“Here a Lee, there a Lee, everywhere a Lee, a Lee”

Lee to Page, September 23, 1776

Richard Henry Lee to John Page, September 23, 1776. Images of the other letters are available here.

Kathy Major has been volunteering in the Manuscripts Department at AAS for several years and just recently found a small collection of uncataloged Richard Henry Lee letters, which she writes about below. Kathy worked at AAS from 1976 to 1984 and was Keeper of Manuscripts for a portion of that time. After leaving the Society to care for her children, Kathy worked at the Gale Free Library in Holden, most recently as head of technical services, until her retirement in 2014.

The title of this post is from the lyrics of the amusing song, “The Lees of Old Virginia,” from the popular Broadway musical 1776.  The character singing the lyrics is supposed to be Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794), the Virginia delegate in the Second Continental Congress who presented the motion for independence from Great Britain : “….that these united colonies are and of right ought to be free and independent states….” In addition to serving in the Continental Congress (1774-1779, 1784-1785, 1787), Lee signed the Declaration of Independence and also served as president of the Continental Congress and later became a U.S. senator.  Certainly he would not have been very happy with his portrayal in the Broadway show (and later film) as vain and somewhat dim-witted.  The actual Richard Henry Lee left behind a large correspondence, including three wonderful letters we’re integrating into AAS’s Miscellaneous Manuscripts collection.  The assistant curator of manuscripts was concerned about the fairly large backlog of unprocessed manuscripts and had asked me to begin to go through them.  Lo and behold, the three Lee letters turned up, and it was discovered that they have never been published.

The letters were donated to AAS almost thirty years ago by Mrs. Allan Carr McIntyre of Watertown, Massachusetts, and contain much valuable information about the military progress (or lack thereof) of the American Revolution from 1776 to 1778.  Written in Philadelphia, all three were addressed to Col. John Page (1744-1808), then serving as lieutenant governor of Virginia. Page was also an officer in that state’s militia and eventually served in the U.S. Congress from 1789 to 1797.

272194_0001On September 23, 1776, Lee referred to preparations on Harlem Heights for a confrontation with British General William Howe’s forces and to the mysteriously set “Great Fire” that destroyed a large portion of New York City.  He added a disparaging comment about the American troops : “…these northern militias. They are immensely expensive and utterly useless.”  Lee suggested that more ships should be converted to privateers in order to prey on British “sugar ships” from the West Indies, as well as the need to build  “10 or 12 large sea galleys,” to keep open the Chesapeake Bay to prevent invasion.

On October 10, 1777, Richard Henry Lee wrote of “a wise and well concerted attack on the British force on or near German town.” He believed that the British were “surprised, forced, and actually beaten,” but that a thick fog caused confusion among the American forces, which led to their retreat, thus depriving the U.S. of “a brilliant victory.” There is no reference to General Washington’s forces squandering too much effort on the Cliveden house, but certainly Saratoga and Germantown showed the French that the American troops could fight.

The third letter, dated September 7, 1778, detailed the confrontation between the naval forces of Admiral Lord Richard Howe and French Admiral Comte D’Estaing known as the Battle of Rhode island, or the Siege of Newport, during which “the same storm that has damaged our crops so much in  Virginia saved Lord Howe from ruin.” Lee mentioned that the French fleet was in Boston for repairs, and that American General John Sullivan’s army was forced to retreat, but Lee claimed victory for Sullivan due to “the enemy being driven from the field of battle in great disorder.” He added that the Battle of Rhode Island was “injurious to the enemy,” which “got a sound drubbing.”  He wrote hopefully that the French would reinforce D’Estaing’s fleet shortly.  This proved to be wishful thinking.

These three letters in no way support the character delineation of Lee as seen in the fun Broadway musical  (Alexander Hamilton and hip-hop, anyone?).  What they do convey are the commitment, dedication, industry, and determination of the Revolutionary War generation to secure independence for the united American states.

Please click here for images of all three letters!

Now available online: Photographs of Tuskegee Institute

Booker T Washington and familyFor some collections within the Graphic Arts Department, we do not catalog each item in the collection individually. Sometimes, it makes more sense to create one all-encompassing record that describes the collection as one entity to avoid redundancy in the catalog. These collections are still easily found in the online catalog, and they will usually have an itemized contents list or finding aid to help researchers make their way through them. However, sometimes these collections are important or visually interesting enough to warrant more. Many collections within Graphic Arts have been digitized and are available online and/or in GIGI (Daguerreotypes, Watch papers, etc.) But now, some collections will be available on the AAS website using the publishing platform of Omeka to create illustrated inventories where each item in a collection will be described in some detail.

Printing Office - TNIIImproved school and church near TuskegeeThe first collection to use Omeka to bring it to the light is the Society’s collection of fifty-six albumen prints of the Tuskegee Norman and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama, and the surrounding area. The images depict the people and buildings that made up Tuskegee Institute during the 1890s. Portraits of students standing before different halls and dormitories and in the classroom show the day-to-day life on campus. Other images show the locals who descended on the Tuskegee campus annually for the Tuskegee Negro Conference, where they learned of new advances in farming. The photographs show life off campus as well. Scenes depicting the “Black Belt” and other views outside of the college show the daily life of African Americans in Alabama near the turn of the century.

