Unique Jacksoniana: An Extra-Illustrated Life

An earlier blog post mentioned that work was underway on an online resource about the Jacksonian Era at AAS featuring highlights from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era collection. To whet your appetite in the weeks leading up to its debut we will be telling you about a few one-of-a-kind items from that collection. Today we feature an extra-illustrated copy of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson.

Title page of the extra-illustrated volume.

Now, you may well be wondering just what makes a book extra-illustrated (also sometimes referred to as Grangerized, named for the Brit who popularized the practice in the eighteenth century). Imagine you hold in your hands a copy of the 1831 campaign biography, A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Now imagine yourself carefully razoring out each individual leaf of the entire text—all 210 pages, i.e. 105 two-sided leaves. Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? Well, an unknown nineteenth-century individual did so in order to create his or her own personalized book crafted around the skeleton of the original biography’s printed text. This person carefully inlayed the cut-out printed pages from the original book’s octavo volume (roughly the size of a small paperback today) into folio sheets of paper (roughly the size of a current coffee-table book). The effect is such that the text appears as a window centered within wide margins on the oversized page. If you’re curious just how this was done, the Huntington Library did an excellent time-lapsed one-minute video showing the process as part of their 2013 exhibition, Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from the Huntington Library.

One of the interleaved illustrations in the volume.

But our compiler (or book-destroyer, depending on how you look at it) was not satisfied with first cutting apart and then beefing up the size of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Interspersed between every few leaves of text we also find extra illustrations. Plates, or separately printed sheets of illustrations, have been taken from other publications and bound into our new folio-sized volume, interleaved between the pages of cut-out text in a beautifully tooled and gilt binding with blue silk paste-downs. Among the images are Rachel Jackson, Cherokee and Choctaw chiefs, Nashville and Washington, D.C., just about every portrait of Jackson you can think of, and more. Most relate to, or comment on, the pages of text they now neighbor.

The gilt cover of the volume.

A few words might be in order here about the printed text this book is built around. A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson is only described on the title page as written “by a free man” but has been attributed to William Joseph Snelling. Despite its title claim to be “impartial,” the text is decidedly anti-Jacksonian (though not as vitriolic as others) as evidenced in the book’s penultimate paragraph, which concludes: “The rest of Mr. Jackson’s statement does not agree with the record.” Though many people would have had access to Snelling’s original publication, this particular volume now at AAS is a print mash-up that has essentially become a unique item of exponentially more value to researchers.

(N.B.: All the volumes in the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection are available to researchers now in person at AAS and can be identified using the collection name when searching the general catalog.)

The 2015-16 Annual Report is now available!

This year is shaping up to be a big one for the Society, heading into the groundbreaking for the renovation and new addition to Antiquarian Hall in April. As part of that forward-looking process, we’ve also begun to refine how we share the mission and work of the Society. One of the first steps we’ve undertaken is to rethink our annual report to ensure that it reflects the full range of work accomplished and the vibrancy of the programs presented by AAS. This year’s report, covering September 1, 2015, to August 31, 2016, provides an update about every department, from cataloging to conservation to programming to readers’ services, touching on the myriad ways that the Society continues grow, preserve, and share its collections with an ever-widening audience. Take a moment to see what we’ve been up to and read the full issue here!

Reading into Valentines

“True Love” with Piper. Worcester: Esther Howland, ca. 1860. Stamped “H/15”

This semester, AAS is partnering with a class from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, as students there learn about the production and popularity of valentines in America. In an upper level colloquium, Professor Laura Kalba and her students are exploring the connections between nineteenth-century print ephemera and the ephemerality of images in the digital era. “Be My Valentine. Ephemera, Ephemerality, and Affect from the Victorian Era to Today” includes two visits to the Antiquarian Society—I will lead one, and the second will be taught by Nan Wolverton, our director of CHAViC—and a classroom visit by AAS Digital Humanities Curator Molly O’Hagan Hardy. The final product will be a student-produced Omeka exhibition on the AAS website.

Trade card for George Whitney, Fine Valentines, Worcester, ca. 1875.

In my role as curator of graphic arts, I was asked to lead the first Worcester session, which is intended to immerse the students in original material.  Since we are fast approaching Valentine’s Day, it seemed appropriate to share with a broader audience some of the material I pulled to use with the class. Professor Kalba asked AAS to expose the students to multiple types of ephemera to give them a broader perspective.  They will see trade cards for valentine manufacturers and invitations for winter balls and parties. I pulled out examples of flirtation, or escort, cards—small-format ephemeral pieces that skirted social norms of the era by allowing strangers to connect. Broadsides for Valentine’s Day events and activities, like the notice for an 1850 fundraiser (which included oysters and hot coffee) in New Hampshire, combined with illustrations from periodicals like Harper’s Weekly, will help the students build context for the main attraction of the session: the historic valentines themselves.

Escort cards, ca. 1880-1900

Valentine Festival, Lebanon, New Hampshire, 1850.

“St. Valentine’s Day 1864,” Harpers Weekly, February 20, 1864.

Elizabeth R. Comstock to her sister Martha W. Comstock Chapin, Smithfield, Rhode Island, ca. 1840. It includes a lock of Elizabeth’s hair.

AAS has a collection of three thousand American and European valentines sold in America. The students will have remote access to several subgroups of the collections, which have been cataloged on a collection level and fully digitized, including 139 manuscript valentines, several three-dimensional boxed valentines, and over 150 nineteenth-century comic valentines. This digital access is ideal for long-distance learning and will be integral to the development of the Omeka exhibition, but during their visit to the Society the students will be able to view the actual cards and notes. This includes a handwritten missive with a lock of the sender’s hair; a fancy 1860s boxed valentine that retailed for $1 and was made in Worcester by Esther Howland, the Mother of the American Valentine; and a comic, or vinegar, valentine published in New York. By comparing and contrasting the themes, printing methods, physicality, and sentiments of each of these objects, the students will begin to form themes and conclusions to use in their online exhibition.

Three-dimensional boxed paper valentine. Worcester: Esther Howland, ca. 1860s.

Lady Killer. New York: Alfred J. Fisher, ca. 1875.

This collaborative project will take place over the next several months and we hope to report our progress here on Past is Present, so stay tuned for updates.  Until then, Happy Valentine’s Day from the American Antiquarian Society!

The Acquisitions Table: Sermons by Joseph Avery, 1773-1777

Joseph Avery, Sermons, 1773-1777

The Society already had several collections relating to Joseph Avery, a minister in Holden from 1774 until his death in 1824, before acquiring these fifty-seven sermons. In addition to our Holden, Massachusetts, records, which contain some Avery correspondence, we have a collection of records from Holden’s First Congregational Church, where Avery was pastor. We also have the diaries of Avery’s daughter, Mary Avery White, and granddaughter, Caroline Barrett White. One of the sermons in this collection, which were all delivered during Revolutionary activity between 1773 and 1777, stands out for its revolutionary rhetoric. Referring to recent acts of Parliament, Avery writes: “After the last war was over, the greatest harmony + peace subsisted between Brittain + her colonies till those at helm in Britain began the fatal business of taxation upon the colonies.” If American soldiers did not continue to take up arms against the tyrannous Britains, he said, “farewell the sweets of Liberty…, farewell to domestic happiness, a dreary train of evils will then overtake us.” Recognizing the reality of battle, he wrote, “some of you may be cut off by Death, & never return more…but that you may be excited to prepare for it. You may indeed live all of you to return, + you might have dyed if you had remain’d at home.”

Presidential Politics in the Archives: Andrew Jackson

Hand-colored lithograph of “Andrew Jackson. Seventh President of the United States [U.S., between 1830 and 1842?], from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection.

Donald Trump. Just saying his name evokes passionate responses as almost everyone has an opinion on the man. In the early nineteenth century, the name that inspired similar strong emotions from both supporters and detractors was Andrew Jackson. Some have drawn comparisons between the movement that brought Donald Trump into power and Andrew Jackson’s mass democratic movement in the 1820s that led to the formation of the modern-day Democratic party. Now, we all know direct comparisons across centuries and seismic political shifts are hazardous to our historical imaginations. Still, it is intriguing to consider why these two figures feature at the center of such vitriol and adulation. Is it just their individual personalities, or might new forms of media have served to amplify and project the characters of these individuals? In Trump’s era, there’s Twitter and Facebook feeds and the twenty-four-hour news media; in Jackson’s era, there was the rise of the penny press with its demand for cheap daily news and increasingly mechanized printing technologies that exponentially expanded printing capacity beyond the earlier limits of the hand-press period. While AAS cannot help you better understand the current political situation, we can provide the original primary sources to investigate the past.

Anyone seeking to better understand the milieu of the 1820s and 30s, during which the first populist American president emerged, would do well to start at AAS. After all, we have been collecting historical material since before the Jacksonian Era began. Recently, though, our collections have become even stronger thanks to the continuing work and generosity of William C. Cook. (An article in the fall 2015 AAS newsletter, the Almanac, described this gift of material about the Jacksonian Era.) Thanks to funding from Mr. Cook to support cataloging the donation, over five hundred recently donated items have all been added to the AAS online catalog and can be found by searching for the phrase “William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection.” Mr. Cook is also continuing to fund additions to the collection. Many of the titles are entirely new to AAS and some are known in no other copies. Also included are variant states or different editions of titles already at AAS and secondary works on the Jacksonian Era.

