First Draft of History? Or Maybe the Second?

I recently decided to take a look at one of the Benedict Arnold letters in our Updike Autograph Collection, and came across a curious situation. Here’s an image of the letter:

2014-10-07 13.41.33

and the verso:

2014-10-07 13.41.51

The letter is dated May 19th, 1775, just a month after the battles of Lexington and Concord, and it describes Benedict Arnold’s successful raid on Fort St. Jean in Quebec, where Arnold had captured a ship and the small group of soldiers at the fort. Here’s Arnold’s account from the letter:

Manned out two small batteaux with 35 men and at 6 the next morning arrived there and surprised a sergeant and his party of 12 men and took the King’s sloop of about 70 tons and 2 brass six-pounders and 7 men without any loss on either side. The captain was hourly expected from Montreal with a large detachment of men, some guns and carriages for the sloop, as was a captain and 40 men from Chambly at 12 miles distance from St. Johns, so that providence seems to have smiled on us in arriving so fortunate an hour. For had we been 6 hours later in all probability we should have miscarried in our design.

The letter is also notable for a passage in which Arnold describes an encounter with Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys:

 I must here observe that in my return some distance this side [of] St. John I met Col. Allen with 90 or 100 of his men in a starving condition. I supplied him with provisions. He informed me of his intentions of proceeding on to St. Johns and keeping possession there. It appeared to me a wild, expensive, impracticable scheme…

What makes the letter particularly interesting, though, is that it doesn’t seem to be the only version that Arnold wrote. An alternate version (addressed to the Massachusetts Committee of Safety) is available in a compilation of Revolutionary War documents published in the 1830s-40s (text | page image). The letters are both dated May 19th, 1775, and are basically the same in content, but there are routinely differences in language, and occasionally major differences in content. Our draft of the letter, for instance, doesn’t include the following passage, which appears in the other version:

I wrote you, gentlemen, in my former letters, that I should be extremely glad to be superseded in my command here, as I find it next to impossible to repair the old fort at Ticonderoga, and am not qualified to direct in building a new one. I am really of opinion it will be necessary to employ one thousand or fifteen hundred men here this summer, in which I have the pleasure of being joined in sentiment by Mr. Romans, who is esteemed an able engineer….

… I beg leave to observe I have had intimations given me, that some persons had determined to apply to you and the Provincial Congress, to injure me in your esteem, by misrepresenting matters of fact. I know of no other motive they can have, only my refusing them commissions, for the very simple reason that I did not think them qualified. However, gentlemen, I have the satisfaction of imagining I am employed by gentlemen of so much candour, that my conduct will not be condemned until I have the opportunity of being heard.

It’s illuminating to note that these lines — which move beyond the immediate reporting of forts taken and cannons captured — were ones that Arnold seemed to hesitate to send.

So why two copies, and why would they be different?* Unfortunately, our letter isn’t addressed, so we can only guess that it was intended for the same recipients (the MA Committee of Safety). But one bit of evidence appears in the last lines. Our copy concludes with this note:

For particulars [I] must refer you to Capt. Oswald, who has been very active and serviceable and is a prudent, good officer.

Indicating, it seems, that Oswald was delivering our copy of the letter. The other letter ends this way:

I must refer you for particulars to the bearer, Captain Jonathan Brown, who has been very active and serviceable, and is a prudent, good officer…

Scholars of the American Revolution (who are hopefully more knowledgeable of the conventions of military correspondence of the time) are encouraged to comment on whether Arnold was more likely to be sending two copies of a letter like this with different couriers, to ensure that it arrived safely, or sending a similar letter to two different sets of recipients.

In either case, it’s a reminder that even what seems like a clear piece of historical evidence might be only part of the story.

