Friday, September 15, 2017

History: It's a Family Thing

Jacob Quasius
Guest blogger Jacob Quasius was an undergraduate fellow at the David Library this summer through the Library's partnership with Lycoming College, where Jacob is now a senior.  When asked to write about his experience as a resident researcher at the David Library, he wanted to describe how he shared it with his family.

Growing up in northern New Jersey, I was naturally surrounded by history. I live an hour away from New York City, two hours from Philadelphia, a half hour from Morristown, etc., so for as long as I can remember, summer always included at least one “history trip,” whether it was a day trip or a weekend excursion. Even our “normal” vacations typically involved a stop at a museum or a historically significant site. As a future history major, I loved every minute of it.
From an early age, I was an active participant in historical discussions, frequently pestering the tour guides and reenactors with my questions, while other kids my age paid no attention. As I got older, I became increasingly interested in the American Revolution. Trips with my family to Boston, Philadelphia, Trenton, Morristown and Valley Forge piqued my interest, and this interest has continued to this day.  (My friends have gotten used to me pulling over to the side of the road to read historical markers.) 
My parents and grandparents noticed my interest in history, and always encouraged me to expand on my historical knowledge. When I was still in high school, my Grandma gave me her collection of books, covering a wide variety of historical topics, and I frequently used gift cards to add books to this collection, including David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing and David McCullough's 1776. These books later became the inspiration for the project I researched this summer at the David Library, which is centered on militia involvement in the New Jersey campaign of 1776/1777.
Now busy with college, I have less time to go on historical trips with my family, but it doesn't mean I've stopped exploring.  There may be fewer of those family trips, but thankfully, there have been a number of trips sponsored by Lycoming College.  Even during my month as a fellow at the David Library, I had the opportunity to take trips to nearby Washington Crossing Historic Park, Valley Forge National Historic Site, and some of the many historic sites in Philadelphia.
While I value the opportunities my school and this fellowship have given me to explore my passion for history, I couldn’t help missing my family enjoying it with me. Luckily, near the end of my fellowship, I had the opportunity to share the David Library of the American Revolution with my family. When they visited me at the library, I felt like I was able to offer my parents and grandparents the same exciting feeling of making new discoveries that they provided to me throughout my childhood.
After introducing them to the David Library reading room and showing them the online catalog,  each pursued an area of special interest.  My grandparents looked at how everyday citizens in the Early Republic petitioned their elected officials.  Mom looked at New Jersey census records, searching for family names with which she was familiar, while Dad perused the Washington Papers. 
The David Library is a wonderful place that I grew to love through my fresh encounters with surprising collections of manuscripts, and enjoyable interactions with other scholars and like-minded history lovers.  However, it was truly an amazing experience to share the incredible collections of the David Library of the American Revolution with my family.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Penobscot Expedition by Geoffrey Fisher

Geoffrey Fisher, who completed a practicum at the David Library this past spring for credit toward his M. A. in public history from American Public University System, has prepared this article on the Penobscot Expedition, which occurred 238 years ago this month. You can come to the Library and hear Geoff make a presentation on the Battle of Brandywine on Saturday, September 9 at 3:00.                          

The Penobscot Expedition, July 19-August 15, 1779, was the largest naval event during the Revolutionary War.  Other than to eliminate the threat on the Penobscot River, the Americans did not have a clear strategic impetus for this naval engagement that resulted in a debacle for the rebel forces. The British, on the other hand, held a clear strategic vision for the river's and island's defenses, and the fortification that housed the enemy soldiers. First, the construction of a fort would protect British interests to harvest the wood from the surrounding area. Also, a fort would project enough naval power to protect British ships while inhibiting any designs from the Americans on seizing this strategic resource for their fledgling navy. Second, the construction of a fort would ensure sanctuary of the Loyalist population with the British on Nova Scotia, which was not far off. Third, the fort could serve as a base of operations for British naval campaigns off New England.[1]

            For the Penobscot Expedition, the Massachusetts State Board of War delegated Brigadier General Solomon Lovell to command 1,500 militiamen. General Lovell shared leadership with Commodore Dudley Saltonstall. Saltonstall who led 40+ naval vessels during the expedition. All told that amounted to about 344 guns. Commodore Saltonstall also oversaw 300 marines.[2]

