January 8, 2000

Britain's 1807 attack on the frigate Chesapeake called for a strong response and President Jefferson didn't hesitate long. He slapped an embargo on U. S. ports that year, forbidding any trade with the English. The possibility of war had become stronger now, in 1808. Strong enough to cause New York City, divided into ten wards this year, to refortify Governors Island, rebuilding the dilapidated Fort Jay, renaming it Fort Columbus. The embargo, increasingly unpopular at home, was harming the U. S. as badly as those it was intended to punish. This may help account for the fact that the number of debtors in the city rose from 300 last year to 1300 now. In Jefferson County, at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, the government stationed a party of militia to enforce the embargo. Smuggling by both sides would often defy attempts at restraint, right on through the War of 1812, and immense quantities of potash were sneaked into Canada without restraint. This product was invaluable to frontier economies. Along with pork, wheat, and whiskey shipped from the mouth of the Genesee River, it accounted for $100,000 in sales.

Upstate New York lost one of its prime movers in 1808. Former land agent Charles Williamson, sailing on a trade mission for the British government, failed to recover from his annual bout with Genesee Fever this time and was buried at sea in the Caribbean. One of his former projects, the bridge across the northern end of Cayuga Lake, also succumbed to the forces of nature, but it would be rebuilt. Western New York needed its transportation and communication systems. Stagecoach service was inaugurated between Batavia and Canandaigua. Daily mail service between Canandaigua and Utica was also begun.

A number of events in 1808 would bear fruit down the road. In March, Saratoga County physician Dr. Billy J. Clark read Dr. Benjamin Rush's An Inquiry Into the Effect of Spirituous Liquors on the Human Body and Mind. A few weeks later he founded the Union Temperance Society, the state's first. The legislature introduced a bill for a feasibility study for a canal, and engineer and judge James Geddes surveyed routes across the state, reported the project could work. In Wyoming, New York, settlers Michael and Cynthia Loomis erected a log cabin and began farming. Their great-grandson would grow up to be a journalist and a beloved teller of New York tales, newshound Arch Merrill. Several towns were renamed in 1808. From this point on, New Amsterdam was to be known as Buffalo. And down on the Chemung River the town fathers of Newtown recalled a sound from their past when thy looked for a new name for their village. It was believed locally that innkeeper's wife Polly Teall had a voice that could peal the bark off a healthy tree at sixty paces. Many citizens would never forget, apparently, the many times she would call her young daughter home, belting out her name, "Elmira! Elmira!!

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte