Cutting up Documents for Fun and Profit

If anyone makes a special collections horror movie, this would undoubtedly be one of the scariest villains:

autograph scraps

 

These are just a few of the hundreds (HUNDREDS!) of autographs in our Miscellaneous Manuscript Collection. Many were collected by a single, dedicated individual whose interest in history went as far as the signatures on the documents but not so far as the documents themselves. In some cases the autograph collector apparently sent a blank card requesting a signature, as in this example signed by Mark Twain:

Twain SignatureBut in many cases signatures were brutally cut from their proper places:

Tillinghast letter 2013-11-20 07.46.37

 

It would be nice to know what Daniel Tillinghast was writing in 1785 (“… will not answer … till she is over…” is an intriguing bit to have), but that isn’t likely to happen thanks to our autograph collector.

I recently came across an example of the autograph industry from the other side of the mirror: Laid into one of our copies of Thomas Clarkson’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Accomplishment of the Abolition of the African Slave-Trade (1808 ed.) is a letter from Clarkson to the book’s owner at that time, a man named Edward Raleigh Moran. The copy is inscribed by Clarkson, and Moran is requesting information about the recipient to whom Clarkson presented the book:

Clarkson Letter

 

In a postscript Clarkson writes “I have below sent you two autographs, which you may cut off and give to any of your friends should any be desirous of having them.” Mr. Moran’s friends apparently were not desirous of having them (or perhaps Moran wasn’t desirous of cutting up his letter and giving them away), because they’re still visible at the bottom of the page. (The verso of the page is blank, so if Moran had in fact cut out the signatures at least we wouldn’t have lost any original writing.)

 

More Transcription

If the George Turner letters mentioned yesterday aren’t enough for you, you can now also read the text of a 19th-century whaler who abandoned his ship.

Back in February we had a visit from some Fulbright scholars who began the process of transcribing the Daniel Mowry letters in our Nicholson Whaling Manuscripts Collection. We haven’t yet had a chance to digitize the letters, but we wanted to make the transcriptions available, and you can now find the text of all of them on one page. These are some pretty illuminating letters telling a great story.

Civil Warrior of the Week #15 (Special Edition): George Turner

George Turner in a tent

The image above is a sketch from a letter written by George Turner, a Rhode Island Civil War soldier whose correspondence has recently been scanned and transcribed by URI student Michaela Keating. The online collection (available here) includes nearly 200 letters, mostly sent by Turner to his parents at home in Rhode Island, dating from 1861 to 1864. Taken together they offer an evolving portrait of one soldier’s daily life over the years of the war and his developing attitudes toward race, the South and the purpose of the war.

Turner wrote the letter from which the image above was taken in December of 1861, not long after the Union capture of Fort Wells in Hilton Head, South Carolina, where Turner spent the majority of his time during the war. In the letter, Turner describes his entry into the fort and the circumstances of his drawing:

Soon after entering the Fort we were allowed to stroll around and look about. And during my stroll I cam across a gun carriage that was completely smashed up and while I was looking at it I picked up picked up part of a man’s ear and some teeth and while looking at it come to conclusion that this man had changed his southern views and gone to another land. And now that I think of it of will give you another drawing [sketch of two figures in a tent with “Traveller’s Rest” written on the side of the tent] The picture which I bring before your view this time represents your humble servant writing a letter to his Rhode Island friends while one of his mess mates lays on the ground smoking. The name which you see marked on the tent is marked with a led pencil. But I pity the poor fellow who comes there for rest if he does not belong there. Now I have lived in just such a house as you see just four months on the 20th this month, and during that that time I have not taken off my pants olny when I change my under clothes or to wash all over. And I am just as tuff as a birch I am fat rugged and saucy. I can swallow a roast turkey at one gullup. Yesterday we had the first white bread we have had since the 23 day of Oct and when we got our loaf we went about looking at it like so many boys with a new year’s present. But after a while we came to the conclusion to eat it and the way it went down my illustrious gullet was a caution to lookers on.

The letter is typical in its attention to the daily details of camp life. Also typical is the discussion that takes place just prior to this excerpt in which Turner displays antagonism toward the “contraband” freed slaves present at the fort. It’s a theme that develops throughout the course of Turner’s letters, as he grows to despise the former slaves he feels are being better treated than the soldiers.

For more information about the George Turner correspondence, visit our online exhibition, which provides background information about Turner and some of the major themes of his letters. And visit the digital collection to read the letters yourself. As of now over 100 letters have been transcribed, with more to come. And if you’d like to take part and try transcribing some of the letters yourself, just click the “Transcribe this item” link at the bottom of an item and then click the “edit” button.

