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The Old Peddlars by Carlton Smith

William Carlton Smith, son of William Coffee Smith and Elizabeth Virginia Martin, wrote articles for the Madison Enterprise-Recorder. He was married to Ida Denson and died on Dec. 31, 1963 at the age of 64. Below is a story that was not published in the Madison Enterprise-Recorder, courtesy of the Treasures of Madison County Museum.

For a long time in this country an active form of selling goods was peddling. Many of the peddlers, or chapmen as they were often called hailed from New England, largely Connecticut, and were mostly of Irish or Jewish extraction.

Their trade fell into various branches. There were the general peddlers who hawked an assortment of useful notions – pins, needles, hooks and eyes, scissors, razors, combs, coat and vest buttons, spoons, small hardware, children's books, cotton goods, lace, and perfume. Besides there were the specialized itinerant dealers- tin peddlers, clock peddlers, chair peddlers, peddlers of spices, essence, dyes, brooms, religious books and a host of other items. Even wagon  makers hawked their product and they could be met driving through the country with a train of light carts or carriages – others dealt in horses and mules and were known simply as “horse-traders.” The dealer in small wares, essences, laces, and such was called a “trunk peddler,” because he carried all his goods in one or two small oblong tin trunks slung on his back by a webbing harness or a leather strap.

Living in Madison County today are older citizens who well remember the trunk peddlers and can recall two features about them: that their trunks held an amazing assortment of small wares and they were packed with a skill only long experience would bring. They came to a house, laid out their stock of goods, perhaps made a ten cent sale and then slowly put their goods back again.

The peddler being merchant showed up wherever there was a chance for a sale. Not only did he visit the isolated country homes with his stock of goods, but he managed to be present on days of events such as vendues in town.

During the pioneer days, peddling became the first step into the amassing of a fortune. A young man Benedict Arnold went among the Dutch at the head of the Hudson and into Canada, selling woolen goods – stockings, caps, mittens, etc.

Collis P. Huntington laid the foundation of his business career in the peddlers trade. He travelled with a pack on his back for six years peddling clocks through the South and West. These travels gave him an idea of the topography of the land that later helped him in his railroad development. The knowledge gained as a trunk peddler and the success he gained through the Southern Pacific railroad, enabled him to really open a new frontier – the Huntington Library at Berkley, Calif. Thus, from a peddler's pack was started the great fortune that now acquires priceless master paintings and rare books for the public education and delight.

For many men, peddling was a first step in their commercial careers. Perhaps their descendants today may not wish to stress this fact, but their own biographies tell the story and it is one for which they need have no reason to blush.

It has been said that the founder of Cohen's Department Store walked into Jacksonville with a pack of notions strapped on his back. From that humble beginning grew what is considered today one of the most opulent emporiums in the South.

The first “trunk-peddlar” to identify himself with Madison County was Morris A. Dzialynski. He was the first Jew to become a member of Madison Lodge #11, FCCAM where he was raised a Master Mason in 1862. Born in Germany in 1841 and with his parents, he came to the United States in 1853. After a stay of three months in New York, during which time his mother died, he and other children came with his father to Jacksonville. There his father and two of his brothers died of yellow fever.

In 1857, Morris found his way into Madison County and, with two trunks strapped to his  back, peddled his wares. It was while in Madison that he volunteered as a private with the Madison Gray Eagles, which became Company “G” 3rd, Florida Regiment CSA. Of his war experience, he participated in the Kentucky campaigns and was wounded at the battle of Perryville. After about two months in the hospital, he was transferred to Company “P” of the same infantry. He took part in the battle of Murfreeboro and Crab Orchard and continued to serve the Confederacy until the end of the long and fierce struggle. That he rendered himself praiseworthy and added laurels of honor to other sons of Madison Lodge #11 is attested by the fact that after the war he returned home and soon became identified with the official history of that city. He was the treasurer of Jacksonville for two years, served two terms as mayor, President of the City Council for three terms, and was the municipal Judge for six years.

Another hawker came to Madison County in 1885 and unfortunately lost his life on March 11th. Patrick McGuire, an Irish peddler described as “a small man about thirty five to forty years of age, slightly gray and weighed about 120 to 130 pounds.”

He was first recorded in the Hamburg community where he peddled his wares of lace, ribbons, handkerchiefs, balmorals, scissors and other items. He found customers galore as he trod the plantation trails of the old Tooke plantation with his trunk strapped across his back. On the South and East side of this old farm lay Lloyd's Lake around which lived many Negroes, some former slaves of a by-gone era. They were fascinated by Pat's stock of lace, trimmings, ribbons and notions. They purchased freely. His stock of goods almost depleted, his last call was at the home of Marshall McCall, Negro, who is alleged to have purchased all the merchandise that Patrick had left.

If you enjoyed this article of Smith's, you may view more of his writings at the Treasures of Madison County museum, located at 200 SW Range Ave. The museum is open from Tuesday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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