New Online Exhibition: The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865

During the summer of 2015, AAS hosted a two-week National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute for School Teachers, during which twenty-five K-12 teachers from all over the country convened for an intensive institute that featured lectures and discussions with scholars, field trips, and many hands-on workshops with original material from the Society’s collections. That institute, called The News Media and the Making of America, 1730-1865, is now the base of our newest online exhibition.

news-media-landing-pageCodirected by David Paul Nord, professor emeritus at Indiana University, and James David Moran, director of outreach at AAS, the institute sought to explore the function of news and public information in the community life of America, from the colonial period through the Civil War. This included a variety of community types, as well as the diverse and changing milieu of communication forms and technologies: sermons and lectures, books and pamphlets, magazines and newspapers, photographs and illustrations, letters and word-of-mouth. The aim was to understand the role of communication, especially print media, in the political, social, and cultural life of the American people in an era of rapid change in politics, business, and technology.

Those same topics are examined in the online exhibition, using many of the collection materials participants worked with in the archival workshops during the institute.


Browse collection items by tags.

The exhibition is organized both chronologically and thematically, but the online platform also allows users to explore the site in their own ways. Extensive use of tagging, for example, groups collection items together by people, topics, events, and item type. Furthermore, the brief, contextual essays include hyperlinks to connect ideas and items throughout the site. Users can also decide how deeply they want to dive into the collections: in addition to the image and background information accompanying each item, many of the newspaper issues have been digitized in full and can be browsed through a flipbook application, the manuscripts include transcriptions, and some items are linked out to other related images in our digital asset management system.

This broadside covering the hanging of Hugh Henderson in Boston in November 1737 is one item representing the news milieu of Boston in that year.

This broadside covering the 1737 hanging of Hugh Henderson in Boston is one item that represents the colonial news network.

With so much to choose from, the selection of collection materials was one of the biggest challenges of turning the institute into an exhibition. Like the institute itself, the exhibition does not offer comprehensive coverage of the news media in America from 1730 to 1865, but rather it provides a broad overview of trends and developments and a sampling of historic materials representative of such from the AAS collections. The “Boston 1737: A Local News Network Case Study” section, for example, looks deeply at the news coverage in Boston for just one year to suggest links between events in a colonial city and the uses that people made of those events in verbal, handwritten, and printed communication systems.

If document selection was one of the toughest parts of the creation of the exhibition, one of the most rewarding was that the production was truly collaborative. It was curated by David Nord, James Moran, and me, and it features the work of several institute participants who completed projects during the institute. In this way, the exhibition captures the collaborative energy that made the institute such a success, as well as the exchanges of knowledge and perspectives that are a part of every Society program.

So go ahead and dive into the complicated and fascinating world of the early American news media!

An Odd Fellow

Claire Jones, a summer intern from Princeton University, has previously posted about her project centered on Judaica at AAS. This is the next installment in her findings.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made plenty of mistakes while searching AAS’s online catalog, especially during my first few weeks here, when I was checking dozens or hundreds of entries a day from Singerman’s bibliography against the collection. There’s a definite knack to figuring out what combination of search terms will lead most directly to what I’m looking for—if it’s even there to find—and to deciphering the jumble of terms and abbreviations that make up a catalog record. I thought when I finished compiling my spreadsheet of titles from 1841 to 1876 that it would more or less stay the way it was; really, there’s been quite a bit of deleting entries that I thought were in the catalog when I’d just misread something, or—more exciting—adding new titles when I’d thought something was missing from AAS’s collection when really I just wasn’t looking for it in the right place.

Luckily, the latter happened to me earlier this week. I managed to track down a few presumed-missing works, all of them from an annual—kind of a yearly literary magazine, with poetry, short stories, and illustrations—with the curious title of The Odd-Fellows’ Offering. I’d run into the Odd Fellows briefly during my Judaica work, so I figured that now was the time to start doing a little digging and figure out exactly who these people were.

As it turns out, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows is probably the most delightfully named fraternal order in American history. With members like Ulysses S. Grant and Wyatt Earp, they had a setup along the lines of the Freemasons, but were notable in that they allowed each (male) member to be inducted into the order along with a woman in his family—usually his wife, mother, or daughter—and in 1851 the Odd Fellows actually created an all-female parallel organization called the Rebekahs.

All of this was definitely interesting, but what exactly did it have to do with Judaica? Well, initially it seemed like not much: the Offerings for 1846 and 1848 both contained poems narrating different events in the life of Moses by a brother called Franklin Joseph Otterson, while the 1851 edition featured a story called “The Iberian Exodus.” Nice, but not exactly groundbreaking.

It was another work, this one from the 1852 Offering, that caught my attention and eventually made the whole search about the Odd Fellows worth it. This was the last entry in Singerman’s bibliography from the Odd-Fellows’ Offering, and I was all ready to check it off the list of Judaica titles and move on when I noticed the author of this particular contribution. It was a name that had become a familiar one during my weeks at AAS: Mordecai Manuel Noah.

Fig. 1: Mordecai Manuel Noah, from a miniature in oil by the elder Jarvis, 1840, found in Simon Wolf, Mordecai Manuael Noah: A Biographical Sketch, 1897

Mordecai Manuel Noah, from a miniature in oil by the elder Jarvis, 1840, found in Simon Wolf, Mordecai Manuael Noah: A Biographical Sketch, 1897

Truthfully, Noah has been giving me a few problems throughout this whole process. He just doesn’t fit neatly into any one category of writer: most of the Jewish authors I’ve encountered are rabbis or scholars who tend to stay focused on religious material, while Noah’s literary claims to fame are his plays and the newspapers he edited in New York. That wasn’t the most interesting part of his life, though: he was really one of America’s first prominent Jewish public figures. He served in the diplomatic corps under President Madison—apparently his firing under shady circumstances kicked off a firestorm about religious discrimination—and corresponded about Jewish toleration with Presidents Jefferson and Adams. He was also one of the early nineteenth-century proto-Zionists who advocated for a Jewish state in Palestine (more about those views in my post “Reading the Apocalypse”), and, in probably his best-known exploit, he led a group of recently immigrated Jews to establish a colony on Grand Island in the Niagara River in the 1820s. The project was a spectacular failure, but it did give Noah the chance to dress up like Richard III for the ceremony of laying the cornerstone for a never-built settlement.

M. Noah, by all accounts, was certainly an odd fellow. But was he an Odd Fellow? The Offering advertised itself as being made up of works “chiefly contributed by members of the order, their wives and sisters,” which would seem to indicate that Noah did belong to the order, but I couldn’t be sure by this one appearance alone. He was quite a popular writer, after all; maybe they just liked one of his stories. The Odd Fellows also had a whites-only clause in their constitution until the 1970s and boasted members like William Marsh Rice (who founded what’s now Rice University in my hometown of Houston with the stipulation that tuition would be free for all students as long as the school didn’t integrate—lovely, right?), so it didn’t seem terribly likely that they would have welcomed a Jewish member into their midst.

