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Collection Frederick Law Olmsted Papers

The South and Southwest, 1853-1857

A timeline of key events in the life of Frederick Law Olmsted during the period when he was a writer, traveler, and chronicler of the South before the Civil War.

  • 1853, Jan.-Apr.

    Tasked to write about the American South for the New-York Daily Times, began his first trip to the South by passing through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia in January, into Alabama, and on to New Orleans, Louisiana, in February. Using the pen name "Yeoman," published, February 16, the first of a year-long run of fifty "letters" on conditions in the South published in the Times. Departed for Mississippi in March and moved on to Tennessee and across the upcountry South. Returned to Staten Island, New York, April 6.

  • 1853, Nov. 10

    Set out on his second southern trip accompanied by brother John Hull Olmsted. Their route took them through Maryland, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, to New Orleans.

  • 1853, Dec. 15

    Began a saddle trip to Texas together with his brother.

    New Braunfels, Texas, [farm]. Photoprint by Henry Doerr, c. 1860. Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress. LC-USZ61-1997
  • 1854, Jan.-Feb.

    Passed through San Marcos, Texas, and arrived in the German settlement of Neu Braunfels and the city of San Antonio, Texas, in January. Befriended German editor Adolf Douai. Finished his New-York Daily Times series on the South February 13 (parts of which were used in Seaboard Slave States, or Back Country).

  • 1854, Mar.-June

    Wrote a new series "A Tour in the Southwest," for the New-York Daily Times from March 6 to June 7 (parts of which were printed in Journey Through Texas). Visited properties owned by Mexican ranchers, in March, and an Indian camp, in April.

  • 1854, May

    Returned to Louisiana and parted from his brother at the Mississippi River.

  • 1854, June-Aug.

    Published the ten-part "The Southerners at Home" in the New York Daily Tribune, from June to August (also printed in Back Country). His antislavery "Free Soil" stance was strengthened by observations he made of farms operated by German immigrants without enslaved labor, near San Antonio. Supported the German-language antislavery newspaper, the San Antonio Zietung, and the idea of promoting western Texas as a free state. Continued overland. Arrived Richmond, Virginia, in July, and returned to Staten Island, August 2.

  • 1855, Mar. 14

    John Hull Olmsted and Mary Cleveland Olmsted's second child, Charlotte Olmsted [Bryant], was born in Staten Island, New York.

  • 1855, Apr.

    While John Hull Olmsted and sister-in-law Mary Cleveland Olmsted remained at the farm along with their newborn daughter Charlotte, Olmsted moved from Staten Island to New York City. Joined the start-up publishing firm of Dix, Edwards, and Company as a partner, and served as managing editor of Putnam's Monthly Magazine until the following January. Visited New England to attract well-known writers to contribute to the magazine. Met Ralph Waldo Emerson, Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and solicited contributions from Herman Melville and Henry David Thoreau. Supported the antislavery movement and carried on fundraising for weapons purchases for Free Soil settlers in Kansas.

  • 1856, Jan.

    Published A Journey in the Seaboard Slave States.

  • 1856, Jan.-Oct.

    Eight-month journey to England and the Continent to promote ties between Dix, Edwards, and Company and British publishers. Visited parks in the London area. Toured Europe with family members before returning to New York.

  • 1857, Jan.

    Published A Journey through Texas, with extensive writing and editorial help from his brother John, who drafted much of the book from Olmsted's notes. Ill from advanced tuberculosis, John Hull Olmsted sought better climate for his health in Cuba in January, and then went with his family to Europe.

  • 1857, Apr.-Aug.

    Briefly partnered in the publishing firm Miller and Company, with George W. Curtis and J.W. Miller, but withdrew as the firm failed under burden of its creditors. Wrote again for the New-York Daily Tribune. Encouraged by friend and Central Park commissioner Charles W. Elliott, applied for the position of superintendent of Central Park.

  • 1857, Aug. 10

    John Hull Olmsted and Mary Cleveland Olmsted's third child, Owen Frederick Olmsted (1857-1881), was born in Switzerland.

  • 1857, Nov. 24

    John Hull Olmsted died in Nice, France, November 24. His parting entreaty by correspondence to his brother was: "Don't let Mary suffer while you are alive." Mary Cleveland Olmsted returned with her children to the Staten Island farm.

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