Study Guide

Antebellum Period Timeline

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Dec 24, 1814

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.

Dec 19, 2019

Gaslights Introduced to New York City

Gaslights are introduced in New York, and soon in other cities as well.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019 - Dec 19, 2019

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).

Dec 15, 1829

Last of the Wampanoags Performed

The first performance of John Augustus Stone's Metamora; or, The Last of the Wampanoags, inspired by James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Last of the Mohicans, stars Edwin Forrest, the first actor to earn an international reputation. It is the dramatic sensation of the 1830s.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Jun 1, 1832 - Sep 1, 1832

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.

Dec 1, 1832

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.

Apr 9, 1833

First Public Library Founded

The nation's first tax-supported public library is founded in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Sep 3, 1833

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.

Dec 3, 1833

First Women Enrolled at Oberlin College

Oberlin College opens and soon begins enrolling women, becoming the first co-educational college in United States.

May 6, 1833

Andrew Jackson's 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.

Dec 19, 2019

New York Sun

Benjamin Day's paper, the New York Sun, achieves the largest circulation in the world, with 19,360 readers a day.

Apr 1, 1835

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.

May 6, 1835

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.

Aug 20, 1835

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.

Feb 19, 1836

P.T. Barnum Holds 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.

Sep 19, 1836

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.

Feb 23, 1836

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.

Mar 6, 1836

The Alamo Seized

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,

Apr 1, 1836

Santa Anna Captured

Fighting in the Texan war for independence ceases after General Santa Anna is taken prisoner; he subsequently buys his freedom.

Apr 10, 1836

Jewett Murder

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.

May 10, 1837

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.

Mar 1, 1837

Nathaniel Hawthorne Twice Told Tales

Author Nathaniel Hawthorne earns some measure of fame with the publication of Twice Told Tales.

Jul 13, 1837

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Feb 24, 1838

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.

Jan 6, 1838

Samuel Morse Demonstrates Telegraph

Samuel Morse first publicly demonstrates his telegraph in Morristown, New Jersey.

Dec 19, 2019

Panic of 1839

Another financial depression inaugurates a recession that endures for two years. Prices fall, as does production.

Dec 19, 2019

Realist Painting Reaches the Masses

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 like Oliver Twist and Anna Karenina.

Mar 23, 1839

O.K. Coined

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.

Aug 19, 1839

Daguerrotype Invented

Louis Jacques Daguerre of France invents the daguerreotype, the first form of photography.

Aug 18, 1840

First Class Photograph

The first "class photograph," of the Yale College 30th reunion, is taken by American inventor and artist Samuel F.B. Morse.

Dec 19, 2019

Benjamin Day Founds Brother Jonathan

Benjamin Day founds the monthly Brother Jonathan. It will later become the first illustrated weekly in America.

Jan 22, 1842

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.)

Apr 4, 1841

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.

Apr 10, 1841

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).

Jul 1, 1841

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.

Aug 21, 1841

Venetian Blind Patented

John Hampson of New Orleans patents the venetian blind.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

May 24, 1844

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Jun 1, 1845

Frederick Douglass Publishes Narrative

Escaped slave, orator, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass publishes his Narrative.

Dec 19, 2019

Sewing Machine Invented

The sewing machine is invented.

Apr 25, 1846

Mexican-American War Begins

The Mexican-American War begins with the first battle at Guadalupe Hidalgo.

May 13, 1846

U.S. Declares War on Mexico

The U.S. formally declares war against Mexico.

Jul 1, 1846

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.

Sep 24, 1846

Mexico Surrenders

Mexican forces surrender at Monterrey.

Sep 30, 1846

Ether as Anesthetic

Ether is used as an anesthetic for the first time, at the office of Boston dentist William Morton.

Jul 1, 1847

First Adhesive Postage Stamps

The first adhesive U.S. Mail postage stamps are issued in 5- and 10-cent denominations.

Jan 24, 1848

Gold Rush Begins

James Marshall discovers gold at Sutter's Mill on the American River in California; the Gold Rush begins.

Feb 2, 1848

Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo

The Mexican-American War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Feb 26, 1848

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.

Jul 18, 1848 - Jul 19, 1848

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.

Jan 1, 1849

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.

Feb 28, 1849

California Arrives in San Francisco

The ship California arrives at San Francisco, carrying the first of the gold-seekers.

May 10, 1849

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Apr 4, 1850

Los Angeles Incorporated

Los Angeles is incorporated as a city.

Dec 19, 2019

Moby-Dick Published

Herman Melville publishes Moby-Dick.

Mar 20, 1852

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."

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Aug 3, 1852

Harvard beats Yale in First Game

In the first intercollegiate sports event of any kind, Harvard beats Yale in rowing.

Jun 1, 1853

Yellow Fever Epidemic

A Yellow Fever epidemic kills over 10,000 people during the summer in New Orleans, a fatality rate of approximately 22%.

Jun 1, 1854

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.

Mar 20, 1854

Republican Party Founded

The Republican Party is founded in Ripon, Wisconsin, by former members of the Whig and Free-Soil Parties.

Aug 9, 1854

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.

Oct 1, 1854

First Detectives Begin in San Francisco

The San Francisco police department establishes one of the first detective units in the country.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Apr 1, 1856

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.

Apr 1, 1857

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.

Sep 1, 1857 - Feb 1, 1858

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.

Dec 19, 2019

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.

Mar 30, 1858

Pencil with Eraser Patented

Inventor Hyman Lipman of Philadelphia patents the pencil with attached eraser.

Jul 1, 1858

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.

Aug 2, 1858

First Mailboxes Installed

Mailboxes are installed for the first time, on the streets of New York and Boston.

Aug 16, 1858

Queen Telegraphs President

A telegraphed message from Britain's Queen Victoria to President James Buchanan is transmitted over the recently laid trans-Atlantic cable.

Apr 4, 1859

"Dixie" Performed

Daniel Emmett's song "Dixie" is first performed by Bryant's Minstrels at Mechanics Hall, New York.

Dec 19, 1860

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.

Nov 6, 1860

Lincoln Elected

Republican Abraham Lincoln is elected president.

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