FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY



You are exploring: VU > Library > Blogs > Blue Electrode: Sparking between Silicon and Paper

Fathers and Sons of the American Navy

Posted for William Robinson, Spring 2014 Digital Library Intern.

The Digital Library at Villanova continues to digitize and transcribe the Barry-Hayes Papers, owned by the Independence Seaport Museum. The papers remind us that in the 19th century, sons often followed their fathers into a certain line of work. The collection has many letters written by the relatives of Commodore John Barry, considered a “father of the American Navy”, that discuss the naval and merchant careers of the sons of Revolutionary War era naval officers. In “Letter, To: ‘My Dear Son’ From: Mother Elizabeth Hayes, February 21, 1815”, Elizabeth Keen Hayes, the daughter-in-law of John Barry, tells her son Thomas Hayes, a midshipman at Boston Navy Yard, about the injuries of Richard Dale Jr. Dale Jr. was the son of Richard Dale, one of the original commodores of the Continental Navy who had fought under the command of John Barry and John Paul Jones during the Revolutionary War. In January 1815, serving aboard the U.S.S. President in the War of 1812, the British took him prisoner after he was struck by a cannonball in a sea battle off the coast of Bermuda. Elizabeth Hayes has received news from Richard Dale that Dale Jr. has been injured, but still hopes for his recovery: “the report is that is most relyd on he has lost his leg his father is in some respects prepared for it but his mother flatters herself it is not so. I pray sincerely it may only prove a slight wound, the day the President was captured Richard was twenty years old”. Hayes also discusses a letter from Stephen Decatur Jr. to Mrs. Dale describing her son’s injuries. Decatur Jr. was a celebrated naval commander in the Barbary Wars, the Quasi-War with France, and the War of 1812, and his own father was a naval officer who had fought in the Revolutionary War. Hayes reports that “Mr Dale wounded and doing well was all Decatur said respecting Richard”.

Letter, To: "My Dear Son"

The letter gives an interesting glimpse into the generational influence of naval warfare, the pace of communication in 1815, and the anxiety felt by a mother over her son’s work. The letter has references to three descendants of Revolutionary War era naval officers; Thomas Hayes, Richard Dale Jr., and Stephen Decatur Jr. Elizabeth Hayes can only speculate about the injuries of Richard Dale Jr. and must wait for more information. She expects that Dale’s mother will not admit the severity of her son’s injury, but his father is more prepared to accept bad news. Elizabeth Hayes also expresses worry about Thomas coming to harm in the war as a midshipman. She writes “you may judge my dear son of my feelings when I had you constantly before my eyes and did not know how soon it might be your lot, but thank God, Peace the sweet sound has revived my drooping spirits and giving me the hart felt pleasure that I will see my see my son again ere long”. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the War of 1812, was signed in December 1814, but it was ratified in Washington only days before Hayes sent the letter to her son. In the time the Treaty of Ghent reached Washington, Richard Dale Jr.’s injuries worsened and he died in captivity in Bermuda.

Stephen Decatur, commander of the USS President, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Stephen Decatur, commander of the USS President, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Read more manuscripts from the Barry-Hayes Papers.

Find out more about the collection in the Barry-Hayes Papers finding aid, developed by the Independence Seaport Museum.

Like

Sent mail

Today in electronic communication, when an email is composed and sent, an automatic copy is routinely placed in a “Sent” mail folder. In the manuscript era, however the only way for an author of a letter or memo to keep a copy of the correspondence was to manually scribe a copy. This may have been a “fair copy” – a nearly exact copy of the sent letter, or a draft copy, which would included revisions and edits. Some authors kept these fair and draft copies as individual sheets, while in other cases, a bound book of blank pages was used.

Cullen

The two letter books kept by Peter Cullen, during the 1832-1934 years, are good examples of the bound format of sent mail and document his ongoing commercial correspondence. These were draft copies as the numerous corrections and emendations can attest.

Cullen

Over 90 leaves of letters are present in the 1832-1833 volume; the 20 leaves of the 1834 volume are newly available in a transcription by library staff member Frances DiLenge.

