Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Philadelphia Court Snuffed One of the First Unions in America

Shoe making in 1805 was still very much a hand craft but in busy cities like Philadelphia many shops had grown beyond a master and maybe a single journeyman and apprentice to shops employing up to a dozen deeply changing traditional relationships and encouraging journeymen to organize to deal with their employers who were now more like bosses than craftsmen sharing a bench.

On May 25, 1805 the officers of a local union of shoemakers were arrested in Philadelphia for leading a strike, one of the first such organized work stoppages in American history.  Local employers brought charges against them for criminal conspiracy to violate English Common Law that banned schemes to force wage increases.  The strike was broken.
In the post-Revolutionary period some master artisans and craftsmen, then often referred to as a class as mechanics, were transitioning from small shops employing a handful or less of apprentices and journeymen to larger scale production.  Their shops were becoming factories and the masters were becoming, at least on a modest scale, capitalists.
This was accelerated in the years after the Constitution was adopted and stable national government and peace helped bring about some boom years before the turn of the 19th Century.  Shoemaking crafts, an established trade with ample local raw materials, were among of the first to industrialize.
Philadelphia, still the infant nation’s largest and most important city despite no longer being the Capital, was the center of some of the earliest efforts by workers to come to grips with their new situation.  According to History of Trade Unionism in the United States by Perlman and Selig “The earliest genuine labor strike in America occurred, as far as known, in 1786, when the Philadelphia printers ‘turned out’ for a minimum wage of six dollars a week. The second strike on record was in 1791 by Philadelphia house carpenters for the ten-hour day.
The response was the creation of some of the first recognizable craft unions, as opposed to guilds of master mechanics or beneficial societies.  
These are the tools of a cobbler's work bench in the pre-industrial era, the ones Philadelphia Corwainers first lay down in 1796 in pursuit of better conditions.
In 1796 local shoemakers organized the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers.  Cordwainer is just another name for shoemaker, derived from the Cordovan leather commonly used is quality gentlemen’s foot wear. The organization staged a 10 week, successful strike in 1799 for higher wages.  It was the first strike organized and sectioned by a union.  At least one more successful strike followed.
Emboldened, the union struck again in 1805.  This time, however, employers enlisted support from the wider business community which was becoming alarmed with the rise of unionism.  The strike was marked by street battles between workers and would-be replacements.  But because they were skilled craftsmen, replacements were not easy to come by.  The union figured to once again outlast their bosses to force a settlement.
Arch Street in Philadelphia circa 1800.
But with the support of the business community, leaders were shocked to be arrested and charged.  The strike collapsed.  But the worst still lay ahead.
Both the union itself and eight officers were charged.  Employers paid for the prosecution in the Mayor’s Court.  The actual trial did not get underway until 1806 months after the strike was over.
The case, known as Commonwealth v. Pullis, was heard over three days.  The union and all of the individual defendants were convicted of “a combination [conspiracy] to raise their wages.”  The Federation of Cordwainers was bankrupted and forced to disband.
The individual officers were each fined $8.  On modern historian has called this a “token fine.”  He is wrong.  That was more than a week’s wages and they also had to bear the cost of the prosecution and trial.  Although no record of those costs remains, it was probably considerable.  In addition all of the men were essentially blackballed from their trade.  They were personally ruined, each and every one of them.
The case became established precedent and was cited several times over the next decades in similar circumstances. 
Under the circumstances, the growth of craft unionism was largely stifled and did not begin to resume on a large scale until the 1830’s.  Strikes were not unheard of, but were often quick, spontaneous actions without organization or support.  Today we would call them wildcats.
It wasn’t until 1842 in decided another case involving shoemakers, that the precedent of Commonwealth v. Pullis would finally be overturned.
An 1839 strike against employers who hired non-union labor by the Boston Journeymen Bootmakers’ Society resulted in the similar arrest and conviction of union leaders on conspiracy charges.  But in the case of Commonwealth v. Hunt heard on appeal by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1842, the convictions were overturned.  The court ruled that “the act of unionization and recognition of that union through strike was legal unless the methods to coerce workers to strike were illegal.” 

