America’s largest cities in 1850

The development of the West – meaning out to the Mississippi River, mostly – propels changes in the balance of population by 1850.

  1. New York (515,547) is without question the largest metropolis, boosted in part by commerce via the Erie Canal, transporting goods to and from the Great Lakes and Midwest.
  2. Baltimore (169,054) has leapt to second-place. The growing Baltimore & Ohio Railroad is a factor. The city takes advantage of being the closest Eastern Seaboard port to the Ohio Valley and its agricultural abundance.
  3. Boston (136,881). The textiles mills of New England have to be a factor in the city’s prosperity and position.
  4. Philadelphia (121,376). Its clout would be enhanced if its three suburbs in the Top 20 are tallied in, pushing it to second place.
  5. New Orleans (116,375). The nation’s center of gravity has shifted. Nearly as large is
  6. Cincinnati (115,435). Migrants from urban Germany make a difference.
  7. Brooklyn (96,838) is a thriving independent city just across the waters from booming Manhattan.
  8. St. Louis (77,860). Not just the gateway to the Far West, it’s also a center of urban German migrants.
  9. Spring Garden district, Pennsylvania (58,894). Adjacent to Philadelphia.
  10. Albany, New York (50,763) is active on the Erie Canal.

The next ten are also illuminating: 11, Northern Liberties district, Pennsylvania (47,223); 12, Kensington district, Pennsylvania (46,774); 13, Pittsburgh (46,601); 14, Louisville/Jefferson County, Kentucky (43,194); 15, Charleston, South Carolina (42,985); 16, Buffalo (42,261); 17, Providence, Rhode Island (41,513); 18, Washington, District of Columbia (40,001); 19, Newark, New Jersey (38,894); and Southwark district, Pennsylvania (38,799).

Altogether, six of the 20 largest cities are west of the Appalachians. Three of those are on the Ohio River. And, in contrast, New England has just two.

Just in case you’re creating bumper stickers

Pardon me for getting political, but an important national election is coming up. Not that all of them aren’t important, but democracy is being threatened.

So here’s my chance to vent. See if any of these stick.

  1. Liberty is Liberal in Practice.
  2. 99% from the 1% (they’ll still be getting ahead).
  3. If you can’t be civil, just shut up.
  4. Democracy’s for consenting adults.
  5. Wipe and then flush the toilet after you’re done. We’re tired of cleaning up your messes.
  6. Don’t Bully My Free Speech.
  7. Today’s Lincoln Republican votes a straight Democratic ticket.
  8. Real taxpayer waste? Let’s start with Pentagon contracts.
  9. Just drink the Kool-Aid.
  10. Stop calling me slurs unless you want me to return the favor.

Do I sound embittered? Really!

Reflecting on the character of New Hampshire

When I arrived in the Granite State 35 years ago, I expected to be spending a lot of my time in the mountains to the north, but that never really materialized. I’ll blame my quest for love, usually found down in Boston, in the opposite direction, back before I met the woman I adore.

Contradancing soon claimed a lot of my social attention, with regular events across the state, across the border in Maine, and especially in Concord and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Add to that all of my time hunkered down in my literary endeavors or Quaker activities, even before I started singing in an incredible choir weekly in Watertown, just outside Boston, or swimming laps daily once I’d retired from the newsroom.

Whatever the character ultimately is, I found sufficient nurture and inspiration to do some good work. Gee, that’s starting to sound like Garrison Keillor.

Each of the six states, by the way, has its own character despite the overall New England identity. In general, those New Englanders are friendlier than their reputation for aloofness contends. It’s just that they’re more reserved – respectful of your privacy – but open up with a sparkle, for the most part, given a hint.

So here’s what I learned while residing in Manchester and then Dover.