This is just the first of the illustrated inventories that we are creating. Inventories featuring a collection of photographs of Worcester’s fairgrounds and of the silhouette collection are in the works and will be available online soon!

AAS Hands-On Workshop Initiates Region-Wide Public History Program

IMG_0694 IMG_0691This past March the Society held a Hands-On History Workshop on the Declaration of Independence.  It featured Danielle Allen of Harvard University and used AAS collection materials to explore how Americans first learned about and celebrated independence in 1776 and how the Declaration was represented and interpreted in the nineteenth century.

Our Hands-On History Workshop was also the first program in a region-wide initiative sponsored by AAS and Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area entitled Declaring Independence – Then and Now. Recognizing that the Declaration of Independence is not only a beloved statement of our nation’s embracing of liberty and equality, but is also a living document, whose values continue to shape our lives today. Declaring Independence –Then and Now explores how the Declaration of Independence came to be, how we can find its roots in our own towns, what it meant to the founding generation, and how it continued to inform the generations that followed, including our own.

In the spring of 1776, the Massachusetts assembly sought to know the hearts and minds of the people. They charged each town with debating and resolving a critical question: Should the colonies declare independence from Great Britain? Declaring Independence –Then and Now engages Freedom’s Way towns in uncovering the evidence of responses to this challenge, through town debates, resolves, and local declarations of rights and liberties, as detailed in Pauline Maier’s American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. Towns also actively engaged in affirming, disseminating, and publically performing their assertions of independence. Their deep commitment to the public act of declaring liberty and equality continues to shape our local and national conversation today.

Mary Fuhrer, a public historian and AAS member, worked with communities in Massachusetts to uncover this evidence and to shape it into a performance piece. These will be presented at the Bullfinch Meetinghouse, 725 Main Street, Lancaster, Massachusetts, on Sunday, June 26, from 3 to 4 p.m., and on Saturday, July 2, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., at the Minute Man Visitor Center, Minuteman National Historic Park, 250 North Great Road, Lincoln, Massachusetts. The Lancaster program is presented in partnership with the Bulfinch Fund and is part of the Bulfinch 200th Anniversary Celebration. The program is also part of the church’s Annual Strawberry Festival and participants are invited to stay for chicken salad and all things strawberry, including ice cream and shortcake.  The Minute Man National Historical Park is a collaborating partner of the presentation in Lincoln.

I will act as narrator for both programs and will be joined by citizens of Lancaster and Lexington who, in addition to reading sections of the Declaration of Independence, will also discuss the mindset of their town leaders in 1776 and how the ideas in this seminal document continue to impact American government today.

The Acquisitions Table: The Spectroscope and Its Applications

Lockyer, J. Norman. The Spectroscope and Its Applications. London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1873.

529791_0001This manual on the spectroscope is part of Macmillan’s Nature Series and is bound in publisher’s brick red cloth with gilt and black stamped front cover. Pasted onto the title page is a colorful watercolor spectrum with the initials “J.B.L.” next to it. The frontispiece is a tri-fold colored plate of spectra and there are sixty figures in the text, many illustrating types of spectroscopes. The front pastedown endpaper has the signature of previous owner David Peck Todd (1855 – 1939). An American astronomer and director of the observatory at Amherst College, Todd was chief astronomer at the Lick Observatory during the transit of Venus in 1882 and created the first known photographs of the transit. Spectroscopic measurements helped confirm the theory of the existence of an atmosphere on Venus, which appeared as though surrounded by a halo of light.

#hamildays: A Hamilton-Inspired Journey Through the Stacks

The following is the story behind the newest feature on AAS’s website, #hamildays: A Hamilton-Inspired Journey Through the Stacks.

monographs 336678 federalist bindings copyAs a monographs cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society, I work primarily with books and pamphlets, often ones printed in the United States during the nineteenth century. However, the twenty-five miles of shelves at AAS hold much more than books and pamphlets, and recently I ventured into collections that were entirely new to me and explored an array of AAS’s holdings that I hadn’t previously encountered.

portrait 44585 square elizabeth schuyler hamilton from republican courtThe impetus for this journey was the smash Broadway hit Hamilton: An American Musical. I listened to the Hamilton Original Cast Recording in October, and, like so many others have, I immediately started re-listening and quoting it at the drop of a hat. One of the (many) things I love about the music is how it incorporates the words and text of history into its reimagining of the past—the song “One Last Time” quotes George Washington’s Farewell Address verbatim, and “The Farmer Refuted” draws from a pamphlet war between Alexander Hamilton and Samuel Seabury. I began to wonder what might be within the walls of AAS that could connect me to the stories of Alexander Hamilton; Elizabeth Schuyler pottery 37085 square copper lustre pitcher with transfer-printed image of lafayette english made for the american marketHamilton, his wife; and their friends, allies, and opponents.

