Archive for the ‘Americana’ Category

17
Nov

An almanac bonanza!

   Posted by: rring

This collection just came in from an anonymous donor, who has single-handedly DOUBLED our holdings of this important genre of American print culture. Our collection, which spans 300 years of American history (1675-1975), will be an important source for the study of many aspects of American culture. The almanac was one of the most ubiquitous printed items in America for over two centuries, reaching a larger readership than any other secular publication.

This new gift comprises nearly 2,000 almanacs from 1750-1970, and were mostly issued in the Middle Atlantic and New England states, with a smattering from Southern and Midwestern states. A great variety of topics are represented: farming and agriculture, cookery, comic material, medicine and remedies, newspapers, magazines, publishers, politics, religion and social movements. Many are illustrated.

Most of this collection was formed over the course of 50 years by a private collector, William Pennybacker of Hotboro, PA, whose manuscript inventory came with the collection. Pennybacker sold this collection to the donor in the mid-1980s, and it has been in storage for over 30 years, until now! It will take some time to process fully, but we are hoping to make it available as soon as possible.

24
Aug

How cool is this??

   Posted by: rring

Just (re)discovered by archivist Peter Rawson–the flag flown over the College during the Civil War, given back to the College by the great historian Samuel Eliot Morison (1887-1976), whose grandfather, Samuel Eliot (1821-1898) was professor of history and political science (1856-1874) and president of Trinity from 1860-64.

[This post was contributed by Richard Mammana, archivist for the Living Church Foundation, founder and director of Project Canterbury, and a member of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences]

The Watkinson Library at Trinity College recently acquired the intact personal library of Charles Hayden Proctor (January 11, 1850-June 25, 1890). Proctor was a Trinity alumnus (B.A. 1873) who had been graduated from the Episcopal Academy at Cheshire in 1869. He went on to receive his M.A. at Berkeley Divinity School (then in Middletown) in 1876. He was ordained to the diaconate in the Episcopal Church in 1876 by the Bishop of Connecticut, and then to the priesthood in 1877. Proctor had a relatively brief career in the church, dying at 40 after serving in a handful of cures: as a lay missionary in the Naugatuck River Valley; as the founding rector of St. James Church, New Bedford, Massachusetts (1878-1885); at Trinity Church, Pottsville, Pennsylvania (1885-1888); and finally as the third dean of Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock, Arkansas (1888-1890).

Proctor’s significance in Trinity history comes from his authorship of The Life of James Williams, Better Known as Professor Jim, for Half a Century Janitor of Trinity College (Hartford: Case, Lockwood and Brainard, 1873), a 79-page biography of the beloved “professor of dust and ashes” of the title—an African American who lived from c.1790 to 1878.

Williams was born to a free American father of African ancestry and a Creole mother in New York. He served as a seaman in the War of 1812, and had arrived in Hartford by 1821 when he was working at the City Hotel. Williams’s association with Trinity began as his domestic service in the household of the college’s founding president Bishop Thomas Church Brownell (1779-1865). As Professor Jim—by then “general factotum” of the college—he made farewell remarks to each graduating class from 1830 to 1874, receiving a gift of money or a valuable object each year, and then serving glasses of punch to the class. (It is from Professor Jim’s use of a lemon squeezer in preparing the punch that the elaborate Trinity traditions about fruit presses have emerged.) Trinity students took up a collection to buy Professor Jim a turkey each year at Christmas for four decades.

Proctor’s Life of James Williams was published by the foremost commercial press in Connecticut at the time, and its wide reach is attested by its presence in the private library of Mark Twain as well as a wide variety of public and academic collections still today.

Proctor’s library is significant in its own right because of its former owner’s work in chronicling an important chapter in Trinity College history. It is also notable for having remained undisturbed in the Proctor family home in Derby for more than 125 years since Proctor died in 1890. The ca. 400 volumes—most with their original owner’s bookplate—provide a fascinating look at the intellectual world of a late nineteenth-century Episcopal priest.

CURATOR’S NOTE: I would like to thank Dan and Denis (of John Bale Books in Waterbury, CT) for alerting me of the existence of this collection and working very hard to deliver it to Trinity College intact. Good booksellers make good libraries!

14
Dec

Miss Susanna Olmsted Her Book

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Jennifer Sharp M’11, a Project Archivist with the Watkinson Library]

adviceOne of the pieces in the Charles P. Wells collection that I enjoyed finding is a copybook, owned by Susanna Olmsted. The poem, written by Esther Lewis, seems to have been written out by Susanna’s friend, E.Benton, presumably prior to Susanna’s marriage.

