Sunday, October 30, 2016

Baltimore: October 1816

Baltimore: October 1816

A City of Promise on the Bay

October 2016 marks the 200th anniversary of the launching of a fund drive to build a Christian church in Baltimore independent of any denomination and creed. The invited featured speaker 200 years ago was a famous independent preacher from Boston. Those who invited him were prominent members of Baltimore City’s Mercantile elite, many of whom had their origins and family in New England.

Baltimore from York Road, ca. 1816

In October of 1816, Baltimore was a place of great promise and expectations, although the prospects of wealth and freedom were not evenly distributed among its rapidly growing population. There were storm clouds on the horizon. The dumping of vast quantities of English goods on the American market (encouraged by American merchants of whom Baltimore claimed the most adventuresome), loans on paper for a vast speculation in western lands were to prove insufficiently backed by income, the loans made for the acquisition of Louisiana were coming due to European banks such as Baring Brothers, and Entrepreneurial Baltimoreans were building stately mansions and country estates on credit generously provided by local banks which it seems they could not afford.

Between 1800 and 1810 Baltimore’s population grew to 46,555 of which 10,343 were non-white composed of 5,671 Free Blacks and 4,672 slaves. They lived in three separate areas incorporated into the city in 1797 (Fells Point, Old Town, and Baltimore Town) which had ill defined boundaries that reached out into what were called precincts to the West and East. In 1810, there was no plan for the physical growth of the city. An attempt to map the city and establish bounds for taxing purposes in 1811 failed with the resistance of the local surveyors who preferred to keep the profitable secret of lot lines and right of ways to themselves. As a result of their underhanded efforts, they sent the surveyor hired to lay out the then present and future streets and lot lines of Baltimore, packing to New York. There he became a successful surveyor of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, producing in 1816 a highly reliable and accurate map of lower Manhattan. In 1817 Thomas Poppleton would be called back to Baltimore, this time under an act passed by the legislature of Maryland that called for the boundaries of the city to encompass nearly 15 square miles (14.71 square miles to be exact), that included the annexation to the city of the Eastern and Western Precincts. Baltimore would have a map whether it's surveyors and the city government wanted it or not. The Federalist dominated legislature not only told the city what it had to do to define itself and future development, it also pushed the boundaries of the city outward to encompass those pesky Democratic-Republicans who were threatening Federalist dominance of Baltimore County.

Travelers to Baltimore in 1816 would visit a city without a plan, but with some striking buildings, fine homes, and more to come. Some would come from the north and the east by roads that took them from the heights of the piedmont where they could just see the steeples of the city and the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.

Ads for turtle soup, October 1816

They would enjoy the fine cuisine at the Union Hotel, or other famous eating spots in town where such as the delicacy of Turtle soup was featured.

Steamboat ad, October 19, 1816


But most came by water to the wharves of the city, some by steamboat, others by sail. Some moved on, but many stayed to seek their fortune. By 1820, with its boundaries on the way to being defined, the population of the city increased by 35% to 62,738, with the Free black population nearly doubling to 10,324, and the slave population declining slightly to 4,359.

[Poppleton’s map] (see also: http://bearings.earlybaltimore.org/)

The geography of the city and its path to expansion can be seen clearly by superimposing the map completed in 1822 by the British born and trained surveyor, Thomas Poppleton on to Google Earth. It is this map that controlled how the city grew and developed on the streets and blocks he mapped out. In fact his map with its blocks would become the basis for recording all land transactions in the City after its land records were separated from Baltimore County in the decade before the Civil War, making it the only jurisdiction in the state that kept track of property transfers geographically. By placing the map on google earth it is not only possible to see how accurate Poppleton’s surveying was, but also it provides a dramatic means of visualizing in a birdseye view of how the physical plant of the city has changed since those October days of 1816.

That opportunity in October 1816 was uneven, and limited for many in a city dominated by supporters of Thomas Jefferson and his party, goes without saying. To Jefferson, all white men were created equal and ought to be permitted to participate in the political process free of property restrictions.