Ambitiously, I decided to see if I could find something in AAS’s collections inspired by each of the forty-six songs in the Hamilton Original Broadway Cast Recording. It took a bit of creative thinking, a generous approach to “inspired by,” and several conversations with my colleagues who guided me through AAS’s collections, but, after several months, I succeeded! Along the way, I posted the results of my journey to Instagram, where I gathered all the posts under the hashtag #hamildays
currency optionand gave some context—perhaps, at times, too much, given Instagram’s post limits—about what I had posted.

Over the course of creating fifty posts, the #hamildays project took me through twenty-eight collections at AAS, many of them new terrain for me. I wasn’t aware of the Currency Collection until Curator of Graphic Arts Lauren Hewes pointed it out to me. However, it was a perfect match for lyrics from the song “Stay Alive,” and it was thrilling to handle something as quotidian and tangible as money. It was also unexpectedly educational to see the volume of
manuscripts 271114 square abigail adams to mary smith cranch 24 june 1785 p 2 and 3bills counterfeiting banknotes issued by the Continental Congress and to learn that a sixpence could be issued as paper currency.

I was familiar with, in a general way, AAS’s manuscript collections, but I don’t interact with them on a daily basis. It was exciting to discover that AAS holds some of Aaron Burr’s papers and to read through them, finding Burr’s marriage certificate and handling letters written by his daughter, Theodosia Burr Alston.

newspaper 1014 new york evening post november 16 1801I’ve used digitized versions of AAS’s immense newspaper collection to search for information on authors and publishers, but physically handling them and turning through their pages while following the threads of the publication of the Reynolds Pamphlet, in which Alexander Hamilton admitted to an adulterous affair, was a very different experience than targeting snippets of text on a screen. Turning through a newspaper page by page gave me a richer sense of eighteenth-century daily life by seeing the advertisements, reprinted articles, reports of household unrest, and political news that made up people’s everyday experience.

map 488638 square montresor a plan of the city of new york & its environs.jpgAlthough I work with the books and pamphlets held by AAS, I discovered new things in those collections as well. For the first time, I visited the Almanacs Collection, which was cataloged prior to my tenure at AAS, and I was startled, although ecstatic, to learn how political almanacs could be, and how they visually depicted maps of the “present seat of war” and generals such as George Washington and Horatio Gates.

These fifty posts, with images from twenty-eight different AAS collections, have now been political cartoon 46362 square peep into the antifederal club.jpggathered up and archived on the AAS website as #hamildays: A Hamilton-Inspired Journey Through the Stacks. The #hamildays archive follows the structure of Hamilton: An American Musical, and is divided into two acts with each song represented by an image (or, upon occasion, two). It also includes a bibliography of both the collection items represented and secondary sources consulted. I hope you enjoy exploring #hamildays as much as I enjoyed assembling it.

Pictures, from top to bottom:

The Federalist: A Collection of Essays, Written in Favour of the New Constitution, as Agreed Upon by the Federal Convention, September 17, 1787. 2 vol. New York: J. and A. M’Lean, 1788. Bindings Collection copy.

Portrait of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton from: Griswold, Rufus W. The Republican Court, or, American Society in the Days of Washington. New and rev. ed. New York: D. Appleton, 1856. Plate faces p. 55.

Copper lustre pitcher with transfer-printed image of the Marquis de Lafayette. English-made Staffordshire pottery for the American market.

Continental Currency. Three Dollar Bill. Philadelphia: Hall & Sellers, January 14, 1779.
Continental Currency. One Third of a Dollar. Philadelphia: Hall & Sellers, February 17, 1776.

Abigail Adams to Mary Smith Cranch, 24 June 1785. Abigail Adams Letters.

New York Evening Post. New York, N.Y. November 16, 1801.

Montrésor, John. A Plan of the City of New-York & Its Environs to Greenwich, on the North of Hudsons River, and to Crown Point, on the East or Sound River, Shewing the Several Streets, Publick Buildings, Docks, Fort & Battery, With the True Form & Course of the Commanding Grounds, With and Without the Town. Surveyed in the Winter, 1775. [London]: A. Dury, [1776?].

A Peep into the Antifederal Club. New York, 1793.

The Campaign Newspaper Title Quiz: The Answers

Last week we asked readers to figure out which five from a list of thirty nineteenth-century campaign newspaper titles were fake. Here are the answers. How did you do?

  1. Sober Second Thought (Hartford, CT), 1841

CT_Hartford_SoberSecond

A Democratic newspaper supporting Martin Van Buren.

  1. Castigator (Middletown, CT), 1840

CT_Middletown_Castigator

Another Democratic newspaper supporting Martin Van Buren.

  1. A Kick in the Pants – Fake
  1. Hard Cider Press (Chicago, IL), 1840

5000_0001

This is the first campaign newspaper published in Chicago.  It was a Democratic paper.

  1. The Old Soldier (Springfield, IL), 1840

IL_Springfield_OldSoldier

This is one of the earliest campaign newspapers known from Springfield, Illinois. It was a Whig newspaper supporting the election of William Henry Harrison. Abraham Lincoln may have worked on this publication.