Here’s a transcription (spelling adjusted) of our copy of the letter:

Crown Point 19th May 1775

Gentlemen-

I wrote you the 14th instant by Mr. Romans, which I make no doubt you have received. The afternoon of the same day I left Ticonderoga with Capt. Brown and Arnold and fifty men in a small schooner. Arrived at Skenesborough and proceeded for St. Johns. The weather calm. 17th at 6 PM being within 30 miles of St. Johns. Manned out two small batteaux with 35 men and at 6 the next morning arrived there and surprised a sergeant and his party of 12 men and took the King’s sloop of about 70 tons and 2 brass six-pounders and 7 men without any loss on either side. The captain was hourly expected from Montreal with a large detachment of men, some guns and carriages for the sloop, as was a captain and 40 men from Chambly at 12 miles distance from St. Johns, so that providence seems to have smiled on us in arriving so fortunate an hour. For had we been 6 hours later in all probability we should have miscarried in our design. The wind proving favourable in two hours after our arrival we got on most all the stores, provisions and weighed anchor for this place with the sloop and 5 large batteaux, which we seized, having destroyed 5 others, and arrived here at 10 this morning, not leaving any one craft of any kind behind that the enemy can cross the lake in if they have any such intentions. I must here observe that in my return some distance this side [of] St. John I met Col. Allen with 90 or 100 of his men in a starving condition. I supplied him with provisions. He informed me of his intentions of proceeding on to St. Johns and keeping possession there. It appeared to me a wild, expensive, impracticable scheme and provided it could be carried into execution of no consequence so long as we are masters of the lake, [and] of that I make no doubt we should be as I am determined to arm the sloop and schooner immediately. For particulars [I] must refer you to Capt. Oswald, who has been very active and serviceable and is a prudent, good officer.

Bened: Arnold

Verso:

P.S. to the foregoing letter

By a return sent to Gen. Gage last week I find there are in the 7th and 26th regiments now in Canada 717 men including 170 we have taken prisoner. Enclosed is a list of cannon here at Ticonderoga:

[list follows]


* It’s also possible, of course, that one or the other letters wasn’t actually composed by Arnold at all, or at least not on May 15th, 1775. Arnold seems to have signed his name in a number of ways, as evidenced by comparing this signature with this one, both dating from 1775. The latter version uses a two-story form of the “A” in “Arnold,” and seems similar in other ways. I haven’t seen a copy of the other letter, which may be part of the Library of Congress’s Peter Force Library, donated by the author of compilation in which that copy appears.

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Fulbright, brighter, brightest

We were very lucky to get a visit last Friday from some exceptional students. They’re part of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program, so they were from countries around the world. One component of their visit to the US is a volunteer session, so 14 of them showed up at PPL, ready to do some volunteer transcription. (Thanks to Justin Dunnavant for the photos.)

Fulbright Students

Our Nicholson Whaling Collection is well known as one of the best collections of whaling logbooks in the country. But the collection also includes quite a few other resources, including nearly 60 boxes of manuscript materials. (They’re described in a collection guide on our website.) So after getting a brief introduction to Special Collections, they set to work transcribing one small portion, the letters of Daniel D. Mowry.

Transcription in processMowry went to sea as an 18-year-old, and it didn’t take long for him to regret the decision. We have letters from Mowry to his parents during the period from 1858 to 1861, at which point he abandoned ship in Auckland, New Zealand. He continued to write home from Auckland and Sydney, Australia for years.

Daniel Mowry letter

The Fulbright student volunteers set out to transcribe the manuscripts and help fill out the story, and in just a few short hours they made quite a bit of progress.

Students transcribing lettersHere’s a short sample (transcribed by Sylmina Alkaff), in which Mowry tells his parents that he’s abandoning the voyage:

Dear Father & Mother
You will no doubt be much surprised when you get this letter to hear that I am no longer in the Sea (Gull). I left the ship about four weeks previous to this date….
My dear Father and Mother I have done a thing which you will at first blame me for. But could you know all could you
but know what I have endured and what I have seen with my own eyes you would blame me not. Her thirty three months I staid in that ship and they were months of misery to me. I took no comfort of my life neither did any of the ships company.

It should be a great story when it’s all told. Within the next few months we’ll plan to have the images online with the transcriptions by the Fulbright students. Since they were working with limited time, many of the letters are not yet fully transcribed, so blog readers can have a chance to put some of the pieces of the story together as well by doing some voluntary, online transcription work of your own.

Thanks again, Fulbright students!

group photo

 

 

Pennell Collection

If you’re interested in the history of modern illustration, you might be familiar with Joseph Pennell, an engraver/lithographer/author/artist who provided the illustrations for scores of books, including his own works. He and his wife Elizabeth were close to James McNeill Whistler and eventually produced a biography of the painter. And he’s also responsible for an iconic World War I poster envisioning the result of an Allied failure (New York in flames and Nazi German planes flying over a shattered Statue of Liberty – visit to see a copy in our collection of WWI and II posters).

