Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Socialist Esperantist Dies in Massachusetts

Charles Horatio Matchett,
Early Esperantist
(circa 1896)
The Wikipedia entry for Charles Horatio Matchett mentions nothing about Esperanto, noting that he was, however, on the first Presidential ticket for the Socialist Party (he ran for Vice President in 1892 and for President in 1896). The winning candidate in 1896 was William McKinley, who received 7,102,246 votes, while Matchett received 36,359 votes, totaling exactly zero electoral votes.[1]

There’s ample genealogical information on Matchett. He was born in Brighton, Massachusetts on May 15, 1843, the son of Charles and Clarissa Matchett. Charles was their second child; he had three sisters, Julia, Clara, and Louisa. He married Georgina Straw, a dressmaker in 1871. They do not appear to have had any children. On the 1910 Census, his status is listed as divorced. But on the 1930 Census, her status is listed as “widowed.” Charles Horatio Matchett died on October 23, 1919 in Allston, Massachusetts.

The New-York Tribune reported on his death on October 26, 1919.[2]
C. H. Matchett, Socialist Candidate in 1896, Dead
Helped Found Party, Aided Henry George and Was Pioneer of Esperanto in U. S.

BOSTON, Oct. 25.—Charles Horatio Matchett, seventy-six, veteran Socialist and candidate for President on the Socialist ticket in 1896, died Friday at his home, 12 Gardner Street, Allston, Mass., after a long illness.

Charles H. Matchett was one of the oldest Socialists in this country. He was a candidate for Vice-President on the first Presidential ticket nominated by the Socialist Labor Party. He was many times a candidate for Alderman and Assemblyman in his own city and state.

Mr. Matchett was born in Beedham, Mass., now a part of Wellelsey, a descendent of a New England family which settled in this country in 1630. At sixteen he went to sea and was one of the first American sailors to navigat the horn in a “wind-jammer.” He took an active part with Henry George for the single tax and was one of the charter organizers of the Socialist Labor party. During his campaign in 1892 for Vice-President he was the first man to speak on the street of this country in favor of Socialism. Mr. Matchett took a position with the New York and New Jersey Telephone Company, acting as foreman of the cable department, and he held that position for seventeen years until his health broke down. He traveled in Spain, Florida, the West Indies and the Azores for his health.

Mr. Matchett was one of the first to introduce Esperanto to the American people, and he was instrumental in establishing the first schools for its study in Boston and Brooklyn. He had attended several international conferences of Esperanto organizations in Europe.
Despite what the Tribune reported, Mr. Matchett’s birth is listed in the Brighton records. Horatio Matchett’s occupation is listed in that source as “unknown,” elsewhere he is described as a “gentleman.” On his marriage information, Mr. Matchett listed his birthplace as Needham, a portion of which became the town of Wellesley.

We can construct more of a biography of Mr. Matchett as an Esperantist from the Esperanto literature. He was at the first Universala Kongreso in 1905, where he was elected an officer of the congress, representing the United States (listed in Lingvo Internacia as “Amerikaj Unuigitaj Ŝtatoj”).

Amerika Esperantisto gives more in their October 1919 issue. (Odd, given that Matchett died in late October. Did the October 1919 Amerika Esperantisto appear in November?)
Charles Horatio Matchett
Thusday, October 23, Esperanto lost one of its oldest and most constant protagonists in the death of Mr. Matchett. Following private services at the home of his sister, the ashes of Mr. Matchett were taken to Mount Auburn. On Feb. 16, 1905, at his invitation, a group of people came to his home to hear about Esperanto as he had first heard of it in the Azores and other parts of Europe. So convincingly did he speak that then and there the Boston Esperanto Club was founded, the first in the U. S.: following this on March 23, 1905, the American Esperanto Association was formed.

Altho a veteran of the Civil War, Mr. Matchett no longer believed in the use of the sword and bayonet to adjust social and international issues. Despite years of invalidism, he was often seen at the Club, and Boston Esperantists have always looked up to his as the father of the group, and will miss his genial face at their reunions. Would that all Esperantists retained their faith in the ideal of Esperanto undimmed as he did.
I should note that Mr. Matchett’s role in the Civil War was as an ordinary seaman in the Navy. I don’t tend to think of sailors using swords and bayonets. Subsequent to the civil war, he worked as a carpenter and electrician. Newspaper reports from 1892 list him as a carpenter, and those of 1896 as an electrician.

This article also helps us determine when Mr. Matchett esperantiĝis—when he learned Esperanto. He went to the Azores in 1903. He left Fayal on May 15, 1903, returning via New Bedford, Massachusetts on June 2, 1903, and presumably returning to New York after that, as he still lived in Brooklyn at the time.

The June 1920 issue of Amerika Esperantisto has a shorter item, listing him among those Esperantists who had died in the preivous year.
Mr. Charles E. Matchett of Allston, at whose home in Boston was the first meeting in the interests of Esperanto which he had become acquainted with in the Azores. At the fifth meeting of the group the American Esperanto Association was formed, March 14, 1905.

He was a modest quiet man, and many read his name for the first time when the obituary appeared—but it was through his efforts that this Association was started.
Amerika Esperantisto was published by the Esperanto Association of North America, which was the successor to the American Esperanto Association,[3] so not really “this association,” but its predecessor. Note that the publication got his middle initial wrong. Mr. Matchett was sixty-one years old when he helped found that first Esperanto organization in the United States.

While history may generally remember Charles Horatio Matchett as a laborer who (repeatedly) ran for office (and never seems to have held any electoral position, even in the Esperanto club he founded), we can also remember him for founding that club. He founded not only the Socialist Party of the United States, but also its first Esperanto group.

One final thought: Many of those opposed to the political programs of President Obama have incorrectly termed him a Socialist. None of them, to the best of my knowledge, have ever suggested that Barack Obama speaks Esperanto.

Update: My usual practice is to add information after I've published something at the bottom, the when I realized I had left out when Mr. Matchett became an Esperantist, I decided to put it in the appropriate location, as the second paragraph after the Amerika Esperantisto obituary.

  1. Four years later the better-known Eugene V. Debs would receive 87,814 votes, according to the Iowa Recorder of November 14, 1928 which gives Matchett’s total as 36,274.  ↩
  2. Somehow on October 26, I made a mistake and searched for news items for October 28, writing instead about William Wall, a men who said he was “addicted to sodomy” in 1887. Oops. If I could go back in time, that item would be posted today, and this item on the 26th. I can’t, so here we are. This would have been a nice little break on the sodomy articles.  ↩
  3. The Esperanto Association of North America was formed in 1909 at the first U.S. Esperanto conference, which was held in Chautauqua, New York. Despite the existence of a national Esperanto organization (which had even helped plan the conference), somehow a decision was made to create a new organization.  ↩

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