Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Intern's Report: Getting "Up Close and Personal" With a Common Soldier

 Today's blogger, Erin Weinman, is a history major at Rutgers University.  This post is the story of her favorite project during her summer internship at the David Library of the American Revolution.

By Erin Weinman

            My internship at the David Library ends today, and when I look back on the past  six  weeks, I think I was able to absorb much more actual knowledge of life in Revolutionary America than any class could ever allow me to learn.

Librarian Kathie Ludwig asked me to undertake a very interesting task:  transcribing a series of letters written by a Revolutionary War soldier named Oliver Reed. The letters are part of a family collection, and the current custodians permitted the David Library to digitize them.  My job was to make transcriptions so that Library patrons can enjoy easy access.  At first, the letters were a bit difficult to read, but as a history student, transcribing is an important skill I must acquire if I want to become a historian.

The letters ended up being one of the most fascinating series of personal accounts I have ever read. I had the choice to write a research paper for my senior capstone at Rutgers University, but I chose instead to come to the David Library to experience what it is like to be a historian, and nothing could be more “hands-on” than this project. Although my job was simply to transcribe, I was able to learn who Oliver was on a personal level. These were his words that I was reading, his personal thoughts that he had shared privately with his wife. Once I finished all the transcribing, I was eager to learn more about the man who had written these letters and with help from Kathie and from Richard Wood, a volunteer at the David Library, I was able to flesh out the story of Oliver. We were all amazed at what came up, and I soon learned the fascinating history of Oliver’s regiment, including the fact that it marched through my hometown of Somerville, New Jersey.

            While many great American patriots are well known, the letters allowed a peek into the life of an average soldier. Oliver Reed of Pomfret, Connecticut first enlisted in the army during Lexington where he served for 12 days. Before long, he was a sergeant in the 20th Continental Regiment. His heartfelt letters humanize a man who might otherwise be lost to history, giving voice to his longing for his children, as well as his cravings for pickles and cider, and they describe his struggles with chronic illness. It’s a part of a soldier’s life that is rarely seen when studying the American Revolution, and amazingly, the David Library’s collection allowed me to bring Reed’s story to fuller life in relation to the ongoing war.

            Born in 1745, Oliver married Betty Force and moved to Pomfret in time for the birth of their first child, a daughter, Nabby. By 1776, Oliver was off in Cambridge and marching to New York for the Battle of Long Island. Using the letters of George Washington, soldier cards and a multitude of secondary resources, I was able to piece together the world of Oliver Reed by forming a timeline of historical events including the siege of Philadelphia, the battles of Trenton and Princeton, and eventually Valley Forge. Along the way, I discovered a lot about the 20th Continental (later renamed Fourth Connecticut) Regiment and its leaders, Capt. Beriah Bill, Capt. Stephen Brown and Col. John Durkee.

            The letters do more, however, than just piece together a possible campaign trail. They allow us to see what it was like to be an average soldier, or  to be a woman on the home front. Oliver himself was constantly sick and repeatedly expressed his desire to go home, even just for a few weeks. He wanted to provide for his family, send gifts to his children from Boston and eat real food. “I want sum of your pickels to Eat Long with Cold meat”, he wrote. “I want sum sider too”. 

The home front was perhaps even more tragic. In August 1777, Betty wrote to Oliver about the deaths of two of their children. Records show that a third child died just days after the letter was written. Betty had little support and relied on the help of neighbors for milk and wood. Eventually, she took her surviving son, Oliver Jr., and moved him to her in-laws’ in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

            I’m pleased to report that I was invited to write an article about the Oliver Reed letters for the website (Journal of the American Revolution).  My article follows the lives of Oliver and Betty as the war continued. The emergence of Oliver’s letters reveals a previously undiscovered story that illuminates the life of a common Revolutionary era soldier. Special thanks to both Richard and Kathie for their help with this project. It was an opportunity I never thought I would have as an undergraduate. The article is scheduled to be published on this August.

The Oliver Reed Letters, a part of the David Library Digital Archives, are currently being curated.  The Library will be making the digital letters available to researchers in the near future.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Independence Day: A Bibliography Compiled by Summer Intern Erin Weinman  

Erin Weinman of Somerville, NJ is a senior history major at Rutgers  University.  She is interning at the David Library this summer.