Many subtle changes were made between the 1817 and the 1824 editions of Eaton’s pro-Jackson biography, including the first line of Chapter One, highlighted here.

Of particular interest in the context of presidential politics is a significant cache of Jackson biographies. These volumes elucidate the publication history of some of the earliest (and most salacious) American campaign biographies. It is here scholars may turn to find more information about how presidential politics and publication history intersect. Comparing what is omitted, rewritten, and highlighted between various editions can reveal slight but meaningful changes, as is the case with the Jackson biography commenced by John Reid (Jackson’s aide-de-camp) and completed by John Henry Eaton after Reid’s death. First published in 1817, the text was later republished largely line-for-line except for a new preface in 1824 and 1828, not coincidentally election years when Jackson was running. In the first edition, chapter one begins: “The parents of Andrew Jackson were Irish.” In the later editions from the 1820s, the first line was changed to:  “Andrew Jackson was born on the 15th day of March, 1767.” Simple enough, but one could argue the first form emphasizes a passively received traditional heritage while the later revision moves Andrew Jackson himself to the fore as the subject actively being born. Perhaps an early example of brand messaging?

And one more thing to note — a president is always important, but it’s the people that make the American story. AAS collections support the study not just of Andrew Jackson himself, but also of the entire Jacksonian Era (and beyond). Subjects that can be studied using the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection and other AAS collection material include slaveholding and race relations, Native Americans’ legal relationship to the American land, the United States banking system, geographic political divisions of the United States, and more. To promote these sources now available at AAS, the Society will soon debut an online resource on the Jacksonian Era at AAS, featuring highlights from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection. Stay tuned for more!

New Illustrated Inventory: Bien’s Edition of “Birds of America”

“Blue Jay”

In 1858, John Woodhouse Audubon, son of John James Audubon, set out to recreate the success of his father’s work Birds of America, published in 1838 with four hundred large, hand-colored engravings. John Woodhouse partnered with lithographer Julius Bien and the publishing firm of Roe, Lockwood & Company to create a less-expensive set than the Lizars/Havell edition. (The story of how AAS missed out on the 1838 plates was told in a previous blog post.) John Woodhouse Audubon solicited subscribers for the $500 set, costing half the price of the 1838 set. Since the Audubon family still owned the copper plates used in 1838, they were given to Bien to transfer to lithographic stone. Each plate still required at least six color stones, making the project expensive and cumbersome. The timing of the project was unfortunate as well. America was on the brink of the Civil War, and by the time the first volume came out in 1860, subscribers had started to back out of the project, and others, especially in the South, were unreachable. Only 15 parts of the anticipated 45 were produced, and most were bound in a large, one-volume set, containing 150 images on 105 sheets. Because of the small number produced (an estimated 75–100), this “Bien edition” of Birds of America is considered rarer than the 1838 edition. It is estimated that today, only seventeen bound sets still exist.

“Reddish Egret”

Georgia Barnhill (far right) viewing the Bien edition.

In 2012, AAS was given a copy of this extremely rare bound edition of Bien’s Birds of America. Longtime lithograph collector Jay T. Last generously donated his copy to the library in honor of the retirement of curator emerita Georgia B. Barnhill. The large, heavy volume requires a custom-built cradle to be viewed and two people to transport it. Because of this, the entire volume was digitized and described, and is now available to view as an illustrated inventory using the Omeka platform. The site is keyword-searchable, and tags make it easy to find like birds, as well as other documented items in the plates such as nests and landscapes. The resources page links to other related items in the AAS collections, including a salesman’s sample for the 1870 octavo volumes that accompany the plates. Enjoy!

A new podcast from Past is Present!

Last year on Past is Present we featured a series of interviews with American Antiquarian Society fellows in order to showcase their thoughts about writing history and work with the Society’s collections. This year we’ve decided that, instead of transcribing those interviews, we will make them available as podcasts. This will let our readers (and now listeners) hear all the nuances that are present only in the spoken word. Anyone looking for a new history podcast will want to subscribe to these half-hour interviews.

For our first interview of the new year, we’re featuring Denise Miller, who has just completed a Charlotte and Robert Baron fellowship at the Society. Denise is a teacher, poet, activist, and chef who’s based in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and also the American Book Award. Denise’s current project is called Travelogos: African Americans and the Struggle for Safe Passage. In addition to the podcast, we’ve also included a few bonus poems from Denise, which you can find below. Both are Pushcart-nominated poems, the first, “Libations,” from her first book CORE and the second, “Dear Spectators,” from her newest book Ligatures.

