From the Bill of Rights to IBM… Poughkeepsie Journal history By Meg Downey, executive editor, 1999-2006 This country's early newspapers were rags. Literally. There were made of discarded cotton and linen, which is why they are still around today. A paper you left in your attic a decade ago will probably have disintegrated - its brittle wood pulp has no lasting power. And the old newspapers were rags figuratively as well. They were mostly political and literary sheets espousing the publisher's particular point of view. Thorough, objective reporting wasn't done. The publishers didn't have the staffs, the technology or, in many cases, the inclination. But this bias gives these papers a wonderful perspective. You don't have to find the editorial page to see what these early editors and publishers cared about. Their writing was often frank and bold. As you look through these old pages, you will find a colorful view not seen in standard history books. The Poughkeepsie Journal of Nov. 3, 1791 gave a lively account of the murder of Cornelius Hogaboom, Columbia County's sheriff. He was slain after canceling a property sale in Nobletown. ``Fifty (or thereabouts) armed men, disguised like Indians, started up out of the bushes fired a shot from the whole without effect: -- Mr. Hogaboom said to his companions, `they only mean to frighten us,' -- a second charge was fired, when Mr. Hogaboom received the fatal shot, and had time only to say, ``I AM A DEAD MAN.'' There was passion. When the steamer Atlantic was wrecked on a voyage from Fisher's Island to New York City in the winter of 1846, a young bride lost her husband. The editors wrote: ``Alas! The pallid object of such tender solicitude is no more anything but frozen dust - caresses and tears cannot warm it back to life. It is but an icy monument which death has carved to mock her love.'' When I hold an old newspaper in my hand, I feel like I'm touching history. But in reading the articles, I found that when you're in the middle of history, you don't always appreciate it. We are still reporting today the impact of the biggest story we ever covered in terms of its national significance. The New York Constitutional Convention began on June 17, 1788 in Poughkeepsie, which was the state capital following the burning of Kingston by the British in 1777. The Dutchess County delegates were all ardent Anti-Federalists who opposed the fledgling Constitution. In April, the Journal had reported that the Constitution Society of Dutchess County had met at the Amenia home of Edmund Perlee and agreed that ``if the proposed Constitution is adopted, we shall involve ourselves in many difficulties incompatible with a free people.'' The Journal's first editor, Nicholas Power, briefly mentioned convention debates, but the paper frankly considered the convention dull. The Journal reported July 8 that ``since our last issue, nothing very material has transpired in the Convention. They are still discussing the Constitution by paragraphs.'' By the end of July, the convention was still struggling with amendments. Power reported, “In what mode the constitution will be adopted is yet uncertain. We may venture to say, however, from the anxiety of some of the members to go to their families, and to gather their harvest, they will determine the question in a very few days.'” He was right. The move to ratify won by three votes on July 26 with a surprising majority of local Anti-Federalists supporting passage. But only after a promise from the Federalists that the states would reconvene to rectify certain ``defects.'' Those ``defects'' were later discussed at the Federal Convention of 1791 and were eventually adopted as ten amendments establishing basic freedoms known today as the Bill of Rights. A second big event reflected the conventions of the times more than it reported the news. Probably the most significant thing to happen in Poughkeepsie since the Constitution was ratified was the visit in September 1824 of the beloved hero of the American Revolution, General Marquis de Lafayette of France. Lafayette was 67 at the time, and had returned to America for the first time since we had won our independence. The Journal's article about his visit gave a tedious, minute-byminute account of the event, exactly who was in the parade, in what order, who shook his hand when. It didn't once describe what the general looked like or what he was wearing. It never quoted him directly. But, boy, did you know that everything was done properly. A brief excerpt: ``Good order, sobriety and decorum were every where conspicuous, the extended cavalcade, as it ascended the hill from the river, occupying as it did, nearly the whole width of Main Street, from the river, quite past the court house - the windows of very house filled with well dressed females, testifying by their smiles and the waving of their handkerchiefs, their joy and gratitude in a manner, though less boisterous yet as sincerely, as did the multitude below by their joyous shouts and acclamations -presented altogether one of the most grand and imposing spectacles we have ever beheld. Early editors were one-man bands. They didn't have time to do reporting so most readers kept up with local events by reading the advertisements and legal notices. My favorite ad in 1812 announces James Williams' fruit trees for sale in Red Hook. He didn't just sell apples. He sold Spitzenburghs Swaars, Gloria Mundi, Ox, Pie and Paradise. His peach trees weren't peach trees