The illustration “Joyous Procession of the Law” from the Offering for 1851

The illustration “Joyous Procession of the Law” from the Offering for 1851

Unsure of what I might find, I searched the catalog for any other work that might connect Noah to the Odd Fellows or the Offering. After a few keywords turned up nothing, I finally found a graphic arts piece called “Joyous Procession of the Law.” I clicked to see the digitized image, and what should fill my screen but a view of the inside of a synagogue, full of activity, with an old man in black in the center carrying what could only be a Torah scroll. This print, the catalog informed me, was from the Offering for 1851—the same issue that contained “The Iberian Exodus”—and illustrated the story “The Joy of the Law” by M. M. Noah.

I had it, then. Not proof, but certainly strong evidence that Noah was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. It seems only fitting for such a colorful and fascinating figure, and it also sheds a little more light on fraternal orders, an oft-forgotten part of American culture and social history—a history that, as I’m starting to see more fully, includes Jews along with Christians.

It started with a passport and ended with a duel…

Early in the summer, AAS received a generous donation of graphic arts materials from one of the Society’s members, Jim Heald, via the Worcester Art Museum. Among these items nestled on the acquisitions table was a mid-nineteenth-century passport, which stood out for two reasons. Primarily, until that moment, it had not occurred to me that official government passports existed so early in American history. Secondly, the passport holder seemed to be the most “ordinary” gentleman according to the exceedingly vague description gracing the left-hand side of the document (as can be seen in the accompanying image and transcription below.)

536099_0001Age ___34___

Stature _5___ Feet __8___ Inches

Forehead ___ordinary___

Eyes __hazel___

Nose ___ ordinary__

Mouth ___ ordinary____

Chin ______

Hair ___brown__

Complexion ___rather dark___

Face ___oval___

How could this document be used as a means of identifying anyone if they were all completed in such a non-descript fashion? This man doesn’t even appear to have a chin! (I later found a picture of the passport subject (below right) and he was sporting a full beard, which perhaps contributed to the jawline mystery.) One of our summer interns further pointed out that the term “ordinary” is not self-explanatory. It feels safe to assume “ordinary” meant “European” but beyond that, who is to say. I wondered how many run-of-the-mill men were walking around with interchangeable passports, so I took to the collection (and the internet) to do some comparison work. It would seem that the majority of mid-nineteenth-century passports readily available are more descriptive than the one we received. Although descriptions appear on passports in the early nineteenth century, it was not until the addition of photographs circa 1914 that the manuscript document moved from a letter of introduction to a document of identity. Early on, Americans needed to reapply for a new passport every six months, which may explain the lack of care taken with regard to adjectives. By the late 1870s that renewal timespan had increased to two years, which is still a short duration by today’s standards.

84943_0001-cropThroughout my study into the history of passports, my mind kept wandering to the generic man named in the document we acquired. This is where the rabbit hole of research led me to an entirely different blog post than the one I set out to write. I could tell you that France was the passport pioneer in Europe and that from the late-eighteenth century until the mid-nineteenth century British passports were often written in French. I could tell you that passports were not required for entry to the United States until after World War II, with the exception of war times (Civil and the first World War), even though American passports have been issued since around the time of the French Revolution. The list of things I could tell you—such as women and servants being listed as unnamed parties on the husband’s passport until the late 1800s, when they could apply for passports in their own names—goes on and on. Still, I kept returning to the subject of our passport. I set out simply looking for a picture and in doing so discovered the sordid life story of a seedy Confederate politician in Missouri, remembered for duels and deceit and whose life tragically ended at the bottom of an elevator shaft.

Thomas C. Reynolds.

The passport newly in our possession harkens back to a time when Mr. Reynolds was on the cusp of infamy. In 1855 he was a young United States Attorney in Missouri. He had a wife and political prospects and was in the middle of a dispute with a newspaper editor by the name of Benjamin Gratz Brown. Reynolds felt something published in Brown’s paper had been an attack on his character and he held Brown accountable. Did I mention Reynolds was a pro-slavery Democrat? He was. 1855 was also the year that this clash with Brown, which began in 1854, escalated to the proposition of a duel. By 1855 duels had largely fallen out of popularity. By 1859 they would be illegal in eighteen states. There were added restrictions for elected officials and lawyers risked being disbarred by engaging in such activities. Regardless, Reynolds challenged Brown to a duel.

Now, when I have tried explaining the events surrounding the eventual duel, more than one person asked me for a chart to help keep it all straight. I like to think this is more of a reflection on the duel than my story-telling abilities, but the following breakdown should provide an abridged but clear illustration of what transpired.


I’m going to pause here a moment and let that last bit sink in. Take a minute to imagine how uncomfortable and tense that boat ride must have been with Brown, Reynolds, their seconds and their witnesses sailing over to a proper dueling spot. Awkward. Okay, now back to the duel.


Both men would go on to have political careers in Missouri and serve in the Civil War (though on opposite sides). Overall it appears that Brown ended up being the more successful of the two. But that is unsurprising when one discovers that Reynolds feigned allegiance to the Union to get himself elected lieutenant governor of Missouri and then argued for secession the minute he was in office.

In spite of this political deceit, it seems that Reynolds remained concerned with the public perception of his character throughout his entire life and attempted to defend it, even in death. In 1887, Thomas C. Reynolds fell down an elevator shaft, ending his own life. Before he died, he had written a note indicating that, while he felt sane and lucid at the moment, he was frequently plagued by hallucinations and insomnia and if he were to do anything “rash,” it was a result of this temporary insanity and his wife should receive the sympathy she was due. The late 1800s were a time of shifting attitudes regarding suicide. It was starting to be viewed less in a religious context, indicative of lacking moral fiber, and more as a social or psychological construct. It seems that in leaving behind this note, Reynolds intended to reaffirm the burgeoning psychological theory.

What began as an inquiry into early American travel documents ultimately became an illustration of the unexpected twists and turns that accompany primary source material.

Stevens, Walter B., and William K. Bixby. The Brown-Reynolds Duel; a Complete Documentary Chronicle of the Last Bloodshed under the Code between St. Louisans, from the Manuscript Collection of William K. Bixby, Ed. St. Louis: Franklin Club of St. Louis, 1911.