  1. New Hampshire isn’t as archconservative as I had expected. Not that it doesn’t have a lot of blockheads, but the place was definitely shifting, especially along the border with Massachusetts.
  2. A large portion of New Hampshire residents have roots in Quebec, and others in Ireland, providing a significant Roman Catholic presence. Both reflect the textile-mills workforce in the 1800s. But other ethnic minorities have thrived, too.
  3. At heart, the population is largely blue-collar in outlook, generally practical, but these days, half of them come from other states, especially Massachusetts.
  4. Some of us used to joke that the stereotypical New Hampshire male had a Harley and his wife or girlfriend had big hair. That wasn’t far off the mark. Add a snowmobile, more than downhill skis or hockey skates.
  5. Agriculture isn’t a major economic factor. There aren’t many large commercial farms these days. And what farming exists is typically diversified.
  6. There are relatively few large employers. The commute to Greater Boston and back each day is huge – that’s where the paying jobs are.
  7. That also means few deep pockets for the arts and charitable action.
  8. It’s the most perfect test market for presidential candidates we have. Forget trying to find the ideal demographics, this delivers.
  9. Avid Red Sox and Patriots fans abound, with Celtics and Bruins supporters close behind. Keeping up with the teams’ developments is socially important. College sports, on the other hand, hardly matter.
  10. It might not have a sales or income tax, but you still have to pay for public services somehow. And so your property tax or apartment rental rate will be a whopper.

Surprises about Eastport

Maybe I just didn‘t notice, but I don’t recall noting so many quirky sides in the other places I’ve lived. Maybe they’ll pop out when I review my old journals.

Still, there are things in Eastport I hadn’t anticipated. For instance …

  1. As far as birds go, it’s basically gulls and crows. Just listen. Even with bald eagles right overhead.
  2. In summer, it’s ten degrees cooler than the mainland seven miles away. In fact, I wore my shorts only three times last year – and two of them were when I was running around inland. Well, as far as that goes, I should mention how much I now perceive the fact I’m living on an island.
  3. Watching the fog roll in from the Bay of Fundy, either up from the channel by Lubec or down between Campobello and the islands just north of it. As well as watching spectacular sunsets from the other side of town, in contrast to the amazing dawns I face from my house.
  4. No nightlife. Apart from events at the arts center, the place pretty much settles in after dusk. And then rises early.
  5. No commercial net fishing. The haul is largely lobster, scallops, clams, and urchins – a delicacy in Japan. But we were also once the sardine capital of the world, which left a bigger impact than I ever imagined.
  6. The importance of smuggling in the port’s past, as well as shipbuilding.
  7. The impact of Dover on its early settlement. Many of the early settlers came from the Piscataqua watershed, and even those who claimed Portsmouth or Newburyport, Massachusetts, could trace their lines back to Dover.
  8. Horn Run Brewing and Bocephus. Two new businesses, each one run by an enterprising and delightful couple.
  9. Diver Ed. A long-time tourist attraction in Bar Harbor, with all of its Acadia National Park crowd, he pulled up anchor and brought his Starfish Enterprise to our Breakwater instead. As a natural ham, he knows how to entertain an audience, even otherwise reticent teens, while teaching them the wonders in our waters.
  10. The number and variety of wild apples. That helps explain the appearance of so many deer on the island. I’d call them wild, but (another surprise) have seen neighbors feeding them by hand.

A few things Mainely about lobsters

Somehow, lobsters have become identified with Maine the way maple syrup has stuck to Vermont, even though both are found abundantly in neighboring states and provinces. I won’t even get into moose in this discussion.

Here are some talking points.

  1. Unlike other varieties, ours are distinguished by having large claws. One claw, the crusher, is larger than the pincher.
  2. They have clear blood.
  3. They smell with their eight legs but have poor vision. Their four antennae help them locate food. They can also swim backward.
  4. They chew with their stomachs, which are located right behind their eyes. They lack teeth but have a “gastric mill” that reduces their prey.
  5. They live on the ocean floor and never stop growing, which they accomplish by molting. Some are known to be more than a hundred years old. In fact, they show no signs of aging and almost universally die of external factors.
  6. It was once a poor-man’s dish, typically fed to servants. Impoverished families sent their children to school with lobster in their lunch buckets and an envy of the richer kids’ roast beef or chicken.
  7. Lobster comprises 75 percent of Maine’s commercial fishery value. In 2016, a banner year, the state’s 6,000 lobster-fishers landed more than 130 million pounds worth more than $533 million.
  8. A traditional lobster pot or trap has two sections – a “parlor,” where they enter, and the “kitchen” behind it. But for much of the region’s history, they were more likely to be harvested by hand along the shore and tide pools, where they washed up after storms.
  9. Most lobsters are caught in the summer months, before the shellfish trot off to deeper waters where they’re harder to harvest. In Eastport, many of the lobster boats do double-duty each winter, rigged to drag the bay bottoms for scallops. A few even go after urchins.
  10. Maine commercial lobstering is tightly regulated – more than in neighboring Canada – and licensing involves a long waiting list. You’d better apply well before your twenty-third birthday if you’re interested. Even if your dad still has his boat.

