Memorandum of a Dream

While sorting through a recent donation, I came upon an interesting item.  “Memorandum of a Dream” as it’s titled, recounts a dream of a woman from Maryland in 1799.  What is so interesting about this piece is not only the dream itself, but the mystery behind it.

Manuscripts can prove to be difficult, but at the same time and often for the same reasons, very intriguing.  With published material, you can figure out most of the information you need within the volume.  As long as the title page is still intact, you usually know where and when it was published.  Granted the journey of the book from the publisher to our hands is not always known, but at least we can figure out its origination point.  With manuscripts, it’s not so easy.  Manuscripts can be a simple scrap of paper and nothing more.  Think of all the notes you write to yourself throughout the day.  And imagine someone 200 years down the road trying to figure out what those notes mean. (Change the oil?  Bread, milk and apples?  Call Sue!?)  And I’m sure nobody lists their name, address, and the date on scrap paper.

“Memorandum of a Dream” is one of these mystery items.  Written on a single sheet of paper, our unknown author retells the dream of a friend, in which she enters a large, solemn assembly.  At the head of the room is a “Native Indian of this Land…who was immediately Constrained by Divine Providence to deliver a message of warning to the Inhabitance [sic]”.  The author goes on to recount the message of a great surge “for the deliverance of that People, who had been so long under oppression, amongst the people of America.”  A very dramatic dream.  The woman wakes, sleeps again and supposedly dreams the same dream a second time.  The dream is closed with the following:

With which I had an impulse or intimation, to preserve or take care of what I had seen.  For that there were (perhaps) those now on the stage of action who may see more of these things than I shall.  If ever such a time of searching shall come to pass.

Was this a prophetic dream of things to come?  In my very hasty amateur historical research, I haven’t come across any Native American uprisings in Maryland in 1799, but I’m open to more professional opinions!

So what do we know about this item?  There is a date: 1799.  And we know the dream was dreamed by a “woman friend in Maryland,” but where it was written, and who wrote it down, we can’t say.  Even more of a mystery is why it was written.  It seems as though it was recorded and saved for a reason.  The page was folded multiple times (small enough to fit in a pocket), with “Memorandum of a Dream” written on what I’d presume would be a visible piece after the folding.  So it was at one point transported, but not sent through post.  But why?  Did the author read this aloud to a crowd?  The topic of the dream leads me to think it was more than simply a recording of a dream, but something that was shared with others for a purpose.  A warning?  A prophecy?  A lesson?  Or maybe I’m looking into it too much?

All speculation.  Feel free to share your thoughts on this dream!

Published by

Tracey Kry

Assistant Curator of Manuscripts and Assistant Reference Librarian, American Antiquarian Society

3 thoughts on “Memorandum of a Dream”

  1. This is the kind of thing that I LOVE to use in the classroom with my students. I spend so much time getting them to understand and value the importance of primary sources. This document has some mystery, yes, but kids love a good mystery – and there are a multitude of connections to our course of study that they can divine here. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Pam, I’m so glad this is something your students would find interesting. It’s always good to get them asking questions!

  3. What a fascinating document. I wonder whether the reference to a “woman friend” and the “solemn assembly” with long periods of tearful silence, as well as the reference to “children of Penn” suggests a Quaker context.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.