New York state 
than any other state, and more ships sailed from the port of New York City carrying food 
and clothing than any other city in the United States. American aid became a voluntary 
people to people movement because President James K. Polk considered foreign aid 
unconstitutional and would not support a bipartisan proposal in the Senate to appropriate 
$500,000 to aid the suffering, Irish. This meant the American people had to take 
responsibility for helping the Irish without leadership from Washington. As a newspaper 
in Norwich, Chenango County argued: “not only in this town, but every other town in the 
county, we hope to see obey the call of humanity” because “hundreds are dying daily of 
starvation in Ireland.” The people of central New York lived up to this responsibility and 
gave their pennies, quarters, and dollars for the Irish.[1] 

Novelist James Fenimore Cooper, chairman of the Cooperstown and Otsego County 
Irish Relief Committee, observed the widespread support of Irish relief: “Widows gave 
their sixpences and shillings, and I never knew a better spirit in the ascendant.” Otsego 
County provided a model of Irish relief efforts in central New York and in the United States during the Great Hunger. Local newspapers published harrowing accounts of the famine in Ireland. According to the Freeman’s Journal, of Cooperstown: “The accounts from Ireland, of the famishing condition of her people, are most appalling.” Readers learned of the dire conditions in Ireland and Scotland. To stimulate action, the press reported on famine relief meetings in other parts of the country and of meetings in Washington and Albany encouraging citizens to organize their own relief committees. [2]  

James Fenimore Cooper and one hundred and thirty-two other citizens of Cooperstown issued an appeal, “Relief to Ireland,” directed “To the Inhabitants of the County of Otsego” notifying them that a preliminary meeting for Irish relief met on 20 February and decided to request the citizens of Otsego County gather at a county meeting on 4 March to aid the Irish. Their appeal emphasized the magnitude of the crisis in Ireland, and the obligation of the American people to help. To push the people of Otsego County to act, Cooper and the others remined citizens of the “great and laudable exertions are making, in all parts of this vast country” to help the starving Irish. Newspapers and public meetings frequently used a combination of competition and shaming to motivate local residents to act. The appeal stressed the bounty of America compared to the want in Europe, a theme repeated across the country in 1847, but Cooper and the others raised an issue rarely mentioned in other city, town, and county meetings that the blessings of philanthropy were worth more than the pride of military victories---a not subtle reference to the Mexican American War. [3]

When the residents of Cooperstown met on 4 March, James Fenimore Cooper assumed the chairmanship of the resolutions committee and gave the major speech about conditions in Ireland. Robert Campbell chaired the meeting, and Charles McLean served as secretary. George Starkweather followed Cooper and addressed the assembled crowd. Resolutions adopted at the meeting stressed the common themes raised around the country. The resolutions voiced concerns about the magnitude of the crisis, the sympathy of the people of Otsego County to the human suffering in Europe, American abundance, and the need to unite to help the people of Ireland. Cooperstown’s residents elected James Fenimore Cooper chairman, George Starkweather secretary, and Henry Scott as treasurer of the Cooperstown and Otsego County Central Committee for Irish Relief. Resolutions recommended the establishment of local committees in each town in the county to collect foodstuffs, clothing, and money. Members of the Central Committee suggested dividing the towns by school districts and sending young men in sleighs or other vehicles to each house to collect donations. The Central Committee recommended food donations of corn, peas, beans, grain, and smoked and salted meat. A separate county appeal stressed American abundance, the scale of the suffering, and appealed to the pride and charity of the residents of Otsego County. Because “hundreds perish every week” and “food is wanting and that we possess in abundance” the American people must help the Irish.[4]

Newspaper editors endorsed famine relief, as they did throughout the United States. According to the editor of Freeman’s Journal: “The Irish Relief Depot, directly opposite our window, is filling rapidly with generous contributions of the humane.” The editor singled out the town of Hartwick “has been foremost in her action, and met a good example, which it is hoped…will be followed by her sister towns.” Editors used a mixture of pointing out good examples of charity, emphasizing competition in good works, and shaming to encourage donations. Similarly, the editor of the Otsego Democrat, reported on the Central Committee sending 125 barrels of grain “for the benefit of the starving Irish. Let the cry be ‘still they come’” Cooperstown’s newspapers published reports of the donations, as for example, “the towns of Maryland and Butternuts, and some other towns, have considerable grain in store, which will be forwarded as soon as canal [Erie Canal] navigation opens.” James Fenimore Cooper collected donations through the middle of July 1847, and like other county chairmen, forwarded the collections to the Irish relief committee in New York City for transportation to the Society of Friends in Dublin for distribution. [5]

