Tim Tickler Sr. was the nom de plume of S.B.T. Caldwell, a Wheatland resident and member of the “Young Friends Literary Society”, founded in the mid-19th century, although he was not a young man at the time, nor was he a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers). A former publisher of the Genius of Liberty, Caldwell’s observations in the essay below demonstrate how quickly news could travel in an age of telegraph, railroads, and steam power, in some cases more quickly than folks were able to understand.

12th Mo 21st 1859

Random Thoughts from the Elbow Chair of Tim Tickler Sr.

Confined for many years to my chamber by the gout, cut off from the world without getting no information of passing events except what I can persuade my little flirt of a grand-daughter to read from the papers, and she soon tires, unless I can listen to love stories, or tales of murder- I am consequently badly posted in regard to matters and things in general, rather at home or abroad. My cogitations during the intervals between the twinges of the gout, have been principally upon things past, with a strong desire that I might be able to compare them with things present- but my knowledge of the present was too superficial- too unreliable- to come to any satisfactory conclusion. I have heard so many and such strange tales about the wonderful progress made and making in this age and generation from my nephew, Tim Twist, who by the way is a very fast young man, that my mind was not prepared to believe anything. There was too much of the Arabian Knights, too much of the Gulliver’s Travels, in the reports I heard to give credence to any of them. But my faith was staggered a few years ago [1852] by the sudden announcement of the death of my old favorite- Henry Clay.

My daughter Tilda came into my room with a paper in her hand, while I was suffering much with pain in my toes and feet. Say she Father- don’t disturb me child says I- but I thought you would like to hear the news- says she- well what is it? says I: Why Henry Clay is dead! Dead says I, when did he die? Yesterday morning says she! and she read an account of his death and then next on to read telegraphic dispatches showing how the news of his death was received in Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Richmond, Cincinnati, Louisville, and all the principal cities for 6 or 700 miles in every direction. What paper is that says I? The Baltimore American of this morning says she- well well says I, that will do Tilda, that will do. Then I began to reflect is it possible says I that H Clay died yesterday morning in Washington and that a Balt. paper of this morning not only gives me the sad intelligence but informed us how it affected the whole community for many hundred miles around us, east west north and south. It cannot be, there must be some mistake. The newspapers are working upon the credulity of the people, the news of his death cannot yet be known to the people of Boston, Louisville, etc. It is all guess work up on the part of the Editors. They would make us believe they are omnipotent, omnipresent; that they know all things by intuition. It’s all a humbug. I don’t believe a word of it & won’t believe that H Clay is dead until I hear further. Such were my cogitations at the time. But alas it all turned out to be too true. Still it was a mystery- one that I could not fathom. I looked back to the time when it took a whole day to get the mail from Washington to Baltimore- when it required a week to et the news from Richmond up into the country, when there was no unusual delay occasioned by bad roads and high waters- and could not believe that this progressive age had accomplished such wonders. 

My mind was much exercised for a week or two upon this mysterious development- It appear to me so much like a dream and it passed off and I have hardly given it a thought since- and have heard but little that is going on in the outside world since until very recently when the whole community was suddenly startled by the movements of a fanatic by the name of Brown, Old Ossawattamie Brown I think they call him– There was something so romantic in the whole affair that my witch of a granddaughter has read nothing else to me since it happened.

She has thrown away her love stories and while my daughter Tilda is bathing my feet with Radway, the little sprite sits on a stool beside me and reads all the news from Harpers Ferry and Charlestown from the Baltimore paper which gives all the news of the preceding day at either of those places- by which I learn that monomaniac Brown came to Harpers Ferry with a hand full of men 22 I think all told, black and white, took possession of the US arsenal laid the town under siege stopped the cars upon the Rail Road- blockaded the Bridges- guarded the various avenues to the place – made prisoners of some 50 or 60 of the citizens and government officers- broke the telegraph wires– went 5 or 6 miles in the country- captured some of the principal farmers- brought them with their servants prisoners of war to town in their own carriages and struck a panic thro’ the whole surrounding neighborhood- this was all done on Sunday night and Monday morning – Presto-

On Tuesday the whole state was in motion and by noon of that day Gov. Wise with the military from Richmond, Alexandria and Washington was there- Brown still holding his prisoners as hostages and resisting the authorities until the US Marines, by aid of battering ram broke open his fortress and compelled this modern Leonidus to capitulate. See this occurred almost within hearing of my chamber and I knew nothing of it until Tuesday evening when Tilda brought in my supper and told me the whole story and much more as she has heard it from Tim Twist just from the Ferry- Tis no such thing says I, Till- I don’t believe a word of it- It is not probable that Gov. Wise could get the news and come two or three hundred miles with a large military force and be on the spot before I, living within a stones throw of the place, should know anything about it- It is just one of Tim’s big stories- but before I had fully expressed by disbelief in the improbable tale my neighbour Crazon came in and confirmed the whole story with some additions and amendments, I was then compelled to believe against my own better judgment- for I knew him to be a truthful and reliable man- still ‘twas strange, ‘twas wonderful; Thinks to myself- O Steam & Electricity behold thy power–Had I ventured 25 years ago that I should live to witness such progress in the transmission of thought by Electricity- or such rapid locomotion by steam- I should have pronounced it all a humbug. 

The visionary schemes of some wild hare-brained romances- Now I am compelled to believe it a living reality- for I have listened to the daily reports of the last six or 8 weeks which has confirmed it all- It forms a part of the eventful history of the times and I am prepared to believe anything, everything no matter how unreasonable. If told that a Balloon from Australia and one from California were now sailing through the air showering gold dust upon our land I should believe it and call for Tilda to push my chair to the window that I might see the stranger sight with my own eyes- and should probably hold out my hand to catch some of the precious metal as it fell-there is nothing so wild, nothing so visionary, nothing so improbable as to create a doubt in my mind of its reality- yes Brown has been arrested, twice, convicted, condemned, and executed, by due course of law and without the aid of Judge Lynch. 

Since this Brown excitement has measurably subsided my mind has been particularly exercised upon the power and influence of Fashion Fickle Fashion whose tyrannical sway over her votaries is more powerful than Steam, more wonderful than Electricity- yes I am ok? ok! ok! The gout The gout, More Radway Tilda- more Radway…….

Find other stories like this in To Talk is Treason by Divine, Souders & Souders available here.