Begging for Bounty

1829-city-scatEvery day they took apart the city, and put it back together again. New Year’s Day was no different. They worked while dawn, then dusk, threaded the sky, to patch up narrow streets. Lamplighters, an urban mainstay heroicized by Maria Susanna Cummins’ fictional “Trueman Flint,” heaved up their wooden ladders to trim wicks and refill oil pans. Along with the dry-dirtman, city scavengers spread out to collect loose trash. The scene might have been Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis—and set anytime from the Revolution to the Civil War. Newspaper carriers, mostly young boys, filtered along the avenues. Tucked in sheets of newsprint, the city’s youngest workers also carried on a curious tradition: the New Year’s address. A rhyming blend of local-color writing and cultural commentary, the New Year’s address recapped the past and looked ahead. Laden with ornamental tombstone borders and often draped over double columns, each address ended with a plea for an annual gratuity. Continue reading

Contested Rites

continental_prayerJoseph Yesurun Pinto, a 31 year-old Anglo-Dutch émigré in the autumn of 1760, had led New York’s Shearith Israel synagogue for barely a year when the second notice appeared in the papers. To re-commemorate the British conquest of Canada, all “Christian societies” and “houses of worship” would celebrate a day of thanksgiving on Thursday, October 23d. Over the past decade, New Englanders and their neighbors had held at least 50 fast days, many to lament God’s judgments against America, or to reform their wayward behavior. The proclamation of a thanksgiving day likely brought some measure of relief and joy.

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The Story of “Evacuation Day”

A century after the end of the War for Independence, New Yorkers continued to celebrate a holiday known as “Evacuation Day,” commemorating the leaving of the last British troops from New York City on November 25, 1783. It marked the end of a seven-year occupation by the British army who used the city as the headquarters for its North American operations during the war. But it also marked the beginning of a holiday that would be enthusiastically celebrated by New Yorkers for a century to come. On this anniversary, I offer the following narrative account of a day that played a large role in the city’s historical memory of the Revolution for more than a century, but was eventually displaced when it became incompatible with contemporary circumstances. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHWelcome back for week two! Things will be going quiet around the Junto for the next few days over Christmas, and on behalf of the entire Junto, we want to wish you a happy holiday. In the meantime we have a few links to tide you over when you need a few minutes to browse the internet.

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