Nearby Madison County followed the same pattern. As early as November 1846 residents could read of the “almost want of supply in Ireland, and the increasing destitution in that country, and in some parts of Scotland.” Conditions had not improved by February 1847: :There appears to be no mitigation in the accounts of sufferings by the famine in Ireland.” A circular appeared in mid-February calling upon “the citizens of Madison County to assemble in their respective towns, on Wednesday next, the 24th inst.,----for the purpose of contributing to the wants of the starving people of Ireland.” A local editor encouraged participation: “We hope the call will not be unheeded.” The press played a vital role in stimulating participation in the famine relief drive. A local paper, Madison County Whig publicized the meeting “for the purpose of raising funds for the starving millions of Ireland”[6]

Citizens of the county met on the 24th at the Presbyterian Church in Cazenovia. Banker Jacob Ten Eyck presided at the meeting and resolutions adopted stressed he privations in Ireland, sympathy of the American people, and Americans, “abounding in the surplus of breadstuffs, and all productions of the earth” had a moral obligation to aid the Irish. Unlike the later Know Nothing movement that identified the Irish as the demonic Catholics, in 1847 the people of Madison County portrayed the Irish as “fellow-men” suffering from the destruction of their crops. In 1847, the Irish were fellow Christians. To assist in aiding the Irish the Central Committee established at the meeting created district subcommittees in the village of Cazenovia and urged the creation of town committees in the county to solicit donations. Unlike the Otsego County committee, but in common with most village, town, and county committees in the United States, the Cazenovia and Madison County Committee called upon the clergy to actively solicit contributions in each church. [7]

Contributions came in from throughout the county. In the village of Cazenovia, Jacob Ten Eyck donated $25, the lodge of Independent Order of Odd Fellows,$75, and ‘KJ’s, “an order of young men, $27. Members of the Methodist, Presbyterian. Baptist, and Free Will Baptists collected in church for the Irish. Women donated as well as men, like Mrs. D.M. Pulford who gave $3, Anna Rice donated $1, and Mrs. C. Stone fifty cents. Altogether Cazenovia raised $366, Stockbridge $133, Smithfield $127, Madison $96, and De Ruyter about $76. By far, the largest contribution in the county and in upstate New York came from abolitionist Gerrit Smith of Peterboro, who sent $2,000 to the New York City committee “given to the starving people of Europe.”. People throughout the county, whether Lucretia Fuller with twenty-five cents to Smith’s $2,000 joined in this state and national movement of voluntary philanthropy.[8]

“We ought not to be behind our neighbors in this work of charity,” asked the editor of the Chenango Telegraph. Millions of people faced starvation in Ireland and “is Norwich to do anything in the good work?” Meetings took place throughout Chenango County. At a spirited meeting at New Berlin for Irish relief several speakers discussed the crisis, the audience donated $118, and the town meeting established a central committee to collect donation dividing up the town into school districts to facilitate fundraising. Similarly, led by the Society of Friends in Smyrna, residents sent $60 to New York City for the Irish. The inhabitants of Shelburne sent thirty-nine bags of cornmeal to New York. Town and village meetings provided an opportunity as the most basic level for the people of central New York to express their support for the cause of Irish relief. [9]

Village and town meeting played an instrumental role in initiating famine relief efforts in Tompkins County. Residents of Trumansburg met at the Presbyterian Church on 25 February and formed “a town society for the relief of the poor in Ireland and Scotland.” The audience voted to create an executive committee representing Trumansburg and the neighboring Jacksonville and Waterburgh and established depots for the collection of foodstuffs and clothing. A couple of weeks later Rev. Wilson Walker encouraged members of his Episcopalian congregation at St. Johns Church in Ithaca to donate $62 for Ireland. A local newspaper praised the congregation for its liberality, considering being “few in number, compared with some other denominations among us.” The editor of the Ithaca Journal wanted to start a competition between denominations to aid the Irish. [10]