Like

Transcriptions from the Elizabeth Hayes letters

Posted for Summer 2012 Digital Library Intern Gail Betz:

Over the summer, I transcribed a portion of Elizabeth Hayes’s personal letters. Elizabeth was Patrick Barry Hayes’ wife, and she devoted a great deal of her time to corresponding with her seafaring husband and traveling sons. While only a few of the letters that Elizabeth herself wrote are included in the collection, she kept letters from her sons and her husband, which now provide a glimpse into their everyday lives. As a history lover, I greatly enjoyed reading these primary source documents, trying to figure out what the different words could be, and deciphering the context of the letter. I discovered that it was much easier to read the younger sons’ letters, because they had much neater cursive than their father did. It’s possible that Patrick Barry Hayes spent much of his time writing to Elizabeth while at sea, which could account for some of the jarring script that made much of his letters illegible. In contrast, his sons’ handwriting was easy to read, and they used more modern vocabulary than their father did.

Having the opportunity to read personal letters from the early 19th century was fascinating for me. It was like reading a diary, but with multiple perspectives and a great deal of guessing about missing information between dates and locations. I enjoyed learning that one son had reunited with his love, and had written to her father to ask for her hand in marriage. I was worried for the son who was away at school for the first time, was ill, and clearly homesick for his mother. While these letters were written almost 200 years ago, the thoughts and feelings they related were contemporary and relatable.

Thank you to Michael Foight and Laura Bang for sharing their knowledge and advice, and providing me with the opportunity to learn about and work with digital libraries. I enjoyed seeing the “other side” of the digital library process, and look forward to using this experience in future digital projects!

Editorial Note: These transcriptions are in the process of being attached to the digital images and will be available for the public in the near future.

Like

Chaos Unveiled: New Exhibit on the Origins of Villanova University

Posted for: Karla Irwin, Villanova University.

When I was presented with the opportunity to curate an online exhibition as the Fall 2011 Digital Library Intern I jumped at the chance. Through the course of my internship I had grown more familiar with the wealth of materials in the Digital Library and I was eager to explore one area in particular: materials related to rioting that occurred in Philadelphia in 1844. Before seeing the items I knew nothing about the riots which was surprising to me because I had grown up in the area and lived in Philadelphia for a number of years. After conducting a little more research I was amazed at the history of the riots and wondered how many people in the area were like me and unaware that the riots had happened. I thought the story of the riots were an important one to share and now it is my pleasure to present to you Chaos in the Streets: The Philadelphia Riots of 1844.

Philadelphia in 1844 was a hotbed of religious and ethnic prejudice, most notably toward Catholics and the Irish. This was representative of a national sentiment and the exhibition looks at a group called the Nativists, who later became the Know Nothing Party, and their role in the rioting. In May and July of 1844 these issues came to a breaking point and the city of Philadelphia saw some of its most violent days in her history. The riots would ultimately have many lasting effects and it can be said that the Philadelphia you see today is partially a result of those violent days.

The Digital Library provides access to quite a large collection relating to the riots including a collection of letters from Morton McMichael who was the sheriff at the time. His letters and personal journal provide a first-hand account of what it was to be like on the streets of Philadelphia in the mid 1840’s. Only a small portion of his entire collection is utilized in the exhibit and so I recommend taking a longer look at the letters as they offer a fascinating window into policing in Philadelphia during that time.

There was no shortage of interesting material on the riots but one aspect that proved especially dramatic to me was the role the Catholic Churches had in the rioting, particularly St. Augustine’s Church. I had visited the church many years ago in the Old City section of Philadelphia and walked by it countless times. What I did not know is that the St. Augustine’s I saw today was rebuilt from the one that had burned down during the rioting. Sadly, along with the burning of the church, a library containing an invaluable collection of theological materials was also destroyed. Imagine my amazement when I found out some of the books from that library ended up in Special Collections in Falvey Library! You will find in the exhibition how the Augustinian community in Philadelphia put major roots down in both center city Philadelphia and, of course, Villanova University. I hope you find the connection, and how it relates to the riots, as interesting as I do.

Finally, I would like to thank Michael Foight and Laura Bang for their valuable guidance, Joanne Quinn for the graphics, Susan Connor, Susan Ottignon, and Chelsea Payne for their informative transcription work, and David Lacy for his work on technical details. Without them the exhibition would never have come to fruition.

Like

The unexpected delights of old letters

I always love looking through the various letters that we’ve digitized because I always find something interesting and/or exciting about these snapshots of life in a time gone by. Today’s historical encounter: Nellie Bly. She was a late-19th/early-20th-century reporter, best known for going undercover to expose the awful conditions of insane asylums and travelling around the world to recreate Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days and attempt to beat Phileas Fogg’s 80-day record.

