Cooperstown Village Historian Hugh MacDougall Compiles News of Days Past

Hugh MacDougall, Cooperstown Village Historian, has an interesting way to make the news of the past relevant today. Since 1995, in his popular weekly column in the Cooperstown Crier, Mr. MacDougall has been taking news articles from exactly 200 years previous out of the Otsego Herald (or Plattsburgh Republican if the date is not available in the Herald), researching them, and commenting on particular aspects of the stories, including explaining the relevance to Cooperstown today.  An example can be found below or at

for Thursday, Sept. 5, 1816
Compiled, with comments

“Mr. Wilkinson’s Reed Machine”

This piece of American mechanism, which deserves to be placed on a par with that for cutting wire and making cards, is capable of making two reeds in a single operation. And this involves the preparation of the wood, and use of twine to bind the steel wire, and the reader may judge of the ingenuity of the contrivance.

It is a combination of various mechanical powers in play at the same time. Governor [Daniel] Tompkins, much to his credit, has used every exertion to bring it into use; but where manufactures languish, there was no demand for reeds. The Society for Useful Arts also gave their unanimous testimony in its favor....

Mr. W. however, after offering the machine to his country, and seeking patronage in vain, has this day shipped it for Europe.... We are confident of Mr. W.’s patriotism; he is a man, we believe, who has served his country faithfully; and having done his duty as citizen and soldier, she has, in peace no claims that ought to debar him from employing his talents to the best advantage.

 * Mr. Jeptha A. Wilkinson, the inventor, though a New-Englander by birth, resides in Otsego county, New-York. – New York Columbian, Aug. 21

COMMENT: The “steel reeds” used in weaving are the part of the loom which is pulled backwards to press the yarn against the already completed portion. Jeptha A. Wilkinson (1791-1873) was born in a Quaker family in Rhode Island, but served as a military officer during the War of 1812,. He was a nephew of Jemima Wilkinson (1752-1819), the famous Quaker evangelist, and, like others in the Wilkinson family, he was a prolific inventor.

His invention had received much support in America, and he completed it while living in Cooperstown in 1816, and had it patented. Unable to market it here, he went to Europe.

He married Sarah Gibson in Paris in 1827, and they had 14 children between 1828 and 1854. He tried to promote his invention in London, but was opposed by hand weavers afraid they would lose their jobs. He had better luck in Europe, where he sold his patent for $18,000 to the Netherlands, but returned to America to find all His other major invention was a rotary printing press, with which both Ambrose Jordan and his son-in-law Edward Clark (of Cooperstown fame) were involved, but despite years of effort never succeeded in making any money from it. He is also said to have suggested the major features of the Colt Revolver.

“A Swindler”
New York, August 17. A few days since information was sent to our police-office from the southward to be on the look out for a Swindler; describing his person, and offering a reward for his apprehension.

Last Friday the gentlemen of the tip staff department laid hold of him just as he was entering his carriage to be off. He was charged with having defrauded merchants in the southern states to the amount of 60,000 dollars. There was found upon him between seven and eight thousand dollars in money, which has been lodged in one of our banks for safe keeping.

The means he employed to carry  on his deceptions were forged letters from men of the first standing, representing him as worthy of credit, &c. &c. Among the number we understand he has exhibited one from Gov. Galusha of Vermont, one from a Mr. Peabody of New-Hampshire, a rich merchant, and one from Gov. [Daniel] Tompkins [of New York].

Aerial Balloon
The Balloon that ascended from the College at Georgetown, the 31st [August] descended at Cave Point, on the Chesapeake, a few miles above the mouth of Patuxent River, and about twenty yards from the bottom of the bay, in five hours from the time of ascent.

The distance is about 50 miles in a straight line. The direction in which the Balloon fell was nearly opposite to that in which it ascended.

The wonder of the laboring people at the descent of this heavenly visitor among them may be well imagined. We believe, however, they did not shoot at it, till they thought the aerial monster was dead, as once happened in England in a similar case, in a part of the country where but few of the people had ever before heard of a Balloon.

COMMENT: Professor Wallace of Georgetown College, and his class of “natural philosophy,” sent off the balloon (presumably without passengers).

Giant Cat Fish
A Cat Fish was taken by a trout line, opposite Cincinnati, Ohio, on Monday last, the dimensions of which, by actual admeasurement, were five feet and an half in length, four feet girth, twelve inches between the eyes, and nineteen across the breast, weighed one hundred and seventeen pounds!

COMMENT: A Blue Catfish weighing 124 pounds was caught in the Mississippi River in Illinois. The world record for a catfish (there are many species) is 9 feet long and 645 pounds, caught in Thailand.

Catskill, August 21. On Sunday afternoon, a fire broke out in this village, near the upper end of Main-street, in the house of Mr. John P. Bolen. The fire raged with such fury, that scarcely an article was saved from Mr. Bolen’s house; and a child of Mrs. Miller was so severely burnt as to cause its death in a few hours. The conflagration at one moment threatened wider destruction....

Weather predicted in Phinney’s Cooperstown Almanac: (Sept. 4) Variable; (7-9) Cloudy and some rain.