Former State Librarian and Director Museum;



(From pages 274-282)


SIMON SNYDER, 1808-17--Governor McKean defeated Simon Snyder,(1) the "Pennsylvania Dutchman," in the election of 1805, but the latter was again returned to the house and elected Speaker.

In January, 1807, John Binns, an ardent friend of Speaker Snyder, was urged by the influential Democrats to remove from Northumberland to Philadelphia and to establish a newspaper there. The "Aurora" had lost its punch; William J. Duane was losing his grip as a leader, and Binns' power and influence were in the ascendent. He yielded to these solicitations and the first number of the "Democratic Press" appeared in Philadelphia, March 27, 1807. He was advised against using the word "Democratic" in his paper's title, and later took much satisfaction in having started the first paper anywhere published under the name. He claimed the title of his paper led to the change of the party name to "Democratic."

Snyder was again nominated in 1808. During this campaign Binns wrote a series of letters, over the signature of "One of the People," addressed to Governor McKean, which were published in all the Democratic newspapers of the State, and also in pamphlets. Binns, from this date and for many years thereafter, became a dominant factor in politics. He had brought back the Constitutional Republicans into the fold, and was able to control the party against both Duane and Dr. Leib, a State Senator.

SimonSnyder.jpg (19345 bytes)

Governor Simon Snyder

Snyder was the candidate of the regular Democrats; John Spayd was the standard bearer of the so-called Constitutional Democrats, or "Quids"; and James Ross, of Pittsburgh, was again the nominee of the Federalists. Snyder was elected, carrying every county, by the overwhelming majority of 24,394, in which the Germans proved their voting strength. He was the first governor selected from the descendants of the sturdy German emigrants, who had very generally settled in Pennsylvania; also the first taken from the ranks of the laboring class; and the first native executive of Pennsylvania born outside of a Quaker county. The inauguration ceremony took place December 20, 1808.

No sooner had the election occurred than the Governor was importuned to appoint Dr. Leib to the office of Secretary of the Commonwealth, but the astute executive named N. B. Boileau, of Montgomery County, to that important place. Dr. Leib was elected to the United States Senate early in 1809, but Governor Snyder's course was by no means pleasing to Duane. The "Press" defended him, while the "Aurora" criticized everything he did. The "Aurora" threatened to impeach the Governor, and Binns called the "Aurora" and its supporters "The Philadelphia Junto."

Early in 1809 the Democrats passed a resolution in the Legislature recommending that the members of the next Legislature "appear in clothes of domestic manufacture."

In 1808 a case which had been in existence since the Revolution brought the State of Pennsylvania into collision with the Supreme Court of the United States. The Commonwealth found itself even in danger of armed collision with the Federal Army, and there was great excitement in Philadelphia for several days over what has since been known as the "Fort Rittenhouse" affair.

The story begins in a heroic episode of the Revolution, when the British sloop, "Active," en route from Jamaica to New York, with stores for the British Army, was captured by Captain Gideon Olmsted and three other Connecticut sailors. They had some months before been captured, taken to Jamaica, and there forced to join the "Active's" crew, but rose one night off the Cape of Delaware, and made for Little Egg Harbor. Two days later the Pennsylvania State cruiser "Convention" and the privateer "Gerard" boarded the "Active," took possession as a prize, carried it to Philadelphia, and libeled it in the State Court of Admiralty, claiming that when they took possession the capture was not complete, the fourteen Englishmen being confined below the hatches and liable to escape.

A jury was impaneled to settle the facts, and the court, on their findings, gave one-fourth of the prize to the crew of the "Convention," one-fourth to the State of Pennsylvania as owner of the cruiser, one fourth to the "Gerard" and only one-fourth to Olmsted and his associates.

Olmsted appealed to the Congress, which decreed the whole prize to the sailors. The validity of this Congressional Order was disputed by the Pennsylvania State judge in admiralty, on the ground that the finding of the jury was conclusive as to the facts. The prize was, therefore, sold under his order, and the money paid into the court in spite of an injunction from the Congressional committee.

Congress voted to sustain its own right to reverse the decision of a State court, and requested the appointment of a Committee of Conference by the Pennsylvania Legislature. But this was denied, and the State judge ordered to pay over the proceeds. David Rittenhouse, the State Treasurer, then received the one-fourth part awarded to the Commonwealth, and gave the judge a bond of indemnity.