  1. Tippecanoe Banner and Spirit of Democracy (New Albany, IN), 1840

Tippecanoe banner

A Whig newspaper supporting William Henry Harrison.

  1. Cabinet Maker (Boston, MA), 1860

MA_Boston_CabinetMaker

This is a Democratic newspaper supporting Stephen Douglas.  Like the Rail Splitter supporting Abraham Lincoln, the title of this paper is based on the trade Douglas was taught as a young lad. The aim was to present him as a candidate of the working class.

  1. My Worthless Opponent – Fake
  1. Rough and Ready (Boston, MA), 1848

MA_Boston_RoughReady

A Whig newspaper supporting Zachary Taylor.

 

  1. Give ‘Em Jessie! (Groton, MA), 1856

MA_Groton_GiveEmJesse

A People’s Party newspaper. The phrase “We strike for freedom but not with a cane!” refers to the incident when Preston Brooks of South Carolina beat Charles Sumner with a walking cane in the Senate chambers over a speech Sumner gave attacking slaveholders.

  1. Harry of the West (Lexington, MO), 1844

MO_Lexington_HarryWest

A Whig paper supporting Henry Clay.

  1. The Slasher (St. Louis, MO), 1844

MO_StLouis_Slasher

A Democratic paper supporting James K. Polk.

  1. Rough and Ready (Concord, NH), 1846-1848

NH_Concord_RoughReady
A Democratic Republican paper published in opposition to the Tough and Steady (see number 15 below).

  1. The Cane Mutiny – Fake
  1. Tough and Steady (Concord, NH), 1847

NH_Concord_toughandsteady

An independent newspaper in opposition to the Rough and Ready (see number 13 above).

  1. Whip & Spur (Newport, NH), 1839-1856

This is a Whig newspaper that appeared during various elections between 1839 and 1856.  Here are three mastheads used in 1839, 1840, and 1844.

NH_Newport_WhipSpur01 NH_Newport_WhipSpur02 NH_Newport_WhipSpur03 

  1. The Hare Splitter – Fake
  1. The Polk-er, and Young Hickory Advocate  (Hamilton, NY), 1844

NY_Hamilton_Polk-er

A Democratic newspaper supporting James K. Polk (as if you couldn’t guess from the title).

  1. The Thrasher (Hudson, NY), 1840

NY_Hudson_Thrasher

A Democratic newspaper supporting Martin Van Buren.

  1. Barnburner (New York, NY), 1848

6345_0001

A Free Soil newspaper supporting Martin Van Buren.

  1. New-York Must be Redeemed! (Rochester, NY), 1840

6802_0001

A Democratic newspaper supporting Martin Van Buren.

  1. That Ball! (Rochester, NY), 1840

NY_Rochester_ThatBall

A Whig paper supporting William Henry Harrison.

  1. The Giraffe (Cincinnati, OH), 1842

OH_Cincinnati_Giraffe

A Whig newspaper supporting the election of Thomas Corwin as governor.  This is an example of a campaign newspaper printed for a local rather than national election.

  1. Mother’s Favorite! – Fake
  1. Scott Soup Bowl (Cleveland, OH), 1852

7503_0001

A Whig newspaper supporting Winfield Scott.

  1. That Same Old Coon (Dayton, OH), 1844

OH_Dayton_ThatSameOldCoon

This is a Whig newspaper supporting Henry Clay. The symbol of the Whig party was the raccoon. This newspaper included an image of a raccoon in the masthead, and the pages were bordered by images of raccoons as well.

  1. Coon Dissector  (Dayton, OH), 1844

OH_Dayton_CoonDissector

A Democratic newspaper supporting James K. Polk.  The symbol of the Democratic party at the time was a rooster.  Instead of incorporating their own symbol into the campaign newspaper, they decided to attack their local opponent seen above in number 26.  They used an image of a dead raccoon with a knife in its chest and decorated the borders with dead raccoons hanging by the neck.

  1. The Magician (Harrisburg, PA), 1840

PA_Harrisburg_Magician

A Democratic newspaper supporting Martin Van Buren.

  1. The Dirty Shirt (Philadelphia, PA), 1840

PA_Philadelpiha_DirtyShirt

A Democratic newspaper supporting the election of Martin Van Buren.

  1. Old Granny, That Delivered the American Frontier from the British Proctor and His Army (Pittsburgh, PA), 1840

5065_0001

A Whig newspaper supporting William Henry Harrison.

Now In Print from the AAS Community

serverEvery quarter at AAS we release a list of recent publications by those who have researched at the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see this list, as well as a list of works published from 2000-2014, please visit our recent scholarship page on the AAS website. If your book, article, or other achievement is not included, just let us know if you’d like to see it there!

