Friday, February 10, 2023



The wife of President John Quincy Adams.

As early as 1744, Ben Franklin had worried that wood as a fuel for heating and cooking was becoming scarce in the settled regions of the Thirteen Colonies. 

As one modern historian notes, however, old-fashioned fireplaces were “insanely inefficient,” with up to 90% of the heat disappearing up the chimney. The discovery of anthracite coal in Pennsylvania changed the dynamic later – since anthracite burned with less smoke than bituminous coal. The introduction of stoves, however, struck some as “un-American.” 

One of the first testimonials for the new fuel came in an 1825 letter written by Mathew Carey, a Philadelphia publisher who boasted that coal kept his room “a toasty 60 degrees Fahrenheit during chilly months. ‘My feet used to be cold almost always at night, in winter,’ he wrote. ‘Since I have used this coal those grievances are removed entirely.’” 

The debate remained unsettled for several generations: 

In an 1864 essay, Harriet Beecher Stowe fulminated: “Would our Revolutionary fathers have gone barefooted and bleeding over snows to defend air-tight stoves and cooking-ranges? I trow [believe] not.” In his 1843 short story “Fire Worship,” Nathaniel Hawthorne argued that gathering before a flickering hearth was crucial to bringing families and citizens together.


“Social intercourse cannot long continue what it has been, now that we have subtracted from it so element as firelight,” Hawthorne fretted. “While a man was true to the fireside, so long would he be true to country and law.”


The cultural arguments piled up. Food cooked in stoves was baked, not broiled, and that, too, offended American tastes. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson Downing, an early landscape architect, argued in 1850 that stoves were “secret poisoners,” worse than “slavery ... tobacco, [or] patent medicines.”


“People were blaming coal-fired stoves for impaired vision, impaired nerves, baldness and tooth decay,” says Barbara Freese, author of Coal: A Human History. It certainly smelled less pleasant than wood. Further, coal – particularly soft coal – produces soot, which choked some towns with dangerous particulates.


Apart from the cultural backlash, coal was a pain to light. Anthracite stoves often required multiple attempts to start the flame and demanded constant fiddling with a poker. An 1827 guide for servants devoted 15 full pages to the black art. One period analysis found the new stoves added an hour of work to a housewife’s chores.


It would not be until 1885, that Americans – with increasing numbers living in burgeoning cities – would burn more coal than wood.



February 9: No candidate for president having won a majority of the electoral votes, the decision falls to the House of Representatives, as set forth by the U.S. Constitution, to decide. With each state having a single vote, the final tally is as follows: 13 states vote for John Quincy Adams, 7 for Andrew Jackson, 4 for William Crawford.

Ladies had been excluded from the galleries of the House originally, in accordance with British precedent. But one night at a party a lady expressed her regret to Hon. Fisher Ames, of Massachusetts, that she could not hear the argument, especially his speeches. Mr. Ames gallantly replied that he knew of no reason why ladies should not hear the debates. “Then,” said Mrs. Langdon, “if you will let me know when next you intend to speak, I will make up a party of ladies and we will go hear you.”


The notice was given, the ladies went, and since then Congressional orators have always had fair hearers – with others perhaps not very fair.”  (Benjamin Perley Poole, Reminiscences; Volume 1, pp. 77-78)



One in five New England brides reached the altar in a pregnant state.

The New York Times reviews Doomed Romance, which tells the story of Martha Parker, who in 1825, ran afoul of the moral police of the era. Born in Dunbarton, N.H. in 1804, she was one of eight siblings. They lost their father when they were young. 

With two elder sisters, she attended the “deeply religious” Bradford Academy, in Essex County, Mass.; the eldest, Ann Parker, soon married and went to the Palestine mission in Beirut. Teaching at another such school, Martha was besotted with the idea of “forsaking all” for Christ. 


All went well for her until, at 21, overwhelmed by a crush of courting during the summer of 1825, she made a series of romantic missteps. Fatefully, she dallied with [Thomas] Tenney, her second cousin, known to her since childhood, an earnest young man redolent of the “odor of sanctity” who had first courted another of her older sisters, Emily. His proposal rejected by Emily, he turned to Martha, proposing again ... causing sisterly astonishment over his fickle affections. Martha turned him down twice but that summer changed her mind, dangling before him the prospect of winning his “highest earthly happiness.” His affections violently rekindled, he decided that “she loved me ardently.” She and Tenney became engaged that December.


(Christine Leigh Heyrman, the author of Doomed Romance, notes that double standards were common in that era, as always. One in five New England brides, she says, reached the altar in a pregnant state.) 

Martha’s problems revolve around Tenny, and two other suitors of greater or lesser success. The second is Elisha Jenney, a student at Dartmouth, who tries to win her affection but fails. The third is Elnathan Girdley, a Yale grad preparing to go to Palestine “to minister to the heathen,” as the Times reviewer notes. When Martha first accepts Tenney’s proposal, then tosses him over for Gridley, who seems to offer her a chance for “missionary glory,” again, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions becomes involved. An investigation results. No taint of scandal can be allowed to tarnish the reputation of their missionaries, in an era when some who travel overseas become martyrs, subjects of great admiration, and spark for significant donations.

Martha breaks with Tenney, accepts a proposal from Gridley, and then faces Tenney’s wrath. He labels her “a base girl, a deceiver, a liar” in one letter. He comes to believe it is his duty to keep such a woman from serving as a missionary in, of all places, the Holy Land, or anywhere else. Tenney testifies against her, and, says the reviewer, the investigating board “grilled poor Martha like a trout.” 

It was even said that if she married Gridley, it would be tantamount to “adultery.” Now she broke with her second fiancée. Gridley headed overseas by himself, and soon died of disease in Turkey. Under great pressure, Martha Parker agrees to marry Tenney, and is, says the reviewer, “silenced forthwith.” 

The review continues: 

Mining missionary records, Heyrman unearths some astonishing revelations. Even as church leaders were turning the screws on women, they were tolerant (given what would come later) of same-sex relationships. She quotes male partners in the mission at Beirut, Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons, who had pledged to “give ourselves to each other,” “our hearts knit together as the heart of one man.” A pair of Virginia Methodists went further, with one “covenant brother” telling the other that he dreamed of “kissing you with the kisses of my Mouth.” She finds revenge too: The Tenneys’ eldest daughter, Mary Eliza, grew up to join the ranks of foreign missionaries with her aunt Ann’s help, fulfilling her mother’s ambition. She became a popular writer, and Heyrman catches her, in her fiction, dissing the very prototype of her “unprepossessing” father.

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