Category Archives: 1844 Presidential Election

1844: J. A. Nichols to a Friend

The following incredible letter was written by a young man by the name of J. A. (or I. A.) Nichols who we learn was attending the Kingston Academy in Kingston Plains, New Hampshire in 1844. There were several families residing in or about Kingston Plains at the time of this letter but I have not been able to place him in any particular family tree. He frequently mentions Sanborn so much hunch is that he was related to the Jonathan Sanborn Nichols family. Perhaps he died or moved away prior to the 1850 US Census.

The letter is interesting because it demonstrates the fervor in which citizens backed their favorite candidates—particularly in the Election of 1844 which pitted James K. Polk, Democrat (or Loco), against Henry Clay, Whig, whose defenders slugged it out on the campaign trail over the controversial issues of slavery and the annexation of Texas. Hoping to take advantage of the splintered traditional parties was James G. Birney who entered the race as the nominee of the Liberty (or “Abolitionist”) Party. Birney was the editor of a Cincinnati abolitionist newspaper.

As the letter shows, there were a few abolitionists who voted for Birney in Kingston but the Locos carried the majority by a wide margin under the banner of “Polk, Slavery, Free Trade, and Texas!” The ripping down or trampling on the banners of opposing presidential nominee’s banners described in this letter reminds me of the 20th Century citizens removing or destroying campaign signs in each others yards.

Surprisingly the author makes no mention of the “Millerite excitement” that, next to the election, was probably the most frequent topic of debate and laughter at Calef’s general store in Kingston. “The believers of the pernicious doctine” in Kingston and other villages in the lower part of New Hampshire, “have almost entirely neglected to provide for future wants,” reported the Boston Post.


1830 Kingston Academy in Kingston Plains, New Hampshire, 1857
(Harvard University Map Collection)

Kingston, New Hampshire
November 3, 1844

My dear friend,

I am confident that you will not turn a deaf ear towards a recital on my part of the public matters of our old beloved Kingston. For two weeks I have been a constant attendant of the “Old School.” The first day I attended it seemed as if none but strange faces stared me on every side. I recognized but a few indeed who were the life and joy of last winter schooldays. I took my seat in the corner which last winter was occupied by Miss S. W. N. and more recently vacated by S. W. Mason. You may think by this time I have initiated myself in the acquaintance of the ladies. This is true and I find most of them to [be] very fine young ladies! But I can mention no names familiar with you.

I think the school is nearly as full as it was last winter and quite as pleasant to me!! Thus far I have learned as well as you would expect! I board at [the] old building formerly occupied as The Banner Office but those old stairs are nothing in comparison with our here. Do you take the hint? As yet, I am true to the principles of bachelorism—I mean the professed principles. I have waited upon none of the fair sex since I have been here although I have had several opportunities and have received severe reprimands for not so doing. I would just say that Miss E. A. M. is well—I think so—although rather low-spirited. Can you divine the course?

There is to be an examination at the close of this term, or the Tuesday (the 12th inst.) before Thanksgiving in this state. You must come up then certain—do not fail. It commences at 10 o’clock a.m. The larger ladies prepare compositions for the occasion; also Ben Cheerful and myself. Dialogues have been prepared for others.

A Temperance convention was held in this place last Thursday. The exercises were rather interesting. On that morning for the first time was discovered on the cupola of the academy, a banner made of red cambria brick with silver letters upon it forming the  following words: “N. Hampshire, the Banner State for Polk and Dallas.” You may well think this exasperated me not a little. I declared to Mr. Dalton that I would not enter that building to attend school under that banner and that if I went in after my books, I would enter the back door. There was no school that day and I bore it patiently.

Evening came and I determined on having it removed. Accordingly, I fastened a large knife to a pole and ascended to the top the building and succeeded in cutting some of the fastenings—but not enough to lose it. I went to the meeting house and with D. Garland, agreed to take it down after meeting at any rate. But after meeting, we went there and found it down! Wm. Hogdon made [it] and put it up and probably took it down. That same day, Moses Sanborn and myself made a flag of cotton cloth 2 yds wide, 3 yds long, with Clay & Frelinghuysen painted and also the stars and stripes, and hung out on Mr. [Samuel] Calef’s [general store] sign post and there it floats to the breeze now.