America’s largest cities in 1820

Shifts in the nation’s economy are reflected in the 1820 Census, where Missouri and Maine are about to be admitted as states. The major population centers, however, are still seaports.

  1. New York (123,706), making it the first American city to surpass 100,000 population.
  2. Philadelphia (63,802). If the two suburbs, below, were included, it would approach that 100k threshold.
  3. Baltimore (62,738). The port has leapt to third place and is nearly as big as Philadelphia City. While
  4. Boston (43,298) has fallen way behind.
  5. New Orleans (27,176). The biggest city west of the Appalachian Mountains, it’s still smaller than today’s Dover, New Hampshire. In other words, most of these cities weren’t really big.
  6. Charleston, South Carolina (24,780). It’s the center of urban life in the South. But from everything I’ve heard, it was largely of a small-town flavor.
  7. Northern Liberties, Pennsylvania (19,678). Now a neighborhood of Philadelphia.
  8. Southwark, Pennsylvania (14,713). Now a neighborhood in South Philadelphia.
  9. Washington, District of Columbia (13,247). First appearance of the new capital in the Top Ten, where it wouldn’t appear again until 1950.
  10. Salem, Massachusetts (12,731). New England is losing its edge in the American scene, relatively.

Why Maine’s blueberries are special

Across the country, pumpkin flavoring seems to infuse about everything on the menu come October, and something similar happens every summer in Maine with blueberries. The tourists and summer people, especially, seem to eat it right up. (Err, couldn’t help myself there.) So it’s not just lobster they come to devour.

Here are some facts about Maine’s in relation to the rest of the nation and world,  mostly.

  1. The local brewpub calls its obligatory blueberry ale Skul Clothes. The name puzzled me until I was told that’s how kids traditionally earned the money for their school clothes each year, at least before mechanized machines took over most of the patches. “It’s hard work, down on your hands and knees,” as one recent high school graduate told me. “But the pay’s good.” After that, I could tell the locals who walked in for the first time, looked at the offerings on the chalkboard, and broke out in a grin. They’d all done it.
  2. Ours are lowbush, wild, unlike the highbush varieties cultivated elsewhere. We lead the world in lowbush production, though it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the highbush harvests of British Columbia, Oregon, or Washington state. While Atlantic Canada produces half of the world’s wild blueberry tally, that covers more than a single province – Nova Scotia is the leader there.
  3. Lowbush berries are smaller but more flavorful, in our humble opinion.
  4. They’re also preferred in making blueberry wine.
  5. Blueberries are one of the few commercially-available fruits native to North America. The First Nations, some of whom called them star-berries for their blossoms and the tiny ring at their base, have been eating them for at least 13,000 years
  6. They top the list as an antioxidant and are rich in Vitamin C and even manganese.
  7. Wild blueberry patches are burned every two years.
  8. Wild blueberries freeze in just four minutes.
  9. Some research indicates they counter memory loss in aging. I’ll have to remember that. They’re also good for the heart, cancer-risk reduction, and lowering blood pressure.
  10. I like mine fresh, with yogurt or cream. Pancakes, muffins, jams and jellies come next.

About the Wabanaki

In writing my history of Dover, I had to face up to the problems of the word “Indian,” which can refer to someone from the Asian subcontinent as much as it does to an Indigenous person of North America. In the end I decided to avoid it altogether unless it was part of a direct quotation or traditional title.

The fact is, the Native tribes themselves can differ widely in their language, customs, and culture, so a generalized label can be downright misleading. And in a particular place, the same people may have been referred to by different labels, depending. You know, the way a Daytonian was also an Ohioan, Midwesterner, or even Buckeye, though not necessarily an Ohio State football fan.

In addition, the tribes themselves may have been much more fluid in their associations than the English and American authorities could comprehend, insisting instead on a more rigid classification.

That was the case with the Passamaquoddy and Penobscots in Maine.

In the Dover history, I ran up against that when some sources called the local Natives Abenaki, while others called them Cochecho or Penacook or something else.

As the Wabanaki Confederacy explains, though, all Abanaki are Wabanaki, but not all Wabanaki are Abanaki.

That said, let’s take a quick look at the Wabanaki.