Efforts by the editor and Rev, Walker pressured the trustees of Ithaca to call a village meeting for Ireland on Tuesday evening, March 16th. As the newspaper suggested: “A general attendance of our citizens is earnestly requested.” Nathan Williams, President of the Board of Trustees, chaired the meeting. After a few remarks by President Williams about the grave conditions in Ireland followed by three other speakers discussing the problems in Ireland and the need for Americans to help. At a second meeting on 30th March attendees established a general committee to collect donations in foodstuffs and money. Village residents divided up the village into three districts to facilitate fundraising and called on towns in Tompkins County who have not previously contributed to hold meetings and send aid to Ithaca for collection. Workers at the Ithaca Falls Woolen Factory sent in their donations for Ireland including $5 from Augustus Atwood, $1 from Thomas Bray, $1 from Eliza Stoddard, and $1 from Margaret Maloney. These donations confirmed that aid for Ireland was a people-to-people movement in 1847 including from the poor operatives, men, and women, at a woolen mill in Ithaca, New York. [11]

Women donated to Irish relief, from Brooklyn to Potsdam, but they could also initiate famine relief as they did in Binghamton, Broome County. In early February 1847, a group of women, led by Mrs. Dr. Andrews, Mrs. D.S. Dickinson, and Mrs. John Clapp, called on the ladies and gentlemen to attend a relief party at the house of Edward White Binghamton’s women established a Ladies’ Irish Relief Committee. The press endorsed this event as a “noble and praiseworthy project, and we hope to see the citizens of Binghamton” give liberally to the cause. Although a severe hailstorm hit that evening the women’s appeal “was responded to with much zeal and real charity by the inhabitants of our village.” Members of the Odd Fellows gave $100. Women raised $427 to purchase cornmeal sent to Dunmunnay and Skibbereen, Ireland. In addition, “ladies whose hearts have been touched with sympathy for their perishing fellow beings in Ireland,” were invited to bring clothes and bedding to the home of Gilbert Tompkins for the Irish. [12]

Spurred on by the actions of Binghamton’s women the citizens of Binghamton met twice in March for Ireland. According to one of the newspapers the first meeting was “to add our mite to the large contributions now being gathered in many of the cities and towns in our country.” Speakers concentrated on the conditions in Ireland and the sympathy of the American people. At the first meeting, few of the wealthy and those with social standing attended and the bulk of the audience showed the “weather beaten faces of the mechanics and Irish laborers.” The meeting raised $200 including $80 from the Irish laborers on the local railroad. An appeal was also made to the towns in Broome County to participate. John Clapp, the treasurer of the Binghamton Irish Relief Committee sent $814 from Binghamton to Mahlon Day of the New York City committee who thanked “thee and all the contributors, in the name of suffering humanity for your benevolent aid.”[13]

H. Montgomery, editor of the Daily Advertiser, in Auburn, Cayuga County, agreed on the need to help suffering humanity, but added the competitive edge, “Auburn and Syracuse, with the people of the counties in which they are located would not suffer themselves to be outdone in philanthropy.” Montgomery became one of the organizers of Irish relief in Auburn, evidence of the advocacy role played by newspaper editors during the first half of the 19th Century. Montgomery signed the broadside for a public meeting “to take into consideration the propriety of sending contributions for the relief of the poor [14]in Ireland, suffering the evils of famine.’ The most prominent signer of the appeal was William Henry Seward, former Whig governor of New York, and future Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln. [15]

Villagers met on 15 February 1847, and the village President, E. A. Warden asked William Henry Seward to chair the meeting. Auburn’s meeting did something unique passing a resolution asking the state legislature to appropriate $100,000 for Irish relief. After adopting several resolutions, a subcommittee drafted an address that appealed for donations due to the calamitous situation facing the Irish people. This appeal identified the Irish not as the “other” but as members of “our race” suffering starvation. As with other meetings in central New York and the United States, the address reminded the villagers that they lived in a land of abundance and had a responsibility to help the Irish. Villagers expressed their support for a Congressional appropriation for the Irish and pledged to work with the state Irish relief committee in Albany The Auburn meeting prompted Cayuga towns to organize their own relief committees. For example, Springport’s inhabitants met on 18 February at the Presbyterian Church for collecting contributions “to relieve the extreme desolation and starving conditions of the poor of Ireland.” Residents established an executive committee to collect funds and foodstuffs for the Irish. Other towns in the county followed sending donations to either the state committee or the New York City committee. [16]

