Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Manuscript Collections’ Category

Come and play with us…forever…and ever…and ever…

First, the obvious: archives tend to contain papers about adults.  Because that fact is a given, we may not stop to wonder about it very often.  It really couldn’t be otherwise, since children don’t tend to create and accumulate “papers,” except maybe the kind that get taped to the front of refrigerators, then maybe stashed in a drawer and eventually, regretfully, thrown out.  There are certainly collections here or there whose main subjects are children, but those are few by comparison to those in which the focus is on adults.

But children appear in collections anyway, most particularly in family papers.  As I’ve been processing the Bowles-Hoar Family Papers, I’ve noticed a lot of material related to children, most of it from members of families in the collection, a little of it from close friends or just acquaintances.  In this post, we’ll look at some of these children, including children who appear without names or other clear ways to identify them.  Apart from public records (birth, death, census, etc., where you’d need at least a name), some of these children may have no documentation other than what’s here, and our small, unique patch of record is all there is for “proof of life.”

The first child to catch my attention (and haunt me during evenings and weekends) was little Mary Bowles Foote. Ironically (from the archival point of view), Mary herself has no documentation in the collection, no doubt because her death as a toddler meant that she didn’t leave anything behind. I only know about Mary because I started to chart the families represented in the collection and stumbled across her existence while focused on her mother, Julia.

As I pieced Mary’s story together, the significance of her short life and early death became clear. I learned that Mary was the granddaughter of Samuel Bowles II, the founder of the “Springfield Republican” newspaper, and the daughter of his eldest child, Julia. Julia appears once in George Merriam’s biography of her brother (the most famous Sam Bowles) in Merriam’s description of her parents’ trip with their infant daughter “up the river in a flat-boat…bringing a hand-printing press and some scanty furnishings” from Hartford to Springfield, where her father started his paper in September 1824. Little more is known about Julia other than that she attended Springfield’s “Old High School” and subsequently married a fellow student named Adonijah Foote (sometimes Foot), whose family was related to Julia’s sister-in-law Mary Bowles. Foote studied to be an engineer, and his first jobs included work on the Connecticut River railroad and the Holyoke canals.  Adonijah and Julia then moved to New Jersey, where he probably worked on the Central Railroad of New Jersey, which was still under construction at that time. Their baby daughter Mary went with them, something we only know because of an announcement in the “Republican” of her death from dysentery in New Jersey on August 17, 1851.  New Jersey newspapers show that the incidence of deaths from dysentery in the region had doubled in the month of Mary’s death, and the toddler probably died within two weeks of the first signs of illness. Julia then returned to Springfield with the body so that it might be buried in the relatively new Springfield Cemetery.  During this time Julia also fell ill from dysentery. On August 29, she died too. By this time, her father had caught it, and less than two weeks later, on September 8, he died too. The family must’ve been stunned at this triple loss.  If they understood anything about contagious illnesses, they must’ve feared more consequences, since at this point the extended family — three generations — all lived together on Union Street in Springfield.  In this way, little Mary’s illness and death had rippling consequences for the family and their newspaper — not only were three family members dead within a month, but Samuel Bowles III was now the head of the newspaper much earlier than he would have anticipated.  The stresses on him were enormous.

I visited the Springfield Cemetery recently but found no marker for Mary. An old cemetery plan indicates that she was known in the family as Minnie and that she was buried next to her mother, whose small, flat marker was barely visible when I visited.

At left, a section of the Bowles plot plan. At right, Julia’s stone. It reads: “Julia Bowles Foot/ [Wife?] Adonijah Foot/ Aug. 29, 1851/ Aged 27 Yrs.” There may be additional text at the top that is too worn to read.

Another Mary– Mary Dwight Bowles, called Mamie — provides a lighter note. This Mary was the daughter of Samuel Bowles III and his wife Mary Schermerhorn.  Little Mary is the Bowles child Emily Dickinson referred to as “Minor ‘Mary’,” to whom she promised “a Butterfly with a vest like a Turk…”  Mary was born in 1854 and was the third of seven surviving Bowles children.   As you might expect, the older children helped out with the younger ones.  On the right side of this note from early 1862, Mary anticipates a few chores in connection with her newborn brother Charles Allen Bowles:

Three unidentified children — two girls who seem to be twins and a younger boy, presumably their brother — appear in a daguerreotype and a pair of ambrotypes. Over the course of my work on the Bowles-Hoar papers, I have yet to come across twins in either family. The only twins I know of that have some connection to the collection are twins Fanny and Annie Stebbins, born in 1855 and friends and next-door neighbors to the Bowles family on Crescent Hill, but I’m not sure their dates work, and the brother isn’t “right” either.  I keep all these names and images in mind in case something pops into place someday and I suddenly know for certain who they are. But whoever these children are, I love their little faces, especially the slightly furrowed brow on the girl at right. Is she concentrating on staying still or is she irritated at the photographer? She looks ferocious — I like to imagine she grew up to be a terror.