  1. It’s not a tribe. Rather, the confederacy today is an official alliance of four East Algonquian nations remaining in Maine – Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, Penobscot, and Passamaquoddy.
  2. Historically, it was a looser alliance of tribes stretching from Newfoundland and Prince Edward across Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Island, New Brunswick, and part of Quebec in Canada on to the Western Wabanaki in the Merrimack Valley of New Hampshire and Massachusetts and perhaps beyond into Vermont.
  3. Native names for the affiliation included “convention council” or “orator council,” “be related to one another,” “those united into one,” and “completely united.”
  4. The tribes formed their council after a rise in raids by their ancient enemy the Iroquois League, especially the Mohawks.
  5. In the colonial era, many members aligned with the French, who called the region of Maine the Wabanaki inhabited “Acadia.” Many of the Natives converted to Roman Catholic faith. The defeat of the French in 1763 proved costly for the tribes.
  6. For thousands of years, Mount Desert Island – in today’s Acadia National Park – was a summer gathering place, where they arrived by seaworthy birchbark canoes.
  7. They didn’t live in tepees. They lived in small round bark-covered buildings called wigwams.
  8. Most of them grew squash, beans, and corn, and also harvested berries and other wild fruit.
  9. They didn’t dress like the High Plains Natives out west. They had their own distinctive style.
  10. They loved storytelling and legends. Mount Katahdin, for instance, was inhabited by a half-human, half-bird winged spirit called Pamola who could make the night wind blow or generate snowstorms. And the Maliseet had tales about the little people, who were like brownies or leprechauns.

About the Passamaquoddy

Getting to or from Eastport means driving through the Passamaquoddy’s Pleasant Point Reservation. And yes, I dutifully observe the 35 mile an hour speed limit. I also gladly pay the voluntary “toll” that helps fund the fireworks for the tribe’s annual festival. Besides, it’s a better bargain than a movie and, anyway, we’re all invited.

Having lived previously at the edge of the Yakama reservation in Washington state, I appreciate having an Indigenous population so close at hand.

Here are some things I’ve learned.

  1. The first time I heard of the tribe was through a traditional healer and his apprentice who were our house guests maybe a dozen years ago back in Dover. And ever since, thanks to his warning, I never disrespect a mockingbird. Could that be why I’m still here?
  2. The tribe generally proclaims itself as “people of the dawn” or even “keepers of the dawn.” I’ve already posted that the dawns around here – the first light in the USA – are unique and full of wonder. But the tribal name’s root reflects the importance of fishing in their culture – “pollock-spearer” or “those of the place where pollock are plentiful.”
  3. Traditionally, for most of their 10,000 or more years, they summered in settled villages around the coasts and tributaries on both sides of the St. Croix River, where they harvested shellfish and worked the deep waters. In winter they dispersed inland, where they hunted large game.
  4. Today their centers are Sipayak (the Pleasant Point Reservation adjoining Eastport), where 2,005 members are enrolled; Motahkomikuk (Indian Township an hour to the north), 1,364 members; and Qonasqamkuk in New Brunswick, 206. There are also uninhabited tribal tracts inland.
  5. Economically, on-reservation families have a much higher poverty-income rate compared to Maine overall. The tribe is making efforts to improve income. A blueberry enterprise, a maple-syrup operation, and vacation sites are among its new directions.
  6. About 500 people speak its Algonquian dialect. After a steep decline in numbers over recent decades, efforts to preserve and reclaim its use are under way. It is being taught in the elementary schools.
  7. They’ve long been considered first-class loggers and woodworkers, as well as excellent basketry artists.
  8. In 1993 the state banned the use of the word “Passamaquoddy” by businesses, products, and activities without the written authorization of the tribe. Those using it before that date, however, were exempted.
  9. The tribe is one of four comprising the Wabanaki Confederacy today.
  10. Joe Clabby’s two excellent histories about Eastport and the Passamaquoddy vicinity delineate seemingly endless governmental mismanagement, mistreatment, and betrayal of the tribe and others in Maine and the nation – even when its members have served with honor in the world wars. One entry, relatively minor in comparison, hits home for me. In 1950, longtime “Indian agent … Hiram Hall allowed the state to charge the Passamaquoddy Fund $8,000 per home for home construction (the homes are worth only $2,500.)” Not that it ended his career.