Women and blacks in Baltimore were, like their counterparts elsewhere in the new nation, restrained from civil rights and from pursuing social and economic equality. To be sure Baltimore had had a dynamic postmistress and publisher of a newspaper and almanacs in Mary Katherine Goddard, who, after being ousted from her public post by the Washington Administration, supported herself as a storekeeper. She never married. Described by a contemporary as "woman of extraordinary judgment, energy, nerve and strong, good sense," she died in Baltimore in August 1816, leaving to her long-time slave Belinda Starling "all the property of which I may die possessed, all of which I do to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me,” and her freedom.

Most women in town were not as fortunate, nor as independent as Mary Katherine. Three of the Caton sisters fled Baltimore to London on their grandfather, Charles Carroll of Carrollton’s money, where they worked their way into the aristocracy and lives of leisure.

Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson, daughter of one of the richest merchants in town tried to do likewise on her own by marrying Napoleon’s brother who had come to Baltimore. Napoleon annulled the marriage, even though they had a son, and her father disowned her, but Betsy was a shrewd business person, and invested wisely what she could squeeze out of her son’s Bonaparte relations, dying very wealthy and unmarried in 1879. In 1816 she was in Europe, having gotten a divorce by an act passed by the Maryland General Assembly. Another Elizabeth who came to Baltimore at the age of 15 with her father, a prominent physician and unheralded authority on the causes of yellow fever, did not fare as well as either Mary Katherine Goddard or Elizabeth Patterson who for a time was her friend and confidant. Born in Barbadoes, Eliza Crawford was fluent in French, and sought a paying literary career as an editor. Having been abandoned by her merchant husband in 1801, she lived with her father and daughter, editing his publications and then striking out on her own In 1806 and 1807, at the age of 26, as the founder and editor of a Baltimore publication called The Observer. It proved to be a financial failure, although she found a new husband in one of her authors, Maximilian Godefroy, a teacher of drawing at St. Mary’s seminary, and a promising architect who would create the Monument to those who successfully fought the battle of Baltimore in 1814, design the first major textile mill (Union Mills) that signaled an important aspect of Baltimore’s manufacturing future, and oversee design and construction of two churches and a bank.

In 1816 their joint future seemed bright with one particular commission in the making that October that would establish him without question as an accomplished architect.

Sadly the downturn in the economy that affected all America between 1817 and 1824, but especially the most adventuresome of the Baltimore men of business, meant the drying up of commissions. Eliza, Maximilian, and her daughter would leave Baltimore for London that frightening summer of 1819, never to return. The daughter would die of yellow fever before the departing ship reached the mouth of the Bay, and be buried on shore in an unmarked grave. Eliza would spend the rest of her life promoting her husband and seeking support from her husband’s acquaintances, including a former student at St. Mary’s Seminary who would be responsible for preserving much of the surviving written record and drawings of his former tutor.

Thought to be Daniel Coker, a black preacher from Baltimore,

painted by a black artist from Fells Point, Joshua Johnson

Opportunities for slaves and free blacks to make money and establish themselves in Baltimore in 1816 were limited to preaching, barbering, the maritime trades, and the service industries including carting goods, undertaking and catering, although one artist, Joshua Johnson was well known and painting in 1816. In that year a black preacher from Baltimore, Daniel Coker, and his supporters were invited to attend the Philadelphia Conference, from which the national organization of the African Methodist Episcopal Church was formed. The pattern of black lives in antebellum Baltimore has been painted with a broad brush and statistically by a number of distinguished authors, but little has been written about the lives of individuals, with the exception of Frederick Douglass who came to Baltimore as a slave, worked as a caulker of ships, and escaped to freedom dressed as a sailor because black sailors were so common in the seaport cities as to be less likely to be challenged as runaway slaves.