These same children appear in ambrotypes taken a year or two later.  In both images, you can see that the boy has a distinctive nose that could help identify him if he appears in other photographs.  Here, though, the girls remind me a bit of the Grady girls in “The Shining,” just because I’m programmed to associate “twin girls” with those famous characters.  Maybe the boy’s name will turn out to be Danny.

“Hello, Danny.”

“Come and play with us, Danny.” The spectral Grady girls from “The Shining.” In the novel by Stephen King the girls were not twins.

Beth Hoar Bowles appears as a child in several images. Beth is the main collector of the Bowles-Hoar papers, the first person who inherited, gathered, and preserved the materials from both the Bowles and Hoar families. She’s very well documented in the collection from her birth in 1854 to her death in 1924.  Here she is as a young child in striped socks.  As the person who would inherit the responsibility for all the family papers, she looks appropriately sober.

Beth’s sons also figure prominently in the papers. Her older son, Samuel Bowles V, was a rather tragic figure who struggled from an early age against his inherited obligation to run the “Springfield Republican,” and her younger son, Sherman, distanced himself from the paper for a while but ultimately became a major figure in the company and — even better, in my view — the temporary publisher of “Cat-Man Comics.”  Here are the boys at about the age of their mother, above.  Poor little Sam already feels the pressure of living up to expectations:

“Samuel in Mama’s bonnet and boa” (circa 1888) and Sherman (1892).

 

Beth Bowles was an active figure in her community and, judging by what survived, she must’ve conducted an enormous correspondence. Among the correspondence she saved — most of it from family and close friends — there is a single sheet from a boy named Fayette Corey. At the bottom of the sheet, Beth has added an explanatory note.

“My dear Mrs. Bowles, I like my pencils and I am using them. Thank you for bringing them. Sincerely yours, Fayette Corey, 1180 Riverdale St.” Beth has added, “Small boy, run over by hay cart, I met at the hospital, July 1911.”

Beth’s added note is confirmed by newspaper evidence. That Beth kept Fayette’s note and handed it down among her papers shows us how much his situation moved her. Fayette probably didn’t leave much of a paper trail since he didn’t live long enough to create one — an obituary from the summer of 1919 shows that he died of enteritis at 13. So his single note above might be all there is.

To conclude on a happier note, we have Beth’s nephew Roger Sherman Hoar, the son of her brother Sherman and his wife Mary Butterick Hoar.  Roger looks like he was an eager child, straining to get out of his carriage and take on the world.

Roger Sherman Hoar in 1888.

In addition to letters to Beth from an adult Roger (who became Attorney General of Massachusetts and a science fiction writer), the papers contain two entertaining notes from young Roger. The first note entreats–and threatens–Roger’s Aunt Carrie (Beth’s sister, nicknamed Pussy) for his chocolates.

“I WILL B A GOOD BOY IF YOU GIVE ME MY CHOCOLATES. I WILL ONLY B GOOD IF YOU GIVE THEM TO ME. PUSSY. ROGER.”

The second note is to his cousin Samuel (Beth’s boy, above), reporting the birth of calves in the neighboring Prichard’s barn in Concord. I love this boy. Can’t you just feel his excitement? He has no need of mere exclamation points to show his enthusiasm, he has BLOCK LETTERS.

There are many more children, identified and unidentified, in the Bowles-Hoar Family Papers, each one with a story of their own. The papers should be fully processed sometime next year. Come and play with us. Meet the children.

Read Full Post »

“…concerning Bill’s College. I believe I could study better at home, than here. Your son, E. S. Snell.”

Strong Snell, about 1847

In this post – part three of the Snell family on the installment plan (parts one and two here and here) – two letters from Ebenezer Strong Snell, Amherst College’s first student, give us a personal account of key moments in Amherst’s early history: President Zephaniah Swift Moore’s move to Amherst in 1821, and the obtaining of the charter in 1825.

The first letter, dated June 1821, is from the end of Snell’s junior year at Williams College.  Written a few days after Moore announced his intention to leave Williams, Snell describes the turmoil that ensued.  Even before Moore’s departure, Williams had been unsettled over the question of whether, primarily because of its remote location, it should move to Hampshire County.  In fact, Moore is said to have assumed Williams would move before he accepted the presidency there and then announced his support in his inauguration speech in 1815 — what an uproar that must’ve caused. But while no one should’ve been too surprised when Moore announced shortly before the 1821 commencement that he would leave Williams for Amherst, it was still a traumatic event for those tied to the institution.¹  To some it seemed that with Moore’s exit the college might fail.  What then would Williams College degrees be worth, the students wondered.