A few memorable camping adventures in my life

I’ve mentioned the impact of my rogue Boy Scout troop on my life via hiking. Camping was related. We used homemade square tarpaulins – three rows of muslin our mothers sewed together that we then dyed and waterproofed.

Here’s the general idea for pitching a trail tent.

We called them “trail tents,” though “tarp tents” seems to be more universal. They could be set up in any number of ways – a two-sided triangle with the front open was most common, using a second one as the ground cloth – or in good weather we could even roll our sleeping bags into one and stretch out in the open.

We took pride in our primitive camping abilities.

Our vintage umbrella tent was like this, with the poles inserted along the ridges inside.

My family, on the other hand, had a clumsy and often smelly “umbrella tent,” so named for the way you had to set it up from the inside and then remove the aluminum center post – well, they’re now called “cabin tents,” and apparently more flexible.

I inherited the tent and used it for many of my escapes in the Pacific Northwest, my complaints aside. It got a lot of miles over the years.

The result in either case was some memorable opportunities to get closer to nature. Among them:

  1. Family summer vacations at Indiana state parks, especially Spring Mill with its limestone caves; Natural Bridge in eastern Kentucky with its old railroad tunnel at the base of a mountain with a stone arch at the top; Mammoth Cave in Kentucky; and Lincoln’s Old Salem in Illinois.
  2. There was also a Florida trip we shared with a Chattanooga family Mom and Dad were fond of from his Army-Air Force days. At age 12, it was my first exposure to the ocean and a Southern belle a year or two older than me. Our trip back included a night 17 miles back from the highway in Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, where we were surrounded by masses of mosquitoes, more than a few three-legged deer (the result of encounters with ‘gators), and raccoons that could open the doors to the porches of the camp headquarters and then raid the top-slider Coke coolers. Let’s say simply we heard a lot of eerie sounds in the darkness and escaped with our lives once the sun rose through the Spanish moss.
  3. My first time in a trail tent was shared with another neophyte. We proudly set up our tent, tying the front line to an Osage orange tree – I remember the strange color when we split firewood. Alas, a storm blew in during the middle of the night and pulled up some of our stakes. I rolled enough of the ground cloth around my sleeping bag to get through the night. Not so, Jackson. He nearly froze and his bag the next day must have weighed a hundred pounds. After that experience, I always checked the wind direction before deciding where to raise the tent.
  4. Another Scout outing, remembered vaguely, was in May or June in a farmer’s woodlot. It simply felt magical, nothing like a designated campground.
  5. Our troop joined one or two others in the summer at a site in Lake Vesuvius State Park near Ironton, Ohio. This time we used wall tents, but it was still primitive. The park had the remains of an early stone blast furnace, and we spent a day in rowboats exploring the lake. One fall, we returned to plant trees in a strip mine. I’ve hated that form of mining ever since.
  6. Out-of-state hiking trips also included overnights, usually two. I especially remember those of the Lincoln trails and others around Lexington, Kentucky. And there was the near-perfect night in Indiana when we rolled out under the stars only to be interrupted at midnight and having to hustle our gear under a nearby picnic pavilion when a harsh storm blew in. And then the rangers showed up and scolded our scoutmasters. But the next morning, and for much of our drive home, we saw tornado damage.
  7. Roan High Knob, at the end of our week on the Appalachian Trail, turned into a festive array of unconventional trail-tent setups. It was like a camel caravan had moved in. At least until the big thunderstorm and repeated deluges.
  8. Later, as an adult, there was a week circumnavigating the Olympic Peninsula, an event I celebrate in a longpoem.
  9. Also in Washington state, a week I spent in the North Cascades – where poet Gary Snyder, especially, wrote extensively as a forest fire lookout. Silver Star Mountain was especially memorable and worth a return with my then-wife.
  10. Another week in the North Cascades included time at the base of Mount Shuksan and Mount Baker. Washing my dishes in the small river, I recognized gold flecks in my bowl – not enough to pan, if I could, but the valley had been the scene of a big gold rush once upon a time. I also noticed that the river level kept rising through the day, a result of melting snow and glacier ice upstream, up above me.
Imagine opening your tent flap and seeing this. I did, in the North Cascades.

Curiously, I haven’t camped since 1980, though there was a week I spent in a spartan, bare-bone cabin near Lake Sabago, Maine, in October ’99. That’s when I learned to canoe … and to steer clear of the middle of the water when it’s just me all alone.