Voice of the People: Daily Life in the Antebellum Rural Delaware County New York Area

The Outside World


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The Outside World Introduction | Letters, Diaries, etc.

Delaware County and environs possessed unique defining characteristics, but like other regions in antebellum America, it reflected phenomena that was national in scope. Antebellum Americans were a people in motion. Many immigrants, including 1.7 million Irish newcomers, arrived from overseas and 250,000 Americans traveled to the Far West by the Overland Trail. Manifest Destiny led the nation to war with Mexico and to territorial acquisition. Even as settlers pioneered new agricultural lands, other Americans left villages and rural areas for cities, both new and established. A peripatetic people, Americans journeyed in search of new opportunities and better lives. Others, however, remained close to home and hearth. For Congressman Samuel Sherwood, sent to Washington in 1814 to represent the Delaware County area, distance did not diminish familial memories:  "I am tired - tired - I wish my Congressional days were spent and I was in the quiet of Woodland House -  after all, the plain routine of domestic life is the sheet anchor which moors us to happiness"

1856 illustration of Chicago harborThis section on the “Outside Word” explores the relationship between the microcosm of greater Delaware County to the macrocosm of the larger America during the generation prior to the Civil War. For example, in 1815  Samuel Sherwood wrote a letter from Washington DC to an acquaintance in Delhi rejoicing the end of the War of 1812: we had finally developed a national character Addison Jayne wrote from New York City to his sister and brother-in-law in Davenport (Delaware County) a letter which poignantly described a cholera epidemic in New York City in 1832 and informed them of the death of their brother.  Robert Sherwood  sent a letter by steamer to his sister giving of an account of a visit to Paris in 1849.  Matthew Griffin  wrote in his diary that he felt the Mexican War was an "unjust war" but the "American Flag must bee honord".  Harvey Seaman provided his parents back home in Delancey (Delaware County) an amazing 8-page account of his 168 trip by sail from New York City to California via Cape Horn in 1851: from seasickness to small pox to St. Catherine (South America) to storms to San Francisco.  In 1857, another Delaware County native who sought his fortune in California, James Oliver, said a month at Sing Sing would be preferable to a trip by sail. By this time, the gold in California seemed to be the climate rather than the metal; Oliver predicted that California would become the most thickly settled of any portion of the United States.

To find further examples of the relationship between the microcosm of Delaware County to the macrocosm of America, proceed to The Outside World: Letters, Diaries, etc.


Illustration: Chicago, 1856. Detail from the Ladies' Repository, February 1856, frontispiece.

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