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

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

Detail of Ferrara mark on Winthrop sword. From the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.

Detail of Ferrara mark on Winthrop sword. From the collections of the American Antiquarian Society.

You never know what you’ll find while browsing the stacks at AAS. A few years back, when I had just started working at the Society, I stumbled across something unusual in the library basement: a pair of ornate swords, one from the early nineteenth century and the other from the seventeenth century. It was this second, older sword that really intrigued me. I soon learned it was carried by 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. Recently, I looked deeper into the history of the sword and its owner and found a remarkable story, one that even involved one of my ancestors (much to my surprise). In fact, the life of Fitz-John Winthrop reveals a web of connected historical figures  and their stories, which, taken as a whole, have a lot to say about the struggle for power that took place in the northeast during the late seventeenth century. Taking a closer look at these linked people and events, we can learn a lot about the Native American, French, and English forces that fought for control and survival during King William’s War.

Scottish Highland basket-hilt on Winthrop sword.

Scottish Highland basket-hilt on Winthrop sword.

The sword by itself, as an object, can tell us a great deal of Fitz-John Winthrop’s history. The sword has a Scottish Highland basket-hilt and bears the renowned “Andrea Ferrara” name on its blade. While the blade likely dates from the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, the hilt was probably added in the early eighteenth century. The age of the blade makes it nearly certain that Winthrop carried the sword as a young man, while serving overseas in the English Civil War. And while the famed Ferrara blades were falling out of favor by the end of the seventeenth century, the early eighteenth-century addition of the hilt indicates that he may have continued to use the sword well past the turn of the century. For this reason, it is very possible that Winthrop was still carrying this sword when he led a failed expedition into Canada during King William’s War in 1690.

While largely forgotten by modern historians, Fitz-John Winthrop was involved in several key moments of seventeenth-century New England history and interacted with powerful figures who shaped the development of the English colonies. Born in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1638, young Winthrop quickly showed himself to be more of a soldier than a scholar. At age sixteen, he was denied entry into Harvard and left America to fight in the English Civil War shortly thereafter. He served in George Monck’s army and was present in 1660 when Monck used his forces to support the restoration of Charles II. (In an 1888 AAS Proceedings article, it is speculated that his sword “may have been drawn from its scabbard to salute Charles the Second.”)[1] The fact that young Winthrop aided in the restoration of a Stuart monarch is not insignificant, as his later support for the Stuart-appointed New England government under Edmund Andros became a point of controversy.

Walker, Clement. The High Court of Justice, or Cromwels New Slaughter-House in England. London: 1660.

Walker, Clement. The High Court of Justice, or Cromwels New Slaughter-House in England. London: 1660.

After his service in the English military, Winthrop eventually returned to America, where he was involved in both the conflict with the Dutch in New York and then King Philip’s War. In 1686, he became a member of the council of the Dominion of New England—the Andros-led government that quickly proved unpopular with the region’s Puritans, who felt it was tainted by the Stuarts’ Catholic leanings. Despite backlash against this government, and despite Winthrop’s strong Puritan heritage, he maintained support for the Dominion and a friendship with Andros. Winthrop cautiously acknowledged the legitimacy of the 1689 revolt that overthrew Andros, but his prior support for the regime casts doubt on later depictions that portray him as a proto-Patriot and Puritan populist. (The 1888 Proceedings article even claims that he “rendered a great service in advance to the cause of the American Revolution.”)[2]

Unidentified artist. Portrait of Fitz-John Winthrop, circa 1694-1697. Harvard University Portrait Collection, Gift of Robert Winthrop, representing the Winthrop family, to Harvard University, 1964.

Unidentified artist. Portrait of Fitz-John Winthrop, circa 1694-1697. Harvard University Portrait Collection, Gift of Robert Winthrop, representing the Winthrop family, to Harvard University, 1964.

