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Edmund Booth

Deaf Pioneer

Harry G. Lang

Publication Year: 2004

Edmund Booth was born in 1810 and died in 1905, and during the 94 years of his life, he epitomized virtually everything that characterized an American legend of that century. In his prime, Booth stood 6 feet, 3 inches tall, weighed in at 210 pounds, and wore a long, full beard. He taught school in Hartford, CT, then followed his wife-to-be Mary Ann Walworth west to Anamosa, Iowa, where in 1840, he built the area’s first frame house. He pulled up stakes nine years later to travel the Overland Trail on his way to join the California Gold Rush. After he returned to Iowa in 1854, he became the editor of the Anamosa Eureka, the local newspaper. Edmund Booth fit perfectly the mold of the ingenious pioneer of 19th-century America, except for one unusual difference — he was deaf. Edmund Booth: Deaf Pioneer follows the amazing career of this American original and his equally amazing wife in fascinating detail. Author Harry G. Lang vividly portrays Booth and his wife by drawing from a remarkable array of original material. A prolific writer, Booth corresponded with his fiancé from the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, and he kept a journal during his days on the California trail, parts of which have been reproduced here. He also wrote an autobiographical essay when he was 75, and his many newspaper articles through the years bore first-hand witness to the history of his times, from the Civil War to the advent of the 20th century. Edmund Booth depicts a larger-than-life man in larger-than-life times, but perhaps its greatest contribution derives from its narrative about pioneer days as seen through Deaf eyes. Booth became a respected senior statesman of the American Deaf community, and blended with his stories of the era’s events are anecdotes and issues vital to Deaf people and their families. His story proves again that extraordinary people vary in many ways, but they often possess a common motive in acting to enhance their own communities.

Published by: Gallaudet University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v

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pp. vii-x

EDMUND Booth was a Renaissance man, a farm boy who grew up to distinguish himself as a journalist, educator, and founder of schools and organizations. He stood nearly 6 feet 3 inches tall, wore a long full beard, and weighed more than 210 pounds. He was a brawny adventurer...

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1 The Early Years

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pp. 1-13

THE extraordinary life of Edmund Booth began on a farm in Chicopee, Massachusetts, a town near Springfield, on August 24, 1810. His father, Peter Booth, and mother, Martha Eyre Booth, had four sons and two daughters. The Booth family had originally come from England...

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2 Journey to Iowa

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pp. 14-20

IN MAY 1839, Edmund left Hartford, Connecticut, for Iowa. His motives were not purely economic. Mary Ann Walworth, the young deaf woman who had charmed him, was now living with her family in the wilderness there. Unfortunately, little is known about the courtship of Edmund...

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3 Anamosa

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pp. 21-37

AFTER visiting with Mary Ann at her home, Edmund stopped at the area known as “the Buffalo Forks mills.” A group of men were on a break, saw him approach, and came up to greet him. Edmund was given “an old friend’s welcome” from Mary Ann’s brothers, George, Caleb Clark...

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4 On the California Trail

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pp. 38-52

LIKE thousands of young men who never dreamed that they would leave their families, Edmund Booth hoped that joining the California Gold Rush would help him provide for Mary Ann and his children in a much better way than farming on the Iowa frontier. The adventurer in him...

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5 The Making of a Forty-Niner

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pp. 53-69

EDMUND Booth spent the first few days in the land of gold much as he had along the California Trail. He prepared supper with his companions in the usual way, talked through the evening, spread his blankets on the ground, and slept soundly until morning. One of the first things he did...

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6 Best Friends

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pp. 70-89

EDMUND Booth’s correspondence in 1851 focused on gold mining, his daily routines, his advice to Mary Ann on raising the family, and his counsel to friends back home who were thinking of coming to California. He told Mary Ann in January that he was doing only “tolerably well”...

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7 Wearing Out

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pp. 90-106

EDMUND Booth stayed in California for another two years (1852–54). He missed his family greatly and craved news from home. After receiving a letter from Mary Ann in January 1852, he immediately wrote back, “We do not fully know the value of a home till we leave it. To live as I do...

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8 Home Again

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pp. 107-119

EDMUND Booth finally started for home some time in February 1854. He traveled to San Francisco by stage, waited with friends a few days until a steamer sailed, and then spent twelve days at sea. The California and Oregon Trails were still largely one-way routes westward, so the most popular...

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9 The Civil War Years

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pp. 120-130

EDMUND’S views on slavery had many roots. He first became sensitive to the slavery issue while a young student at the Hartford school. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, the first director of the school, and Laurent Clerc, the head teacher, were outspoken and active opponents of slavery...

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10 Raising a Family

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pp. 131-141

ANAMOSA grew slowly during the Civil War. Railroad cars had been rolling into the “uptown” depot since 1860. In 1865, the telegraph finally went into operation in Anamosa. “Eureka!” Edmund wrote, “We are in lightning communication with the Universe!”1 These advances...

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11 The Deaf Community

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pp. 142-160

AS A former schoolteacher, Edmund remained interested in the welfare of deaf children throughout his life. His interest extended to any and every deaf person he could locate in his region as well. As soon as he learned of families who had deaf members, he would make the trek to establish ties...

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12 The Sound of Trumpets

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pp. 161-176

THE voluminous correspondence between Edmund and Frank while Frank was in Philadelphia indicates that Edmund and Mary Ann spent the final two decades of their lives enjoying their expanding family. Between 1876 and 1890, Hattie and Reverend George LeClere had seven children...

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pp. 177-186

EARLY in March 2003, I sifted through the stacks of notes and photocopied pages that littered my study, searching for a way to capture the breadth of Edmund Booth’s life in a few words. I found a letter from C. S. Millard, Edmund’s former neighbor, that was published in the Anamosa...


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pp. 187-202


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pp. 203-206


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pp. 207-213

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682780
E-ISBN-10: 1563682788
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563682735
Print-ISBN-10: 1563682737

Page Count: 228
Illustrations: 1 figure, 20 photographs
Publication Year: 2004