BOOKS

Apap, Chrisopher. Genius of Place: The Geographic Imagination in the Early Republic. Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2016. (Peterson Fellow, 2012-2013)

Barreyre, Nicolas. Gold and Freedom: The Political Economy of Reconstruction. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015. (Tracy Fellow, 2011-2012)

Bassett, Lynne. Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion & Its Legacy. Hartford: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, 2016. (Peterson Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

Blum, Hester, ed. Turns of Event: Nineteenth-Century American Literary Studies in Motion. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. (Reese Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

Crabtree, Sarah. Holy Nation: The Transatlantic Quaker Ministry in an Age of Revolution. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.  (AAS-ASECS Fellow, 2013-2014)

Crosby, Sara L. Poisonous Muse: The Female Prisoner and the Framing of Popular Authorship in Jacksonian America. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2016. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2005-2006)

Dalton, Russell. Children’s Bibles in America: A Reception History of the Story of Noah’s Ark in U.S. Children’s Bibles. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.

Gunn, Robert Lawrence. Ethnology and Empire: Languages, Literature, and the Making of the North American Borderlands. New York: New York University Press, 2015. (Peterson Fellow, 2008-2009)

Kelley, Sean. The Voyage of the Slave Ship Hare: A Journey into Captivity from Sierra Leone to South Carolina. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2008-2009)

Sinha, Manisha. Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2004-2005; AAS member)

ARTICLES

Edelstein, Sari. “Reading Age Beyond Childhood.” ESQ 62.1 (2016): 122-127. (Peterson Fellow, 2008-2009)

Fagan, Benjamin. “Chronicling White America.” American Periodicals 26.1 (2016): 10-12. (Tracy Fellow, 2008-2009)

McGill, Meredith. “American Poetry: What, Me Worry?” American Literary History 28.2 (2016): 288-294. (Peterson Fellow, 1995-1996; Mellon Fellow, 2003-2004; AAS member)

Murphy, Jillmarie. “The Humming Bird; or Herald of Taste (1798): Periodical Culture and Female Editorship in the Early American Republic.” American Periodicals 26.1 (2016): 44-69.

Pawley, Emily. “The Point of Perfection: Cattle Portraiture, Bloodlines, and the Meaning of Breeding, 1760-1860.” Journal of the Early Republic 36 (2016): 37-72. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2009-2010)

Ross, Kelly. “Babo’s Heterochronic Creativity.” Leviathan 18.1 (2016): 5-21. (Fellow, 2009-2010)

The Campaign Newspaper Title Quiz

This election year the verbal thrusts and parries have been fast and thick throughout the primaries. Today Facebook and Twitter are as important as radio and TV in spreading the vitriolic name-calling and accusations of various candidates. In the nineteenth century politicians had to resort to print media, and one way to do this was through campaign newspapers.

Campaign newspapers were separate publications issued just during elections to promote a specific person, party, or issue. They were printed in local newspaper offices (and sometimes edited there) for distribution in the surrounding region. Often the title is evocative of some feature of the candidate. For example, leading up to and during the Republican convention in Chicago in 1860, there was a campaign newspaper published supporting the nomination of Abraham Lincoln as the Republican candidate titled The Rail Splitter. The title emphasized Lincoln’s humble beginnings and implied that he was a man of the people.

The Rail Splitter

Similarly, the election of 1840 produced many campaign newspapers supporting William Henry Harrison with the phrase “Log Cabin” in the title. The most famous one was called The Log Cabin and published by Horace Greeley in New York and Albany.

The Log Cabin

Sometimes the title was very explicit about who they supported but at other times they were quite imaginative. Thanks to this fact, as well as to the rough and tumble primaries of the 2016 election, we decided to create a quiz similar to one from last fall asking readers to identify genuine newspaper titles from a list, this time with titles of campaign newspapers.  Can you find the five fake titles out of this list?

  1. Sober Second Thought
  1. Castigator
  1. A Kick in the Pants
  1. Hard Cider Press
  1. The Old Soldier
  1. Tippecanoe Banner and Spirit of Democracy
  1. Cabinet Maker
  1. My Worthless Opponent
  1. Rough and Ready
  1. Give ‘Em Jessie!
  1. Harry of the West
  1. The Slasher
  1. Rough and Ready
  1. The Cane Mutiny
  1. Tough and Steady
  1. Whip & Spur
  1. The Hare Splitter
  1. The Polk-er, and Young Hickory Advocate
  1. The Thrasher
  1. Barnburner
  1. New-York Must be Redeemed!
  1. That Ball!
  1. The Giraffe
  1. Mother’s Favorite!
  1. Scott Soup Bowl
  1. That Same Old Coon
  1. The Coon Dissector
  1. The Magician
  1. The Dirty Shirt
  1. Old Granny, That Delivered the American Frontier from the British Proctor and His Army

Next week: The answers!

Transforming the Printers’ File into a Linked Open Data Resource

PFCabinetEmily Wells, who is working on the Printers’ File project at AAS this summer, received her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College in 2015. In the fall she will enter the History Ph.D. program at the College of William and Mary and begin work as an editorial apprentice at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Here she shares what she has learned while working with the Printers’ File. 