Rittenhouse resigned his office in 1788, and settled his accounts, but retained these certificates of Federal debt. When the public debt was funded he caused these certificates to be funded in his own name, but for the benefit of whom it might concern. When Rittenhouse died, June 26, 1796, the matter was still undecided. In 1801 the State Treasurer called upon Rittenhouse's daughters, Mrs. Elizabeth Sergeant and Mrs. Esther Waters, both widows, the executrixes of his estate, to deliver over the certificates and pay the accrued interest. This they could not do until the Olmsted suits in the State were settled. The State court finally, on technical grounds, declined to interfere. The United States District Court ordered the executors of Rittenhouse to pay the claim, now about $15,000. Such a decree was made in 1803.

Governor McKean urged the Legislature to counteract this and a bill was passed commanding the executors to pay the funds into the State treasury, pledging the State to hold them harmless. During four years nothing more was done. Finally the Supreme Court of the United States issued a mandamus to carry the decree into execution, despite the State law. It was done in February, 1809.

On March 2, Governor Snyder ordered Brigadier General Michael Bright, of the militia, "to protect the daughters of Rittenhouse," who lived in adjoining houses on Arch Street. On the 23d a military guard was posted. The next day Marshal John Smith tried to serve the writ, but was confronted by crossed bayonets. He then summoned a posse comitatus of 2,000 men and fixed on April 14 for the service of the warrant. But on the 10th he entered Mrs. Sergeant's house to arrest her, when she escaped. On the 13th he climbed several fences and gained access to her house through a rear window and arrested her. The Governor and Legislature now receded somewhat, and the latter made an appropriation of $18,000 to meet any contingency; and finally, after a show of resistance, which threatened a sort of civil war in the streets of Philadelphia, the Governor paid over the sum to the marshal out of the appropriation, and thus released the daughters of Rittenhouse. This was a blow to the doctrine of State supremacy.

The office of Receiver General was abolished by Act of Assembly, March 20, 1809.

By the act of February 21, 1810, Bradford and Susquehanna counties were erected. On March 11, 1811, Schuylkill County was formed from parts of Berks and Northampton; Lehigh was taken from Northampton on March 6, 1812; and on February 16, 1813, Lebanon was erected from Lancaster and Dauphin counties; Columbia and Union were taken from Northumberland by act of March 22, 1813; and the last county to be erected during the Administration of Governor Snyder was on March 26, 1814, when Pike was cut from Wayne.

The Northumberland Bridge Company was incorporated October 19, 1811, and its bridge was the first to span the Susquehanna River.

The Academy of Natural Sciences was formed in Philadelphia on January 25, 1812.

The period during which Snyder served as Governor was truly an important and exciting one in national life. The difficulties were great with Great Britain had assumed a most serious attitude, and an open rupture was apprehended at the very beginning of his administration. As early as 1807 active preparations were made by the United States for defense. In 1811 Congress was convened a month earlier, and that body at once endorsed the measures of President Madison, and authorized the calling of troops. Pennsylvania, at this juncture, spoke out most emphatically and resolved to stand by the general government. On March 12, 1812, governor Snyder expressed the feelings of the people of Pennsylvania in his call for fourteen thousand militia. The part played by Pennsylvania in the second war with Great Britain is told in that volume.

When Congress declared war, both of the United States Senators from Pennsylvania, Andrew Gregg and Dr. Michael Leib, and fifteen of her seventeen Representatives voted in favor of the declaration. Massachusetts, on the other hand, sent to Congress a resolution of her Assembly to the effect that the war was "in the highest degree impolitic, unnecessary, and ruinous," and thirteen of her fourteen Representatives voted against the declaration. And, furthermore, New England took no part in the struggle which ensured. Such facts show how important for the interests of the country was the attitude taken by Pennsylvania.

Bins and his party favored war with England; here again he came into opposition with "Leib, Duane & Co.," as the "Press" called them. Duane and Leib lost control of the Legislature. In 1811 the Democrats were again successful, and Snyder was overwhelmingly reelected, defeating William Tilghman by 48,710 majority. The "Aurora" published nothing about the impending war, the "Press" supported every movement which forwarded its progress and this was the popular side. Governor Snyder appointed his friend, Binns, as aide-de-camp, and he was active throughout the war.