In 1812 an attempt was made to pull a black hairdresser by the name of John Lewis back into slavery, claiming that he came as a young slave to a refugee white merchant from the slave uprising in Haiti, and had never been freed, even though he had lived free for nearly a decade, and was appreciated for his skills as a barber by a large white clientele. With good legal and community support, the attempt by a relative of Edgar Allan Poe, failed, but while the case was pending he was forced to live quietly on the same street where Douglass would live, and take a poor paying job as a caulker. By 1816 he was back in the city directories plying his trade as a barber, and either he or his namesake may have been among the first blacks in the city to vote after the adoption of the 15th amendment to the Constitution in 1870, but it was a long and difficult journey to political and economic freedom and still very far from social equality.

The mainspring of Baltimore’s trade and commerce in 1816 was the export of flour. Initial investment had come from Pennsylvania (principally from in and around York), and established planter families from Maryland such as the Carroll’s, the Ridgely’s, and the Howards, but it was soon augmented by new arrivals from New England and elsewhere, including the islands of the Caribbean where Baltimore had carried on an extensive trade, both legal and illegal, in such commodities as sugar, coffee, and silver coin shipped to Baltimore in exchange for flour, lumber, and finished European goods.

Among the most prominent and vocal of the arrivals from Boston were the newspaper publishers Benjamin Edes followed by Ebenezer French. In 1811 they established a newspaper in town dedicated to furthering the prospects of Jefferson’s political party, the Democratic-Republicans. They joined several entrepreneurial merchants from Massachusetts, already resident, including the large Williams family, all of whom were instrumental in bringing the Unitarian faith to Baltimore in 1816. The Baltimore Patriot filled its pages with ads for goods, medical cures, runaway slaves and all manner of property for sale. It announced arrivals and departures of ships. It carried the editorial banner of the Democratic-Republicans even to the extent of a duel involving its editor, and condoning mob violence that garnered an unsavory reputation for Baltimore as Mob Town.

Baltimore’s legitimate trade with the Caribbean was lucrative, as was the licensed ‘pirating’ carried on by Baltimore ships that carried letters of marque during the War of 1812. Letters of Marque were official papers signed by the President and Secretary of State of the United States that authorized American ships to capture the ships and cargoes of the enemy (as defined by Congress), and bring them back to American ports for adjudication and distribution of the income derived from the sale of the ship and its cargo. During the war Americans captured over 4,000 vessels, a significant portion of which were taken by Baltimoreans. In 1816 the war was over, but Baltimore merchants and ship captains successfully sought letters of marque and reprisal from the rebels in South America who were attempting to overthrow Spanish rule. One such prominent Baltimore Captain was Joseph Almeida who had emigrated from the Swedish island of St. Bartholomew, and settled his family in Fells Point. He got his ‘license’ to continue raiding Spanish shipping (especially those carrying silver bullion and coin) from the Argentine rebel government. He was so successful in sending large shipments of coin (specie) back to Baltimore that when he returned in 1819 he was placed under arrest at the urging of the Spanish government. As his great-great-granddaughter explained it in 1991:

Upon returning to Baltimore in mid-April 1819, Almeida was

arrested by the authority of the state of Maryland at the urging of the

Spanish consul on a charge of piracy for capturing property of subjects

of the King of Spain. He was soon released when the Judges of

Baltimore County court decided that the case was not under their

jurisdiction. He was then arrested on the same charge by authority of

the United States and held for bail. He was tried May 8th in Federal

Court and, after full consideration of the treaty between the United

States and Spain, a clause of which was the basis for the indictment,

the court directed that Almeida be discharged.

