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.