In all this contest the government of Pennsylvania was administered faithfully in the interest of the national authority. Governor Snyder believed the war to be justly undertaken, and his supporters were emphatically of the war party. All his energies were devoted to bringing out the forces of the State required for prosecuting the war with vigor. The closing paragraph of his first inaugural address to the Legislature proves the warmth of feeling with which he regarded the support of the Nation in the hour of its tribulation. "In a national crisis like the present," he says, "where all that is dear and precious to the United States is threatened by the violence and aggressions of foreign powers, it is peculiarly and eminently the duty of all the constituted authorities to act in support of the just and honorable measures adopted by the Federal Government, as if animated by one heart, one spirit, and one determination. The happy influence of such an accordance of opinion and action is not bounded by our country, but beneficially extends itself wherever American politics can interest, or American interests be affected."

Pennsylvania began early to show a tendency to become a manufacturing State. Even before the Revolution stockings had been woven in large quantities by the Germans of Germantown; fulling mills, gristmills, and sawmills were along most of the streams, and potteries were numerous. Baron Stiegel had made glass at Manheim since before 1768 and forges and furnaces for the manufacture of iron had been in operation in many places. Early efforts were also made for better highways. The Philadelphia and Lancaster Turnpike, chartered in 1792, had been completed, and by the end of the War of 1812, nearly a hundred turnpike companies had been chartered, and hundred of miles improved road had been constructed. A market for anthracite coal had been found soon after the news of Judge Fell's successful experiment of burning coal in a common grate spread through the town and country. Similar grates were constructed by Judge Fell's neighbors, and in a short time were in general use throughout the Wyoming Valley. The result was a greater sale of coal, and thus began the immense coal trade of the greatest coal State in the Union.

On January 4, 1809, Senator Laird presented the petition of sundry inhabitants of the town of Northumberland, at the forks of the Susquehanna, setting forth the central situation of that growing town, and showing the advantages of fixing the State government there, offering accommodations for the officers of the State and members of the Legislature, and praying a removal of the seat of government thither. This petition was referred to a committee which submitted a report recommending the removal of the seat of government to the town of Northumberland. The Senate, however, when the report was under consideration, struck out the word "Northumberland," and the subject was agitated. On February 17, 1809, the Senate, in Committee of the Whole, endeavored to have the words "City of Philadelphia" inserted as the place for the seat of government, but on vote, the motion was lost, when only eight Senators supported the motion. Then another effort to insert the name of Northumberland was made, also Middletown, and Harrisburg. Northumberland received only seven votes, but when Harrisburg was voted upon the Senate supported it by a vote of fourteen to ten, but the House refused to consider the bill during that session. No further action was taken until February, 1810, when a bill passed both branches of the Legislature and became a law, February 21, 1810. This act consisted of ten sections and provided "that within the month of October, 1812, all the offices attached to the seat of government of this State shall be removed to the Borough of Harrisburg," etc.

The Governor was directed to accept "on behalf and in the name of the Commonwealth the offer of ten acres of land in or adjoining the said Borough of Harrisburg, at $100 per acre, made by William Maclay, adjoining to the four-acre lot formerly appropriated by John Harris for the use of the State," etc. Appropriations were made for the payment of this land and for the erection of office buildings. The Governor was authorized to appoint three commissioners to fix upon a site, procure plans for and superintend the erection of the buildings. He appointed William Findlay, Richard M. Crain, George Bryan, John B. Gibson, and William Gibbons as commissioners and they selected Stephen Mills as architect. A supplement to the act, passed February 7, 1812, provided that all the officers should be removed to Harrisburg during the month of April. A second supplement, passed March 10, 1812, directed "the clerks of the two houses, on or before the 1st of June next (1812), to remove or cause to be removed all the papers, records, books and documents belonging to each house aforesaid, together with whatever furniture may be through fit for removal." The Government of the State was removed in all its departments in the year 1812, from Lancaster to Harrisburg, and the first organization of the latter place was in December of that year, when the sessions of the Legislature were held in the old courthouse.