Now In Print from the AAS Community

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


Clapp, Elizabeth J. A Notorious Woman: Anne Royall in Jacksonian America. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Crain, Patricia. Reading Children: Literacy, Property, and the Dilemmas of Childhood in Nineteenth-Century America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. (Hiatt Fellow, 1992-93; ASECS Fellow, 1997-98; AAS-NEH Fellow, 2005-06; AAS member)

Breen, T.H. George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016. (AAS member)

Haynes, April. Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. (Hench Fellow, 2009-10)

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. New York: Viking, 2016. (AAS member)

Yeager, Jonathan. Jonathan Edwards and Transatlantic Print Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. (Reese Fellow, 2014-15)


Bellion, Wendy. ” ‘Here Trust Your Eyes’: Vision and Illusion at the Chestnut Street Theatre.” Early American Literature 51.2 (2016): 333-366. (CHAViC Fellow, 2011-12; AAS member)

Castiglia, Christopher. “Revolution is a Fiction: The Way We Read (Early American Fiction) Now.” Early American Literature 51.2 (2016): 397-418. (Mellon Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence, 2012-13; AAS member)

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock. “Atlantic Aesthesis: Books and Sensus Communis in the New World. Early American Literature 51.2 (2016): 367-396. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-11; AAS member)

Fischer, Kirsten. “Vitalism in America: Elihu Palmer’s Radical Religion in the Early Republic.” William and Mary Quarterly 73.3 (2016): 501-530. (Peterson Fellow, 2016-17)

Fraser, Gordon. “Emancipatory Cosmology: Freedom’s Journal, The Rights of All, and the Revolutionary Movements of Black Print Culture.” American Quarterly 68.2 (2016): 263-286. (CHAViC Fellow, 2013-14)

Price, Hunter  “The Traveling Life of John Littlejohn: Methodism, Mobility, and Social Exchange from Revolutionary Virginia to Early Republican Kentucky.” Journal of Southern History 82.2 (2016): 237-268. (Reese Fellow, 2015-16)

Pryor, Elizabeth Stordeur. “The Etymology of Nigger: Resistance, Language, and the Politics of Freedom in the Antebellum North.” Journal of the Early Republic 36.2 (2016): 203-246. (Peterson Fellow, 2010-11)


Jen Manion was awarded the inaugural Mary Kelley Book Price (SHEAR) for her book Liberty’s Prisoners: Carceral Culture in Early America. (AAS-NEH Fellow, 2012-13)

April Haynes was awarded the James Broussard Best First Book Prize (SHEAR) for her book Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America. (Hench Fellow, 2009-10)


New Illustrated Inventory: B. T. Hill’s Photographs of the New England Fair

Hill - PerformersAs we draw towards the end of summer, we can now look forward to fair season! Town, county, and state fairs are happening around the country and are filled with plenty of food and entertainment. Luckily, our newest illustrated inventory looks at the New England Fair here in Worcester during the early 1920s through the eyes of amateur photographer Benjamin T. Hill.

Hill was a lawyer in Worcester for over thirty years. He was interested in photography and created manuscript books in his free time. He also served as the auditor here at AAS for twenty-three years. His personal collection of papers, books, and photographs are within the Society’s collections.

Hill-Horse-jumpingThese photographs document the New England Fair, put on by the Worcester County Agricultural Society and the New England Agricultural Society, at the third and last location of the fairgrounds, in Worcester’s Greendale neighborhood. The property was sold to the Norton Company in the 1940s. The buildings of Norton Company are seen in many of the photographs. Hill focused many of his images on the horse-jumping competitions, which were a major draw for spectators. His photographic technique in creating these images has been critiqued in a previous blog post.

Hill-Aerial viewAlong with horse-jumping, there are many other scenes of the fair that don’t vary much from what we see today, though most fairgoers today do not dress in suits and long dresses in the August heat! Somehow, Hill was able to take aerial views of the fairgrounds, giving the viewer the opportunity to see the games and attractions offered. In the view seen here, a man is seen playing a ring-toss game, while many other people are lined around a small bowl-shaped track to see a motorcyclist on the “steepest motor cycle track.” A tent showcasing a male and female wrestler and a vendor selling parasols and Worcester pennants are also seen amongst the crowds. Any of these vignettes could be their own image, and being able to zoom in on them is such an amusing experience. We hope you will take a look through these charming scenes of an early county fair, and then head out to one yourself!

Duval and the Dime Novel; or, Adventures of a Gentleman Highwayman

I have spent just about two years working with our dime novel collection and bringing it under some semblance of bibliographic control. I have encountered poor writing, improbable plots, novels without covers, novels without title pages, and all manner of literary and bibliographic eccentricities and annoyances. But as I reach the end of my work cataloging the collection, it’s hard not to think about some of my favorite parts of the process. In previous blog posts, I’ve discussed the general challenges of cataloging dime novels, as well as exciting discoveries I’ve made in the collection. But this post focuses not on any particular novel or series, but on one particular character: the dashing gentleman highwayman Claude Duval.

Illustrations from Claude in his dungeon; or, Maggs the traitor.

Illustrations from “Claude in his dungeon; or, Maggs the traitor.”

Claude Duval was a real person, once upon a time. He was born in Normandy, France, in 1643 and eventually moved to England, where he turned to highway robbery. He was known for not using violence in his robberies, and one popular tale had him agreeing to take only part of one gentleman’s belongings if that gentleman’s wife would agree to dance with him. Duval was eventually arrested, tried, and convicted, and he was hanged at Tyburn on January 21, 1670. Centuries later, he became a popular subject in British penny dreadfuls before being imported across the pond to our dime novels.

He was featured in multiple series of novels from several publishers, but the first series I encountered was De Witt’s Claude Duval series, begun by De Witt and Davenport, and later published by Robert M. De Witt alone when Davenport left the firm. In De Witt’s stories, Duval travels with his friends and fellow highwaymen Dick Turpin and John “Sixteen-String Jack” Rann. Duval and his friends are thrown into, and escape from, Newgate Prison more times than I felt like counting, and were constantly involved in daring escapades and romantic liaisons. But there were two aspects of De Witt’s Duval novels that made them particularly stand out. The first was their illustrations.  Your average dime novel will have an illustration as a frontispiece, if it has any illustrations at all. But De Witt’s novels generally featured a selection of illustrations throughout the text, in addition to an illustrated cover. The illustrations are not of the highest quality (and some are laughably bad), but they add to the experience of the novels.

Two different issues of Claude in his dungeon; or, Maggs the traitor, the earlier one on the left, the later one on the right

Two different issues of “Claude in his dungeon; or, Maggs the traitor,” the earlier one on the left, the later one on the right.

The second aspect was how many novels in the series AAS holds two copies of. In many instances, it is unnecessary to hold two copies of the same item, unless one is incomplete. However, in the instance of dime novels, these copies are different issues of the same novel published at different times, and they highlight the prevalence of reprinting in the world of dime novel publishing. A particularly striking example of this is in our two copies of Claude in his dungeon; or, Maggs the traitor. Unlike some novels, where separate issues are almost identical, these two novels look nothing alike. The wrapper of the earlier issue is light yellow, with the type and illustration printed in black. The later issue has a much more colorful wrapper, featuring dark gold, blue, and red. It also has a different cover illustration than the earlier printing. The novels lack dates (as do so many dime novels), but De Witt’s different addresses helped out in that regard. The earlier issue has an imprint of New York: R.M. De Witt (late of De Witt & Davenport), 160 & 162 Nassau St. Davenport left the firm in 1856, so the novel was likely published in that year or the next. The address on the later issue, however, is no. 33 Rose Street. Thanks to an afternoon spent deep in AAS’s directory collection, I know that De Witt was at Rose Street from 1870 to 1877, which means these two novels were published at least fourteen years apart (which I think is pretty cool!).

