Daily Archives: January 2, 2019

An Eventful 1851 in Salem

The media—exclusively newspapers—looked back at the year’s events at its end in the nineteenth century just as it does today. This accounting was traditionally presented in the first few days of January by the Salem Observer, and it’s interesting to read what was considered “notable” and worthy of inclusion and what was not (although it would take some research to determine what was not and I’m not doing that now—researching “the negative” is incredibly difficult at the local level). The January 3, 1852 report on the “Events in Salem and Vicinity during the year 1851” prepared for the Salem Observer is below, and below that are my observations of what seems particularly notable (or just interesting): so we have two filters of newsworthiness at work here.

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Weather notations are always interesting: sudden changes in January, a “violent” snow storm in March, a big storm, including flooding, in April, hail in July, the first snowfall on October 27, a “great fall of snow” just before Christmas and very cold weather after.

Crime: always achieves notice. A gang of burglars strikes in January! A particularly crime-ridden May, with a strange attack that sounds like 17th century lithobolia on a house in Danvers, some female counterfeiters in Marblehead, and a stabbing in the street in Salem.

Fire: the partner of crime in notoriety. The Atlantic House in Beverly burned down in January and a Marblehead house in February, the same month in which Benjamin Lang’s house on Lafayette Street in Salem was severely damaged by fire. This is a reference to 49 Lafayette Street, the boyhood home of Benjamin Johnson Lang, who was an extremely famous organist and choral conductor in the later nineteenth century. The house was rebuilt, and both Benjamin Lang Sr. and Benjamin Johnson Lang Jr. held music lessons there before the latter’s departure for Boston and greater things in 1855.

Deaths: it is in the reporting of deaths that you can really perceive how restricted “notability” was as obviously many more people died in Salem and its environs in 1851 than are reported here. One does wonder about the “highly esteemed” young Deborah Howard, however, who died as a result of injuries sustained from a tragic carriage accident in July. I can understand why Captain Nathaniel West’s death (at aged 95) was included, as he was one of the great golden age Salem sea captains. He apparently bequeathed Derby Wharf to the Salem Marine Society in his will, and also left funds for the establishment of a school of navigation—I wonder what happened to that?

Lyceum Lectures: lots of lectures at both the Mechanic Lyceum and the Salem Lyceum and other regional venues as this is the heyday of the Lyceum movement. Most of the lectures seem pretty apolitical: the great abolitionist Lucy Stone spoke before the Salem Anti-Slavery Society rather than at either Lyceum. As we know, things will heat up, but in 1851 Lyceum audiences were hearing about “The American Mind”, “Character”, “New England and Her Institutions” and both women and men by both women and men speakers.

Salem Harbor: is dead. Hawthorne’s characterization is certainly confirmed here, as only one Salem ship is referenced, the barque Dragon, and it reports to Boston Harbor rather than Salem! But there was a regatta in July: wish we could resurrect this event.

Appendix: the “Shadrach” riot reference deserves its own post. On February 21, “Colored Barber” Alexander H. Burton of Salem was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the uproar following the arrest of the runaway Virginia slave Shadrach Minkins under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law. Burton was released because he had an alibi–but I’d like to know more about his arrest and the connections between Salem’s and Boston’s abolitionist movements.


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