In the course of his troubles with Spain he appealed to Secretary of State John Quincy Adams who described him as “a rough, open-looking, jovial Jack Tar, who can neither write nor read.” He could also barely speak English. His native tongue was Portuguese, but despite his language difficulties and prolonged absences, he provided for his family in Baltimore. His adventuresome career did not end well, however, and the family fortune was dissipated in an effort to save him. He was captured by the Spanish in 1831, and after nearly a year in which his family and friends unsuccessfully sought his release, he was executed by a firing squad in Puerto Rico in 1832. Further tragedy plagued his family, including a poisoning by one of the Baltimore household slaves who in turn was executed, and for whom the family was compensated $60 by the State for their loss of property. The only located surviving child of Captain Almeida was William who moved to St. Louis and whose descendant lived to write the family’s history. As to the tens of thousands of silver dollars that Captain Almeida deposited in a Fells Point bank, there is no record of what happened to it, although the bank seems to have survived the panic of 1819 because it had enough specie on hand to pay its depositors

St. Bartholomew Island in the Leeward Islands, published by Fielding Lucas, Baltimore

Another adventurer from the Swedish Island of St. Bartholomew who emigrated to Baltimore about 1815 was John Franklin Gibney. He may have been a factor/merchant representative for the McKim family in St. Bartholomew prior to and during the War of 1812, having gone there from Norfolk, Virginia, apparently fleeing a suit for debt. He married a widow Cochran and brought her with him to Baltimore where she died in 1816. Apparently Gibney brought some of his wife’s family money with him, which her daughter by her first marriage to Mr. Cochran attempted to retrieve.

That was the least of his worries. John Franklin Gibney woefully overextended himself. He invested his (and his wife’s) money in Baltimore real estate just at a time when the market peaked. By 1821 he was bankrupt and the last that can be found of him is as a pedlar of curative medicines in 1837, the year of the second great panic or depression to hit Baltimore, and the year in which his third wife, Louisa Gibney, formerly Miss Sharp of Baltimore, died in Maracaibo, Venezuela.

By late August of 1815 John Franklin Gibney was forced to offer his new house at auction, although he had not yet finished his property buying splurge. The house appeared to be truly elegant. It was on North Charles. “built by Mr. Kimmil and considerably enlarged and improved by F. I. Mitchel, esquire, and lately completed in the best and most expensive and elegant manner by the present proprietor…” It contained “an octagon staircase, a furnished basement, and a wonder of a kitchen ‘replete with every convenience, having the hydrant, rumford roaster, steam machine and stew holes, and large cellar under the whole, paved with brick.” The sale included elegant furnishings among which was a London made organ, three barrels, plays 50 tunes.

Still he was not finished with investing in property. In November 1815, for $15,000 he bought a dance hall on south Charles built in 1811 by a consortium comprised of John Hollins, James Mosher, the architect Robert Cary Long, Hezekiah Price, Robert Watson, and Dancing instructor Francis D. Mallet. Francis Mallet apparently recruited the investors advertising for subscribers in June of 1811 noting that he had contracted with Robert Carey Long and Mr. James Mosher to construct the building which was to be at 24 South Charles Street (by today’s numbering, 20 South Charles Street). That same month he insured it with the Baltimore Equitable Society for $12,000 at 1½% per annum and made it his dwelling house as well as his business.

The insurance policy graphically describes the building

fronting on the west side of Charles street near the south side of Baltimore Street [there was an alley in between that would become German, now Redwood, street], forty one feet three inches, covering an alley of thirteen feet three inches, being two high stories including brick stairway adjoining the back part thereof sixteen feet by thirteen feet three uncommon high stories, the stories elegantly furnished, also three story brick building adjoining to the west end of Stairway, nineteen feet six inches long & sixteen feet six inches wide having kitchen underneath the whole plain finished, having firewalls, [all protected for $162 a year]

The policy notes that it was transferred to Charles G. Boehm who in 1818 acquired the property for $13,250, $12,000 of which Gibney immediately transferred to Luke Tiernan who had advanced him $12,000 of the original purchase price of $15,000. Boehm would lease the building to another prominent dancing master, A. H. Durocher who continued teaching dancing, and hosting balls and concerts at that location until the 1850s. Durocher is perhaps best known for composing a March and Quick Step in honor of General and Future President Zachary Taylor for his accomplishments in the War against Mexico.

