Sunday, July 10, 2005

Baltimore in the 1840s and 1850s

Edward Betts and family lived in Baltimore from the mid 1840s through at least the mid 1850s. This was a turbulent period in Baltimore's history.
"Anti-foreign and Anti-Catholic feeling which had been growing steadily among the native Americans in Baltimore, finally crystallized in the formation of the Know-Nothing Party . . . The latter [foreigners and Catholics] retaliated in kind, their clubs affiliating themselves with the Democrats. During the election campaigns, municipal, state and national, there were frequently bloody clashes between members of the two factions, armed with every conceivable weapons from brad awls to cannon.
To add to the confusion, there were the rival volunteer firemen's associations which frequently engaged in armed conflicts in the streets. Fires burned themselves out while these fights were in progress, and it sometimes seemed as if fires had been started by incendiaries to provide opportunities for the belligerents. . . .
Underneath the contest on local questions was the growing tension between the Abolitionists and the Pro-Slavery advocates ...."
Despite the turmoil, Baltimore of this period had many positive attributes, particularly for small tradesmen and laborers.

A visitor from England noted that "... small shop-keepers, mechanics and tradesmen ... appeared to him to be better informed, more industrious and in better circumstances than the same class in England."

"The mechanics," [commented a visitor from Scotland] "usually live in self-contained houses owned by themselves, of which there are whole streets in the city. These houses are fifteen feet in front and three stories high, and are built of brick, on leasehold sites held for ninety-nine years, renewable forever."
Many visitors from the British Isles commented on the "proverbial beauty" of the women of Baltimore. Said one visitor "Every man is an outré Parisian, and nearly every woman whom you meet good looking." Another said "I had repeatedly heard . . . that the ladies of Baltimore were exquisitely beautiful, and I found that they justify that assertion . . . . . There is much vivacity in their appearance and in their language; they seem very fond of music and have the credit of singing and playing very well; their society is most pleasant."

All were disgusted by the habit of most men (and many boys) of chewing tobacco, which was permitted even in church.

Quotes from "Baltimore as Seen By Visitors 1783-1860" by Raphael Semmes, published by the Maryland Historical Society, 1953.

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