Wandering Wide-Eyed in America, Part 3: Discovering Our Early 19th Century Past

In Part 3 of his reflections on his adopted home country, Eric Anderson, MD, explores some of the crucial events of America's 19th century history.

Any immigrant with a thirst for history would be overwhelmed at being allowed to photograph the North Church lantern that figured in Paul Revere’s famous ride. What could compare? One might say William Clark’s elkskin diary. The journal that Clark, the famous partner of Meriwether Lewis, kept so faithfully has been similarly protected in the Missouri Historical Society in St. Louis. The best, but very detailed discussion, I have read on the expedition is at a University of Nebraska Lincoln website here.

When the Lewis and Clark Expedition arrived at the mouth of the Columbia River on Nov. 16, 1805, Clark calculated they had covered 4,142 miles. The National Park Service has measured it at 3,700 miles but considering the expedition was over rough terrain and water the discrepancy is understandable. The contribution Clark made to our understanding of Northern America’s geography continues to fascinate.

Clark’s text and maps in the journal are very readable. And you really are touching history. Lewis & Clark camp site above the Columbia River at Walla Walla.

The Model 1816 musket, prompted by the War of 1812, was the first standard US military longarm to be produced at both Springfield and Harpers Ferry armories. In all 700,000 were manufactured to prove poet Robert Burns was right when he talked about “man’s inhumanity to man.” The musket, of course, had a smooth barrel; rifled barrels and more accurate and dreadful weapons came later.

The Great Age of Whaling if indeed any activity could be called “great” that so decimated such a marvelous animal as the whale lasted from about 1800 to 1850. Its origins go back many centuries and whaling continued until the 1986 moratorium even after oil was discovered in the fields of Texas and Pennsylvania.

The most famous scrimshaw exhibits are those carved by Frederick Myrick of Nantucket on a whaling voyage of the Nantucket ship Susan. Carved between December 1828 and October 1829 when the Susan came back to Nantucket the 36 pieces are collectively known as Susan’s teeth. In 1955 only seven had been identified; they were thought to be as rare and valuable as a Honus Wagner baseball card, but when a book was published on Myrick calling him “The Rembrandt of Scrimshaw” extra Susan’s teeth “came out of the woodwork.” Nevertheless, one sold in 1982 for $44,000 and in 2012 for $139,320.

Fakes have appeared on the market and dealer Rod Cardoza has some warnings for scrimshaw enthusiasts.

Top: Whaling Museum Maui. A Susan’s Tooth (New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mass.). Pilgrim’s Monument, Provincetown, MA. Whaling ship log (New Bedford Whaling Museum, MA).

As the great whaling fleets massed on the oceans of the world in what was one of the greatest industries of the early 19th century, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna with an army initially of 8,000 was marching on the Alamo.

Santa Anna’s silver urinal recovered after his defeat at the Battle of San Jacinto (Texas State Museum). First Texas Ranger badge and statue at the Texas Ranger Museum, Waco, TX.

Texas gunslingers posing for us at Bandera, TX. The first handgun made by Samuel Colt, Colt No.1 Feb. 25, 1836 in the Museum of Connecticut History, Hartford. CT. Colt revolvers in the second half of the 19th century were often called Equalizers from the advertising: “Be not afraid of any man, no matter what his size. When danger threatens, call on me and I will equalize.”

What can be said about the American Civil War that has not already been said? How can neighbors hate each other enough to kill? How terrible to die in the squalor of the battle field. I used to think how lucky my patients were who had a peaceful death.

Caps and battle equipment, from different armies hanging side by side in small museums in Virginia. So much surgery done that the Civil War surgical kits are found seemingly everywhere. The ones illustrated were photographed in Endview Plantation and in the James A. Fields House in Newport News, VA.

At least when the wagon trains started to rumble over the prairies, any gun carried on the Conestogas was for defense not to kill a neighbor. I’d like to talk about that next.

Photography by the author.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.