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Becoming American:  1784-1792



Carey Received an Unexpected Favor from Lafayette

Carey arrived in Philadelphia with just twelve guineas to his name.  Under sail on the America, he foolishly gambled at cards losing half his money.  In a twist of fate, Carey received the funds he needed to make a new start in the United States.  Following his arrival on November 1, 1784, a companion on the America continued to Virginia to meet with George Washington.  Lafayette was visiting Mount Vernon.  When he learned that Carey had landed in Philadelphia, he made plans to meet with him on the way to New York.  When they met, Carey discussed his desire to publish a newspaper in Philadelphia.  The next morning, Carey was surprised to discover a note from Lafayette with four one hundred dollar bank notes to buy a printing press.  The Marquis also recommended him to his friends, auspiciously launching Carey's career.[1]

"...a most extraordinary and unlooked-for circumstance occurred, which changed my purpose, gave a new direction to my views, and in some degree, colored the course of my future life." [2]

Mathew Carey

The Pennsylvania Evening Herald

Six English-language newspapers and one in German were already in circulation in Philadelphia.  Despite the competition, on January 6, 1785, Carey boldly announced his plans to publish the Pennsylvania Evening Herald every Tuesday and Saturday evening.  He had not purchased a printing press.  As Carey began to bid on a press at auction, he realized that Eleazer Oswald, editor of the Independent Gazetteer, was bidding against him.

Oswald was a veteran of the Revolution and an ardent nativist, even though he had come to the colonies from England at the age of fifteen.  Enemies described him as a "seditious turbulent man."  Oswald feared the brash young foreigner from Ireland would become a fierce competitor.  Oswald tried to outbid him.  Carey bought the press, but he nearly paid the price of a new one.[3]

The inaugural issue of the Pennsylvania Evening Herald appeared as announced on January 25, 1785.  Response was poor.  Two months later, he took on William Spotswood and Christopher Talbot as partners.  Readership failed to increase.  He raised the price of his newspaper even though it competed against six others. 

Then Carey attended a town meeting about trade in the United States, to report on it in the Herald.  He heard Jared Ingersoll, an urbane and skillful lawyer deliver a stirring speech without notes.  When Carey returned home, he accurately jotted down the speech.  Ingersoll reviewed it, commenting that Carey did a good job recollecting his speech.[4]

The success of that report encouraged Carey to publish the debates of the Pennsylvania Assembly.  Despite his lack of stenographic skills, he managed to recount the debates with accuracy, increasing the Herald's circulation.  It gave him the competitive edge.  No other newspaper in Philadelphia reported the debates. 

[1] Mathew Carey, Autobiography, (Brooklyn:  Research Classics, 1942) 10.

[2]  Carey, Autobiography,10.

[3] Carey, Autobiography, 11.

[4] Carey, Autobiography, 12.

[5] Carey, Autobiography, 12.

Eleazer Oswald Challenged Carey to a Duel

After the Pennsylvania Evening Herald proved to be successful, Eleazer Oswald attacked Carey's support of immigrants and aliens.  Carey ran a series of articles in the Herald asserting that immigration benefited the new republic, but that America was a melting pot.  Foreigners needed to assume an American identity.  He advocated a fund to encourage foreigners to come to the United States.  He praised a society for German immigrants in Maryland and suggested a similar society for the Scots and Irish in Philadelphia.[1]

A letter in the Herald, probably written by Carey, "A Friend to Equality of Freedom and Learning in Pennsylvania," proposed a school to teach Germans English.  Germans represented one-third of Pennsylvania's population.  Their native language hindered them from taking part in Pennsylvania politics.  This viewpoint was consistent with Carey's nationalism throughout his life.  He disdained factionalism.  The United States had a duty to foreigners to protect, educate and grant them citizenship.  The result, he argued, was an educated enlightened country of united citizens.[2]

Carey's opinions provoked Oswald, a staunch advocate of native control of America's new government.  He did not want offices involving profit or trust to be given to anyone of foreign birth.  Oswald's attack on Carey was a broad-based assault on immigrants and their participation in politics.  That included the Constitutionalist Party, a combination of Ulster radicals from western Pennsylvania, allied with artisans and shopkeepers in Philadelphia.  Carey had joined a group of "newly adopted sons," an auxiliary of the Constitutionalist Party.[3]