but Pine Apples and Lemons. Some peaches were more officious with the names of President and Congress. The apricots were Moonpark and the pears, Swan's egg. The plumbs (spelled with a B) were regal with nomenclatures of Queen Claud and Fothringham. And the Rhaspberries (with an Rh), called Antwerp and Brentford, gave European airs. Of course, some early ads were purely mercenary. This ran on Dec. 4, 1860 just prior to the Civil War: ``Will the Union be Dissolved! Before the above question is answered, we would respectfully invite all who feel interested to call at the One Price Store.'' Legal notices were the early gossip columns. In 1818, Susannah Carson, whose husband had left her for the second time, submitted this public notice: “This is therefore to forewarn all persons from harboring him until he provides for my maintenance and gives security for that, and his good behavior. “To all good people who wants him descripted To running away he had long been addicted He deserted his country being scared at a ball And ran home the greatest hero of all For such service as this he gained a pension How well he deserved it I need not to mention But one thing for all I need must acknowledge He's the worst husband God ever made to my knowledge.'” And then there was the more positive tidbit. The Nov. 23, 1894, Poughkeepsie Eagle reported the wedding of Miss Minnie A. Elliott, only daughter of the Rev. Thomas Elliott, to a Tivoli man at her home on Willow Street in Fishkill Landing. We know the house decorations were ``suitable to the season'' and that the wedding presents were “handsome and useful.” It did not say whether the groom was also. The Journal's roots go back to 1785 when most of the United States was in a post-war depression. Jobs were scarce and debtors were filling prisons. But fertile Dutchess County with its Hudson River trade was beginning to prosper. From 1714 to 1790, the county grew from 400 residents to 40,000. Poughkeepsie became a haven for new commerce. It was here in this busy river port, at “the Second Door West from the Store of Messrs. Tappen and Smith,” where Nicholas Power began publishing ``The Country Journal and The Poughkeepsie Advertiser'' on Thursday, Aug. 11, 1785. His four-page weekly newspaper was the first of tens of thousands of issues leading up to today's Poughkeepsie Journal. The Journal today averages 330 pages per week about half advertising and half news - news gathered by reporters in Beacon and in Bosnia, in Rhinebeck and Iraq and beamed back and forth over high-tech satellites. And now, of course, the Journal is a Web site as well. www.poughkeepsiejournal.com. Twenty-six newspapers were publishing in New York State when the story broke on the death of Washington in December 1799. The ``Journal'' is the only surviving New York newspaper that could have carried that story and every other major U.S. story since then. Though it began as a weekly newspaper, the Journal started daily publication in 1860, inspired by demand for news about the Civil War. Besides being the oldest newspaper in New York State, the Journal is the second oldest in the United States. We're one of 11 newspapers that have been in continual publication since the 18th century. The oldest is the Hartford Courant, which began publication in 1764. Editor Nicholas Power gave his early readers a mixture of state laws reprinted with boring exactitude, dispatches brought by ship or post rider from other cities in America and abroad; articles credited to other newspapers; and advertisements and legal notices which, as I said earlier, contained practically the only local news. He also offered “every Kind of Printing performed with Neatness and Dispatch” at his offices on Main Street. Sometimes staying solvent was tough. Power would frequently implore subscribers to pay up. He would accept wheat, rye, Indian corn, oats, buckwheat, butter and flax, but preferred C-A-S-H, which he would always write in capital letters in his entreaties. Power also made money by selling justice blanks for deeds, mortgages, indentures and sealing wax as well as the Rural Casket, a literary journal. When these newspapers began, production was tedious and primitive. Everything was hand made, the presses, paper, type, ink. Because of that, you wouldn't find the latebreaking news on the front page. That was reserved for long-winded speeches or reprinted laws which could be set in type early. The real news would be inside the paper on the last pages set. Power, like most early editors, thought of himself not as a journalist, a position we've tried to elevate to professional status today, but as a printer. You gave him information and he printed it. He didn't worry about accuracy or objectivity. Even Ben Franklin, no journeyman when it came to journalism, called himself a printer in his epitaph, which he wrote himself, and the Poughkeepsie Journal printed following his death in April 1790: The Body of Benjamin Franklin Printer, Like the Cover of an old book, Its Contents turned out, and Strip'd of its lettering and binding Lies here. Food for Worms; But the Work shall not be lost; For it shall, as he believed, appear once more In a new and more elegant Edition, Corrected and improved By the Author. Early Journal editors faced many challenges. As a former editor of a weekly newspaper, I can tell you I agree wholeheartedly with the following statement made by one of the Journal's early publishers: “A country editor is one who reads the