Antebellum Period Timeline
How It All Went Down
Treaty of Ghent
The Treaty of Ghent, signed in the Belgian city of the same name, ends the War of 1812 between the U.S. and Britain. Historians usually consider the end of the War of 1812 to be the approximate starting point of the antebellum period.
Gaslights Introduced to New York City
Gaslights are introduced in New York, and soon in other cities as well.
Maine Separates from Massachusetts
Maine separates from Massachusetts to become its own state. Shortly thereafter, it passes anti-dueling laws that authorize a $1,000 fine against anyone who challenges another person to a duel or who accepts such a challenge.
American Temperance Society Founded
American Temperance Society is founded as part of a broad reform movement during the era of the Second Great Awakening. Temperance, the movement to limit alcohol consumption, proves to be one of the most enduring outgrowths of evangelical Christian activism. Temperance grows as a reaction against a huge spike in alcohol consumption during the early nineteenth century. Within five years, there will be 2,220 temperance societies in the United States, with 170,000 members who have taken a pledge of abstinence (sobriety).
Last of the Mohicans Performed
The first performance of "Metamora, or, The Last of the Mohicans," a stage rendition of James Fenimore Cooper's novel, stars Edwin Forrest, the first actor to earn an international reputation. It is the dramatic sensation of the 1830s.
Lion of the West
James K. Paulding writes the play "Lion of the West," starring Nimrod Wildfire, a vernacular character based on Davy Crockett, a sort of anti-European hero whose physical strength can defeat the pretensions of his neighbors. This provides some indication of the increasing importance of the theater as a site of class co-mingling in the 1830s and onward, and an example of the way that the public constructs and celebrates popular characters and celebrities such as Crockett.
Cholera Epidemic in New York
A cholera epidemic strikes New York City. It has killed some 30,000 in Britain and city officials have tried to prevent its spread by keeping all incoming vessels 300 yards from any dock if the captain suspects there is cholera aboard. The effort is unsuccessful; nearly 3,500 of the city's 250,000 residents die by September.
Bowery Theatre Overcrowded
A theater crowd attending a performance of Shakespeare's Richard III (in the Bowery, a working-class neighborhood in New York City) is so large that some 300 people overflow onto the stage, examine the actors' costumes (presumably because they are curious about the detail and the materials employed), race across the stage, and surround Richard and Richmond, forcing them to extend their swordfight for almost fifteen minutes. The rioters make T.D. Rice repeat his famous "Jim Crow" dance (in blackface) twenty times.
First Public Library Founded
The nation's first tax-supported public library is founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
Daily Newspapers Begin
The penny press—a one-cent daily newspaper affordable to working-class readers—emerges with Benjamin Day's New York Sun. Competitors quickly materialize. In 1835 James Gordon Bennett starts the New York Herald, which quickly becomes a leading metropolitan journal.
First Women Enrolled at Oberlin College
Oberlin College opens and soon begins enrolling women, becoming the first co-educational college in United States.
Andrew Jackson Nose Pulled
Andrew Jackson's nose is allegedly pulled by a disgruntled former Navy Lieutenant named Robert Beverly Randolph. In response to this insult to Jackson's honor, the 66-year-old president tries to beat Randolph with his cane, but Randolph flees.
New York Sun
Benjamin Day's paper, the New York Sun, achieves the largest circulation in the world, with 19,360 readers a day.
William Gilmore Simms Publishes The Yemassee
William Gilmore Simms, a pro-slavery man of letters, publishes The Yemassee (a story about an Indian war in 1715) and The Partisan, the first in a seven-part series on the American Revolution in South Carolina.
The New York Herald
James Gordon Bennett, a Scottish-born newspaper editor in America, launches a new penny paper of four four-column pages called the New York Herald. Though he begins with only $500 in capital and he works out of a cellar on Wall Street, Bennett's paper quickly rivals Benjamin Day's Sun and sells 15,000 copies a day within the year.
P.T. Barnum Exhibits Joice Heth
P.T. Barnum exhibits Joice Heth, a woman supposedly 161 years old, who claims to have been the nurse of George Washington.
P.T. Barnum Hold Public Autopsy
Joice Heth, the elderly slave woman who P.T. Barnum purchased and exhibited as the 161-year-old nurse of George Washington, passes away. Barnum capitalizes on her death by agreeing to a heavily publicized public autopsy on her body that attracted some 1,500 observers. Ostensibly this is in order to determine whether or not Heth was as old as Barnum had claimed. The surgeon presiding over the autopsy says that she probably wasn't over 80 years old.