(If you’re interested in Turner you might also want to check out the Summer/Fall 2012 issue of Rhode Island History (vol. 70.2), which features an article by Kirsten Hammerstrom on Turner titled “Souvenirs of War” (pp. 74-86).

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

 

 

Time Machine: 13 December 1871

Sometimes the documents saved in libraries don’t record moments of great historic importance. Sometimes they’re just the casual notes that probably make up the bulk of communication in any time. Here’s an example of a quick note to Secretary of State (among other things) John Russell Bartlett from Elisha Dyer, a former governor.

Dyer

 

Providence December 13 1871

My Dear Sir,

My friend from England (J. N. Dyer Esq) has arrived and I propose favoring him with an introduction to your self tomorrow if opportunity offers. Are you at the State House after dinner?

May I have the favor of an introductory note from you, for myself, to some of the leading publishing houses in Boston as I propose to accompany him there in a day or two. Much obliging.

Very Res[pectfully] Yours

Elisha Dyer

Time Machine: 6 December 1775

237 years ago today James Macpherson wrote this letter to Gen. Philip Schuyler of the relatively new Continental Army. The purpose of the letter is to request that Shuyler remove him from what was essentially a desk job and let him join the soldiers on their way to Canada:mcpherson1 macpherson2 macpherson3

The Happiness I experienced while I was in yours & since I have been of General Montgomery’s family is lessened, when I reflect that I am but half a soldier, as being at Headquarters exempts me from many Fatigues which others undergo — This, a natural desire of Rising, which is I believe common to every one lead me to request the favor of your recommendation for such a Commission as you think I deserve.

If this takes Place, I should not desire on that account to quit the present service till the Reduction of Quebec (an event I imagine at no great Distance) till when I think the service of all here indispensibly necessary — After that many of us may be spared.

Macpherson was granted his request, but he wasn’t spared. He died in battle only a few weeks after the letter was penned, together with Gen. Richard Montgomery during the assault on Quebec.

macpherson4(This is the second in a series of posts highlighting newly-accessible and re-housed items from our Updike Autograph Collection.)

Time Machine: 28 November 1812

The regular portrait series takes the week off today. In it’s place, the first of an occasional series that highlights an item from the collection created on this day in the past.

The first post celebrates the completion of our project to re-house the Updike Autograph Collection. (Mentioned previously here.) As you might recall, this collection of fascinating manuscript items was previously difficult to access and stored in acidic folders and boxes. Thanks to volunteer Ramon Cartwright, a finding aid for the collection is now available online; and thanks to funds provided by subscribers to our Occasional Nuggets publication and the efforts of volunteer Pat Loan, the entire collection is now rehoused in archival folders and boxes.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be posting a few items from the collection on the day of the year they were created, starting with this letter from Raymond Perry to his mother Sarah, dated 28 November 1812. In the letter Raymond describes the public response to his brother Oliver’s heroic actions at the Battle of Lake Erie.

The following transcription accompanied the letter:

Off Bristol Harbor
28th Nov. [1812]
My dear Mother –
I have not written
your for some days, owing to being
to much engaged getting down the
River this far – Alex. left me
day before yesterd in Providence
he recd. the attention due [to his?]
gallantry. every one was anxious to
be introduced to the young Hero
of Erie – his mind is much improved
so much so, that, it was a subject
of remark at our mess Table. he
supported a conversation for some
time – my Father was on b[oar]d this
Eveng. on his way to New Port
where he says it will be necessary to
visit often – I cannot express how much
my satisfaction is, to see him so
much pleased with his appointment
he is in excellent spirits, every one in
Bristol seems anxious to know him. the
De Wolfs are raped up in his interest
The Female part of‘the Family talk
much of the pleasure of your society as
soon as you can join them – The House
is a very good one, and stands in the
best part of the Town – Mary An
De Wolf is a charming girl, and I have
reason to believe very much my Friend
[They were married in 1814]
We were to a pleasant Ball two evengs
since in honor of Oliver – the House
was brilliantly illuminated, and over
the entrance was the appropriate motto
“Dont give up the ship”. I was recd
with more politeness than all my
vanity could flater me I deserved
but, I was next Brother to the greatest
man in our Country -. Of Comd Rodgers
[I?] have but little to say, only that
[he?] is wonderfully polite to [?]
and on duty, he is extremely
careful how he acts. I think
our cruise will be pleasant – our
mess is cheerfull – The wind is now
from the northw[ard] nd a probabilty
of a snow storm & fear we shall get
out – I will write the girls if we
do not get out – but this letter is for them too. Your affect Son
Raymond

Addressed to:
Christopher R. Perry Esq
Chelsea Landing
Norwich
Con.

If you’re interested in finding out what else happened today in history, check out our RI Collection Blog, where Tracy Connolly has begun a series called “100 Years Ago Today,” which draws on items from the Providence Journal of a century past.