Yesterday I went home away at night. I came home and found that same Loco banner attached to a line reaching from the cupola of the academy to the elm tree [in] front of Dr. [Levi Stevens] Bartlett’s. It hangs over the road. It looks like one of these “solid” rests in music—just the same proportion. It is red—without stars and stripes—so we call it the Pirate’s Flag!

I get but very little political news up in this region. Mason, Snow, and myself talk of going to Amesbury on Sunday next. Excuse all. Yours, J. A. Nichols

EXTRA!!!!!!!!  RIOT &c!

November 3d, Four o’clock P. M.

I have just returned from one of the most heartrending and diabolical scenes ever witnessed on Kingston Plains. The circumstances are as follows. It appears that before sunrise this morning an Abolition Flag was raised on a line leading from Mr. [Benjamin Dodge] Cilley’s chimney to the elm tree near 0[rin P.] Spofford’s. It was made and owned by Mon. [Monroe] & Elihu Colcord, 1 and P. Frost. It was a very handsome flag made of bleached white cloth with stars and stripes of pink. The names of Birney & Morris were painted upon it. It was the size of 15 feet by 9. They had the bells rung on the occasion when [they] raised it and felt rather proud of it. But a short time elapsed before that miserable Webster who carried that rum banner last spring around the streets came along and commenced stoning it and threw one stone through it. This was considered as a gross insult by the owners and at town meeting. Mon[roe] Colcord gave this Jont. Webster a severe drubbing, somewhat exasperated him, and he came down and got his Father onto the building and cut the rope of this flag whilst he and some others took it and dragged it into a mud puddle and stomped the Liberty which was upon it underfoot. This was seen by some friend of The Banner. The owners were at the Town House at the time but at the time saw it fall! and mistrusting the cause, they set out accompanied by others, and came foaming down like lightening. The rowdies run—some to the tavern and others at Peasley’s. They took the old man and gave him a beating without gloves on! The young Webster was taken by others and pretty essentially mauled, after which he got clear from them and was chased into Mr. Calef’s house. The ladies prevented them taking him at that time.

At the time I arrived at the scene of excitement, anarchy and confusion reigned triumphant. The [town] square [in] front of Peasley’s was crowded and more bloodthirsty fellows I never saw than were the friends of the flag. Such horrid imprecations as were uttered by them, I never before heard, Hogdon took an active part and if he didn’t damn Spofford and some others, I don’t know what damning is. Esq. Wise, Wm. Webster, and many others took an active part. Meanwhile the flag was again raised, securing one of the line to Mr. Calef’s sign post and the other to the elm by Dr. Bartlett’s. It was now reported that Webster was going home. The crowd now rushed down to Mr. Calef’s. The flag party was determined to pound him yet. In vain did Mr. Calef endeavor to pacify them—to persuade them to use no personal violence—to let him go home in peace. But no—they would not. The fugitive’s father got the sheriff to take him home but they suffered him not to go.

From my supper, I returned there. Gen. J[ames] Spofford was sent up to take him home. He went in and coaxed him out on the platform but upon the advance of the leaders, he ran back into the house. General Spofford then threatened them—intimated as though he would shoot them with pistols, &c. He was obliged to clear out to save threshing. He then went to the tavern, raised a gang of about 20 drunken vagabond loafers with Oren and marched down with much dignity as we thought to fight! Dreadful forebodings were pictured on every countenance. That blood would be shed was not doubted. I felt determined to at all hazards! We counted about a dozen. Sanborn was on hand, determined to do his part. The mob approached, broke into our ranks, and endeavored to frighten us by threats. We did not retrograde a hair’s breadth, but only the firmly clenched our fists and strengthened our valor. Failing to drive us by their boasted courage, they did not seem willing to fight. Neither did they dare to take the prisoner out of the house. At every corner and nook of the house we had watchmen placed to prevent his escape undiscovered.

