Sunday, December 29, 2013

“I am Known to be a True Whig:” James Manning Hall, Postmaster of Perrysburg

“I am Known to be a True Whig:”  James Manning Hall, Postmaster of Perrysburg
                                                                                                by Alan Borer

            Before the Civil Service Act of 1882, getting a government job depended on who you knew.  If you were a Democrat and worked hard to get local Democratic candidates elected, you might reasonably expect to be favored with a postmastership, a consular position, or some other emolument.  That is, of course, if your party won the election.

            Before 1882, all federal government jobs were filled by the President.  No matter how small the office, it was the President’s prerogative to give or take away.  Since the President could not possibly be acquainted with every candidate personally, he relied on the postmaster-general and other aides to point out party loyalists and workers who were deserving of federal jobs.

            Needless to say, that arrangement led to cases of bitter irony.  Take as an example the postmastership of Perrysburg, Ohio, in the winter of 1840-41.  On February 15, a new postmaster was installed named James Manning Hall.  We do not know many details of the life of Hall.  Born in New Hampshire in 1809, James Manning Hall settled in Perrysburg in the 1830s. He was a merchant, running a general store, a Freemason, and a Presbyterian.  He married a girl named Roxana Allen in 1838, and they had two children, a boy and a girl.  And in February of 1841, he wrote an interesting letter to the folks back home, which survives.

            In that particular February, Hall complained of how bad the business situation was in Perrysburg.  A financial panic in 1837 had caused bank failures, a collapse of western land values, and driven Martin Van Buren from the White House:

Business is exceedingly dull, & Cash! the article is hardly to be seen in these “diggings” but we have got “Old Tip” Elected and hope for better times soon

“Old Tip” was of course William Henry Harrison of “Old Tippecanoe” fame.  Elected president by the Whig Party in the fall of 1840, Harrison spent the winter of 1840-41 being pestered by federal job seekers, especially for the many would-be postmasters who clamored for jobs under his Administration.

            James Manning Hall got the postmaster’s job in Perrysburg.  The cover in Figure 1 may therefore be a “first use of postmaster’s frank.”  In his own words,

You will perceive by this that I am the P.M. [postmaster]  at this place.  I have this day taken the oath of office, it has happened in consequence of it becoming necessary for D. Allen (my Brother in Law) to leave for Newport…

            David Allen, who had been the postmaster of Perrysburg since 183x, was Roxana Allen Hall’s brother.  Family business had forced him to resign.  While Allen (a Democrat) would likely lose the postmaster job in March of 1841 when Harrison was inaugurated, he found a way to please his sister, taking advantage of the “lame duck” situation in Washington to give his sister’s husband a recommendation.

            There were doubts about Hall’s party loyalty:

Whether I retain it or not remains to be seen, as there are some few who object in consequence of the appointment coming from the present Administration and (as they insinuate, through Loco Foco difference), but as I am known to be a True Whig.  I think  it is doubtful whether they will think it best to remove me…

Hall did not sound concerned.  “Loco Foco,” a contemporary obnowious nickname for Democrats, might hold up the appointment while Van Buren was still in office, but Hall felt comfortable about his Whig credentials.  As he said, he was a “True Whig,” and had nothing to fear from the incoming President’s postmaster-slashing.


            Hall served as postmaster of Perrysburg until 1846.  Although “Old Tip” died after only a month in office, Harrison’s successor, John Tyler, let him keep the job.  It was not until July of 1845 that Hall was turned out of office by a new Democrat, James K. Polk.

            Shortly after, James Hall died in1847 when he was only 37.  Roxana lived much longer, dying in 1885 in Haskins.  She never remarried.  James left no other letters that I know of; his declaration that he was a “True Whig” could serve as a summary of his short life.
[Other than the letter itself, see and]

A German Christmas in Bowling Green, 1889

A German Christmas in Bowling Green, 1889                              by Alan Borer

            Like most cities and towns across the Midwest, Bowling Green, Ohio, had a sizable German-speaking minority in the.  “In 1900, 204,160 native-born Germans resided in Ohio,” according to the Ohio Historical Society, and many more citizens had whole or partial German ancestry.  And because Christmas, at least American Christmas is of German immigrant origin, I thought it would be worth sharing some German Christmas memories from my boyhood hometown of Bowling Green.

