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Archive for the ‘Amherst College Faculty’ Category

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.

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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.

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The slaves on the sugar estates – do they appear hardworked dispirited and oppressed? Open your eyes and ears to every fact connected with the actual condition of slavery everywhere – but do not talk about it – hear and [see] everything but say little.*

1824-shepard-chas-u-1850sIn 1832, Yale’s eminent scientist Benjamin Silliman advised botanist Charles Upham Shepard (Amherst Class of 1824) on how to negotiate his visit to the South, where Shepard was to investigate sugar plantations in order to assist Silliman in the production of a report to the United States government on the sugar industry.  The investigation had begun in 1830 with a request from the House of Representatives to Secretary of the Treasury Samuel Ingham to “cause to be prepared a well digested Manual, containing the best practical information concerning the culture of the Sugar Cane, and the fabrication and refinement of Sugar, including the most modern improvements” (“Manual” preface).  Ingham’s successor Louis McLane gave the project to Silliman, and Silliman divided it into tasks for four men, including Shepard, who went to Louisiana and Georgia, “where the sugar cane is cultivated.”

In his advice to Shepard quoted above on how to treat with the planters, Silliman was suggesting that he avoid antagonizing them with any kind of anti-slavery argument if he wanted the planters to cooperate with the research.  Elsewhere — in correspondence between Silliman and Amherst’s President Edward Hitchcock — Silliman comes across as someone who could at once view slavery as an original sin and – from his own earlier visit to the South — observe that most of the slaves he saw were “well-treated,” simultaneous opinions that were probably typical for his time and station.  We don’t know what Shepard’s views were, but it’s likely they were similar to Silliman’s.

The Charles Upham Shepard Papers contain some of Shepard’s notes and correspondence relating to “the sugar inquiry,” including several documents from planters who either answered Shepard in the form of his questionnaire or who wrote their answers in a letter. Many of these focus on the manufacture of sugar from cane, rather than on growing cane itself.

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Shepard’s sketch of a “Steam Boiler” used in the manufacture of sugar. (C.U.Shepard Papers, Box 3, Folder 5.)

In at least one case, though, we have notes in Shepard’s hand from his conversation with a planter. The planter was Stephen Henderson, who owned several cotton and sugar plantations, including one named Destrehan, a plantation that exists as a tourist site today.

The name “Destrehan” might not have caught my eye if I had not recently watched the film “12 Years a Slave” and then read both the book from 1853 on which the film was based and a little about the making of the film.

The film includes a scene filmed in Destrehan’s “mule barn,” which was re-purposed to serve as plantation owner Edwin Epps’s cotton barn.  If you’ve read “Twelve Years” or watched “12 Years,” you’ll remember that Epps is the man who enslaved Solomon Northup for ten years — he was apparently the cruelest of Northup’s many tormentors.

"Antebellum splendor": the home of Edwin Epps as it appeared in the 1970s.

The home of Edwin Epps as it appeared in the late 1970s. This photograph was probably taken by Dr. Sue L. Eakin, who brought “Twelve Years” back into public view after many decades in which it was nearly impossible to find a copy.

So, what exactly did this folded-up document that mentions Destrehan say? Here it is, including Shepard’s blurry ink-over-pencil tracing, abbreviations, and mistakes, in a sort of poisoned verse form. It’s a modest-looking document whose early 19th-century handwriting – itself dashed off probably while meeting with the planter– resists quick understanding, but transcribing it reveals sobering truths.  Perhaps only Kara Walker could illustrate this text properly.

 

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Of course, the people performing the labor described in the document above had names and identities. The document below is the first page of the registry of slaves on Henderson’s estate at the time of his death in 1838, five years after Shepard made his notes. This page shows only the first dozen of the 152 people listed on subsequent pages in the document.

 

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Destrehan Plantation’s site has a transcription of the full list of enslaved people. The complete inventory of Henderson’s estate is available through ancestry.com or ancestrylibrary.com.   See also the new National Museum of African American History and Culture for complementary material on subjects discussed in this post.  The Museum opens next week, and the New York Times has published a preview featuring samples from parts of the museum.

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*”Mr. Silliman’s Instructions,” Charles Upham Shepard Papers, Box 3, Folder 5, page 4.

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Today we’re taking a quick peek at the Amherst of 120 years ago. William J. Newlin was a student at Amherst College from 1895 to 1899, he later returned as a Mathematics and Philosophy professor and taught here for nearly fifty years. We have a handful of glass plate negatives that Newlin took as a student and that now reside in our photograph collection. Followed by the photographs of Allan W. Forbes a mere ten years later, these images tell an interesting story about life at Amherst College a little more than 100 years ago.

click on an image to see it larger

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An old letter is like a present.  Its handwriting is the wrapping paper: before you can see or know the present, you have to unwrap it.  The present may be lousy, something you’ll quickly forget.  Or it might be something you keep, something you take with you, maybe even something that changes your life.  But you’ll never know until you unwrap it.

Sometimes a present is for sharing, like the one-pound chocolate bar in your colleague’s desk drawer.  I recently unwrapped such a present –a letter full of delicious nuggets — and want to share it with you because it has lingered in my mind ever since I first read it.

Tyler-WS-fr-autobio-ca1840The letter is from William Seymour Tyler, Class of 1830, to his brother Wellington Hart Tyler, Class of 1831.  The letter is dated January 30, 1837, when both men were in their mid-twenties.  Wellington (apparently nicknamed “Edward”) was principal at an academy in Manlius, New York, while William was at Amherst College teaching Latin and Greek and heading into his glory days as the man whose tardiness inspired the founding of the Philopogonian Society. We often think of Edward Hitchcock, professor and president, as the emblem of early Amherst College, but Tyler was here just as long and served just as devotedly. His “History of Amherst College” continues to be a very valuable, reliable resource, and he was the author of other, more modest works, including the nicely named “Why Sit Ye Here Idle?” (more…)

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A few weeks ago I wrote about our facial goniometer, an instrument that measures the precise angles of the human face, and wondered whether it had been acquired by Amherst’s college physician and professor of physical education and hygiene Edward “Doc” Hitchcock (AC 1849). This led me to further pondering about the interesting 19th century origins of anthropometry, the science of measurements and proportions of the human body. (more…)

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Professor Snell.
In the tool shed.
With a piece of wood
.

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Things are already not what they seem:  Prof. Ebenezer Strong Snell (1801-1876, Class of 1822) was not a murderer, a murder did not take place in his tool shed, and he used the piece of wood as a door wedge.  So why does our title mention “murder,” and why would anyone save such an inconsequential-looking piece of cheap pine long enough for it to enter our archives?

(more…)

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