So when I found a reference to Nellie Bly in a letter while researching a separate blog post, I was quite excited. In the snippet of letter posted below, Ellie Sherman Thackara writes to her father: “Too bad about Miss Bisland’s being beaten, but Nellie Bly’s friends are rejoicing.” (In Nellie’s around-the-world adventure, she was actually competing against another reporter, Elizabeth Bisland.)

This one-line snippet is the only mention of Bly in the letter—just a quick remark on current events that Ellie included in a letter to her father. And that’s another interesting thing: this really was a current event, hot off the presses. Ellie’s letter is dated only Jan. 25th, no year, but an archivist later added an uncertain “[1890?]” at the top of the letter. In fact, this casual mention of Nellie Bly beating “Miss Bisland” gives a remarkably specific timeframe for the letter: Nellie Bly returned to Hoboken, NJ (her original point-of-departure) on January 25, 1890 at 3:51pm. The very same day that Ellie’s letter is dated! From this, we can imagine that Ellie read the news in an evening paper and was still thinking of it while composing a letter to her father later that same evening.

This letter is part of the Sherman-Thackara Collection. You can find more letters throughout our Digital Library Collections—and do let us know if you find anything exciting!

Like

‘Politicks Avaunt’: Thomas Hayes Shines a Light on the Petticoat Affair

It’s clear that the Barry-Hayes Papers collection, owned and housed by Independence Seaport Museum, offers a unique perspective on the early nineteenth-century shipping trade in America. Occasionally in the course of transcribing these fascinating documents we come across one that also has the potential to serve as primary source material for the biography of a famous American or some topic in American political history. Here I’d like to report on a letter I recently transcribed which will be of great interest to scholars of the Jacksonian era in American politics. (Take a look at it here.) It also includes a reflection on the final years of the namesake of a major thoroughfare in South Philadelphia, and quirky riddle for you to solve.

Series X, Letter 23.
Top of “Letter, To: Isaac Austin Hayes and Patrick Barry Hayes, From: Thomas Hayes, June 8, 1831″.

The Namesake

In 1831 brothers Isaac Austin and Patrick Barry Hayes were in Brazil using their maritime skills and connections to run an import/export business. Their elder brother Thomas Hayes occasionally wrote from Philadelphia with news of home, and several of his communications are gathered in Series X, the papers of Isaac Austin Hayes. Thomas’ letter of June 8, 1831, was an especially long one, full of news of friends and acquaintances both prominent and obscure.
Among his famous relations was Commodore William Bainbridge, naval hero of the War of 1812, and father of his wife Susan. Commodore Bainbridge had his share of ups and downs throughout his four decades of service, and at the time of this letter he had recently suffered the double shock of the death of his only son and his abrupt removal from duty after a brief disagreement with the current Secretary of the Navy, John Branch. In this passage, Thomas refers to his father-in-law as “the old gentleman” as he provides for posterity a first-person account of the famous naval pioneer’s decline:

poor Mr Bainbridge died last friday and was buried on Sunday. This event has caused much affliction in the Commodres family, and join’d together with his late unceremonious dismissal from the Command of this Station, weighs heavily on the old gentleman, and I should not be at all astonish’d if it seriously affects his health, which you well know, was already seriously impair’d.

Politicks Avaunt!

Secretary Branch figured into another major event of the Spring of 1831 mentioned in script by Thomas Hayes, this time receiving explicit mention of his role in the controversy. President Andrew Jackson was at the time suffering the political fallout of his non-adherence to the mores of Washington society, a tidal wave of opposition culminating in the resignation of his entire cabinet in what is now commonly referred to as “The Petticoat Affair”. Branch was one of the ministers who demonstrated his support for Vice-President John C. Calhoun by stepping down, but Branch’s public and private correspondence from the period directly following the cabinet crisis suggests that the circumstances of his resignation were not so clear cut. Thomas Hayes refers to Branch’s letters and the tense relations between the Secretary and the Jackson camp in this excerpt:

The Jackson cause is falling fast. Don’t think I say so because I am anti jackson, but tis really the case. Many of his original friends have left his ranks and are hurraing for Clay now. This of course was to have been expected but the recent resignation of his entire Cabinet has caus’d all his friends to open the […missing word…] Some letters letters that have pass’d between Mr Branch ex Secretary of the Navy and his friends in North Carolina seem to implicatey that the President wanted him to go further in forwarding his views, than the laws of honor would prompt him. Politicks avaunt…

Series X, Letter 23.
Politicks Avaunt!