Transcendental Club Begins
The Transcendental Club begins as an informal discussion group that meets at members' homes in Boston and Concord. It attracts clergymen, intellectuals, and reformers, most notably Ralph Waldo Emerson, the essayist, lecturer, and poet, who rejects pure reason in favor of a transcendent world beyond, one occupied by ideals, morals, and intuition.
Siege of the Alamo
Five thousand Mexican soldiers under General Santa Anna lay siege to the Alamo, an old mission in San Antonio, Texas, that has been occupied by Americans fighting for Texas independence.
The Alamo Seized
RANGEEND_ALAMO Mexican forces attack the Alamo mission and its 189 defenders. Only sixteen women, children, and servants survive. Among the slain are frontiersman Davy Crockett (who uses his musket, "Old Betsy," as a club in his final hours), Jim Bowie (inventor of the Bowie knife), and a group of Texans and American volunteers. "Remember the Alamo" becomes a rallying cry for Sam Houston's Texan forces,
Santa Anna Captured
Fighting in the Texan war for independence ceases after General Santa Anna is taken prisoner; he subsequently buys his freedom.
On a cold spring night in New York City, 23-year-old prostitute Helen Jewett is found hacked to death by an axe in the Manhattan brothel where she lives. Her corpse is still smoldering from the fire that the murderer set to her mahogany bed. The scandalous crime and subsequent murder trial of Jewett's regular customer, eighteen-year-old Richard P. Robinson, becomes one of the first salacious murder mysteries to be covered extensively by the press.
Panic of 1837
The economy falls into a depression known as the Panic of 1837. The crisis begins with a financial panic, with the total face value of banknotes in circulation nationwide almost four times the total value of specie (money). Apart from a brief recovery in 1838, the depression will last until 1843.
Nathaniel Hawthorne Twice Told Tales
Author Nathaniel Hawthorne earns some measure of fame with the publication of Twice Told Tales.
Victorian Era Begins
Britain's Queen Victoria becomes the first monarch to occupy Buckingham Palace as the so-called "Victorian Era" commences. It will endure until 1901.
Benjamin Day Sells Sun
Benjamin Day sells his wildly successful newspaper, the New York Sun, to his brother-in-law, Moses Yale Beach, for $40,000.
Cilley Death Kills Duels
A duel between Maine congressman Jonathan Cilley and Kentucky Representative William Graves results in the death of Cilley, who becomes the last member of the U.S. House to die in a duel. The public outcry over Cilley's death results in a popular reaction against dueling in the North and the passage of a Maine state law that fines a person $100 for ridiculing anyone who refuses to duel. All of the Supreme Court Justices refuse to attend Cilley's funeral as a show of protest against the practice.
Samuel Morse Demonstrates Telegraph
Samuel Morse first publicly demonstrates his telegraph in Morristown, New Jersey.
Panic of 1839
Another financial depression inaugurates a recession that endures for two years. Prices fall, as does production.
Realist Painting Reaches Mass
From about 1839 onward, realist painting appeals to a new mass audience. It is influenced by photography, which debuts in France in 1839 and spreads quickly across the globe. Realism employs social and historical narrative (with artists such as Wilkie and Poynter) or serious religious, moral, or social messages (including the pre-Raphaelites, Millet, etc.) often drawn from ordinary life. Realistic novelists present the complete spectrum of social classes and personalities, but retain sentimentality and moral judgment (these include Eliot, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Balzac). See examples such as Oliver Twist and Anna Karenina.
The Boston Morning Post first prints a hip new buzzword-"O.K."-after President Martin Van Buren, who was known as "Old Kinderhook" (for Kinderhook, his hometown in New York state) and used to initial "O.K." in the margins of paperwork that received his approval.
Louis Jacques Daguerre of France invents the daguerreotype, the first form of photography.
First Class Photograph
The first "class photograph," of the Yale College 30th reunion, is taken by American inventor and artist Samuel F.B. Morse.
Benjamin Day Founds Brother Jonathan
Benjamin Day founds the monthly Brother Jonathan. It will later become the first illustrated weekly in America.
Charles Dickens Tours America
Thirty-year-old British writer Charles Dickens first journeys to America. Americans are exhilarated to catch a glimpse of the author, already beloved on this side of the Atlantic for Sketches by Boz, The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and Nicholas Nickleby. But the tour does not go well; Dickens finds Americans rude and vulgar, and they begin to dislike him in turn, especially after he begins delivering after-dinner speeches chastising them for reading pirated copies of his works. (There is no international copyright law at the time.)
Tyler Becomes President
John Tyler becomes the first vice-president to become President by succession, taking power upon the death of 68-year-old William Henry Harrison, who infamously dies of pneumonia one month after delivering an hour-and-forty-five-minute inauguration speech outside in a snowstorm. Harrison is the first U.S. president to die in office.