North Brookfield (bottom right), Amherst (center), and Williamstown (top left). Snell’s route between home and college probably took him through Plainfield. “Map of Massachusetts,” by H.C. Carey (1822). From the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

From a geographical perspective, moving Williams to Hampshire County (whether to Northampton or Amherst) would’ve brought Strong Snell quite a bit closer to his family in North Brookfield.  More importantly, Snell’s family had longstanding ties with Moore, so their allegiance probably lay entirely with the president and his stated desire to move the college.  When Moore actually left Williams, Snell was one of the 15 students who accompanied him.

Strong Snell’s 1821 letter is addressed on the outside to his father and folded like a puzzle so that it opens to one letter containing a second folded and sealed page.  The first letter, addressed to “Dear Friends” is carefree and casual–actually, it’s boring.  It assumes that Rev. Thomas Snell, as addressee, would open the letter and read it aloud, for on the side it has a single line that names its intended audience: “You must consider this as addressed to the whole family.”  Think of the Snells gathered in the parlor to hear Rev. Snell read this letter.  The family must’ve thought everything was just fine way up there at Bill’s College. Transcription below images.

Rev.d Thomas Snell., North Brookfield, Mass.

Williams College June 21 1821

Dear Friends,

I expect an opportunity to send to Brookfield tomorrow, though I know not, by whom. Some one passed College this afternoon, and left word with a student, that if I wished to send home, he would oblige me within one or two days. I have not been able to conjecture, who it was; and am very sorry that I could not be called soon enough to see the person. I was before expecting to write in a short time, and to give you an account of my journey, which was too agreeable not to be mentioned. The pleasantness of the season, and of those days in particular, with other circumstances, rendered my ride most delightful. Not perplexed with the usual cares of travelling, I could enjoy the whole scenery, that might come into view, or, by interesting conversation, forget my situation, and imagine myself in the south-west chamber; so that the stage seemed to me, as to [Prince] lee-Boo, a little house, drawn off by horses.² I arrived [in] Northampton about [8?] o’clock in the evening, and started for Wmstown at 4 in the morning; the fields of waving grain looked more beautiful than I can express; the air was fresh and cool; and the early songsters of the grove almost charmed me, as I was hurried over the level shore of the Connecticut. The huge mountains, that fill up the road towards the end of my tour, appeared far less tedious than usual. In short, I never enjoyed a journey as I did this. Esq. Noble’s daughters, returning from Boston, were my company from Northampton to Wmstown. I was but little fatigued, and was able to commence study within two hours after my arrival. I hope to hear soon, that the family are better, than when I left home. Please to remember me with esteem to the Miss Bigelows and Mercy [T.]—-. From your son and Brother, E.S. Snell.

[sideways:] You must consider this as addressed to the whole family.

The second page, intended only for his dad, is where the truth comes out:

This part of the letter I fold and seal by itself, that if you wish you may cut it out and let the other part be seen.

Williams College. June 21

Two or three days ago, the President announced to the students that he had received and accepted an appointment at Amherst; that he should resign his office in College after the next commencement; that as long as he staid here, he should feel the same interest in us, as students, that he always had done, and hoped that none would be so troubled about these circumstances, as to cause any interruption of the usual order. But his wishes & expectations, I fear, will all be scattered to the winds, if I should judge from the present movements within these brick walls.

The Class meetings of the Seniors, I would presume, would average one per day for a week past. And most of their consultations appear to be upon the subject of graduating, &c &c. of the like kind. Ten of the class have bound themselves, that on no condition whatever will they ever graduate in [W.] College. Six more have also bound themselves (before they knew the determination of the ten) that, if the ten came to the conclusion above-mentioned, they would never graduate here. As things now stand, I have no doubt that the Commencement is entirely broken up. Every thing is hilter-kilter; reports fly about the town, to & fro, quicker, as I should think, than the birds could carry them. Every body is full of suspicions. The black wood-cutters and ragged strawberry-pedlars, as they fear the loss of the grand source of their revenue, appear to take as great an interest in the matter as any one. Dr. Moore and the Students are the common subjects of talk in College or town. Destruction, ruin, death and oblivion are the predictions of most of the students concerning Bill’s College.

I believe I could study better at home, than here. Your son, E.S. Snell.

