Frederick W. Bohnstedt
The Coroner of Hoboken
In July of 1862 in Hoboken New Jersey, a soldier was murdered. The victim, Private Demarest of the Union Army, 53rd Regiment of the New York State Volunteers, left his regiment camp in Harlem, New York, apparently on a pass, and went to Hoboken where he was murdered. An inquest was initiated by the coroner of Hoboken, Frederick W. Bohnstedt.
This incident was part of a varied political career of Frederick W. Bohnstedt of Hudson New Jersey. Several other newspaper articles were retrieved from the WWW which show Frederick's career through the years. Besides the practical aspect of detailing Frederick Bohnstedt's political career, they also give us some interesting glimpses into life in metropolitan America in the late 1800's. Most of these articles were from the New York Times, but include news from areas near to New York City, including Hudson County in the state of New Jersey, and some of the main cities in those nearby areas, including Hoboken, which is across the Hudson River on the shore opposite Manhattan.
The earliest article I have found so far was from the New York Times, April 10, 1858, four years prior to Private Demarest's murder.. This brief article shows us a portion of Frederick's political career before he became coroner:
The election for municipal officers of the city of Hoboken occurs on Tuesday next. The Democratic nominating Convention, at their session last night, selected the following ticket:
Mayor - George W. Morton.
Treasurer - Charles T. Perry.
City Clerk - Augustus O. Evans.
Water Commissioners - Wm. W. Shippen and Chas. Speilman.
Collector - Frederick W. Bohnstedt.
Collector of Arrears - John Van Blarcom.
Street Commissioner - John Kennedy.
Superintendent of Schools - Seba Bogert.
Overseer of Poor - Augustus Georgeat.
Pound Keeper - Adam Bonner.
In this case I am not sure what a "collector" was, but I surmise it might have been collector of fees for various city services in Hoboken. Two years later Frederick was elected Mayor of Hoboken in what was actually a major election year for the United States. A November 8, 1860 issue of the new York Times included a special section on election returns. The section leads with
More of the Great Popular
The Election of Abraham Lincoln
Placed Beyond Doubt
The piece also included election returns for several nearby areas, including Hudson County, New Jersey. Among the government officials in Hudson county were
Coroners - Thomas Gaffney, of Jersey City; Frederick W. Bohnstedt, Hoboken; and James H. Donnelly, Hudson City
Less than two years later Frederick was conducting an inquest into the murder of a soldier. According to a New York Times article of July 17, 1862
Coroner Bohnstedt, of Hoboken, commenced an inquest yesterday upon the body of Martin Demarest, a volunteer belonging to the Fifty-third New-York Regiment, encamped at Red House, Harlem, who was found lying dead at Fox Hill with a gunshot in his leg. From circumstances attending the case, it is supposed that Demarest was murdered and robbed.
Two more subsequent articles were found related to this case, one from 18 July, 1862, and another from 19 July, 1862, both from the New York Times. I don't know how often Hudson County New Jersey, or the city of Hoboken held elections for government offices, whether it was every two years, or every four years. But in 1864 elections were again being held for various officers for Hudson County. However, it appears that by this time Frederick was finished in his role as Coroner for Hudson County, but not in politics. According to an October 13, 1864 New York Times article
The delegates to the Democratic Convention for Hudson County met at Hudson City, yesterday afternoon, for the purpose of nominating candidates for County Clerk, Sheriff, Surrogate, and three Coroners. Mr. Charles E. Newham was chosen Chairman [of the nominating committee] and Frederick Bohnstedt Secretary.
Two years after the 1864 election, Frederick Bohnstedt was found in a different role; that of Judge.
New York Times, January 31, 1866
The Grand Jury of Hudson County have found 56 bills of indictment the present term. Yesterday afternoon, the following named persons were brought into court, and arraigned before Judge BEDLE and Associate Judges CHAMBERS and BOHNSTEDT....
Two more articles, very similar to this, appeared in the New York Times in 1866; one on February 3, and another on May 22. There may have been others like these, but were never recovered by archivists, or were lost in a fire or by water damage - no one knows.
