Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Animals in the Archives

How about some cute animals to kick off the start of the school year? We in the Archives noticed the National Archives’ new social media campaign – the Archives Hashtag Party! Each month follows a differently themed hashtag (you can follow @USNatArchives to see the themes). Last month was #ArchivesSquadGoals. This month’s theme is #ArchivesCute, and in the Amherst College Archives we’ve decided to join the party.

We’ve found animals in a variety of different archival collections, from our rare books stacks to the College Archives to the manuscript collections. Hopefully these examples will give you a sense for the breadth of the Archives’ holdings. Let’s get started!

In our rare book stacks, we have a lovely 1883 folio edition of Monograph of the Felidae or Family of the Cats, by Daniel Giraud Elliot.

20170907_105323

Elliot, a zoologist, was a founder of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. He produced a number of this type of work, commissioning artists to produce plates to accompany his text. Other works in this same vein include Monograph of the Paradisae and Review of the Primates. These large volumes were made possible by subscription; future owners would pledge money for the production of the book and in the end receive a copy. The artist for Monograph of the Felidae was Joseph Wolf, a German artist who specialized in natural history illustration. This plate depicts the Snow Leopard, native to the mountains of Central and South Asia.

20170907_105407(1)

For something completely different, we turn to the College Photographer’s Records, part of Amherst College’s institutional archives. Since the 1960s the College has employed an official photographer to record important events and daily life on campus. On at least two occasions in the 1990s, the photographer captured a series of faculty dogs on campus. Here’s one example:

20170907_131646.jpg

Look at that old-school desktop technology in the background!

The College’s Scrapbook Collection also offers a variety of cute animals. These examples come from the scrapbook of Edson Alexander McRae, a graduate of the class of 1906. His scrapbook shows that he was a member of the baseball team – and includes many photographs of this fine pup:

20170907_110720

Apologies for the poor image quality! But you can see in the background the Amherst Town Hall.

Also a sketch of cats on a calling card:

20170907_110845

Calling cards, a precursor to the business card, were left when visiting a home while the residents were absent.

The Lincoln Barnes Negatives Collection also yielded cuteness. Lincoln Wade Barnes was a photographer in the town of Amherst for many years during the first half of the twentieth century; he was also photographer to the College for some of that time. A collection of Barnes photography is also available at the Jones Library.

20170907_104308.jpg

We truly hit the jackpot in Lucius Manly Boltwood’s photograph albums. These albums were compiled in the late 19th and/or early 20th century and include images of friends, family, pets, and views of Amherst. Boltwood was very involved in the College and local communities. A graduate of the class of 1843, Boltwood went on to become the librarian at Amherst College and the town’s postmaster.

20170907_134518

20170907_134535

20170907_134835.jpg

20170907_134907

And last but not least, look who we found hanging out in the Archives’ Objects Collection:

20170907_111126

I hope everyone had a chance to glimpse the partial – or total – solar eclipse on Monday.  All this talk of our recent “Great American” eclipse got me thinking about previous eclipses and two early eclipse chasers in Amherst history: David Peck Todd (AC 1875) and Mabel Loomis Todd.  David Peck Todd, graduate of Amherst class of 1875, Professor of Astronomy, and Director of the Observatory, made his first solar eclipse expedition with the U.S. Navy to view the eclipse of 1878 in Texas.  This was just the first of many expeditions to view and study solar eclipses.  After their marriage in 1879, Mabel Loomis Todd (most famous for editing Emily Dickinson’s poetry) accompanied David Todd on many of his expeditions, including to Japan, Tripoli, and Russia.

Recent articles have been published about the Todds and their astronomical expeditions, including The Star-Crossed Astronomer by Julie Dobrow and Mabel Loomis Todd’s Poetic 19th-Century Guide to Totality by Maria Popova.  These articles document the Todds’ international travels in pursuit of the study of solar eclipses and other astronomical occurrences.

Mabel Loomis Todd later gave speeches about her experiences on these international expeditions and published several books and articles, including Total Eclipses of the Sun (1894), Corona and Coronet (1898), and A Cycle of Sunsets (1910).

While the papers of David Peck Todd and Mabel Loomis Todd are held at Yale, we do have many publications of the Todds’ astronomical research, professional papers, newsclippings, and speech announcements in their respective biographical files.And do keep these “Directions for Observing the Total Solar Eclipse” handy for the next solar eclipse coming our way in 2024.