Similar appeals emerged in towns in Onondaga County. In Baldwinsville, the local newspaper reminded its readers that “meetings are being held in all parts of the country and means devised for the mitigation of the distress of the poor peasantry in Ireland and Scotland.” The editor of the Onondaga Gazette recommended that the people of the town of Baldwinsville needed to help: “The people of this county---of this very town, are able in some degree to alleviate this distress by making collections…from their abundance.” Once again, and editor encouraged, advocated, and shamed his readers to help the suffering, Irish. The Baldwinsville editor portrayed the Irish as fellow human beings needing our assistance, not the “other,” a recurrent theme throughout central New York. In 1847, most Americans identified with the Irish as fellow Christians. As in Binghamton and Brooklyn, the editor wanted women to take the lead: “We hope our ladies will take this matter in hand and busy themselves in collecting subscriptions for the famishing.” Women could accomplish more in a week “than any man or set of men in a month.” This was an unusual perspective about the role of women in 1847, although women in towns and cities in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois played an important role in famine relief in 1847.[17]

Continuing the pressure to act the editor noted: “Another week has passed, and the citizens of Lysander have done nothing---nothing---for the relief of suffering humanity in the old country.” The editor did not believe that his readers “are so given to hardness of heart to turn a deaf ear to the cries of misery and distress” from Europe. Citizens throughout New York held meetings and established committees to raise relief aid. The editor asked: “Then why should we be backward.?” Closer to home he cited the meetings in Salina and Syracuse in Onondaga County. A relief meeting held recently in Syracuse collected $600 and within two weeks rose to $1,000. At the meeting in Salina, a county relief committee was formed with James Lynch, chairing the county executive committee, consisting of representative from Salina and Syracuse. Drafting an appeal to the towns in Onondaga County the committee stressed the magnitude of the crisis, the abundance of the American people, common Christianity, and the need for each town in the county to hold Irish relief meetings. The meeting made clear that “our fellow citizens without distinction of sect or party” joined to alleviate the suffering in Ireland. [18]

Towns responded. Spafford held a meeting for Irish relief on 10th March creating a committee of ten to procure contributions and a local executive committee to receive and forward the donations. In mid-April, residents of Baldwinsville met at the Seneca Hotel to organize relief efforts. The editor argued if you cannot afford to give $20 give $5, and if you cannot afford $5 give $1 or fifty cents, “at least give something---and show you are not entirely destitute of charitable feeling.” Van Buren and Lysander also held meetings in mid-April for Irish relief. Manlius sent twenty-seven barrels of cornmeal aboard James in June to Limerick. The women of the Presbyterian Church and Society of Onondaga Hollow held a fair and collected $63.68 “to the relief of the starving Irish and Scotch.” Cardiff sent $95, Skaneateles $50, Liverpool $51, and Fulton $40. Meanwhile, James Lynch, of the Irish Relief Committee of Salina and Syracuse sent $1,200 as a “first remittance” to Myndert Van Schaick, chairman of the New York City General Irish Relief Committee. Members of the Salina and Syracuse committee preferred that half of their donations be used to send cornmeal to the Irish counties of Cork, Kerry, and Tipperary where they believed “the greatest destitution prevails.” Van Schaick informed the Dublin Quakers of the wishes of the people of Salina and Syracuse. Eventually, Syracuse and Onondaga County donated about $3,000. Separately, Catholic churches in Salina and Syracuse sent $31 and $250, respectively, to Archbishop John Hughes in New York City for the Irish relief committee. Catholic priests split on how they forwarded money donated in church for the Irish, as some sent the funds to their local Irish relief committees, others to the New York City committee, and other preferred to go through Archbishop Hughes. [19]