In his valedictory volume, a traveler’s guide to Baltimore’s landmarks, the departing French cartographer and engineer, Charles Varle summed up the history of the building to 1833:

Concert Hall and Dancing Academy

A neat convenient house was built about 20 years ago in south Charles Street by a joint stock association for a dancing academy and was occupied as such for some time. An Harmonic society being in want of a saloon for musical performances, this hall was rented to them, and hence took the name of Concert Hall. The Athenaeum however having furnished to the amateurs of harmony, a room of more appropriate construction, the concerts have since been held there, and the Hall has resumed its original purpose and is now occupied by the celebrated Mr.Durocher,where his dancing Academy is kept and cotillion parties given.

In October 1816, John Franklin Gibney still owned the Dance Hall, and was anxiously looking for tenants as Dancing Master Mallet had moved to new quarters near the theater on Holliday Street, where the Famous Mr.Cooper was to play Hamlet Saturday night, October 19, 1816, and where the Peale Museum was ablaze with the first gaslights in the city.


To what probably was his great relief, Gibney received a booking for his great three story hall for two weekends in October, 1816. The celebrated Unitarian preacher, the Reverend Doctor James Freeman, pastor of Boston’s King’s Chapel was arriving to preach, and help raise money, invited by a prominent group of citizens who expected to build a Unitarian Church of their own at the corner of North Charles and Franklin. Dr. Freeman was scheduled to speak at Gibney’s Dance Hall on Sunday, October 13, and again on Sunday, October 20, at 11 a.m. and half past three. He had come to Baltimore on a fleeting visit, not long after presiding over the September 10 wedding of the daughter of Thomas Bartlett, and returned by way of Philadelphia to Boston to officiate at the wedding of former Vice President Elbridge Gerry’s daughter on November 16.

His role while in Baltimore was to whip up enthusiasm for the building of a new church that would accommodate those who generally adhered to Thomas Jefferson’s explanation of his Christianity. Nearing the end of his life, Jefferson would write a letter to his friend and Unitarian Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse in response to a Waterhouse’s attack on the use of tobacco and wine.

You will find it as difficult to inculcate these sanative precepts [meaning conducive to physical or spiritual health and well-being] on the sensualities of the present day, as to convince an Athanasian [who believes in the trinity] that there is but one God. I wish success to both attempts, and am happy to learn from you that the latter, at least is making progress….[Jefferson like good wine which he purchased from a merchant in Baltimore named Gustier of Bartlett and Gustier fame].

Jefferson went on to outline his own creed, declaiming that he rejoiced

That this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience to neither kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of one only God is reviving, and I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian.

suffer no speculative differences of opinion any more than of feature, to impair the love of their brethren. Be this the wisdom of Unitarians, this the holy mantle which shall cover within its charitable circumference all who believe in one God, and who love their neighbor!

What the Reverend Doctor Freeman actually said on those four occasions when he preached in
Gibney’s Dance Hall those two weekends in October 1816 is not known for certain, but it certainly must have been effective.

One distinct possibility is Freeman’s sermon published anonymously in 1829 entitled “We walk by faith, and not by sight” (Cor. 5:7). An annotated copy of “Eighteen Sermons and a Charge” in the New York Public Library declares him to be the author.

It would have been suitable to a new untested audience and contained some admonitions that his audience would have done well to have heeded.

In this chapter [of Corinthians] the Apostle [Paul] is treating of the immortality of man. With great confidence, he expresses his hope of a future state of happiness. Nevertheless, he adds, we walk by faith, and not by sight. That is, this immortality is not a matter of knowledge, but of belief. We cannot demonstrate it, though we are firmly persuaded of its truth. The assertion of the Apostle is not applicable to a future state only; but in almost all the doctrines of revealed religion, we walk by faith and not by sight. Absolute knowledge, in few cases, is granted to us; what we believe may be probable, but it is not certain; for here we see through a glass darkly, and know in part. In a future world we hope to enjoy perfect knowledge; but the present world is in some measure a scene of obscurity.

