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].