Erin Weinman
         The Fourth of July is just around the corner, and the nation is preparing once again to celebrate our founding history. The David Library is home to an extensive collection on the Declaration of Independence, some of the signers and the events that surrounded America's declaration of independence from England. Why not pick up a little summer reading to get you in the spirit (of '76)?  The following books are available at the David Library (call numbers are the David Library's), but you are likely to find some of these at your local public library or bookseller as well. 
Allen, Danielle.  Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.  New York:  W. W. Norton and Company, 2014.  Call number 7510.
Casey, Robert E. The Declaration of Independence: Illustrated Story of its Adoption. New York: Illustrated Publishers, 1914. Call number 1481.
Ellis, Joseph J. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 1997. Call number 4494.
Fowler, William M. The Baron of Beacon Hill: A Biography of John Hancock. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1979. Call number 569.
Franklin, Benjamin. Autobiography; Poor Richard; Letters. New York: D. Appleton and   Company, 1899. Call number 7048.
Hawken, Henry A. Trumpets of Glory: Fourth of July Orations 1786-1861. Granby, CT.: Salmon Brook Historical Society, 1976. Call number 1388.
Hogeland, William. Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became  Independent. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010. Call number 7198.
Maier, Pauline. American Scripture: Making the Declaration of Independence. New York: Knopf: Distributed by Random House, 1997. Call number 4477.
McCullough, David. John Adams. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001. Call number 5808.
Miller, Marla R. Betsy Ross and the Making of America. New York: Henry Holt, 2010.   Call number 7177.
Rakove, Jack N. The Annotated U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2009. Call number  7184.
Travers, Len. Celebrating the Fourth: Independence Day and the Rites of Nationalism in the Early Republic. Amherst, Mass.: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. Call number 4539.
Additionally, there's a good article in the July/August 2010 issue of American Spirit, the magazine of the Daughters of the American Revolution by Anthony, Lena, “Cannons and Camaraderie: The Earliest Fourth of July Traditions.” We have a copy at the David Library.  If you live close enough, drop in at the David Library sometime between now and July 3 (the Library will be closed on July 4) to read it.  Understanding the origins of our traditional Fourth of July celebrations may enhance the holiday for you this year.    

Friday, May 15, 2015

Women's Work: A Summer Intern's First Blog Post by Brianna Heverly

Brianna Heverly of Yardley, PA is a senior at Rider University with a double major in History and Education and minor in Special Education.  She is interning at the David Library this summer, and as she familiarizes herself with the collections, she decided to look into the role women played in the Continental Army.
Brianna Heverly
           Although the American Revolution was fought by an army of men, women played a crucial role in fighting for independence against the British.  Women worked together to provide men with food, clothing, shelter, and support --  all necessary to win the war.  Without these essentials, often provided women in the role of camp followers, the Continental Army would not be equipped enough to fight the British and win the war. 
            One of the most known women of the American Revolution is Margaret Cochran Corbin, otherwise known as “Captain Molly,” or Molly Pitcher.  Captain Molly is recognized for taking over charge of the cannon after her husband was wounded.  She bravely fought until she was injured, but her legacy lives on.  Other women were involved in the war even though they never fired a shot.  They were brave enough to follow their husbands to war to cook food for the soldiers to eat and sew clothing for them to be protected from the elements.  Some women also followed the men into battle and would bring them water while they fought.  Although some of the women who were involved in the war were those who wanted to be with their husbands, there were still many others involved who did not have a husband or relative whom they followed.            
          Continental Army soldiers recognized the importance of women.  In a diary of a soldier I came across at the David Library, the soldier recognized the importance of women who nursed injured soldiers and saved lives.  Other officers, such as Lieutenant John Charles Philip von Krafft, showed appreciation to women who opened their homes to provide shelter as the men were travelling.  Von Krafft relied on women to offer their homes to soldiers in order to escape the harsh elements.  Another soldier, Joseph Plumb Martin, stated, “The women in Pennsylvania, taken in general, are certainly very worthy characters… [and were] well treated by them.”  Despite the fact that paper was scarce during the war, these soldiers took the time and paper to write, in letters and diaries, about these women and their roles in the war. 
            The David Library of the American Revolution has an abundance of sources about the role of women in the Revolutionary War, including secondary source books about women being camp followers.  One of these, Women Patriots of the American Revolution by Charles E. Claghorn, provided a detailed list of women who lived during the Revolution.  Next to each woman’s name was a brief one-line summary of her contribution and/or connection to the war.  If there was greater detail for a particular woman, a greater in-depth description of her would be found in the heart of the book.  From these secondary sources, I gathered that most women in the war were typically nurses, made clothing, cooked the food, provided housing for the soldiers, and delivered messages.  Some women even fought in battle by either dressing up as a man or taking their husband’s place on the battlefield.
The David Library is first and foremost a primary source library, and I found multiple primary resources, including diaries of Continental Army soldiers, which supported the claims the books made. 
            To find the sources I needed, I used the catalogue on the David Library’s website.  It’s easy to use and is organized in such a way that allows for different kinds of searches.  For example, because there are so many types of sources at the David Library, such as books, pamphlets, microfilm, journals, and so on, the catalogue allows the researcher to narrow their search to exactly what they want and where in the library they will find it.  If the user is still not sure, they can do a broad search of the subject or title and find sources in all of these categories.  The catalogue includes short descriptions of the books in the collection, which can help the user determine whether or not the source is suitable for his or her research.
The David Library’s collections hold an abundance of sources, fostering the thoroughness and reliability of any project a researcher might undertake on the era of the American Revolution.
Sources consulted for this blog post:
         Blumenthal, Walter Hart.  Women Camp Followers of the American Revolution
Claghorn, Charles E.  Women Patriots of the American Revolution: a biographical dictionary
Compiled by: Cooke, Denis J.  “17 Voices: The Diaries of Events and Occurrences Surrounding the British Occupation of Philadelphia” 
Mayer, Holly A.  Belonging to the Army: camp followers and community during the American Revolution
Rees, John.  “… the multitude of women”  An Examination of the Numbers of Female Campfollowers With the Continental Army
Rees, John.  “The proportion of Women which ought to be allowed…”  An Overview of Continental Army Female Camp Followers
Sowers, Betty.  Campfollowing: a history of the military wife
Young, Philip.  Revolutionary ladies