Governor Snyder was reelected again in 1814, being the last Governor of Pennsylvania to serve three terms. He defeated Isaac Wayne, Federalist, and George Lattimer, Independent, by 20, 623 majority.

Pennsylvania has been remarkably free from crimes against officials holding high office, and yet the nearest attempt was a plot to kidnap Governor Snyder, the crime being one of the most unusual and romantic episodes in history of Pennsylvania.

Early in the year 1816, Richard Smith, as principal in the first degree, and Ann Carson, in the second degree, were tried in Philadelphia, before the Honorable Jacob Rush and his associates, for the murder of John Carson, her husband. The trial resulted in the conviction of Smith and the acquittal of Ann Carson. Smith was a lieutenant in 23d Regiment Infantry, U.S.A. He was of Irish descent, a nephew of Daniel Clark, of New Orleans, and heir to his estate, worth in excess of one million dollars. Ann was the most captivating beauty of the underworld and the most notorious character in the State. She married Carson, a dissipated ex-captain of the United States Navy, who was nearly twice her age.

Several years after this marriage Captain Carson sailed for China, and nothing more was heard from him for four or five years, and his wife believed he had perished at sea. During his absence Ann Carson became infatuated with the dashing young Lieutenant Smith, who occupied an apartment in her home.

In the fall of 1815 Captain Carson appeared at the home and his estranged wife had no welcome for him, when the trio lived a life of continual strife. One evening in January, 1816, the two men met in the parlor of the Carson home, when Smith shot and killed Carson.

Mrs. Carson planned to save Smith from the scaffold. She was able to command the services of the most desperate criminals.

Both Smith and Mrs. Carson knew that Alderman Binns had great influence with Governor Snyder, and their first effort was to bring pressure upon him to secure a pardon for the condemned man. He refused to interfere and in addition published a caustic warning against any attempt to stay the course of justice.

Ann Carson conceived the scheme to kidnap Binns and hold him as hostage for Smith. This plan failed. Then the desperate criminals endeavored to coerce Binns into their measures by planning to kidnap his son, who had been christened Snyder, for the then Governor. This boy was not quite six years of age, but daily went to his school. This plot was communicated to Binns and the child was kept in his home, and this plot also failed. Then the notorious and desperate woman determined to kidnap the Governor himself, and keep him in custody, under a threat of being put to death, if he did not grant a pardon for Smith.

The very night this scheme was determined on, it was, through a lady cousin of Lieutenant Smith's, communicated to John Binns, who immediately dispatched the details of the plot to the Governor, who was then at his home in Selinsgrove.[(2)]

Ann Carson, accompanied by two ruffians, named "Lige" Brown and Henry Way, set out from Philadelphia on horseback to Selinsgrove. But the Governor had hastened to Harrisburg, where he swore out a warrant against the woman, and she was apprehended and held in $5,000 bail, which was furnished by her friends. She returned to Philadelphia. Way escaped from jail after nearly killing his jailer, and was never captured. Lieutenant Smith was executed. Ann Carson died in prison, April 27, 1824, of typhus fever, which she contracted while nursing other victims of the plague.

Albert Gallatin, of Fayette County, was sent to Europe in 1813 to negotiate a treaty of peace with Great Britain. George M. Dallas, of Philadelphia, afterwards Vice President of the United States, accompanied Gallatin as his private secretary.

Upon the resignation of United States Senator, Michael Leib, of Philadelphia, Jonathan Roberts, of Montgomery County, was elected to fill the vacancy; he qualified February 28, 1814.

October 6, 1814, Alexander J. Dallas, of Philadelphia, qualified as Secretary of the Treasury in the cabinet of President James Madison, and, on March 13, following, also assumed the duties of Secretary of War, serving in dual position with great ability.

The financial condition of the country was weak, no money in the treasury, an expensive war, and the credit of the Nation very low. Secretary Dallas soon brought order out of chaos. In 1816 he founded the Second National Bank in Philadelphia, and he advocated a protective tariff, which has ever since strongly influenced the political policy of Pennsylvania.

When the United States Bank closed its doors in 1811, a great demand for State banks was made. Such was the mania for local banks that in 1814 a bill to charter forty-two of them was passed, which was vetoed by Governor Snyder, but passed over his veto. After the British captured Washington, the banks in Baltimore and Philadelphia suspended specie payment, a measure which was promptly followed by other banks throughout the country. The scarcity of coin gave rise to the use of notes for small sums. These came to be known as "shinplasters."