As a consideration of this subject is adapted to make us cautious, humble, and candid, it deserves attention. At the same time, it is of importance to show that the prejudices, which are entertained against religion on this account, are ill-founded; for if we walk by faith in religion, we are guided by the same light in almost everything else. We ought not therefore to object against revelation because it cannot be demonstrated, for demonstration is not afforded us in other subjects.

Historians would also do well to heed Dr. Freeman’s advice. It is impossible to know the past, we can only surmise based upon as much reading and digging through the surviving evidence as we can. As Dr. Freeman concluded with regard to the doctrines of religions so also it applies to our interpretation of the past:

Faith ... is the light by which we must guide our steps in the doctrines of religion, yet the duties of it are clear and certain. Whether our own opinions of Christianity are true or false, it is our duty to be pious and virtuous, to practise the precepts which are contained in the gospel. These precepts are agreeable to nature and reason, and must be true, whatever our speculative system may be. Christianity, which teaches them, is supported by innumerable probable arguments. Let them who deny this assertion examine the subject with care. In every step which they take, they will find proofs accumulating upon them, which they cannot easily resist; and they should acknowledge that it is not less absurd to neglect their moral conduct, because they cannot demonstrate by irrefragable arguments a future state of rewards and punishments, than it is to neglect exertion in any other case, because they cannot positively answer for the success of their plans. Uncertain as events may be, sufficient motives present themselves to induce us to be virtuous; and if we refuse to attend to them, it cannot be allowed that we act with wisdom.

His audience must have liked what they heard. The money was raised through subscription. An architect, Maximilian Godefroy was selected and the following June 5, 1817, the cornerstone for the new church was laid. According to a newspaper report:

It is to be denominated the “First Independent Church in Baltimore;” and is building under the superintendance of messrs. Henry payson, Ezekiel Freeman, C. D. Williams, Tobias Watkin, Charles H,. Appleton, Nath. Williams, Wm. Child, James W. McCulloh, John H. Poor and Isaac Phillips. On a brass plate, deposited in the stone, is this inscription

“There is one GOD, and One Mediator, between God and Men; the man Christ Jesus.” 1Tim. 2, 5”

George Williams, merchant, director of the Second Bank of the United States, and member of the new Independent Church of Baltimore

The Williams’s especially church members and brothers Amos and young George, along with church treasurer James W. McCulloh would have done well to have heeded the advice of Doctor Freeman to walk humbly and virtuously. As Dr. Freeman put it, probably at Gibney’s dance hall in October 1816,

Uncertain as events may be, sufficient motives present themselves to induce us to be virtuous; and if we refuse to attend to them, it cannot be allowed that we act with wisdom.

In 1815 and 16, George Williams and his Clerk, James W. McCulloh concocted a scheme to make themselves and their family rich, or so it seemed. George and James secured the signatures of over three thousand individuals who agreed to buy one share each of stock in the Second Bank of the United States for which they were paid pennies for the use of their names. In turn George Williams and James W. McCulloh offered to act as security for the signatories, and to provide the payment for each share by borrowing the cost of the shares from the bank on their promise to pay. George was given their power of attorney, and with it, voted himself in as a director. No money actually changed hands (except the pennies for the use of the names) and there was no regulatory agency looking over their shoulders. In fact a tinsmith by the name of John James and James W. McCulloh who moved from George Williams’s counting house to be Cashier at the Bank, successfully sued the State of Maryland over the State’s attempt to tax the paper money issued by the Bank, a suit that went all the way to the Supreme court before Chief Justice Marshall decided in favor of the Bank. Meanwhile, George and James continued their stock jobbing. At first the value of the Stock rose, in part because on the books so many people were buying it, but then came the crop failures of the summer of 1816, caused by drastic change in the weather caused by a volcanic eruption in what is today Indonesia, the calling in of loans for the purchase of western lands that farmers could no longer afford, the dumping of European goods on the American market for which the public no longer had the means to purchase, and the calling in of the loans by European bankers that financed the purchase of Louisiana. By 1825 it was reported to Congress that George and James still owed $1,207,332.08 to the bank, dragging down U. S. Senator Samuel Smith who partnered with them into bankruptcy. By then Amos Williams was also bankrupt and had lost the elegant house that he owned and George occupied on what is now the site of Mercy Hospital on Calvert Street. Curiously neither George nor James was convicted of wrongdoing despite the objections of one of the judges on a three judge panel that reviewed the thousand of pages of testimony and documentation provided by General and Senator Robert Goodloe Harper. Their speculations were deemed an honest mistake, if poor judgment. Amos died in obscurity. George continued as a commission merchant dealing with customers on the Eastern Shore, and managing the family property of Savage Mills.