Thursday, March 12, 2015

For Women's History Month: Ann Whittall -- A Guest Blog by Larry Kidder

Larry Kidder, pictured at right, is the author of "A People Harassed and Exhausted: The Story of a New Jersey Militia Regiment in the American Revolution."  March is Women's History Month.

               I have been doing a lot of research lately on individuals in New Jersey who experienced the War of Independence in various ways. A number of these people are women, and during Women’s History Month it is appropriate to really focus on the many roles women played during the war. Most of the time when we think of the Revolution we tend to focus on military or political contributions and don’t really think about how the political and military decisions made by leaders affected the lives of everyday people not associated with the military, both men and women.

              One woman whose actions were determined by events completely outside of her control was Ann Whitall of Red Bank, along the Delaware River. Ann came from a devout Quaker family and she was vehemently opposed to the use of war to solve problems. Although she and her husband, James, tried to avoid the war, it came to their home in 1777 in a particularly violent way. Soldiers of the Patriot army came to their property and informed them that they were going to build a fort on it.  James reminded them that it was their war, not his, but this of course did not stop them. The fort they built at Red Bank, Fort Mercer, was attacked on October 22 by about 1200 Hessians, but Ann refused to leave her house and sat down calmly to do some spinning. A stray shot entered the house, but she did not panic, merely removed to the cellar. Surviving the battle was not the end of her story because when the firing ceased there were a number of wounded soldiers from both sides who needed attention. Her opposition to war did not include ignoring soldiers in need, so she turned her home into a hospital and worked hard to care for the wounded with everything she had available. However, her pity for the wounded was not without limits. She could not help reminding soldiers complaining of their discomfort and broken condition that they had brought it on themselves by participating in war.

              Ann was one of the huge number of ordinary people who simply wanted to go about their everyday lives in a peaceful manner, trying to make the world a better place, but who were caught up in tragic events. Her story is one of showing great courage by not running from danger and also one of upholding humanitarian ideals even while believing that the people in need brought on their own suffering. Learning the story of Ann Whitall should be a reminder that we cannot control what comes our way in life and the only thing we can control is how we deal with it and whether it shatters or strengthens our ideals.

