History of My Own Times: Or, the Life and Adventures of William Otter, Sr.

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William Otter's autobiography, first published in 1835, provides a rare and fascinating counterpoint to romantic notions of virtuous, respectable craftsmen in the early republic. His Life and Adventures offers an inside account of the brawling racism common in the early nineteenth century and sharply details the rowdy male subculture of the times.

Born in England and conscripted into the British Navy during the Napoleonic wars, Big Bill Otter jumped ship and came to New York City in 1801. He apprenticed as a plasterer and joined an urban gang; later he was a master plasterer, tavernkeeper, slavecatcher, "Jackson man," bigot, town bully, notorious practical joker, borderline psychopath, mayoral candidate, and all-round "jolly fellow." History of My Own Times is one of the few first-person accounts of a rural artisan in pre-genteel America. The book depicts the ambiguities of race relations in the early nineteenth century, sheds light on its definition of manhood, and conveys a sense of humor very different from today's.

Richard B. Stott's introduction and commentary place Otter in the context of his times and explore the significance of his autobiography in understanding the social and cultural history of the early American republic.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Otter's life story opens doors into our understanding of northern Jacksonian, including their acceptance of Indian removal, and their lack of concern over slavery. This is a disturbing but significant publication."—Howard B. Rock, Florida International University. Journal of the Early Republic. 16:1.

This edition of Otter's autobiography is a welcome addition to the scant volume of literature dealing with the rural laboring men of the early national period. Otter's autobiography also offers an interesting commentary on the nature of nineteenth century American character, highlighting its admirable as well as its contemptible qualities. For these reasons, and many others, this work deserves recognition and further discussion by scholars and students of American history alike. —The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biographies (Spring 1996)

William Otter's History of My Own Time is a riveting, disturbing window into the world of rural artisans in the early republic. Paul Stott's thorough, thoughtful, and sometimes brilliant editing and commentary greatly enhance the text. Local historians, students, and academics will love it and hate it all at once, while the old families of Frederick County will either cringe to find their ancestors in league with Otter or sigh with relief at their absence from the History. —Maryland Historical Magazine (Winter 1996)

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Product Details

Meet the Author

Richard B. Stott is Associate Professor of History at George Washington University and the author of Workers in the Metropolis: Class, Ethnicity, and Youth in Antebellum New York City, also from Cornell.

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Table of Contents


History of My Own Times
New York
Cincinnati, the Eastern Shore, and Baltimore

Commentary: William Otter and the Society of Jolly Fellows in the Early Republic

Appendix: Articles of an Agreement between Rev. John DuBois & William Otter, 11 October 1823

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