Isaiah’s Back In the Worcester Public Schools

Do you know what year it is? Well, Isaiah Thomas thinks it is 1812. That is, the reincarnated Isaiah who is currently going into fifth-grade classrooms and sharing some of his favorite books and broadsides with students. This Isaiah also brainstorms with these students what he should do with these materials. He is particularly concerned because we are once again at war with the British and marauding Royal marines could threaten his new national learned society if it were in a port city such as Boston or the new Washington city. Thomas, as portrayed by professional actor Neil Gustafson, thinks it would be best to locate his new Antiquarian Society here in his hometown of Worcester.

This is all part of our popular educational program entitled Isaiah Thomas –Patriot Printer, which is touring to every fifth-grade classroom in Worcester through the generosity of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Approximately 1,800 students in 33 different schools will experience this live theatrical presentation and will also explore the documents with an interactive online curriculum guide developed by classroom teachers. The program, which closely adheres to local, state, and national curricula standards, has proved very popular since it was first conceived in 2000. Since that time, over 11,000 people have experienced it. And while the majority have been students—this is the fourth year we have brought this to every fifth -grade class in Worcester—it has also been enjoyed by many adult groups as well.

The Isaiah Thomas – Patriot Printer program is part of an initiative known as Culture LEAP (Learning through Education and Arts Partnerships) that seeks to offer intensive curriculum-based cultural experiences to all students in a given grade. Culture LEAPS are collaborative efforts by the Worcester Public Schools, a working group of the Worcester Cultural Coalition composed of twenty-two education directors from the region’s cultural organizations, and the Worcester Education Development Foundation Inc. (WEDF). Currently there are eight LEAPs impacting students in seven grades.

The Isaiah Thomas- Patriot Printer LEAP is funded completely by the Telegram & Gazette. In speaking of their sponsorship, Paul M. Provost, publisher of the Telegram & Gazette, said, “Journalism begins in Worcester with Isaiah Thomas and as such he is an important part of the heritage of both the AAS and the T&G. We are proud to be a part of this excellent educational program that not only illuminates the life of Thomas but also teaches students the importance of literacy and critical thinking.” Some of the letters we have already received from students this year emphasize these themes (you can see a sampling here).

We are also turning this popular live educational program into a digital one by creating an interactive website, which you can learn more about through previous blog posts and explore on your own.

Editor’s Note: The author, James David Moran, conceived of and wrote the script for Isaiah Thomas Patriot Printer.

Unique Jacksoniana: Poetry from a Short Man Who Fell Off a Tall Roof

Earlier blog posts have promoted a soon-to-debut online resource that will feature highlights from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection. Here’s another of those one-of-a-kind items. Today we feature an unrecorded elegy written after the death of Jackson by a poet previously unknown to the literary world (perhaps for good reason).

The Sept. 13, 1845, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics article as found in America’s Historical Newspapers (Readex).

Ode, Elegy, &c. on the Late Lamented Gen. Andrew Jackson was acquired in 2016 with partial funding from William C. Cook as part of his commitment to support ongoing additions to the Jacksonian Era Collection that bears his name. The caption title of this piece modestly ascribes authorship only to “E.N.A.,” but imagine our joy when we were able to find a reference to this previously unknown publication and its author while searching in AAS’s digitized newspaper collections. An article in the September 13, 1845, Portsmouth Journal of Literature and Politics reveals the author’s last name at least: Adamson. Mr. E. N. Adamson is described as “a short man who has to perch himself upon a bench to be seen.” The article goes on to explain how Mr. E.N. Adamson had recently broken a limb after falling twenty feet from the top of a building while he was helping the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, clean up after a fire. The article’s author urges the public to support this man, who had helped the city, by purchasing his poetry pamphlet. He does admit, though, that the quality of Adamson’s verse may be as unsteady as his feet were on the roof. “The first verse is truly grand – it is the poet when he is above on the ladder. The next verse, however, is rather like the poet when he unfortunately slipped a twenty feet from the ground.” The sample of “grand” verse including in the article concludes: “Ye cannon mouths, with thunder crowned, / Shake the earth with woe!” The sample of not-so-grand verse concludes: “Ducks, curlews, gulls, in startled squads, / Your clamours scream!”

As far as we can tell no other copy of this Ode, Elegy, &c. exists, and since it’s relatively short, we have provided a digitized copy of the whole pamphlet for you here so you can judge the quality of the poetry for yourself. Enjoy!

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

Calling Sherlock Holmes…

My latest volunteer project, to quote Winston Churchill, was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” I was handed twenty-eight legal depositions, tucked in a manila folder, with a notation that simply said: “The depositions were part of a suit by multiple claimants for the $500 reward.”

Several of the Scott depositions

First, the riddle:  Who offered the $500 reward?  And what for?

I started reading the depositions, which were given between April 1855 and May 1857 before County Commissioner Peter C. Bacon of the Worcester Court, Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Not a single deposition mentioned the reward, but they told twenty-eight versions of a story.  I thought I was inside the set of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon!

The City of Providence charged that Charles B. Scott, an African American of that city, got into an altercation with John H. Springer, store keeper, over the cost of a pair of pantaloons, robbed the store, and seriously wounded Springer.  Scott fled.

Several days later, on December 29, 1854, an African American man was found in Royal Thayer’s barn in Uxbridge by Captain Scott Seagrave. Believing the man to be the escaped Scott, Seagrave instructed two men, Colonel Horatio Cogswell, an inn keeper and officer of the law, and Josiah T. Bliss, a carriage maker, to take charge of Scott and transport him to the hotel in Uxbridge.

There, under questioning, Scott claimed to be John Hewins, a fugitive slave, escaped from his master Richmond Taylor of Wilmington, Delaware. Many people in town believed his story because his feet were badly blistered and he was inadequately dressed for New England December weather. Dr. Robbins treated his sore feet and gave him a shirt and warm stockings. Captain Charles Wing provided a coat.

So far, I still had found no clear explanation of who had offered the $500 reward.

The mystery:  Who was this man – a criminal running from the law? Or a runaway slave headed for Canada?

Scott’s origins were contentious and divided the town, even to the point that bets were made about his true identity. Lucien C. Boynton, an attorney who had lived for nine months in Wilmington, was consulted and thought the slave story was plausible. Local abolitionists raised money and planned for Messrs. Cogswell and Bliss to take Scott by train to Worcester, where he would be interrogated by Henry Chapin[s], a magistrate. If the justice believed Scott to be a fugitive of the law, he would be returned to Providence to stand trial; if he was deemed to be a fugitive from slavery, he would continue his journey to Canada.

Tensions were high. When Cogswell, Bliss, and Scott were boarding the train for Worcester, a “scuffle” broke out. Cogswell and Bliss were roughly prevented from boarding the train, but Scott managed to slip on board.  However, as the result of a telegraph, when the train reached the Whiten/Linwood Station, Scott was taken into custody by Thomas Aldrich, deputy sheriff of Uxbridge, and returned to Providence.

After reading the depositions, I still didn’t know who offered the reward. Was it the state of Rhode Island for the return of the alleged criminal Charles B. Scott?  Was it Richmond Taylor of Wilmington, Delaware, for the return of his purported runaway slave John Hewins?

The enigma: Who was awarded the reward?  Was justice served?

I still don’t know. This is what I do know: Scott was finally identified by an African American barber from Providence.  Some of the brakemen on the train said they knew Scott and that the man they saw was not him. Regardless, Scott was returned to Providence, tried as Charles B. Scott, and sent to state prison on April 7, 1855, for four years.

I learned from newspaper accounts that the reward was offered by the City Council of Providence. Captain Scott Seagrave[s] and Thomas Aldrich both claimed the reward for apprehending Scott.