Many of the accused brought before the judges were accused of various crimes that sound very much like those prosecuted today: Larceny, grand larceny, assault and battery, attempted murder, etc. But some of the crimes - and some of the penalties - seem somewhat strange when compared to our modern justice system.
For example, among the various crimes and their perpetrators prosecuted by Judge Bohnstedt and his colleagues:
Bridget Duffy, a domestic, indicted for grand larceny, pleaded guilty to petit larceny, and in consideration of having already been detained in jail three months, was fined $10 and costs.
Charles Ring, tried for stealing chickens, was found guilty and sentenced to three months in the County Jail.
Mary Hatfield, for keeping a disorderly house...
In this case, I don't know if this might be a reference to a woman who keeps a boarding house and was not appropriate in her bookkeeping. Or should we take this literally: did her husband have her brought before a judge for being a bad housekeeper, or was there a problem with the exterior grounds of her residence that violated a city code?
Bohnstedt was still performing the duties of a judge in 1867. According to a New York Times article of January 16, 1867
The January Term of the Hudson County Courts opened yesterday (Tuesday) morning, Judge DALRYMPLE, of Morris County, (in the absence of Judge BEDLE,) and Associate Judges CHAMBERS, STURGES and BOHNSTEDT, presiding. The Grand Jury was sworn in at 11 O'clock A.M....
The article goes on to relate to relate a specific case that might seem strange to us today in the western world, and might seem more at home in an Islamic country:
Judge DALRYMPLE said that he was not advised that there was anything special upon which to charge [task] the Jury. He desired however, to call their attention to one act. he had observed through the public print that during the enforcement of the Excise Law in New-York large numbers of people are in the habit of coming over from that City to New-Jersey and desecrating the Sabbath [Sunday], and indulging in intoxicating drinks which the laws of their own state prohibit them from doing. He then explained the laws regulating the sale of liquor, and called the attention of the Jury to the fact that in 1848 the law was so amended as to prohibit the sale of liquor on the Sabbath by licensed as well as unlicensed dealers, the violation of which is fineable in a sum not less than $20, or imprisonment in the State Prison, or both.
Judge Dalrymple then called for the Grand Jury to investigate such cases 'as may be brought before them'.
The next article making reference to Judge Bohnstedt appears October 6, 1869, in the New York Herald, which mentioned that
Associate Justices Randolph, Quatfe, Bohnstedt and Sturges occupied seats on the bench.
Thus far I have found no other articles between early 1867 and late 1869 which make reference to Judge Bohnstedt. However, what I did find for that time period is the Mayor of Hoboken, New Jersey, Frederick W. Bohnstedt, who served as mayor of that city from 1867-1869.
Mayor Frederick W. Bohnstedt
A brief article in the Petersburg Index, on April 17, 1868, refers to 'Hoboken Mayor Bohnstedt'. The History of the county of Hudson, New Jersey, from its earliest settlement to the present time, by Charles Winfield lists the mayors of Hoboken. The book used material from much earlier sources. Page 319 of the book listed the first eleven mayors of Hoboken. The eighth was Frederick W. Bohnstedt, who served as Mayor from 1867 - 1869.
1. History of the county of Hudson, New Jersey, from its earliest settlement to the present time, by Charles H. Winfield, 2005
I then conducted an Internet search for "mayors of Hoboken", and came up with several references to "Frederick W. Bohnsted" (the last "t" was left off in all of these references). It appeared to me as if the early list of mayors had been copied from one common source and reused in various websites. One of these websites stated the source for this list was the 150 Years of Hoboken Anniversary Journal of March 28, 2005, A publication of the Hoboken Reporter.
It seems that this may be the source of the repeated error. However, I believe that the correct spelling of Frederick's name was indeed "Bohnstedt", with "dt" at the end. I believe this for two reasons: first, the references properly spelled "Bohnstedt" were printed at a much earlier time. It has been my observation that people used to be more careful about proofreading material before it went into print. Unfortunately, this modern age which has given us the ability to "copy and paste" on our computer screen, coupled with spell checkers in our word processors has perhaps allowed us to be far less careful.