Horace Greeley Founds New York Tribune
Journalist Horace Greeley founds The New York Tribune as a paper aligned with the Whig party in response to the sensationalism of the penny press; it promotes the reforms of the day and sets a precedent in literary journalism with the nation's first regular book-review column (in 1849).
Beautiful Cigar Girl Murdered
Mary Cecilia Rogers, the "Beautiful Cigar Girl" who tends the counter at a popular New York City cigar store, mysteriously disappears. Her body is found floating in the Hudson River three days later, badly bruised and waterlogged, just a few feet from the New Jersey shore. The crime becomes a focus of the penny press, popular fiction, and public fascination.
Venetian Blind Patented
John Hampson of New Orleans patents the venetian blind.
Vulcanization of Rubber
Around this time period (in the mid-to-late 1840s), the development of the vulcanization process facilitates the production of condoms from crepe rubber, which is a vast improvement from the expensive and ill-fitting predecessors that had to be put on, very carefully, with both hands. Condoms will be used with increasing frequency by the 1870s.
First Telegraph from Washington to Baltimore
Inventor Samuel F.B. Morse transmits the message, ''What hath God wrought!'' from Washington to Baltimore as he opens America's first telegraph line.
Irish Potato Famine
The Irish potato famine results in the starvation of a million Irishmen and the forced emigration of two million more; more than one million of those come to the United States. Along with immigration from other European countries and a much smaller number of arrivals from South America, China, and Australia who come to California for the gold rush, the influx of Irish leads to the highest rate of immigration in national history. It also sparks a surge of nativism among Anglo-Saxon Americans who feel threatened by the newcomers.
Frederick Douglass Publishes Narrative
Escaped slave, orator, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative.
Sewing Machine Invented
The sewing machine is invented.
Mexican American War Begins
The Mexican American War begins with the first battle at Guadalupe Hidalgo.
U.S. Declares War on Mexico
The U.S. formally declares war against Mexico.
Thoreau Arrested Protesting War
Henry David Thoreau is arrested and imprisoned for refusing to pay his state poll tax as a protest against the Mexican-American War. Thoreau thinks that the war is unjust and only being fought in order to advance the spread of slavery into new territories. He only spends one night in prison before his aunt pays his tax to set him free. Thoreau contends that one must break the law if it mandates injustice to another person; his work will come to influence pacifist resistance leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Mexican forces surrender at Monterrey.
Ether as Anesthetic
Ether is used as an anesthetic for the first time, at the office of Boston dentist William Morton.
First Adhesive Postage Stamps
The first adhesive U.S. Mail postage stamps are issued in 5- and 10-cent denominations.
Gold Rush Begins
James Marshall discovers gold at Sutter's Mill on the American River in California; the Gold Rush begins.
Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
RANGEEND__MEXICAN_AMERICAN_WAR The Mexican-American War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.
Second French Republic Established
The Second French Republic is proclaimed after the French revolt against King Louis Philippe. The new government abolishes slavery in all French colonies.
Seneca Falls Convention
Abolitionist activists and Quakers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convene the Seneca Falls Convention on women's rights in a Wesleyan chapel at Seneca, New York. Some 240 people attend, 40 of them men, including famous orator, activist, and runaway slave Frederick Douglass. The Convention passes several resolutions, including one calling for extension of the franchise to women. Its attendees adopt a statement known as the Declaration of Sentiments (or the Seneca Falls Declaration), based on the Declaration of Independence, that calls for the reform of practices that discriminate against women. It will be another 72 years before the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment grants women the vote, but this is an essential and an important beginning of the struggle.
Thoreau Publishes Civil Disobedience
Henry David Thoreau publishes his classic essay on "Civil Disobedience," written in response to his arrest and imprisonment a few years prior for refusing to pay his state poll tax as a protest against the Mexican-American War.
California Arrives in San Francisco
The ship California arrives at San Francisco, carrying the first of the gold-seekers.
Astor Place Riot
The Astor Place riot erupts in New York City over the rivalry between two actors—Edwin Forrest of America and William Charles Macready of England. Macready symbolizes aristocratic snobbery and oppression to many Americans, though not for any ascertainable reasons aside from his English nationality and his appearance at an elite, high-priced theater. A mob of Forrest partisans—primarily working-class men—storm the hated (presumably elitist) Astor Place Opera House in an attack on Macready, who is performing in Macbeth that night; 22 are killed and over 100 injured. The riot becomes an important turning point in the history of theater; soon thereafter, legislators, theater managers, and the police end such uprisings for good and regulate the theater as a primarily middle-class domain.