Meanwhile, a committee of women was appointed in Rome, Oneida County to solicit donations. According to the Roman Citizen’s editor, J.P Fitch, “through them the good people of this place my assist in relieving the terrible distress of the Irish.” The women in Rome “were busy taking subscriptions for the relief of the famishing in Europe.’ Fitch expressed his hope no one in Rome would refuse the women’s request for donations. Responding the appeal that came from the state Irish relief committee in Albany, the citizens of Rome met in mid-February with the village president, Dr. H.H. Pope chairing the meeting. Not surprisingly, editor J.P. Fitch won election as a member of Rome’s Executive Committee, again suggesting how newspaper editors not only publicized local relief efforts but became active participants. Subcommittees were established to divide the town, including Wright’s Settlement, On the Turnpike, and Across the Swamp, to facilitate reaching everyone in the community for donations. To further aid in fundraising, several vocalists from Utica came to town to hold a musical concert for Irish relief. In response to an appeal from the Oneida County Relief Committee in Utica, Rome became one of the two depots in he county for contributions of flour, wheat, cornmeal, and other provisions. By early March, Rome’s committee sent eighty barrels of flour and one bag of peas by the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad to the state committee in Albany. In addition to the town’s donations Roman Catholics, primarily Irish, sent remittances totaling $700 via Father Beecham to family and friends in Ireland. As the Roman Citizen concluded these remittances came from “day laborers…struggling hard against poverty here” In one case, a poor Irish girl sent $10 “who works for five shillings a week. There is a noble vein of humanity in the Irish heart.”  [20]

The main meeting in Oneida County was held in Utica on the 11th of February at the Common Council Room led by Mayor Edmund .A. Whetmore, a Whig, assisted by C.C. Broadhead, and merchant and Catholic activist Nicholas Devereux. After listening to several speeches about the plight of the Irish and the need to help, a City General Committee was elected which included Whetmore, Devereux, Broadhead, and future governor Democrat Horatio Seymour. Other members of the Executive Committee were abolitionist Alvin Stewart and Judge Ezekiel Bacon, a delegate to the 1846 constitutional convention. Francis Kernan, Catholic, a Democratic politician, future Senator, and businessman, was elected Treasurer and ward committees were created to canvass for donations. James Watson Williams, the future Democratic mayor of Utica, served on the third ward subcommittee. Participants in the meeting gave $725. By the time of the second meeting for Irish relief on the 18th of February, the committee had raised an additional $1,194 including $100 from a concert at St. John’s Church and $106.51 from the Lunatic Asylum. Officers, attendants, and patients at the State Lunatic Asylum met on the afternoon of the 18th to discuss the conditions in Ireland. Dr. Brigham chaired the meeting and one of the patients served as secretary. Resolutions approved mentioned the deplorable conditions of the Irish people, the sympathy of Americans, and need to do what they could to alleviate the suffering. While patients offered to donate, only contributions from officers and attendants were considered appropriate. Newspapers throughout New York state devoted space to the Irish relief meeting at the Lunatic Asylum.[21]

The committee in Utica asked the help of the women of the community to collect clothing for the Irish. A resolution moved by Francis Kernan requested “that the ladies of Utica…are hereby solicited to co-operate in this work of mercy.” Also, the Catholic Order of Sisters of Charity, collected clothing. Female participation followed the pattern of social space allowed women in mid -19th Century America. Aiding the Irish appeared a natural extension to men of women’s roles in the home. For women it provided an opportunity to participate in a national voluntary effort and to take a more public role. Historian Christine Kinealy concluded that “women in the United States provided assistance to Ireland in various ways.” As in other communities women joined in donating to the starving. For example, Catherine Condon gave $5 as did Mrs. M. Manahan, Mrs. Regan donated $1, Mary Sullivan and Eliza Walsh fifty cents. While middle class women tended to participate in public meetings or in the publicized clothing drives, as in Binghamton, Rome, and Utica. Working class women contributing to Irish relief, including the operatives at the Ithaca Falls Woolen Factory, contributors in Utica or Cazenovia, or Irish women sending remittances in Rome. [22]