Things got better for Williams College after the arrival of the new president, Edward Dorr Griffin (the third person to be offered the position), who slid into place at noon during Commencement.  Williams had endured years of uncertainty and come through it in one piece, and it would remain “in the valley of the Hoosac, one of the handsomest valleys in the world.”  And Amherst College was open and operating.  But Williams could give degrees – Amherst couldn’t. It didn’t have a charter from the state legislature allowing it to do so, and that was to remain a sticking point for several years.  In the meantime, Amherst gave certificates. Rain checks.  IOUs. A graduate was “deserving of the title and degree of Bachelor of Arts,”³ but he wasn’t getting either one.  Now it was Amherst’s turn to worry about the value of its degrees, or non-degrees.

The town, the students, and the faculty had invested a lot in the promise of Amherst College, emotionally, physically, and financially.  Regional newspapers followed the struggle with the state legislature for the charter, and it wasn’t at all clear to readers that Amherst would triumph. There were enough powerful opposing interests to make it a hard contest.  In the end, the vote in the House was 114 to 95.4

 

There are of course no photographs from this period, but there are photographs from the 1946 Amherst College Masquers production of Curtis Canfield’s play, “the Seed and the Sowers,” and one scene examines the fight in the legislature (click on image for gallery):

By the time the charter was finally granted in 1825, people who had sweated through the ordeal were ready to celebrate. Strong’s letter of February 23rd captures the moment of Humphrey’s return from Boston with the charter the day before, when a crowd turned out to greet him and see the document.  Strong happened to have caught the stage home with Humphrey and others, so he had a first-person view of the event.

People familiar with the history of Amherst College will note that Strong misdated his letter by two years — he wrote “1823” — but there is no doubt that the charter was granted in 1825, and that Humphrey, whom Snell refers to as President (“Prest“), didn’t assume that position until later in 1823, after the death of President Moore in June of that year. It’s bizarre that Snell misdated the letter in this way — one can only speculate about how it happened — but there seems no doubt.  In the transcription that follows the images of the original, I kept his date but noted that it was in error.

 

Amherst. Feby. 23—1823– [sic]

Dear Mother,

I stopped into the stage at N. Braintree about half past one with very agreeable company. In the first place, there were Prest Humphrey and Mr. Austin Dickinson, who came and took dinner at Mr. Fiske’s while the stages were changing and other passengers taken in. Then Miss Mary Jocelyn (if I have spelled it right) and her Brother going to Enfield. Mr. Barr, the singer, going to Greenwich, three students, coming here to the Academy; and one man unknown to me. As you see I met a larger party of acquaintance than I often do in Brookfield or Amherst. The President seemed to be in very good spirits, and very soon after he had come into Mr. Fiske’s informed us that he had the charter in [his] pocket, and that it might be seen in the next [Recorder]. But he regretted that the house thought fit to sacrifice two of the most active Trustees as a peace-offering to the opposition. Mr. [Nathan] Fiske and Esq. [John] Smith were removed from the board.5  The President told Mrs. Fiske to congratulate her husband on being dismissed in so good company and on receiving what might be esteemed so signal an honor, since all would understand that they were removed on account of having so faithfully served the interests of the Institution. The inhabitants of the village here were on the “tiptoe of expectancy” when the stage-horn sounded. The front of Mr. Boltwood’s tavern was blackened with the crowd of anxious spectators, waiting to see who had come and what news the passengers had brought. The horses had not stopped before Edward and James were thrusting in their heads and shaking hands with their father. Edward asks “have you got the Charter?” The Pres. answered in the affirmative. James, half way between laughing and crying, says “O-h-h-h! you wouldn’t come without that.” The joyful report flew quick through the throng, and when I alighted one broad smile was resting on all their countenances. Soon I felt them pressing by me into the house, to hear the charter read by Mr. [Austin] Dickinson, who had a copy of it with him. But I felt not at all inclined to follow. More than half sick with riding, I thought a feather bed would do me more good than all the chartered colleges in the union.

President Heman Humphrey brings the charter home: “Men of Amherst! We are at long last a chartered college.” (From the 1946 production of “the Seed and the Sowers”).

We have not made out much today. Every body’s attention is taken up with the celebration of the afternoon and evening. I have come near jumping out of my seat repeatedly in the school-room at the report of the cannon. And now (8 o’clock in the evening) the people are expressing their joy by firing cannon, ringing bells, and illuminating College[s] and Academy. A committee was sent by the townsmen to the President this morning to consult him respecting the expediency of doing all this. He said he should not advise it, but would not object, if the people were desirous of making a celebration. If I had been consulted, I should have expressed the same sentiment—at least the former part of it. Now it seems rather strange to me, that the populace are not willing to concur in the opinion of the two principal men in town. At 9 o’clock, subscribers from the neighborhood (I know not who,) will take supper at the Mansion House, when 17 reports will be heard from the cannon, in honor (I suppose) of the 17 Trustees. Many respectable gentlemen in town are helping on this business, but it looks to me too much like boys’ play. I cannot relish it in the connection in which I must view it – if it were on some military occasion, I should enjoy the roar of the field-piece, & the brilliancy of the illumination, but I can now express my joy better by writing home.

