BAR HARBOR — Jeremiah Hacker was a 19th-century Maine newspaperman, activist and preacher. His life and writings are absent from all but the most specialized histories of newspapers and social movements of the day, but a new book by Mount Desert Islander reporter Becky Pritchard aims to change that.
Hacker was the editor and publisher of two newspapers, The Pleasure Boat (published between 1845 and 1862) and The Chariot of Wisdom and Love (1864-1866) in Portland. He was a pacifist, an abolitionist who boycotted any goods produced by slave labor. An estranged Quaker turned spiritualist and a proto-anarchist, his ideas about a society ordered by individual morals rather than government and laws closely mirror those of international anarchist Emma Goldman and others a few decades later.
Hacker attacked politicians, religious leaders and businessmen in the pages of his paper, and he never joined or aligned too closely with any group, even reform movements.
He had no desire to win them over; even the strange title of his longer-running newspaper, The Pleasure Boat, seems to anticipate that his ideas would largely be brushed off: “My object has not been to reform the leaders — they are at present too intent on unrighteous gain — too earnest after the loaves and the fishes, to listen; they would only regard my testimony as the rattle of a pleasure boat,” he wrote. “My work is with the people…”
The book grew out of Pritchard’s research for her master’s thesis in American and New England studies at the University of Southern Maine. Her historian’s delight in getting to know this strange man is evident throughout the book, and some of it is quite funny.
“Sometimes Hacker was sought out by those he had offended in a previous issue,” she writes. “When he met with an angry reader, Hacker would hold his ear-trumpet tightly against his ear ‘so not a word should be lost’ and he heard the complainant out patiently. As the cursing grew in volume, Hacker would say, ‘A little louder, I cannot hear you distinctly.’ Thus, he would wear out his foes.”
The papers were never very profitable, but Hacker did have subscribers around the United States and a few abroad. He was especially interested in the welfare of children and many of the letters to the editor were from children. He was an early supporter of a state reform school that became the Long Creek Youth Development Center.
The book is a short read and a valuable contribution to current conversations about how the history of religion, race and gender in Maine and New England affects our current realities.