You can listen to this podcast at the top of this post or subscribe to it through iTunes. Stay tuned for much more from the Past is Present podcast!

“Libations” from CORE


“Dear Spectators” from Ligatures

Hanukkah and American Judaism, 1841-1876

‘Tis the season for holiday traditions and rituals – and for social media posts like this one that try to give some historical perspective to why we celebrate the way we do. So many holidays cluster around the winter solstice, such as Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve (or Saturnalia or your basic pagan winter solstice festival of lights). For many of us, these are closely tied to personal identity, family history, and religious belief and trying to suss out the historical details of how these holidays were first celebrated and how they have changed over the years can leave us as twisted up and frustrated as trying to straighten out tangled strings of lights. Whether lighting menorahs or hanging stockings, it’s interesting to stop and ask ourselves: Why am I doing this? Who was the first person to do this? What have these traditions meant in the past and why were they passed down to me?

If you’re looking for the origins of how Hanukkah is celebrated in the U.S. you’ll want to head to the mid-nineteenth century. The holiday itself, of course, has been celebrated for centuries; it commemorates the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C. (Syrian-Greek oppressors had desecrated the temple in an attempt to encourage assimilation but the Maccabean Revolt restored Jewish access to the temple). Jewish families had been established in North America for centuries as well, but the Jewish population in what became the U.S. was clustered in small pockets scattered throughout the country and the Hanukkah celebration was a relatively minor holiday (it is not mandated in Scripture). In a wave of migration starting in the 1840s, German Jews in particular brought with them a European tradition of celebrating a secularized Christmas. As Christmas grew in cultural (and commercial) importance in America through the mid-nineteenth century, the close chronological proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas — and the fact that both holidays have been referred to at various points in history as the “Feast of Lights” — proved a flashpoint for questions about distinctiveness, assimilation, and reform. (Keep in mind, the intermingling of holiday symbols could go both ways. The day after Christmas in 1876, The Sun described Baltimore’s local German churches’ celebrations as a mixture of holiday traditions: “Illuminated Christmas trees were conspicuous in all” the churches, and one “exhibited a stand used by the Hebrews at the celebration of the Chanukaw [sic], or Feast of Lights.”) The transitional period of the mid-nineteenth was significant not just for how American Jews celebrated Hanukkah; it is a less well-known but nonetheless key pivot point in the American Jewish experience in general.

American Judaica, 1841-1876 is a new online resource focusing on the middle years of the nineteenth century in the American Jewish experience, using items printed during those years in fresh new ways. Featured selections include about sixty written and visual examples, a geographic mapping of some of the Jewish institutional publications held at AAS, and a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Judaica materials that the Society’s curators have been adding recently. The project is an outcome of the work on AAS’s later Judaica holdings done by intern Claire Jones in the summer of 2016 as part of the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program with funding generously provided by AAS chairman, Sid Lapidus. (You can read more about her research process and discoveries in a series of entertaining blog posts posted earlier here in Past is Present.)

Why focus on the middle of the nineteenth century? Rather than an origin story of the first Jewish this or that, or being understood only as a precursor for the present day, focusing on the mid-nineteenth century can expose a distinct perspective all its own.

For instance, searching AAS’s newspapers for mid-nineteenth century Hanukkah celebrations reveals rather unexpected geographic centers for American Judaism, such as Ohio. In the popular imagination, Jewish American life is often tied to New York City — after all, that is where the first Jews settled in the 1650s and where great waves of immigrants arrived starting in the 1880s. However, it was in Cincinnati in 1860 that Isaac Wise published a romanticized story based on the Maccabean Revolt in his national Jewish magazine, The Israelite. Also, in a quick search of digitized non-Jewish newspapers, the earliest reference to specific celebrations of the holiday in their local Jewish community was from Cleveland, Ohio: a notice of the beginning of Hanukkah in the December 8, 1860 issue of Plain Dealer. Other early mentions of the holiday appeared in 1868 in Jackson, Michigan, in 1869 in Boston, Massachusetts, and in 1874 in Alexandria, Virginia.

Besides rearranging our mental map of American Judaism, focusing on mid-nineteenth century American celebrations of Hanukkah highlight different aspects besides the trappings of dreidel, gelt, and latke. Hanukkah celebrations provided an opportunity for Jewish Americans to publicly proclaim their identity with lighted menorahs to be displayed in each household’s front window, and in the mid-nineteenth century one first begins to find mentions of the holiday being celebrated in non-Jewish newspapers. Among the characteristics emphasized in these accounts were the “hilarity” of the holiday, its focus on charity and civic mindedness, and the perseverance of Jewish identity.

