A Long and Winding Road
An extraordinary survival.
By Bruce McKinney
An almost two hundred year old bound volume of Poughkeepsie newspapers that once was the property of the local Adriance Library, then owned for decades by a Poughkeepsie person, was sold at auction in Hyde Park, New York in January, purchased by an eBay reseller, posted on eBay and purchased by me shortly thereafter for $640. I live in San Francisco. It was a wonderful acquisition.
Paraclete Potter, the Poughkeepsie printer [1784-1858], lived most of his life in Dutchess County before heading west to Wisconsin in the late 1830s. In his years in Poughkeepsie he was the publisher of the Poughkeepsie Journal, a newspaper that continues today as a daily. Beginning in 1802 he was associated with the Journal and a few years later became its publisher. He lost control of the paper three decades later and shortly after moved west. During his years as publisher, the Journal was a weekly. Issues from this period occasionally come up for sale. Bound volumes are uncommon. So it was, with great interest that I ran across an 1810 bound volume of the Journal on eBay. A week later, with the clock expiring, I made the winning bid.
From experience, I know such volumes are difficult to come by but show up occasionally because they are almost never thrown away. They look irreplaceable although no one is quite sure who wants them. They simply look too important to throw out. That's a very good thing. Finding them when they come up though is a combination of art and luck but mostly luck.
History is transmitted from generation to generation between the covers of books but most accounts tend to minimize the seaminess of everyday life in the 19th century. It isn't that life was so bad, only that by ignoring reality, it's next to impossible to understand life in that period. Human beings are imperfect and life the continuing act of improving. Idealizing the past is a terrible mistake although it continues to be far more popular than looking back objectively. To better understand the past I buy runs of newspapers and read them the way another person might read War and Peace. I also know that someday every issue of every newspaper is going to be fully searchable on line. At that time the importance of interpreting history will begin to fade, to be replaced by our growing ability to see for ourselves first hand what life was like. We'll find out that much of what we have read in books isn't true.
A few years ago I ran across a twenty year run of the Poughkeepsie Telegraph from its first issue in 1822 to the end of 1842. It also came up at auction near Poughkeepsie. The auctioneers had an online site and online bidding but almost no visibility. I offered to cover their lots in AE's upcoming auction search. They declined and I bought the lot for $50. The shipping was more than $100.
A Long and Winding Road
A notice to horse thieves
In purchasing it I was expecting a volume bound in the same manner as the Poughkeepsie Telegraphs. I was in for a surprise. This volume was interleaved, the weekly issues separated with heavy paper. They came to me in the same pristine condition they would have been in on the day they were printed.
The wonderful, highly protected form has since allowed me to read the papers, probably more thoroughly than they were in their own day. They were of course printed on hand presses, first on one side and then the other. The press bed must have been very large for issues were a single sheet 26 x 20.75” quarter folded.
As to what I've already gleaned, slavery was a continuing business and Parclete Potter played some role in it. Here are some advertisements:
For Sale. A Negro Boy aged 19 years, an excellent cook, and good gardener - Enquire at the printer. March 10, 1810
For Sale. A healthy. Strong & industrious Black Girl, between 16 and 17 years of age. Enquire at the printer.
Ten Dollars Reward. Ran away from the fubfiber on Wednesday morning, a black man named Amos about twenty one years of age, five feet nine or ten inches high, front built and pretty black. Had on when he went away a pair of homespun striped tow trowfers, veft and a blackhat. Said Amos was brought up by Jacob Evertson Esq, late of Pleasant Valley, deceased, and since his death has been owned by Mr. Lewis of Gofhen. Said Amos is very fond of singing and dancing. John Pearsall, Clinton. Sept. 10
Slavery is rarely discussed as part of the history of the Hudson Valley but it is part of its history. Random advertisements do not tell a complete story but they tell us there is a story to be learned.
I have also looked in the various issues for evidence that Robert Fulton, who patented his steamboat design in 1809, might have stopped in Poughkeepsie in 1810. I haven't found such evidence yet. There is ample evidence of sailing on the Hudson and that, at least in 1810, the river was clear enough of ice to announce in late March:
Fast Sailing Sloops – Mary & Driver in the care of Capt. John C. VanValkenburgh and William T. Belden, will sail the ensuing season as usual from the landing of Geo. P. Oakley & Co. The strict attention to business and the excellent accommodations for passengers on board of these vessels is their best recommendation to the patronage of the public.
There is of course much more. The large pages are densely packed with type, much of it carried over from week to week. The type is small and the pages large so it's necessary to stand over the volume to read it. I'll probably return to it every week to read another issue. In its day, its readers would have bent the paper over, held it to the light and tossed the once-read paper into the fire. Two hundred years later it has become a precious, slender thread to the reality of Poughkeepsie in 1810. As a collector it's a privilege to own such material.