A reporter for the Boston Atlas would give you a description of this affair which would be interesting. He would describe them at this time in great commotion—some urging on fight, some restraining, some screaming, and some talking love, &c. The outskirts were lined with women praying, dancing, renting their clothes, tearing their hair, and agonizing in fearful expectation  of the approaching crisis. But our opponents did not dare to  fight and so concluded to let him ask their forgiveness for injuring their flag, which they before would not do. Upon his acknowledging his wrong, they forgave him freely and broke up their ranks. Thus we hope ended a scene which might have proved sad and lamenting in its results.

Yours, &c., — J. A. Nichols

P. S. — The vote for this town for Presidential Electors stood

Clay 52
Polk 107
Birney 17

At noon, it was reported that Kingston had given [ ] majority for Polk.

An 1857 Map of Kingston Plains with residences marked, including the Kingston Academy. (Harvard University Map Collection)

1 Monroe Colcord (1824-1887) and Elihu Colcord (1825-1909) were the sons of Daniel and Polly (Woodman) Colcord of Kingston, Rockingham county, New Hampshire.

1844: James McMullin to Michael Engelbrecht

The following 1844 letter was written by James McMullin (1810-Aft1853)—a wood corder and local politician of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He wrote the letter to his sister Rebecca (McMullin) Engelbrecht (1802-1847) and her husband Michael Engelbrecht (1792-1886) in Frederick, Maryland. Rebecca and Michael were married in Philadelphia in August 1838.

James’ advertisement for the sale of cordwood, The Daily Chronicle, 22 March 1842
James’ advertisement in the Public Ledger, 29 March 1844

This letter was written during the “Native American” Movement of 1844 which culminated in riots in Philadelphia. Those born in American, who referred to themselves as “Nativists” were generally opposed to foreign emigration, particular the Irish Catholics.


Stampless cover addressed to Michael Engelbrecht, Frederick City, Maryland
Postmarked Philadelphia, PA

Spruce Street Wharf
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
November 22nd 1844

Dear Brother,

Your letter of the 17th I received this morning. It has been detained somewhere as I should have gotten it sooner & I have to answer it so that you may not be uneasy as to my Certificate or Rebecca as it was drawn by myself for this reason. There was to be a sale of timber land in Delaware on the 14th of this month for cash and a Mr. Alson & myself concluded to buy it if it sold for the price we thought it was worth which we thought, or was willing to [pay] for it 4000 dollars. And I had not money enough to spare out of my business so asked for the Certificate in Bank to be collected, the same that an individual Note is put in bank for collection, and I having an account in the bank, they collect it for nothing. The timber was sold for $4,700 dollars and bought by some men in Massachusetts who are ship builders—700 more than we thought it worth for the wood business, but as it is heavy timber, it will suit them very well for their use & therefore worth more to them than us.

But Mr. Alson, living in Delaware and close to the timber & myself here & in the wood business, he could have it prepared for market and I could sell it to the best advantage & thereby make some money off it. But so it is, we did not get it and now I have no use for the money for my Certificate, but I will not invest it now before spring as I still intend to buy me a farm if I can get one to suit me for a fair price. I must confess that I done wrong in not telling you that I was going to draw the money as it was natural to suppose you or Rebecca or both might think something was wrong about it. Your package and letter of the 3rd came to hand in due time and I disposed of its contents as directed for which I am much obliged to you for I intend to reciprocate the present so soon as an opportunity may occur. Mary Ann was pleased to get a letter from Sarah Ann. Charles & Elizabeth was pleased to their receiving a letter from their father and Elizabeth will write to her father soon. And here let me tell you the reason she has not wrote long ago. It is this. Their house is not furnished in the best, I do assure you, but they have enough to get along with and I want to keep them so until they make something themselves & then get what they want. So I tell them to work hard and be saving & they will soon get along & have all they want. So I have them both at work when there is nothing in the store to do. I have just left there and it is 7 p.m. and they are both at work & George is in the shop getting his lesson & when any person comes in, he calls his father, goes in and sells if he can. Then goes back to work until George calls him again & so they are getting along in this way and in a short time I think they will be able to help themselves finely. So I think about Christmas Elizabeth will write to her parents.