Applestead

Three apples from “Apples of New York,” by Spencer Ambrose Beach.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association summer conference takes place this weekend at Hampshire College.  One of the first seminars was “The Full Skinny on Healthy Orcharding” with Michael Phillips from Lost Nation Farm in New Hampshire.  Yours truly was there, learning about fungal duff management and other good things .

As it happens, the seminar was held right down the street from the site of Professor Edward Tuckerman’s little home orchard, which he called Applestead.  Tuckerman and his wife, Eliza, built Applestead over the period of a few years in the 1850s, beginning not long after they moved to Amherst from Boston.  The house was of stone – built to last, Eliza said in a letter to her sister Mattie.   Eliza’s letter also suggested that the house was designed by Edward Clarke Cabot, a well-known architect and, again according to Eliza, an old friend of Edward’s.

It was a beautiful house, and Edward put a lot of effort into designing the grounds, for in addition to his many interests, including botany, religion, history, and genealogy, he was also a zealous gardener.  After he scoured the seed catalogs and planned the garden beds for beans and potatoes and peas, he envisioned many fruit trees.  The modest plan for his orchard — “Preserve carefully” he wrote on the front — is now in the Cushing-Tuckerman-Esty Papers at Amherst College.  There, among the pears and cherries, an observant orchardist will see that he has planned for several fine apple varieties, namely Rhode Island Greening, Baldwin, Northern Spy, Red Astrachan, Sops of Wine, Porter, and Gravenstein, shown in a detail here:

Most of these apples are still available to plant today – I have a few (okay, most) of these myself.  Part of the lure of heirloom apples is the names, and for some budding apple growers it’s hard to resist buying an example of every curiously-named apple.  It’s nice — probably very wise — to have a selection in your orchard of modern, disease-resistant apples such as Liberty, Enterprise, or Freedom (what bloody boring names, though), but it’s far more addictive to track down heirloom varieties such as (to list a very few) Razor Russet, Cornish Gilliflower, Hubbardston Nonesuch, or Westfield-Seek-No-Further.  How can you resist?  The Tuckermans didn’t resist.  They planted their orchard.

 

Detail from a larger photo, showing the Tuckerman orchard in early spring.

 

The Tuckerman’s mature orchard in 1921, when Applestead was a fraternity. Note the train running past the house — the track was added only a few decades after the Tuckermans built Applestead.

Detail from map of Amherst, 1873, by F. Beers. “G.F. Tuckerman” should read “E. Tuckerman.”

The property and the orchard only lasted about 70 years.  In the 1920s Amherst College administrators decided that the athletic facilities should be improved, and that the Tuckerman property would be the site of the “Amherst College Base Ball Cage.”  The map at left shows the three properties along “Broadway” (now South Pleasant Street) that would be torn down in order to erect the Cage.  In a few pages devoted to this project in Stanley King’s “Consecrated Eminence,” the destruction of Applestead received only one sentence: “The stone house, known as the Tuckerman house, then standing at the site, was taken down.”  The orchard is long gone, but somewhere — even as pieces or pebbles or dust — that indestructible stone is brooding over the razing of Applestead.

Detail from a photograph in the Buildings and Grounds Collection showing the Cage and its grounds. The Tuckermans’ property would have been to the right of the train tracks.

This week’s blog post comes from our Bicentennial Metadata Librarian, Amanda Pizzollo:

As avid readers of this blog will know, Amherst College was conceived out of the previously existing Amherst Academy. As Frederick Tuckerman points out in his book on the academy, the founders of Amherst Academy are also the founders of Amherst College. Yet the school’s connection to the foundation of Amherst College is not the only reason that Amherst Academy is worthy of attention. Nor are the school’s connections to Emily Dickinson and Mary Lyon the only highlights of its existence. Though I’m as big a fan as any of Amherst College, Emily Dickinson, and Mary Lyon, I have also thoroughly enjoyed learning more about Amherst Academy for entirely unrelated reasons.

I work at Amherst College as a metadata creator. You know all that information like title, dates, a brief description, and subjects that you see when you look at a digital item in ACDC? That’s supplied by folks like me who get to look at these things and describe them in hopes that it helps you find them. Right now, I’m working on metadata for the Amherst College Early History Collection that we mentioned previously on the blog. It includes items about the history of Amherst Academy as well, and last week I stumbled upon two particular treasures: notebooks of minutes from the Franklin and Platonic Societies of Amherst Academy.