The first page reads:

Advice to a Lady lately Married

Dear Peggy since the single State / You’ve left & chose yourself a Mate / Since metamorphos’d to a Wife / And Bliss or Woe’s insur’d for Life

A friendly Muse the way would show / To gain the Bliss & miss the Woe. / But first of all I must suppose / You,ve with mature reflection chose /

And this premis’d I think you may / Here find to married Bliss the way. / Small is the province of a Wife / And narrow is her Sphere in Life /

Within that Sphere to move aright / Should be her principal Delight. / To guide the House with prudent ease / And properly to spend & spare /

To make her Husband bless the Day / He gave his Liberty away.

susannaThe final page is where we find out the book was owned by Susanna. I spent several hours trying to connect Susanna Olmsted with the Wells family, but wasn’t able to do so. I may keep trying! There were few enough families in Hartford when this was written (1775), that I’m sure we have a connection in a ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ sort of way. This is my final post about the collection. I have arranged it all, and the finding aid is in progress. I hope you will visit the Watkinson and use the collection. Thank you for reading!

6
Dec

Friendship album

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Jennifer Sharp M’11, a Project Archivist with the Watkinson Library]

dedicationA common practice in the nineteenth century was to maintain a friendship album. Though mostly kept by women, entries were often from both men and women. The albums contained poems and stories, and served a purpose similar to a high school yearbook or a Facebook wall.

Lucy Strong was the sister of Charles Wells’ wife, Jane Naomi (Strong) Wells. As we can tell from the album’s dedication, in 1832 Lucy attended (or perhaps just visited) Wesleyan Academy, now Wilbraham & Monson Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.

She received entries from several men there, including one from Columbia, South Carolina, and another from New Hartford, Connecticut.

While often the entries were just text, some, such as this entry from Clarissa Talmage, were far more intricate.

Though water damaged, the pages all remain legible. It’s great to have this example of a nineteenth century custom in the collection.

*I have learned from online histories of Wilbraham & Monson that Wesleyan Academy was the first co-ed boarding school in the country. The wording in the dedication makes it sound like Lucy was a student there, but in my quick search I was unable to find a date for co-education.

 

talmagenew_hartfords_carolina

16
Nov

Audubon letter

   Posted by: rring

Recently acquired!

img230Autograph Letter from John James Audubon to Robert Havell, Jr., dated July 21, 1839.

With instructions to deliver casks of natural history objects to Sheffield, and wishing him a pleasant voyage to America. Having spent 1837-39 in England, finalizing the publication of the Birds of America, Audubon writes to Havell days before both men depart for America: “…We will sail on Monday next . . . from this port for New York on board the packet ship the George Washington . . . You and Mrs. Havell and daughter will sail from London on the 1st of August . . .”

Upon their arrival, Havell and his family stayed with the Audubons in Brooklyn before moving to Ossining, NY, and subsequently to Tarryown, where he spent the remaining years of his life painting and engraving landscapes and views of the Hudson River and of American cities.

This is a nice addition to the collection, especially since our copy of Audubon’s Birds of America was Robert Havell’s own copy–it sold to a New York firm just after Havell died, and bought that same year by Dr. Gurdon Russell, Trinity Class of 1834, who gave it to the College in 1900.

4
Nov

19thC version of the e-mail string

   Posted by: rring

[Posted by Jennifer Sharp M’11, a Project Archivist with the Watkinson Library]

In my previous post, I mentioned that the Charles P. Wells collection would be organized into three series: personal, business, and extended family. The personal series is the largest, comprising correspondence, Bible study notes, and other material related to Wells’ day-to-day life. The bulk of the correspondence dates from the 1830s and 1840s and is arranged alphabetically by author. Among those who wrote to Wells with regularity are his wife, Jane Strong Wells (when she was out of town), Henrietta Blake, Jerusha Clark, Emily Bond, Haynes Lord, S. Wells Williams (who spent time as a missionary in China), and H. W. Warner. It is a mixture of family and friends, as many of us have today. Nineteenth-century and 21st century correspondence have their similarities and differences, and the Wells collection provides the opportunity to examine some of these.

MrNLFosterOver the past few decades, as email has become part of our daily lives, we have grown accustomed to strings of messages gathered together. Pull up one message, and you can read all of them. Nineteenth-century correspondence lacked threads, and extant correspondence has a greater chance of being one-sided. This is not to say that you won’t find both (or all) sides of a conversation; it just isn’t as common as with our modern day communication. As I have sorted the correspondence, I found there are in fact pairs of letters within the collection.

There are certain conventions researchers will notice in most 19th century correspondence. While today we rely on date stamps, Wells and others would mention the date of the letter to which they were replying. This was key to determining the first matching set of letters.

Wells’ letterbook begins with a letter dated June 12, 1830 to Nathan L. Foster.

[MrNLFoster]

Looking through Foster’s folder, it was easy to see that this letter prompted Foster’s reply the following month.

