Samuel Booth, the builder of our Brooklyn house erected in the 1870s, was born in England in 1818, supposedly (as a newspaper article said in December 1931 almost forty years after his death) “with foresight”—on the Fourth of July. (I am leery of those who claim the Fourth of July as their birthday ever since I learned that George M. Cohan, that Yankee Doodle Dandy Boy, said he was born on Independence Day, but his birth certificate said July 3. If anyone cares to look for Booth’s English birth records, let me know.) Booth did not stay in England long. With him in tow, his family imigrated to New York City three weeks after Samuel’s birth. They stayed there for the first ten years of his life and then moved to Brooklyn.
Booth stayed in school until he was fourteen when he began work as a clerk in a wholesale grocery business in Manhattan. At sixteen he was apprenticed to a joiner, and at twenty-five in 1843, he went into business for himself as a builder. His first successful building project was with John French, a frequent partner through the years, for a row of houses in Brooklyn on the north side of Remsen Street between Court and Clinton Streets, not far from the East River and Manhattan. This was a fast-developing area of Brooklyn. At that time the site of our current house was largely farmland. (While this country may have been one of general western expansion, Brooklyn was different. It was first settled on the western shore of the East River and then moved eastward.)
He was elected alderman in 1851 as a Whig, but shortly after the party was formed, he became a “staunch Republican.” He declined to run for another aldermanic term in 1855 but was elected supervisor in 1857 and reelected until 1865. In 1866, he was elected the sixteenth mayor of Brooklyn, but he only served one two-year term. The city was increasingly staunchly Democratic while he was not. (Brooklyn became a city in 1834, but much of what later became Brooklyn were independent townships. As population increased, the towns became incorporated into Brooklyn. This process continued for more than fifty years. In 1886, the Town of New Lots became part of Brooklyn followed by the incorporations of the Towns of Flatbush, New Utrecht, and Gravesend in 1894. The Town of Flatlands was the last incorporation making Brooklyn the land mass that now exists, which is contiguous with Kings County.)
His public service continued when President Grant appointed him Postmaster of Brooklyn in 1869, a position he held until 1873. And in 1878, he began a two-year term on the Board of Education.
While Booth held different positions as a public servant, a theme went throughout all of them: a devotion to public service with integrity. For example, as a Brooklyn Supervisor he headed up commissions that built a jail and courthouse “with no corruption”–an unusual circumstance then (and now) as a newspaper reported upon his death in October 1894.
During the Civil War he administered enlistment bounties in Brooklyn. Men were not drafted if a county filled its quota of enlistees. Brooklyn, as did many other places, raised money to entice men to join the army so that the draft could be avoided. Significant sums of money were often at stake and corruption frequently followed, but not in Brooklyn under Booth. As a newspaper article in December 1931 titled “Stories of Old Brooklyn” noted, Samuel Booth administered $3,800,000 of Civil War bounties, and “not a penny of it went astray,” something otherwise unheard of during the Civil War. Furthermore, as Postmaster, he did not seek to expand his domain; instead, he consolidated offices to save money.
Booth’s mayoralty was not flashy. An obituary said, “His administration as mayor did not leave any especial mark upon the history of the city,” noting that the Common Council was Democratic and pointing out, somewhat strangely, that the Council did not pass a single measure over Booth’s veto. The article also said that while Booth’s term produced no memorable results, “it was honest.”
(concluded January 31)