United States and American History: 1808

About the history of the United States in 1808, Washington Irving writes History of New York, Thomas Paine dies, John Steven's steamboat Phoenix sails out.


--The 1st American humorous book of note, History of New York by Washington Irving, was published. European critics raved over the book, the 1st American work to impress the Old World. A best seller, it was a satirical history of old Dutch New Amsterdam. Irving wrote it under the Dutch pseudonym, "Diedrich Knickerbocker."

For what is a history, but a kind of Newgate calendar, a register of the crimes and miseries that man has inflicted on his fellowman? It is a huge libel on human nature, to which we industriously add page after page, volume after volume, as if we were holding up a monument to the honor, rather than the infamy of our species. . . . What are the great events that constitute a glorious era?-The fall of empires-the desolation of happy countries-splendid cities smoking in their ruins-the proudest works of art tumbled in the dust-the shrieks and groans of whole nations ascending unto heaven!

--Washington Irving, in his History of New York

--A new medicine was placed on the market: "Hamilton's Essense and Extract of Mustard: for Rheumatism, Gout, Palsy, Swelling, Numbness, Etc."

--John Stevens's steamboat Phoenix completed the 1st successful sea voyage from New York to Philadelphia. Stevens, a well-known inventor, had earlier designed the screw propeller in 1802 and had influenced the writing of the 1st Federal patent laws.

--Abel Stowel of Massachusetts designed and manufactured the 1st screw-cutting machine in the U.S.

Mar. 4 Madison was sworn in as 4th President of the U.S., while Jefferson quietly retired to his beloved Monticello. Jefferson would die there on July 4, 1826, in virtual poverty, his home and all its furnishings sold to satisfy creditors.

June 8 Tom Paine, whose pamphlets had inspired the Revolutionary spirit of Americans 35 years earlier, died in obscurity while living at 59 Grove Street in New York. Only 6 people followed his casket to its grave.

Oct. 31 Sign of the times: A Northerner, George Hicks of Brooklyn, ran an ad in the New York Post offering a reward of $25 for the return of a runaway slave: "Negro woman named Charity and her female child . . . 25 years of age, 5' high, of a yellowish complexion . . . has lost the use of one of her fingers, occasioned by a fellon [sic], took with her several suits of clothes."

Nov. 1 A New York exhibit opened featuring a "Grand Panorama," a view of New York and the surrounding area "as seen from an eminence in the neighborhood of the Park." Cost of admission was 50cent with a lifetime ticket available for $2.

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