            That I can share these memories at all is possible because Bowling Green, in the 1880s, had enough German-speaking citizens to establish a German newspaper.  Die Post, easily translated as The Post, was published for the German speaking and reading population of central Wood County.  Like many newspapers in small towns, it had an off-again, on-again publishing career.  Microfilm copies exist for 1889, but another incarnation of Die Post was being published by “Dammon and Holterman” in 1899.  “Dammon” might refer to the G. J. Dammon, listed in the 1900 Census as a resident of Portage just south of Bowling Green.  The 1899 Post appeared to cease around 1903, but the trail is just too faint to say with certainty.

            But if your goal is to see what Christmas like in the German community, the December 19, 1889 issue of Die Post survives for perusal.  Not surprisingly for a new immigrant community, the news offered in Die Post was tilted heavily toward news from Germany and Austria.  Even on page three, where local news was offered, the news was about other German-Americans and advertisements for German-owned and operated businesses.

            For example a very large advertisement for the clothier Brunning and Witte in Pemberville was headed “Weihnachtssachen,” literally “Christmas things.”  Among the “things” offered were “mantel, scharpe, schuen und stiefeln (coats, sashes, shoes, and boots).”  Adhering to the German stereotype of practicality and frugality, the Pemberville merchants offered useful gifts.

            Other “news” listed the doings of German neighbors and neighborhoods.  Philip Berger, of the Bowling Green Glass Works, was back to work after four weeks of serious illness.  Herr Hoffman, Perrysburg’s “genial” grocer, was taking a trip.  Friedrich Roessinger died in Pemberville at age 52.  And Charles Kistner and Alice Strohl were married.

            There were even a few humorous references, although sometimes the humorous items were actually advertisements in disguise.  A short article labeled “Der beste Beweis (The Best Evidence”) is roughly translated thusly:

“What should I do, young lady, to prove my love for you?”
“Take my hand”

The conversation ends not with an engagement, but with, “Buy your Christmas things at Holden’s 5 & 10 Cent Store.”  I’m not sure the lady would have been won with a 10 cent ring, but who am I to judge?

            Another fragment labeled “Die Bauern Sagen (The Farmers Say)” also turns out to be an advertisement for “Tanners Schuladen,” which has the “einem Laden in Wood County (the best selection in Wood County.”  The Bowling Green merchant knew his customer base – Germans – and where they looked for information – Die Post.

            Another appeal to a rural audience was the following:

Farmer: Der beste Plaz, eine gute Wahlzeit zu bekommen, ist im “People’s Eatinghouse.”  Die erste Lokal nordlich von der Postoffic.  E. G. Ward

(The best place for having a good time is at the “People’s Eatinghouse.”  Located the first block north of the postoffice.)

            Retail selling, whether shoes or restaurants, was a cutthroat operation.  Especially in the nineteenth century, when merchants had few advertising options beyond signs and newspapers, businessmen placed much hope in the holiday push for sales.  Knowing your customer base was as essential as it is now.  So it was no surprise that the advertisers in Die Presse marked their local news column with a bold “Froliche Weihnacht! (Merry Christmas!)  We can only hope it was!

Posies and Pirates

Posies and Pirates                                                                                                                            by Alan Borer

                The book was in a pile of scruffy-looking donations to the library.  Typical book stock at the end of their usefulness, made all the more sad because of the looming de-emphasis on the printed word.  But there were a couple of older items, and I took a closer look.  A math book from the 1890s; a battered McGuffey’s Third Reader (an old edition but the date was unreadable), and the front cover of a book, the rest of which was at the bottom of the pile.  A scan of the title page is below.