Members of the Utica committee reached out to the towns in Oneida County, like Rome, to hold their own meetings for the Irish or allow visits from committee members to collect donations. In their county appeal, the committee informed the residents of Oneida County about the danger of inaction since “the famine…is sweeping thousands of her people to the gates of death.’” Ireland depended upon American for assistance to survive. American prosperity demanded that neighbors in each town join together to encourage donations and the clergy in each town “take charge of this benevolent effort” calling on their congregations to give money or send flour, wheat, cornmeal, corn, or other provisions to the depots in Rome and Utica. Afterall, the committee argued “let us remember we can carry nothing into the next world except we have given away in this.” Towns responded, for example, Boonville sent $100, citizens of Deerfield asked the committee to send a representative to collect the town’s subscription, and farmers from surrounding towns brought in a large quantity of provisions. In the end the Utica committee sent 500 barrels of kiln dried corn aboard the warship Macedonian and expressed their “hope and prayers that God will stay the ravages of famine.”[23]

The movement in central New York and throughout the United States to help the Irish in 1847 became a people-to-people movement of kindness and generosity by Americans to the starving people of Ireland. Americans repeatedly stressed in central New York and elsewhere that as a people of plenty with abundant harvests Americans had an obligation to help the starving in Europe. Americans saw the Irish in 1847, not as the hated Catholic “other,” but as fellow Christians facing a disaster. The Irish were fellow human beings, brethren, who faced death without American assistance. 

Newspaper editors, like J.P. Fitch in Rome, clergy, and politicians, like William Henry Seward in Auburn pushed their communities to participate in this national cause of international philanthropy. Fitting a pattern of American voluntary action, citizens of towns, like Boonville in Oneida County or Ithaca in Tompkins County, organized temporary relief committees to spur their residents to contribute. Collecting money, food, and clothing, the local committees sent on their donations to county committees or directly to the state committee in Albany or the New York City committee for transportation to Europe. Trusting the Society of Friends in Dublin to be impartial and non-partisan in their distribution of the aid, Americans, whether in Utica, New York or Charleston, South Carolina, sent most of the contributions to the Dublin Quakers. American aid was non-partisan as both Whig and Democratic politicians advocated aid, and members of every religious denomination, including Catholics, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Baptists joined in this national movement of international charity as the United States became the leader in international philanthropy during the Great Hunger in Ireland. Writing to the Utica and Oneida County committee, Dublin Quakers Joseph Bewley and Jonathan Pim, expressed their gratitude to the Utica committee and “the generous efforts of the citizens of the United States.”[24]

About the author: Harvey Strum is a history and political science professor at Russell Sage College in Troy and Albany. His most recent publications include: America’s Mission of Mercy to Ireland, 1880, New York History, 2018; Schenectady’s Jews, Zionism, New York History Review, 2019, 2020, 2021.



[1] Irish Relief Committee of Utica New York to Society of Friends in Dublin, 8 May 1847, 


Society of Friends, Transactions of the Society of Friends During the Famine in Ireland 


(Dublin: Edmund Burke, 1996 reprint of 1852 edition), 241; Norwich Chenango 


Telegraph, 24 February 1847.


[2] J. Fenimore Cooper to Richard  Bentley, 27 March 1847, James Franklin Beard, ed., The Letters and Journals of James Fenimore Cooper (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1968), V, 199; Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal, 20 February 1847.

[3] Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal, 27 February 1847.


[4] Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal, 13 March 1847; Cooperstown Otsego Democrat, 13 


March 1847;  Another copy of the county resolutions, “To the Citizens of Otsego County, 


8 March 1847, from J. Fenimore Cooper and members of the Central Committee, in 


Beard, James Fenimore Cooper, V, 197-98.


[5] Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal, 13 March 1847; Cooperstown Democrat, 20 March 


1847; Cooperstown Freeman’s Journal, 24 April 1847; James Fenimore Cooper to Jacob 


Harvey, 22 July 1847, James Cummins bookseller. 


[6] Cazenovia Madison County Whig, 11 November 1847, 24 February 1847, 17 February 


1847; February 24, 1847.


[7] Cazenovia Madison County Whig, 3 March 1847.


[8] Cazenovia Madison County Whig 3, 10 March 18477 April 1847; Disbursements, 13 


March 1847, “given to the starving from Europe, $2,000” Gerrit Smith Papers, Department 


of Special Collections, E.S. Bird Library, Syracuse University Library, Syracuse, N.Y.