newspapers, selects miscellany, writes articles on all subjects, sets type, reads proof, works at the press, folds papers and sometimes carries them, prints jobs, runs on errands, cuts and saws wood, works in the garden, talks to all his patrons who call, patiently receives blame for a thousand things that never were and never can be done, gets little money, has scarce time or materials to satisfy hunger or enjoy the quiet of nature's grand restorer, and esteems himself peculiarly happy if he is not assaulted and battered by some unprincipled demogogue.” Good help could be hard to find for early publishers. On June 24, 1795, Power published a notice offering “one copper reward” for the return of his apprentice Nathan Delano who had run away. He seemed to want him back despite his being ``addicted to liquor'' and ``too well versed in the Art of Embezzlement.'' When news was slow in 1789, Power simply reprinted extracts from Gordon's History of the American War. Readers could go back 14 years and relive the Battle of Lexington. As the Journal aged, new owners were bolder in using its news columns to express their political viewpoints. Like most American publications in the first half of the 19th century, the Journal reflected the personalities and biases of its owners. There was no line dividing the news from the editorials. During the War of 1812, the Journal, owned by the firm of Bowman, Parsons and Potter, reprinted from the Federal Republic “REASONS, NOT LONG, FOR BELIEVING THE WAR WILL BE SHORT. 1. Because the army lacks men. 2. Because the treasury lacks money. 3. Men and money are the sinews of war. 4. Because the navy lacks ships. 5. Because the president lacks nerve. ``...Whence we conclude that either such an administration will rid us of the war or the war will soon rid us of such an administration.” The paper bitterly opposed the War of 1812 -- an unpopular position to take. By the end in 1815, the paper declared: “This country has brilliantly distinguished itself. But the administration has been uniformly disgraced. The war was honorable but the peace was infamous.” Some views were less lofty but no less sincere. An essay in 1788 determined that the national debt would be eradicated if people would stop spending money on the dubious luxury of taking snuff. Letters to the editor were an important forum in early papers as they are today. In 1802 Power who often came close to calling Jefferson a traitor, printed a letter from a reader who was furious about the “$100 spent on illuminating the Capitol as a consequence of Thomas Jefferson's election.” Spelling errors were rare, but errors of fact seemed to be of less concern. In 1808, the Journal announced, “We have been informed that Indians and whites have been fighting and that people have been killed. We also have information from another source saying that no one had been killed. We give this news, as we had it, not vouching for its authenticity.” And, as an aside, instead of just reporting the news, the Journal's staff has occasionally made the news. There was the young man from Beacon who only two years out of Matteawan High School became a reporter for the News-Press, a Journal predecessor, in 1910, and rose to city editor of the paper in 1911 when he was only 19. His name was James Forrestal and in 1947 he would become our nation’s first secretary of defense. I am convinced the barrage of complaints one deals with as city editor put him in good stead for that job. The more things change, the more they remain the same. Alphonse Karr wrote that in 1849. You can see reflections of modern events in our past. “His name is Blaine,” the largest headline of its time spanned almost half a page on June 7, 1884, to announce the nomination of James G. Blaine as the Republican presidential candidate. In an editorial lavishly praising Blaine, the Poughkeepsie Eagle, a Journal precursor, underscored the unlikelihood of his candidacy: he was “without patronage, without power, refusing to ask any man to support him...” Two days before the Nov. 5th election Blaine faced a dilemma similar to one that would haunt other politicians more than 100 years later. An article appeared detailing Blaine's attempt to disassociate himself from a supporter, the Rev. Samuel D. Burchard, whose reference to Democrats as the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion” received nationwide publicity. It was 12 days after the election when the Eagle announced the certainty of Blaine's defeat by Democrat Grover Cleveland. Included in the story was this quote from the loser: “I had thousands upon thousands of Irish votes, and should have had many more but for the intolerant and utterly improper remark of Dr. Burchard.” The early Journal also reported ominous signs of events to come. Unprecedented front-page coverage was given to the assassination of President Garfield on July 2, 1881. After the assailant had been identified erroneously twice, the Poughkeepsie Eagle revealed that the actual assassin, Charles Guiteau, was in Poughkeepsie during July 1880 and advertised a lecture at the YMCA titled, “Which Will It Be, Garfield or Hancock?” The talk was canceled due to low attendance. When Guiteau was found guilty of killing the president, the Eagle attacked the insanity plea: “the defence of insanity had been so abused as to be brought into great discredit.” Shades of John Hinckley, who attempted to assassinate President Reagan 100 years later in 1981. Under foreign news, the