That case essentially finally legalized trade unions.  But employer and public opposition remained strong and time and again the rights of working people to organize would be trampled upon or won only at great sacrifice. 



Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Lenape Got the Shaft But Not at the Greatest Real Estate Sale Ever

Almost everything is wrong with this 19th Century depiction of the sale of Manhattan Island to the Dutch under Peter Minuit including the squatting Canarsie tribe being depicted in Plains Indian attire and the trade goods offered by the Europeans.

On this day in 1626 the greatest real estate deal in history went down.  But the real winner in the deal is not the one you have been told about.
Due to a simplistic account in a 19th Century popular reader, almost any American will tell you that Manhattan Island was bought by the Dutch from local Indians for “$24 in beads and trinkets.”  Those with especially acute memories might recall the alleged sharpie who hoodwinked the natives with his paltry offering was Peter Minuit, Governor of the North American colony owned by the Dutch West Indies Company. 
There are several things wrong with this version.  First and foremost is that the trade goods Minuit offered were not the trade trifles mentioned, but a selection of metal tools and implements including axe heads, knives, awls, needles, cast iron kettles, as well as cloth.  They were valued by Minuit at 60 silver guilders a significant sum.  Depending on who is doing the reckoning and how inflation over nearly four centuries is figured, that would be worth more than $1000 in today’s cash. 
But as one historian points out, the value of the items to the natives was probably much more than the actual monetary value.  Most of these items had been virtually unobtainable, although a few had found their way ashore from other European ships or have been traded down from New England or far away New France.  A historian described it as a significant “high-end technology transfer, handing over equipment of enormous usefulness.”
But it was the natives who Minuit dealt with that may have been the real sharpies.  He assumed he was doing business with the Lenape; a powerful and extensive tribe that held sway over what is now the Delaware Valley including much of modern New Jersey and over the area around the mouth of the Hudson River including Manhattan and much of Long Island.  They were a sedentary people engaged in extensive agriculture and both coastal and inland fishery, including the harvesting of oysters.  Relatively large villages relocated within the range every year or so, returning to previous sites when the land rejuvenated itself.
Evidently the local Lenape, however, were not using Manhattan at the time the Dutch arrived.  Instead, they made sort of a sub-lease agreement with the much smaller Canarsie tribe who shared some of Long Island with them and a dozen other small bands.  The Canarsie, who were harvesting oysters and gardening on the island, could hardly believe their good fortune.  They gladly sold the Dutch what didn’t belong to them and retreated to Long Island with what they must have considered a fortune.
A previous governor had established Fort Amsterdam on the southern tip of the island the year before.  Minuit now felt secure enough in his sale to begin settlement of a new colonial capital Nieuw-Amsterdam.  Eventually the Lanape, who became the chief partners of the new colony in the fur trade, complained about the Dutch squatting on their land and another purchase had to be arranged.  The exact price paid in this second deal is lost to history, but the Lenape likely did pretty well in trade goods themselves.
The fates of all parties to the deal were unhappy.
Peter Minuit--a colonial governor for both Dutch and Swedish mercantile firms.
In 1631 Minuit was fired by the Dutch West India company for failing to meet expectations for the fur trade and was accused of skimming accounts for his own benefit.  Enraged, he returned to Europe and offered himself to the Swedes, an ascending power eager to get into North American colonization.  In 1638 he returned as Governor General of New Sweden and established Fort Christiana new modern day Wilmington, Delaware.  He was killed later the same year on a return voyage to recruit more settlers.  He sailed via the Caribean to pick up a load of tobacco to make the journey profitable for the company and perished in a hurricane near the island of St. Christopher.  His colony lasted a dozen more years until a later Dutch governor, Peter Stuyvesant conquered it in 1655.
The Canarsie, one of thirteen small tribes on Long Island, allied themselves with the much more powerful Mohawks from the mainland for protection.  They lived in relative harmony with the Dutch until a later governor, William Kieft, launched a war on local tribes.  A massacre of the village of Pavonia united all of the tribes in a general uprising in 1643.  The ensuing war was devastating to both settlers and the tribes.  Peter Stuyvesant eventually negotiated a peace.  Many Canarsie converted to Christianity during the period of peace and continued to farm and fish in the area.