When you walk into the reading room, a number of objects might catch your eye, from the marble busts that flank the doorway to the portraits that stare down from the second floor balcony. One object that might escape your notice, however, is a brown wood cabinet that stands to the left of the main entrance. This cabinet, known as the Printers’ File, contains more than 16,000 typewritten cards that record the stories of approximately 6,000 people who were involved in the American book trade before 1820.

At present, this resource is only available to researchers who are able to visit the reading room and peruse the cards in person. To make the Printers’ File more easily accessible, AAS is working to digitize and transfer the information recorded on these cards to a linked open data resource. Not only will this resource make the Printers’ File available to anyone with a computer and internet access, but it will also allow researchers to answer complex research queries and draw connections between the people and places recorded within the scope of the project.

As the person hired to enter data, I am working to interpret and transfer the information written on the original typewritten cards to a digital environment while also helping to formulate guidelines that will standardize the data entry process. Through my work with the Printers’ File, I have discovered that there is a fundamental difficulty that arises when attempting to fit biographical information into a standardized format. To create a working dataset, one must determine the best way to field a person’s life experience, something that is inherently messy and complex, within the limits of a data entry form.

The original Printers' File card and the digital entry for William Bradford.

The original Printers’ File card and the digital entry for William Bradford.

EventsFieldAlthough there is no perfect solution to this problem, there are several ways that we can record the unique details of a person’s life while also maintaining consistency across the entire dataset. One way we can accomplish this is by entering information in a specially created “events” form. This form, which is separate from, but connected to the form that contains information regarding a person’s profession, allows us to record the more unusual aspects of a person’s life in a searchable format. For example, if someone was banished, held for ransom, impressed into the navy, or enslaved, we can create unique entries for those occurrences.  By creating these events, we avoid relegating information to the notes, a catchall field that renders the data unsearchable and therefore, somewhat unusable.

Another challenge arises when attempting to interpret the cards themselves. Avis Clarke, the woman who created the Printers’ File, devised a system that allowed her to record information in a consistent manner, even when she returned to cards years later with new research. Starting in 1927, Clarke combed through a vast number of imprints, newspapers, and secondary sources to find information that could be incorporated into the Printers’ File. Before I could understand the essential data recorded on the cards, I first had to familiarize myself with Clarke’s method. Every so often, her quirks and idiosyncrasies shine through and create an extra challenge of decoding her research before entering it into the data entry form.

Clarke

Avis Clarke, who created the Pinters’ File, working in Antiquarian Hall.

Although the Printers’ File contains records for a number of well-known individuals, some of the most colorful stories are those that are relatively unknown. For example, James Adams, the first printer in Wilmington, Delaware, was forced to move his press to Doylestown, Pennsylvania, in 1777 to escape the British forces. Another printer, Daniel Bowen, gave up his business in 1788 to travel the country exhibiting his collection of wax sculptures. The Printers’ File also contains the stories of a handful of women who participated in the early American book trade. One of these women, Mary Baldwin, took over her husband’s printing business in Kingston, Jamaica, after his death in 1722. A few decades earlier, Mary Avery began working as a bookseller in Boston after the death of her first husband in 1678 and continued her business even after she remarried in 1679.

Once the project is complete, these stories and many others will be available to researchers anywhere in the world. With a single search, we will be able to comb through thousands of records. For example, we could compile a complete list of women who owned printing offices in early America or search through the names of printers who learned their trade in Europe before immigrating to North America. Regardless of specialty, scholars of early American history will undoubtedly find something of interest.

This fall, as I begin my first year as a History PhD student at the College of William and Mary, I will have the chance to apply skills I learned while working on the Printers’ File to my own research. Not only has this experience opened my eyes to the varied world of the early American book trade, but it has also given me an inside look into how digital repositories of information are constructed, knowledge that will make it easier to find and navigate these resources in the future.

Support for this work has been generously provided by the Delmas Foundation, the Lapidus Digital Enterprise Fund, and the Pine Tree Foundation of New York.

The Story of Emily & Benjamin

IMG_5007Earlier this year the American Antiquarian Society acquired an important archive of manuscripts and drawings related to American missionary activity in Western Africa.  The collection tells the story of a couple, Emily Griswold (1838-1906) and her eventual husband, Benjamin Hartley (1838-1912). Emily was the daughter of the poet and publisher Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who edited anthologies, gift books, and newspapers in Philadelphia and New York.  Rufus Griswold is best known today for his rivalry with Edgar Allan Poe, and is something of a larger-than-life figure in American publishing history. When the Society’s curators were first contacted about the archive, in fact, it was the connection to Rufus that enticed us to take a closer look.

As is often the case with such collections, however, it soon became apparent that the real treasure of the collection was not about Rufus at all, but was material related to what we all started calling “The Emily & Benjamin story.”  After surviving near-death during a railroad accident, Emily devoted herself to missionary work. In 1860, at the age of twenty-two, she traveled to Liberia as part of an Episcopal mission. She wrote letters home to her aunt as the American Civil War raged and by all accounts enjoyed living in the lush climate of coastal Africa, far away from the war.  In 1864, the Scottish-born artist Benjamin Hartley also arrived in Africa.  Educated at the Theological Seminary in Gambier, Ohio, formerly associated with Kenyon College, Hartley was ordained in Brooklyn, New York, in May of 1864, and by July was in Cape Palmas, Liberia. The two missionaries met, worked and prayed together, and eventually fell in love.  Just a year after his arrival, Benjamin and Emily, both aged twenty-seven, married in Cape Palmas.