[9] Norwich Chenango Telegraph, 24 February 1847; Friends, Transactions, 337.


[10] Ithaca Journal & General Advertiser, 2 March 1847 for Trumansburg meeting, 10 March 


1847 for Episcopal meeting.


[11] Ithaca Journal & General Advertiser, 17 March 1847, 7 April 1847. Every worker at the 


Ithaca Falls Woolen Mill is listed with their contributions. 


[12]Binghamton Courier, 10 February 1847; Binghamton Broome Republican, 10 February 


1847; See letter to the editor, 24 February 1847 from the women’s committee; New 


Orleans Delta, 17 March 1847;  Norwich Chenango Telegraph, 24 February 1847; 


Binghamton Courier, 10 March 1847 for request to donate clothing; “Subscriber P to the 


Editor of the Freeman’s Journal,” 17 February 1847, New York Freeman’s Journal, 6


March 1847


[13] Binghamton Courier, 17 February 1847; John Clapp to the Editor of the Broome 


Republican, 9 April 1847, Mahlon Day to John Clapp, 29 March 1847, in Binghamton 


Broome Republican, 14 April 1847.


[14] Auburn Daily Advertiser, 13 February 1847. 


[15]Auburn Daily Advertiser, 15 February 1847 for the public appeal. 


[16] Auburn Daily Advertiser, 20 February 1847.


[17] Baldwinsville Onondaga Gazette, 18 February 1847.


[18] Baldwinsville Onondaga Gazette, 24 February 1847, 3 March 1847.As an example of 


an advertisement from the Executive Committee to the towns in the county, see 14 April 


1847. For an account of the Salina and Syracuse meeting, Syracuse Daily Star, 17


February 1847; For brief accounts of meetings Syracuse Religious Recorder of Central 


and Western New York, 18, 25 February 1847, 11 March 1847.


[19]Baldwinsville Onondaga Gazette, 24 March 1847; 14 April 1847; Syracuse Religious 


Recorder of Central and Western New York, 11 March 1847 (3:45); M. Van Schaick to 


Joseph Bewley and Jonathan Pim, 16 March 1847 in General Relief Committee, Aid to 


Ireland (New York: General Relief Committee, 1848), 82-83 for reference to the letter from 


James Lynch of the Salina and Syracuse committee and 37, 40 for Syracuse donations. 


Also, for funds raised in the towns in Onondaga County and final results, see Syracuse


Daily Star, 17 August 1847. Copies of the Star kindly provided by the Onondaga County 


Public Library in Syracuse. 


[20] Roman Citizen, 12 February, 19 February, 26 February, 5 March 1847. Also, for the role 


of women as fundraisers in Rome, see Albany Argus, 16 February 1847.


[21] Utica Daily Gazette, 12 February, 13 February, 18 February, 20 February, 22 February, 


1847;  As examples of the distribution of the story on the Lunatic Asylum, New York 


Freeman’s Journal, 27 February 1847, and Binghamton Courier, 17 March 1847. As an 


example of collections, see $25 subscription for Irish relief to Francis Kernan, Treasurer, 


5 April 1847, Francis Kernan Papers (part of the Kernan Family Papers), Special 


Collections, Carl Koch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca. 


[22] Utica Daily Gazette, 6 March, 9 March 1847; Christine Kinealy, Charity, and the Great 


Hunger in Ireland: The Kindness of Strangers (London and New York: Bloomsbury 


Academic, 2013), 161.


[23] Roman Citizen, 5 March 1847; Utica Daily Gazette, 20 February 1847,  6,  23 and 27 


March 1847; Irish Relief Committee of Utica New York to the Society of Friends in Dublin, 


8 May 1847, Transactions, 241.


[24] Joseph Bewley and Jonathan Pim, secretaries, to Edmund Wetmore, et al, 7 November 


1848, in Utica Morning Herald, 18 November 1848. The Utica committee issued a brief 


final report of the donations sent to Ireland. Also, published Utica Daily Gazette. A copy 


of this report kindly provided by the Oneida History Center in Utica.