That which governs least

IF in any way early Key West deserved a reputation for lawlessness, it had good reason. Located at the farthest end of a vast wilderness, the island knew no permanent residents until 1822, and was initially and problematically governed by a military force. When William A. Whitehead settled there in 1831, he came from a … More That which governs least

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Numbers to neighbors

NINE years after lowering the flag of Spain and fifteen years before statehood, Florida made its debut as a contributor to the United States decennial census. The national enumeration of 1830 separately counts whites, slaves and free persons of color, but records the names only of “heads of families.” Enslaved and free dependents remain anonymous, … More Numbers to neighbors

The greatest gifts

LOWER latitudes and warmer climes than William Whitehead had previously known defined his nineteenth full winter, and each of the nine that followed. On its face this decade of residence in the South answered no maverick yearning for wild frontiers; it sprang instead from Whitehead’s trusted role in the business concerns of his family, spun … More The greatest gifts

Gibraltar of the Gulf

“I considered them,” Commodore David Porter declared with satisfaction, “as merely tolerated on the island….” So slight was the Navy commander’s regard for claims of the self-styled proprietors of Key West.1 Yet his presence, arguably, was the result of these men’s enterprise, especially that of the island’s original purchaser, John W. Simonton, who first caused the … More Gibraltar of the Gulf

Climate of Newark

RECENTLY, there were reports that the Oxford English Dictionary had identified the earliest use of the term “climate change.” In the context in which they appeared–an American scientific magazine of 1854–and even in their inflection, the words differed somewhat from how we read and understand them today. But it’s evident from the brief article where they were … More Climate of Newark

The Daily

BETWEEN the day on which William A. Whitehead, at age 13, left Newark with his family for Perth Amboy and the day that he returned, at age 33, to live there once more with a new family, the place, like Whitehead, had come of age. The Newark he returned to was a far cry from … More The Daily

Our man in London

SELDOM are scholars, scientists or other devotees of learning able to practice their devotions apart from institutions, whether it’s by choice or necessity that they work with or under them. The power wielded by the likes of learned societies, religious organizations, schools or governments at any level, and their shifting propensities to foster or frustrate … More Our man in London

Library Hall

CONVERSATIONS on the New York train touched on topics from the mundane to the sublime, but among a few regular Newark commuters the talk revolved, more often than not, around books. One morning in 1846, as we’re told, the discussion veered from the contents of books to their numbers and distribution: shelves in some homes groaned … More Library Hall

Native sense

WILLIAM A. Whitehead’s East Jersey under the Proprietary Governments1 opens with a map of New Jersey, but a map of long and complicated pedigree. Its placement at the front of this octavo volume is itself a cause of some perplexity. The frontispiece was lithographed from the meticulous pen-and-ink tracing of a section of a much larger … More Native sense

Scot’s Model

THERE’S no second chance to make a first impression, and this had all the makings of an audacious debut. Notices of a new historical society for New Jersey, emanating from the busy pen of its corresponding secretary, had barely reached the meeting rooms of other learned associations around the country. Now they, and the wider … More Scot’s Model