Platonic Cover

The cover of the Platonic Society administrative notebook looks rather unassuming doesn’t it? Hey, don’t judge a book by its cover.

Both the Franklin Society and the Platonic Society were student literary societies, and they both may have been secret societies (though that’s not entirely clear). In March of 1836 these two societies would merge into one and be renamed as the Washington Society. The notebooks I’m describing include minutes, names of members, and other administrative records from 1833-1835 (in the case of the Franklin Society) and from 1834-1836 (in the case of the Platonic Society). Taking a look at the minutes, I’ve gotten a feel for what their weekly meetings were like. Of course there were variations, but mostly it went like this:

  • Review what happened at the last meeting
  • Vote on officers (if it was time for that)
  • Debate on the question posed at the last meeting
  • Decide on the consensus for the question debated (or have the Society President decide)
  • Pose a question for the next meeting’s debate and assign members to lead the debate
  • Address other society business like proposing new members

There have been lots of interesting things about looking through these notebooks, for instance the first entry in the Platonic Society’s notebook reads:

“And it came to pass in the fourth year of the rain of Alva, A whose sirname is Hurd, the rules of the notoriously courageous family of Plato, that the discrete and scientific disciples of Uncle Plato collected themselves together in the usual place at the sounding of the academical invariable and thunder resounding alarm….”

It goes on to describe the start of the meeting: “soon all arose, and instantly Each by the stealth and fierceness of a Lion, took and guarded the posts of their duty well.”

Later in the same entry, it discusses the meeting’s debate and the leaders of it, society members Stone and Thayer: “..eminently courageous children of the Brother Plato and both remarkably well skilled in fight—These fought well for a season till at length by the stealth and cunningness of a fox, the venerable Sapis which is Stone surrounded Thayer and by the force of Situation and art pulled down by his house and sitt fire to and burned up his riches.”

Alva A. Hurd, mentioned in the first line, was an Amherst Academy student and society member. Sapis, noted later, signs this entry E.J. Sapis as he was acting as secretary and scribe for this meeting.  It seems likely that Sapis and Stone (Elijah J. Stone) are the same person since he states “Sapis which is Stone” and since both are E.J. Why he used Sapis in his signature is unclear. Thayer was likely James S. Thayer based on the Amherst Academy catalogs, and of course he and Stone were the society members debating in this meeting. Now, the handwriting can be a bit tough to decipher at times, so I’m not sure of that last word in the “sitt fire to and burned up his riches” sentence. It could be riches, or it could be ricks perhaps, or something else entirely. Most meeting minutes don’t read like this, and it seems likely that Sapis/Stone was exercising his writing muscles and ability for tongue-in-cheek prose with this first notebook entry. It was certainly an enjoyable read for me.

I also enjoyed looking at the officer positions in these societies. There’s the standard President, Vice President, and Secretary roles, and there were also Critics, a Librarian, Prudential Committee members, and Questioning Committee members at many meetings. My favorite position title, though? Definitely the Bell Ringer.

Franklin 1

The officer names and positions chosen at the October 15, 1835 Franklin Society meeting

What I’ve found most interesting with these notebooks, however, are the weekly questions debated. Many are a glimpse at history, and some are still debated today. Below is a sampling of questions debated in one or both of the societies. I’ve kept spelling, capitalization, and most punctuation (or lack thereof) the same, but I have added some question marks since these were often omitted in the notebooks. There’s plenty more questions than these in the notebooks, too.

“Ought the man who kills another in a duel to be subject to our criminal laws?”

“Is memory more dependent upon nature than upon habit and Education?”

“Ought ladies and gentlemen to obtain their education in separate academies and seminaries?”

“Which is the more powerful, Education or wealth?”

“Ought Emigration to be encouraged?”

“Ought Foreign Emegration to be encouraged prohibited?”

“Which is the greater Evil, Intemperance or Slavery?”

“Is the manufacturing interest of our Country more important than agriculture?”

“Was De Witt Clinton possessed of greater talents than Alexander Hamilton?”

“Was the revolution of 1830 in France a benefit to that nation?”

“Ought any government to interfere in any religion?”

“Which has the greatest influence in this our country, fashion or Education?”

“Which has the most influence on society, wealth or talent?”

“Which has caused the greater loss of lives war or intemperance?”

“Is celibacy a violation of moral duty?”

“Which enjoys most happiness him who is called a poor man or him who is called rich?”