Regardless, Winthrop was not judged too harshly by the people of New England in 1689, and he was given a position in the new Connecticut government. He soon became involved with the growing King William’s War, which pitted the English settlers and their Iroquois allies against the Wabanaki Confederacy and the French. In 1690, New England authorities, in response to threats along the northern border, decided to organize two military expeditions into the heart of enemy territory in Canada. One of these expeditions was to attack Quebec by sea, and the other, led by Winthrop, was to strike at Montreal via Lake Champlain. Both were failures. French forces defeated the English at Quebec, and Winthrop never even made it to Montreal. Overwhelmed by disease and logistical issues, Winthrop was forced to call off the mission near the shores of Lake Champlain. Writing to the Connecticut governor and council, he declared the “designe against Canada poorely contrived & little prosecuted.”[3]

While the New England authorities ultimately agreed that Winthrop could not have succeeded given the circumstances, others were not so forgiving. On his trip back to Connecticut, Winthrop was briefly imprisoned by New York authorities for his conduct during the expedition; he had to be freed by some nearby Mohawk allies. One contemporary commentator declared that Winthrop and William Phips, leader of the Quebec mission, each deserved “a wooden sword” for their failures rather than the credit that New England authorities were granting them.[4] (If Fitz ever did receive this wooden sword, it failed to make its way to the AAS collections!) After the war, Winthrop would continue to serve the Connecticut government, until his death in 1707.

Check back in next week to read Part II, where we will learn more about some of the historical figures connected to Fitz-John Winthrop and King William’s War.

Full Works Cited

[1] AAS, April 1888 Proceedings, 155.

[2] AAS, April 1888 Proceedings, 154.

[3] Winthrop, “Letters of Fitz-John Winthrop,” 308.

[4] Quoted in Baker and Reid, The New England Knight, 239.


Boo! Bookplates!

Each year as Halloween comes around, the staff here at AAS tries to think of ways to feature the spooky, scary, and creepy material in the Society’s collection. We have shown off our postcard collection and some fright-inducing stereograph photos. We’ve hunted for ghost stories, featured gift book illustrations of the supernatural, and peered into the pale, icy eyes of old photographs.

This year, we decided to dive into our collection of ex libris. The Society has an outstanding collection of around 40,000 American bookplates, ranging in date from 1642 to about 1945. Although the collection is not digitized, you can see a small assortment of our plates via our Instagram account by searching there the hashtag #aasbookplates. Some plates in the collection are set in type; others are engraved or printed with relief blocks. There are lots of coats of arms, images of library interiors, names with elaborate flourishes, library rules, threats about damaging or forgetting to return books, and skulls. Wait, skulls? Yes, skulls.

img_6610Symbolic memento mori images include skulls, corpses, skeletons, and hourglasses – all intended to remind mortals of their short time here on Earth. They are common on bookplates because of the popular eighteenth- and nineteenth-century belief that self-improvement by reading was a morally righteous way to spend one’s limited time (rather than gaming, carousing, or thieving, for example). One of the earlier plates in the collection that fits this mold is the type-set plate for George Carter, which was removed from a 1790 London edition of a translation of Justini’s Histori Phillippic. The Latin motto, Hunc Librum, jure optimo, tenet (which translates roughly to “This Book holds truth”), is surrounded by alternating rows of skull with crossbones and hourglasses.

517142_wethersfield_0001The hourglass is frequently used to illustrate the passage of time—something that can move quickly when a reader is absorbed in a good book—as well as something which is proscribed for human beings. The engraved plate for the Social Library in Wethersfield, Connecticut, was made around 1795. The artist, Amos Doolittle, included a winged hour glass and the motto “Waste Not a Moment,” encouraging the viewer to better themselves through books should they find themselves with free time. A similar design was used by an unidentified engraver for the Guilford [Connecticut] Library bookplate sometime around 1815, with a fluttering hour glass and the motto “Improve your hours for they never return.”


517142_swett_0001Not surprisingly, doctors frequently use memento mori images on their personal plates. The circa 1790 bookplate for Dr. John Barnard Swett of Newburyport, Massachusetts, includes glass retorts, herbs, a caduceus, and a corpse surrounded by putti and surgical tools. Death for Dr. Swett was likely not only a moment for reflection but also an opportunity for education. More than a hundred years later, the railroad executive, doctor, and book collector Frank Graef Darlington of Indianapolis, 517142_darlington_0001ordered a bookplate design from Frank S. Bowers, the famous cartoonist for the Indianapolis News. Bowers crammed in references to all of Darlington’s passions (engineering, mining, MIT) and surrounded a leering skeleton with a python border. Darlington struggled with health issues most of his adult life (suffering a debilitating stroke at age thirty-seven) and apparently had a wry sense of his own mortality. A fellow bibliophile commented that this particular bookplate was appropriate for Darlington as it held a “hideous and inexplicable fascination.”


517142_blumer_0001Doctors continue to use memento mori symbols on their bookplates well into the twentieth century. Dr. George Blumer, the dean of Yale’s Medical School, selected Hans Holbein’s well-known print from the 1520s, “Death and the Physician,” as inspiration for his circa 1910 bookplate. He even had the unidentified artist keep Holbein’s error: two bones in the upper arm versus one in the lower arm of the skeleton. In 1948, Dr. William E. Daignault had Californian artist Anne M. Danielsen etch his elegant bookplate (one of several that he commissioned) incorporating a caduceus, rows of medical books, and a human skull into the design.



517142_uofca_0001Not surprisingly, societies and organizations also feature skulls on their ex libris. In 1908, the Calimedico Club at the University of California, commissioned artist Sheldon Cheney to make their bookplate featuring a smiling human skull and crossbones. The Free Public Library in Newark, New Jersey, added a tree of knowledge to a skull for the plate used in their science collection. The Skull and Bones Society, a non-medical secret society founded in 1832 at Yale, used a skull without a lower jaw on their circa 1900 bookplate, along with the Latin motto Sit Bona Librorum Copia (“There are many good books”). The small library of the society was described in 1877 as being held in a bookcase on the second floor of their hall (known as The Tomb). It was made up of a complete set of Yale publications, handsomely bound college catalogs, and books published by members. Today it is known that the organization also holds an Aldine edition of Demosthenes and a first edition of Tristam Shandy. Unfortunately, it is not known how this bookplate ended up at AAS, or even the title from which it was removed.










517142_stewart_0001During our hunt for memento mori bookplates in the collection, we found several plates that were not necessarily focused on the loftier aspects of the brevity of human life. Most of these were along the lines of the unsigned plate for John M. Stewart, often threatening bodily harm, sometimes humorously, if books were not kept safe while out of their owner’s care. With a motto of “Return it,or Else,” this circa 1930s bookplate takes matters into its own hands: forget moralistic reflection, winged hourglasses, or skulls – just be sure to get the book back to Mr. Stewart in a timely manner!

Visit AAS at the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair!

Want to see a souvenir score card from the 1915 World Series between the Red Sox and the Phillies?  How about first editions by Lewis Carroll, Stephen King, Jonathan Swift, Sylvia Plath, or Toni Morrison?  A signed photograph of Harry Houdini?  A book printed from wood blocks in 1250?  An illustrated Japanese edition of Don Quixote?  Not only will all of this and much more be on exhibit, it is all for sale.

This weekend, October 28 to 30, is the 40th Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair at the Hynes Convention Center.  This is one of the three major book fairs held in the country (New aas-eal-ad-9-16York and California being the others) and is hosted by the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.  One hundred and twenty dealers from around the world will be exhibiting books, manuscripts, maps, prints, and ephemera for sale.  In addition there will be an exhibition on the Boston Music Scene 1976-2016, a Typewriter Rodeo where poets will write custom poems on vintage typewriters, a talk by Paul Lewis on Edgar Allen Poe, and a round-table discussion of librarians talking about what they collect (hosted by the Ticknor Society).

And while you are there, visit the American Antiquarian Society booth on Cultural Row (Booth #626).  Throughout the weekend various curators and staff will be at the booth promoting the society and answering any questions you have about our collections and activities.  AAS President Ellen Dunlap will be there Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m.  Stop by for a visit and pick up one of our commemorative chocolate coins.

The fair is open:
Friday, Oct. 28, 5-9 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 29, 12–7 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 30, 12-5 p.m.

Admission is $20 on Friday.  Because it is their 40th fair, ABAA is giving free admission on Saturday and Sunday.