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Archive for the ‘Acquisitions’ Category

On March 6, 2020, not long before the world changed overnight and (among other things) we began to work remotely, I heard Dan Abrams talk about his new book “John Adams Under Fire” on “Morning Joe.”  Abrams recounted how his book uses a 1770 trial transcript from legal proceedings after the Boston Massacre and referred to the transcript as an “under-appreciated document.” Willie Geist, the always-pleasant host, asked him (twice!) in astonishment, “where do you get these documents?!”

I remember that I yelled at the television (yes, I do that all the time), “IN AN ARCHIVES!!!” And I wondered why Geist asked that question because of course (right?) a reporter (or a writer, historian, biographer…) knows to check archives for material relevant to their work. Still, even if you know to check archives, it isn’t always easy to find what you want, or to be lucky enough, or have time enough, to make a serendipitous discovery.

In the Amherst College Archives, we obsess (in the nicest way) about how to make things easier to find, and how to bring them to the public’s attention — how to lead a horse (you) to water (documents). Given a limited staff, there’s only so much we can do, but we always think about ways to improve.

This blog serves that purpose. And in today’s post I want bring the Archives and Special Collections to you and share an “under-appreciated” letter.

The letter came to light as part of our ongoing survey of our holdings. One of the items on my to-do list was a scrapbook album belonging to Cornelius H. Patton, Class of 1883.  I had accessioned this volume into our collection about 15 years ago, but its importance didn’t sink in until the survey allowed me to look at it closely. I expected a scrapbook of ephemera from Patton’s college years; instead, it’s a genealogical/personal scrapbook, containing both family items from three or four generations as well as items important and specific to Cornelius (including a little of the Amherst ephemera I had anticipated). It even contains documentation of how Patton came to be interested in William Wordsworth, thus explaining the origin of a collection now at Amherst College.

Among this material there were items relating to Cornelius’s father’s experience in the Civil War.  And there was that astonishing letter I mentioned above.

The Patton family in 1857. William Weston Patton is seated at left.

The letter is from William Weston Patton (1821-1889) to his wife, Mary Boardman Smith.  Patton writes from Richmond, Virginia on April 12, 1865, ten days after Robert E. Lee evacuated his troops from the city. Patton, a confirmed abolitionist, describes the city after Confederate troops left it, and shares his joy about the Union’s victory.   Here are photographs of his letter and my transcription (please pardon the quality of the photographs, taken quickly before we evacuated our offices in mid-March).

Envelope and first page, folded, of letter. Additional photographs of letter below.

[Note that the first line, beginning with “N.B.” is in the hand of son Cornelius H. Patton].

N.B. Richmond was evacuated by Lee April 2-3

Richmond, Va. April 12th 1865.

My Dear Wife,

You notice a new style of paper, such as I have never before used for my letters, sermons, or other purposes. I picked it up amid a heap of waste Confederate material in the Custom House yesterday, and thought I would put it to good use. The lettering at the head may help you to realize (as I can scarcely do myself) where I am. I write in a room in the Powhattan House near the public square. We reached Richmond yesterday at noon. I wrote a hasty line on the [river] and sent it back by the boat. I took dinner at a restaurant kept by a colored man in the office of what was a large hotel, which is occupied now by soldiers & families. During the P.M. I walked the city till completely tired out, having first seen Asst Secy. of War Dana, and persuaded him to telegraph an order to City Point for Dr. Davies to come up, who will reach here today noon.

Richmond in its best portions is a very pleasant city, on elevated ground, with good streets, tasteful but not very costly dwellings, some shrubbery, and a fine public square with admirable statuary.

Documents found on a Richmond street by W. W. Patton.

Confederate documents cover the ground and line the ditches around the square. The business part of the city is burnt (equivalent to S. Water & Lake Sts in Chicago) and presents a sad sight. The Negroes are here in immense numbers and are overjoyed at the state of things. Negro troops are on every hand, and are greatly admired by the black inhabitants. The poor whites are very acquiescent in the change of rulers, but the upper class is sour and sullen, gloomy and subjugated.

I have picked up sundry very amusing letters on the streets written to Rebel soldiers by their sisters and sweethearts–genuine articles. I shall try today to see what can be found for the [N.W.?] Fair. Offices have been opened in various quarters of the city to supply food to the poor. Large numbers are taking the oath of allegiance.

 I went and looked at the outside of Libby Prison yesterday — an old fashioned brick building of three low stories, now crowded with Rebels, who were laughing and joking from the windows where our men were shot if they showed themselves!

