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Archive for the ‘Slavery’ Category

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.”

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1830-Tyler-Wm-1837-Jan-30-p4-to-bro-Wellington-env

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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The records of the Amherst College Anti-Slavery Society provide an interesting glimpse into a formative period in College history. In addition to detailing the early history of activism about race at Amherst, they show the first strong challenge to the administration by students of the college.

The Anti-Slavery Society was founded on July 19, 1833, just two weeks after the formation of the Amherst College and Amherst Colonization Society. Both groups were intended as local chapters of state or national organizations, and their activities on campus mirrored the debate playing out on the national level.

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A text is a text is a text. Sometimes, it’s more than one.

title page detail, Narrative of a five years’ expedition… (1796). Amherst College Archives and Special Collections

In 1772, the English officer John Gabriel Stedman was sent to the Dutch-controlled colony of Suriname in South America to help end an armed revolt by plantation slaves. Stedman’s diary of his experiences in Suriname became the two-volume Narrative, of a five years’ expedition, against the revolted Negroes of Surinam, in Guiana... The Narrative was initially published by Joseph Johnson to great popular success in 1796.

John Gabriel Stedman’s map of Suriname

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