Luke, the swell. An exciting story of life, love and intrigue, no. 11 of the Ten cent Claude Duval novels published by Norman L. Munro

“Luke, the swell. An exciting story of life, love and intrigue,” no. 11 of the Ten cent Claude Duval novels published by Norman L. Munro.

Duval was also featured in another series from De Witt, De Witt’s nightshade series, as well as the Ten cent Claude Duval novels from Norman L. Munro. Munro’s novels were smaller and cheaper than the De Witt stories (which were large format and cost 25¢) but they also drew on British penny dreadfuls as their source materials, and they feature the same adventures in London and the British countryside as the De Witt novels. Now that our dime novel collection is cataloged and thus more visible and accessible, readers can enjoy access to these dashing tales of Claude Duval, as well as all the other heroes, heroines, and villains that populated the pages of dimes novels, introducing these works to a new generation of readers and scholars.

Perfect Shadows: An Illustrated Inventory of AAS Silhouettes

Stephen Salisbury II, ca. 1870

Stephen Salisbury II, ca. 1870

The American Antiquarian Society’s collection of just over two hundred American silhouettes has recently been cataloged and photographed and an inventory of these profile portraits is now available via a new digital resource.

Silhouettes were popular in the United States starting at the end of the eighteenth century. Profile drawings, profile miniatures, and silhouettes all benefited from the rise of the pseudo-sciences physiognomy and phrenology, which stated that head shape, profile, and facial features revealed basic elements of personality. The Swiss author Johann Kaspar Lavater issued a comprehensive, and widely read, multi-volume set of Essays on Physiognomy for the Promotion of the Knowledge and the Love of Mankind, which went through multiple editions in the United States between its release in 1775 and 1850. The market for silhouettes was robust in America right through the nineteenth century and continues in New England today.

profilesIn June of 1864, Godey’s Ladies Book included an article on the practice of making and collecting silhouettes, commenting on what was then considered a quaint reminder of times gone by: “Much pleasing speculation can be made on the mental capacity of the heads before you, or rather, of the owners of their originals. If you believe in the science of phrenology, you may compare your friend’s intellectual, moral, and animal ‘propensities’. If you do not, you may still read their characters in their features for we are all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, disciples of Lavater, and believe that the ‘human face divine’ is the index to the heart.” Although the popularity of silhouettes peaked in America in the 1820s, they hung on parlor walls, were cased in lockets, and were playfully made at parties and celebrations well into the 1870s and 1880s.

Timothy Newhall Wood silhouette

Timothy Newhall Wood by William Doyle, ca. 1810

Ten broadsides in the Society’s holdings advertise silhouette artists and can be considered complementary to the silhouette collection. Many of these date from the pre-1820 era, when silhouettes sold for 25 cents for two copies. Boston artist William Doyle cut silhouettes at his Columbian Museum on Tremont Street in 1808, stating “Perfect Shadows executed in a Correct Style” available from “7 o’clock in the morning until 10 in the evening” (see above left). The Society’s collection includes seven silhouettes cut by Doyle, including one of Timothy Newhall Wood of Charlestown, Massachusetts (left).

Eleanor Ann Page, cut at the Peale Museum, ca. 1806, possibly by Moses Williams

Eleanor Ann Page, cut at the Peale Museum, ca. 1806, possibly by Moses Williams

Other artists represented in the silhouette inventory include William King, also of Boston, Moses Williams, an African American indentured servant who cut thousands of silhouettes for visitors to Philadelphia’s Peale Museum, and Martha Ann Honeywell, who was born without arms and travelled New England cutting silhouettes by mouth. Over eighty hollow cut silhouettes (where the shape is cut from paper and the remaining hole is laid over black paper or fabric) by William Chamberlain of New Hampshire, made during his itinerant travels in New York and New England in the 1820s, were donated to AAS in 1916 by the artist’s granddaughter.

Unknown man silhouette

Unknown Man, hollow cut silhouette with pen additions by William Chamberlain, ca. 1825

Many of the silhouettes depict individuals represented in our manuscript collections, including members of the Foster, Paine, and Salisbury families. The Society also holds paintings of several of these individuals, allowing scholars to compare and contrast silhouette depictions with traditional formal portraiture. This pair of images of Rebecca Faulkner Foster is an example of the rich visual information available now—her miniature can be compared to her silhouette, creating a nearly three-dimensional sense of her physical form. A prolific letter writer, Rebecca’s numerous missives to her husband, who was often away from their Brookfield, Massachusetts, home, also provide her a voice. Taken together, these objects and words are invaluable pieces of one woman’s long life.

Rebecca Faulkner Foster, by Eliza Goodridge, watercolor on ivory, ca. 1830; Rebecca Faulkner Foster, by unknown artist, ca. 1825

Rebecca Faulkner Foster, by Eliza Goodridge, watercolor on ivory, ca. 1830; Rebecca Faulkner Foster, by unknown artist, ca. 1825

The new online silhouette inventory provides access to a portion of the Society’s outstanding portrait collection that heretofore has been available only by visiting the reading room in Worcester. We have already seen an increase in use of the silhouette collection because of this new access, with scholars interested in visual culture, hair styles, and work produced by African Americans and disabled artists all finding material of interest to their studies. This is our second online inventory of graphic collections using Omeka—the first documented a set of important photographs from the early years of the Tuskegee Institute—and more are on the way. Our visual materials cataloger is working with glass negatives, valentines, copy book covers, and more hidden collections, creating inventories and queuing up material for our photographer for documentation. Stay tuned!

The Acquisitions Table: Daguerreotype Apparatus

Daguerreotype Apparatus. Boston: H.P. Lewis, 1840.

Daguerreotype Apparatus broadsideThe technical elements of daguerreotypy were presented by Louis Daguerre to the world in Paris in August of 1839. By September, a technical manual, in French, was for sale on the streets of Paris and London. At the end of September 1839, an Englishman named D. W. Seager was in New York demonstrating the process, and he was soon followed by the Frenchman François Gouraud, who arrived in November and began giving lessons and selling apparatus built in France.

In early 1840, Gouraud traveled to Boston, where the city’s newspapers were already abuzz with the excitement of the new invention. The February 12, 1840, Columbian Centinel announced Gouraud’s pending arrival around February 20, stating that “Daguerreotype drawing is the wonder of the Age.” In June, Gouraud’s apparatus was still set up in S. G. Simpkin’s bookstore on Tremont Row, and the Frenchman was demonstrating daguerreotyping for Boston residents. One of those Bostonians was mechanic Ari Davis, who built and repaired scientific and nautical instruments on Cornhill. This broadside documents the fact that Davis was also building the three devices needed to make daguerreotypes: a fuming chamber, a camera, and a developing box. Davis moved from Boston to Lowell in early 1841, placing the date of this broadside firmly in the momentous year 1840.