In its November 30, 1869 edition, The New York Herald described the Hanukkah festivities in that city and explained the significance to their non-Jewish readers: “The synagogues last evening were splendidly lighted and adorned with wreaths and garlands. On the reading pulpit were placed candlesticks with candles… Thanks were said, hymns psalms and praises were sung, and the occasion generally celebrated with great hilarity publicly in the synagogues as also privately within the family circle.” The importance of the holiday to “our Hebrew fellow-citizens” was emphasized in an article in The Critic (Washington, DC) on December 12, 1871, as well as the charitable giving associated with the holiday: “This feast is one of sacrifice and love, and one on which the more fortunate members of the Hebrew Church make contributions for the relief of their less fortunate brethren.” The Galveston Tri-Weekly News (Galveston, Texas) for December 8, 1871, provided a lengthy description of the historical events commemorated and how Hanukkah was celebrated, adding  “such it has been kept through dispersion, during persecution, and alive yet on the present day.”

For more interesting developments in Hanukkah celebrations in the U.S. after 1876 — one of the most striking being Maccabean pageant the “The Grand Revival of the National Holiday of Chance” by Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1879 — see Dianne Ashton’s Hanukkah in America: A History [catalog record]. We hope you will also enjoy American Judaica, 1841-1876.

Database Reveals a Soldier’s Unexpected Past

Online searching has undoubtedly revolutionized information gathering.  Census rolls, vital records, family trees, and genealogies are among the familiar, much-used digital resources at our fingertips free of charge in the Society’s reading room.  A lesser utilized treasure trove of information is held in the Society’s collection of printed college and school catalogs. These “catalogs” were issued annually and often listed the names and city of origin of its students and faculty.  Many of these names—nearly three quarters of a million of them—have been indexed in the Student, Teacher and Trustee Database Project, 1800-1900, freely accessible on the AAS website.

AAS member Richard P. Morgan saw the research value in indexing student and faculty names and has made this database his mission.  Always striving to improve the online presentation and functionality of the database, Rich will periodically call upon me to tweak the search or results interface pages.  Recently, in the midst of testing an update, I searched for a name that popped into my head—“Aaron Scott.”  It’s the name of my great-grandfather, a Connecticut Valley tobacco farmer born in the 1860s.  I was surprised when four results from the 1850s for an Aaron Scott of North Hadley, Massachusetts, appeared.  I was well aware of this Aaron Scott—the uncle after whom my own great-grandfather was named.  Stories of this beloved uncle and the circumstance of his death as a Civil War soldier have long loomed large in our family lore.  I had no idea, however, that this son of a farming family had the opportunity to attend Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, from 1850 to 1851, and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, from 1854 to 1857, as the database now showed me.

Portrait of Aaron Scott from “History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment: Illinois Volunteer Infantry,” 1887.

During the Atlanta campaign on August 2, 1864, Aaron Scott, having suffered a serious wound to his face, was lying on his bunk reading his Bible when he was struck by a bullet.  An account of the event, recorded in a history of his regiment, describes Scott’s refusal of whiskey; he preferred to sip cold water.[1] His dramatic passing was recorded as having a profound effect on the other soldiers.  This tragic end is really all that our family had remembered about Uncle Aaron, but his educational background does help explain how, at the time of his enlistment, he was a teacher in charge of the agricultural department of the Reform School at Chicago.   Without the indexing provided by the Student, Teacher and Trustee Database Project, the knowledge of Aaron Scott’s education and experience as a student would have most likely have remained a missing piece of his story.


[1] History of the Ninety-Sixth Regiment: Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Edited by Charles A. Partridge. Chicago: Brown, Pettibone, printers, 1887.

Show the Love: McLoughlin Christmas Books

St. Nicholas. New York: McLoughlin Bros., ca. 1895.

One year from now AAS will be opening the exhibition Radiant with Color and Light: McLoughlin Brothers and the Business of Picture Books, 1858-1920 at the Grolier Club in New York. The show will feature nearly two hundred books, games, watercolors, toys, and ephemera, all produced by the McLoughlin Bros. firm and their contemporaries. The Society’s curators and conservators have been hard at work planning the show since 2013 and, in recent weeks, have begun to lay out the installation in preparation for the construction of book cradles, mattes, frames, and other display elements, as well as the writing of exhibition labels, all work that is slated for early 2017.

Christmas Boxes. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1881.