A threatre in Philadelphia was lighted with gas November 25, 1816, the first such building in the United States to be lighted with this fuel.

WILLIAM FINDLAY, 1817-20--Governor Snyder having served three terms was not eligible for another term. A convention was called which excluded all officeholders, and all the counties but two were represented. Sixty-nine of the one hundred thirteen members were not members of the General Assembly. William Findlay,(3) of Mercersburg, Franklin County, was placed in nomination. He was then serving his tenth year as State Treasurer. A legislative convention was held at Carlisle, in June, 1817, and nominated General Joseph Hiester, a wealthy Berks County farmer. Hiester was liberally supported by the Federalists, yet Findlay was elected by a majority of 7,059. His opponents disputed his election, the Assembly decided otherwise, and he was inaugurated December 16. The committee to consider the truth of the charges that he had not been fairly elected, proceeded to investigate them. Three petitions had been presented; one from Philadelphia, signed by sixty-nine persons, another from Lancaster signed by fifty-four, and a third from Cumberland signed by seventy-four. The committee reported that they found no evidence of illegal voting.

An extensive system of internal improvements was presented to the General Assembly by Governor Findlay. It was at this time, also, that the anthracite coal trade began to develop, and private enterprises were encouraged for the transportation of this fuel from the mines to the markets.

(1) Simon Snyder was born in Lancaster, November 9, 1759. His father, Anthony, a mechanic, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1758. After his death in 1774 the son apprenticed himself to a tanner in York, Pennsylvania, and employed his leisure time in study. In 1784 he removed to Selinsgrove, opened a store, became the owner of a mill, and was justice of the peace for twelve years. He was a member of the convention that framed the constitution of 1790, and, in 1797 was elected a member of the General Assembly, of which he was chosen Speaker in 1802, serving in that capacity for six consecutive terms. With him originated the "hundred-dollar act," which embodied the arbitration principle and provided for the trial of causes where the amount in question was less than one hundred dollars. Upon his retirement as Governor, in 1817, he was elected to the State Senate, and died while a member of that body, November 9, 1819. He is buried in Selinsgrove, where the Commonwealth has erected a monument in his memory. Snyder county was named for him.

Gov. 18

(2) SELINSGROVE--Incorporated from Penn Township, April 13, 1827, when part of Union County and named for Anthony Selin who laid out the town. Borough surrendered its corporate government about 1829, and was again incorporated in 1853. Town almost destroyed by fire, February 22, 1872, and October 30, 1874. The earliest settlment was that of George Gabriel, prior to 1754. John Snyder, brother of Governor Simon Snyder, laid out the town originally, and after his death, in 1787, Anthony Selin purchased his property and named it Selin's Grove, a slight change in the present arrangement of Selinsgrove. The Penn's Creek Massacre, October 16, 1755, and that of John Harris' party one week later, both occurred adjacent to and within the present borough of Selinsgrove. Simon Snyder, three times Governor, resided here in a fine stone mansion, erected in 1816, which is still standing. .....

(Godcharles, Frederick A., Litt. D., Pennsylvania Political, Governmental, Military
and Civil, Vol. II, p. 380.)
SSMansion.jpg (21168 bytes)

Governor Snyder's Mansion

(3) William Findlay was born June 20, 1768, in Mercersburg. He was well educated. He married Nancy, daughter of Archibald Irwin, and commenced life as a farmer. He served as a member of the General Assembly 1797 until 1807, when he was elected State Treasurer by the Republicans, or Anti-Federalists. In 1821, he was elected to the United States Senate, and while so serving, two of his brothers, Colonel John Findlay, of Chambersburg, and General James Findlay, of Cincinnati, Ohio, were members of the National Congress. At the expiration of is term, President Jackson, in 1828, appointed him treasurer of the United States Mint, at Philadelphia, which position he held until 1841, when he resigned. His wife having died July 27, 1824, Governor Findlay spent the remainder of his life with the family of his son-in-law, Governor F. R. Shunk, at his residence in Harrisburg, where he died, November 12, 1846.

Submitted by: Wilma Sakowsky

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