It seems clear that this Mayor Frederick W. Bohnstedt was also Collector Frederick W. Bohnstedt in 1858, and Frederick W. Bohnstedt who served as Coroner from 1860. What is less clear is whether this same Frederick Bohnstedt was the same man as 'Judge Bohnstedt'. Without a first name it is difficult to be certain. But given Frederick Bohnstedt's history of public service, combined with the apparent gap in Judge Bohnstedt's service as a jurist in 1867-1869, and Mayor Bohnstedt's term of service in 1867-1869, I believe these to be the same man.
We know that Mayor Bohnstedt continued in public service after his term of mayor in Hoboken. This public service was in the position of 'Recorder'. I have spent enough time in the County Recorders offices in Los Angeles County, California, to have an idea of what modern County Recorder's do (at least in Los Angeles County). They keep records; birth, marriage, death, real estate transactions, fictitious business names, and many other kinds of records that might need to be immortalized for various legal reasons. But to be honest I am not familiar with what the duties of a County Recorder might have been in the 1860's. According to an October 1, 1872 New York Times Article
James Cross, who was arrested by Chief of Police Donovan, of Hoboken, on Saturday night, on suspicion of stealing cigars valued at $3,000 found in his possession, has been admitted to bail in the sum of $1,000 by Recorder Bohnstedt.
The above excerpt is repeated word for word, character for character as it appeared in the original article. But in this case I find it hard to take these figures at face value, at least not in the manner that we currently make accounting and financial notations. One thousand dollars and three thousand dollars were astronomical sums of money in 1872. In adjusted dollars, $1000 would be equivalent to about $15,800 today, and $3000 equivalent to about $47,600. That's a lot of money for cigars, and I find it hard to believe that anybody had cigars worth $3000 in 1872 or that his bail was posted at $1000. I think it more likely that the cigars were valued at three dollars ($3.000 or $3.00) and his bail was set at one dollar ($1.000 or $1.00)
Bohnstedt continued in his position as County Recorder for several years. A New York Times article of December 3, 1874 stated that
Recorder Bohnstedt yesterday afternoon took the anti-mortem [before death] statement of the wounded sailor.
And in a 'City and Suburban News' article of February 7, 1875
James Regan was committed for trial by Recorder Bohnstedt of Hoboken yesterday, charged with having stolen a valuable watch and chain from a fellow boarder named Julius Hennessy.
Was Recorder Bohnstedt the same man as Coroner and Mayor Frederick W. Bohnstedt? Without any doubt:
New York Times April 2, 1879
The Democrats of Hoboken last night nominated ex-Recorder Frederick W. Bohnstedt for Mayor, Robert Alberts for City Clerk, and John Dooley for Assessor.
Who was Frederick W. Bohnstedt?
To date we do not know how this Frederick W. Bohnstedt relates to other Bohnstedt lines described in this work, or whether this individual belonged to another Bohnstedt family altogether. Looking through what records we have, we know of only two other men named Frederick W. Bohnstedt in the United States at that time; Friedrich Wilhelm Gottlieb Bohnstedt, and Friedrich Wilhelm Andreas Bohnstedt.
Friedrich "Frederick" Wilhelm Gottlieb Bohnstedt came to America in 1825, entering the United States through Baltimore Maryland. He had served in the military in Germany, possibly in the Braunschweig Militia, and was married in 1815 in Germany. Upon arriving in America it seems that he made his living as a brewer (of beer), and a farmer. It does not seem that he spent much time, if any at all, outside of Ohio. it is unlikely that this was the same man as Coroner Frederick W. Bohnstedt.
As for Friedrich Wilhelm Andreas Bohnstedt, he migrated to America in 1869, seven years after the Hoboken murder, effectively eliminating him as a possible match for Coroner Frederick Bohnstedt.
- Winfield, Charles H. History of the County of Hudson, New Jersey, from its earliest settlement to the present time. Scholarly Publishing Office, University of Michigan Library. 2005 (ISBN 1425564305)
4-9 / More Bohnstedts in America
4-30 / Genealogy and Records 4-13: The Family of Karl Bohnstedt in America
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_W._Bohnstedt (English, mobile site)
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