Fairs Banned in York
The 2010 York Fair is wrapping up tomorrow. I see they are literally going out with a bang, in fact, with lots of bangs, since tomorrow evening’s grandstand entertainment is a demolition derby.
I included the following comment by Lewis Miller in yesterday’s post:
“In 1816, the[y] prohibited the holding of fairs within the Borough of York, and declared such holding a common nuisance. In some dispute at Lewis Wampler tavern–Michael Hahn stop [stabbed?] Robert Dunn; and at the same time–Nickolas Scheffer cut Barnhard with a knife, at Eberhart tavern.”
The 1834 History of York County by Carter & Glossbrenner tells more of the story. The original 1765 charter gave the privilege to hold two fairs a year “for buying and selling goods, wares, merchandize, and cattle.” Carter & Glossbrenner continue:
“This charter was received as a high and peculiar blessing. Travelling dealers in small wares then found themselves, with a punctual devotion, at these semiannual congregations. But as the number of stated merchants increased, our ancient and venerable institutions began to be shorn of their glory. Yet when, in 1787, the town was erected into a borough, the legislature particularly continued this privilege of our fathers, unto their children. But manners were changing; one part of the community was growing more refined, and another more corrupted; fairs had degenerated from the primitive purity of former years, and became but a scene of a wild merriment or of a riotous commotion. At last on account of the degeneracy of the times, the legislature on the 29th of January 1816, prohibited the holding of fairs within the borough of York and declared such holding to a common nuisance.”
Lewis Miller indicates the incident with Dunn was at a tavern, but since the fair was held in the streets, several taverns would have likely been very near. Carter and Glossbrenner footnotes the paragraph above with:
“The immediate cause of the prohibition was this. On the 26th of October 1815, being the day of the autumn fair, a young man names Robert Dunn, lost his life in a very melancholy manner. At the court in November following, when three persons were arraigned for the murder of Dunn, the Grand Jury presented the holding of fairs as a public nuisance. In January 1816, the persons who had been arraigned, received their trial, the end of which was a conviction of manslaughter. Petitions were now presented to the legislature, who complied with the wishes of every honest citizen.”
So it seems that a group of local citizens were the ones who wanted the fairs stopped. It is not clear if there were any fairs in York between 1816 and when the new series started in 1853 under the present York County Agricultural Society. It is possible that some may have been held, even though they were not officially sanctioned.