This month, appropriately, we decided to focus on a section of the show devoted to Christmas.  McLoughlin Bros. are well known for hiring American illustrator Thomas Nast to create images for the popular poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas (also known as The Night Before Christmas), which was issued in multiple editions starting around 1869. After 1870, the firm was very invested in the holiday, issuing numerous books and toys focused on Christmas, Santa, and winter activities, all intended to tempt children and parents into purchasing McLoughlin products for Christmas and New Year’s gift giving.  During the object selection process last year, Children’s Literature Curator Laura Wasowicz and I pulled dozens of examples of holiday books offered by the firm, with titles ranging in date from 1863 to 1927.

Page spread from Clement Clarke Moore, A Visit from Saint Nicholas. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1869.

George P. Webster. Santa Claus and His Works. Illustrated by Thomas Nast. New York: McLoughlin Bros., 1869.

We were looking for outstanding examples to feature at the Grolier Club, a society of bibliophiles passionate about fine bindings, rare books, book history, and book production.  We laid all the volumes out on our work table and both of us were struck by a unifying characteristic shared by the holiday titles.  They had been, in the words of the curator, “very nearly read to death.” Heavily dog-eared, creased, soiled, stained, and torn, the books were often actually limp from overuse.  One tattered copy of the 1869 title Santa Claus and His Works, for example, had been sewn, taped, and glued by previous owners in an attempt to keep the pages together (fortunately, we also have a pristine copy). Overall though, the holiday books showed more wear and tear than any of the other 150 titles that we had examined for other sections of the show. What to do? Could they travel? Would we be embarrassed to show them in the august halls of the Grolier Club?

Around the World with Santa Claus. Illustrated by Richard Andre. New York: McLoughlin Bros, 1900.

As with many problems, this one was solved with a compromise. Any title too damaged to travel or be displayed was rejected out of hand (although some will be photographed for the catalog that will accompany the exhibition). Then we met with our head conservator and explained that we wanted to show the wear on these books in order to allow them to represent the popularity of the titles with their young readers. She agreed and we worked together to isolate those well-loved titles with the most structural integrity. In the end, we selected fourteen books and games for the Christmas section and feel confident that they will reflect well on both the McLoughlin Bros. and on AAS, while also providing indisputable evidence of repeated and enthusiastic readings by excited children. We’ll have more updates about the progress of the McLoughlin exhibition as we move forward in the months ahead.

Halfway across the world and back again

Kathleen Major has been volunteering in the Manuscripts Department at AAS for several years and just recently processed the diaries of nineteenth-century serviceman, adventurer, and housekeeper Frank Nash. 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.

Francis Alvarez Hartley Nash (1834-1898), the son of a farmer in Abington, Massachusetts, was determined to seek a life of adventure—and he did exactly that—before settling down to help his wife keep house.

In fourteen volumes of diaries, kept from 1852-1867, Nash tells us that he joined the United States Navy at age eighteen and was assigned to the store ship Supply, which was part of Commodore Matthew Perry’s famous Black Ships Cruise to Japan, a type of gunboat diplomacy to open trade—forcibly if necessary—with Japan.


Nash describes visiting a library, a brothel, and a bowling alley all in one day (Saturday, August 5, 1854)

The experience proved to be insufficient adventure for Frank Nash. Although he had a wife and three children, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard when the Civil War began. Because he deemed the pay insufficient, he quickly decided to rejoin the Navy and participate in the blockade of Southern ports. Nash later joined the 38th Massachusetts Infantry, but, due to a gap in the diaries, we don’t know why Nash decided to fight in the land war instead of the Navy. He also participated in the siege of Port Hudson, Louisiana. Finally, in July 1865, he was sent home to his family and life as a bookkeeper in Abington, Massachusetts.

The fourteen volumes of Nash’s diaries contain wonderful descriptions of life at sea during the Black Ships cruise, life in China and Japan (where Nash hired a courtesan), and Perry’s success with the Japanese. While home in Abington he wrote of his devotion to Unitarian Universalism, his family, and abolitionism and the Union (at one point contributing money to help a father free his son from slavery). He was also a progressive who helped his wife with housekeeping and child care and “had no doubt that woman’s sphere will be greatly changed in 20 years from now [1860], and without their losing their feminine traits of character, of mildness, gentleness, and loveliness.” 

Nash’s diaries are a remarkably descriptive account of both family life in the mid-nineteenth century and a life of adventure during a turbulent time. Molly McCarthy says in The Accidental Diarist that keeping a diary became so popular and so common as to be a “national pursuit” for Americans in the nineteenth century, and it is true that diaries from this period abound (AAS has over 240 in its collection). But the record of each unique life details an individual world that can never be reduced to generalizations.

