Two years ago I scanned The Pearl. All the history most familiar to us comes from The Pearl. Its author, Leon Barritt, single-handedly wrote everything we recognize as the history of Saugerties. For over a century all our history has simply restated Barritt's original words in The Pearl.
The Pearl is an 8 page periodical produced in 12 monthly issues during 1875, with pages numbered consecutively, 1 through 96, for a planned Volume 1. Our Town Historian, Audrey Klinkenberg, personally held a full bound Volume 1 and was generous enough to allow me to digitally copy it. Because The Pearl is so rare, very few have had the opportunity to read this original history in its original pages before now. In fact, it has never been transcribed for modern readers. With this digital copy, it is the first time I read it all. With this Internet streamed copy you can now read it too.
This column is not about The Pearl, though. It is about Leon Barritt. And also it's about an exercise in applied digital research; about newspaper archives on the Internet and the scanning blitz of Google.
A point I want to make here is that history buffs are effective Internet researchers and must be advocates for more digital information on the Internet like this streaming of The Pearl. Google is totally unperceptive and neutral on content, and rightly has no idea of what it has. Only those that are trained and have a perspective can give Google's efforts value.
Our Leon Barritt, 1852-1938, led a long, varied and highly productive life as a journalist writer, cartoonist, illustrator, publisher and inventor, and was actually a personage with a national reputation. As near as I can tell, few in Saugerties knew of The Pearl and no one knew about the preeminence of this native son.
I started with a web search of The Pearl" and needed to filter it from the later magazine apparently famous in Victorian England for its vivid pornography. Information on our The Pearl came from the web site fultonhistory.com where a search brought up an article in the January 27th, 1875 Kingston Freeman. Leon Barritt, as co-proprietor along with Edward Jernegan, was starting a new publication; The Pearl. It reads:
"The Saugerties Pearl.
Messrs. Barritt and Jernegan, of Saugerties, have hit upon a plan to make their place attractive, and advertise its advantages to the world. They have started a little eight-page monthly, in which they will depict the objects of interest roundabout their village. Mr. Jernegan furnishing the photographs, three of which will ornament as many pages in each number. Mr. Leon Barritt will furnish the literary portion of the periodical, including descriptions of the pictures. There will be also a page of advertisements. This little periodical is called "The Pearl." It is printed in very elegant style by A. V. Haight, Esq., on heavy tinted-paper, and is the most tasty looking paper ever published in Ulster. It should meet a sale of thousands in Saugerties and in fact the people of the entire county will find it interesting and pleasing."
From Fulton History's collection of digitized microfilms of ancient newspapers I found also that for the next five years Leon Barritt was a contributing agent of the Kingston Freeman in both Saugerties and Tivoli. This made me relook at an authors byline for an extensive article on the history of Commercial Bluestone Quarrying in the Saugerties section of Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester's History of Ulster County that was published in 1880. Sure enough, it was Leon Barritt. Once you get a feel for his style it's clear he's authored extensively throughout this work. So I got the feeling that post-The Pearl Leon Barritt was well recognized as a researcher and writer of local historical interest topics.
Searches of newspaper archives also turned up articles about Leon Barritt. They followed him leaving Saugerties for Boston in 1880 to train and work as an engraver of illustrations; then his travels to Minnesota after 1882. He's returned to Saugerties around 1884 when articles told of his purchase of a house on Elm Street. This information all came from newspaper announcements. Local social announcements became common later in the first half of the twentieth century but to have so much comings and goings reported this early meant that Leon Barritt had some local notoriety.
This notoriety obviously began with The Pearl because there is scant information on Leon Barritt before its publication. I wanted to have a broader idea of where Leon Barritt and his interest in history that first appeared in The Pearl came from. To my delight this delving into associated information led to a treasure trove of interesting background covering his family and his post-Saugerties fame.
Thanks again to Google's digitizing of arcane libraries and making them accessible through Internet searches, I found that the first of this Barritt line in the United States, Thomas Barritt, arrived in 1800 with letters of introduction to Thomas Jefferson. He was a Republican forced to flee England for his political views. Thomas Barritt settled in Poughkeepsie and married Mary Henderson of Fishkill in 1811. Their first child, Alice, born 1812, married Benson J. Loosing, the distinguished American historian.