On the broadside, Davis outlines the process and touts the advantages of his construction methods over those produced by others, stating that he “modified somewhat the apparatus, as described by Daguerre, and has rendered it more portable, lighter, and more elegant…” Davis writes glowingly of the process, calling the images “solar paintings” and declaring, “To those who have never seen the solar paintings, it may be proper to say, that no description can convey any idea of their beauty, accuracy, and wonderful minuteness.” The Society’s collection of 1839-1841 imprints on early American photography is outstanding, with important technical periodicals and early manuals already in our holdings. This broadside documenting Davis as a home-grown mechanic building cameras in 1840 Boston is an important addition to the evidence and documentation of the birth of photography.

Little Lamb, Big Story

Ali Phaneuf is a rising sophomore at Fairfield University and is currently a readers’ services summer page. As a journalism major and an art minor, Ali has always been an avid book reader, and her love of books and creativity was able to grow through her experience at AAS.

The story of “Mary had a Little Lamb” has been sung to children throughout the past two hundred years, and despite the countless times I have listened to this rhyme, it wasn’t until I overheard my sister singing it to my six-month-old niece that I began to wonder how Mary’s story came to be. During my time as an AAS summer intern, I was able to research the surprisingly extensive history of Mary and her lamb. Few people may realize that the popular tale derives from Mary Sawyer of Sterling, Massachusetts. When I discovered that the famous Mary lived in the town just next to my own I wanted to learn more about her and her renowned story.

A quick search in the AAS catalog led me to a book entitled Mary had a Little Lamb, The True Story by Fannie Dickerson, which was published in 1902, just three years following the death of Mary.  Not only does Dickerson explain the true story of Mary Sawyer, but she also includes a personal memoir of Mary within the text. Dickerson’s light-hearted book brings new light and meaning to my perception of what I once saw as a mere children’s tale.

The Birthplace of Mary's LambMary’s story begins circa 1816 when her family’s sheep gives birth to two baby sheep. Problems arise when the mother cares for only one of the two and neglects the other. Mary’s innocence and compassion for others is immediately evident when she finds the lamb the next morning and is distraught at the sight of the poor animal. After much coercing Mary is able to persuade her father to take the lamb inside their house; she gives it food, drink, and warm blankets and decides to sleep with it that night. When Mary wakes the next morning she is elated to see the lamb strong enough to stand on its own.

Mary later teaches her lamb to walk and brings it outside to interact with other animals. Dickerson explains that there are few girls who live near Mary, and so when Mary is not as school she spends most of her time at home with her animals. Due to Mary’s constant presence, her lamb becomes increasingly attached to her, and thus begins the story of the nursery rhyme we know today.

One day before school Mary forgets to say goodbye to her lamb and calls out to it. Mary’s brother Nate, who is constantly causing mischief, proposes to Mary that she take the lamb to school. Naive about the consequences that lay before her, Mary agrees to Nate’s proposal. Mary conceals the lamb beneath her coat and tells the lamb to remain under her desk throughout the day. Perhaps too trusting of the lamb’s obedience, Mary is horrified when she is called forward to recite lines and the little lamb follows her up to the front of the classroom. It comes as a shock to Mary when all of her schoolmates, including her teacher Miss Kimball, begin to laugh.

Statue of Mary's Little Lamb in Sterling, Massachusetts.

Statue of Mary’s Little Lamb in Sterling, Massachusetts.

Adding to the excitement of the day, there happened to be a special visitor at the schoolhouse, John Roulstone. Roulstone is described as a young man who is preparing for college by living with his uncle, Reverend Lemuel Capen. Dickerson explains that it was customary at this time for students to prepare for college by studying with ministers. John decided to visit the schoolhouse the day Mary brought her lamb and was consequently thrilled that he had gone. The next day John rode over to Mary and showed her a poem he had written about her and her lamb. The poem was comprised of three stanzas and was later completed and published in 1830 in the collection Poems for Children by Sarah Hale through the Boston publishing firm Marsh, Capen and Lyon. Hale’s published version of the poem included two additional stanzas following the original three. Dickerson explains to her readers that although Hale is commonly assumed to be the original author of “Mary had a Little Lamb”, this is not the case; she simply expanded upon the poem that had already been written by eyewitness John Roulstone.

Portrait of Mary Sawyer "in her old age."

Portrait of Mary Sawyer “in her old age.”

Mary’s story is one that brings smiles to many children throughout the nation, yet her legacy doesn’t end with the conclusion of her nursery rhyme. One Thanksgiving morning years later, Mary’s lamb was gored by a family cow. Mary’s mother made two pairs of socks for Mary from the wool of the little lamb. These socks served a special role in history due to Mary’s decision to unweave them and sell strands of the wool accompanying her autograph in order to raise money to preserve Boston’s Old South Meeting House. The Old South Meeting House is home to many historical memories, including the 1773 meeting of seven thousand Boston citizens that resulted in the Boston Tea Party. Mary was able to earn one hundred dollars from her wool, equivalent to about three thousand dollars by today’s standards.

Mary and her little lamb serve not only as a childhood nursery rhyme, but they also serve as a statement regarding the importance of preserving American history. In Dickerson’s book there is a section where Mary tells her version of the story and admits that had she known taking her lamb to school would have brought about so much publicity, she isn’t sure she would have gone through with it. Mary’s tale demonstrates how a seemingly minute story can grow into something so much greater. It makes me wonder how many of these children’s tales developed from such intriguing backgrounds.

Working at AAS has been nothing short of inspiring. The dedication of the entire AAS staff has helped me to realize that information available on the Internet only scratches the surface of what one may discover from looking at original documents and books of historical people, places, and events. Interacting with so many incredibly intelligent people opened new doors to different ideas and options I have regarding my own path in life. This summer I was not only able to meet with scholars from across the country, but I also made relationships with other interns and finally got to conduct some of my own research as well; overall the self-satisfaction I received while at the AAS is truly immeasurable.

Finding John Levy

A couple of weeks ago, Claire Jones, an intern from Princeton University, posted about her project centered on Judaica at AAS. This is the next installment in her findings.

JohnLevy_0001From its cover, the book looked totally ordinary. I had picked the title—The Life and Adventures of John Levy—from my list of memoirs for a few reasons. First, if the author’s name was anything to go by, the book had been written by a Jew—something you can’t say about all the works in the Judaica collection, but a perspective that I’ve been trying to keep front and center in my work this summer. Second, AAS’s online catalog entry for the work was a bit curious: it listed the book as having to do with both African Americans and abolitionism. Intrigued and hoping to find something that might cross genres, I put in a request for the title and tracked it down in the stacks with Elizabeth, curator of books.

When I sat down after lunch to peruse the book, I knew from the first sentence that we’d stumbled on something great. Levy opened his memoir by revealing his birthplace as Nevis—an amazing stroke of luck, considering AAS’s interest in the Caribbean. Levy was probably a Sephardic Jew, part of the population that had been expelled from Spain and Portugal in 1492 and rooted out over the years by the Inquisition. The Sephardim fled to other European countries—England and the Netherlands received large populations—as well as the relatively tolerant Ottoman Empire. The first Jews who settled in the United States in the seventeenth century arrived by way of the Caribbean, settling there on islands like Nevis before moving on to New York.

The island of Nevis is in the bottom right corner of this 1781 map published in London.