530377_0001 - CROP2When he traveled to Africa in 1864, Benjamin carried with him empty sketch books, inks, watercolors, and, most surprisingly  perhaps, a camera. He used them all to document the world around him, so different from Scotland and Ohio. He drew and painted the people, their homes, the harbor, and the plants, animals, and architecture of Cape Palmas, Fishtown, the Hoffman river basin, and nearby communities of the Grebo (Kru) people. Dozens of his drawings and watercolors are preserved in the family collection. Benjamin even photographed the church where he and Emily worked and said their vows—his 1865 albumen photo is pasted into the family scrapbook (see above).  Images of the American missionary towns of West Africa from this period are extremely rare, and I realized that this part of the Emily & Benjamin story could be a valuable visual resource for scholars.

Benjamin sketch of Cape PalmasBut there was more to the family collection than just important and evocative drawings and photos. During a visit to assess the condition and breadth of the artwork, I was invited by the dealer handling the transaction to have a look at some manuscript and printed material as well.  Throughout their lives, both Emily and Benjamin wrote prolifically—Benjamin kept a diary during his African missionary newspaperyears at Gambier, Emily corresponded with family and friends around the world. Benjamin edited and printed a missionary newspaper in Africa (see left). Both of them wrote continuously about their time in Africa, with Emily producing articles and stories for the periodical press for decades after they returned to America and Benjamin writing sermons and giving public lectures about their experience. In fact, Rev. Hartley repurposed much of his imagery from Africa in a series of illustrated lectures on “African Life and Superstitions,” which he delivered at churches and Sunday schools around the United States in the 1870s, during Reconstruction. At this same time, Emily started writing moral tales for children.  AAS already had four of her titles in our collection and so our curator of children’s literature was thrilled that the archive contained manuscripts of Emily’s unpublished writing, plus a scrapbook of her published work—all carefully clipped from newspapers and magazines and preserved by the author.

Benjamin drawing of African Interior

IMG_5009Fortunately for AAS, Emily and Benjamin’s descendants saved it all, including letters of rejection and acceptance for their various writings, the sketchbooks, the scrapbook, a handful of African newspapers, the Gambier diary, a scrapbook and diary of the couple’s time in Africa, and papers and sketches from after 1867 when they left Africa and lived in New York, Kansas, Missouri, and California. In the end there was some piece of the Emily & Benjamin story for each of the Society’s five collecting areas: drawings and artwork for the Graphic Arts Department, unpublished manuscripts for the Children’s Literature Department,  diaries and letters related to the publishing trade for the Manuscript Department, missionary newspapers for the Newspaper Department, and the family Bible, with a complete Hartley genealogy, for the Books Department. Welcome to AAS, Emily and Benjamin!

The Acquisitions Table: Bobby’s Teeth

530423_0001Sarah E. Chester.  Bobby’s Teeth.  New York: American Tract Society, ca. 1873. (Swallow Stories.)

This cute chromolithographed label of a little boy decorates the cover of a humorous tale about little Bobby, who according to the book’s narrator, has teeth as “white as snow” and “even as a row of pins.” Unfortunately, Bobby uses his teeth to bite his sister while trying to eat an apple that is not his. Ashamed of his bad behavior, the little boy seeks out the “tooth man” to pull out his teeth; in response, the nineteenth-century dentist tells the boy the cause of the little troublemaker’s wickedness is in his soul, not his teeth.

 

Omeka Tutorials

Ever since Omeka Mania first took hold here at AAS, we have delighted in learning about this exhibition publishing platform and helping each other make the most of it. A group of us meet about twice a month to share our progress and help each other out.  From these collaborations, AAS has published six online exhibitions in the last year with more to come soon. As our work has progressed, we’ve taken turns teaching each other what we’ve learned. We thought that we might share some of these teaching tools with you.

We consider the slides below for the middle-level Omeka user. There are a number of “getting started with Omeka” resources out there. And the robust Omeka forums certainly can answer questions for programmers and developers. What we have created is for those of us who fall somewhere in between those two categories. From conversations with colleagues and friends both at other cultural heritage organizations and at educational institutions, we suspect that there might be a few others like us out there!

Though we think that these slides might be useful to any Omeka users, we should offer a few caveats. These assume that Omeka is installed in a server that you have some amount of access to (we have no experience with omeka.net). Also, as a special collections library with an excellent General Catalog, we have created very little metadata for our items. Instead, we have pulled metadata from our Catalog and from Aeon, as is detailed in the “metadata” slide deck.

We hope that you find these slides useful. Please feel free to share, use, and reuse as needed. And thanks to our friends at the Roy Rosenzweig for History and New Media for creating this amazing tool and for offering us so much support as we put it to use!

