The Year Was 1853

The year was 1853 and in the U.S., Franklin Pierce took the oath of office, succeeding Millard Fillmore. The inauguration was a sad one for President Pierce and his wife Jane though. A couple months before the family was in a train wreck in Massachusetts and their eleven-year-old son Ben was killed.

Another train wreck that year was considered the first major railroad disaster, when a New Haven train plunged through an open drawbridge into the Norwalk River. Forty-six passengers were killed and many more injured.

Railroads were connecting the country and making it easier to move westward.  Southerners hoped for a transcontinental railroad that would take a southern route and at the end of 1853, the Gadsden Purchase was signed defining the U.S./Mexican border west of El Paso, Texas. While the transcontinental railroad took a more northerly route, the purchase did add more than 29,000 square miles in what is now southern New Mexico and Arizona for the sum of $10 million dollars.

In Cincinnati, Ohio, progress was being made in the field of firefighting. Prior to April of 1853, fire fighting crews mainly consisted of volunteers. As they began receiving payments from insurance companies and private parties, competition heightened. That changed on April 1, when the Cincinnati Fire Department became the first full-time professional fire department in the country. 

In New Orleans, Louisiana that year “Yellow Jack,” or yellow fever, wreaked havoc killing over 7,800 people. If you have an ancestor that you believe may have died in New Orleans that year, check out the Louisiana USGenWeb Project, Orleans Parish Archive, which includes an index to the burials in New Orleans that summer from “The Epidemic Summer, A Review of the Yellow Fever, Its Causes, etc., and An Interesting and Useful Abstract of Mortuary Statistics, Published by the Proprietor of the True Delta, 1853.”

In other parts of the world, tension over holy sites in Palestine erupted in the Crimean War. By the end of 1853, France, Britain, and Turkey had formed an alliance that pitted them against the Russians in a war that would last until the Treaty of Paris in 1856.

Around the world, in China a bloody Civil War was raging. At the heart of the rebellion was Hung Hsiu-ch’uan, a Cantonese student who had visions in which he believed he was visited by God the Father and his son, Jesus Christ. He began a movement that turned into a full blown rebellion when the government began targeting them. By that time, the movement had a large army and had built up a treasury. The Taiping Rebellion is largely considered to have been one of the most bloody conflicts in history with casualties estimated at around 20 million.

To end on a lighter note (if you don’t count the calories), 1853 also marks the birth of the potato chip. They were the brainchild of George Crum, an American Indian working at a resort in Saratoga Springs, New York after a guest rejected his French fries for being too thick. French fries had been introduced to America by Thomas Jefferson, who served them to rave reviews at Monticello.

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6 thoughts on “The Year Was 1853

  1. I find these gems absolutely fascinating. They enlighten me on many facits of historical value that is not otherwise available to me so readily. I would appreciate more with an historical reference to Canada and Ontario particularily. There are huge numbers of U.S. residence whose ancestors originated North of your border! We have an interesting background also.

  2. I love these historical tidbits, too, and agree with those who call for expansion. More on my local areas of interest, either directly or through references, would be particularly useful: NYC in 1853, for example.

    Warren, your gggrandfather died in 1853 and mine was born in 1853 to two immigrants from London, the first of these FEARNs to be born in the US. What an exciting time that must have been for them.

  3. My immagrant greatgrandfather was married in 1853. He became a citizen in 1857 and joined the Confederate army in 1860. He fought through the entire Civil War “until surrender” as his Virgina pension states.

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