February 12, 2000
Full Steam Ahead

1809. The two potential combatants circle each other warily, looking for weak spots, testing each other's ability and will. The heavyweight, Britain, one hand tied behind its back by Napoleon in the Iberian peninsula, ponders its next moves, as does the bantamweight United States. In March outgoing president Thomas Jefferson, facing rising commercial pressures, exchanges the Embargo Act for the Non-Intercourse Act, allowing trade with all nations except France and Great Britain. The next month Britain makes private noises suggesting the U. S. might be allowed access to French seaports in the near future. New president James Madison allows as how his country might begin trading with England again. By the second week in August the whole thing's fallen apart. 1809 will end right smack where it began.

In New York this year the hot new topic of conversation is Robert Fulton and steamboats. As the new national administration readjusts itself in April, Fulton is quite busy on several fronts. He puts his pioneering vessel The Steamboat (only later named the Clermont) back into service on the Hudson, now freed of ice. Plush new passenger cabins attract the adventuresome, wealthy traveler. In June he hires Nicholas Roosevelt (yes, THAT family) to survey the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers as possible steamboat routes. In June Fulton launches a new vessel, the Car of Neptune. The same month rival John Stevens takes his new vessel, the Phoenix, out of New York City and heads for Philadelphia, the world's first oceangoing steamboat. On December 1st the two men divvy up the market. Fulton gets the steamboat monopoly on all New York State waters, the run to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Stevens gets Chesapeake Bay, the Connecticut, Delaware, Santee and Savannah Rivers, and the run from Long Island Sound to Providence, Rhode Island.

Life goes on across the state. In Manhattan Knickerbocker's History of New York, a spoof by young Washington Irving, is published, and John Randall, Jr. is commissioned to map out new streets for the growing city. Elsewhere, Buffalo gets it's first church; Albany a new capitol building; Watertown an arsenal. Lake Champlain even acquires one of the new steamboats, the Vermont.

And death comes this year to two once influential New York residents. In Canandaigua, land speculator Oliver Phelps, promoter in 1788 of the million-dollar purchase of western New York lands, dies in debtor's prison. Down in New York City's Greenwich Village, one of the great enablers of the previous war, Thomas Paine, dies in an alcoholic haze. An atheist, he can not be buried in the cemetery in New Rochelle, where he resided on a 400-acre farm given him by New York State, so he's buried on the farm property.

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

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte