The seeds of industry

An emblem of the rising town of Newark, from Charles Basham’s map of 1806.

VACATION memories for most American children are faded by October, but early Newark’s school-age population, generally speaking, enjoyed no summer break. In a period when planting and harvesting called many older students and probably some teachers to farm work, it was left to fall or spring to bring any lengthy respite from the summons of the schoolhouse bell.1

In October 1805 one teacher, Charles Basham, used “the present vacation” to put a proposition to his fellow Newarkers. In the pages of the weekly Centinel of Freedom he offered “a new and accurate Map of the Town & its Environs, to be drawn from actual surveys, and handsomely engraved.” The mapping would begin once he had accumulated 300 subscriptions at two dollars each.2 All evidence indicates that the project was well received. Basham’s map, rendered in pleasing printed form by “the Father of Wood Engraving in this country,” arrived in the hands of its subscribers early in 1806.3

Fortuitously, this map supplies an unusually vivid picture of the town, and even a glimpse of the very house, where William Adee Whitehead was born. The house was not a private dwelling, but “the elegant and spacious fire proof building” of the Newark Banking and Insurance Company. Newly constructed, it occupied a lot at the corner of Maiden Lane (later renamed Bank Street) and the main thoroughfare of Broad Street from which one entered the banking rooms. Whitehead’s father settled his wife and children there, probably in upstairs quarters, when the bank opened its doors in 1805. This would be their home for the eight years that he worked as its cashier.4

The neighborhood of William Whitehead’s earliest years: the old meeting house and its successor, First Presbyterian Church, at far left; the training place (now Military Park) with Trinity Church at far right; the bank left of center; the academy right of center. North is on the right.

One short block away stood the home of the Newark Academy, constructed about a decade earlier. Built, like the bank, entirely of brick but a full story taller (the third floor belonged to a masonic lodge, off-limits to pupils), it was separated from the busy street by a patch of lawn dotted with trees. The academy won admiration from such worthies as Washington Irving, noting the abundance of windows that admitted “sunshine excellent to make little boys grow,”5 but young scholars were surely indebted to the trees for shielding them from the fierce summer sun. Girls attended too. With the advent of a “young ladies’ department” in 1810 girls and boys entered from different streets, and there was no mixing of the sexes.6

The influence of the bank and academy reached far outside the margins of Charles Basham’s map. Until the Newark bank received its charter in 1804, New Jersey had no reliable local source of credit or paper currency. The academy’s reputation spread farther still, attracting boarders from New York and beyond. Yet neither of these institutions is named on extant copies of the map. Churches too can only be identified by appearance and location. A visitor to Newark with this map in hand would still need guidance to arrive at the doors of the academy, the bank or the desired house of worship.7

In reality the map is a work of advertising, whose intent was to celebrate not the established institutions but the untapped potential of a place it bills effusively as “one of the most pleasant and flourishing Towns in the UNITED STATES.” A mixture of image and text highlights the resources with which nature has endowed Newark–its stone quarries, fruit trees and salt meadows–and its handy connection to major markets–the docks on the Passaic River, the proximity of New York and Philadelphia and the routes leading easily to those cities.

It also champions the hard work of Newark’s people, who distilled its renowned cider, turned out finely upholstered carriages of all descriptions, and produced men’s and women’s shoes in such quantity that “in the manufacture of this last article one third of the Inhabitants are constantly employ’d.” The figure of a busy shoemaker helps compose something like a coat of arms, a specimen of republican heraldry sure to appeal to the masses of artisans who drove the town’s growth. It has led Newark historians to dub Basham’s production the “shoemaker map.”8

Newark Academy as it appeared in Whitehead’s youth.

