This Week in Peterborough: 1864


A mid-1880s advertisement for the Great Western Railway, (image via Wikimedia Commons – follow link to see large version)

This, as it turns out, is an all-North-American edition of “This Week in Peterborough.”  Things were fairly quiescent in Europe in the Summer of 1864, and although the 14-year Taiping Rebellion was in its final throes in China, little mention of that horrendous affair made the pages of the Peterborough Examiner, at least in the first week of August.  And so we look closer to home, where there were indeed interesting things going on.

Click on for press-gangs, familiar political names in Peterborough, a rather large bit of ironmongery, and other things!

The coverage of the American Civil War in early August of 1864 reveals an odd thing.  By any historical account of the conflict, 1864 was a very good year, decisively so in fact, for the Union.  Northern forces under the overall command of General Ulysses S. Grant, steadily pushed the armies of the Confederacy backwards, and Atlanta fell to General Sherman only a month after the period we are examining (in fact, the entire war was ended in early 1865).  To be sure, there were reverses — the cities of Richmond and Petersburg (!) in Virginia proved very tough nuts to crack — but overall things were going quite well.  However, you would never know that from a reading of the contemporary newspaper accounts in Canada West.  The Examiner for July 11th reported thusly on the sour mood south of the border:

“…we hear treason spoken on every side, Lincoln condemned a thousand times in a day to the hottest corner of ‘Hades,’ Grant called a bungler and no better than a swindling contractor, whilst this fine country, we are piteously informed, has gone to the devil and is not fit for a dog to live in… The conduct of the war is on all hands declared to have been grossly mismanaged.”

The economic toll exacted on Americans by the now-three-year-old war explains a good deal of the anger — the Examiner article quoted above mentions a price of 50 cents for half a pound of butter.


Abraham Lincoln commissioning Ulysses S. Grant as Lieutenant-General. (from Harper’s Weekly, March 26th, 1864, via

A couple of interesting anecdotes involving Canadians and the Civil War made the newspapers this week in 1864.  Two Canadian visitors to Washington touristed where they should not have, and were promptly arrested as Confederate spies.  They spent a few days in prison before being released to return home with, as the Kingston American put it, “lively reminiscences of the war.”  And, sticking with Kingston for a moment, Union recruiters were active in Canada at the time, and were apparently not above using forceful tactics.  The Examiner for August 11th quotes a Kingston News story involving the drugging and attempted press-ganging of a local farmer by Union agents — the attempt was apparently foiled, at the cost of a beating, by the farmer’s son.

To the West, in Peterborough County, it was once again by-election time, this time for the area’s seat in the Parliament of the Province of Canada.  The reason for this election was a sad one – the incumbent, Wilson Seymour Conger, had died in late July after a long illness.  We have actually encountered Mr. Conger already in the course of this series, when we saw him defeated, narrowly, by Col. F.W. Haultain in the General Election of 1861 (Conger had subsequently won the seat in the election of 1863).  The Examiner in 1861 had exulted in Haultain’s victory, but its August 4th, 1864, obituary for Conger was graceful and complimentary:

“Though differing much from Mr. Conger in our public policy, we would be wanting in candor did we not state that we believe him to have been thoroughly honest in his convictions.  We were never disappointed in the votes he gave in the House — they were all dictated by a thorough trust in the honesty of his political leaders, and the firm belief that they were for the best.  To the back country he was a firm friend–continually trying some means for its development and improvement… The Trent Valley Canal, too, was a pet scheme of his; and… he stated his belief that they day was not far distant when its importance would not only be acknowledged but acted upon.”

Prophetic words from Mr. Conger!  In any case, the matter of who would occupy the vacant Peterborough seat quickly resolved itself when Conger’s old political rival, F. W. Haultain himself, threw his hat into the ring via a letter to “the Electors of Peterborough” which was published in the August 11th Examiner.  The election was held on September 14th, and Haultain duly won it.


Gartshore Foundry nameplate. (image via

In other local news, reporters from the Examiner attended the August 6th casting, at the John Gartshore Foundry in Dundas, of a 35,000 pound anvil — the largest casting ever carried out in Canada to that pound.  “Think on that, ye sons of Vulcan!” exclaimed the Examiner in its August 11th report on the event. “[A]n anvil 17½ tons weight; his must be a brawny arm that wields the hammer.”  The monstrosity was destined for the use of the Great Western Railway (hence the image at the beginning of this post), which was at that time engaged in the lucrative transporting of people between upstate New York and the American Mid-west via Niagara Falls and Toronto (a number of branch lines also served other communities in Canada West).

We will close here with a sort of preview of coming attractions.  We draw ever closer in this series to 1867, and the August 11th, 1864, Peterborough Examiner reprinted an article from the New York Tribune, which had taken notice of the ongoing political developments to the north:

“If the plan of forming all the Provinces of British North America into one Confederation should be successful, this new commonwealth would infallibly be in a short time the second power of the American Continent…”


Motto of the Peterborough Examiner in 1864. Earlier, it had been “The People.”


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2 Responses to This Week in Peterborough: 1864

  1. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1882 | Peterboriana

  2. Pingback: This Week in Peterborough: 1916 | Peterboriana

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