                Saltonstall's orders were two-fold. First, he was to take capture or eliminate all of the enemy's sea and land forces. Second, he needed to seek a cooperative working relationship with the ground commanders on the ground so that both, the militia and the navy, could neutralize the enemy's forces.[3]

            Arriving on the 25th of July, the American fleet entered Magebagiduce harbor and saw three British ships for a total of 56 guns. As they went up the waterway, the Americans came face to face with the British northern defenses, that included "a large fort on a regular eminence, below which were two batteries, on the south side another battery was forming; the whole made a pretty formidable appearance." As the Americans approached, they noticed Fort George's daunting exterior. So they lobbed a few shells, which in turn led to a return of fire from the fortified British and spirited cannonade between the two sides ensued.  This barrage of cannon fire would not lead to any ground invasions.[4]

            The American assault on Fort George is broken down into three or four main attacks. The first attack began on the 25th with General Lovell launching his militia forces against Fort George and the island that it was on, Magabagiduce. The cannon fire that broke out between the fort's defenders and the ships holding the landing parties did not produce the positive results that General Lovell was hoping for when he started his offensive. Eventually, he called off his attack due to contrary winds that prevented his entire force from landing. Lovell did not see any reason to land the militia against a well prepared defensive position piecemeal.[1]

            Even though Lovell called off his attack against the fort and the island, the American navy, under Commodore Saltonstall, went ahead with their attack in the early hours of 26th by successfully landing on another island. This attack saw close inter-service cooperation during this stage of the first assault since "about 150 marines, led by Captain John Welsh of the Warren and covered by the guns of the flotilla, landed on Nautilus island directly opposite the British fort and commanding the mouth of the harbor. The Americans drove off its defenders and captured four pieces of artillery and some ammunition. Despite inclement weather, they also managed to get some heavier guns ashore." A possible reason for the successful landing and the close cooperation between the services is that this night time assault did not experience any contrary winds rather than the attempted invasion commanded by General Lovell. Subsequent attacks would not be so promising.[2]

            The second attack began before the sun had risen on the morning of July 28. Commodore Saltonstall and Brigadier General Lovell launched another attack that commenced with another showing of inter-service cooperation. The American brig Tyrannicide with its fourteen guns was to remove the British from the woods by firing into them so that the landing point was devoid of the enemy. The Americans landed with three units: the marines on the right, two divisions of militia on the left and center, respectively. As the Americans put their landing parties ashore, they received assistance from "a heavy cannonade of round and grape shot." The Americans sustained a loss of "a great number of men," while the British losses were "inconsiderable." Despite sustaining heavy casualties during the landing, the American landing parties continued to hold the initiative.[3]

            Although there is no way to fully ascertain from the primary sources how or why the American's second attack fizzled out, the secondary sources do mention the close inter-service relationship that was seen in the early hours of 26th and the opening stages of the second attack began to fall apart at the most critical part of the battle, the taking of Fort George. An American primary source reads that after Tyrannicide cleared the landing point, the rebels were able to land six or seven hundred men that

killed sixteen men, and wounded as many; our men with great resolution returned the fire, ascended the almost impassable precipice, routed them and took possession of the hill, killing (as they supposed) about as many as they lost, and taking a few prisoners; from thence they advanced to a battery near the large fort, and possessed themselves of it, with considerable artillery and baggage.

The above American primary source reads very differently from the British account exacting a heavy toll on American invaders while downplaying their losses.[1]
            On July 31st the Americans began to plan their third attack onto the island to take the fort. The plan for this attack was to get all of the marines ashore by midnight and to work with the troops on land so that an attack on a breastwork south of Fort George, which was close to British shipping, would sever the lines of communication amongst the fort and ships. On August 1st, the Americans launched their assault around two in the morning that opened up with a lot of energy and determination to meet their objective. However, the defenders found their resolve by sending out fifty men "who soon drove the enemy back, tho' allowed to be in number above three hundred."[2]