“Had the conduct of General Andrew Jackson during his administration been commendable?”

“Ought the liberty of the press to be restricted?”

“Which has the greatest claim to our benevolence the Indian or the Slave?”

“Ought capital punishment to be inflicted on convicts?”

“Is phrenology on the whole beneficial to science?”

“Ought the Colonization Society to be supported in preference to the Anti Slavery Society?”

“Should appointments be given in Colleges as rewards of Scholarship?”

“Ought Menageries to receive publick patronage?”

“Ought any person after arriving at the age of discretion to be prohibited from attending any religious meeting they choose?”

“Is deception justifiable in any case?”

“Which ought most to be encouraged, Commerce or Manufacture?”

“Have military heroes been beneficial to the world?”

“Were our forefathers justifiable in their treatment to the Indians?”

“Who was worthy of the more Honor, Columbus or Washington?”

“Which is the most beneficial to community Man or Woman?”

“Ought imprisonment for debt to be abolished from the United States?”

“Which is the most unhappy the Slave or the Drunkard?”

“Which has been the cause of the most Good the Magnet Needle or the Printing Press?”

“Is the influence of females in the affairs of the world greater than that of males?”

“From present appearances is it probable the Roman Catholics will gain the ascendency in this country?”

“Is married life more conducive to happiness than single life?”

“Are rail-roads beneficial to the country?”

“Which is more injurious to the public novel reading or gambling?”

“Ought the poor to be supported by tax on the community?”

“Ought Quakers to be compelled to do military duty?”

“Does fashion exert a greater influence in society than education?”

“Which is the most beneficial to the country Academies or common Schools?”

If you want to read more questions, see how members voted on them, delve more deeply into the life of the Amherst Academy student society Bell Ringer, or hear more of the thrilling prose of secretaries like Sapis/Stone, then never-fear, friends. You can see these notebooks now in Archives & Special Collections as part of the Early College History Collection, and not too long from now you’ll also be able to browse these pages on ACDC.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Over the River

We have written about Amherst’s missionaries who traveled the world, but some missionary work was done much closer to home. For just over forty years, Amherst students worked with Holyoke’s Rev. Dr. Edwin B. Robinson (class of 1896) at Grace Church. Holyoke was a busy manufacturing city; Grace Church was a working-class congregation located in the Flats, where tens of thousands of immigrant families worked in the paper and textile factories and lived in crowded tenements (often company-owned).

A large brick factory wreathed in smoke from its four chimneys sits along a flowing canal.

Parsons Paper Mill, in Holyoke (1909), with coal smoke billowing from its chimneys.
Image from the Library of Congress [1]

Starting in 1910, when Arthur Boynton (class of 1910) asked Rev. Robinson about running a summer program at the church, a partnership developed. A handful of students would spend six weeks each summer running a ‘Vacation School’ for local children, teaching classes, doing recreational activities, and holding services. A number of well-connected Amherst students took part early on, including Professor Olds’ (later, president of the College, 1924-1927) two sons, Leland and George D. (Jr.), for the summers of 1911 and 1912. About sixty students would take part over the 42 years the program ran; it ended in 1952, the year after Rev. Dr. Robinson’s death.

Several years ago, my granddad volunteered to sort through the archives at his church (United Congregational Church) in Holyoke. While doing the work, he found mentions of an Amherst College summer program in the city with Grace United Church (in 1995, it merged with the Second Congregational Church to form the present United Congregational Church). At the time, it was just an interesting tidbit of local history.

Unexpected Connections

Now that I’m part of the team here in the Archives, I’ve had the chance to do a bit of digging as I’ve learned my way around. While researching the program, I found this gem in George D. Olds, Jr.’s biographical file. The writing on the back of the picture only notes that Olds is in the shot, with no details about the origin of the image.

However, I immediately recognized that it was from the summer program, and that Olds (on the far right) is posing with the children from the Vacation School in front of the church, as a nearly identical photograph is in a 1933 article in the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly. [2] One of the best things about working in libraries is the way little fragments connect unexpectedly.

Several dozen children pose together on a staircase. An adult man in a suit stands to the right. A wooden door behind the group stands open.

George D. Olds Jr., and the Amherst College Vacation School in Holyoke, MA. Summer 1912. [3]

What did the students think about their work?

