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Only one American president had died when Brewster started work at his Portsmouth newspaper in 1818.

By Charles W. Brewster

Editors Note: C.W. Brewster was a Portsmouth columnist in the mid-1800's. This article includes his opinions and may not reflect current research or current values.

Fifty Years in a Printing Office -- Our Own and the World's Progress .

THIS day (in 1868) closes a half-century since the senior proprietor entered this office as an apprentice to the art and mystery of Printing.  That memorable day was the 16th Feb. 1818.  The paper was then called the "PORTSMOUTH ORACLE" and was published by Charles Turell.  In 1821, it was purchased by Nathaniel A. Haven, jr. who changed the name to "THE PORTSMOUTH JOURNAL OF LITERATURE AND POLITICS."  The plain style of heading adopted by him has never been changed.  The paper then had four columns to the page, and contained about half as much reading as now.  After Mr. H. had conducted the paper four years in a manner which gave it a high standing in the community, in July, 1825, the Journal establishment was purchased by the present senior proprietor in connection with T. H. Miller.  It was then removed into the room now occupied as the office, and for four years Col. C. W. Cutter was assistant editor.  In 1833, the present senior proprietor purchased the establishment and took the sole management of the paper.  There has been no change since, except the admission of his son to joint-partnership in 1853.

The Oracle was published in a chamber in Market street on the site of C. H. Mendum & Co.'s store.  As it was removed to Ladd street in 1825, the senior, who removed with it, has really been in the same office fifty years--never having worked a week in any other office.  

His relaxations from business in that long term have been few and short -- never having been absent at the publication of two successive papers in the whole time, excepting five weeks in 1830, from sickness.  Only on one day besides, does he recollect being absent from his office from indisposition, in the whole fifty years.  Twice to Bangor, thrice to the White Mountains, twice to New York, once to Philadelphia, and once to Canada, comprise the whole circuit of his distant excursions.  He has attended four sessions of the State Legislature and the State Constitutional Convention -- but not to the neglect of the paper, spending some time in the office each week.

When he entered the office in 1818, he well recollects the load of wood it was his lot to carry over two flights of stairs, and how grateful was the privilege of then resting at an old pied brevier case, on which he took his first lesson in type-setting.  It was some relief, after setting a column of pi, to have a regular paragraph to put in type.  The first line for which he explored the case was this: "The passions, after having been tyrants, become slaves in their turn."

Another early paragraph has never been forgotten: "The follies of youth are drafts on old age, payable forty years after date with interest."  It is as fresh to him now as though put in type yesterday, and certainly has never produced any injury in leading to a total abstinence from alcohol and tobacco.

The first manuscript he put in type was an article from the pen of Rev. Dr. Burroughs, then a young man of thirty.  His chirography has not changed in the half-century.  It was on the Lancasterian system of education, just being introduced.  The Dr. finished the corrections of his proof at midnight on Friday, and then the printing of the paper for the morning issue was begun.  This late hour was the custom of the office in those days.  The whole of Friday night was usually spent in the office, so our fellow apprentices, John
T. Gibbs, John B. Reding and George Wadleigh, will recollect.

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As he has resided in the same locality the whole fifty years, (only removing "over the way" when he commenced housekeeping forty years ago)-- the distance from his residence to the office, 2300 feet, has been walked at least four times every day on an average.  Thus has he passed over 27,150 miles in one beaten track, compassing more than a circuit round the world,--and that too without the notoriety a short and hurried walk to Chicago (see footnote 2) might give.

Has not this sameness been tiresome? may be asked.  O no, it has had its variety in scenery -- it has its variety also, in the change of fellow travellers.

The changes of the seasons present in the hundred and twenty trees daily passed, the bud, the blossom, the full foliage, the autumnal tinges, and the strong and muscular bare limbs of the winter months.  They are all company to him in their associations.  He has seen, in fifty years, other trees in the same spots where the largest and loftiest elms, of eight or ten feet in circumference, now stand.  That at the opening of Pearl street, he saw Ricker Hill put down when a twig.  The spot where stands the 10-ft. elm in front of  Geo. W. Haven's, was occupied less than fifty years ago by a large horsechestnut, which had taken the place of a lofty Lombardy poplar.  And that 8-ft. elm in front of the Academy has its historical remembrance. 

The Commissioner of the Sandwich Islands now at Washington will recollect the day when his father applied to him the ferrule for aspiring so high as to break off the tree twelve feet from the ground, where the large branches now spread from the main trunk.  T. Starr King was witness on the occasion.  There have been trees on the way set out by lady hands, which are held sacred by their departure.  One might have been seen a few years since, which had no claim to beauty or vigor, but was for years in a dying state, and like a tomb-stone told only of affection for the departed.

Even from the pavements over which he walks, some associations arise. Passing fifty years ago over a long gravelly walk lined by a row of posts on one side, and the red fence of the Adams garden on the other, he did not reach any pavements until arriving at Mrs. Buckminister's premises.  Thence the flat stones were laid to Market street.  Now the brick walk extends the whole distance, and far west.  As we pass the old granite at the street crossings, the mysterious seams in the rocks bring up thoughts of primeval times -- the square and the octagon stone passes bring up the mechanical contest of years gone by -- and when these stones on a frosty morning display the rich traces of the frost, who cannot find 'sermons in stones?'

Of the male heads of families resident on Islington and Congress streets fifty years ago, there now survive only John P. Lord, Samuel Lord, James F.Shores and Henry Goddard.

All the old occupants of the houses on these streets fifty years ago have passed away, and their places have been supplied by another generation, just then entering upon manhood.  He can now look upon these as men of three score and ten, -- but somehow they do not look as old men did to him fifty years ago. Among the old residents he might name Messrs. Akermans, Ham, Jackson, Fitzgerald, Halliburton, Barnes, Story, Fernald, H. S. Langdon, Hill, Folsom, Haven, Storer, Abbott, Sheafe, Parrott, J. Melcher, Treadwell, Dean, Cutter, Rogers, Bell, Dearborn, Lakeman, Brewster, Gerrish, Goddard, Rice, Webster, Clark, John Langdon 2d, N. Melcher, Sowersby, Call, Robinson, Bishop, Bartlett, McIntosh, Isaac Waldron, Wildes and others.  Only step for an hour into the shop of John Gaines, the watchmaker, where politics were always on the tapis, and you would meet the leading politicians of the day discussing the affairs of the nation.  They are now all gone.  In the shop next east of John Gains's might be seen John Somerby, apparently not five years older now than then, industriously engaged in upholstery.  Next comes the old Bell Tavern, where 'Squire Brown and Samuel Rea reappear, with Jacob Pritchard the barber, whose shop was in that tavern.  Daniel Lowd is sitting on the cellar casement in front, leaning on his staff -- and Supply Ham in the little shop behind his window of watches, as regular as a chronometer, and as reliable. Then George Ham might be seen in the old Billings house, with a magnifier held by his eyelids, and his sons Nathaniel and Daniel aiding him in regulating time.  Then the old Walker house, where Robert Metlin the baker lived, who probably knew nothing of saleratus, for he died in 1787 at the age of 115 years.  Then came the mansion where "Sally Allen" kept her millinery store -- and next the "fortunate" lottery office of G. W. Tuckerman, which afterwards became Peduzzi's confectionery.  There, too, is the ancient Court House on Market-Square, and the venerable North Church behind it.

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There are now in Portsmouth eight handsome Churches, and four Chapels, none of which, (except the Episcopal and Universalist Churches) were built in 1818.  The two latter were built in 1808.  One other large brick church on Pleasant street was built about forty years ago, and has been made into a dwelling house.  Fifty years ago the Unitarian Society occupied the Old South Church -- the Congregational Society the Old North, in neither of which the parishioners had confidence that the cold blasts of winter could be overcome by the heat of stoves -- and so only those who could endure with philosophic firmness the cold house for three hours on the Sabbath, were punctual in their attendance.  The ladies were generally provided with foot-stoves and moccasins -- gentlemen wore galoches -- India rubber shoes had not then been discovered.  The Methodist Society then occupied the building in the avenue on Vaughan street, now used as a stable.  The Freewill Baptists occupied what is now called the Temple.  The germs of what after became the Middle-street Baptist Church, were gathered in the church of the Independents on Court street, on the site of the present Unitarian Chapel.  The Sandemanian Society worshipped in the chamber of the brick school house on State street.  The Society is now extinct.  These were all the religious societies in Portsmouth fifty years ago.  The Brick School house readily designated a locality, for all the other school houses were old wooden buildings, better fit for pigs than for children.  Now we have seven brick school houses -- one of which cost more than all the school houses in Portsmouth fifty years ago.  Not one of the public school houses of 1818, except that on State street, now remain.

The only organ then, was that in St. John's Church.  There were no Sunday Schools, no Temperance meetings, no Lyceum lectures.  There was no Hearse in Portsmouth.  The bier might be seen in the entries of the churches, and the friends or neighbors of the deceased bore them to their graves.  There were no carriages used for funerals then -- nor was there an Auburn street or Harmony-Grove Cemetery.

Fifty years ago the present lower room of the Atheneum was an insurance office, and the chamber over it was St. John's Masonic Hall.  The Atheneum was just incorporated, and its five hundred volumes were on shelves in the room over John H. Bailey's store on Congress street.  There were then no bridges to connect Portsmouth with Maine, or with Newcastle, or with Rye over Sagamore creek.  Lafayette road was not then opened, and Rye Beach was less thought of as a place of resort than Newington -- Piscataqua Bridge being then the great place of attraction to parties of pleasure.  The Assembly House at what is now Raitt's Court, was then the only place in town for public exhibitions and balls.

Fifty years ago, an old dilapidated building on the present site of the Court House, was the "Work House," as it was called.  In it was "Union Hall," where the Selectmen held their meetings, and enjoyed an annual supper.  That noble brick edifice which now stands on the City Farm well supplies its place.  The Stone Jail has been built in that time, and within fifty years the iron staples have been taken from the top of the corner of the fence in front of the jail, to which we have seen the hands of many a culprit fastened, while his bare back received the cat-o-nine tails, every blow leaving a ridge, while the cries for mercy rent the air.  It is but a few years more than half a century that these scenes were witnessed at the close of almost every term of the County Courts.  And we have seen also the branding process, when the horse thief was pinioned down on the broad stone at the west door of the jail, and with a cork filled with needles, India ink was pricked in over his forehead and down his nose, to form the letter T.  The erection of our State
Prison happily terminated these legal barbarities.

There was no imposing factory building in Portsmouth fifty years ago.  The spinning wheel was then as much more common than the piano, as the piano now exceeds in number the spinning wheels.  Mrs. Tucker's loom in Tanner street used to do the weaving for many families.  There was a windmill for grinding bark on the spot where the car house of the Concord railroad stands -- and on the spot where the Concord station house now is, stood that long black building, the Old Distillery.  On the highest point between Russell and Green streets stood Bowles's windmill for grinding grain. 

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But enough of local for our present purpose.  To look at Portsmouth now and compare it with what it was fifty years ago, no one will deny that it has made steady progress in many important particulars -- such as we may well be proud of.

The changes in the outer world have been as great as in any half-century since the flood.  The printer's eye is naturally cast first on the progress of that art which is the preservation of all arts.  In 1818, he put in type a paragraph which announced a new discovery in paper making.  In March of that year, Messrs. Gilpin, on the Brandywine, gave notice of a discovery whereby paper can be made by machinery, in a continuous sheet of any length.  Until then every sheet of paper was made singly by hand, and when used for paper hangings, sheets were pasted together to make the roll.  This discovery saved more than half the expense of labor in paper manufacture.

Fifty years ago the most rapid Printing Presses in this country could not print more than 300 impressions per hour.  The London Literary Gazette, in March 1818, announced that a wonderful invention had just been made in England, whereby one thousand sheets of that paper could be printed in an hour.  It says that it is an improvement on the steam press of the London Times, which had been in operation about three years.  Now, 30,000 impressions are made per hour by the Hoe presses, and only last month it was announced that a new press in Paris is sending out 600 impressions per minute!  Although this statement needs confirmation, yet the known facts show that the progress of Printing in the last fifty years has been greater than from the time of its discovery in 1429 to 1818.

Fifty years ago he thinks there was not a City in any New England state, excepting Connecticut.  The town of Boston contained about fifty thousand inhabitants.  The cities of Lowell, Lawrence, Nashua and Manchester had not even received a name, -- and the flowing waters of the Cocheco and Salmonfalls were only used for grist and saw mills.  Boston then had but one daily paper, the Boston Daily Advertiser, three or four years old.  It was about half the present size of the Journal.  The Boston Chronicle & Patriot was published on Mondays and Thursdays, the New England Palladium on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the Columbian Centinel on Wednesdays and Saturdays.  These were all the regular commercial newspapers of Boston fifty years ago.  The Daily Advertiser, now the first newspaper in New England, is the only survivor. 

There are but few papers on our exchange list which have remained for fifty years.  The Boston Daily Advertiser, the Salem Gazette, the Salem Register, the Newburyport Herald, the Keene Sentinel, the Concord Patriot, and the Amherst Cabinet, were in 1818 and are now on our exchange list.

Fifty years ago the art of Lithography was undiscovered.  He well recollects the admiration excited by the first specimens of the new discovery.  Daguerre had not then dreamed of enlisting the services of the sun to produce truer pictures than the fifty preceding centuries had ever known.

In 1818, the application of steam to propelling river boats was but just commenced.  Fulton made his first expedition in 1807, and died in 1815.  In 1818 there were on the Mississippi but 23 steamboats, where there now are over 1600.  In 1818 the first outside boat commenced running between New York and New Orleans.  In 1819 a company in Georgia built a steamer, called the Savannah, and sent her to Europe.  This was the first time the ocean had been crossed by steam power.  But nearly twenty years elapsed before any regular line of steamers was established.  In that time the foreign news was received with no regularity.  Thirty and forty days from Europe was not unusual, and sometimes we were favored with the latest dates by arrivals at Portsmouth.  But the regular ten-days trips of the steamers are now put in the distance by another discovery of the day, the Telegraph, which will make a circuit round the world in less than the "forty minutes" of Shakspeare's fanciful imagination.

Fifty years ago our golden fields in California, then belonging to Mexico, were unexplored -- and the present fuel of our whole country laid in its undisturbed beds in Pennsylvania--the "great unknown," -- as was the author of Waverly, then at work on that array of novels which long after were acknowledged the productions of Sir Walter Scott.

In 1818, Napoleon Bonaparte who had been a terror in Europe, and still the lion of the day, was yet alive, held in St. Helena.  His brother Joseph was in Philadelphia, Louis in Rome, and Jerome in Austria; their mother was also alive in Italy.  Lafayette and his son were also then in France, and six years after came to America.  All have since departed and passed into history.

Turnpikes were the only internal improvements made previous to 1818.  There had been but two inconsiderable canals constructed in the whole country previous to that time--the Middlesex canal, connecting the Merrimac river with Boston, 27 miles; and the Santee and Charleston canal of 22 miles.  The Champlain canal was constructed in 1824, the great Erie canal of 365 miles in 1826, the Ohio canal of 300 miles in 1832, and twelve other large canals were constructed in the country up to 1832 -- when Railroad facilities took the place of many of them, and stopped this mode of internavigation.  The project of connecting lake Winnipisseogee with the tide water of the Piscataqua was also abandoned when the steam horse promised to do the labor better and more speedily.  These improvements have all been brought forth in the country  while the writer has been quietly noting their progress from his "loop hole of retreat."

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When he entered this office, but one President of the United States had deceased.  The progress of the Republic was then looked upon and still aided by the counsels of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.  Monroe was then the favorite President, whom no party opposed.  In various positions were then scattered through the land the "coming men."  John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, William H. Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan,
Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson have all since that day been elevated to the Presidency, and twelve of the sixteen have also departed this life in the period he has been chronicler of public events.

In the fifty years, the population of our country has extended from 9 to 36 millions.  The 1,500,000 slaves of 1818 had increased to 4,000,000 and then, a joyful event not anticipated in our day, were all made freemen.

In 1818, there were only twenty States in the Union.  Since then Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, Iowa, Texas, Wisconsin, California, Kansas, Minnesota, Nevada, Nebraska, Oregon, and West Virginia, have been admitted; and the territories of Arizona, Dakota, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, Washington and Wyoming will soon be presenting their claims to become States.  But not again will the claim be made as heretofore, that no free State shall be admitted without a slave State being received as an offset.  He well recollects that Maine could not be received to the sister-hood, without Missouri as an offset.  And so the admission battle has raged for half a century.

He might go into the public history of times past, and bring up matters relating to the twelve Presidential elections which have been the subject of newspaper record, -- speak of the party spirit which in 1824 brought forward four candidates for the Presidency, Adams, Jackson, Crawford and Clay, which resulted in Adams's election -- of the contest in 1828, between Adams and Jackson, in which the latter was elected.  But these contests are a matter of national history, and need no repetition here.  He has only to say, that through the whole series of Presidential elections, the Journal has sustained such candidates as were esteemed patriots of the soundest political principles on the side of a righteous government.  Such man was Adams in 1824 and '28, and Clay in 1832.  In 1836, the anti-masonic elements entered into the election.  Van Buren was the Democratic candidate, and Webster, White and Harrison from other parties.  New Hampshire was so decidedly democratic at that time that no opposing candidate was sustained in our State.  In 1840, Harrison was elected by a large majority over Van Buren.  The effort in New Hampshire that year gave Harrison about 6000 votes more than Van Buren received in 1836, but the latter received the vote of the State by a small majority.  In 1844, Clay was again our candidate.  In 1848, Gen. Taylor was elected.  In 1852, Gen. Scott was our candidate.  In 1856, Fremont was nominated.  In 1860 and '64, the lamented Lincoln was elected -- and in 1868, Gen. Grant will find his election secure.  None of these men whom the Jorunal has sustained is it now ashamed to bring up in a review of the past.

The misfortune of the country has been in electing Vice Presidents who were not sound in principle.  Beware in the future.

While it has ever been the aim in the management of the paper to make it interesting to readers, care has been taken to exclude such matters as might not be fit for reading in any family circle.  To preserve this negative quality has kept out many sensational articles which would perhaps, have been more popular than beneficial.  Though at times pressed hard with work, it never has been performed in the office on Sunday for the half-century, except on one occasion, about 1820, when the paper, being kept open for the President's Message, was issued on Sunday morning.  The strong inducement to employ the leisure of Sunday in writing articles for the paper, led to an early resolution to write nothing on that day.  This resolution has been so strictly observed that he has not written a dozen lines for the paper on that day for forty years.  This is not stated in any pharisaical spirit, for he is conscious of failing in far more important matters, but long experience has shown that cessation from the usual labors of the week on Sunday gives vigor for the better performance of duties through the week.

When he entered the office, the yearly Vol. at the head of the paper was XXIX.  After two or three years he made up the paper regularly, and has each year changed with his own fingers these characters until they now stand LXXIX.

And yet with all the responsibilities, constant care, requisite close application and unceasing labor, the toil has been pleasant to him, nor has he ever had a wish to change it for any other business.  What another decade may bring forth is only known to Him who has strewed the writer's path with matters pleasant to the recollection, and not the least among them is the good feeling of a large class of the community, many of whom have travelled in his company the long term which he this day notes.

To show time's mutations, we present at the close an impression of a fancy rule, as the only thing in our office which was in it fifty years ago.

NOTES TO ORIGINAL EDITION--(1) In his publication of the number of the Portsmouth Journal dated Feb. 15, 1868, the Rambler gives this record of a busy lifetime.  It is copied just as written, and, while more particulary prepared for his newspaper, is such a chronicle of individual and general changes and characteristics, that it forms one of the most interesting features of the book; (2) Reference is here made to Weston's walk in 1868. -- ED

Text scanned courtesy of The Brewster Family Network
Copy of Rambles courtesy Peter E. Randall
History Hypertext project by
Design 1999

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