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