You can view the slides below (also in Slideshare) or your can click on the title of each to download a PDF of the slides.

  1. Metadata  
  2. Images 
  3. CSS 
  4. HTML Tables 

A broadside of note

AAS member Jane K. Dewey has volunteered in the manuscri528208_0001pts department for almost 30 years and processed forty large collections. Jane most recently organized, housed, and wrote about some of the manuscripts from the Pike-Wright Family papers, a recent donation from Susan Pike Corcoran. Even though the donation includes a substantial collection of ambrotypes, daguerreotypes, and photographs and a fantastic group of medical instruments used by Connecticut physician Nathan Pike, one of the most exceptional pieces is a letter from Nathan, which Jane discusses below.

The job of a manuscripts processor is to put a collection in order, describe it briefly, and make it of use to the researcher. Pike family descendants preserved genealogies and Nathan’s notes on medical lectures, several ledgers, and about thirty mid-nineteenth-century letters. To get to the heart of the collection—the material associated with Nathan Pike—I separated a large number of genealogical notes from the rest of the material and roughly processed them. After setting aside the ledgers and lecture notes, I decided to read and put the letters in chronological order and then set my attention on the diary.

Nathan’s diary begins in 1853, when he embarked with his wife on a trip to the South. Nathan suffered from tuberculosis and traveled to a warmer climate to alleviate the symptoms of his disease. He kept the diary, in which he recorded this and another trip the following year, until only ten days before his death in 1857. During his travels Nathan visited fellow physicians, attended medical meetings, and toured hospitals. While in New Orleans he also wrote home to an unknown addressee about a slave auction he attended there, noting the price for which each slave was sold as well as the policy of keeping the family unit intact if possible. Nathan’s diary is a witness to one man’s fight against one of the greatest scourges of his time. In addition to reporting on the weather and his activities, he reports on his health. Taking cod liver oil mixed with cider or porter was his chief weapon in a losing battle against TB. Nathan probably had no idea that the record of his struggle would long survive him. It’s easy to feel great sympathy while reading the words of a dying man.

The slave auction letter to which Jane refers was written in 1855 and details the heartbreaking story of the sale of one woman and her adopted daughter in New Orleans. Nathan writes:

Feb. 28. I attended the within sale yesterday and thinking it might interest you I took pains to mark as you might see the amount for which they sold. You will perceive that they are put up in families and they are generally sold so so far as I have seen since I have been here.

528208_0002There was one instance yesterday when Martha No 46 was put up alone—she cried to have Rachel No 47 her adopted child sold with her and her request was granted—they sold together for 975 dollars as you can see by reference to No 46 + 47—the price for which these sold is I should think about an average. A good adult field hand sound healthy and acclimated sells for an average of about 1000 dollars.

Although we might feel sympathy for Nathan in his ailing state, his distant, almost clinical tone, in describing the sale is disturbing. Seeing the enslaved people referred to and sold by lot number and described only by their usefulness (“good field hand” “trusty”) or defects (“has only one arm”), seems not to have affected Nathan enough to comment. What did Nathan think about Aleck, Jeffrey, Yancey, and Bob Jackson, who sold for more because of their experience with machinery? How did this group of enslaved people, “brought up to the culture of cane” on Pisero’s plantation, say their farewells to each other? Had he lived, what would Nathan have thought about the fate of the enslaved five years later on the eve of civil war?

We hope you return to the AAS blog as we continue to post more from the Pike-Wright Family papers. Our next installment is from AAS member Sande Bishop, who worked with Nathan’s medical ledgers and lecture notes.

The Verses go Live! Music added to the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads Project

Just over a year ago, we launched Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballads: Verses in Vogue with the Vulgar. With over 800 images and 300 mini-essays, this site offers a unique and comprehensive view of the broadsides that Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831) collected in early nineteenth-century Boston. Each broadside includes a brief explanation of its content by Kate Van Winkle Keller. In the past year, we have continued to work on the site, most recently adding TEI-encoded transcriptions of the broadsides.

We are now ready to debut our latest addition: music! Thanks to David and Ginger Hildebrand of the Colonial Music Institute, their recorded performances of twenty-five ballads are now included on the site, with another dozen or so to come. Their contributions might be the ballad exactly as it appears on the broadside, a few verses from a given ballad, or the melody to which the ballad would have been sung. An mp3 link is included at the top of any broadside page that has musical accompaniment with details of what is being performed.

You can listen to the melody and the lyrics of "The Rose Tree"

The complete ballad of “The Rose Tree” is included

An instrumental version of "Jockey to the Fair" is included

An instrumental version of “Jockey to the Fair” in included

 

 

 

 

 

To find all the ballads included on the site, visit the Listen to the Ballads page on the site.

Ginger and David Hildebrand

Ginger and David Hildebrand

And wait, there’s more! David and Ginger will be performing under our generous dome this Friday, April 29th at 7pm. Their concert, “Ballads from Boston: Music from the Isaiah Thomas Broadside Ballad Collection”, is free and open to the public, so please join us for this celebration of early American music and of this collection, which does so much to preserve it.