James’ name appears among those accused of being foreigners and Catholics, which he was not. “Nativists” at the time meant, those born in America. The Pennsylvanian, 11 October 1853

Everything goes well so far—only Charles is like yourself, he has to Huzza for Polk against the grain. You must think better of Polk until you see what he will do and if you wait to see that, you will like him better. Tell Sarah Ann that I never could vote for Clay for the Whigs deceived the Natives here so much that I believe they are nearly all rogues. They came to our association in Pine Wood and said if we would vote for Markle, they in turn would vote for all our candidates in the city proper. So they went to all the wards and made the same bargain. Well, I thought as the Natives had no Governor of their own, I would vote for Markle so as to elect our Congressman & members for State Senate Assembly Council for City and &c. Well hundreds voted for Markle believing the Whigs honest and would vote for our man but you see whose candidates they voted for and whose was elected. But this won’t do another time and this is the reason Clay did not get so many votes as Markle and if I had not been for this New York City, would have given Clay 8 or 9 thousand majority. But the Natives turned against the Whigs here and in New York both for their deceiving us here in the first election.

I have not room to write more or I could tell you a long tale about the Whigs cheating us here. We are all well and send our best respects to you all and hope you are in good health. Yours, — James McMullin

To Michael Englebrecht, Esq.

1844: H. N. Clark to William Whitford Reynolds

This letter was written by H. N. Clark of House Creek, Irwin county, Georgia. I cannot confirm his identity though he may be Horatio N. Clark (b. @ 1815) of Troy, Rensselaer county, New York, who was in Georgia prior to the Mexican War and enlisted as an artificer at the Augusta Arsenal. Another person—perhaps the same individual—with those same initials and a native of New York, is enumerated in the 1850 US Census at Notasassa, Hillsborough, Florida.

Clark wrote the letter to William Whitford Reynolds (1816-1876), son of Parley and Esther Reynolds. William was about the same age as Clark. He was born in Petersburg, Rensselaer county, New York, on Sept. 25, 1816. William received a common school education, and at the age of fifteen had completed his studies. About this time he settled on a farm with his parents, following the occupation of a farmer and receiving his property from his father. He married Mary, daughter of Braddock Peckham, of Grafton, by whom four children were born, of whom one only, Charles W., is living. Mrs. Mary Reynolds was born in Grafton.

Both Clark and William Reynolds were staunch supporters of the Democratic party.

Polk & Dallas Campaign Banner 1844


Irwin county [Georgia]
Tuesday morning, October 29th 1844

Dear Sir,

Yours of September 20th came duly at hand stating your health was not very good at present. I am very sorry to hear that you have not got rid of that sore throat yet. If you will make a cup of strong sage tea and put eight or ten drops of egg fortes to it and gargle it for three times a day, you will soon get rid of it. My health is very bad at present.

Judge Lott Warren of Georgia warned fellow members of Congress in 1841, “…no power, earthly, can can control them [Georgians] in their resistance to the death of any interference with their property rights.”

I attended court in the city of Hawkinsville [Pulaski county, Ga.] last week and as court adjourned, I proposed that we have a meeting for political discussion. Accordingly a meeting was appointed on Saturday. N. V. Johnston being present [and] he being a Democratic Candidate for elector, he was first called for I never heard a more powerful speaker than he was. He was then replied to by Judge [Lott] Warren, ex member of Congress, for two hours. We then adjourned for dinner. After dinner, my having called for the meeting, I was called on and spoke for three hours and a half. My lungs having failed me, I was obliged to sit down for I commenced bleeding at the lungs. A doctor being present, it was soon stopped. I was replied to by William H[arris] Crawford who had been beaten for Congress by Seaborn Jones, a thorough Democrat. It has been said by many who are good speakers that my speech was the most powerful speech ever delivered in Georgia and N. V. Johnston has requested me to write the speech. I shall comply with his request.

I have made 78 speeches since I started on the campaign and never exerted myself as I did on the last occasion. I promised Johnston to meet him in the city of Savannah next Saturday to speak at a meeting held by the Whigs. I am sorry that my lungs cannot hold out till the Presidential Election to speak daily.

