The Year Was 1854

Crimean War, Sevastopol, Ukraine, 1853-56The year was 1854 and Britain, France, Turkey, and Sardinia were involved in the Crimean War against Russia. Years of disputes over lands in the Middle East and religious differences were major factors in the cause of the war that would last into 1856. In addition to the hardships of war, in November a terrible storm struck creating miserable conditions for the soldiers. 

Back in London, the fight was against cholera as more than 500 people died from the dreaded disease. Containment is credited to Dr. John Snow who ascertained that water from a pump on Broad Street was the cause by mapping the location of the victims and determining that they had all ingested water from that pump. He convinced officials to remove the handle of the pump forcing the community to go elsewhere for their water and thus put an end to the spread of the disease. 

Disaster struck in Gateshead and Newcastle, England, in October as a warehouse fire and explosion killed 225 people. An account of the fire is available at the GENUKI website, as is a list of the victims.

In the U.S. the Kansas-Nebraska Act created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska and took America one step closer to Civil War as the struggle for anti- and pro-slavery states escalated. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had designated territory north of the southern boundary of Missouri in the Louisiana Territory as free and south of that line as slave. The Kansas-Nebraska Act would leave that decision up to voters in each territory and an influx of pro- and anti-slavery settlers converged on the new territories to help sway the vote in their favor. This confluence would lead to violence in “Bleeding Kansas” in the ensuing years.

The venture westward was of a more festive spirit farther north as hundreds of dignitaries boarded trains headed to Rock Island, Illinois, for a “Grand Excursion.” From there, steamboats would take the excursionists from Rock Island up the Mississippi River to St. Paul in Minnesota Territory. Politicians, businessmen, reporters, clergymen, and other respected citizens, primarily from New York and eastern states, would enjoy beautiful scenery as they left city life behind to experience the unspoiled Midwest wilderness. Notables on the trip included President Millard Fillmore and his daughter Mary Abigail, future presidential hopeful Samuel J. Tilden, artist John Frederick Kensett, and a host of railroad executives, senators, governors, mayors, and other representatives from the political arena.

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4 thoughts on “The Year Was 1854

  1. It really does help to know what was happening at certain times of you ancestors lives. I had two different families come to this country from Bavaria and Norway at this time. My great grandfather from Norway ended up in the Civil War also.

  2. Thanks ! This feature is meaningful for our family!
    Hope it is for others,too.

    Now I can visualize events at the time my great grandparents married and left County Waterford, Ireland for Ohio, where their first child was born. The next year, 1855, they traveled further into the “midwest”, settling in northeastern Iowa, their final destination.

    Their descendants can claim to be “Iowa Pioneers” due to that early arrival.

  3. The Grand Exursion was recreated (re-enacted) in 2004. I live in La Crosse, WI and we havd as many as 5 River Boats docked for a wonderdfull look back on history. The Riverboats followed the same route and stopped many places along the way for all to enjoy.

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