The Federal Hall Memorial building at 26 Wall Street, on the site of the city hall and jail built in British colonial times, is considered the birthplace of the Constitution's guarantee of a free press. In 1734, a local printer, John Peter Zenger, was arrested on charges of seditious libel because his paper, the New-York Weekly Journal, had offended the royal authorities. Zenger was jailed downstairs here for months while his trial was conducted upstairs. The Journal failed to appear November 18, 1734, immediately after his arrest, but resumed the next week with Anna Catharine Maul Zenger, his wife, getting the issues out on the basis of instructions her husband gave through his cell door. Under Anna Zenger's hand, the Journal carried this account in her husband's voice:
As you last week were disappointed of my Journal, I think it incumbent on me to publish my apology, which is this. On the Lord's Day, the seventeenth, I was arrested, taken and imprisoned in the common jail of this City by virtue of a warrant from the Governor, the honorable Francis Harison, and others in the Council (of which, God willing, you will have a copy); whereupon I was put under such restraint that I had not the liberty of pen, ink or paper, or to see or speak with people, until my complaint to the honorable Chief Justice at my appearing before him upon my habeas corpus on the Wednesday following. He discountenanced that proceeding, and therefore I have had since that time the liberty of speaking thro' the hole of the door to my wife and servants. By which I doubt not you will think me sufficiently excused for not sending my last week's Journal, and hope for the future, by the liberty of speaking to my servants thro' the hole of the door of my prison, to entertain you with my weekly Journal as formerly.
Eight months later, after an eloquent summation by his attorney, Andrew Hamilton, Zenger was acquitted. A half-century later, the First Congress convened in New York, then the capital, to debate and adopt the Bill of Rights. They met here in the old city hall, by then Federal Hall. And this was where freedom of the press became part of the law of the United States.
The Old John Street Chapel at 44 John Street is now the United Methodist Church. It is the second replacement on this site of the first Methodist place of worship in America, the Wesley Chapel, built in 1768. The narrative of the survival of Methodism here shows that a woman, Barbara Ruckle Heck, was a crucial force when the going got rough.
Barbara Ruckle Heck (1734-1804) is called "the mother of New World Methodism." She helped to found the first Methodist congregation in America, which built a chapel at 44 John Street. The present building is the third church on the site. Born in Ireland to Lutheran parents who had fled religious persecution of Protestants in the German Palatine, Heck grew up in a community deeply influenced by John Wesley and his followers. She became a Methodist at the age of 18. In 1760 she married Paul Heck and set out with a group of Irish Palatines for the New World, settling in New York. Under the leadership of her cousin, Philip Embury, the group tried and failed to create a linen industry. A temporary stay in the city stretched to six years. Discouraged, the group lost its zeal for religion. Heck turned out to be the group's anchor. In 1766, when she found presumed observant Methodist relatives playing cards in her kitchen, she swept the cards from the table and flung them into the fireplace. She then marched the group to Embury's house, saying, "Philip, you must preach to us or we will all go to hell together, and God will require our blood at your hands." Embury countered that he had neither congregation nor preaching house. "Preach in your own house and to your own company," Heck argued. The Wesley Chapel, first in America, was built on this site in 1768. The current building incorporates timbers and stones from the original.
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It was nearly dark: he heard from a neighboring steeple a solemn toll that seemed to say some poor mortal was going to their last mansion: the sound struck on the heart of Montraville, and he involuntarily stopped, when, from one of the houses, he saw the appearance of a funeral. Almost unknowing what he did, he followed at a small distance; and as they let the coffin into the grave, he enquired of a soldier who stood by, and had just brushed off a tear that did honour to his heart, who it was that was just buried. "An please your honour," said the man, "tis a poor girl that was brought from her friends by a cruel man, who left her when she was big with child, and married another." Montraville stood motionless, and the man proceeded--"I met her myself not a fortnight since one night all wet and cold in the streets; she went to Madam Crayton's, but she would not take her in, and so the poor thing went raving mad." Montraville could bear no more; he struck his hands against his forehead with violence; and exclaiming "poor murdered Charlotte!" ran with precipitation towards the place where they were heaping the earth on her remains. . . . To the end of his life he was subject to severe fits of melancholy, and while he remained at New-York frequently retired to the church-yard, where he would weep over the grave, and regret the untimely fate of the lovely Charlotte Temple.
Charlotte Temple went through 200 printings and was the country's best-seller until Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.
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Later, after Barbara Ruckle Heck's experience there, the Old John Street Chapel was the first church that the Dutch-speaking former slave then known as Isabella joined after she left Ulster County in upstate New York. She came here in 1828, bearing a document certifying her conversion to Methodism and admitting her to the John Street congregation. Isabella soon joined a group of African Americans in what became the Mother Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church. In June 1843, she announced that she was leaving New York City. Her autobiography dictated in the third person, explained how she adopted Sojourner Truth:
One thing she was sure of – that the precepts, 'Do unto others as ye would that others should do unto you,' 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' and so forth, were maxims that had been but little thought of by herself, or practised by those about her. Her next decision was, that she must leave the city; it was no place for her; yea, she felt called in spirit to leave it, and to travel east and lecture. She had never been further east than the city, neither had she any friends there of whom she had particular reason to expect any thing; yet to her it was plain that her mission lay in the east, and that she would find friends there. . . . Having made what preparations for leaving she deemed necessary, which was, to put up a few articles of clothing in a pillow-case, all else being deemed an unnecessary encumbrance--about an hour before she left, she informed Mrs. Whiting, the woman of the house where she was stopping, that her name was no longer Isabella, but SOJOURNER; and that she was going east. And to her inquiry, 'What are you going east for?' her answer was, 'The Spirit Calls me there, and I must go.'