At first, Carey and Oswald argued about the role and character of immigrants and native-born Americans.  Then the fight escalated.  Oswald claimed that Carey had incited a riot of radicals in the Pennsylvania Assembly.  Carey ably defended himself against Oswald's accusations.  Oswald was no stranger to controversy.  His invectives had led him there before.  Oswald crossed the Rubicon.  Carey's "crooked politics" he wrote, "are corresponsive to the deformity of [his] person," referring to Carey's escape from Dublin dressed as a woman.  Oswald then speculated on how Carey disguised his "cloven" foot.[4]

Deeply offended, Carey retaliated with a biting attack on Oswald, a satirical poem, the Plagi-Scurriliad.  Oswald challenged Carey to a duel.  Carey felt honor-bound to respond. 

On the morning of January 18, 1786, as he anticipated the duel, Carey felt his courage wane.  "To stand up in a field to be shot like a crow," he wrote "had a...menacing effect."  To calm his nerves, he drank a few glasses of wine, and set out for New Jersey.  Once underway, his confidence returned.  As he approached the appointed location he found that several spectators had come to see the duel.[5]

"Your being a cripple is your main protection against personal insults, which your oblique insinuations would otherwise challenge." [6]

Eleazer Oswald


"...if I displayed the white feather, I would nevermore see Philadelphia." [7]

Mathew Carey

Oswald and Carey faced off at ten paces near Camden, New Jersey.  As their seconds were making arrangements, loading pistols, and pacing the ground, Oswald made overtures to reconcile.  Carey refused the offer.  Oswald, a former soldier, was an accomplished marksman.  Carey was not.  As Carey took aim, he thought of Oswald as the father of six and purposely missed his target.   Oswald delivered a ball to Carey's thigh just above his knee.  Observers saw Carey jump a foot or more into the air before landing on the ground.  At first he did not feel his wound.   On the ground, when he saw blood spurting from his thigh, like a "jet d'eau" he realized he had been hit.  Oswald walked away from the duel uninjured.  Oswald inflicted Carey with an injury that worsened his already pronounced limp.[8]

Carey's friends dressed his wound, carrying him back to his bed in Philadelphia.  He carelessly neglected his injury, hobbling around Philadelphia on crutches for fifteen months.  Following the duel Carey withdrew his accusations against Oswald, who responded in kind.[9]

[1] Edward C. Carter II, "Political Activities of Mathew Carey," 63.

[2] Carter, "Political Activities of Mathew Carey," 63.

[3]  Carey, Autobiography, 12-13;  Carter, "Political Activities of Mathew Carey, Nationalist, 1760-1814," Phd Dissertation, Bryn Mawr College, 1962, 63-4.

[4]  Carter, "Political Activities of Mathew Carey," 65-6.

[5]  Carey, Autobiography, 14-15.

[6] Carey, Autobiography, 13.

[7] Carey, Autobiography, 14.

[8]  Carey, Autobiography, 14.

[9]  Carey, Autobiography, 16.


The Columbian Magazine

In October 1786, still on crutches recuperating from his duel with Oswald, Carey launched the Columbian Magazine.  He formed a partnership recruiting Thomas Seddon, Charles Cist and James Trenchard with William Spotswood and Christopher Talbot from the Herald.   Carey wrote four articles for the first issue including one predicting a canal connecting the Ohio River to the Susquehanna and Delaware.  The partners quarreled, and dividing the magazine's profits among six partners proved to be impractical.  After two months, Carey left to publish his own magazine. [1]

[1] Carey, Autobiography, 22.  

  The American Museum Promoted a National Cultural Identity

 In January 1787, Carey published the American Museum, to preserve, he said, "...the valuable fugitive pieces that appeared in the newspapers..." [1]  He collected articles from many sources on economic, political and social topics.  Benjamin Franklin supported his efforts to create a distinctly American magazine.  He subscribed to it and contributed an article, "Consolations for America," which appeared in the first issue.  George Washington praised the magazine recommending its circulation throughout the United States.