The Dutch persuaded the 13 tribes of Long Island not to pay tribute to their traditional protectors, the Mohawks.  In 1655 a large Mohawk war party invaded Long Island and massacred most of the local tribal residents.
Descendants of the Canarsie sill living in Brooklyn participated in this 1937 re-enactment of their real estate scam at a public school.
A remnant of the Canarsie later sold most of their remaining land to the British, after they seized New Amsterdam.  Small numbers continued to live and farm in rural Brooklyn into the 19th Century.  A unit of Canarsie volunteers served the Civil War.  Eventually descendants of the tribe became absorbed by the white community and the tribe disappeared into the mist of history.
The much larger Lenape at least persist as a people.  Their culture was much disrupted by the arrival of the Dutch, Swedes, and the English.  In order to obtain much desired trade goods, they abandoned much of their traditional agricultural and fishery based economy to pursue the fur trade.  This took them deep into hostile territory dominated by the Mohawk and other Iroquoian people.  By the late 18th Century pressure from the Iroquois and expanding European settlement forced most major bands to re-settle west of the Allegany Mountains in what is now western Pennsylvania and along the Ohio RiverRemnant bands in the east were mostly absorbed by other tribes or by neighboring white settlements.  
A traditional eastern Lanape Village before their culture was disrupted and they were forced out of their original range.
After the signing of the Treaty of Easton in 1758, most the Lenape were forced to move west out of their lands in Delaware, New Jersey, eastern New York, and eastern Pennsylvania into what is today known as Ohio.  A large number of Lenape were converted by the Moravians, a German pietistic sect that practiced pacifism.  These “Praying Indians” settled west of Ft. Pitt along the Ohio River with their missionaries
In the French and Indian Wars more warlike bands allied themselves with the French and were present at the Siege of Ft. Pitt.  
During the American Revolution bands of the tribe, by then generally known as the Delaware, split allegiances between the British and the colonists.  Several large bands relocated to the Sandusky to be closer to the British stronghold of Ft. Detroit.  Others scouted for the Americans, or in the case of the Praying Indians tried to remain neutralCoshocton was the main town of the Delaware friendly to the colonists.  They hoped to form an all Indian state within the infant republic.  But after their chief, White Eyes was killed, probably by American militiamen, many of the warriors from Coshocton joined their kinsmen with the British.
Massacre of the Praying Indians by the Pennsylvania Militia and their native scouts.
American Colonel Daniel Brodhead led an expedition out of Fort Pitt and in 1781 destroyed Coshocton. Surviving residents fled to the north to the British.  The next year the peaceful Moravian missionary village of Gnadenhutten was attacked by Pennsylvania militia.  At least 96 men, women and children were massacred.
Various Delaware bands were caught up in the continuing fierce warfare along the Ohio frontier after the Revolution.  Some took up arms again with the British in the War of 1812.  After the capture of Ft. Detroit in that war, northern Delaware bands, including some of the Moravians relocated to what is now western Ontario.
Most of the remaining American Delaware ceded their lands in Ohio in the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1814.  Bands took up lands in Indiana and Missouri.  In 1829 yet another treaty, the Treaty of James Fork pushed the tribe yet further west.  In exchange for the Indiana and Missouri lands they received grants in Kansas.
The Delaware became active as guides and trappers in the trans-Mississippi West and frequently served as scouts for the Army.  They were prominent in the Seminole Wars and were among those with John Charles Frèmont when he entered California during the Mexican War.  Later they would be guides for emigrant trains to the west.
A Delaware couple in the late 19th Century, probably in Indian Territory (Oklahoma).  Their dress was reflective of cultural contact with other tribes and adaptations in their generations of being pushed ever west.
Despite loyal service the Delaware were again pushed from their lands.  Most relocated to Indian Territory by 1860.  They were forced to buy lands from the Cherokee.  In 1979 The Bureau of Indian Affairs ceased to recognize the Oklahoma Delaware as a separate tribe and began to count them as Cherokee.  That decision was overturned in 1996.  A challenge by the Cherokee to the re-instatement caused a see-sawing legal battle with the tribe stripped of recognition again and then having it restored.  As of 2009 they have had tribal status and the same year reorganized under the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act with a tribal government of its own.
Other small bands of Lenape or Delaware are scattered from New Jersey to Wisconsin but have no formal recognition.  In Ontario decedents of the Lenape of Ohio still live on four reservations.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The New York Public Library—A Monument to Books

