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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,584

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This is the grave of Samuel Crocker Cobb.

Born in 1826 in Taunton, Massachusetts, Cobb grew up pretty well off, but not extremely well off. Cobb became a leading Boston merchant, involved in foreign trade with both Europe and South America.

Cobb was also heavily involved in trade with Africa and really was one of the first Americans to be involved with trading there outside of the slave trade. He was particularly involved in the peanut trade. Luckily, as the historian Jori Lewis discovered in her work, Slaves for Peanuts: A Story of Conquest, Liberation, and a Crop That Changed History, Cobb left voluminous detailed records of his dealings. But he and his partner, the Salem merchant Francis Butman, were involved in a pretty complex trading world there. They sold American tobacco in exchange for both hides and peanuts. They then sold the hides to shoemakers and the peanuts to middlemen that marketed this new exotic foreign product to Americans. People began to discover the joys of roasted peanuts and the trade took off. Peanuts were in the U.S. before this, brought over by Africans in the slave trade, but they were associated with slaves and so not popular among whites. Cobb changed that. Lewis’ book is very good and is why I did this post to begin with. It’s interesting and worth your time, certainly more than this post.

Cobb became mayor of Boston in 1874. This was during the Panic of 1873, which most definitely continued for a good long time. Cobb had a strong position on what to do to alleviate the suffering of the working class–not a damn thing. He was violently opposed to any kind of relief. This was typical of the Republican Party of this time. These were people who might have been abolitionists (or might not have been) but what they really believed in was an extreme vision of private property and the doctrine of the contract. If people wanted to work, they needed to find a job. Any welfare would just create dependency, which was basically slavery for white people. That was unacceptable. If people starved, well, that was on them, they were probably Irish anyway and thus inclined that way. Cobb said about job creation programs, they are “subversive to our whole social fabric, tending directly to communism in its worst form.”

The other thing Cobb did was facilitate some good ol’ Civil War reconciliation. He led the celebration of the centennial of the Battle of Bunker Hill and during this, the city decided to invite a bunch of Confederate veterans to Boston to reunite with Union veterans as a show of good faith and getting the nation back together again. Well, in one sense this Civil War reconciliation did that, but that reconciliation would based directly on a foundation of white supremacy and a hazy nostalgic historical memory. The American Revolution was a perfect way to start this.

OK, there was a few other things Cobb did too. He led the annexation of ¬†Charlestown, West Roxbury, and Brighton, increasing Boston’s population by 44,000 people. He pushed for more public goods as well, including parks and a water system.

Mostly at the end of his life, Cobb was just a rich guy doing rich guy things like heading local charities and such.

Cobb died in 1891. He was 64 years old.

Samuel Crocker Cobb is buried in Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston, Massachusetts.

If you would like this series to visit other 19th century mayors, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Henry Lang is in Newark, New Jersey and William Ogden is in The Bronx, although he was the first mayor of Chicago. Previous posts in this series are archived here and here.

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