Carey published the prose and poetry of American authors, awakening Americans to their unique culture.  At the time, Americans considered British authors to be superior to those in the United States.  The nation was making history, and Carey was determined to preserve it.  He published Revolutionary battle accounts, documents about the Constitution, the Federalist papers, Hamilton's "Report on Manufactures", letters and state papers.  Dr. Benjamin Rush was a contributor, as were poet and newspaper editor Philip Freneau, poet Francis Hopkinson, abolitionist Anthony Benezet and New York's Governor Livingston. [2]

 [1] Carey, Autobiography, 22. 

 [2] Earl L. Bradsher, Mathew Carey, Editor, Author and Publisher:  A Study in American Literary Development, (New York:  Columbia University Press, 1912) 5-7.


Ratification of the Constitution

In the Museum's first issue, January 1787, Carey promoted the idea of completely revising the Articles of Confederation.  Using the pseudonym "Nestor" Dr. Benjamin Rush submitted an article "To the People of the United States" pointing out the inherent weaknesses of the Articles.  Throughout his early issues Carey included pieces that favored national unity and a new constitution. [1]  Once states had ratified the Constitution, the Museum featured articles promoting policies and legislation to form a strong central government. [2]  Articles in the American Museum have endured, providing a valuable resource for historians studying the ratification. [3]  Articles about Philadelphia's federal procession are the best record of the event. [4] 

[1]  Carter, "The Political Activities of Mathew Carey," 141-2.

[2]  Carter, "The Political Activities of Mathew Carey," 160.

[3]  Conversation with John P. Kaminski, Director, Center for the Study of the American Constitution, University of Wisconsin, Madison, June 22, 2006, during the 35th Institute for the Editing of Historical Documents.

[4] Laura Rigal, " ' Raising the Roof' Authors, Spectators and Artisans in the Grand Federal Procession of 1788," Theatre Journal, V. 48 N. 3 (October, 1996) 255.


 The Federal Procession of 1788 


At sunrise on Friday, July 4, 1788, the peal of a bell from Christ Church followed by booming cannon from the Rising Sun, anchored off Market Street, announced the day of the Federal Procession.  Philadelphians had much to celebrate.  Not only was it the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, ten states had ratified the Constitution.  Along the Delaware River, ten ships dressed out with white flags fluttering in a brisk breeze respectively identified New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia.  Five thousand participants gathered in the side streets to form a mile and a half procession that wound over a three-mile course. [1]

Under cloudy skies the procession was underway by half past nine, lead by twelve axe men dressed in white, signifying severance of America's ties with Great Britain.  The First City Troop of light dragoons followed.  A horseman bearing a staff topped by a liberty cap, and a silk flag emblazoned with "Fourth of July, 1776" in gold letters celebrated the country's declaration of independence twelve years earlier.  Next, mounted on a horse that once belonged to Count Rochambeau, a rider paid homage to America's alliance with France.  He carried a white silk flag with three fleurs-de-lys and thirteen stars in union.  More light dragoons followed as a band kept the procession moving to a grand march. [2]

A team of six horses drew a twenty-foot float bearing a statue of a bald eagle, its breast emblazoned with thirteen silver stars on a sky blue field over thirteen red and white stripes.  A liberty cap surmounted the Constitution, framed and fixed on a staff bearing the words "The People" in gold letters. [3]

Highlighting the country's unity, ten men representing the ratifying states walked arm-in-arm.  William Williams and his crew worked four days to erect the Federal Edifice or The New Roof, emblematic of the Union.   Thirteen Corinthian columns supported a dome, surmounted by a cupola bearing a figure of plenty with a cornucopia.  The pedestal was emblazoned by the words "In unison the fabric stands firm."  Mounted on a carriage, the Federal Edifice, painted white and drawn by ten white horses, underscored the economic bounty and benefits of unified states.  Four hundred and fifty architects and house carpenters followed, bearing the insignia of their trade. [4]

Trade organizations made up most of the procession.  Federal troops of light cavalry, infantry and militia, merchants, clergy, government officials, professors and students were interspersed throughout the parade. [5]

The manufacturing society's float, twenty-ninth in the procession, symbolized the importance of American-made fabric to the nation.  Ten bay horses drew a thirty-foot float covered with white cotton of American manufacture.  The float featured a carding machine with two workers carding cotton at a rate of fifty pounds per day.  A spinning machine with eighty spindles demonstrated drawing cotton fiber for "fine jeans or federal rib."  A man wove fabric on a large loom with a flying shuttle.  One flag bore the inscription "May the union government protect the manufactures of America," and the weavers' flag read, "May government protect us."  Nearly one hundred tradesmen followed the float.  In his observations on the procession, Dr. Benjamin Rush expected cotton manufacturing would unify the nation. [6]

"Cotton may be cultivated in the southern, and manufactured in the eastern and middle states, in such quantities, in a few years, as to clothe every citizen of the United States.  Hence will arise a bond of union to the states, more powerful than any article of the New Constitution."  [7]      

                                                          Dr. Benjamin Rush, American Museum


Philadelphia's merchants and traders marched with a ship's flag.  One side of the flag depicted a merchant ship, the Pennsylvania, with the inscription "4th July, 1788," ten illuminated stars and "three traced round in silver, but not yet illuminated."  The other side of the flag praised the virtues of America's international trade, represented by a globe surmounted with a scroll inscribed in French "For all the world."  Tench Coxe, a friend of Carey's and promoter of tariffs and trade with France, marched with his fellow merchants. [8]

Carey accompanied the printers, bookbinders and stationers' float, fifty-seventh in the procession.  Four gray horses drew a stage, nine feet square, mounted with the federal printing press, worked by two pressman.  A compositor demonstrated typesetting.  An actor portraying Mercury, "the god of intelligence" wore a costume adorned with wings on his head and feet.  He danced through the crowd tossing four thousand copies of a poem to onlookers.  Francis Hopkinson wrote the poem for the occasion.  He was the organizer of the procession.  Periodically Mercury attached packages of Hopkinson's ode to carrier pigeons.  He released them from his hat, and they flew to locations in the ten ratifying states.  The printers and bookbinders' standard bore the motto "We protect and are supported by liberty."  Fifty members of the trades followed. [9]

Ministers and rabbis, seventeen in all, marched together, five of them arm-in-arm.  They celebrated America's dedication to religious freedom, and the importance of the Union.  Rush noted "The Clergy...manifested...their sense of the connexion between religion and good government." [10]

The procession ended at William Hamilton's estate, Bush Hill.  There, on Union Green, the food committee had arranged tables covered with canvas awnings.  They encircled the Federal Edifice.  The committee prepared enough food to serve 17,000 Philadelphians.  At 12:30 p.m. the procession drew to a close.  James Wilson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who helped to draft the Constitution, mounted the Edifice to deliver a short oration. [11]

In his observations, Benjamin Rush emphasized the civility of the event.

"It was remarkable that every countenance wore an air of dignity as well as pleasure...Rank for a while forgot all its claims, and Agriculture, Commerce and Manufactures, together with the learned and mechanical Professions, seemed to acknowledge, by their harmony and respect for each other, that they were all necessary to each other, and all useful in cultivated society." [12]

                                               Dr. Benjamin Rush, American Museum

 Rush wrote that he "derived no small pleasure...that out of seventeen thousand people who appeared on the green, and partook of the collation, there was scarcely one person intoxicated, nor was there a single quarrel or even dispute...all was order, all was harmony and joy."  He attributed this in part to the libations being beer and cider, rather than "spirituous liquors."  Later he amended his comments noting there were several quarrels. [13]

When Mathew Carey reached Union Green at Bush Hill, he noted that the organizers had not thought to post guards.  "When the procession entered the demesne, I saw a number of...plunderers with hams, legs of mutton & pieces of beef climbing the fences and decamping with their prey," he wrote.  It took him awhile to connect with the master of ceremonies to find his designated table.  Others had already enjoyed some of the food.  He and his associates attacked the remains of a large ham.  "In the midst of our operations," he recounted, "a long arm appeared over my head, and the hand which preceded it seized hold of the Ham--and the marauder, as he carried off the plunder ejaculated with a violent oath that he had not had a mouthful...he appeared by his costume to have pretensions to the character of a gentleman, being elegantly dressed.  We were for a moment at a Stand[still] whether to resist the violence or laugh...the latter prevailed. [14]

[1] "Account of the federal procession in Philadelphia, July 4, 1788," American Museum, July 1788, 57. 

[2] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 57-8.

[3]  "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 58.

[4] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 59.

[5] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 59.

[6] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 60.