The island of Nevis is in the bottom right corner of this 1781 map published in London.

Hoping to find a portrait of Sephardic life in the Caribbean, I read on eagerly, finding out in the next few chapters that our hero spoke fluent Spanish (confirming his Sephardic heritage?) and growing more excited by the page. Levy threw a wrench into my plans, though, when not ten pages later, while describing the few years he spent in Liverpool, he tossed in a line about going to church on Sundays. Church? On Sundays? I started to get nervous. Was our perfect Caribbean Sephardim turning out to be something entirely different?

As it turned out, Levy never mentioned synagogue, or prayer, or Hebrew, or anything at all to do with Judaism in his memoir. Only the fact that his family was full of seemingly textbook Jewish names—his parents Daniel and Hannah, his sister Judith, his daughter Rachel—kept me going as I neared the end of Levy’s account. Fifteen pages from the end, though, there was another startling revelation. It turned out that the reason AAS had listed the book as African American literature was because Levy himself was a person of color. Such an important detail, dropped in rather unceremoniously just before Levy’s account of serving in the Civil War and the discrimination he faced in New England before and during the conflict, only left me even more confused about what exactly I had just read. I was dealing with a possibly Christian, probably black, Caribbean-born man with a Jewish name, and I needed help.

Luckily, Elizabeth knew just how to deal with the conundrum. We went straight to, entered Levy’s name, birthplace, and date of birth (all conveniently provided in the first sentence of his memoir) and, sure enough, he was the first result. Our search confirmed a good deal of the details in Levy’s memoir (though some, like his tale of seeing Napoleon sail past on his way to St. Helena, remain unconfirmed). Records confirmed that he was a well-off barber who was active in the New England abolition scene and married twice to mixed-race women, the first being the daughter of a slave. The census records didn’t quite seem to know what to do with Levy himself, though, with one listing him as “Black,” another as “Mixed,” and still another as “Mulatto”. Our confusion on this essential point was only deepening until we found a magic phrase, in his obituary of all places: “of Moorish origin.” That would explain so much, including the Spanish skills and the ambiguous ethnicity that confused U.S. census-takers. A possible new picture of Levy, this time the son of a Sephardic family that had lost its Jewish religion but maintained some of the old culture and traditions, began to emerge. And a last-minute search of Levy’s father Daniel gave us the best confirmation of all when he was linked to a fascinating article: “The Sefardim of the Island of Nevis.”

We had our Caribbean Sephardic Jew, then. Excellent. But we also had a successful businessperson of color making a living in New England and an active and dedicated abolitionist whose devotion to the cause was clearly personal. We followed John Levy’s story, going from utter confusion to rich clarity that afternoon, reminding ourselves that history is so much more complicated—and so much more rewarding—than the title of a book can suggest.


Obituary, March 27, 1879, Lawrence American, Lawrence, MA (“of Moorish origin”)

1850 United States Federal Census (“Black”)

New York State Census 1855 (“Mulatto”)

1870 United States Federal Census (“Black”)

Massachusetts Death Records, 1879 (“Mixed”)

John Levy’s first wife Sophia – 1850 United State Federal Census (living with “Minor Lewis”)

John Levy’s second wife Henrietta – 1850 United States Federal Census (“Mulatto”)

So you think you can bake? Nineteenth-Century Edition

Kristina Bush is a rising senior at Mount Holyoke College. She majors in medieval studies and minors in public history, museums, archives, and digital humanities. Kristina is currently working at the American Antiquarian Society as a summer page in readers’ services. Being an avid book-lover and history nerd, Kristina has greatly enjoyed her time at AAS.

The Art of Confectionery title pageOne of the most surprising and exciting things I discovered in the stacks of the American Antiquarian Society was the cookbook collection. As someone who loves to bake, I was immediately interested in spending more time with this collection. Also inspired by former assistant manuscript curator Tracey Kry’s blog posts, I decided to test out a recipe. From the 1866 cookbook The Art of Confectionery, I selected a recipe for cupcakes.

The ingredients themselves did not seem too different from those in modern day recipes: flour, sugar, eggs, baking soda (which was called cake soda), and even sour cream, which I have used before in coffee cake. The two ingredients that most reflected the differences between the nineteenth-century pantry and that of a modern kitchen were rosewater and brandy. I believe that these two ingredients perform the function of vanilla in most modern recipes by flavoring the batter. My biggest challenge in making the recipe was finding rosewater, which turned out to be rather difficult to obtain. I could not find it in my local supermarket, and so I replaced it with orange blossom tea, as suggested in a trusty Google search.

Recipe for cupcakes

Mixing the batterWhen it came to baking the cake, I was pleased to find the recipe I chose had specific measurements for all the dry ingredients. Some of the other recipes I came across in my research didn’t have measurements at all or used outdated measurements such as drams. First, I combined the softened butter with sugar using my hands. Then I added flour cup by cup, stirring with a wooden spoon. I didn’t use an electric mixer in the hopes of retaining historical accuracy. When the mix began to stick or looked too dry, I alternated adding brandy or the cooled orange blossom tea. Channeling Rachael Ray, I eyeballed the measurements of the liquids as the quantities were not listed in the recipe. I ended up using almost an entire 1.7 oz bottle of brandy and about half a cup of tea. Stirring the recipe ended up being quite a workout! I was glad that paging folio volumes at AAS this summer has been building up my arm strength. After adding the sour cream and baking soda dissolved in whole milk (the modern equivalent of sweet milk), the batter came together quite thick, similar to what one would expect of a muffin batter.

The next question was of baking temperature and time. I figured that it would be best to go with the traditional 350 degrees Fahrenheit and I set the timer for twenty minutes. Of course in 1866 an oven would have looked quite different and a new one at the time would have used coal as a heat source. This would allow for the cupcakes to bake at a constant sustained temperature, meaning that the conditions of my modern oven were not too dissimilar from those of the 1866 baker’s.

The cupcakes bakingThe cupcakes took between twenty-five and thirty minutes to cook and turned out a bit paler in color than expected. Despite the disappointing lack of a golden top, they tasted great! The brandy and tea flavor really came through. The texture was closer to that of a muffin than a cupcake; it was dense, fluffy, and moist. I didn’t even think they needed frosting—and I’m an avid frosting lover! (I was initially disturbed by the lack of a frosting recipe to accompany the cupcake recipe.)

Finished cupcakesI found that other recipes often suggested pairing cakes with jam, marmalade, or a light glaze. In favor of historical accuracy (and eating lots of cupcakes) I decided to try all the options. First, I tested a bit of the cupcake with blueberry jam, which I thought overwhelmed the delicate flavor of the cupcake. The marmalade paired better with the cupcake due to the orange flavor already present. My favorite topping was a simple lemon glaze I prepared with confectioners’ sugar, lemon rind, lemon juice, and milk. The citrus flavors complemented each other but the lemon did not overwhelm the flavor of the cupcake. All in all I would call this a success story!

I have so enjoyed the opportunity to be surrounded by history on a daily basis. Working at the American Antiquarian Society has been a dream come true for me. Besides spending most of my time in the stacks, which I can now successfully navigate (an accomplishment in itself!), I Inside of cupcakehave also been able to work on a transcription project, find “lost” books, cover books in mylar, and meet amazing people. Working here has been inspirational on many levels. I am inspired to continue pursuing a library degree as I now know that I would like to work at an institution like AAS. I love being able to interact with researchers and historic material, and do something different every day. As a student, watching the AAS fellows conduct their research has inspired me to aim for their level of passion and focus in my own studies. The skills I have learned here will also translate to my academic interests at Mount Holyoke College. For example, working with the catalog and hearing about AAS’s outreach programs will inform my minor in public history and archives. I am looking forward to returning to school for my senior year and applying the knowledge and drive I have acquired this summer to my course work. I leave AAS feeling affirmed in my future and grateful for the opportunity I have been given.

From the Mixed Up Files of Avis Clarke

Dylan McDonough, an AAS summer staffer working on the Printers’ File, attends Harvard College, where he is a rising junior with a concentration in history. A native of Worcester, he graduated from Bancroft School in 2014 and has returned to the area each of the last two summers. Here, he shares a glimpse of his work on the Printers’ File.

Antiquarian Hall - side viewBack in high school, I had a Monday morning tradition. At the start of every week I grabbed a Dunkin’ Donuts breakfast sandwich on my way to school, and, on that short drive, I invariably got stuck at the intersection of Salisbury Street and Park Avenue. Waiting for the light to turn green, I often glanced at the grand brick building to my right. What happened in this beautiful landmark of red bricks and white columns, this “American Antiquarian Society”?

Until I took a summer position at AAS a few months ago, that same question still lingered in my mind. I had been assigned to something I had never heard of: the Printers’ File. The Printers’ File, I found, consists of a collection of more than 16,000 notecards containing information on some 6,000 people involved in the early American book trade and was compiled almost exclusively by longtime AAS cataloguer Avis Clarke over forty years. My task: input the cards into a digital form that standardizes the data, rendering it interoperable and linked to a larger data universe. (For a more in-depth look at how the information is being inputted, please see my Printers’ File predecessor Emily Wells’s informative post on her own early work digitizing the cards.)

Currently, researchers must come to Antiquarian Hall to use the cards and sort through them by hand to find those that fall under a certain category. With digitization, though, researchers will be able to access the resulting resource remotely. More importantly, they will be able to search the data by race, gender, location, and more. Even with only about a third of the project done, I can already use a simple search tool to dig through the forms and find any man or woman who was affiliated with the book trade in a certain location. Naturally, as a Wormtown native, I searched for “Worcester,” and found eight early printers.

Haswell's Massachusetts Spy

Notice its declaration as Haswell’s Massachusetts Spy rather than Thomas’s.

The most intriguing of the eight, Anthony Haswell, first came to Worcester in 1775 as Isaiah Thomas’s apprentice. This link to AAS’s founder was what first drew me to Haswell, and as I dug deeper I found a captivating story behind his five years in Worcester. The cards on Haswell further record that, from 1777 to 1778, Thomas leased his Worcester printing press to Haswell, allowing Haswell to print Thomas’s famed newspaper the Massachusetts Spy. After Thomas took back control of the press and paper in 1778, Haswell spent the rest of the decade working in Thomas’s printing office before departing Worcester in 1781.

The Printers' File card for Haswell.

The Printers’ File card for Haswell.

When Avis compiled the Printers’ File, she also maintained a corresponding set of notecards recording her sources. Checking the source cards for Anthony Haswell, I found John Spargo’s Anthony Haswell: Printer – Patriot – Ballader (1925). Haswell actually served as Isaiah Thomas’s first apprentice, but the two printers apparently later had a falling out over criticisms Haswell printed about Thomas. Spargo tells us neither what was said nor where it was printed, but we can assume it was rather nasty, as Haswell’s name appears only once, in passing, in Thomas’s influential The History of Printing in America (1810).

The Printers' File source card for Haswell and the biography by Spargo.

The Printers’ File source card for Haswell and the biography by John Spargo.

Before their eventual falling out, though, Haswell and Thomas altered the course not just of their own lives but of Worcester as well. Toward the end of Haswell’s lease of the newspaper, Thomas seemed to want to sell his Worcester press altogether. In a February 11, 1778, letter printed in the Spy, Haswell declared his intentions to purchase the press and settle it permanently in Worcester, asking his readers for financial assistance. The letter begins, “The utility of a Printing Press in this large country, is so well known to you, that the loss of it, especially at this time…would be more felt than at any other.” Haswell recognized the importance of print to the development of a young country in rebellion and a young town at the heart of that rebellion. He further notes, “Printing utensils are no where to be procured in this country at present, types in particular, are not now made in America…” The young country had yet to develop a printing equipment industry, so Haswell urged Worcester to jump on the opportunity to secure a full press. In spite of these efforts, Haswell failed to procure the necessary funds, and when the lease expired Thomas returned to Worcester to reclaim ownership of his printing press.

The press Haswell hoped to buy from Thomas, Old No. 1.

The press Haswell hoped to buy from Thomas, known as Old No. 1.

We know today that Thomas did keep his press in Worcester—in fact, as I write this sentence I sit about ten feet from Old No. 1—but the story of Anthony Haswell’s attempted purchase still cannot be dismissed. In Haswell, we have a significant piece of the early Worcester printing business and a man who recognized the value of a press to the Heart of the Commonwealth. Yet this man, who acted as Isaiah Thomas’s first apprentice and seemingly shared his views on printing, barely appears in Thomas’s influential record of American printers because of a personal grudge. Here we see the bias inherent in much of historical writing, a bias that the digitized Printers’ File, with its standardization and its easy manipulation of data, minimizes to a degree. And in this way, the Printers’ File provides unique angles and lost viewpoints on history, from the ordinary to the monumental. After all, the uncovered story of Anthony Haswell begs the question: If he had succeeded in purchasing Thomas’s printing press, would we today have an American Antiquarian Society to preserve such hidden stories of history?

The Acquisitions Table: Steel Printing Plate for “Echoes of the Woods”

Nicolas Valstin, engraver. Echoes of the Woods and Shepherdess and the Birds. Saint Louis: Kunkel Brothers, ca. 1871-1878.


This steel printing plate was used to create sheet music covers. The two tunes that would have been found inside this cover were both popular in the United States until about 1900. Both were reissued multiple times by the publishing house Kunkel Brothers, which was founded in St. Louis by two German immigrants who were also trained concert pianists. They first issued this engraved cover in 1871 for just the Shepherdess and the Birds title (copy at Library of Congress), but then re-engraved the plate circa 1878 to include Echoes of the Woods (which was composed by Charles Kunkel under the pseudonym Jean Paul in 1878). The plate joins the Society’s representative holdings of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century printing matrices, which encompass the history of printing processes used in America.