Isaiah Is Going Digital: The Prototype

digital-isaiah-screenshotA few weeks ago, a post shared the final cut of a short film depicting a young Isaiah Thomas learning about the legal indenture that bound him to his apprenticeship. As explained in the post, that film is part of a larger project that aims to create an interactive educational website inspired by AAS’s one-man theater performance Isaiah Thomas – Patriot Printer. We now have a fully working prototype of the segment of the site that explores Isaiah’s indenture, designed by Digital Gizmo, and we’re excited to share it here!

This segment, or module, called “Becoming a Printer,” features all of the components that will comprise each of the six modules of the full site. After viewing the film, the user is able to explore the indenture document interactively through zooming features, transcriptions, and clickable hotspots that provide information about the physical document and its textual content. The indenture is further contextualized through related primary sources, links, and lesson plans. We are also in the early development stages of creating a game centered on setting type. Once the site is completed, each module will use this format to examine a different primary source document of significance to Isaiah and the nation.

Please take a moment to do your own exploration of this first module, and let us know what you think!

The Acquisitions Table: The Great Bloomer Prize Fight

John L. Magee. The Great Bloomer Prize Fight for the Champion’s Belt. New York, 1851.

535413_0001This lithographed cartoon depicts two women in bloomer costume preparing for a fight. One stands at center, ready to box, while the second sits on a man’s knee and hides her face. The
cartoon was drawn by John Magee of New York and references several 1851 trends. Dress
reform in America was gaining ground at this time after Amelia Bloomer supported the style in
her periodical The Lily. Many leaders in the woman’s suffrage movement were wearing the
loose-fitting pantaloons and tunicsshown in the cartoon and were being lambasted in the press
for doing so. In the caption the standing figure calls out “Where’s Tommy Hyer,” a reference to
the famous bare-knuckle boxer Tom Hyer who retired, much to the disappointment of his fans,
after winning a $10,000 purse in Maryland in 1851. The empty bottles of beer and the jeering
crowd waiting for the fight to start create a very masculine space and it is likely this cartoon, like
many by Magee, was intended for a male audience. The sheet joins the Society’s collection of a
dozen cartoons issued by Magee between 1844 and 1865.

The Story of a Sword: Fitz-John Winthrop and King William’s War, Part II

Last week, Dan Boudreau posted about a sword held in the AAS collections that belonged to Fitz-John Winthrop, an early governor of Connecticut and the grandson of the famous John Winthrop—the influential Puritan leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. This week, Dan continues the story, focusing on Winthrop’s participation in King William’s War and his connections to the controversial Edmund Andros.            

Liebler, Theodore August. “Sir Edmund Andros, Kent.” Late 19th century. From the American Portrait Prints Collection at the American Antiquarian Society.

Liebler, Theodore August. “Sir Edmund Andros, Kent.” Late nineteenth century. From the American Portrait Prints Collection at the American Antiquarian Society.

The much-reviled Edmund Andros has an important presence in the events of Fitz-John Winthrop’s life and links Winthrop’s efforts during King William’s war to other critical occurrences that were shaping the course of the war. Born in 1637, Andros had a strongly aristocratic and royalist upbringing that made him the perfect colonial administrator for the Stuart monarchy. By the end of his career, he had served as the governor-general of New England, New York, and Virginia. Like Winthrop, Andros was a military man through and through, and this shared background likely contributed to their friendship. Unlike Winthrop, though, he had no connections to Puritanism, and in fact hated the anti-Stuart sentiment and Calvinist republicanism that New England’s Puritans cultivated in the late seventeenth century.

While twentieth-century biographers make the case that Winthrop was only being dutiful and lawful in supporting Andros and his government, the fact that he was not just compliant but friendly with a man who held  such royalist convictions undercuts these types of claims. There is no doubt that Andros and Winthrop had a friendly relationship. When the governments of New York and Connecticut were disputing jurisdiction over the Winthrop family’s Fisher’s Island, Winthrop, despite his affiliation with Connecticut, chose to remain neutral in the affair, and Andros (governor of New York at the time) by all accounts seemed willing to show him some favor. Winthrop was not unhappy when New York won the dispute. On another occasion, Andros gladly confirmed a Winthrop claim to land on Long Island; Winthrop told his brother that “Sr. Edmd. has giuen me a confirmation of ye Indian guift of land on Long Island, & tells me he is ready to doe any thing elce within his power.”[1]

Unidentified artist. “Ideal Portrait of Baron Castine.” From Wheeler, George Augustus. Castine Past and Present: The Ancient Settlement of Pentagoet and the Modern Town: 12-13. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill Press, 1896.

Unidentified artist. “Ideal Portrait of Baron Castine.” From Wheeler, George Augustus. Castine Past and Present: The Ancient Settlement of Pentagoet and the Modern Town: 12-13. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill Press, 1896.