The most forward-looking of early “captains of industry” recognized that schooling was a handmaid to progress. The enterprising Moses Newell Combs, thought to be the first to develop an out-of-town market for Newark-made shoes, also established the earliest “free school” to instruct the poor of the community in “the English language, Writing and Arithmetic.”9

Most schools, however, charged fees and had to adapt to circumstances, or go under. Newark Academy itself, ever in need of funds, was compelled to broaden its reach to accommodate various ages and interests, so that it offered not just the classical curriculum for college-bound students but a full complement of courses in English, including mathematics and geography. Board minutes in 1818 record that the upper-school “English” branch cost $7, the same amount as “the Languages” (meaning Latin and Greek), while fees for the lowest branches were up to teachers’ discretion. The school also looked for support from citizens at large. A hundred local men were added in 1818 to the rolls of the “Associates.” A cash payment of eight dollars entitled them to vote in trustee elections. Whitehead’s father was one of those who joined.10

In promoting and publishing his Newark map Charles Basham claimed an affiliation with the academy. That relationship may best be described as fluid. While it is questionable whether he was ever a principal as has been asserted, he is credibly remembered as an assistant to Thomas Finley, a former headmaster and, at the time the map was produced, head of the classical school.11

Charles Basham’s appeal for more teachers.

After some ambitious educational ventures in New York, Basham returned to open two “select schools” in Newark in the summer of 1812: one “for a limited number of YOUNG LADIES,” the other “for a few YOUNG GENTLEMEN.” Both were to operate in a house on Broad Street “near the Episcopal Church.” Basham needed to hire additional teachers for the 1813-14 winter term, a sign that the first year had been a success. By then, the Whiteheads lived a few houses away and young William, at the age of perhaps 6 or 7, became an attendee in Basham’s “Seminary,” if not a pupil of Charles Basham himself.12

In the few years of formal instruction he had, Whitehead frequented several Newark schools, the last being the academy’s “English” department: to give that experience its due will require a separate chapter in my narrative. Basham’s select school proved less memorable, although there’s nothing to indicate it was any worse than those before or after. Whitehead found that, often, the only available incentive for learning was competition,13 while the sole motivator for good conduct was fear of punishment.

After his death, a friend proclaimed that the poverty of Whitehead’s early education “shows us what prodigies of study he must have performed in after years.”14 But I think it unlikely he kept his energies in reserve for long. Whatever he did to fill his school vacations, it’s doubtful that he gave himself much to idleness.

Copyright © 2019-2023 Gregory J. Guderian

[1] In 1811, besides closures for the Sabbath, holidays and militia training days, Newark Academy had two vacations of three weeks each in October and April. Alden’s New-Jersey register and United States’ calendar, for the year of our Lord, 1811, the thirty fifth, till the fourth of July, of American independence, with an ephemeris and various interesting articles (Newark [1811]) 105.

[2] “Map of Newark,” The centinel of freedom (Newark, N.J.) 29 October 1805 3:4, repeated 5 and 12 November 1805 1:1.

[3] Benson J. Lossing, A memorial of Alexander Anderson, M.D., the first engraver on wood in America. Read before the New York Historical Society, Oct., 5, 1870 (New York 1872) 80. “Basham’s Map of the Town is ready for delivery.” The centinel of freedom 28 January 1806 4:1.

[4] The centinel of freedom 14 May 1805 2:1. This building stood until the 1850s, when it was replaced by a more formidable 4-story structure in stone. “It was in the old banking house of the Company,” Whitehead later wrote, “which stood on the site of the present edifice on the corner of Broad and Bank Streets, that I was born on the 19th February 1810.” “Childhood and youth of W. A. Whitehead 1810-1830.” A transcription of this memoir is held by the Florida History Department, Monroe County Public Library, Key West, Florida, and by the P. K. Yonge Library of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida; page 4 of the transcription contains the reference. The bank operated from Smith Burnet’s home on Broad Street until its headquarters was finished: The centinel of freedom 5 June 1805 3:3. A pseudonymous chronicler of Newark’s past recorded that the new construction displaced a black man named Tom Decker, a barber whose two-story wooden building “was removed to a lot nearly opposite Trinity Church.” “Newark as it was,” Newark (N.J.) daily advertiser 13 June 1863 2:3.

[5] “Memorandums for a tour, to be entitled ‘The stranger in New-Jersey; or, Cockney travelling,” Salmagundi; or, the whim-whams and opinions of Launcelot Langstaff, Esq. and others 4 (24 February 1807) 62. Cf. the memoir attributed to William Rankin, Newark Academy Archives, Box 1603, Folder 5, quoted in Suzanne Geissler, A widening sphere of usefulness. Newark Academy 1774-1993 (West Kennebunk, Me. 1993) 71.

[6] “Both sexes are taught in different apartments, under the same roof, yet they enter the academy on different streets, and all intercourse is precluded.” Alden’s New-Jersey register 104-105; Geissler, A widening sphere 56-57, 61, 63, 65.