[FriendCharles]

FriendCharlesFoster wrote that Wells’ “favour of the 12th ult” was in front of him. There are other hints that these two go together. Both mention procrastination and the concept of carpe diem. My favorite aspect of Foster’s letter is that he includes in his first paragraph a line that so many of us use all the time, “I was extremely busy.”

Though I have not yet had time to confirm a connection, there appears to be a draft of a letter to Jerusha Clark that matches with a reply in her folder.

It is quite possible for matching letters (or other writings) to be held by different repositories. As I researched Nathan L. Foster, I found that the American Antiquarian Society holds a collection of Foster’s diaries. I have no way of knowing if Foster mentions Wells at all in his diaries, but if I were a scholar of either, I might make a trip to the Society to find out.

There is far more to learn from the Wells correspondence than I can fit in a single blog post. When the collection is open for research, I encourage you to visit and explore it for yourself.

(If you are interested in properly archiving your personal email so that someone else can read it 150 years from now, the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program has a PDF with tips on preserving your own media.)

26
Jul

Strike while the iron is hot!

   Posted by: rring

Courant1A shout-out to Henry Arneth, our Special Collections Assistant, who spotted a great buy at a local auction house–five bound volumes of the Hartford Daily Courant dating from 1838-1843. Up to now we only had seven (7) individual issues dating from 1846-1887 in paper, but of course the main library has the entire run online–which comprise title changes: The Daily Courant (1837-1839) and the Hartford Daily Courant (1840-1887). As anyone will tell you who has handled period newspapers, though, leafing through the real thing and using it online are two very different experiences.

Even Thoreau relates how “scraps of newspapers in which some party had wrapped their luncheon” was more evocative of the past than many a reasoned narrative in his A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (first published in 1849).

Henry told me about the lot around 9am yesterday morning–and the sale was at 6:30pm. By 1:30pm I had struck an agreement with a local antiquarian book dealer who would bid for us at the auction (I had to teach at 6:30) and, if we were successful, deliver the set to us after the sale. We got the set for just over the high estimate, which was still a fabulous bargain for us–definitely what I would call a “wholesale” price. See below for some excerpts from 1838.

Courant6Courant2Courant5Courant4Courant3

 

25
May

Early Hartford family archive

   Posted by: rring

WellsWe are very happy to announce the gift of an archive of family papers related to early 19thC Hartford from former Trinity College President (1981-89) James F. English, Jr. (H ’89) of Noank, CT. Jim is also an emeritus member of the Watkinson Library Board of Trustees, which he served to our great benefit for 12 years, from 1997-2009.

The papers mostly relate to Charles Pitkin Welles (1811-1876), although other members of the Welles (or Wells) family are also represented. The archive includes correspondence, ephemera, objects, and other documents (like report cards from Hartford High School ca. 1850, insurance policies, invitations, bills, etc.), poetry, diaries, and printed chapbooks and newspapers.

 

img166According to his obituary in the Hartford Daily Times (March 4, 1876), “his peculiarly self-contained and reserved character, and his thoroughly domestic and retiring habits” made him almost a stranger in his own town. Born of Quaker parents, “the slow and unruffled Quaker calm not only asserted itself in his ever cool and even blood, but led him away from the stirring outward life” but rather, to the “quite and genial atmosphere of his books.”

“It is related of him that once, when word was brought to him, down town, at night, that his place of business (he kept a drug and medicine establishment, not far from the Main and Asylum street corner) was on fire, he deliberately arose, carefully dressed himself, and adjusted his necktie with his usual care. It did not suit him, and he took it off, and getting another, arranged that to suit him–and then walked up town to see what was going on at the fire.”

img165

[Posted by Henry Arneth, Special Collections Assistant]

Egbert Austin “Bert” Williams (1874-1922) was an American blackface vaudeville star. Born in the Bahamas, Williams began performing at an early age with various minstrel shows, and in the 1890s took a partner, George Walker. The pair performed under the name “Two Real Coons” because there were so many white blackface performers. It was also in the 1890s that Williams made his first recordings.

By the early 1900s, Williams’ style had changed. He performed with the Ziegfeld Follies beginning 1910, singing and “philosophizing” during the breaks in the Follies routines. This recording, “I’m Gone Before I Go,” (Columbia A-2078) from 1916, is typical of his later work. In the song, he speaks of the African-American participation in the Mexican Revolution (ca. 1910-1920). This song forms an interesting juxtaposition when compared with other patriotic songs of the period both in tone and music. The happy-sounding composition seems to belie the somewhat dismal lyrics. Williams’ delivery is also different because he doesn’t sing the entire time. He sings refrains, but speaks the stanzas, which gives the listener the feeling that one is viewing Williams on stage.