“The Whigs may talk and sing over their Clay and Frelinghuysen. Harry may go home to Ashland and stay there and his Frelinghuysen may sing psalms and shed his tears in sympathizing over the unfortunate Indians that were in Georgia while he preaches and prays to his Abolition brothers for the slaves of the South. Georgia knows them both too well.”

— H. N. Clark, 29 October 1844

Since our October election, it seems that Federalism has no resting place in Georgia. The triumph is overwhelming for the cause of Democracy. Georgia is safe-sure for Polk and Dallas. The Whigs may talk and sing over their Clay and Frelinghuysen. Harry may go home to Ashland and stay there and his Frelinghuysen may sing psalms and shed his tears in sympathizing over the unfortunate Indians that were in Georgia while he preaches and prays to his Abolition brothers for the slaves of the South. Georgia knows them both too well. This Indian government they wanted to establish within the limits of Georgia is too well recollected if they were not Federalists and tariffites and not opposed to Texas and the South, for the voters of Georgia to support them for President. It would be with affectation to conceal the sincere and heartfelt gratification which pervades the bosom of every friend of the Republican cause on the glorious triumph that has crowned the efforts of the Democracy.

We had confidently anticipated a majority favorable to our cause. But when the gales brought on their wings the glad tidings of a radical and overwhelming Revolution, we experienced a thrill of joy which we are proud to acknowledge. The result is one of transitory importance but has decided issues of transcendent magnitude. It is not investing it with too great importance to say that it decides the question as to the vote of the state in November next for the Presidency. It proves that 1844 is not 1840, and that the coons [Whigs] of that period “fat and sleek” have dwindled down to a lean, lank, decrepit animal—a fair representation of Federal Whiggery. It demonstrates too that Henry Clay is not Harrison, and that hundreds and thousands who enlisted under “Tip and Ty” have now returned to their first love.

All recollect the chilling influence pronounced upon the Democrats of 1840 by their unexpected defeat in Georgia. All acknowledge the encouraging effect of the glorious triumph now. It has inspired the patriot with renewed confidence in the stability and prosperity of our happy institutions affording the most cheering evidence of the increasing attachment of the people of Georgia to the principles of the South and of the firm devotion to the constitution of the government. We are entitled to eight members to Congress and two Senators. We now stand equal 4 & 1.

When I commence writing upon politics, I don’t know when to stop. For fear of saying too much on politics, I will close by saying that you must excuse my bad writing. You know that I never was a writer.

I am glad to hear that Noyes is at the study of law. He must also make politics his study. I am likewise very sorry to hear of Stiles meeting with such a misfortune. You never have let me into the mystery of your own case. I hope you will not withhold it from me any longer. You did not write whether any of those young married people have children yet nor whether you have had anymore marriages. I suppose Emily has an heir by this time. Write what the people are all doing. I expect M. child is walking about and talking. Write me when you have seen her and what she is doing. Tell M. C. and the old man they must go for [ ] for I have a thousand dollars but that they are elected and will stake another thousand.

You must write as soon as you receive this for soon after election which comes the same day yours does, I shall start for East Florida to my plantation and from there if my health continues bad, I will either go to Key West or Texas. I want to wind up my business so that I can come North to spend some four months at Saratoga or Lebanon [Springs]. My partner tells me we can do it is people won’t [ ] on us as they have this year.

Give my respects to your father’s family and Z. M. C. I remain yours till death, — H. N. Clark

Send me the names of your candidates for electors and of the county officers.

I intend coming North in time to spend the Fourth of July if you should have a celebration. You might perhaps give me a chance to speak for you on the occasion if you should think me worthy. I would endeavor to do my best. I have no doubt but Noyes is a good speaker by this time. Direct your letters as you have done before at House Creek Post Office.

Last year the Whigs elected their Governor by 3,000. We now have a popular vote of 3,000 and will enlarge it in November.

This letter was neglected to be mailed by my servant until I arrived home from Savannah. This letter was mailed in Jacksonville in consequence of my being attending court.