Patton’s lyrics to the John Brown song.

My plans are indefinite as yet, as to my stay here. I am full of praise to God as I walk about, and sing the John Brown song perpetually.

Kiss the baby for me. Love to all the big and the little.

Your loving husband
Wm. W. Patton

The title of this post, “Red Hot Abolitionist,” comes from another letter in the scrapbook, one to William W. Patton from his brother Ludlow (standing at back in family photograph above). Ludlow refers approvingly to a mutual acquaintance (probably Rev. Charles H.A. Bulkley) as a “red hot abolitionist,” but there’s no doubt that William W. Patton was also fiery on the topic, as his “John Brown” lyrics prove.  He preached and wrote about slavery and abolitionism extensively, as I learned when researching Patton for this post, an exercise that led to multiple websites. Rather than rewriting what others have covered before, here are links to some of the sites with information about Patton:

  • Diaries of W. W. Patton at the Connecticut Historical Society:  https://chs.org/2010/02/rev-william-weston-patton/
  • “President Lincoln and the Chicago memorial of emancipation” (1887), Patton recollecting a September 1862 visit to President Lincoln to urge him to emancipate the slaves:

Finally, here are more images (poorly photographed — apologies) from the album.  Click on any image to enter the gallery.

 

 

 

 

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Recently cataloged:

Valentine Vaux title page

The Adventures of Valentine Vaux, or, The Tricks of a Ventriloquist / by Timothy Portwine

Valentine Vaux woodcut on part no 3

This is another “penny dreadful” (you can read an earlier post about others in our collection). “Timothy Portwine” was actually the prolific Thomas Peckett Prest, who also wrote many parodies (or plagiarisms!) of Dickens’ works under the pseudonym “Bos.” Prest or his contemporary James Malcolm Rymer are usually credited with the authorship of The String of Pearls, or, The Barber of Fleet Street, in which the character Sweeney Todd had his first appearance. Valentine Vaux is a parody/plagiarism/lampoon of Henry Cockton’s The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox, the Ventriloquist.

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Christmas came early to the Archives & Special Collections when we received two boxes of books by Native American authors from Amherst College alumnus Peter Webb (Class of 1974) just before we closed up shop for our holiday break. There are many exciting items in this very generous gift, including copies of some of Charles Eastman’s books in their original dust jackets, but this item eclipses all the others:

Samson Occom. A Sermon... (1772)

Samson Occom. A Sermon… (1772)

Hmmm…a piece of an old newspaper? (more…)

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The last time I wrote about detective work in my job, I mentioned “authority work” and linked to the Library of Congress’ explanation of what it entails. Here’s another example, from earlier this week.

I began to catalog these two recently-purchased pamphlets from the 1940s:

Navajo Life Series: Primer and The Little Turtle, early mimeographed versions from 1942 and 1943.

Navajo Life Series: Primer and The Little Turtle, early mimeographed versions from 1942 and 1943.

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Gibney in 1936 from an advertisement in Fortune magazine for Dictaphone.

A recent acquisition that we purchased at auction was a folder of letters written to Sheridan Gibney (AC 1925). Gibney was a very successful playwright, Oscar-winning Hollywood screenwriter, and three-time president of the Screenwriter’s Guild. He wrote dozens of successful screenplays, two of which, in particular, became film classics: I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) and The Story of Louis Pasteur (1936), both starring Paul Muni. For the Pasteur biopic, Gibney won two Oscars for Best Writing.

The newly acquired letters will make a good addition to our existing collection of Gibney’s papers.

Gibney’s third and final tenure as president of the Screenwriter’s Guild coincided with the infamous anti-Communist “witch hunt” by the House Un-American Activities Committee beginning in 1947. For that reason, his career is a representative case for the fraught relationship between culture and politics. As he wrote in his brief unpublished memoir (available in his biographical file in the Archives), Gibney always considered himself to be against Communism, but his position as guild president brought his career to a halt when the so-called “unfriendly witnesses” at the House committee hearings implicated the Screenwriter’s Guild as a hotbed of Communism — and Gibney was guilty by association.

Gibney's senior portrait in the 1925 Olio, the college yearbook.

Gibney’s senior portrait in the 1925 Olio, the college yearbook.

His success in drama notwithstanding, Gibney’s great love, especially during his undergraduate years at Amherst, was poetry. Robert Frost considered him one of his best pupils. At one critical point in his undergraduate career, Gibney felt alienated by what he perceived as a lack of intellectual seriousness at Amherst. He considered dropping out to write and travel in Europe, citing Frost as his model: he, Frost, never earned a college degree yet supported himself by writing, teaching and lecturing — even, for a time, farming. (more…)

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A page from this volume.