Judaica at AAS: A Summer Intern’s Experience

Stay tuned throughout the summer for updates on Judaica at AAS from Claire Jones, an intern from Princeton University. Thanks to AAS chairman Sid Lapidus and the Princeton Internships in Civic Service program, Claire is working with Elizabeth Pope, curator of books, to identify, improve, and promote AAS’s Judaica collection.

Claire Jones, summer intern from Princeton, paging a book in the American Antiquarian Society stacks.

Claire Jones, summer intern from Princeton, paging a book in the American Antiquarian Society stacks.

Last month, I arrived at AAS for a ten-week internship in order to work on the Society’s Judaica collection with the enthusiasm of an undergraduate history major who has only a vague idea of what she’s getting herself into. My first few weeks were a bit of a whirlwind, settling in at AAS and beginning to wrap my head around the sheer volume of information housed here. Having the goal of collecting every printed work produced in North America before the U.S. centennial will do that to a collection; even though my area of focus for the summer—Judaica from 1841 to 1876—is relatively small by AAS standards, it was still a daunting prospect to just throw myself at the catalog and see what I could find.

Luckily, I’ve had a guide through all this mess. Yes, there’s my incredible supervisor, Elizabeth, whose understanding of the collection honestly still boggles my mind a bit, but the real hero of my first month at AAS has been Mr. Robert Singerman, without whose enormous bibliography, Judaica Americana, I would be so hopelessly lost. I spent my first two weeks checking all of his entries for the years 1841 to 1876—almost two thousand in total—against our online catalog. Sure, I got a lot of disheartening “Your search has returned no hits” results, but that search process meant reading through a list of quite literally every known work of American Judaica produced in my time period. I started to see patterns—names of people and institutions that kept coming up, popular topics for books and plays and pamphlets—and really got a feel for what mid-1800s American Judaica actually looks like. Most satisfying of all, though, was the finished product: a color-coded spreadsheet of a little over 450 titles, or around 25% of all American Judaica in my target years, that AAS now knows it has in its collection. Totally worth a few dead ends in the catalog.

An overview of the spreadsheet's findings as presented to the AAS Council. The final results will be available on AAS's website in fall 2016.

An overview of the spreadsheet’s findings as presented to the AAS Council. The final results will be available on AAS’s website in fall 2016.

Figuring out what exactly was in the AAS catalog had the added benefit of letting us know what kind of Judaica we were missing as well. One of the amazing things about AAS is that it’s always on the lookout for works it doesn’t already have: again, it’s the goal of the Society, to be as complete as possible within its scope. Despite this goal, though, there were a few significant gaps, the most prominent being works by Jewish thinkers or issued by Jewish institutions like synagogues or charity organizations. Elizabeth and I put together an acquisitions strategy for obtaining some of the missing titles,and also decided to make Jewish voices the focal point of our work on the collection this summer.

All of which brings me to my favorite part of my work here at AAS so far: picking out the most interesting-sounding works from my precious spreadsheet with the goal of finding and showcasing the highlights of the Judaica collection, both here and on the AAS website by the end of the summer. Actually getting a chance to interact with these nineteenth-century volumes is amazing, one of the best perks of working at a place like AAS, a place that is almost literally bursting at the seams with old books. As I probe the collection for whatever gems it can offer up, from the most important sermons and treatises to trashy novels and splashy pamphlets, we’ll be finding out a lot more about both our own collection and nineteenth-century Jewish life and culture itself. Whatever happens, we should emerge at the end of ten weeks with a beautiful cross-section of thirty-five years of Jewish life represented through AAS’s collections, bringing out an oft-forgotten part of the American story for our readers to discover and explore.

The Medical Education of Nathan Staples Pike

Bloggers at Past is Present have previously written about the recent donation of Pike-Wright Family Papers in several posts. This post is continuing a look at Dr. Nathan Pike’s medical career.

528208_0002In 1837, at the age of eighteen, Nathan Pike began teaching in the Foster, Connecticut, district schools and continued this employment for three or four years. His certificate, written by the school committee, stated that he was “a gentleman of unblemished character and worthy of public patronage as a school master.”

In August 1839, Nathan enrolled at Berkshire Medical Institution


Pages from Pike’s medical notebooks

in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, which had recently severed its ties to Williams College, becoming an independent medical school.  He attended lectures by Professor Watts on General and Pathological Anatomy and by Dr. David Palmer on Geology.

Nathan Pike’s medical education follows a complicated trajectory. His introduction to medicine at an institution rather than through an apprenticeship is unusual. In the first half of the nineteenth century, training for physicians (in New England, at least) traditionally began with a three-year apprenticeship under one or several sequential doctors. A minority continued their education at medical school, which consisted of two years of lectures—the second year being a repetition, sometimes verbatim, of the first.  The semester lasted four months. Formal medical education was not necessary—anyone could practice medicine. No licensing existed.

In November, 1839, after completing the semester in Pittsfield, Nathan started an apprenticeship with D. W. Hovey, in Killingly, Connecticut. A paper in the collection, signed and dated by Dr. Hovey in October 1841, attests that Nathan Pike studied medicine, surgery, and collateral branches of medicine and “witnessed” the practice of medicine with him for a period of one year and eleven months.

During 1840, Nathan signed a contract in July to teach in the Westfield schools, returned for a second semester, starting in August, at Berkshire Medical Institution and in December began a second apprenticeship with William Hubbard, M.D. Two papers in the collection, signed by Dr. Hubbard, certified that Nathan read medicine with him from December 1840 until August 1841.

In 1841, Nathan’s medical notes move from Pittsfield to New York, where he studied at New York University Medical Department, graduating in 1842.  His training with Dr. Hubbard must have coincided with his schooling, as one certification noted he had seen hospital practice and had free access to the dispensary and infirmary during his apprenticeship.

Nathan opened his practice in Sterling, Connecticut, in 1842, but it seems he was a lifelong student. His ledgers and notebooks indicate he returned to lectures given by Dr. Mott at his alma mater in 1846. And in November 1849, he again returned to Dr. Mott’s surgical clinic before continuing his education in December in Philadelphia.

It was natural that Dr. Pike would be drawn to Philadelphia, the center of American medical education, where its famous institutions hosted many of the most prestigious American physicians.  In 1825, Jefferson Medical College became the first in the country to establish a teaching clinic.  Prevailing medical school curricula then consisted only of lectures. Jefferson’s inclusion of patient care with formal education was unique and innovative.  Nathan is listed as a student at the College in the 1849-50 semester, when there were 477 students, with only 188 studying for a degree.  Most, like Nathan, were presumably clinicians advancing their education by viewing the latest surgical techniques and becoming acquainted with the latest medical practices. In the clinics he attended, he learned from Professors John K. Mitchell, Robley Duglison, William Gibson, Samuel Jackson, and Thomas Mütter.

Nathan’s interest in medical education continued throughout his life.  Among his collected papers is an announcement from Castleton Medical College in Vermont, listing the faculty, curricula, tuition, and helpful information about the school. He is listed in 1856 as a member for a two-year term of Yale Medical School’s Examining Board. He died—a young man of thirty-eight—the next year of tuberculosis before his term expired.