I have been in to see Mrs. Moore [Phebe Moore, widow of Pres. Moore]—find her nearly as well as before she was taken sick. She and Miss Cary send much love. Dr. Humphrey’s youngest children are considerably unwell; their hired girl very sick. Illness is quite prevalent in town.

24—I find I received a wrong impression respecting the supper last night. I supposed it would be attended only by part of the College students and some young towns-people who wished to have a high. But I afterward heard that it was attended by a regular and respectable, as well as numerous collection. About 100 were present, consisting of the Prest. and all the other faculty of college, college students, and inhabitants of both east and west streets. Mr. Heath had previously asked me and Mr. Paine [Elijah Paine, Class of 1823] to attend but could not tell us who would be present. We laughed at the idea of being at the tavern with a toasting company at [9] or 10 at night, and receiving no further invitation, we staid at home about our business. It is possible we may be thought rather odd, but that will never trouble us.

Professor Estabrook returned last evening. He is about to take his wife and child and remove 700 miles to the south, into Virginia, the name of the town I have not heard. He has engaged a private school and is expecting to superintend an Academy for a very handsome salary. We have 40 students in today. I feel rather more “like work” than I did yesterday, or when I left home. I am called away to school and must put what I have written into the office.

Let the first one who can spend time return a letter as good, at least, as this, and as much longer as is convenient.

Your oldest boy—

Please to remember me to all the gentlemen—Father, Doctor, Brothers Thomas and William. Likewise to all the ladies—Sisters Martha, Sarah, Tirzah and Abigail, and every body else.

Newspapers all over the region echoed Snell’s description of the celebration and described the toasts he missed by being such a stickler for propriety and choosing a feather bed over the charter celebration:

How amazing is it that we have letters from the first student to enter Amherst College, and (all the more amazing) that he writes about these important early events in Amherst’s history?  There are more letters in the Snell Family Papers, many of which refer to other events in Amherst College history, and all of which shed light on this large, vibrant family of Western Massachusetts.

******************************************************************

Footnotes:

1. Read more about this period at Williams College here:  a_history_of_williams_college-excerpt-re-moore

2. For “Prince Lee Boo,” see “The History of Prince Lee Boo.”

3. In the entertaining little volume of chapel talks about Amherst College history called “the Seed and the Sowers,” Curtis Canfield writes about the charter problem and includes the text of one of the graduation certificates: seed and the sowers-excerpt-sm

4. See William S. Tyler’s “A History of Amherst College,” p. 151.

5. Tyler explains that these two trustees were probably removed because they were “among the active agents in the founding of the College, and as such, particularly obnoxious to its enemies.” Snell doesn’t mention the third trustee who merited removal, Rev. Experience Porter. Ibid, 153.

Read Full Post »

I recently processed a single box collection of correspondence from Viola Roseboro’, a fiction editor and author at the turn of the 20th century, to her friend Gertrude Hall Brownell, poet and author.  The correspondence spans an eight year period (1936-1944) toward the end of Roseboro’s life.

This small collection contains primarily one-sided correspondence from Viola Roseboro’ to Gertrude Hall Brownell, with the occasional enclosed letter by Gertrude Hall Brownell or other correspondent, including a single Willa Cather letter. The correspondence reflects Roseboro’s views on literature, politics, current events, shared acquaintances, her health, finances, and living arrangements, and her lifetime love of Shakespeare.  This collection gives a glimpse of  a close friendship between two women in early 20th century New York.

Viola Roseboro’ was born in Pulaski, Tennessee in 1858, daughter of the Reverend S.R. Roseboro’ and Martha Colyar. Roseboro’ attended Fairmont College in Monteagle, TN and worked as a stage actress before settling in New York around 1882 to begin a career in newspapers and magazines as a freelance writer and reader.

Roseboro’ joined the staff of McClure’s Magazine, a monthly periodical publishing literary and political content, as a manuscript reader in 1893 before becoming the fiction editor for the magazine. As editor, Roseboro’ was known for her talent in selecting and publishing unknown authors, such as O. Henry, Jack London, and Will Cather.

Roseboro’s first collection of short stories, “Old Ways and New” was published in 1892. “The Joyous Heart,” a novel, was published in 1903, followed by another collection of short stories, “Players and Vagabonds,” published in 1904. “Storms of Youth,” Roseboro’s final novel, was published in 1920. Roseboro’ also published numerous short stories and articles in various magazines.