The Riddle

And occasionally in the course of transcription work some word or phrase will appear that is so odd that it stops the whole endeavor in its tracks. Not just illegible—which is all too common—but odd! In the following passage Thomas is thanking his brothers for a “likeness” of themselves that they sent home to Philadelphia:

We never until yesterday recv’d the box containing the birds and illusting likeness, which I believe was forwarded some time last December. We all think the likeness excellent. lufwa der sreksihw dna riah. the old lady I believe has already shewn to all friends far and near Tommy Natt with his der eson now has it expos’d in his window and has promis’d mother that it shall be fram’d by tomorrow.

Series X, Letter 23.
Can you decipher the odd words of Thomas Hayes?

It took a bit of puzzling before these weird obfuscations came into focus. I figured it out—can you?

Like

From Ellie with Love

Posted for Scott Grapin, Digital Library Team:

ellie2.jpg

Sometime in the 1890s, the love letters shared between Eleanor Mary Sherman (Ellie) and Alexander Montgomery Thackara (Mont) were donated with the rest of the Sherman-Thackara Collection to Villanova College, presumably by Ellie herself. Surely, Ellie saw the value of preserving documents pertaining to her famous father, General William Tecumseh Sherman, as well as to her husband Mont, who was appointed to serve as a U.S. Consul at Le Havre, France in 1897. As the library and its patrons have been discovering, this collection also reveals much about Philadelphia and the Main Line toward the end of the nineteenth century and is a rich primary source for studies of middle-class Victorian life. Because they are available in both Falvey’s Special Collections and Digital Library, these letters are also situated to reflect how different technologies might impact the ways we write and receive personal correspondence.

Although Ellie could not have envisioned their digitization, wide dissemination, and nearly instantaneous accessibility, her donation ensured that letters to Mont would become letters to each of us. At the same time, personal letters are characteristically private. We generally ensure this privacy by sealing a letter in an envelope intended for one recipient. Privacy, therefore, also personalizes the document. Letters may be sealed by drops of wax imprinted with a unique stamp or by glue moistened with the sender’s own mouth. In her letters, a young Ellie repeatedly claims this sort of private intimacy with her “own dearest, dearest Mont” , anticipating the days when she would be his wife in singular devotion. Until that time, the tangible letters would often serve as a surrogate presence when Ellie and Mont were apart. Just as we can see, touch, and smell one of these letters in Special Collections, Ellie would repeatedly delight in her beloved’s epistolary touch, even were Mont unable to drop by to share one of their customary four o’clock walks.

Combined with Special Collections, digital availability might seem to compromise the private intimacy of these personal letters. However, while electronic communications are popularly blamed for the handwritten letter’s fall from favor, the Digital Library potentially balances the direction of influence between electronic and written texts. Generally, the investment of personal time, energy, and attention valued by letter writers is deemed an unnecessary expense by digital correspondents. But a digital transcriber steadily gains an intimate appreciation of Ellie’s letters as he faithfully reconstructs them, collaboratively renewing her creative energy and attention. Any reader can likewise peruse digital images of Ellie’s letters and participate in the slower pace of time and human correspondence in which intimacy deepens.

A reader will also witness the impassioned frequency of Ellie’s letters, sometimes several in a day (see, for instance, March 12, 1880; letters 381, 382, and 383), whose impatience is necessarily tempered by the tension of time required for Mont’s response. Ellie creatively delights in these spans of time. In one instance, she opportunely poses an impromptu riddle to Mont and promises an answer for when they next meet, thereby sweetening the expectation of their intimacy. This game may seem quaint in an age of truncated text and instant messaging, when cascades of emails often overwhelm our ability to respond, let alone contemplate, our textual relationships. Here in the Digital Library, however, some of the best qualities of electronic and handwritten correspondence complement one another. Right now, everyone can repeatedly examine and enjoy any image in the collection, much as Ellie would have pored over Mont’s letters. In time, users will be able to search transcriptions for particular keywords with a virtual familiarity akin to Ellie’s attentive devotion. In the process, the digital medium will preserve and exhibit—and possibly inspire us to participate in—the kind of correspondence we can savor like an intimate walk with a companion … perhaps Ellie, Mont, or someone else we’ve been meaning to write.

ellie1.jpg

Like

 


Last Modified: August 19, 2008