After the first major bubble of economic expansion in Baltimore burst in the banking scandal of 1819, Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, the daughter of one of the wealthiest merchants in Baltimore and the rejected bride of Napoleon’s brother, wrote her own brother her view of why the high fliers of commerce and banking were ruined.

source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e1/Elizabeth-Patterson-Bonaparte_Gilbert-Stuart_1804.jpg

[To quote Betsy, one merchant] by this tragical event, [has] been severely punished for the folly which led him to build and furnish with regal magnificence a palace. I am sorry to express my conviction that General Smith’s fine house, and the extravagant mode of living he introduced into Baltimore caused the ruin of half the people in the place, who, without this example, would have been contented to live in habitations better suited to their fortunes; and certainly they only made themselves ridiculous by aping expenses little suited to a community of people of business. It is to be hoped that in [the] future there will be no palaces constructed, as there appears to be a fatality attending their owners, beginning with Robert Morris and ending with Lem. Taylor. I do not recall a single instance, except that of [William] Bingham, of any one who built one in America, not dying a bankrupt.[Elizabeth Patterson to William Patterson, May 22, 1823, as published in Eugene L. Dider, The Life and Letters of Madame Bonaparte (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1879), 142, courtesy of Lance Humphries]

That the city would recover from the financial debacle caused in large measure by its own entrepreneurial merchants, was never in doubt for long. Even some the perpetrators survived to fame and fortune. James W. Mcculloh even became the U. S. Comptroller of the Treasury and lived to a ripe old age in New Jersey.

But the expansion of the city following the streets that Thomas Poppleton delineated on his map, published in 1822, would challenge the character and location of its maritime trade. The strange weather of 1816 and 1817, including the 10 inches of rain in August 1817 would wash vast quantities of mud and debris into the harbor at Fells point, wiping out its only freshwater supply above Fountain Street, and silting up wharves to the point of exasperation of its wharf owners. A court suit followed against the city that made its way to the Supreme Court. There two Fells Point wharf owners, Craig and Barron, lost, which meant that the City would not reimburse them for digging out the silt surrounding their wharves with a mud machine. Instead they leased their once busy commodity wharf to a ship builder who built one of the largest sailing ships ever launched in Baltimore only to find that he had to pay for the Mud Machine to dig out the silt in front the wharf so that the ship could sail to its new owner, the emperor of Brazil.

In October of 1816 Baltimore was an urban frontier of great promise. A significant core of its merchant elite looked forward to greater wealth based upon speculative ventures of uncertain outcome and daring such as bank stock kiting and exploiting revolutions in Mexico, Central, and South America. At the same time a number of the most adventuresome in Baltimore turned from the established religions of their city to a more independent approach to the teachings of Jesus Christ, an approach that challenged his divinity and stressed the virtues of his humanity, while in their business lives, they faltered in following his precepts, setting examples of business behavior that future generations of Americans would strive to emulate.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Trading with the Enemy, Shot by a Former Slave: Baltimore Merchant Samuel Goldsmith Griffith