            From August 2nd-15th, it is up to debate on whether or not the fourth attempt to take Fort George was an actual attack in the literal sense. In between these two weeks, Commodore Saltonstall convened war councils on August 6th, 9th, and 10th. For the August 6th attack, the proposed operation was dropped, however, because Lovell's men were an unruly lot of men who could not be counted on meeting their objective. The August 9th attack was canceled due to the risky proposition of exposing American ships to Fort George's canon without being able to return fire. As for the third and final proposed attack on August 10th, General Lovell advocated for an attack on the British fort, the harbor, and to bait the enemy in the smaller batteries to leave their defensive positions and to come and fight the Americans out in the open. The Americans attempted to do that on August 11th, but the majority of the rebels beat a hasty retreat to their fortifications before their operation was underway. On the night of August 11th, General Lovell called for a war council on the Americans next moves. He believed that his forces did not have the necessary martial strength to counter the British on the grounds of their previous amateurish performances and cowardice, which made it easier for him to promote the lifting of the siege that started on 12th.[3]
            In the evening of August 13th, the Americans decided to lift the siege and load the militiamen and marines back onto the boats. While the Americans left their cannon, accoutrements, and clambered onto their ships, the British fortified and completed another defensive position "where they are secure[d] against us; which at our arrival was only a breastwork, containing five or six-pounders, which then, in all probability, we could have reduced very easily, as also their shipping, as they have since acknowledged." The American leadership, Commodore Saltonstall, and General Lovell could not get on the same page on what should be done from one day to the next.[4]
            On August 14th, British reinforcements entered the Penobscot bay with a half dozen vessels. Though the Americans still held superior numbers in ships and men, their hampered leadership and lackluster performance over nearly four weeks made their strategic and tactical initiative in Penobscot Bay untenable. This terrible turn of events threw the navy and army into hysteria considering that it could effect their escape out of the bay. On August 15th, some 200 militiamen, "sailors, and marines" began their escape back to friendly territory.[5]
            From the beginning of the expedition July 25th-August 15, the Americans lost about 500 killed or captured. One could certainly say and make an argument that the expedition was a failure due to a deficiency in military training and untested militiamen, marines, and sailors. With that said, attributing the American defeat to lackluster training and unproven militiamen lets the leadership, Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, and General Solomon Lovell, off the hook. Upon closer inspection of the primary sources, it is not so much the rank and file's sub standard presentation during the attacks on the island and Fort George as it was their leaders' incompetence and lack of inter-service cooperation between the militiamen and the navy that doomed the operation. The Americans fought well in the taking of Nautilus Island on July 26th and on July 28th, the first and second attacks respectively. One could also say that there was not a defined strategic logic and that affected the mission's objective.[1]

[1] Blanco and Sanborn eds. The American Revolution, 1290.

 Close up of the data plate of the Revolutionary War cannon on display at Norumbega Parkway in Bangor, Maine. It was on a sloop that was destroyed during the Penobscot Expedition in August, 1779.  The cannon was recovered in 1876.

Penobscot Bibliography

Primary Sources:
  1. Author Unknown. "Operations in Maine in 1779: Journal found on board the Hunter, Continental Ship," Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquity, History and Biography of America 8 (1864): 51-54.
  2. "Journal of the Attack of the Rebels on His Majesty's Ships and Troops, Under Command of Brig. Gen. McLean and Capt. Henry Mowatt, Commencing 24th July, 1779 at Majebiguiduce in Penobscot Bay." From the Nova Scotia Gazette, Halifax, September 14, 1779. Communicated by Joseph Williamson, Esq., of Belfast. Collections of the Maine Historical Society 7 (1876): 123-126.
  3. Goold, Nathan. "Colonel Jonathan Mitchell's Cumberland County Regiment: Bagaduce Expedition, 1779." Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society 10, no. 2 (1899): 143-148.

Secondary Sources:
  1. Blanco, Richard L. and Paul J. Sanborn eds. The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia, vol. II: M-Z. New York: Garland Publishing, 1993.

[1] Author Unknown, "Operations in Maine in 1779," Historical Magazine, 52.
[2] Ibid; Ibid., 53; Journal of the Attack of the Rebels on His Majesty's Ships and Troops, 125.
[3] Author Unknown, "Operations in Maine in 1779," Historical Magazine, 54.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Goold, Nathan. "Colonel Jonathan Mitchell's Cumberland County Regiment: Bagaduce Expedition, 1779." Collections and Proceedings of the Maine Historical Society 10, no. 2 (1899): 147.
[6] Blanco and Sanborn eds. The American Revolution, 1290.