Roseboro’ and Gertrude Hall Brownell (nicknamed Kitty) first met at an afternoon reception at the Barnard Club in New York City in 1900 and remained close friends and correspondents until Roseboro’s death in 1945 in Staten Island, NY.

Gertrude Hall Brownell was a poet and author, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1863. Hall Brownell married William Crary Brownell (AC 1871) in 1921 and died in 1961.

Viola Roseboro to Gertrude Hall Brownell envelope

The Gertrude Hall Brownell Collection of Viola Roseboro’ Correspondence can be accessed in the Amherst College Archives & Special Collections.

Digitized copies of McClure’s Magazine are accessible online through Hathi Trust.

Bibliography:
Viola Roseboro’ obituary. New York Times, January 30, 1945.
McClure, S.S. “My Autobiography” McClure Publications, 1913.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Is this, is this your joy,
O bird, then I, though a boy,
for a golden moment share
Your feathery life in air!*

Arthur Yates Statham, around 1910.

We all know how the years go — how they glide by, gathering speed in autumn such that the end of December arrives and the year is gone, and more youth too. Before 2017 departs entirely, there’s a centenary to note: the loss in World War I of a British soldier, Arthur Yates Statham, who died in France during the Arras offensive  in May, 1917.

But stop there. –Is it better to remember how he lived or how he died? His death in battle could reasonably overwhelm the rest of his story, but if we could ask Arthur, how would he want to be remembered? Would he want to be defined by the circumstances of his death or by his life?

In this post, we consider his life, brief though it was, and remember him through a two-part diary from 1913.

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Sidney Brooks letter to his sister Tamesin Brooks, October 18, 1837, second page top: “The room which I occupy in College is rather a dismal looking place, as the freshmen are put into the poorest rooms. It made me think of the rooms in Barnstable jail, but this is College Style.”

 

Born in Harwich, in Barnstable County on Cape Cod, Sidney Brooks attended Amherst College after preparation at Chatham Academy and at Phillips Academy in Andover. After graduating and teaching for a few years at Chatham, he went on to build Pine Grove Seminary, the first secondary school in Harwich. The building was the future site of Harwich High School, and today it houses the Harwich Historical Society.

The Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers, comprised largely of correspondence and other writing from his school days, provides an intimate portrait of a middling student from the nation’s nascent middle class. Sidney wrote to his siblings of his daily routines and to his father about money, and he kept a detailed ledger of his expenses in Amherst. Financially dependent on his father, the merchant Obed Brooks of Harwich, Sidney wrote home in a tone perhaps recognizable to indigent college students throughout the ages.

In a painstaking account in a letter to his father of June 28, 1838, Sidney writes of his expenses at Philips Academy and Amherst College, underlined section page 2 bottom: “if I had, of my own, money or property enough to give me a liberal education and no more, I should not hesitate at all to spend it in this way.”

 

The letter above was likely compiled from a detailed ledger kept by Brooks during his time at Andover and Amherst. In the ledger, he records his expenses for each term. Tuition, boarding and school related fees make up the bulk of his expenses.

Sidney Brooks' school expenses ledger, 1837-1841

Sidney Brooks’ school expenses ledger, 1837-1841.

 

A member of the Athenian Society, one of Amherst’s rival literary clubs, Sidney records the group’s initiation fee in 1838 as $3.00, with subsequent taxes ranging from $1.00 to $3.00 every term or so. Sidney was not the only member for whom the literary society fees might have posed some challenge, in this last decade before their dissolution and waning in the face of new campus societies and fraternities. In Student Life at Amherst College: Its Organizations, their Membership and History (1871), page 29, we find that,

As early as August, 1838, the societies began to be embarrassed financially, so that the members could with difficulty meet the current expenses and pay existing debts. Moneys received from initiation fees, which heretofore had been annually appropriated for libraries, were used to liquidate standing debts. Extensive repairs, etc., upon their Athenaeums increased their liabilities.

In addition to Sidney’s expense ledger and correspondence, the collection includes several prepared speeches on diverse subjects, presumably conducted for the various societies of which he was a part. During the reign of the Alexandrian and Athenian Societies at Amherst, weekly sessions were held for declamation and debate.

Twenty-eight years old when he graduated Amherst, Sidney arrived at the College already practiced in these activities from his time at Phillips Academy in Andover. Sidney was an enthusiastic participant in the Rhetorical Society at the Andover Theological Seminary. In 1834, at the same time Henry Ward Beecher was busy making phrenology the hot topic of Amherst’s Natural History Society, Sidney argued his case for the “science” in the less welcoming atmosphere of the Theological Seminary. (There is no evidence that Sidney was ever invited to become a member of the Natural History Society, or any secret societies, while at Amherst.)