A page from this volume.

There was some celebrating back in early May, when we completed the cataloging of the 1,397 titles in the Younghee Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection. Thankfully, no one got Gatorade poured on them, as had been threatened. I thought I would share in this post a little bit of the detective work that the last few titles required, and suggest questions that may be worth further research.

At first glance, a collection of poetry, stories, and art created in 1969 by students at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) certainly looked as if it were a one-of-a-kind manuscript. Indeed, a note from the book dealer had called it “a unique collection.” Closer examination revealed that the text was printed (probably by silk-screening), although some of the artwork may have been done by hand before the printing. With no title page on our copy, I searched WorldCat in several different ways before I felt confident that there are at least two other copies of this work in libraries, one at the New Mexico State Library, and one at UC Davis. I suspect no copy has an actual title page, and this can lead to different libraries accidentally cataloging the same work in different ways. The copy at UC Davis was given a title based on the first poem in the book…which can be a valid choice according to cataloging rules, but sometimes is confusing for researchers.

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I am freshly returned to the Archives after a wonderful trip to Austin, TX to attend the annual conference of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA). The conference was a fantastic gathering of people from all walks of life and I heard many inspiring presentations and talked excitedly about the research opportunities supported by the new collections at Amherst College.

Upon my return to the library this morning, I was greeted with two boxes full of books for our Native American collections donated by Peter Webb, Class of 1974. Before I get to some of the items Peter donated, I want to mention another gift from Bob Giddings, Class of 1965.

Instruction for the Indians

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I am delighted to announce that we have nearly completed cataloging the whole of the Younghee Kim-Wait/Pablo Eisenberg Native American Literature Collection. As of this morning, 1,372 titles are now included in the Five College Libraries Catalog and the books themselves are on the shelves in the Archives & Special Collections ready to be used. (Except for those on display in our current exhibition: Native Voices/Native Books, on view through July 31.) Our spectacular catalogers expect to wrap up cataloging the last few items by the end of May.

As soon as the cataloging of the Kim-Wait/Eisenberg books is finished, we will turn our attention to working through the 500+ books we recently purchased to build on that collection. Last month we took delivery of another 20 cartons of books, this time from the personal collection of Joseph Bruchac, noted author, editor and publisher. Bruchac’s personal papers — his manuscripts, correspondence, and other documents of his deep involvement with Native American writing — are held by the Beinecke Library at Yale University. The books we acquired were owned by Joseph Bruchac, but are generally not particularly rare or valuable in and of themselves.

So why did we purchase this collection?

Because of items like these:

Masterpieces of American Indian Literature (1993)

Masterpieces of American Indian Literature (1993)

The Portable North American Indian Reader (1974)

The Portable North American Indian Reader (1974)

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Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Sonnet V: XVI

Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, Sonnet V: XVI

Between March 15 and May 17, 1857, there were thirteen births recorded in Greenfield, Massachusetts. In the same two months, there were four maternal deaths from puerperal fever (or “childbed fever”), a highly contagious infection. Those were not good odds for a pregnant woman.¹

The third of those four deaths, on May 12, was that of Anna (formally Hannah) Tuckerman, beautiful and deeply beloved wife of poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (1821-1873). Anna was 29 and had already borne three children, one of whom had died shortly after birth, while the other two, Edward and Anna, were now, in 1857, children of 7 and 4 respectively. The fourth birth – that of her son Frederick – went well enough at first; that is, the child was born on May 7 and lived. But shortly after his birth, Anna began to suffer the effects of the infection. Letters in the archives from shocked relatives – her husband’s aunt, her sister- and brothers-in-law – reveal that she “suffered fifty convulsion fits & seemed to suffer intensely” and that her illness lasted five days. Her husband, who was probably with her all through the birth and subsequent illness, was “all but frantick [sic] with grief…” “What will poor Frederick do!” wrote his sister-in-law, Sarah Tuckerman, ” and those poor children too, left without a mother!  How short is life, how near is death to us.  I feel so sad that I can hardly write.”

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H.H. Statham -- New Year-- 1914A hundred years ago Henry Heathcote Statham (1839-1924) and his wife, Florence Dicken Statham (1856-1938), sent this New Year’s card to their friends and family. The Dicken-Statham Family Papers have recently come to us, and so we share their New Year’s greeting with our readers.

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