St Clair Cemetery, Mt Lebanon, Allegheny Co, PA

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Friday, April 17, 2009

1815 Letter from Pittsburgh Paints Bleak Career Picture

GT Note: This post is from recent correspondence with Susan, a cousin of mine and a descendant of Nathaniel PLUMMER. I thought you'd enjoy reading more about early Pittsburgh. The introductory information of the letter and the letter itself were printed in Vol. 9 No. 1 Issue 18 HCR 72 Box 8350 Chadbourne's Ridge, North Waterborough, Maine 04061 Fall/Winter 1991 ISSN 0741-0360

Hannah PLUMMER was the daughter of Nathaniel PLUMMER who was born in Massachusetts who removed to St Clair Twp in Allegheny Co, PA in the early days. Hannah's second husband was Dr. Ruggles SYLVESYER (1776-1834), one of the earliest doctors in the neighborhood. Sylvester, born in Massachusetts, was educated at Dartmouth. These familes were closely intertwined with my early family in Allegheny County as neighbors, fellow church members of the Associate Reformed Church of Saw Mill Run, and as friends.

Hannah and Ruggles are both buried at the Old St. Clair Cemetery in Mt. Lebanon, Allegheny, PA.

I came across this letter while trying to learn more about Hannah Plummer Fetterman's second husband. The good doctor had received a letter from his Dartmouth classmate, Ichabod Chadbourne, inquiring about opportunities in the Pittsburgh area. The letter obviously did not entice him to the area!

The Uncertain Destiny of Ichabod Rollins Chadbourne

(Career Locations in the Promising 19th Century)

A surviving letter from the letters of Ichabod R. Chadbourne gives us a vista of the uncertain alternatives faced by a capable and promising young attorney in the early years of the 19th century. In many ways, his situation then was the timeless one of those who are well-prepared but who lack either a supportive family stricture or a good connection with the persons or forces that are to shape the future. He did use the obvious "network" of at least one of his college classmates to explore one possible location, but norecord of any of his other inquiries survives.

Ichabod lost his mother when he was 2½ years old. His father, Jonathan C., and his grandfather, Judge Benjamin, both died in 1799 when Ichabod was just 12 years old. Being bereft of these influential men, Ichabod relied on any other contacts he had. His aunt's husband, lawyer George W. Wallingford gave him a helping hand by having him read law in Kennebunk and Boston with Daniel Davis. (Note: Wallingford Hall exists today on Route 1 in Kennebunk.)

After admission to the Suffolk County bar in 1812 or 1814, Ichabod was faced with the responsibility of selecting the place where he should launch his career.

So he wrote a letter of inquiry to his Dartmouth classmate, Ruggles Sylvester, in western Pennsylvania to explore the field of opportunities that might be found there. And this is the letter that he ultimately received in reply in 1815:

(Note: With apologies to Pittsburgh, PA.)

"Dear friend,

If you practice law in this State, you have to again subject yourself to years of study here before you can be admitted to practice. There are no country lawyers, all the business is done in the county towns. Pittsburgh contains by estimation ten thousand inhabitants. You may see its growth has been very considerable since the last census. Much business is done here, both manufacturing and mercantile. Mechanics are in demand and get good wages. They dress like gentlemen and clear ten dollars a week. Perhaps I can give you no adequate idea of the people in this borough, collected from all parts of the world as they are, except I call them `money-making.’ Most of the people are industrious, stirring fellows. The very wealthy are drunk after noon. The ladies are not the most amiable I have seen, although well provided for financially. All the professions get rich in Pittsburgh, but it is not by their professions. The Attorneys are sheep-growers and land speculators. The Physicians are apothecaries. The Reverend ones are placed behind the counter. A graduate of Dartmouth College tells me there is but one first-rate attorney in town, the rest being several young fellows and underlings. I can advise you neither for nor against. This side of the mountains, learned men are neither counted nor courted. Wealth is the criterion of a man's merit throughout the State of Pennsylvania. If you come to this country, you may lay aside all ideas of a pleasant social life among literary men.

This country is more healthy than where you and I have lived, and the soil far more fertile. There is no good sleighing any time in the year for want of snow; no good carriage roads for want of minimum labor laid out upon them. They will never be good the year 'round till they are paved with stone. Heavy wagons with a little rain on this marly soil cut up the roads miserably. Pittsburgh is built mostly of brick, and has not a very pleasant appearance owing to the abundance of smoke generated by the burning of stone coal. Steam engines, foundries, green houses, and blacksmith shops consume immense quantities of this coal, so that the town, in the winter, is a cloud of smoke. The people in the country are considerably inferior to the low classes in New Hampshire and the District of Maine, especially the women, who are beasts of burden in this State. These people are more stupid and unfeeling, but not so vicious as the Yankees. If you come to this country, you have to look for no good society. If you come in the stage from
Philadelphia, you will get a damnable bruising in the little crazy vehicles; and besides, you are to expect the roughest kind of treatment by taverns, stage-drivers, and every other kind of waiters. My method would be to ride on horseback, because those who came by stage report that the people seem to consider it a religious duty to abuse all they can with their tongues those who pass the mountains in the stage. I am told they are more civil to those on horseback. I have given a true picture, however ugly it may appear. If you have plenty of leisure and plenty of pocket money, perhaps you would like the tour, and then you can see for yourself.

Sincerely your friend,
Ruggles Sylvester

P.S. When I am in Pittsburgh, I every day see Yankee people arriving or descending to the West. I ought to tell you that the word "Yankee" is a term of reproach as used by many of the people-but the Yankees generally glory in the name. I can tell you how the women go visiting barefoot to save their shoes till they get within a few rods of the town, and then put on their clean, pretty shoes. The same is true in going to meeting in the country. The women sit in market with butter, eggs, and potatoes, etc. till they get money-then lay it out for a silk gown or a shawl which costs ten dollars."

We know that this letter evidently did not move Ichabod to choose Pittsburgh as his place of residence or business. Soon after this date, he removed to Eastport, Maine, where he built his home and opened his law practice.

Submitted by Tom Eschweiler
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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