Journal reported that some Jews in Europe were obliged to live in Jews' quarters or ghettos. They were ordered to wear a mark of distinction on their clothing. That was Jan. 18, 1826. “Civil rights” was the title of the major story about four black passengers forbidden to sit with whites. They “...were denied the rights granted to all American citizens... “This didn't happen on a bus in Selma in the early 1960s but on a Hudson River steamer in May 1882. The Journal had long been an advocate for equality. It had called slavery “a curse to the human Race. May the time soon come when these states will wipe the stigmas from her shores.” That was not written in 1861, but in 1821. Like today, 19th century personal advertisements were a popular way for people to find other people, though the criteria were slightly different. An ad in 1819 gave notice to Young Gentlemen that ``two young women in the vicinity, possessed of exquisite personal charms, with minds adorned with the richest profusion of good sense...are in the market and ready to answer any queries relative to matrimony... they are perfectly acquainted with the theory of making puddings, apple dumplings and other delicacies.'' And just like Ann Landers, the Journal could also offer advice and solace. In a popular series, called Knick-Knacks, the editors offered this pearl in 1856: “If you would borrow money and have no security, go to a youth; for men are like green peas -- the younger they are, the easier they will shell out.” Because of the Journal’s long history in this valley, we think it’s part of our role to look back over the big picture. In 1999, we ran a yearlong series called Heralding the New Millennium. It looked back on the history of the Hudson Valley and spun ahead to its future. We published it in a book called “The Hudson Valley, Our Heritage, Our Future,” in 2000. When I say we looked back, we went as far as 387 million B.C. to describe what the valley was like then – basically some very big clams. We ran excerpts from the diary of the ship’s officer who accompanied the English explorer Henry Hudson on his historic first voyage up the Hudson in 1609. Hudson, who was commissioned by the Dutch, called the river valley that bears his name “as pleasant a land as one can tread upon.” The book also tells about the remarkable people who lived in the valley like Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt; Thomas Dewey; inventor Samuel F. B. Morse; Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist, evangelist and champion of women's rights who was born into slavery across the river in Ulster County in 1797; Matthew Vassar, the beer brewer who founded a college; Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had a summer home in Amenia; writers and poets like Washington Irving and Edna St. Vincent Millay, a Vassar graduate; and nature writer John Burroughs, who in the late 19th century galvanized this country into the conservation movement, a forerunner of the modern environmental movement. We wrote of his friendship with Teddy Roosevelt, who began our national park system. We told the tale of the sea captain hired to fight pirates along the Hudson and beyond. On such a mission to Madagascar he couldn’t find any pirates, he began to run out of food and his crew became mutinous. What’s a guy to do but turn into a pirate himself. His name was William Kidd – Captain Kidd. Thomas Cole and Frederic Church, who lived northwest north of here, immortalized the Hudson Valley with their oils and helped create America's first school of painting, the Hudson River School. Importantly, we wanted to cover the hidden stories as well, like that of John Mack, a judge who stood up to Ku Klux Klan members who managed to get themselves elected to the Arlington Board of Education in the late 1920s, or the Rev. H.H. Garnet, an African American who was a fiery speaker in the 1870s and whom Frederick Douglass called “the ablest thinker on his legs.” We wrote about the Red Hook Society for the Apprehension and Detention of Horse Thieves, which was founded in 1796 and still exists. It does a great job; there are very few horse thieves left around here. We also had a conversation with eminent presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin about FDR among other leaders and about where the institution of the presidency is headed. And did you know that Stanford was the place where the game, Scrabble was invented? Or Dutchess County was where America’s first lawn mower was developed? Or that long before there was a Nebraska, the Hudson Valley was the nation’s breadbasket. In 1836, more than one third of the grain produced by New York state – 1 million bushels – came from Dutchess County. Did you know that Poughkeepsie was a major whaling port, with carcasses brought here by ships for rendering into lamp oil and whalebone for corsets and other accessories? This was where software once meant Queen Undermuslin made at the Poughkeepsie Underwear Co., and this was where the only chips were at the poker tables in the basement at the Nelson House, a grand hotel on Market Street in Poughkeepsie. The great thing about this history project was that we found so many surprises we didn’t know about. Some of you may have seen the movie, ``Amistad,'' which was the true story of 53 Africans who were illegally taken as slaves by ship to the United States in 1839. They mutinied and were put on trial. They were represented by former President John Quincy Adams, who defended their right to fight to regain their freedom. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1841, in a landmark decision, the Court decided in favor of the Africans. Eighteen had died at sea or in prison while awaiting trial. But most of them -- 35 of these free men -- were returned to their African homeland. And one of the eminent justices who made that remarkable Supreme Court decision was Smith Thompson of Stanfordville in Dutchess County. Later, in 1862, in what was then known as the War of the Rebellion, 1,000 men from Dutchess County joined the 150th Regiment. After nine months of training in Baltimore, they were baptized in war at a place called Gettysburg. Captain Joseph H. Cogswell of the Town of Poughkeepsie wrote, “The enemy was near enough to be within easy range of the infantry, and our thousands of rifles mowed them down by hundreds and hundreds. Still they came on, until they reached the stone wall, behind which our thin line met them in a hand-to-hand conflict.” On July 3, 1862, the men of the 150th held sway over the intense attack of Confederates under Gen. Richard S. Ewell at Culp’s Hill. They took 200 prisoners, then had to reinforce Northern lines at Cemetery Hill, hit by Gen. George E. Pickett’s desperate but futile charge. The Union was badly hurt but prevailed. The 150th Regiment, well protected by breastworks (mounds of dirt), lost only seven men in a campaign that left more than 50,000 on both sides dead, wounded or missing. Even after Gettysburg, there would be no rest. They soon would be headed through the Shenandoah Mountains, packed in train cars so tight there was no room to sleep. They would cop a nap by lashing themselves to the roof of the cars with canteen straps and gun slings. These soldiers, some of whom joined at age 15, would be tormented by flies, dysentery and typhoid. And a surprising thing to find in their diaries, which you can still find in local libraries, is that sometimes the two sides – the Union Northerners and the Confederate Rebels – would not be so far apart, as they thought at night of their homes north and south. They would trade songs, with the Yanks singing the Battle Hymn of the Republic or the Rebs, within earshot, countering with Dixie. As young William Wile, a private from Pleasant Valley, wrote: “Then, for a time, the two lines would exchange ditties of love and war, and finally close with some grand old sacred hymn, known to us all.” Then, of course, the next day they’d be back trying to kill each other. The irony of that war was that it had 294 Union generals and 150 Confederate generals who were all graduates of the same school – the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. They included Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman and their former colleagues, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet: people who had been college roommates and even comrades in the War with Mexico were fighting for different sides. Of the 60 most important battles of the Civil War, 55 were commanded on both sides by graduates of West Point. We wrote about West Point in “The Hudson Valley,” but as the academy approached its 200th anniversary in 2002, we wanted to write about it in more depth and developed another special section on its history, which we later developed into this book, “West Point: Legend on the Hudson.” You have to be made of stern stuff to get through the academy. Some who didn’t make it were Edgar Allen Poe, who probably learned about midnights dreary from winter guard duty at the Point and James A. McNeill Whistler. Later he became a famous American painter, known particularly for his Study in Black and Gray, which is better known as Whistler’s Mother. Whistler, whose father, was an exemplary graduate of West Point, was impertinent. In a drawing class at West Point, he was supposed to draw a bridge over a river, as engineering students learn to do. He did, but he had two boys fishing from the span. Get those boys off the bridge, the instructor said. The next drawing showed them fishing from the riverbank. Get those boys out of the picture, the instructor ordered. The final attempt showed two little tombstones by the river. In 2005, we put out a special publication marking the Journal’s 220th anniversary. That can still be found online with more historical information and photographs at www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/220. The slogan over the gate leading to the Journal's front door reads, “Here Shall the Press the People's Right Maintain.” Newspaper people – reporters and editors, sales people and clerks, paper carriers and press operators – we are all just caretakers, stewards of a public trust. The Poughkeepsie Journal covered the passage of the Bill of Rights and hopefully, with your support, it will be around another two centuries to help see those rights – your rights – preserved. Meg Downey, executive editor at the Poughkeepsie Journal, was at the newspaper for 27 years. She is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and winner of the Dutchess Award, presented by the Dutchess County Historical Society. She also was editor of two history books published by the Journal: “The Hudson Valley, Our Heritage, Our Future,” and “West Point: Legend on the Hudson.” Historic images and more information about the Journal’s history can be found at www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/220.
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