[1] Blanco and Sanborn eds. The American Revolution, 1289.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.; Journal of the Attack of the Rebels on His Majesty's Ships and Troops, Under Command of Brig. Gen. McLean and Capt. Henry Mowatt, Commencing 24th July, 1779 at Majebiguiduce in Penobscot Bay. From the Nova Scotia Gazette, Halifax, September 14, 1779. Communicated by Joseph Williamson, Esq., of Belfast. Collections of the Maine Historical Society 7 (1876): 123.

[1] Richard L. Blanco and Paul J. Sanborn eds. The American Revolution, 1775-1783: An Encyclopedia, vol. II: M-Z (New York: Garland Publishing, 1993), 1288.
[2] Ibid., Ibid. 1289.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Author Unknown, "Operations in Maine in 1779: Journal found on board the Hunter, Continental Ship," Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquity, History and Biography of America, 8 (1864): 51, 52.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Intern's Report: My Internship at the David Library by Oliver Shortridge

Oliver Shortridge graduates this spring from Temple University where he wrote a senior thesis on the history of radio manufacturing in Philadelphia.  A life-long train enthusiast, Oliver works part-time at the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad in Bucks County. He was an intern at the David Library this past semester.   

          In my final semester as a history major at Temple University, I had the option of earning some final credits through an internship, rather than by taking another class. Even though my focus of study was primarily the Industrial Revolution through to the end of the Cold War, the David Library of the American Revolution was a logical choice for an internship for me; I live nearby, and have a personal interest in the American Revolution.
Oliver Shortridge
            To be honest, I had no concrete idea of what I would be doing at the library, but I ended up contributing to several projects  on the library’s “to do” list. The first big project I worked on was the newspaper digitization project, in which I catalogued the Library’s collection of Revolutionary-era newspapers and then photographed each of them page by page to make the fragile primary sources available for the public. As a history student, I am no stranger to working with primary documents, and in the many different papers I wrote for my classes, I was usually required to find at least one primary source on the topic of which I was writing. However, the newspaper project was really the first time I physically got to work with primary sources. I felt privileged to be entrusted to work with these papers and it was a humbling experience to be able to hold an authentic newspaper from the 1770s, and skimming through them helped me learn the vernacular of the 18th Century.

            The finding aid project was an especially satisfying one for me. As a person with mild OCD, updating already existing finding aids and creating ones on topics like Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, and the Continental Navy was right up my alley. I also worked with the vertical files on personal accounts in much the same way.

           The county mapping project was very interesting to work on. I had known that the borders of different counties changed over time, but I did not know how they changed, or even that several counties borders have changed numerous times. It was neat to compile the different states, and I especially enjoyed being entrusted with certain editorial decisions regarding the finished product.  
            In addition to both working on projects and the day-to-day library work, I also helped people with their research. On numerous occasions, Librarian Kathie Ludwig would have me look up information requested by an offsite researcher, often a family historian seeking  details about an ancestor who may have fought in the Revolution. I did not always find what the patron was looking for, but when I did, and was able to say, “Yes, you are descended from someone who helped create this country,” it was without a doubt the most gratifying experience of my internship. (While browsing through the pension index on behalf of one such offsite researcher, I even came across  someone possibly related to me!)

            As my internship draws to a close, I can look back and say that it was definitely everything I had hoped it would be and more. I got to meet many different people and learn more about the Revolutionary War than I had anywhere else. I have picked up some new and useful computer and research skills, and I’ve seen up close how a library is run.  Even though I most likely will not end up getting a job in any academic or historical institution, I am certain that what I learned during my internship at the David Library of the American Revolution will be of enormous help to me in my future career.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Black History Month: The Story of Prince Freeman

Guest Blogger:  Emily Bigioni

Many people tend to forget that there were African-American soldiers who served in the American Revolution, many of whom applied for and received military pensions. In honor of Black History Month, we have the story of one of these soldiers and pensioners:

Prince Freeman's discharge document, 
signed by General Washington,
showing that he was honored
with the Badge of Merit.
On April 10, 1818, Prince Freeman, an African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War, applied for a pension in Windham County, Vermont. At that point, he was a farmer in Grafton, Vermont. He had first enlisted in May of 1777 as a private in Captain Bulkley's company, in the 3rd Connecticut Regiment, commanded by Samuel Blachley Webb. Freeman served until the end of the war, and was honorably discharged in 1783, on the 8th day of June. After the war, Freeman applied for a bounty land warrant, and moved to Vermont. However, his pension claims that in 1818 he was “destitute of property [and] advanced in years”—aged sixty-two; he further states that he had two young children dependent on him for support. Having been injured in the war, Freeman was unable to work, and so applied for a pension—and received it, being issued eight dollars per month under the decision of Judge Phineas White. Freeman, according to his discharge papers, was honored with the Badge of Merit (the precursor to the Purple Heart Medal) by General George Washington for his six years of service. The Badge of Merit was created by Washington for the purpose of honoring ordinary soldiers, alongside the Honorary Badges of Distinction. By creating this badge, Washington allowed for the recognition of regular soldiers, not solely officers. Not only a good deed, the Badge of Merit was an inexpensive way to honor soldiers after the Continental Congress ordered Washington to stop promoting soldiers in 1782. It is the oldest military decoration, but not the oldest award; Congress awarded the Fidelity Medallion—a civilian honor—to three privates who had captured the British spy John AndrĂ©, a co-conspirator of Benedict Arnold, in 1780.

The Badge of Merit
Works cited:
Johnston, Henry P., editor. The Record of Connecticut Men of the Military and Naval Service during the War of the Revolution 1755-1783. 1889. Genealogical Publishing, 1997.

Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty–Land–Warrant Application Files (RG 15) Pension for Prince Freeman S: 39549. National Archives and Record Administration

George Washington, "7 August 1782, General Orders." The Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office).

“Military Badges.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Hudgins, Bill. "The Origins of the Purple Heart." American Spirit, Nov.-Dec. 2014, pp. 36-40.

Emily Bigioni is a volunteer at the David Library and a sophomore at Princeton High School. She has been volunteering since July 2016, and currently works Saturday afternoons. Emily has a love of history, and enjoys reading and researching the Library’s primary source documents.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Meryl Streep Brings on the Rev War History

When a major political party chooses Philadelphia as the setting for its national convention, it's no surprise that the speeches from the convention stage include lofty references to the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and birth of American democracy.  

From the stage of Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center where the Democratic National Convention was held this week, there were plenty of references to America's founding era and the events that took place in Philadelphia during that period.  But we noted that one of the most interesting historical references made by any of the convention speakers didn't come from a politician or a historian or a teacher.  It came from Academy Award winning actress Meryl Streep.

During her speech at the first major party convention to nominate a woman to be President of the United States, Streep asked, "What does it take to be the first female anything?"

She went on to tell the story of Deborah Sampson, "the first woman to take a bullet for our country."

Streep said that Sampson "served, disguised as a man, in George Washington’s Continental Army. She fought to defend a document that didn’t fully defend her. 'All men are created equal,' it read. No mention of women.  When she took a blast in battle to her leg, she was afraid to reveal her secret. So she took a pen knife, she dug out the musket ball, and she sewed herself back up again."

Leave it to an actress to recognize a dramatic story worthy of being retold!

According to resources you can find at the David Library of the American Revolution, Deborah Sampson (1760-1827) did indeed serve in the Continental Army disguised as a man.  Calling herself "Robert Shurtleff," she served in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment.  Sampson was wounded in 1782, and was honorably discharged by General Henry Knox in 1783.  In 1804, Paul Revere petitioned Congress for funding to assist her and her family, and as a result, Sampson received a pension from the state of Massachusetts.  She later applied for and received a Federal pension under the Congressional legislation dated March 1888.

If you are interested in learning more about Deborah Sampson and other women who participated in the American Revolution, you will find plenty of material at the David Library.  Our Sol Feinstone Collection of original manuscripts even includes an officer's report on discovery that a "boy" in his regiment was actually a young woman.  In item number 82 in the Collection (Barton, William.  Elizabethtown, [N. J.], 17 Nov. 1778.), it is reported that she accidentally gave herself away when, upon being dismissed by the officer, she curtsied.  