Phrenology, a pseudoscience concerned with measurements of the surface of the head to diagnose traits of character and personality, was hugely popular in the nineteenth century and persisted through the beginning of the twentieth. In 1847, it was popular enough that Edward Hitchcock got his head examined by the professional phrenologists and Amherst alumni, brothers Orson Squire Fowler and Lorenzo Niles Fowler. In 1834, however, Orson Squire Fowler was still a senior at Amherst, along with Henry Ward Beecher, then president of the Natural History Society in its third year of operation.

Perhaps the word hadn’t yet spread to Andover: the impression given by Sidney’s speech is not one of faddish acceptance on the part of his audience. Over several drafts on the subject, Sidney hones his argument, which amounts to a plea for reasoned debate based on empirical facts over the inclination to reject the field on moralistic grounds as a danger to religion. From a rough draft of his speech at Andover:

How much the decisions of this society above mentioned have influenced your minds – or the minds of this community – I cannot tell, but certain it is all investigation and enquiry upon the subject seem to be put to sleep for the present, and ma[n]y no doubt think that it has received its death blow. But I have not introduced the subject to lament its downfall or to sing its requiem nor to renounce the belief which I have so long entertained – nor shall I until I have more efficient arguments to prove that it is dangerous to religion or it is not true.

Sidney’s writing ranges widely across subjects, but always returns to the glory of God the Creator. He records subscription fees to missionary and Bible societies, including an initiation fee and tax (only $0.37) for the Society of Inquiry, the religious society at Amherst. In one speech, his theme is, “Can a Christian consistently accept an appointment at Amherst College?” At the same time, he expounds on such subjects as the astrophysical causes of the aurora borealis and of meteors with apparent enthusiasm, if not expertise. Sidney records $1.56 as the cost of going on a geological excursion with Professor Hitchcock, and $2.00 for subscription to the student literary periodical, Horae Colleginae – the short run of which coincided with his enrollment.

If Sidney’s account ledger provides a glimpse into the spending habits of one among the “indigent young men of piety and talent” educated in the early years of Amherst College, his letters are likewise a window on the melancholic mind of a student far from home. In the spring term of 1838 Sidney switched rooms, a decision he defended in a letter to his brother of July 19:

My reasons for making this moove are several. First I believe I can study more rooming alone. Again I wanted to enjoy the sweets of solitude and I enjoy it much. I know I hurt myself rooming alone at Andover when in that state of mind I was then, but I have not been troubled at all with the melancholia since I have been alone this term. Another consideration of some importance induced me to come down into a lower room — I have always been given somewhat to somnambulism. It has grown upon me much of late, for several weekes, nearly every night, I find myself in the middle of the night, in some part of my bedroom. Sometimes in bed + sometimes out of it pawing around to find out where I was. I thought I might find myself sometime in the act of jumping out of the window–

Rooming alone may have hurt Sidney at Amherst as much as it did at Andover, as he fell ill in the fall of his sophomore year. In a letter to his father of December 20, 1838, Sidney writes of his recovery from illness, “I ought to be very thankful and trust I am that I am restored to health again at any cost. (It would become me better perhaps to say this though if the money which is to defray this cost were my own.)” His sister Harriet visited and tended to him, inflating his bills for room and board considerably. Writing to his father the next spring (April 23, 1839), Sidney reports that Squire Dickinson has declined to deduct any of his college bill for the period of his illness. “If this is the custom,” he writes, “I suppose there is no getting off from it though like many other customs it seems rather hard.”

Sidney Brooks to his father Obed Brooks, April 23, 1839, first page middle: “If this is the custom I suppose there is no getting off from it though like many other customs it seems rather hard.”

 

In the recessed economic climate of New England following the Panic of 1837, it is little wonder Sidney found himself justifying his various expenses to his father. In a letter to his father of March 21, 1840, he grapples with trying to live frugally while taking advantage of the social opportunities of the college. After acknowledging the forty dollars he has received from home, Sidney implores his father to understand the necessity, for a young man of reputation, of indulging in a certain amount of “liberality,” a concept his father does not seem readily to understand. Describing his own place in the campus society, Sidney writes,

By no means do I rank myself among the highest class here, that class called the aristocracy. If I did I should have to do far different than I do – to carry an ivory or a silver headed cane, never to soil my hands with labor, ride about etc, etc, though among them are some no better able to do it than myself. This class is pretty numerous and popular in College, though I do not know as anyone thinks any the less of me for the plain manner in which I generally go.

Sidney Brooks letter to his father Obed Brooks, March 21, 1840, fourth page top: “It is another kind of liberality that I had principally in view- liberal towards ourselves.”