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The Pace College building at 154 Nassau Street was once the home of Horace Greeley's New-York Daily Tribune. For a time, it had as a staff member Margaret Fuller. She came to New York in 1844, borne on her reputation as a New England transcendentalist, editor of The Dial magazine, and author of the tract Woman in the Nineteenth Century. She had accepted an offer from Greeley and lived with his family at his East River estate while learning to meet the demands of daily journalism. She learned well, Greeley believed. Her chief job was book reviewing, but she branched into reporting, as her 1845 essay on the city's public institutions shows:
Passing to the Penitentiary, we entered on one of the gloomiest scenes that deforms this great metropolis. Here are the twelve hundred, who receive the punishment due to the vices of so large a portion of the rest. And under what circumstances! Never was punishment treated more simply as a social convenience, without regard to pure right, or a hope of reformation. . . . It must be that the more righteous feeling which has shown itself in regard to the prisons at Sing Sing and elsewhere, must take some effect as to the Penitentiary also . . . . The want of proper matrons, or any matrons, to take the care so necessary for the bodily or mental improvement or even decent condition of the seven hundred women assembled here, is an offense that cries aloud. It is impossible to see them in the Hospital, where the circumstances are a little more favorable, without seeing how many there are in whom the feelings of innocent childhood are not dead, who need only good influences and steady aid to raise them from the pit of infamy and woe into which they have fallen. And, if there was not one that could be helped, at least Society owes them the insurance of a decent condition while here. We trust that interest on this subject shall not slumber.
In 1846, Margaret Fuller left New York, assigned to be the Tribune's correspondent in Italy. She became active in Mazzini's revolutionary movement and met the nobleman Giovanni Angelo Ossoli, whom she may have married, and who fathered her only child. En route to New York, their ship was wrecked and the family of three perished. Margaret Fuller was forty years old.
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The Broadway Tabernacle at 340 Broadway was built in 1836 for a major evangelist. Until 1857, the Tabernacle, which could hold 2,400 people, was the city's main meeting hall for suffragists, abolitionists and prohibitionists. A major voice here was Ernestine Rose, recently identified by the Museum of the City of New York as one of the four hundred most influential people in the city's first four hundred years. Susan B. Anthony considered her a main foremother of the U.S. women's rights movement. Rose was a rebel from an early age. Born in Poland the child of a rabbi, she rejected an arranged marriage and sued successfully for her inheritance from her mother. She married a Christian, and came with him to America in 1836. She soon developed a reputation as a pre-eminent and fierce orator, freethinker, nonbeliever and agitator. At the New York State Women's Rights Convention, held in the Broadway Tabernacle in 1853, Rose made married women's property rights her issue. She began with widows:
The law allows the widow . . . one cow, all sheep in the number of ten, with the fleece and the cloth from the same, two swine, and the pork therefrom. (Great laughter.) My friends, do not say that I stand here to make these laws ridiculous. No; if you laugh, it is at their own inherent ludicrousness; for I state them simply and truly as they are; for they are so ridiculous in themselves, that it is impossible to make them more so . . . . In allusion to the laws respecting wills, I wish to say that according to the Revised Statues of our State, a married woman has not a right to make a will. The law says that wills may be made by all persons, except idiots, persons of unsound mind, married women, and infants. Male infants ought to consider it quite an insult to be placed in the same category with married women. No, a married woman has no right to bequeath a dollar of the property, no matter how much she may have brought into the marriage, or accumulated in it. Not a dollar to a friend, a relative, or even to her own child, to keep him from starving. And this is the law in the nineteenth century, in the enlightened United States, under a Republic that declares all men to be free and equal.
In 1854, Jennings became the first African American to bring a successful lawsuit against race discrimination on public transit in New York City. On a Sunday, on her way to play the organ at church, a conductor on the Third Avenue Railway line tried to eject her because she was riding in a "white-only" car. This was at Pearl Street and Chatham Square. With financial aid from her father, her lawsuit was handled by a noted white firm. She testified vigorously:
I told him not to lay his hands on me; he took hold of me and I took hold of the window sash and held on; he pulled me until he broke my grasp and I took hold of his coat and held on to that, he also broke my grasp from that (but previously he had dragged my companion out, she all the while screaming for him to let go). He then ordered the driver to fasten his horses, which he did, and come help him put me out of the car; they then both seized hold of me by the arms and pulled and dragged me flat down on the bottom of the platform, so that my feet hung one way and my head the other, nearly on the ground. I screamed murder with all my voice, and my companion screamed out "you'll kill her; don't kill her." The driver then let go of me and went to his horses; I went again in the car, and the conductor said you shall sweat for this; then told the driver to drive as fast as he could and not to take another passenger in the car; to drive until he saw an officer or a Station House.
The jury awarded her damages of $225, and the case began the desegregation of the city's public transit. The sign "Elizabeth Jennings Place" at the corner of Spruce Street and Park Row is over a bus stop, to remind us that a century before Rosa Parks, segregation was challenged by an earlier courageous black woman.
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