Here are some sources on Deborah Sampson:

Full Length Books

1.      Freeman, Lucy and Alma Halbert Bond

 America’s First Woman Warrior: The Courage of Deborah Sampson (New York: Paragon House, 1992). Call Number: 2991

2.      Mann, Herman

The Female Review: Life of Deborah Sampson,  the female soldier in the War of Revolution (NewYork: Anos Press, 1972). Call Number: 1053

3.      Young, Alfred F.

 Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004).  Call Number: 5768

Sources that includes the history of Deborah Sampson:

1.      Bohrer, Melissa Lukeman.

Glory, Passion, and Principle: The Story of Eight Remarkable Women at the Core of the American Revolution (New York: Atria Books, 2003). Call Number: 5781

2.      Laska, Vera O.,

“Remember the Ladies”: Outstanding Women of the American Revolution (Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts Bicentennial Commission, 1976),Call Number: 1083p

Our thanks to Alyssa Brophy, summer intern at the David Library from Kutztown University for her assistance in preparing this post.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Scholar's Report

Guest blogger Patrick Callaway is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maine.  He is the recipient of a travel grant from the David Library which allowed him to make two trips to the Library to conduct research for his dissertation, "Grain, Warfare, and the Reunification of the British Atlantic Economy, 1750-1815. In this post, he tells us about the resources he used at the David Library, which may offer other researchers some clues about the treasures waiting to be mined!
During my research at the David Library, I was able to consult with many records that will be of importance to my dissertation research into the patterns of the grain trade in the late colonial and Early Republic United States.
The most important of these records that I have been able to consult at the David Library is the Colonial Office 16/1 records.  These records provide the only quantitative study of colonial trade prior to the revolution, and will form the base line “norm” for my study of post-revolutionary trade patterns.
The records of the Philadelphia Customs House will provide an interesting comparison source to the CO 16 records as the customs records also provide a quantitative assessment of the trade entering and leaving Philadelphia.  I hope that this will provide evidence to prove or disprove my hypothesis of the continuity of trade both in destination and in content of the trade.   
The Baynton and Wharton correspondence proved to be unexpectedly useful in my research.  These merchant records suggest a trade in grain between Philadelphia merchants, Canadian farmers, and the larger British Atlantic much earlier than other resources suggest.  Based on these records, I will be able to revise part of one chapter of my dissertation as well as (potentially) produce a conference paper based on the correspondence of Baynton and Wharton in Philadelphia and their correspondents in Montreal.  Their further correspondence with a series of merchants in Madeira, Lisbon, and Cadiz is also potentially significant for my research.  I am currently writing a conference paper based on my findings in this resource that will be presented at the Northeastern University graduate student conference in April.
Another unexpectedly rich source I found at the David Library is the Liverpool Papers.  The first Lord Liverpool was a member of the Board of Trade leading up to Jay’s Treaty in 1794.  The records included the minute books and notes for the Board for a three-year period which outlined not only the general sense of how British trade relations would be managed in a broad sense but also the place of the United States within the trading system.  Discussion on the import/export management of particular commodities is included within the source; this gives me an important insight into the official thinking of the British government at this critical time.  Also included in the source are a selection of papers from the second Lord Liverpool, who served as Prime Minister during the Peninsular Campaign and the War of 1812.
The Dearborn Papers provide an interesting insight into the management of the Canadian campaign in 1812 and the continuing connection between the Canadas and the United States during the war.  This source will be useful to me as I attempt to assess the nature of the War of 1812 along the northern frontier.
The War Office 60/14 files could also be an interesting resource for my research.  The WO 60 series outlines the provisions sent from Britain and Ireland to the British forces in America during the revolution, and the shortages encountered by the British Army.  This aberration to the normal trading patterns is interesting as it may be possible to use this source to analyze the importance of food commodities in trade when an extraordinary demand is created by war in the Atlantic World.
The British Colonial Office records on the correspondence between the West Indies and Jamaica and the Secretary of State were somewhat less fruitful than I hoped for my narrowly tailored topic.  Much of the correspondence focused on the Revolutionary War era and the measures taken for local defense in conjunction with the Royal Navy rather than the economic condition of the islands as they were denied access to American produce as a result of the war.  
I would like to thank Kathie Brian, and Meg for all of their help during my time at the David Library and to express my gratitude to the Library for the generous support that made my time there possible.

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.