So it is Uncle Benson, we can assume, that is responsible for much of Leon's inspiration as an historian.
But, then, again, a lot of his paternal grandfather seeps out as political wit as was later discovered. Leon Barritt was even more famous for that than anything to do with history.
Leon's father, Thomas Jefferson Barritt, was the fourth child and third son of the eight children of Thomas and Mary Barritt. He was born in Poughkeepsie in 1818. In 1846, after an early life at sea on whalers and freighters, he married Catherine S. Malcolm (Kate). In 1852 T. J. Barritt leased the former Myndert Mynderse tavern on Main Street (facing down Market Street) in Saugerties. He purchased the building in 1854 and carried on a stationery, news and Jewelry business there for the rest of his life. During the Civil War he also owned and operated the ferry "Air Line" that plied the Hudson between Saugerties and Tivoli.
Leon Barritt was the fourth son, third surviving, of T. J. and Kate Barritt. He was born in Saugerties in 1852 and is not the Leon Barritt born in 1851 to T. J. and Kate who died in 1852. Leon was born the same year his sibling passed away and was given the same name. The Library of Congress has an 1851-1938 date in their authorities that has not overcome this confusion. The first Leon is buried in the family plot in Saugerties; our Leon is buried in Brooklyn, New York.
There is a later lore of Leon's early life, written of his entering the field of journalism as a newsboy during the Civil War era and developing an appreciation of the night sky from stories his father told of his time at sea.
From that same source comes the story of Leon Barritt moving away from Saugerties to Middletown to open a stationary business. He purchased a half interest in the Daily Argus there and then published the Argus for a year and a half. Then he sold his interest and, in 1889, moved to New York City where he establish himself as a contributor of cartoons to the New York Press. In 1890, he authored a book on business: "Engravings. How to establish their cost...". After 5 years with the Press he left to become a general freelance political cartoonist to all the major newspapers in the city. All this information comes from an article in the June, 1897 issue of the trade magazine "The Printer and Bookmaker" captured in Google's sweep of arcane publications in obscure libraries (Thank God).
An article in the New York World written in 1889 bears all the hallmarks of Leon Barritt's authorship and mature illustration style and this seems to confirm that his work was well received upon his arrival in New York.
As a cartoonist Leon Barritt is best known for his June 29, 1898 Vim Magazine "The Big Type War of the Yellow Kids" cartoon with Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst characters dressed as the Yellow Kid arguing over promotion of the Spanish American War. This gave rise to the term "yellow journalism". This political cartoon and the one he drew as commentary on large department stores, making them vampires sucking the life out of small shops, are both familiar illustrations still used today to explain the issues of that period in history.
After producing a popular book on how to draw in 1904, and collaborating with Garrett Serviss in the invention, patenting, and production of the Barritt-Serviss Star and Planet Finder in 1906, at the height of his career as an artist, he developed a paralysis in his right hand, loosing his ability to draw.
Undeterred, Leon Barritt immediately founded a monthly publication based on his star and planet finder that published the location of stars and planets for each month. Within three years this became the largest circulation astronomical journal in the world. Leon Barritt's obituary has him still the publisher of his Monthly Evening Sky Map when he died at 86, February 1, 1938.
There are many articles from Leon Barritt's last years that demonstrated deep appreciation for his dedication to the historical contexts in his astronomical writings. To the very end he had lived out the interest in history we see so mature in the work he began in Saugerties as a 23 year old in 1875.
This research of Leon Barrit's life, in my odd sense of it, describes a best practice for productive Internet use and this is what I feel is important about putting Leon Barritt's "The Pearl" up for everyone to see and read. There's so much its articles and its format can lead you to. It's an invitation to multiple journeys off into so many branches in the road Leon Barritt first laid down in his first excursion down the information superhighway nearly a century and a half ago.
As an artifact The Pearl, itself, very much represents Saugerties as a birthing place of creative innovation. An Internet encounter with The Pearl hopefully promotes, far beyond my Saugerties community, a Saugerties that has a long standing tradition of fostering creative spirits that invent sophisticated and culturally aware approaches to trumpeting this local history.