Looking back to look ahead: Lecture on Antebellum Hagerstown

August 06, 2009|By ABIGAIL YEAGER

Today's newspaper headlines talk about civil strife in Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya, Nigeria, Iraq and more than a dozen other countries.

But more than 150 years ago, before the American Civil War, local newspapers published stories about civil strife in Maryland and West Virginia.

The newspaper accounts caught the attention of John Bryan, historic sites facilitator for the City of Hagerstown.

"During some research I'd done on Hagerstown, I had come across some ... interesting back and forth in the newspaper about the political feelings across the region," Bryan said. "I just found it ... kind of a window into the feelings of the country."

The public is invited to attend a lecture on this topic at the Hager House. The Hager House is the original home of Hagerstown founder Jonathan Hager. The house was built in 1739.


Bryan's presentation is based on articles published in The Herald and Torchlight and The Daily Mail during the period leading up to the Civil War.

"It gives you a chance to get into the mind of what people were thinking," he said, "and how much of a conflict it was between neighbors and brothers."

Partisan factions were egged on by news reports and editorials in the two newspapers. These articles are what gave Bryan the idea for the presentation.

This lecture is not connected to Hager House's 270th anniversary this year, or directly to Jonathan Hager. But Bryan said he considers the museum's mission to encompass the area's early history.

"We try to stay with something that would relate to the era of the Hager House," Bryan said. "This is a little later but it is relevant to the history of Hagerstown. We try to do things about the culture around (Jonathan) Hager."

Hagerstown Faqs

The City of Hagerstown has some surprising history relating to the Civil War:

Hagerstown voted to remain in the Union, but changed hands between Confederate and Union army units more then 65 times during the war.

Even though the majority of local voters supported the Union, Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln received only 12 votes from Hagerstown. The Daily Mail favored Southern Democratic candidate John Breckenridge and The Herald and Torchlight favored Constitutional Union candidate John Bell.

In 1864, Confederate Gen. Jubal Early demanded a ransom of Hagerstown of $20,000 and 1,500 suits of clothes. Hagerstown paid the ransom, with help from several banks, including the bank now known as the Hagerstown Trust. The city of Hagerstown re-enacted the ransoming in 1994.

The city of Frederick was ransomed for $200,000, while the city of Chambersburg was unable to pay its ransom and was burned.

- Taken from records found in the Washington County Historical Society.

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