              I first learned about Ann while working on the Meet Your Revolutionary Neighbors project for Crossroads of the American Revolution, a project that benefitted from many hours at the David Library. That program seeks to identify and tell the stories of a wide variety of men and women from throughout New Jersey who experienced situations where they had to make decisions that would greatly influence the course of their lives. The growing group of stories can be viewed on the Crossroads website at

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Price of Rebellion

By Christopher F. Minty, Guest Blogger

 Christopher Forbes Minty was in residence this summer as a David Library Fellow from the University of Sterling in Scotland.
       When the War of American Independence officially began on 19 April 1775, the impact it would have soon reverberated around the world. As blood was spilt in Massachusetts, the battle lines were officially drawn and support for the colonial movement against the British gained tremendous support throughout the colonies. Indeed, when news of Lexington and Concord arrived in New York, Lieutenant Governor Cadwallader Colden, an elderly Scotsman who had been in the colonies for two generations, reluctantly informed the earl of Dartmouth that he would continue to give him “the most material Transaction of the People.” Writing on 3 May, he realised the news would not be well received, noting that it would “almost entirely destroy the Expectations you have had reason to entertain of the Conduct which this Province would pursue”. Despite this, Colden lamented that “[e]very species of public and private Resentment was threatened, to terrify the Inhabitants of the Province, if they continued disunited from the others” and “[t]he Minds of the People in the City were kept in constant agitation, by Riots and Attempts to prevent the Transports from loading Here, with Stores, Provisions &c. for the Army.”[1]

            As similar reports began to filter into Parliament, coffeehouses, and taverns, Americans in Britain quickly understood that conflict between British and American troops could destroy their lives. With the unpredictability of war and the customary delay in the diffusion of knowledge from the colonies, British statesmen were left frustratingly unaware over the American Revolution on the most local level. For Americans living in Glasgow, Bristol, or London, they could not have been aware of the fates and safety of their friends and family. Across the water, “good Accounts,” as John Adams admitted, soon began to circulate regarding the colonial effort. In fact, Adams believed that accounts he had received from New York and North Carolina were “very good,” and he had “no Doubts…of the Union” of the colonies.[2] This was not the type of information the American MP Henry Cruger would want to hear. Having been elected in 1774 alongside Edmund Burke for Bristol, Henry Cruger became one of a handful of MPs born in the American colonies. He came from a wealthy mercantile family in New York and left behind numerous relatives who were still immersed in the Atlantic trade with Britain at the start of the Revolution. In one letter in particular, written to John Harris Cruger, and available at the David Library, he outlined his anxieties and fears with such histrionic flair that he comes across as almost nonsensical.

Writing on 5 July 1775 shortly after news of Lexington and Concord arrived in London, Cruger noted how he had just arrived in town from Bristol. As he rushed into his accommodation and scrambled his quill pen, he desperately sought to let his family know “how and where I am”. Unfortunately for the Crugers still in New York, Henry informed them that as his “[h]eart is almost broke” because the British ministry, led by Lord North, were “finding every Thing in this Country go to their Liking, are bent upon carrying Matters to the utmost Extremities”. More troops were being dispatched across the Atlantic and more were being mustered. “Poor America,” he opined, “will be utterly undone”. According to the MP, there was, however, a glimmer of hope. In order to alleviate America’s ultimate capitulation and ruin, Cruger suggested that “some Concession[s]” must be “speedily made” and if they did this, he alleged, it would be “speedily grasped at here”. Indeed, according to Cruger “all good Men wish for a Reconciliation.” But Cruger’s wish for reconciliation between Britain and its American colonies was not solely predicated upon his desire to protect the colonies. Instead, as he noted to John Harris, he alleged that he had “£50,000 or £60,000 Sterling in America,” and with the onset of hostilities the chances of recovering any of this became increasingly unlikely. To give some degree of context, these figures equate to roughly $7,606,380 or $9,127,656.44 in modern terms. Needless to say, Cruger was clearly a wealthy man, and the thought of losing this infatuated him. He could see “[n]othing but certain Ruin” unless conflict stopped. He knew he could not travel to America; opponents of the Revolutionary movement, Loyalists, were being forcibly driven out of New York. Months before Cruger was even aware of Lexington and Concord, John Adams wrote how notable New York Patriots such as Isaac Sears and Alexander McDougall had “siezed the City Arms and Ammunition, out of the Hands of the Mayor,” with the assistance of “the Friends of Liberty” in New Jersey, and consequently “[t]he Tories there, durst not shew their Heads.”[3] Cruger could not return to this; instead, he anxiously waited on news. “Oh Johny!,” he exclaimed, “one Thing or other deprives me of my rational Faculties – drives me almost to Madness and Desperation.” Despite his self-proclaimed temporary loss of reason, Cruger still had to perform his duties as a MP, which were being increasingly drawn towards American affairs. This, he alleged, “afflict[ed]” him more than his private concerns and it was because of this he declared that “Oh that my Head was Water, and my Eyes a Fountain of Tears that I might weep Day & Night for the Distress of my Native Country.”[4] Although the War of American Independence had only just begun, its impact had already touched one American in Britain, Henry Cruger.

Henry Cruger to John Harris Cruger, Dartmouth Papers, 1765–1782, D(W) 1778/I ii/983/I #1144, Staffordshire Record Office, United Kingdom

            I am just arrived here from Bristol, where I left your Father well, and in tolerable Spirits, the Want of which myself, and some important Business brought me hither. In the midst of my Hurry and Confusion I sit down to write a few Lines that you and all our Family may know where and how I am – By one Thing or other my Heart is almost broke: Administration finding every Thing in this Country go to their Liking, are bent upon carrying Matters to the utmost Extremities – many more Troops are going out and more recruiting – Poor America will be utterly undone, unless some Concession on their Part is speedily made, which I am persuaded will be as speedily grasped at here; for all good Men wish for a Reconciliation.

            I have now £50,000 or £60,000 Sterling in America, and can see Nothing but certain Ruin. Thank God I have but a slender Family to participate in my approaching Distresses. – This Appearance of Bankruptcy, I assure you Johny, does not annoy me equal to the Letters I have lately received from New York, in which I am suspected of Want of Honor in my Treaty of Marriage with my dear Miss John —; Heavens! One would imagine that Reason and Reflection had lately totally forsaken Mankind – These are the Days in which – “many that are married should wish they were not” – And my Brother, in Spite of all that I feel, or Calumny can say – there is still a Consolation in reflecting that if the impending Storm overwhelms me, I shall sink singly.    It is impossible for me to come to America – The Idea savours of Madness Neither Constituents, Creditors nor Reason will hear of it. Oh Johny! one Thing or other deprives me of my rational Faculties – drives me almost to Madness and Desperation. I am indeed but illy calculated just now for a Husband – I wish my adorable Betsey a much better [one]. My private concerns afflict me much, but those of the Publick, in which I am deeply involved, afflict me more, and make me exclaim – Oh that my Head was Water, and my Eyes a Fountain of Tears that I might weep Day & Night for the Distress of my Native Country.

            The Mail is just closing, and I have neither Time nor Spirits to add more. I hope soon to be composed and will write to you again, and to all my Female Friends in a free, full and honest Manner. In the interim, give to them and all Friends the dearest–tenderest Love, of your distracted and unhappy Brother.

[1] Cadwallader Colden to the earl of Dartmouth, 3 May 1775, CO 5/1106, ff. 171–173, The National Archives, Kew
[2] John Adams to Abigail Adams, 30 April 1775, in The Adams Papers, Adams Family Correspondence, vol. 1, December 1761May 1776, ed. Lyman H. Butterfield (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), 188–189.
[3] Ibid.
[4] All quotes from Henry Cruger taken from Henry Cruger to John Harris Cruger, 5 July 1775, Dartmouth Papers, 1765–1782, D(W) 1778/I ii/983/I #1144, Staffordshire Record Office, United Kingdom.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Intern's Corner

Kyle Stenger joined us this summer as an intern from Rider University. He has recently returned to his classes at Rider for his senior year.  The following are his thoughts on his summer internship.

Being an historian is no easy thing. Not everyone has what it takes to handle the strenuous and relentless tasks that are thrown in the way of those who search through the past. This is what I have learned throughout my academic career and it was justified in my time as intern at the David Library of the American Revolution. However, anyone from the most distinguished in academia to the most casual common-man can enter the David Library and feel at ease with the most knowledgeable staff—a team that I feel lucky to have been a part of this summer. Being here has really shown me what it takes to do in reality what I have been practicing in school as a student of history: researching the past and making my findings accessible.  
 So what exactly did I do here at the David Library? I took on many projects; some pertain to the practice of history and some deal with the general operations of a library. I have cleaned and dusted bookshelves and re-shelved books used by patrons. That is the dull stuff, yes, but it is necessary to run the library. Occasionally our librarian, Ms. Katherine Ludwig, will charge me with the challenge of answering a research question sent in by a patron located too far from the library to make a visit. Almost always these questions relate to genealogical affairs and require a good amount of time and patience.

In most cases I go straight to the Revolutionary War Pension Records. Other times I pick up the Pennsylvania Archives or scroll through the New Jersey Archives on microfilm; however, for a lot of our microfilm collections we hold film guides to make it easier accessing the materials. Every once in a while an answer will not be available, meaning either there were not many records kept about the topic in question or, in a rare instance, the David Library does not carry the necessary materials.

Besides the normal parts of the job, which I have just described, I have worked on two big projects throughout the summer. One came about because of a need for space. The library is running out of shelf room and the idea came up to go through our entire journal collection and make a catalogue of specific articles in each journal that actually concerns our era and topic; that is, the years 1750-1800 and the American Revolution, respectively. Bear in mind that the subject matter for the American Revolution branches out a great distance.

The journal collection consists of many academic monthlies, quarterlies, and annuals. We have received issues from journals such as the Journal of American History, the Journal of Southern History, the American Neptune (a journal of maritime history), and the Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research (a British military history journal). There is a great deal more (I have conquered barely half of the collection this summer), and we include even the most minute issues from local historical societies and even Bicentennial special programs. Going through these journals, I have expanded the boundaries of my horizons immeasurably; so much more has been researched and written about than I had previously even thought of.

By far the most gigantic project I have ever been apart of is the British General Courts Martial records. It is an occupation in and of itself. Interns have been working on it for the past few years and they will continue to work on it even when I start my own career.

Around 2011, the historian who was employed here traveled to London and visited the British National Archives. He returned with photographs of Court Martial records: 15 large books with around 400-500 handwritten pages each documenting court martial trials which had taken place all over the world (from Gibraltar to New York to Nova Scotia to army camps in India) and occurred from the 1730’s to the 1770’s.  

My job, as was and is and will be other intern’s job, is to transcribe these records and enter all pertinent information into a database, which is an Excel spreadsheet as of now. It is very tedious and time-consuming work, and one may go so far as to call it “boring” work. However, that person would be one who had not experienced this work. It is tiring, yes, but also exciting. I have read glimpses of people’s lives from close to 250 years ago. I have found out why certain, supposedly unimportant, people died so long ago. I have gone through such cases as desertion, theft, drunkenness, mutiny, rape, and even murder, and have experienced some of these people’s best and worst times.

I have gone through pages which have not been seen by many eyes since they were first written in the 18th Century.

I have studied families who are not famous but common.

I have followed the most plain soldier from town to town during his time in the War of the Revolution.

 I have done seemingly the most unimportant and nonchalant work there is to do in a library. 

And it has been quite the pleasure. I have learned and enjoyed so much here at the David Library that I do not regret taking an unpaid internship and not making nearly as much money as I could have this summer.  The people that I have met and worked with, the patrons that have come in, the conversations I have had, has all been worth it.

Kyle Stenger, 20 August 2013

Friday, August 23, 2013

Intern's Corner

We were very pleased to have Tegan Rice join us as a residential intern this summer. Tegan is a student at Northern Illinois University, where she is working towards her M.A. in history.

My Month at the David Library
By Tegan Rice
Tegan introducing a movie at DLAR.
For the short month that I was able to intern at the David Library, I had many tasks given to me.  Nothing more than I could handle, mind, but more than enough to keep me busy and introduce me to the variety of needs a special collections library has (far more than anyone who has never worked in one could guess).  My main task, or what I refer to as my main task as it was finish-able as opposed to ongoing, was to go through the vault which contained the rare and old books and pamphlets in the library’s collection and make sure the catalogue record accurately reflected the items.  
Of course this is valuable work as it teaches how libraries catalogue their items and what information is important and so on and so forth, but the IMPORTANT part was that I handled books and pamphlets that were hundreds of years old.  I got to touch several editions of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, I fan-girled out on a book signed in ink by John Hancock, and I felt an amazing rush of discovery when I found a series of books each signed by John Adams (these may or may not be the John Adams, but I like to hope).  Looking at the original Declaration of Independence somehow does not compare to being able to leaf through one of the hundreds of reprints from the same century with my own hands. 
I finished the task over the month of my internship.  The vault is now accurately catalogued, slightly re-organized and cleaned, and several items put in proper boxes that needed it, and those boxes itemized.  This is all wonderful, and comes with a great sense of accomplishment, but John Hancock’s signature and Thomas Paine’s many, many works overshadow that sense with blissful bragging rights. Sadly, not enough people will understand why my bragging about holding a book signed by John Hancock is more valid than them bragging about their random piece of paper signed by [insert any modern celebrity here].