Some students, like George’s older brother, Leland Olds, were deeply affected by their work in Holyoke. Thirty-seven years later, Olds referred to his time in Holyoke during a difficult confirmation hearing. Up for his third term as chair of the Federal Power Commission, Olds stated, “During two summers while I was at college I helped to run the vacation school of Grace Church in the neighboring industrial city of Holyoke, Mass… There I learned at first hand the impact of the industrialism of that period on the lives of the children of wage earners.”
[4]
Olds continued on to describe how his time in Holyoke (and later in Boston and New York) informed his early work for labor unions and workers’ organizations.

Grace Church proved a real trial heat. We taught and preached, led square dances and sang songs; we shared the gloom of unopened mills and the joy of an extra day’s work; we visited, listened and learned.

–J. Herbert Brautigam (class of 1939) [5]

Fun in the sun…

Amherst students handled the lighter side of things: they were in charge of entertainments (one student would write a play, often about Amherst-related topics, like Doshisha University, or the College in Wartime, while another was responsible for a circus fair), and daily services.

Before the summer was over passers-by on Race or Cabot Streets became accustomed to hearing any one of a number of songs rendered with great enthusiasm, the most popular of all being “Lord Jeffrey Amherst”. Once a week the whole school went on an outing to Hampden Pond, where there was a ball game and swimming, to say nothing of a trolley ride both ways and a lunch in the picnic grounds.

–Amherst College Christian Association annual report (1916) [6]

What don’t we know?

What’s missing from the story in our collections are the voices and experiences of the children and families participating in the vacation school. The published work (short pieces in the Holyoke Transcript and the Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly) on the program is silent about the children attending, except in general statements about keeping the children occupied and out of trouble; children under seven attended kindergarten, girls older than seven learned sewing, and boys learned chair caning and carpentry. Some boys were also trained in printing.

A boy stands at a small galley press, while a young man stands behind him at a full printing press. Two cabinets of loose type stand against the right wall of the small room.

Holyoke Vacation School Printing Room. This was started in 1915, when Julius Seelye Bixler (class of 1915) obtained the second-hand press. [6]

We do have a typed manuscript written by Charles G. McCormick (class of 1937), describing his summer at Grace Church. McCormick’s piece is more open about the daily struggles of life he witnesses among the families he visits with; there may be further recollections in other participants’ files here in the Archives.

Diving Deeper

Anyone interested in digging further into Holyoke workers’ lives will also find interesting material over at Holyoke’s history collections at Wistariahurst Museum and Holyoke Public Library.

Sources

[1] Haines Photo Co., Parsons Paper Co., Holyoke, Mass, 1 photographic print : gelatin silver (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, 1909), https://www.loc.gov/item/2007661042/

[2] Clark, William W., “Amherst in Holyoke,” Amherst Graduates’ Quarterly 23 (1933): 104–10.

[3] George D. Olds Jr., 1913,” George D. Olds Jr. Alumni Biographical File, Class of 1913, Amherst College Archives and Special Collections, Amherst, MA.

[4] U.S. Congress. Senate. Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Nomination of Leland Olds., “Reappointment of Leland Olds to Federal Power Commission” (81st Cong., 1st sess., Sep 27-29, Oct 3, 1949), https://hdl.handle.net/2027umn.31951d03588500w

[5] Brautigam Jr., J. Herbert, “Church and College Work Together,” Pilgrim Highroad, 1939, General Files: Religion: Amherst-in-Holyoke, Amherst College Archives & Special Collections, Amherst, MA.

[6] Amherst College Alumni Council, Annual Report of the Committee on Religious Work, 1916 (Amherst, MA: Amherst College, 1916).

Books in Books

_DSC0827

This week I’ve had the pleasure of adding a number of scrapbooks to our Amherst College Scrapbooks Collection. As I assessed the scrapbooks I was adding, I noticed that a number of them had been created by pasting material into existing books. This was a common practice for centuries and I always enjoy running across new examples.

My interest is two-fold: the underlying books are, by their nature, something that the owner no longer wanted and would otherwise have discarded. We don’t tend to have many examples of some these more ephemeral volumes, for instance: sales catalogs, subscription books, and penmanship notebooks. Also interesting is what types of materials the creator of the scrapbook chose  to put in a volume with a visually cluttered background. In the 19th century, when the bulk of our scrapbook collection was created, blank books would have been relatively accessible to college students. Indeed the majority of our scrapbooks were created in volumes sold for that explicit purpose. Often the scrapbooks created in books were more informal, a way for the maker to keep track of interesting news clippings or humorous anecdotes rather than a showpiece of memorabilia from their college years.