 

On leaving Amherst, Sidney taught for three years at Chatham Academy before returning home to Harwich and founding Pine Grove Seminary. Pine Grove, a one room schoolhouse whose columned Doric façade seems to suggest that Amherst left its mark, was notable for its nautical as well as classical curriculum. Navigation and surveying were included in its advanced mathematics class.

Sidney became an enlisting officer in 1863 for the towns of Harwich, Chatham, and Orleans, and served as a delegate of the Christian Commission during the war. While ministering to wounded Union soldiers in this role, Sidney wrote a series of letters to his sisters and his wife Susan about his experiences at military hospitals and battlegrounds. These were later edited and marked up considerably, presumably on Sidney’s suggestion to his correspondents that they get his accounts published in the local paper. In one letter dated July 21, 1864, Sidney describes to his sister Sarah the arrival of a delegation from Amherst College: one student, Professor Seelye, Professor Hitchcock (“son of my old Professor”), and Professor Tyler’s son.

Sidney Brooks to his sister Sarah, July 21, 1864, second page middle: “Among our members are three who came last night from Amherst College — one student, Prof. Selee and Prof. Hitchcock (son of my old Professor), also Prof. Tyler’s son. Prof. H. is not to commence hospital work to-day and, wanting something to do, he is now nailing up boxes of papers to go to the Front.”

 

After the war, Sidney sold his school to the town of Harwich in 1869, and in 1880 it became Harwich High School, the first public secondary educational facility there. Later it was called Brooks Academy, and today it houses the Harwich Historical Society. Sidney went on to work for the state, teaching aboard the ship George M Barnard in the short-lived Nautical Branch of the Massachusetts Reform School. Afterwards, he became Shipping Commissioner in Boston, where he lived until his death in 1887.

The Sidney Brooks (AC 1841) Papers are available to researchers in the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.

Read Full Post »

shepard-cu-bx3-f5-silliman-memo-2-3-detail

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.”

(more…)

Read Full Post »

Part of the back-to-school ritual in the Archives & Special Collections is meeting new faculty and trying to figure out what we have in our collections that they might use. Recently, we had a couple of new faculty ask about what resources we have about Latin America and the Caribbean.

For the course “The Colonial City: Global Perspectives” several people in the department went in search of maps and/or architectural illustrations of cities and towns in the Caribbean. We were confident we would have something for this course given our strong holdings of books, manuscripts, and maps from the era of the French & Indian War:

Plan of Bridge Town This document — “A Plan of Bridge Town, in the Island of Barbadoes”– is part of the Plimpton Collection of French and Indian War Items, 1670-1934 (Box 10, Folder 1).

A bound volume from the same era also has a lot of what we were looking for:

French Dominions 1760 title

The Natural and Civil History of the French Dominions of North and South America (London, 1760) is a very thorough survey of French territories, many of which had just been captured by the English during the French and Indian War. It includes numerous maps of Caribbean islands, like this one

French Dominions 1760 Hispaniola

And some of the maps include detailed city plans:

French Dominions 1760 Harbor

An even earlier book may also be a fruitful resource for this course:

America 1671 title

This copy of America: Being the Latest, and Most Accurate Description of the New World (London, 1671) once belonged to Amherst College alumnus, Dwight W. Morrow (Class of 1895), who served as US Ambassador to Mexico under President Calvin Coolidge. The Archives holds several books from Morrow’s library along with his personal papers. The illustrations in this volume include more maps:

America 1671 Jamaicae

In addition to maps, some illustrations give a very clear rendering of some of the architecture:

America 1671 Potosi

Others are less architecturally detailed, but we hope will be useful:

America 1671 Lima

A third item worth mentioning doesn’t have any illustrations, but may be useful to the Colonial City course as well as another new class on Race and Religion in the Americas. The professor for that course told me he was particularly interested in Guatemala, and it turned out we had a very interesting item that fit the bill:

Gage Survey of the West Indias

This copy of The English American, his travail by sea and land: or, A new svrvey of the West-India’s also comes from Dwight Morrow’s library. It’s the extraordinary narrative of Thomas Gage, an English Catholic whose travels included “Twelve years about Guatemala.”

One of the ways we like to teach with our collections is to get at least one or two relevant books or documents into the hands of the students, then we can point them to deeper online repositories where they may find much more material on their topic. In this case, it is likely that the Digital Library of the Caribbean may be quite handy. And for more material on Guatemala, there are a wealth of resources to be discovered via the Latin American Networked Information Center, the Latin American Open Archives Portal, and others.  Our hope is always that the experience of seeing seventeenth and eighteenth-century books and documents will enable students to make better use of digital resources and bear in mind the physical artifacts that these digital projects are based on.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »