The Year Was 1837

The year was 1837 and upon the death of William IV, at the young age of eighteen, the daughter of Edward, Duke of Kent, fourth son of George III, was crowned Queen of England. Queen Victoria would go on to rule until her death in 1901, a reign of nearly sixty-four years–the longest in British history.

There was unrest in Canada as struggles between ruling parties, which were typically wealthy businessmen, and farmers seeking a voice in the government. The 1837 Rebellion in Lower Canada was led by French assembly leader, Louis-Joseph Papineau. Another rebellion in Upper Canada was promoted by William Lyon Mackenzie, a newspaperman seeking reform. Both were ultimately defeated, but they led the British government to make reforms in colonial rule.

In the U.S., Martin Van Buren was sworn in as Andrew Jackson’s successor as president. Following a period of growth, the financial policies of the previous administration were about to explode into one of the worst depressions in U.S. history. As banks called in loans, panic set in and unemployment went up. For an interesting look at the financial situation as told in a lecture from 1876, see this excerpt from Reminiscences of Early Chicago. 

4 March 1837 was a big day in the history of the City of Chicago; it marked its incorporation as a city. At the time, its population was 4,170, up from an estimated 100 in 1830.  This growth is discussed in Andreas’ History of Chicago:

The Great Land Craze. Early in the sprint of 1834 emigration from all parts of the East, even to the hitherto extreme western settlements, set for the lands just open to occupation by the treaty made at Chicago the previous September. By the middle of April, the van had arrived in Chicago, and by the middle of May there was no room for the constant crowd of incomers, except as buildings were hastily put up for their accommodation, or as sojourners, leaving the town, made room for them. The hotels and boarding houses were always full; and full meant three in a bed sometimes, with the floor covered besides. Many of the emigrants coming in their own covered wagons had only them or a rude camp, hastily built, for home or shelter. All about the outskirts of the settlement was a cordon of prairie schooners, with tethered horses between, interspersed with camp fires, at which the busy house-wives were ever preparing meals for the voracious pioneers.

The price of real estate in Chicago was not long in evincing signs of what in later times would have been styled “a boom.” Over one hundred and fifty houses, stores and shanties were put up, mostly on the canal section during the spring and early summer. . .

To the northeast of the booming town, the state of Michigan had been admitted as the twenty-sixth state on 26 January. Michigan too was experiencing rapid growth as the population grew from less than 32,000 in 1830 to more than 212,000 in 1840, but the battle for statehood had come at a price. Michigan was forced to cede a strip of land where the city of Toledo is now in Ohio, and in exchange received two-thirds of the present Upper Peninsula.

In July, an outbreak of smallpox began at Fort Clark in North Dakota with the arrival of the steamboat St. Peters. It devastated the Mandan Native American village nearby, killing most of the tribe.

On 28 September, the HMS Racer spotted a hurricane in the Caribbean near Jamaica. Dubbed “Racer’s Storm,” the storm would carve a 2,000 path of destruction that swept across the Yucatan Peninsula, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina. Racer’s Storm devastated all of the boats in the Brazos Santiago harbor (Texas) and caused shipwrecks all along its path, wiped out almost all of the houses in Galveston, caused widespread damage to structures in Louisiana, and did significant harm to the cotton crop in its path.

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One thought on “The Year Was 1837

  1. I find these articles about what happened in the past to be very interesting. My family was buying and selling land and moving west (PA to IN)in the 1836-1840 period so this time is interesting to me. It helps me relate to what was going on.
    Ernie Stoops

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