 


_DSC0825

This scrapbook (pictured here and at the top of this post) was created by Charles Lord, Amherst class of 1838, in an old penmanship notebook.

 


Edward Lacey, class of 1890, created this scrapbook in the “Value of Railroad Securities, Earnings and Charges, Prices of Stocks and Bonds”. Under memorabilia from Mount Holyoke and clipping on college sports, the tables of values are still visible.

 


This scrapbooks was created in a volume containing the first nineteen annual reports of the New England Mutual Life Insurance Company. The compiler of this book tried hard to completely obscure the original text by pasting newspaper clippings tightly spaced over the whole page. He didn’t finish the job however; the later pages of the book reveal the underlying text where articles are tucked between the pages but not yet pasted in. This compiler is unknown, although assumed to be a member of the class of 1876 based on the content of the book.

 


When George Waite White, class of 1861, was looking for a book to use for his college memorabilia, a copy of a bound subscription book for Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, first published in 1850, came to hand. Purchasing books by subscription wasn’t unusual at this time (somewhat like a kickstarter or Amazon pre-order) and this subscription book allowed potential subscribers to see what the cloth binding would look like and read a summary of the work and many, many testimonials. Other subscription books might have had selections from the text and sample illustrations. George only filled a few pages, so we can see the subscription list, with only two names on it, unobscured.

 


Henry Holmes, class of 1860, created this scrapbook of humorous newspaper clippings in an 1847 edition of Emerson’s North American Arithmetic. He made no attempt at obscuring the original text, which makes for a visually confusing reading experience.

 


_DSC0846

I saved my favorite scrapbook for last. James Plimpton, class of 1878, created this one in a 220 page, illustrated brass goods catalog from 1871. Except for the illustrations of brass products in the background, this is a classic undergraduate scrapbook full of programs, tickets, dance cards and other memorabilia. I love nineteenth century catalogs and this is an excellent one – I particularly enjoy the odd conjunction of materials: baseball programs with faucets, concert tickets with steam whistles.

_DSC0843

I’ll close with gratitude for James Plimpton and every one of the nearly 200 alums whose scrapbooks have made their way to Archives & Special Collections over the years for the fascinating glimpses they give us into their lives and interests!

Reference inquiries from alumni during Reunions can lead to some pretty deep dives in our archival collections. This spring I had an opportunity to dig into a narrow but significant slice of early American history represented in the Amherst College archives – Shays’ Rebellion, a local conflict which began 231 years ago this summer.

Shays’ Rebellion exemplifies the fierce reaction to the economic instability of rural America just after the American Revolution. As commerce grew after the end of the Revolutionary War, the informal system of exchange employed by farmers and merchants in Massachusetts was no longer viable. Merchants were in need of money in order to carry weight in foreign trade but farmers were unable to pay their debts. The Court of Common Pleas moved to allow creditors to call in debts.

This, coupled with higher taxes imposed by the state legislature, pushed the farmers to their limits. By the fall of 1786 Daniel Shays led a band of fellow farmers in protest. Calling themselves “regulators,” the Shaysites’ attempts to shut down the courts in Springfield and Northampton (and other cities across Massachusetts) put pressure on the government to provide relief. As citizens mobilized, Governor Bowdoin, the state legislature, and the Confederation Congress deliberated as to how to respond.

This story has been told time and again. Because it is so prominent in the archival record it is easy to overlook the local perspective – the experience of those who witnessed these events so close to home.

One such witness was Elizabeth Porter Phelps (1747-1817), who owned the “Forty Acres” farm in Hadley, Massachusetts, at the time. The farm survives today as the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Museum, documenting six generations of the same family who lived and worked at the farm from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Even more remarkable is the fact that ownership of the farm passed through the female line for the first three generations of its existence.

IMG_4855

Elizabeth Porter Phelps’s diary

Elizabeth’s meticulously-kept diary is a glimpse into rural life in Colonial America and the Early Republic. She kept her diary from the 1760s through the 1810s. Her entries are brief but are in no way dull. She documented visitors, the comings and goings of family members, illness and death, farm work, and her religious views. She also recorded events touching her world that would have a greater impact on American history – including Shays’ Rebellion. Elizabeth’s diary shows a woman grappling with the larger consequences of civil unrest and military action while personally feeling the impact very close to home.

