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Political strife in 19th century Montgomery County

Political strife in 19th century Montgomery County

Political partisans in 1889 didn’t need cable news and social media to get in their licks when one of the breaking news stories was appointment of a postmaster in Fort Plain.

Amsterdam’s Democratic newspaper then was the Morning Sentinel, edited by George H. Loadwick, who was “aggressively progressive,” according to historian Washington Frothingham.  Ironically, the Republican paper was William J. Kline’s Democrat.  Kline had purchased the paper if not the political philosophy in 1879.  Kline later bought and operated the Recorder.

John Sanford of Amsterdam was the local Republican U.S. representative, elected the year before in a campaign against Democrat Zerah Westbrook.

The Democrat (remember this was the Republican paper) referred to Westbrook in 1888 as “Judas” Westbrook in a headline about his nomination as the Democratic Congressional candidate at a Schenectady convention.

When the postmaster story broke in 1889, The Morning Sentinel recalled the election that sent Sanford to Congress the previous year.  There was an effort then to destroy the personal reputation of Westbrook, the Democratic nominee, by employing a Utica newspaper man who supposedly found that Westbrook once defrauded a Civil War veteran. 

The editorial reported that the Utica newspaperman, Harry Devendorf, had recanted his allegation.  “Filthy work,” wrote the Sentinel.

After losing to John Sanford, Judge Westbrook went on to be mayor of Amsterdam a decade later. 

The Sanford name was well established in the Amsterdam area in 1889.  John Sanford’s grandfather — also named John Sanford — was the first of the family to get involved in the carpet industry and the first to serve in Congress, from 1841 to 1843. 
In 1889, then Rep. Sanford’s father, Stephen, was at the helm of the family’s Amsterdam carpet mills.  Stephen Sanford also had served in Congress, in 1869 and 1870. According to historian Hugh Donlon, Stephen Sanford did not enjoy Washington, saying, “It is a thankless job to work for the public and I have had enough of it.”

 “The appointment of William Yerdon as postmaster at Fort Plain, under the circumstances, will be in strict accord with the sentiment of boodle as exemplified by the Republican party in the late campaign,” wrote the Morning Sentinel in an April 6th, 1889 editorial.  “It is stated that Congressman Sanford has endorsed Yerdon, who virtually bought the resignation of the Democratic incumbent (David Hackner).  This is one of those cases where (Republican) President (Benjamin) Harrison would be justified in exercising his high prerogative independent of the recommendation of a congressman, and we are surprised to know that Neighbor Sanford has voluntarily become a party to a trick so palpably wicked.  Yerdon ought to get left.”

Yerdon was a businessman and inventor who went on to patent the Yerdon Double Hose Band in 1890.  The band was an adjustable metal clamp that securely joined two sections of hose.  Railroads and later auto manufacturers used the product, which for many years was manufactured in Fort Plain. 

Yerdon served as Fort Plain postmaster for five years.  He died in 1911 but his family continued the manufacturing business.  A foundation named for Yerdon and his wife Sylvina continues to support local charitable organizations today.

Loadwick ran the Morning Sentinel until he was in declining health in 1908.  He sold the newspaper to a Southern transplant, Robert E. Lee Reynolds.  Loadwick died the next year.

Reynolds became Amsterdam postmaster in 1914.  He closed the Sentinel in 1918, saying he couldn’t do justice to both running the newspaper and heading the post office.

John Sanford left Congress in 1893 and headed up the family carpet mills and racing horse farm until his death in 1939.

Bob Cudmore is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Anyone with a suggestion for a Focus on History topic may contact him at 346-6657 or [email protected]

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