The National Aegis reported the case on January 10, 1855, saying, “The $500 reward has occasioned a good many versions of the story and it is difficult to get the exact facts.”  I was unable to find further reporting about the outcome of the case nor was I able, at the Worcester County Courthouse, to retrieve the case.  It has been stored offsite.  So, I still don’t know who got the reward, or maybe the two men split it….

Nor am I sure justice was served.  A number of people claimed to know Charles Scott and said this was not him. So, if you happen to see Sherlock Holmes lurking, tell him the AAS has a good mystery for him.

Running the Numbers on Early American Literature

In 1956, Edward Connery Lathem (1926-2009), who would later distinguish himself as a Robert Frost scholar, took leave from his position as director of the Division of Special Collections at Dartmouth College  to pursue an advanced degree under renowned Jonathan Swift scholar Herbert Davis at Oxford University. There, Lathem completed his bibliography of “English Verse and Literary Prose in America before 1776,” and for almost fifty years this work reached very few U.S. scholars as it existed only on deposit at the Bodleian and British Libraries. At the urging of former AAS President Marcus McCorison, Lathem agreed in 2002 to allow the Society to publish this bibliography as a CD-Rom, with an introduction by McCorison, who had known Lathem since their days together at Dartmouth. Though McCorison makes much reference to the fifty-page introduction Lathem wrote, it is omitted from the 2002 publication. Recently, AAS catalogers have added citations of Lathem numbers to the North American Imprints Program (NAIP) catalog records. These citations had me returning to Lathem with a fresh set of questions. Thanks to our friends across the Atlantic,* AAS now has a copy of Lathem’s introduction on file, and I consulted it in the hopes of better understanding how Letham defined “literary prose” as such genre terms are always vexed.

Unfortunately, Lathem offers no clear-cut definition of “literature” and seems to assume that, like pornography, it might be hard to define, but readers will know when they see it. Lathem does assert that contrary to conceived notions, the colonists were not only interested in religious texts. “[I]t is clear,” Lathem writes, “that, in addition to their other book purchases, the colonists bought and read works of literature—literature good, bad, and indifferent—and quite apparently they did so in substantial quantity” (7). After briefly recounting the details of the importation of English literature and verse, Lathem turns to book production—both the limitations on it in distant colonies like America and the resulting “cheap reprint editions.” Though unauthorized reprinting so far away could never catch the opprobrium that Irish, and to some extent Scottish, publishers were plagued with, Lathem’s work here is especially illuminating in that, whenever possible, he traces the copy texts on which the American editions were based. A number of these were Irish and Scottish editions. And even if they were not, the colonial markets were arguably as culpable as the Irish of reproducing unauthorized English editions. Lathem explains, “Mention has been made of piracies, and in extension of this it must be frankly affirmed that the American literary editions of the colonial era were themselves of that sort, with but few possible exceptions” (37). “Even a political Loyalist,” Lathem continues, “like the New York printer James Rivington quite evidently felt no qualms of ethical or legal restraint about producing such editions or trafficing [sic] in Irish piracies” (38-39). Lathem offers three reasons why  neither ethical scruples nor legal restrictions thwarted this practice: Irish and Scottish reprint editions were cheaper; the American colonies were increasingly boycotting English goods post 1765; and finally, many of the printers themselves were immigrants. These transatlantic networks can be further traced in the Printers’ File digital project underway here at AAS. But, for now, let’s focus on the books and their descriptions, first in Lathem’s bibliography and then in our union catalog.

As I have written about in more general terms previously, the North American Imprints Program (NAIP), a comprehensive catalog of books, pamphlets, and broadsides before 1820, offers us a chance to turn Lathem’s bibliography into data that we can analyze. As mentioned above, AAS catalogers have recently added Lathem numbers to NAIP, and we can now pull out records that have Lathem citations. This is not to suggest, however, that there is a direct relationship between NAIP and Lathem. In fact, there are 218 entries in Lathem, and 122 of these could be matched with a NAIP record. The remainder—96 of the Lathem entries—could not be matched with a record because, as he notes throughout his bibliography, “no copy is known.” Many of these are what bibliographers refer to as “ghosts”; that is, they are books that never actually existed, but for which bibliographers have made erroneous entries. Lathem frankly describes the possibility of such unknowns as “One of the most annoying of the bibliographer’s problems” (40) given how difficult it is to take a “conclusive stand” (41). Some of Lathem’s ghosts have been laid to rest, so that if he were doing this work fifty years later, he would not have included them in his bibliography. Other entries describe books that may in fact have existed, but for which there is no known extant copy; NAIP creates entries only for titles for which at least one copy is known to exist. On the other hand, there were seven imprints that Lathem could not identify that since 1961, have been identified and are in NAIP. These include: Richard Cumberland’s plays, The Fashionable Lover (1773) and The West Indian (1772); Robert Dodsley’s The Art of Preaching (1762); Robert Hitchcock’s  The Macaroni (1774); George Alexander Stevens’s The Celebrated Lecture on Heads (not after 1775); John Taylor’s Verbum Sempiternum (ca. 1774); and Isaac Watt’s A Wonderful Dream (1785?), about which I’ll say more in a moment. The other discrepancy that occurs when Lathem numbers are entered in the NAIP records is one of de-duplication: a single record might cite more than one Lathem number because Lathem erroneously identifies two different editions we now know to be a single edition and therefore are described in a single NAIP record.

From the Lathem bibliography then, 114 NAIP records have been changed. By extracting the Machine Readable Catalog Records (MARC) from NAIP and converting them into a spreadsheet, we can begin to analyze Lathem’s data, and perhaps the production of early American literature, in new ways. Here, for example is a look at the progression of publication in these decades:

Figure 1. Publication Decades of “English Verse & Literary Prose in America before 1776”

The rate of publication increases with time, as we might expect, but note the outlier: there appears to be a publication from the 1780s, at least four years after Lathem’s end date of 1776. The imprint in question is the aforementioned A Wonderful Dream by Isaac Watts. The NAIP record tells us that according to Hazel Johnson’s Checklist of New London, Connecticut, Imprints, 1709-1800the book was most likely printed in 1785, not in 1766 as Lathem supposes in entry 211, or in 1770 as he supposes in entry 214. Johnson’s Checklist was published sixteen years after Lathem completed his work, and so the discrepancy between Lathem and NAIP, or put another way, between Lathem and the data, reveals an important bibliographic revision that has taken place since Lathem completed his work. It is worth noting that Roger P. Bristol’s Evans’ American Bibliography: Supplement would not be completed until a year after Lathem’s dissertation, and so Bristol’s updates are also missing.

The places of publication of early American verse and literary prose have no such outliers, but they do invite a new set of questions:

Figure 2. Publication Places of “English Verse & Literary Prose in America before 1776”

Why, for example, does Philadelphia so significantly outweigh the other cities? Sure, it was a publishing hub in its day, but so were Boston and New York. What was going on in Philadelphia that made it such a comparative hotbed of literary production? The answer, when one looks into the NAIP records and/or Lathem’s bibliography, is quite simple: Robert Bell, Scottish emigre by way of Dublin, who reproduced and sold literary works with a frequency, if not to say fervor, as yet unknown in the colonial markets. Bell was also unique in that his reprinting focused, though was not entirely limited to, plays. Most other reprints were of poetry, as this breakdown of genre illustrates.

Figure 3. Genres of “English Verse & Literary Prose in America before 1776”

Of the 114 records, NAIP identifies 64 poems or collections of poems, 9 novels, 19 plays, and 22 “other.” These others include multiple editions of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Isaac Watts’s Hymnal, and satires including George Alexander Stevens’s Lecture on Heads (1767).

Please find the  spreadsheet of NAIP records with Lathem numbers here. You can download it to see how I came up with these charts and to ask different questions of the data.** It is also worth noting that NAIP contains references to over one hundred other bibliographies, which can be found by searching “Bibliography Citation Keyword” in the General Catalog keyword search.

*I would like to thank Giles Bergel in particular for his help securing a copy of the Lathem Introduction.

**Genres are not included in the spreadsheet because, as I have presented elsewhere, extracting genre from catalog records is not a straightforward matter. The basic genre terms I use for figure 3 were added after the catalog record data pull.

Put on your hard hats (and thinking caps)!

The Rijksmuseum’s construction version of Rembrandt’s oil on canvas, “The Night Watch.” Rembrandt, Harmenszoon van Rijn. 1642. Night watch. (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam). Recreated image by Boomerang Create, creative-community agency.

When the Rijksmuseum was being renovated over a decade ago, I received a postcard featuring a spirited version of Rembrandt’s oil on canvas, “The Night Watch.” I found the playfulness of the image, an icon for the famous museum in Amsterdam jazzed up with construction equipment, so compelling that I kept it. An article appearing in the Boston Globe just before this year’s Superbowl also demonstrates that this experimentation with collection items doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to construction projects. Throwing shade (or highlights, drop shadow, whatever image-effect you prefer) is a fitting response for any number of special occasions!

In the September 2016 issue of the Society’s newsletter the Almanac, we announced our building expansion and renovation project. The new “face” of AAS will include a three-story, 7,000-square-foot addition to Antiquarian Hall, as well as a multipurpose room (for workshops, seminars, and class visits), expanded and renovated infrastructure (including climate-controlled storage in the older stacks) and a new conservation lab. When the Society announced the groundbreaking event (taking place on April 27) for this upcoming work to Antiquarian Hall, and we were in the market for an image for the “Save the Date” email, I pulled out the Rijksmuseum postcard and we brainstormed some distinctively AAS images.

We here at AAS can be, on the whole, a group of purists. Rarely will you find any of us cranking up Photoshop to retouch/enhance/alter any of our collection items digitally. Having spent a decade working with digital surrogates and permissions, for instance, I would be the first to tut-tut suggestions of post-processing. We felt in this case, however, it was in good fun and has received the blessing of the curator of graphic arts, Lauren Hewes, whose curatorial collection was unabashedly ransacked for this project.

Can I park my Caterpillar on Regent Street?

Former AAS President Waldo Lincoln’s photographs, currently stored scrapbook-style in the Society’s archives, provide an unparalleled opportunity to look at visual documentation of the construction of the third AAS building in 1909 and 1910. Here presented with tractors and backhoes (and an odd tool or two), is an early view of Antiquarian Hall from Park Avenue.

This site under construction 

The dome also proves to be an easily recognized visual of Society-structure, so we experimented with another Waldo Lincoln photograph, this time in the reading room with the early twentieth-century assembly of the tapered columns of marble that flank the alcoves and some workers (one of whom now dons a cross-over safety harness).

Nothing to see here

My personal choice is the remake of the “Laying of the cornerstone, 1909” by Wohlbruck Studio with Charles Francis Adams (right front in photograph) delivering his address with President Waldo Lincoln (of photojournalist-glory, see above two images) leaning beside him. However, I am retitling it, “Laying of the new state-of-the-art-infrastructure, 2017.”

Remember the ladies

The third building was easily the one most-documented during its construction, but the second building boasts an impressive archive of photographs as well. This image of AAS cataloger Mary Robinson Reynolds and an unknown assistant cataloger was possibly photographed by Society treasurer (and master scrapbook-assembler himself) Nathaniel Paine. Pinned to the wall is the construction update report prepared by Pinck & Co., the company acting as owner’s representative for our current expansion. We imagine the pair here is discussing the plan for shifting many linear-feet of collection material for the forthcoming work.

Can you hear me now?

John Foster’s second state of the woodcut of Richard Mather (ca. 1670), which is considered the first portrait print produced in America, is another emblematic and oft-reproduced AAS image. We’ve replaced the small eye-glasses in his right hand with a pair of safety glasses and included a set of cap mount ear muffs (heavyweight, of course).

All work and no play makes John a dull governor

Another top choice was the anonymous oil on canvas (ca. 1630/1691) portrait of John Winthrop, an early Massachusetts Bay governor, which has surveyed AAS researchers since it was bequested to the Society in 1830. The painting is often the subject of comment by art historians for its skillfully painted hands. During construction we’ll be sure to keep them covered with a pair of Dewalt gloves.

The Man and his plans

Hands-down (gloved or not) the image most associated with AAS is the Ethan Allen Greenwood oil on panel portrait of founder Isaiah Thomas done in June 1818, which currently hangs near the Society’s entrance (overlooking the reception desk); Thomas sat six times for this painting. We may revisit this lively portrait over the course of construction, but for this first iteration, in addition to his safety hat, caution tape, and scaffolding, we’ve swapped his published History of Printing (1810) with the prospective exterior façade rendering done by Samuel Anderson Architects in June of 2016.

Now primed with all these improvement-inspired-images, we hope you will consider joining us for the groundbreaking (and celebration!) of the expansion and renovation of Antiquarian Hall, which will be on Thursday, April 27, at 4:00 p.m. We will continue to post details on social media and on our website!

Now in Print from the AAS Community

Every quarter at AAS we release a list of publications by those who have researched at the library as fellows, members, or readers. To see the full 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!

Dillon, Elizabeth Maddock and Michael J. Drexler, editors. The Haitian Revolution and the Early United States. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. (Dillon: AAS-NEH Fellow, 2010-11; AAS member)

Dun, James Alexander. Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016. (Tracy Fellow, 2014-15)

Howell, William Huntting and Megan Walsh, editors. The Garies and Their Friends. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2016. (NeMLA Fellows, 2013.)

O’Connell, James C. Dining Out in Boston: A Culinary History. Hanover, University Press of New England, 2017.

Branson, Susan. “Phrenology and the Science of Race in Antebellum America.” Early American Studies 15 (2017): 164-193. (Peterson Fellow, 2011-12)

Bruchac, Margaret. “Hill Town Touchstone: Reconsidering William Apess and Colrain, Massachusetts.” Early American Studies 14 (2016): 712-748. (AAS member)

Fielder, Brigitte. “‘Those people must have loved her very dearly’: Interracial Adoption and Radical Love in Antislavery Children’s Literature.” Early American Studies 14.4 (2016): 749-780. (CHAViC Fellow, 2011-12)

Martinko, Whitney. “Byles versus Boston: Historic Houses, Urban Development, and the Public Good in an Improving City.” Massachusetts Historical Review 19 (2016): 119-152. (CHAViC Fellow, 2009-10; Hench Fellow, 2015-16)

Reed, Peter P. “The Life and Death of Anna Gardie: American Theater, Refugee Dramas, and the Specter of Haitian Revolution.” Early American Literature 51 (2016): 623-652. (NeMLA Fellow, 2007-08 and 2010-11)

Weyler, Karen A. and Michelle Burnham. “Reanimating Ghost Editions, Reorienting the Early American Novel.” Early American Literature 51 (2016): 655-664. (Weyler: Botein Fellow, 1995-96; Burnham: ASECS Fellow, 2011-12)

Unique Jacksoniana: An Extra-Illustrated Life

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

Title page of the extra-illustrated volume.

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

One of the interleaved illustrations in the volume.

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

The gilt cover of the volume.

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

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

The 2015-16 Annual Report is now available!

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

Reading into Valentines

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

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

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

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

Escort cards, ca. 1880-1900

Valentine Festival, Lebanon, New Hampshire, 1850.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joseph Avery, Sermons, 1773-1777

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

Presidential Politics in the Archives: Andrew Jackson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Blue Jay”

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

“Reddish Egret”

Georgia Barnhill (far right) viewing the Bien edition.

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

A new podcast from Past is Present!

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

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

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

“Libations” from CORE


“Dear Spectators” from Ligatures

Hanukkah and American Judaism, 1841-1876

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Database Reveals a Soldier’s Unexpected Past

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

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

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

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


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