We’ve just finished processing a collection of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell’s correspondence here at PPL, and a finding aid is now available online. The collection is now available for use, so if you’re interested in Pennell, stop in and have a look.

“Write soon”

The Arnold Family Papers, 1861-1904, and the Edwin W. Arnold Correspondence, 1862-1894, two collections now available to researchers at PPL Special Collections, chronicle the lives of the Arnold family, descendants of William Arnold, one of the founders of the city of Providence. The family includes Russell and Sarah, their five children, Henry, Frederick, Edwin, George, and Susan, their spouses and their extended family. Through their letters to one another, the Arnolds demonstrate that the everyday lives of residents of Providence have always contained remarkable moments and deep familial bonds.

The Arnolds were one family of many affected by the Civil War; all three sons served in the Union Army. While recovering from illness at a convalescent camp in Washington, D.C.,  Edwin, the middle son, met Abraham Lincoln, and described the experience in a post script of a letter to his mother:

Washington, D.C.
May. /63

                                Dear Mother

I received your letter day before yesterday and was glad to hear from home once more, but was surprised to hear of Uncle Whipple’s death, it don’t seem hardly possible that it is so, I recived a press the first of the week and a bulletin day before yestaday, it is awful Hot out here I tell you, the sweat is rolling off of me as I sit here writeing at the rate of a quart minite a day of course I am acting nurse and have got charge of seven beds, those right along where my bed is, fred knows where it is. for it is the same one that I had when he was here, there is three wounded and two sick, one with a leg of, and one with his foot  cut off with a piece of shell, the other is a flesh wound I have not been out since I got back and that was to get my ration money so of course I have not seen Nick tell fred that man that layed right across from me Died while I was home and that tall fellow that had so big a head, and used came so often after a drink of water, he layed down at the other end towards the street. All the public schools in the city had a concert the othe night over at the Smithsonian, but I am spinning to long a yarn. ask Fred to get me a mask and send it by expression as soon as possible so I will close.

Boy Ned

his MARK

##

P.S. President Lincon has just been through the ward and shook hands with every man so you see I have shook hands with the great man he looks as though he had been out all night and had lost his best friend.

Ned

Write soon

Write soon

I have not seen Mason

*spelling errors left uncorrected

After the end of the Civil War, many soldiers remained in service, waiting to be sent home. Edwin’s wife, Louisa, wrote to Russell Arnold following the news that his brothers were safe and the soldiers in the Veterans Reserve Corps (VRC), including Edwin, had finally been dismissed:

Concord N.H.

Nov 5th 1865

       Dear Father

We recived your latter yesterday and was glad to here that you was all well and was glad to here that Fred has got home all safe we was feeling very bad about them after we recived Miss Whipple’s  letter Edwin came out of Camp and Stayed hear all day and he felt so bad that I could not say anything to him about them and he did not sleep any all night and he had a pass again the next day ‘till four o’clock and when dinner time came he whent to Camp to get his dinner and after dinner he came so happy as he could be singing and lughing and I asked him if he had heard from home and he said he had just seen a piece in the paper about the vessel that Fred and Garge ware on, it was them at Port Royal getting repaird and he knows that they was all right and since the order was issued to discharge VRC. he has been all most crazy, every time that he comes out he packes his things up just as though he was going to start for home right away he wants to get home to see you all so bad that he is growing poor, he is not half so fat as he was when you were here and I will be glad when we get home so that he will get fat again, and not be warring all of the time as he is now I would like to come home first rate but Edwin says that he will coming home the last of this weeck or the first of next and I would rather not wait and come whit him, but I must close, give my love to all but keep a share for you self.

from Louisa Arnold.

*spelling errors left uncorrected

Both collections show what daily life was like during and after the Civil War. Edwin’s correspondence highlights the experience of those in the Veterans Reserve Corps, and the Arnold family’s papers show what life was like after the war, particularly in Frederick’s correspondence from veterans’ associations.  The family also corresponds on travel, family matters, and the changing world around them.

Finding aids for both collections can be found at Providence Public Library’s Special Collections site:

The Arnold Family Papers (MSS 009)
http://www.provlib.org/sites/default/files/ArnoldFamily.pdf

Edwin W. Arnold Correspondence (MSS 006)
http://www.provlib.org/sites/default/files/EdwinWArnold.pdf

-Janaya