Downtown: Zadok Cramer
From Pittsburgh: A Sketch of Its Early Social Life, by Charles W. Dahlinger.
Into this environment Zadok Cramer had come in the early spring of 1800. He was a young man of twenty-six, and was lured by the promise of fortune and perhaps fame. In the short span of years that he lived and flourished in Pittsburgh, he did more to advance the literary culture of his adopted town, than perhaps all the other educational agencies combined, which came before or after his time. It is customary to glorify statesmen and soldiers; monuments are erected to their memory, eulogies are pronounced in their praise, and memoirs are written setting forth the deeds they have done. But one scarcely ever thinks of the men who made possible the statesmen and soldiers: the teachers, the men who conduct the newspapers, the writers of books, and above all. the men who publish and sell books.
The publishers and sellers of books not only supply the wants of the reading public, but they lead it into new channels. They place temptingly before it the latest and best productions in every branch of human activity of the brightest minds in the world.
Cramer was born in New Jersey, in 1773, but spent most of his life since boyhood in Washington, Pennsylvania, where he learned the humble trade of bookbinding. He was of Quaker origin, but had fallen away from the tenets of that faith, although he still affected the drab coat and straight high-crowned, wide-brimmed hat of the sect.(1) He possessed withal the worldly shrewdness that is often an accompaniment of Quaker devoutness.
On March 30, 1800, he advertised in the Pittsburgh Gazette that he was about to open a bookbindery. His announcement was couched in somewhat stilted language. "Under a conviction that an establishment of the above business will meet the approbation and encouragement of the inhabitants of Pittsburgh and its vicinity, the undersigned is determined to prosecute it as soon as he can make the necessary arrangements. His hopes of the success of this undertaking are flattering; he hopes likewise, that the public on whom he is depending for encouragement will not be disappointed in placing in him that confidence merited only by industry and attention to their favors."
Cramer's ambition extended beyond the limits of his bookbindery. John C. Gilkison died on March 21, 1800, after having held the office of prothonotary less than two months. The little bookstore which he had established was for sale. Judge Hugh Henry Brackenridge seems to have advanced the money invested by Gilkison in the business, and it devolved on him to settle Gilkison's affairs. This was Cramer's opportunity, and he purchased Gilkison's business, obtaining favorable terms from Brackenridge. In June he took possession. All his life he believed in the efficacy of advertising, and his entry upon this larger field was heralded by a long public notice.(2) It was addressed to the people of the "Western Country." He declared that he did not mean to be limited to the confines of the borough, and intended to carry on his business extensively. He emphasized his ability to make blankbooks and do bookbinding "nearly if not quite as cheap" as could be done east of the Alleghany Mountains. He enlarged on the bookstore which he had just opened, and claimed to have a selection of nearly eight hundred volumes.
His choice of location was fortunate. The business center was changing. Merchants whose establishments had been on Water Street, on Front Street, and on Second Street, were congregating on Market Street. Gilkison's store was on the east side of this street. Here Cramer established himself, and after the Tree of Liberty was founded, advertised as being located "between the two printing offices."(3) To indicate his place of business he hung out the "Sign of the Franklin Head"; Benjamin Franklin was the patron saint of everyone who had any connection, however remote, with printing. Cramer designated himself, "Bookbinder and Publisher," and the word " publisher " did not long remain a misnomer. It was the day of small publishers. Even in the larger cities in the East, books emanated from the printing presses of men whose establishments were of minor importance. Large publishing houses are creatures of the complex civilization of a much later period. Probably from the beginning Cramer contemplated undertaking the publication of books and pamphlets as soon as his means permitted, although it was some months before he actually began publishing. But he was already making preparations to that end, and on October 17, 1800, he announced that in a few weeks almanacs for the year 1801 might be had at Philadelphia prices.(4)
At the national election of 1800, the Republicans were successful for the first time, John Adams, the Federal candidate, receiving less electoral votes than either Thomas Jefferson of Virginia or Aaron Burr of New York, the two Republican candidates. The returns of the electoral vote as counted by the Senate, indicated that Jefferson and Burr had each received the same number of votes. The decision thereupon devolved under the Constitution upon the House of Representatives, voting by States. The Federalists had a decided majority in the House of Representatives, but could not for the purposes of this election, control a majority of the States; neither could the Republicans. In the course of the summer the capital had been removed from Philadelphia to the new town of Washington. Only the north wing of the capitol was completed, and this was fitted up for the accommodation of both houses of the Sixth Congress. The House of Representatives then became the battle-ground for the presidency and vice-presidency. Jefferson and Burr were both voted for, the Constitution providing that two candidates should be voted for, the one receiving the highest number of votes to be president, and the other vice-president.
The struggle grew in intensity, and the excitement became acute. The sick members were brought into the House on beds. Ballot after ballot was taken. The Federalists were mostly voting for Burr. The first day's session was extended into the next day. The House remained in session seven days, a recess being taken at night after the first day's session. The Federalists were uneasy about several matters, but particularly about the continuance in office of their friends. Finally they secured from Jefferson an expression indicating that meritorious subordinate officers would not be removed merely on account of their political opinion. This settled the question. At noon on February 17th, the thirty-fifth ballot was taken with no result as before, but on the thirty-sixth ballot, Jefferson was elected. The vice-presidency thereupon devolved upon Burr. The joy over the election has hardly been equalled in the annals of American political history. This was especially true in the vicinity of Pittsburgh. On the day of the inauguration of Jefferson and Burr, the inhabitants of the neighboring town Beaver gave vent to their exuberance by dancing Indian dances, and singing the Ca Ira, and the Carmagnole of the French Revolution.(5) Cramer saw another business opportunity and determined on his second publication. It was to be an account of the struggle in the House of Representatives. On March 21, 1801, seventeen days after Jefferson's inauguration, Cramer announced the book.
Cramer's energies were not to be confined to the business of publishing, of selling books and stationery, and doing bookbinding. Like John C. Gilkison, he determined to possess a circulating library(6); perhaps the nucleus was to be the books received from Gilkison's library. He called it the "Pittsburgh Circulating Library" and it prospered, and six months after its establishment, the circulation had nearly doubled.(7) A catalogue was promised for an early date(8) and was no doubt issued. The list of the original books in the library appears to have been lost. From notices of the reception of later books(9) some opinion may be formed of the general character of the reading-matter in the library. The books were mainly romances, and they may have lacked the merit of later-day novels, but there is something about them that touches the heart. Also they recall from the shadows visions of readers long since dead. The books were realistic; they presented the life of a distant past in vivid colors; there is the lingering scent of lavender and bergamot. Delightfully described in their voluminous pages were languishing eyes, tender accents, quaint dances, dreamy music, and startling and sometimes unreal adventures. Ladies were the principal readers; they loved long tales, and the authors supplied them. Novels in three and four volumes were common, and some were divided into as many as six volumes.
The three most popular writers were the English novelists, Mrs. Ann Ward Radcliffe and William Godwin, and the Philadelphian, Charles Brockden Brown, who was one of America's earliest novelists. Mrs. Radcliffe was the best writer of the three. Her novels fascinated her readers. Cramer's library supplied Romance of the Forest, one of her best books. William Godwin was represented by St. Leon, a tale of the sixteenth century, in which much that is supernatural and terrible is introduced. Two books were by Charles Brockden Brown, one being a graphic story of Philadelphia life during the yellow-fever epidemic of 1793, called, Arthur Mervin, or Memoirs of the Year 1793, the other was, Edgar Huntly, or Memoirs of a Sleep-walker. Montalbert was by that most prolific of English writers, Mrs. Charlotte Turner Smith, who in her day was criticized and praised with equal vehemence. Mordaunt was perhaps the best novel of Dr. John Moore, who besides being a physician and novelist, wrote books descriptive of manners and customs in England, France, and Italy.
If the number of the author's books in the library, was the criterion of his popularity, then the palm must be awarded to George Walker, the English bookseller, who was a prolific writer of novels. Three were on Cramer's shelves, Theodore Cyphon, or the Benevolent Jew, The Vagabond, and Three Spaniards. The last is the only one that may still be met with. A popular book was Children of the Abbey, by Mrs. Regina Maria Roche, who was a rival of Mrs. Radcliffe. Madame de Stael's Delphine, was read in more restricted circles. In the case of Julia and the Illuminated Baron, by Miss Sarah Barrell, an encyclopedia would be required to find either the name of the book or of the author. Other books with suggestive titles have become still more obscure. Among them were The Silver Devil, Being the Adventures of an Evil Spirit, related by himself; The Rebel, Being a Memoir of Anthony 4th Earl of Sherwell, Including an Account of the Rising at Taunton in 1684, Compiled and Set Forth by his Cousin, Sir Hilary Mace; The Wanderings of William, or the Inconstancy of Youth, being a sequel to the Farmer of New Jersey. There were few periodicals in the library. The American Museum, emanating from Philadelphia, was a monthly publication, and contained articles on almost every conceivable subject--"agriculture, commerce, manufactures, politics, morals, and manners." The Mirror, was another Philadelphia periodical published semi-weekly, and was a reprint of The Mirror of Edinburgh. The Philanthropist appeared weekly.
The library continued to be an institution in Pittsburgh's intellectual progress for many years. It became the Pittsburgh Library Company, and contained as high as two thousand volumes. On November 27, 1813, after Cramer's death, a new library was organized, also called the "Pittsburgh Library Company." A committee was appointed to confer with the old Pittsburgh Library Company upon the propriety of forming a coalition of the two institutions.(10) Of this committee, John Spear, who had become a partner of Cramer's, was a member. A consolidation was later effected.
The publications for which Cramer was best known in the early days, were his almanacs and Navigators. The publication of almanacs was common to all publishers in the border settlements, no less than in the more effete East. In 1803, Cramer's Almanac had developed into a pamphlet which is to-day both curious and valuable. The edition for that year is a fair specimen of the other almanacs which followed it. The astronomical tables, "calculated for the meridian of Pittsburgh," were said to "serve without any sensible variation for the states of Ohio, Virginia, Kentucky, etc." The almanac also contained selections from the leading English contemporary writers. It necessarily followed that the articles were by English writers, as American authors were pitifully scarce. "The Poor Distracted Young Woman," was from Robert Bloomfield's Farmer's Boy. The Farmer's Boy from which the extract was taken had previously had a remarkable success, over twenty-five thousand copies being sold within two years after its publication in 1800. Other selections were, "A Description of a Summer Morning, " from James Beattie's poem, The Minstrel; "Sic a Wife as Willy Had," from Robert Burns; a biography of Dr. Isaac Watts, whose version of the Psalms had superseded that of Rouse, and was in general use among the Presbyterians of Western Pennsylvania. There were suggestions on various subjects--"Polonius's Advice to his Son Laertes," and "Dr. Soloman's Observations." The last article was by Dr. Samuel Soloman, a London physician who was termed a quack, but the "Observations" indicate that he had a discriminating knowledge of the rules of health. The ague, while not prevalent in Pittsburgh, was common west and south of the town. For this ailment there was a "Receipt to Cure the Ague," and there was an "Advertisement to Farmers."
The Constitution of the United States had been in force since 1788. Its provisions were little known to the general public and the almanac published it in full. The Constitution became the model for the constitutions of almost all the States, old as well as new. For this much credit was due to Cramer's Almanac, at least so far as some of the Western and Southwestern States are concerned. More valuable than anything contained in the almanacs, from a local point of view, were the lists of marriages and deaths. Nowhere else are they to be found. No record of marriages or deaths was required to be made by either the municipality or the county. The church records were kept intermittently, and were imperfect. Few of the older families have records extending back to the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Cramer's lists furnish the only accurate information on the subject. In 1804 he began publishing two kinds of almanacs, the "Common Almanac" and the "Magazine Almanac." The latter contained somewhat more reading matter than the former. The almanacs were sold in large quantities both for local use and for distribution south and west of Pittsburgh. In the almanac for 1804 Cramer for the first time gave "a view of the manufacturing trade of Pittsburgh." From that time forward, for the twenty-seven years that the publication of the almanacs was continued, much valuable local historical matter is to be found in their pages.
The Navigator was the result of an original idea of Cramer's. He had been in Pittsburgh but a short time when he realized the necessity for a publication giving detailed information for navigating the Western rivers. He daily saw swarms of immigrants pass through the place, bound West and South, who lingered there attempting to learn, not only about navigating the rivers, but of the country to which they were bound. He proposed to furnish the information and set about collecting data for the purpose. He was venturing upon an almost uncharted sea.
The basis of his work seems to have been Captain Thomas Hutchins's, A Topographical Description of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, published in London in 1778. Captain Hutchins was an American, who had seen much service in the English army before the Revolution, mainly as engineer. At the outbreak of the war he was in London, and owing to his sympathy for his native country, suffered indignities and imprisonment, but found an opportunity to publish his book. Escaping to America, he was in 1781, by the influence of Benjamin Franklin, made "Geographer to the United States of America," which appears to have meant that he was in charge of the government surveys. After the war he lived in Philadelphia, but was well known in Pittsburgh where he often stopped, as he owned considerable land in Allegheny County. These facts and the knowledge that he died in Pittsburgh on April 28, 1789, no doubt helped to draw Cramer's attention to Hutchins's book. Other works from which Cramer may have obtained materials were Gilbert Imlay's North America, published in London in 1797, and Jedidiah Morse's The American Gazeteer, originally published in London in 1789 and republished in Boston in 1797.
It is generally supposed that the first edition of the Navigator was published in 1801, yet no copy bearing that date is known to be in existence. There are extant several copies of the edition of 1802. This edition was called The Ohio and Mississippi Navigator. In the preface dated February, 1802, the statement was made that two former editions had been issued; that they were both confined to the navigation of the Ohio River; and that they were sold in a very short time. No notice appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette or the Tree of Liberty advertising either of the two earlier editions. The first mention of the Navigator appeared in the Pittsburgh Gazette on February 26, 1802. This notice stated that there was "In the press and speedily will be published by Zadok Cramer, 'The Navigation of the Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.'" The advertisement was continued in several succeeding issues of the paper. Then on March 13, 1802, the Tree of Liberty announced that there had been published the day before, "The Navigation of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers." The notice continued, "and in a few days will be added . . . the 'The Navigation of the Mississippi (with an account of the Missouri).'" No other notices appeared at or about this time conveying other information. As the edition of 1802 was called the Ohio and Mississippi Navigator, and the advertisement in the Tree of Liberty, referred to the publication of the "Navigation of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio Rivers," nothing being said of the Mississippi, it might be inferred that it referred to one or both of the earliest editions and that they were published in 1802. The preface to the various editions of the Navigator published after 1802, declared that they were the "sixth," or "seventh" or "eighth" edition, as the case might be, which had appeared "since 1801." Whether this statement is the basis of the claim that the first edition of the Navigator was published in 1801, is not known, but the fact remains, that no trace of any Navigator issued in that year can be found. Nor are there any known copies of the two earliest editions, whatever the year of their publication.
The earlier editions were small octavo pamphlets bound in coarse paper covers, the third containing forty pages. In this edition Cramer declared that he had obtained the information set forth "From the journals of gentlemen of observation, and now minutely corrected by several persons who have navigated those rivers for fifteen and twenty years." It contained a description of and directions for navigating the Ohio River, with only a description of the Mississippi. Directions for navigating the latter stream came in later editions. When Cramer began publishing his early Navigators, France still owned the Louisiana Territory. Louisiana was considered a great land of promise throughout the United States, and merchants and intending emigrants cast longing eyes in its direction. After Louisiana was purchased, the succeeding editions of the Navigator contained much detailed information regarding it. A flood of emigration to the territory set in, most of the emigrants going by way of Pittsburgh; and there was a pronounced and constant increase in the sales of the Navigators.
Captain Meriwether Lewis, and Captain William Clark made their famous expedition from the mouth of the Missouri River through the interior of the United States in the years 1804, 1805, and 1806. In 1807 Cramer published the first account of the undertaking, being the Journal of Patrick Gass, a member of the expedition. From this book Cramer compiled an account of the Missouri and Columbia rivers, which appeared in the Navigator for 1808, and in many subsequent editions. Each succeeding edition of the Navigator was an improvement on the one that preceded it. Every edition contained a description, short or long, of the "towns, posts, harbors, and settlements" on the rivers of which the work treated, the matter relating to Pittsburgh being particularly valuable, and as the editions increased in size, the descriptive matter grew in volume.
On December 6, 1811, the most destructive earthquake of the century occurred in the country bordering on the lower Ohio River, and on the Mississippi, completely changing the course of the two streams at numerous points. Cramer promptly published a notice of the fact, warning navigators of the danger, and requested newspaper editors to print his notice.(11) The corrections were made in the next edition of the Navigator which was published in 1814. The success of the Navigator reached its climax in 1814, when it contained three hundred and sixty pages. From that time the size of the book gradually decreased, until in 1824, when its publication was suspended, it had fallen to two hundred and seventy-five pages.
The information relating to Pittsburgh, and to the rivers flowing by and below it, cost Cramer infinite pains to collect. From Cramer's Navigators the early travelers and later historians drew for facts when writing about the Western country, often without giving credit. Cramer complained of the piracy. In this connection he mentioned the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, whose Journal of a Tour was published in Boston in 1805. He was especially bitter against Thomas Ash, the writer of a book of travel which appeared in London in 1808. He accused Ash of having taken his account of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers verbatim from the Navigator for 1806.(12) Notwithstanding this charge, Ash's book must have had some merit in Cramer's eyes, as he republished it the same year that it came out in London. Most of the writers, however, who obtained their information from the Navigator, gave it as their authority. John Mellish who was in Pittsburgh in 1811, commended the work: "The Pittsburgh Navigator is a little book containing a vast variety of information regarding the Western country, the prosperity of which seems to be an object of peculiar solicitude with the editors."(13) Christian Schultz, coming through Pittsburgh in September, 1807, had this to say: "Before I left Pittsburgh I purchased the Navigator, a kind of Blunt, or Hamilton Moore, for these waters; it is a small pamphlet, but contains a great deal of useful and miscellaneous information, and is particularly serviceable to a stranger.'(14) Blunt was the American Coast Pilot, published in 1796 by Edmund Blunt, and still used in recent years; Hamilton Moore was an English work called the Practical Navigator, of which many editions were published in London by Hamilton Moore.