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Saturday, July 7, 2018

German-Prussian Immigrants on the Niagara Frontier
The Early years of the Old Lutheran Church in the New World

by Paul Lubienecki, PhD
copyright ©2018 All right reserved by the author.

Buffalo and western New York in the initial decades of the 19th century evolved into the gateway of the West because of the Erie Canal. The area was a haven for the Irish who built the canal as they settled to the south of Buffalo. The Germans fled political turmoil in Europe and occupied the rich farmlands north of the city especially in Niagara County. Commercial interests were growing due to the canal and a developing grain mill industry, lumber business, agricultural interests and brick manufacturing. Immigrants from Europe who settled on the Niagara Frontier encountered multiple obstacles from both nature and the unwanted hostility of native born Americans. Of those who inhabited western New York it was the individuals of German heritage that overcame much to be successful participants in the development of the Niagara Frontier. This work will examine those of northern German-Prussian heritage who initially settled in Niagara county just north of Buffalo, New York.[1] Their efforts to secure religious liberty was the impetus for leaving the Old World for America. Internal dissention followed and by the end of the Civil War the German-Prussian congregations fractured. Yet it is their legacy of triumph over multiple obstacles to secure their identity in the New World that remains vibrant to this day.


Germany, in contemporary terms, became a unified nation state in 1871 but prior to that event it was a territory composed of duchies, principalities and undersized kingdoms. Linguistic Germans identified themselves more as “subjects” of that particular political entity or region. The displaced Teutonic Knights, religious warriors of the Crusades, settled the northeastern borderlands on the shores of the Baltic Sea. This area ultimately evolved from a duchy into the Kingdom of Prussia that was a domineering European power until the late nineteenth century. [2]

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Deal Gone Sour: How A Henry Clay – Nativist Alliance Nearly Stopped the Civil War

©2018 All rights reserved by the author.

The Election of 1844 pitted Democrat James K. Polk against Whig elder statesman Henry Clay. Polk triumphed, but by the slimmest of margins. In an election that saw over 2.7 million people vote, merely 38,000 votes separated the candidates. While the 170-105 margin in the Electoral College seems a comfortable one, minor shifts of voters in several states (New York most notable among them) erase Clay’s deficit. The closeness of this election has justifiably attracted the attention of historians who, for over one hundred years, have speculated the reasons for Polk’s victory. Almost exclusively, historians tend to steer the conversation towards a discussion of issues, such as Texas annexation, that caused Clay to lose the election. The semantics are important; claiming Clay lostthe electionimplies that absent any mishandling of issues, Clay stood to win. This assumption is not supported by the historical record. Mid-nineteenth century voters held intense partisan attachments, perhaps even more so than today and the independent swing vote so critical to modern elections had yet to crystalize. Also, in 1844 slavery had yet begun ripping apart partisan alliances as it would in the 1850’s — this election boiled down to raw voter numbers and what party could more successfully rally their rank and file to the polls. The pool of unattached voters was extremely limited so issues served the purpose of arousing already partisan voters, not attracting unaffiliated ones. In other words, the large majority of people who voted in 1844 did so according to deep rooted partisan identification regardless of where the candidates stood on the issues. Charles Sellers illustrated this point when assessing the role of Texas on the outcome of the election, claiming that “more voters favored annexation because they were Democrats than voted Democratic because they favored annexation.” Due to surges in the heavily Democratic immigrant vote, Polk held the advantage in 1844 despite the benefit of his opponent’s name recognition. Therefore, Clay’s only chance of victory rested on his ability to attract the votes of the admittedly small number of those not already attached to Polk through party affiliation. By focusing on issues that cost Clay votes that were not his to lose, historians have often overlooked a key bloc of generally unaffiliated voters that Clay nearly rode to the presidency — the American Republican Nativist voters of New York City. Contrary to historians who have criticized the Whigs for courting the Nativist vote in New York as well as some Whig contemporaries who did so in their lamentations over the 1844 defeat, the Whigs had no choice but to forge an alliance with Nativist voters in New York City and had the Nativists fully adhered to the promise of alliance, Henry Clay would have won the election of 1844. Before exploring the basis of such a claim however, a discussion of how a Clay presidency could have changed the course of American history is in order, for if no marked change would have occurred under Clay’s administration, an examination of his defeat is far less compelling.[1]

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Roller Skating Craze and the Freedom to Participate

By Richard White
©Copyright 2018. 
All rights reserved by the author.

In the 1880’s, a roller skating craze prompted the openings of rinks in central New York for recreational skating for the public as well as exhibitions by professional skaters. According to NYS’s civil rights statute of 1873, all races were guaranteed equal access to public venues. In fact, depriving equal admission was a misdemeanor punishable by a $150 fine. Yet in 1884, this law faced racism’s challenges at skating rinks in Norwich and Owego. African Americans in those villages were determined to defend their freedom and equality that resulted in two divergent legal outcomes.

In Norwich on Friday, June 13, residents were anxious to attend the new roller rink’s grand opening at the Wilson Opera House. In spite of the law, co-proprietor Calvin King left instructions at the ticket booth to bar admission of blacks. Excluded were George Breed, William Wycoff, Charles Robbins, and others—a few accounts also name Hannibal Molson and Thomas Randall, two of the region’s leading civil rights activists. The New Berlin Gazette succinctly summarized the next act in this racial drama. On June 16, there was a widely attended “indignation meeting” at the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church which was chaired by Rev. Loren (1) T. Rogers whose words captured the assemblage’s emotions and anger. He declared that not since “darkest days of slavery no such outrage had been perpetrated in Norwich.” Wycoff and Robbins were appointed secretaries. Molson then inspired the audience with a reading of the 1873 law. Finally, the group adopted resolutions including one that contended that they appointment “a committee to consider the propriety of instituting legal proceedings against the management.”

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Wright Brothers of Rome

by Lawrence S. Freund
© 2018 All rights reserved by the author.

The American Civil War split both the nation and many of the nation’s families, none more so than two descendants of one of the pioneer families of Rome in upstate New York. Theirs was a political and social division that exemplified the countervailing attitudes of North and South as well as the values and pathways that led to the conflict.

The Wright family arrived in what would become Rome, New York, from Connecticut in 1789, staking out land still known today as Wright Settlement. Joseph Wright, a descendant of the founders, fathered six children with his first wife, Martha, three with his second wife, Fanny. Phineas Camp Wright, born in 1816, was the oldest surviving son of Joseph and Martha. Phineas was raised in Rome, studied and practiced law, and in 1844 married Rosina Martin, a Virginia-born widow with a young son.[1] They soon moved south to New Orleans, to which Wright was drawn by the extended litigation of the Myra Clark Gaines case, a multi-year lawsuit in which a woman of uncertain ancestry sought to establish her inheritance rights.[2] It was a lawyer’s dream. For Wright, according to some sources,[3] the legal arguments and the documents he discovered led to an ambitious reverie, the creation of a semi-secret organization, the Order of American Knights, which would attach itself to the increasingly bellicose states rights sentiments of the South. [4]