[7] These observations apply only to what I regard as Basham’s 1806 map, which had a complicated afterlife. In 1849 Julia M. Smith donated a copy to the New Jersey Historical Society. Two years later, antiquarian Samuel H. Congar gave the Society his manuscript map of the town “as allotted off to the first settlers.” Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society (hereafter Proceedings) ser. 1, 4:1 (1849) 17, 5:4 (1851) 163. A lithograph of Congar’s map by Thomas Bonar of New York was printed at the back of Jonathan F. Stearns, Historical discourses, relating to the first Presbyterian church in Newark (Newark 1853). With the addition of keys to ancient sites and other places depicted by Basham such as the bank and academy, the two maps were united in the Historical Society’s publication Records of the town of Newark, New Jersey, from its settlement in 1666, to its incorporation as a city in 1836 (Newark 1864). Overlaying Congar’s map on Basham’s obscured much of what I consider the intention of the earlier production and, in spite of notes plainly stating that “the Home lots of the first settlers … were not in the Map as published in 1806,” and that “the Map as originally published had no References,” the altered version has circulated widely and been often reprinted and erroneously referred to as the 1806 original. Besides the works cited in note 8, see Joseph Atkinson, The history of Newark, New Jersey, being a narrative of its rise and progress (Newark 1878) 149 with map between 148 and 149, and William H. Shaw, comp. History of Essex and Hudson counties, New Jersey (2 vols. Philadelphia 1884) 1:572 with map facing 1:448.

[8] Frank J. Urquhart, Newark. The story of its awakening 1790-1840 (Newark 1906) 19; idem, A short history of Newark (Newark 1908) 78, (rev. edn. Newark 1916) 88; [idem,] A history of the city of Newark New Jersey embracing practically two and a half centuries 1666-1913 (3 vols. New York and Chicago 1913) 1:520. Cf. James M. Reilly, “Rise and growth of manufactures,” ibid. (2:889-930) 2:893; John F. Cunningham, Newark (Newark 20023) 88; Maxine N. Lurie and Peter O. Wacker, Mapping New Jersey. An evolving landscape (New Brunswick, N.J. 2009) 155.

[9] The New-Jersey journal (Elizabethtown, N.J.) 29 January 1794 3:2; Alden’s New-Jersey register 106; [Urquhart,] A history of the city of Newark 1:518. Cf. Shaw, History of Essex and Hudson counties 1:571-572.

[10] Trustees’ minutes of 27 October and 18 November 1818, Newark Academy Archives.

[11] Page x of the introduction to Records of the town of Newark refers to Basham as “principal of the Newark Academy” in 1806, but see Geissler, A widening sphere 69 and 71. Basham’s assistantship is recalled in “Newark as it was,” Newark (N.J.) daily advertiser 13 June 1863 2:3. Finley was dismissed from the Academy in October 1809: Trustees’ minutes of 12 October 1809, Newark Academy Archives. After Basham left to open a school in New York, he and Finley were associated in the offer of a house and adjoining store for rent in Newark, and subsequently they were partners in a country boarding school in Manhattanville, north of the city. New-York (N.Y.) gazette & general advertiser 14 December 1808 2:1, 24 February 1809 4:2; New-York (N.Y.) evening post 1 May 1809 1:5; Mercantile advertiser (New York, N.Y.) 22 May 1810 4:2, 4:4.

[12] “Select schools,” The centinel of freedom 21 April 1812 3:4. “Teachers wanted…,” The centinel of freedom 2 November 1813 3:5, repeated 9, 16 and 23 November 1813 4:2. “Childhood and youth” 5.

[13] His most vivid memory of Basham’s school was of once reaching first place in the “Dictionary Class” ahead of older boys and, “by dint of hard study,” retaining that rank “for some days.” “Childhood and youth” 5.

[14] Samuel Irenæus Prime, “Memorial of William A. Whitehead,” Proceedings ser. 2, 8:4 (1885) (183-202) 185.

Images: 1) and 2) A map of the town of New-Ark in the state of New-Jersey published in 1806, details: Map 123, Collections of The New Jersey Historical Society. 3) Newark Academy: Old Newark. 4) “Teachers wanted…” The centinel of freedom (Newark, N.J.) 23 November 1813.

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