The grand and glorious New York Public Library in a hand-tinted linen post card from the early 1930's

There may be taller buildings.  There may even be more beautiful buildings. There are certainly more profitable uses for prime Manhattan real estate.  But maybe no building in New York City is more justifiably admired and beloved than the Main Branch of the New York Public Library which opened its doors for the first time on this date in 1911 at 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.

It was recently named the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building in honor of the billionaire banker who pledged $100 million to restoration and repair of the structure.  It hardly put a dent in his personal fortune.  Schwarzman made headlines in 2012 when he compared President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise taxes to “Hitler’s invasion of Poland.”  Luckily, no one outside his immediate family and his billionaire buddy Mayor Michael Bloomberg ever uses that name for the iconic building. 

Several smaller libraries were consolidated into a new city institution in the late 19th Century. Big gifts from a bequest by former Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Samuel J. Tilden and from library patron and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie made possible the erection of an imposing building.

A rough design of the building was developed by the System’s first Superintendent, Dr. John Shaw Billings.  His vision was the basis for a well-publicized competition among the top architects in the country.  A relatively little known firm, Carrère and Hastings, won for its Beaux-Arts design.

In this 1920's cartoon famous writers are depicted using the Reading Room.  The most recognizable is James Joyce with the dramatic wing on his hat.

Construction began in 1897 and the cornerstone laid in 1902.  It was the largest marble building ever constructed in the United States with walls three feet thick.  It cost a hefty $9 million when that was an almost unimaginable sum.  It took 14 years for master craftsmen, many of the European trained masons, to complete the building.  It took more than a year just to move in and shelf on miles of book cases the collections from the consolidated libraries.

President William Howard Taft joined Governor John Alden Dix and Mayor William Jay Gaynor for the opening ceremonies.

The Main Reading Room of the Library is an impressive public space with the reverence of a Temple.

The library was not only immediately one of the largest in the world, it was noted for an efficient system to produce volumes from the vast stacks and deliver them into the hands of patrons within moments.  The first book checked out, a scholarly study of the ethical works of Friedrich Nietzsche and Leo Tolstoy in German was in the hands of the library patron in just 11 minutes.

The most famous feature of the library is the grand and vast Rose Main Reading Room.  Walls are lined with reference books, two rows of large tables accommodate readers, researchers, and students and the room is appointed with crystal chandeliers, brass lamps, and comfortable chairs.  On sunny days the room is flooded with light from a row of large arched windows.  The room has been featured in movies, described in novels, and memorialized in poems by the likes of E. B. White and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

Almost as famous are the two proud lions which flank the wide stairs to the main entrance.  Original names, Leo Astor and Leo Lenox in honor of two of the library’s principal founders, Mayor Fiorello La Guardia dubbed them Patience and Fortitude during the Great Depression when the great reading rooms were filled with the out-of-work passing the time away in self-improvement and when some of the homeless reportedly found ways to sleep in the stacks.

One of the Library's famed pair of guardian lions.

It took until the 1970 for continual acquisitions to fill up the generous space that had been included in the original designs.  In the 1980’s the building was expanded by 125,000 square feet and literally miles of new shelf space by constructing an underground addition below Bryant Park.

Work began in 2007 to clean and restore the begrimed and damaged exterior of the building and remodeling continued inside.  More work with Schwarzman’s—and other donors—money continues to be done.

Meanwhile former Mayor Bloomberg slashed the operating budget of the Library, closed many branches, and reduced hours open to the public.  Money for new acquisitions was cut to the bone. 

The grand and beloved edifice is in danger of rotting from the inside by neglect.