                Now denominated OCLC# 191310421 in Worldcat, the central computer database of the world’s book titles, The Bouquet by “A Lady” was a “gift book” of the early Victorian era.  Gift books were books sold for use as gifts.  Often richly decorated with steel engravings and florid prose and verse, they were sources of sentimental reflection for the person to whom they were gifted.  “…most such books made a general appeal to those who wished to bestow an “elegant” offering indicative of “refined” sentiment.”  [The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21), Volume XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.,  XX. Magazines, Annuals, and Gift-books, 1783–1850, p. 21]

            Who “A Lady” was is unclear.  The printer was Benjamin B. Mussey, but the verso shows the name of Oliver L. Perkins, the one who “Entered According to an Act of Congress,” and thus secured copyright.  Perkins was a Boston bookseller, and one of the first book merchants to use the term “antiquarian” to describe his stock of merchandise.  Details of Perkins’s life are sketchy.  He was born in Maine in 1808, when Maine was yet a province of Massachusetts.  In the 1850 Census he was listed as a “bookseller” with a wife and four children, plus two live-in servants, both women and one born in Ireland. 
Oliver L. Perkins Bookstore, 1834 []
Other books produced by Oliver Perkins can be tracked via bibliographies on or off line.  He brought out an edition of the 1678 classic The History of the Buccaneers of America  by Alexandre Olivier Exquemelin.  This classic book of piracy on the high seas is old enough to have no copyright restrictions on reprints.  English editions are still readily available, and despite the temptation to refer to them as “pirated editions,” they are all perfectly legal.

Another book, The Pearl Box was published by Oliver Perkins about 1851.  Written (compiled?) by “A Pastor,” it claimed to offer one hundred poems suitable for young people.  I have not examined a copy, but from the subject headings, “Love – Juvenile Fiction,” and “Nature – Juvenile Fiction,” we can gat and idea of the contents.  Sentiment, Gothic, and romantic

Thus, the primly Victorian feminine gift book, The Bouquet, keeps company with the bloody, violent, masculine, Buccaneers.  Oliver Perkins, like bookmen before and since, appears to have added to his bookstore by reprinting books that had little or no copyright restrictions.  Did Perkins make much money reprinting books?  Did he intentionally print gender-based potboilers?  That is up to a more skilled bibliographer than I.  But as a literary rag-picker, it was a satisfying look at an old book.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Land: Who Has the "Right?"

To:  Westerville City Council

Westerville, OH  43081

December 10, 2013

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I wish to offer a few comments regarding the request for rezoning of the 6.7 acre parcel at 433 Cherrington Road.  I strongly urge you to reject this proposal. 

Thai parcel represents some of the last “green space” left in this part of Westerville.  I know that what makes green space desirable is subjective, but most of the homes in this area are on relatively large lots.  Building 25 homes on six acres will certainly change the neighborhood, and, I think, for the worse.  It brings to mind the 1962 song, “Little Boxes,’ where the building of subdivisions by developers for speculative gain is ridiculed in the lyrics:

And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

Of course, in a free country, people have the right to choose their dwelling places, and how they look and the lifestyle that the dwellings encourage.  But it seems to me unfair to build huge houses on tiny lots in this neighborhood.

We have chosen a different mode of living.  Exercising our right to choose, we like our bigger lots, with room to garden, watch birds, and plant flowers.  None of these things will be more than faintly possible in these tiny yards.  I am an adjacent homeowner; I want to make my personal stake clear.  I do not want my (and my neighbors) utilities overtaxed, our groundwater polluted, and our children made unsafe by traffic congestion.

That may sound selfish to some, but that is my point of view.   I live across the street from the property.  John C. Wicks, the developer’s agent, does not live in Westerville.  He does not live across the street from the property.  Please consider whose opinions matter more, and reject this project.