Today, September 12, is Defender's Day, marking the defeat of the British at Baltimore in 1814, and the origin of our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. The war did not deter Baltimore Merchants from trading with the enemy, and in at least one instance they got caught. That case reached the Supreme Court after the war was over.
Briefly stated, this is a case brought by Samuel Goldsmith Griffith, the consignor/owner of a cargo of flour shipped on the Hiram from Baltimore in the fall of 1812 (after war was declared) to Lisbon, Portugal to help feed the British Army. It was brought against the American privateer Thorn, which captured the Hiram on its way to Lisbon. The Theron claimed the Hiram and its cargo as a prize after discovering that the Hiram was a vessel operating under a safe conduct license from the British which was against American law in the time of war, and made the Hiram subject to capture as a prize of war. The owners of the cargo claimed they knew nothing of the license and sought to have their goods (the flour) returned. The court decided to uphold the lower court decision that even if the owners of the cargo were unaware of the license, it was the illegal action of the ship owner in obtaining the license that made the ship and cargo liable for capture by the American privateer, and that all the proceeds belong to the captors (the Thorn, its owners, captain, and crew). [1]
Samuel Goldsmith Griffith (1777-1820) is the subject of a more extensive study of Baltimore merchants and trade during and after the War of 1812. Griffith met an inglorious end. He was shot to death by a black man living in Pennsylvania, John Reed, who Griffith claimed was a slave and his property. The two trials of John Reed are examined in detail in Legal Practice and Pragmatics in the Law: The 1821 Trials of John Reed, “Fugitive Slave”, by
Linda Myrsiades, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 138, No. 3 (July 2014), pp. 305-338. Confined to jail under a sentence of 108 months for the killing of Griffith's accomplice, the fate of John Reed is to date unknown.
The surviving evidence and proceedings in the case of the Hiram are to be found in
1) the engrossed (polished) minutes of the U. S. Supreme Court from 1789- contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M215.
2) the dockets of the U. S. Supreme Court from contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M216
3) the surviving transcripts of case files submitted on appeal to the Supreme Court for the year 1815 contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication, M214.
4) the record of when the attorneys in the case admitted to practice before the Supreme Court contained on National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M217
Finding the minutes of the case is relatively easy because the printed report of the case is presented in the context of the term in which the case was decided, in this instance, February Term, 1816. The minutes of the trial of the Hiram are to be found as the last entry on the last day of term, March 22, 1816, an entry followed by a rule regarding further proof required by the Court, and the appointment of Henry Wheaton as court reporter.
Finding the docket entry for a case is more difficult as the dockets are in chronological order from the day the case was first brought to the Court's attention. For example the Hiram's docket entry is found on folio 805 for February Term 1815, meaning that the case was entered on the Supreme Court docket then and, as indicated in the docket, decided on March 22, 1816. Note that the docket contains a stamped number '752' added much later which refers to how the Supreme Court had filed the case papers from the lower court and the order in which the National Archives filmed those papers.
Because it takes a year or two on average, in the era of the assigned cases, from the entry on the docket to the resolution of the case by the Court, the hunt for the dockets in the assigned cases usually begins one or two terms before the year of decision in the case as reflected in the minutes and the printed reports.
Finding when the attorneys in the Hiram case were first admitted to practice before the Supreme Court from this e-publication is partially answered by the alphabetical index at the beginning of National Archives microfilm publication M217. For the Hiram, the lawyers who argued the case before the Supreme Court were William Pinkney, admitted February 8, 1806, and Samuel Dexter, who does not appear on the index to the rolls, but is well known from his friendship with Justice Story and appeared as opposing counsel in privateering cases with William Pinkney until his death from scarlet fever in Athens, New York, in May of 1816, following his win in the Hiram case.

[1] Note that without recourse to the minutes from the Massachusetts Federal Circuit Court, you would not know that the lower court opinion that was affirmed by the Supreme Court was written by Justice Story sitting on circuit with the Circuit Court judge Davis who, in 1808, had asserted Congress had the right to impose an embargo on trade, thus allowing for cases of infractions of Jefferson's embargo to go forward in his court. In all 40 such cases, many apparently argued successfully by Samuel Dexter, were heard by juries in Davis's court, in all of which juries found for the defendants, despite clear evidence that they had defied the Embargo.