[7] Benjamin Rush, "Observations on the Philadelphia procession," American Museum, 76.

[8] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 62.

[9] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 66-7.

[10] Rush, "Observations," American Museum, 77.

[11] "Account of the federal procession," American Museum, 70-1.

[12] Rush, "Observations," American Museum, 76.

[13] Rush, "Observations," American Museum, 79-80.

[14] Mathew Carey, Miscellanies II, ms. c. 1834, private collection, 33-5.

Establishing a National Distribution Network for the Museum 

Newspapers were usually circulated in one city.  Carey sent his magazines to locations throughout the United States.  That gave his contributors the widest audience.  Nearly all of America's prominent figures read it.  Articles in the Museum stressed the importance of a strong central government, America's potential for greatness and the importance of trade and commerce to the national economy. [1]

Carey found subscribers throughout the nation at a time when America's fledgling postal service and roads were rudimentary.  He contacted writers, printers and friends in most of the thirteen states, circulating an advertisement for the Museum to collect subscriptions.

He spent several years setting up the network.  In 1787 Carey initially sent copies of the magazine to six printers in four cities:  Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Charleston.  He enlisted the help of his brother John, and James Stewart, a future business partner.  His contacts with booksellers helped to increase circulation.  During the first three months of 1789 John Carey traveled through Maryland and Virginia to twenty-seven towns surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, convincing agents to offer subscriptions to residents in their vicinities. [2]

 "...a more useful literary plan [for the American Museum] has never been undertaken in America or one more deserving of public encouragement..." [3]

                               George Washington

Carey loved to ride [4]  Later that year he undertook an ambitious expedition on horseback of almost 2,000 miles, firming up agreements with existing agents and seeking more representatives in rural Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia. [5]

One evening he lodged at an inn with suspicious characters.  As he undressed for bed, he let his pantaloons drop to the floor.  The telltale jingle of gold and silver coins in his pocket alerted the men that he was transporting specie.  As he set out the next day, two men tried to rob him.  He carried a gun and brandished it, thwarting their efforts.  This experience taught him the dangers of carrying gold and silver coins on the road when his bank in Philadelphia often refused to accept notes from banks in the South. [6]

In 1791, Carey distributed his magazine to forty-eight agents, the largest number he achieved in his network.  In August, twenty of his representatives ended their arrangement with him.  Carey had difficulty replacing them. [7]

Carey met with frustrations at every turn.  Workers poorly packaged the magazines sent to distant locations.  He could not rely on shippers to deliver the magazines.  Roads were primitive, and at times, impassable.  Collecting payments was difficult, either because Carey's agents would not follow through, or because subscribers had unreliable deliveries.  When subscribers failed to pay, Carey hired collection agents.  That cut into his profits. [8]  Despite these setbacks Carey garnered subscribers from every state except Vermont and New Hampshire.  He also sold subscriptions in Europe and the Caribbean. [9]


"Never was more labor bestowed on a work with less reward.  During the whole six years [of the Museum's publication] I was in a state of intense penury." [10]

Mathew Carey


 [1]  Robert W. Sellen, "The American Museum, 1797-1792, as a Forum for Ideas of American Foreign Policy," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, 93 (1969) 179-80.

[2]  Robb K. Haberman, "Civic Rivalry in Postrevolutionary American Magazines," Early American Studies:  An Interdisciplinary Journal, V. 10 N. 1, Winter, 2012, 178.

[3]  Carey, Autobiography, ff. 23.

[4]  Mathew Carey, "The Crisis," (Philadelphia:  Printed by William F. Geddes for Mathew Carey, July 26, 1832) 20.

[5] Haberman, "Civic Rivalry," 178.

[6]  Carey, Miscellanies II, 19-27.

[7]  Haberman, "Civic Rivalry," 178-9.

[8]  James N. Green, "From Printer to Publisher:  Mathew Carey and the Origins of Nineteenth-Century Book Publishing," in Getting the Books Out:  Papers of the Chicago Conference on the Book in 19th Century America, ed. Michael Hackenberg (Washington, D.C.:  Center for the Book, Library of Congress, 1987) 28-9.

[9]  Bradsher, Mathew Carey:  A Study, 8.

[10]  Carey, Autobiography, 22.

Next:  Transition to Publisher and Democratic-Republican