Early Birth Control
By the early 1850s, a few forms of birth control are available (with limited rates of effectiveness), notably the douche & different types of intrauterine devices. Women are also familiar with the rhythm method, in which they only have intercourse during the time of the month when they believe that they are not fertile. But ignorance about the female fertility cycle diminishes the effectiveness of this form of birth control.
Nathaniel Hawthorne Publishes The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne publishes The Scarlet Letter, the tale of a seventeenth-century adulteress named Hester Prynne in a Puritan community.
George Foster Describes New York
George G. Foster's New York by Gas-Light and Other Urban Sketches shocks and fascinates Victorian readers with lurid tales and vivid descriptions of the urban subculture quickly emerging out of the nation's largest and fastest-growing metropolis.
Order of the Star-Spangled Banner
The Know-Nothing (or American) Party is founded as the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, a nativist organization and secret society in New York under the leadership of James W. Barker.
Los Angeles Incorporated
Los Angeles is incorporated as a city.
Moby Dick Published
Herman Melville publishes Moby-Dick.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe publishes Uncle Tom's Cabin, initially as a series of articles in an abolitionist newspaper. The book sells 500,000 copies in its first year; next to the Bible, it is the most popular book of the nineteenth century and probably the most important book in American history. During the Civil War, Lincoln meets Stowe in the White House and reportedly says to her: "So you're the little lady that caused this great big war."
Uncle Tom Performed
Soon after Uncle Tom's Cabin is published, it is adapted for the theater. One of the earliest productions is by George Aiken in Troy, New York. Many of these adaptations distort the characters and plot of the novel.
Harvard beats Yale in First Game
In the first intercollegiate sports event of any kind, Harvard beats Yale in rowing.
Yellow Fever Epidemic
A Yellow Fever epidemic kills over 10,000 people during the summer in New Orleans, a fatality rate of approximately 22%.
Know-Nothings Split on Slavery
The Know Nothings hold a national council in Philadelphia. During the previous year, they have achieved a national organization with over a million members. But they split down the middle over the slavery issue.
Republican Party Founded
The Republican Party is founded in Ripon, Wisconsin, by former members of the Whig and Free-Soil Parties.
Thoreau Publishes Walden
Henry David Thoreau publishes Walden: Life in the Woods. The author has spent almost a decade living in a cabin on Ralph Waldo Emerson's land. The title of the book comes from the name of the pond where Thoreau built the cabin. It extols the virtues of simplicity, nature, and pensive thought.
First Detectives Begin in San Francisco
The San Francisco police department establishes one of the first detective units in the country.
Theatre Discourages Working-Class Audience
San Francisco theaters began to issue warning statements on playbills that there will be, owing to the length of the plays, "NO FARCE." A "sacralization" of the theater takes hold, establishing a reserved middle-class ideal for theater audiences that shapes cultural attitudes and practices. Within a generation (by the 1870s), no such explanations will be offered, nor will they be deemed necessary any longer. The theater will no longer be the province of rowdy working-class audiences who openly recite the Shakespearean lines from memory and express their disapproval if the actors do not pass muster.
Whitman Publishes Leaves of Grass
The first edition of Walt Whitman's poetry masterpiece, Leaves of Grass, is published to acclaim from Ralph Waldo Emerson and shock and scorn from most other critics.
Western Union Founded
The New York and Mississippi Valley Printing Telegraph Company, which was established in 1851, changes its name to The Western Union Telegraph Company.
Melville Publishes Confidence Man
American author Herman Melville publishes his novel about a riverboat swindler, The Confidence-Man. The novel tellingly begins on the same day as its publication; April Fool's Day.
Panic of 1857
A recession strikes the economy, causing mass unemployment that lasts through the winter. Walt Whitman estimates that there are 25,000 jobless and 100,000 others affected in New York City alone.
Baseball Championship Charges Admission
For the first time, fans are charged admission to watch a baseball game. 1,500 spectators pay 50 cents each to see the first game of the national championship series played on a Long Island racecourse (in present-day Corona, Queens). The New York All-Stars beat Brooklyn, 22-18.
Pencil with Eraser Patented
Inventor Hyman Lipman of Philadelphia patents the pencil with attached eraser.
Natural Selection and Evolution Discussed
Darwin's theories of natural selection and evolution are first revealed in a meeting of the Linnean Society in London.
First Mailboxes Installed
Mailboxes are installed for the first time, on the streets of New York and Boston.
Queen Telegraphs President
A telegraphed message from Britain's Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan is transmitted over the recently laid trans-Atlantic cable.
Daniel Emmett's song "Dixie" is first performed by Bryant's Minstrels at Mechanics Hall, New York.
Married Women Gain Rights
By 1860, New York and several other states (Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio) have passed laws to allow married women to keep their own earnings.
Republican Abraham Lincoln is elected president.