Andros’s notable presence in Winthrop’s life not only complicates Winthrop’s legacy as a proto-Patriot and Puritan, but also helps to contextualize the failed 1690 expedition into Canada. Winthrop’s mission was intended as a response to French and Indian threats in the north, and it was in part modeled upon previous expeditions into the north that were organized by Andros. During King Philip’s War, while governor of New York, Andros sent a force into Maine where they successfully established a critical fort. In 1688, during the early stages of King William’s War, Andros (now governor of the Dominion of New England) led another mission into Maine, this time in response to Abenaki attempts at halting the steady advance of English settlers. Here he would cross paths with Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin, a French military officer who lived among the Abenaki and was tasked with defending the southern border of French Acadia.  (Oddly enough, I was recently surprised to learn that I am a descendant of St. Castin: he is my ninth great-grandfather!)

The Present State of the New-English Affairs: This is Published to Prevent False Reports. Boston: Samuel Green, 1689.

The Present State of the New-English Affairs: This is Published to Prevent False Reports. Boston: Samuel Green, 1689.

St. Castin was known to the English as a troublemaker, supplying arms to and aiding the attacks of his Abenaki allies—even as he traded furs with Boston’s merchants. Andros, during his 1688 expedition, ransacked St. Castin’s home and took much of his property, including weapons, ammunition, and wine. Oddly, it was what Andros did not touch at the St. Castin property that proved most important: he chose to preserve the Catholic Frenchman’s chapel, and his New England soldiers took notice. When word reached the Puritans of Massachusetts, Andros’s actions were seized upon as further proof of the Catholic leanings so typical of a supporter of the Stuarts. It is not surprising, then, that New Englanders ousted Andros at the first opportunity, provided in April 1689 when news of the Glorious Revolution and the end of the Stuarts reached America. Edmund Andros’s administrative career was not over, however, and he later served as governor of Virginia. He died in London in 1714.

Mather, Cotton. The Present State of New-England: Considered in a Discourse on the Necessities and Advantages of a Public Spirit in every Man; Especially, at such a time as this. Boston: Samuel Green, 1690.

Mather, Cotton. The Present State of New-England: Considered in a Discourse on the Necessities and Advantages of a Public Spirit in every Man; Especially, at such a time as this. Boston: Samuel Green, 1690.

St. Castin’s father-in-law Madockawando, a Penobscot chief, also had dealings with Edmund Andros, and he was not left with a good impression of the English. Despite having made an agreement with the English in 1678, the Abenaki in Maine were finding their crops destroyed by settlers’ livestock, their property rights disregarded, and their complaints ignored. Andros refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of Abenaki grievances and attempted to silence them. Madockawando was furious. With the help of his son-in-law, he began to raid English settlements in the Casco Bay area. Clearly, Andros’s “diplomacy” had failed. It would be misleading, though, to place this failure solely on Edmund’s shoulders: this type of negotiation (or lack thereof) was part and parcel of the English method of dealing with native communities. Typically, representatives of the English colonies showed little regard for native sovereignty and almost no respect for native custom. Instead, they stubbornly insisted on adherence to the colony’s dictates.

Detail showing parts of contemporary Maine, from “A Map of New-England.” Boston: John Foster, 1677.

Detail showing parts of contemporary Maine, from “A Map of New-England.” Boston: John Foster, 1677.

In the affiliation between Madockawando and Jean-Vincent d’Abbadie de Saint-Castin, we see a different type of relationship between colonist and native, one indicative of the French approach. St. Castin was born to nobility in France, but when he relocated to America he was willing to integrate to a degree with native society: he lived among them, respected their customs, and even married a native woman. This was not unusual for French settlers in North America. In large part because of necessity, they were willing to accept native sovereignty and customs. Because of this, the French were able to maintain critical alliances with northern tribes during King William’s War, much to their strategic benefit. Working together, St. Castin and Madockawando launched numerous successful raids on English forts and settlements; Fitz-John Winthrop, perhaps wielding his Ferrara blade, was sent northward in response to these types of attacks.

Winthrop sword in its scabbard.

Winthrop sword in its scabbard.

Clearly, there is a lot to be learned from the stories revealed by this old sword. King William’s War is not often remembered by the wider public, but perhaps it should be: the conflict can tell us a lot about the struggle for power in colonial America that would eventually give way to the birth of this country. In these early conflicts, as with Winthrop and his contemporaries, we see complicated legacies that beg to be scrutinized.

[1] Winthrop, “Letters of Fitz-John Winthrop,” 286.

Full Works Cited