IMG_4850 crop

A well-worn page from the diary including the entry for September 24, 1786

Elizabeth’s first entry concerning Shays’ Rebellion is from September 24, 1786. The entry reflects the confusion of the moment. Her observation shows the region heavily divided – divisions that lay along economic lines. More successful farmers and wealthier inhabitants of the region worried that the civil unrest could expand and put the new nation at risk.

“Monday my Husband set out for Springfield – publick affairs seem to be in a confused situation. many are gone to prevent the sitting of the Court and many are gone to uphold the Court. O Lord bring order out of Disorder – thou canst effect it – we trust in allmighty power.”

“Thursday [December 14] Thanksgiving day. Coll’l Porter read an Address from the General Court to all the People in this common Wealth. There has been a great deal of Disturbance of late among the people, how it will tirminate God only knows. I desire to make it my earnest prayer to be fitted for events and prepared for Duty.”

In her entry for January 14, 1787, Elizabeth describes her husband, Charles Phelps, Jr., helping those in support of the government.

“Jan 14.  Thursday Morn my Husband set out with sleighs to help the men to Springfield which are raised in this town for the support of the Government … it Looks as Dark as Night, a very great Army is coming from toward Boston and some are Collecting upon the other side. It appears as if nothing but the imediate interposition of providence could prevent it …”

From September 1786 on, Governor Bowdoin increased the militia presence across the state. As the regulators increased activity, it became clear to the governor that even more military pressure was necessary. In January 1787, Bowdoin mobilized over 4,000 militiamen in the Boston area. Elizabeth mentions “some [troops] Collecting upon the other side” – referring to government forces gathering in Hampshire and Berkshire counties.

“Jan. 21. Sun. Mr. Hop. pr 1st Chron. 4 and 9. Spoke very well upon the present dark Day. … Last Thursday the mob attempted to march into Springfield the Government fired the cannon Killed four.”

Elizabeth often recorded church attendance and the Bible verses highlighted in the service. During this period she seems to connect the substance of the sermons to the events of the day. This entry marks clashes between between state militia and regulators around the Springfield Armory.

And in spite of the violence, there is excitement over an encampment being stationed so close to home in Hadley:

“Jan. 28. Sun. Mr. Hop. pr Proverbs 19, 21. There are many Devices in the Heart of man but the Counsel of the Lord that shall stand – This has been a confused day, the Mob in a large Body at Northampton – another party at Amherst – what will be the event none can tell – we hope in Gods mercy – Just as Dusk my Husband got home. Monday Gen. Lyncoln came into Hadley with about three Thousand men. Tuesday Mr. Phelps carried the children into town to see ‘em.”

This is the “very great Army” mentioned on January 14. “Gen. Lyncoln” refers to Benjamin Lincoln, one of George Washington’s commanding officers during the Revolutionary War. A Massachusetts native, Lincoln was commander of the Southern department during the war. Afterwards, Lincoln participated in Massachusetts civic life, including serving a term as the lieutenant governor of the Commonwealth. Military encampments were a fact of life in late 18th century America, bustling not only with soldiers but also civilians – who saw the encampment as entertainment and as an economic opportunity.

IMG_4853 crop

“Gen’l Lyncoln came into Hadley…”

In one of Elizabeth’s last entries concerning the rebellion, she describes attending the funeral of “one Walker Killed by the Insurgents”. The Walker in question was Jacob Walker, killed near Petersham. The regulators had decamped for Petersham, and the government forces soon followed. Walker was shot in an attempt to capture Jason Parmenter, a regulator who had fled to Vermont in the final conflict.

IMG_4854.JPG

The February 18, 1787 entry

“Feb. 18. … Wednesday went to Hatfield to the Funeral of one Walker Killed by the Insurgents. Mr. Williams of Northampton made the first prayer. Mr. Wells of Whately preached Matt. 24 and 44. By ye also ready for at such an hour as ye think not, the son of man cometh – he was buried with the Honours of War …”

That Walker was buried with the “Honours of War” indicates how precarious the situation was to those living it. All of America was paying attention, unsure if Shays’ Rebellion could lead to a larger conflict that would disrupt the future of the new nation.

Elizabeth’s diary is part of the Porter-Phelps-Huntington Family Papers, on deposit at the Amherst College Archives from the Porter-Phelps-Huntington House Museum. The papers cover roughly 300 years of the family’s history, including correspondence, journals, and financial records. The finding aid for the collection is available here.