The Year Was 1849

Letter from California, Alton Telegraph And Democratic Review (Alton, Illinois), 01 June 1849The year was 1849 and in the United States rumblings of the Civil War were becoming louder. The year began with James Knox Polk as president, and on March 5, Zachary Taylor, often called “Old Rough and Ready,” took the oath of office. A popular war hero, he would have little time to make an impact because of his sudden death in July of 1850.

Americans were flocking to the gold fields of California. Click on the newspaper image on the right to read a letter from California that was printed in the Alton Telegraph And Democratic Review (Alton, Illinois) on 01 June 1849.

In the upper Midwest, Minnesota became a United States territory. It encompassed 166,000 square miles of land that was originally part of the Iowa and Wisconsin Territories. This included the current area of Minnesota, as well as some of the Dakotas.

Although Elizabeth Blackwell made history that year as the first woman to receive a medical degree, she would have to overcome more obstacles when setting up her practice.

1849 had its share of disasters. On the plantation of Pierre Sauvé on May 3, a levee failed and the city of New Orleans was flooded, displacing more than 12,000 people.

Further north, in St. Louis, other elements were at play. An epidemic of Asiatic cholera claimed over 4,000 lives. In the same city, on May 17, a steamer named The White Cloud caught fire. The ship burnt through its moorings and drifted downriver, setting twenty-two more steamboats alight, and the fire moved onto land, burning fifteen city blocks.
(More on the St. Louis disasters can be found in the Family and Local History Collection at, in the Annals of St. Louis, and a Brief Account of Its Foundation and Progress, 1764-1928).

In Ireland, the potato famine continued after the blight struck again resulting in a total crop failure in 1848. A cholera epidemic added more misery to a country already ravaged by deaths, starvation, evictions, and mass emigration brought on by the famine.

Following a year of upheaval in Europe, the Hungarian Revolution of 1848-49, led by Lajos Kossuth, was suppressed by Austrian forces. Italians seeking unification saw a similar fate under the leadership of Giuseppe Garibaldi. 

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5 thoughts on “The Year Was 1849

  1. I really like this timeline – great overview of what was going on in US at the time. Wouldn’t it be great if it were available at city level.

    Cincinnati, Baltimore, Pittsburgh…

    Thanks for posting. this.

  2. This is really interesting. To read about the things that happened in a certain year. It gives the researcher insight to the things people faced at that time.

  3. Thank you for the 1849 discussion. That was the year my great, great grandmother at the age of 18 came over from a Cholera plagued Bethnal Green area in London. Cholera, unfortunately, was in the states too, not only in the midwest but on the East coast where she landed a little after the worst of it was over. Her husband and son came a year later. There is a fascinating book about Cholera in 1849 in the US, along with 1832 and 1866, by Charles Rosenberg called The Cholera Years. It provides a a clear picture of the devastation caused by that disease in many areas.

  4. I find the information concerning the flooding of New Orleans very interesting. Lessons seem not to have been learned from that. Were there any more levee collapses between 1849 and 2005? If not, the time between those dates should have been time enough to repair rhe damage and strengthen the levee system!

  5. This is about the same time my family moved from Ohio to Illinois. It really helped me to get a feel of the countryside and to better understand what they were up against.

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