Friday, December 23, 2016

Civil War Snowball Fights

A snowball fight from A Book of Winter Sports: An Attempt to Catch the Spirit of the Keen Joys of the Winter Season (New York, 1912).
The arrival of the winter solstice often coincides with the first significant snowfall of the season. As adults we mostly view snowfall with dread, knowing that our morning commute to work the next day will be slower and more dangerous than usual. In those moments we tend to forget that snow in the form of snowmen or snowballs can be a tremendous source of entertainment, not only for young children but also, as this blog post shows, for soldiers.

The Clements Library has a multitude of works relating to the Civil War, including many publications written decades after the war by aging veterans recording their regiment's service during the conflict. Two of these books in the Clements collection mention good natured snowball fights that occurred between different Confederate regiments: Personal Record of the Thirteenth Regiment, Tennessee Infantry and History of Kershaw's Brigade

While these published accounts of snowball fights are relatively well known (a quick google search of "civil war snowball fights" pulls up numerous mentions of such events), the Clements also has a manuscript copy of a letter from Private Edwin Finch of the 15th New York Cavalry Regiment back home to his sister Thirza that describes a snowball fight between various Union forces in great detail. A full transcription of the account of the snowball fight is provided below:
We have had great times snowballing
since this snowfall the 22nd NY and the 1st Ver-
mont regmt got at it and the 1st Vermont drove
the 22nd completely out of the field into their
quarters, then the nex night the 22nd came up
after our regmt and the 9th NY to go
[end of page]
down and help them drive the 1st Vermont
so we went down officers and all, The Vermont
regmt lay on the hill in edge of the woods
they were all formed in line and deployed
skirmishers, we skirmished with them about
half an hour, then we charged them, we
drove them for a while then they rallied on us
and drove us back down the hill we formed
again charged them and drove them out
of their position down into their camp and
in their quarters, then they surrendered and
gave up, they did not like it much to
think that three regments should all pile
on to one, to be sure there were three reg-
ments of us but we did not number any
more men than they did after all for they were
a strong regment and all turned out and the
22nd only numbered 400 men, the 8th only 500
and our regiment only 600 and out of all three
only about half turned out, so you can see we were
no stronger than they were.  
From Thirza Finch diary and letter transcriptions, Vol. 1, p. 75-76, 1865 February 22. 
Edwin Finch was less than 20 years old when he wrote this letter to his sister. His youthful exuberance and excitement about "snowballing" is palpable in his writing. We sometimes forget how young many of these Civil War soldiers were, free from the sort of cynicism bred by adulthood that looks at snow as an annoyance rather than as an opportunity for entertainment.

Louis Miller
Reading Room Supervisor and Curatorial Assistant

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Clements Library SAA Archives Blitz

Image credit: Claire Milldrum
Post by Noa Kasman, Joyce Bonk Library Assistant

On the mornings of November 14th and November 18th, the University of Michigan’s Society of American Archivists (SAA) Student Chapter and the William L. Clements Library organized a two-part Archives Blitz. These events are held by the Student Chapter once or twice a semester. Since the fall of 2014, Student Chapter Archives Blitzes have ranged from several hours to week-long engagements with organizations. Organizations identify projects that they would like assistance with and that they think will be interesting, fun, and professionally engaging for students. Students are oriented and provided with staff feedback throughout the project. 

When SAA presented this event structure to the Clements Library, Clayton Lewis, curator of Graphics Material, jumped on the opportunity to have students dive into a collection of photographic postcards -- approximately 55,000+ items. These photographs are a subset of the David V. Tinder Collection of Michigan Photography, which consists of over 100,000 images of varying photographic types spanning the 1840s to the 1970s.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship Now Offered for 2017

In keeping with the Clements Library’s commitment to the University of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiative, we are pleased to announce a new post-doctoral fellowship. The Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship is named for the nineteenth-century physician and educator (1815-1895) and funded by the Library’s Townshend Fund.

The Norton Strange Townshend Fellowship offers $10,000 in support of scholarly research on diversity, equity and inclusion in American history during the nineteenth century. Successful applicants are expected to spend a minimum of two months at the Clements. This is a post-doctoral fellowship that requires a completed Ph.D. or equivalent qualifications at the time of application. Applications for the first year of this fellowship (2017) must be received by February 15 for residence in that calendar year.

See the Clements Library Research Fellowships page for application details. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Join us online and on campus - Our exciting events on Giving Blueday

We are excited to announce our mission and the festivities that we will be holding for Giving Blueday, November 29, 2016. Please join us in supporting the Clements Library's long lasting mission to collect and preserve primary source materials, to make them available for research, and to support and encourage scholarly investigation of our nation’s past.

What is Giving Blueday? 
Giving Blueday (GBD) is the University of Michigan's Day of Giving, and it is a day for everyone who loves Michigan to join together to combine their support and maximize impact.

The Clements Library's GBD Mission 
We are asking you - yes, you, reading this right now - to make a gift towards supporting acquisitions, conservation, lectures, and digitization at the Clements Library. Your support goes a long way to sustaining the Clements Library and keeping the mission to make historical materials accessible to the public, alive. You can make a gift to support the Clements Library here:

Our goal this year is to increase student membership at the Clements Library to encourage students to support acquisitions. Students, by becoming members, have access to the following benefits for an annual fee of just $5:
  • Invitations to programs, lectures, exhibits, and seminars 
  • Library publications free of charge or with substantial discounts 
  • The Quarto, a magazine published each Spring and Fall, keeps members informed about the acquisitions which have been made through their generous giving, and offers informative articles drawn from the Library's rich collections
  • Annual field trips to historic sites 
  • New member reception  
What You Can Do: 
  • Become a member, or support the Clements by making a gift towards acquisitions, conservation, lectures, and digitization here:
It only takes a few minutes to make a long lasting contribution to the Clements Library's mission to preserve history. We thank you for all of your support.
  • Join us for a special student event ​ 

A rare, unique, one of a kind experience. Literally. 
William L. Clements Library 
November 29, Tuesday
5:00 - 6:00PM

You’re invited to a special student event to get a behind the scenes look at the rare, historical collection items that the Clements Library holds. You can also learn about how you can use primary resources for research, the benefits of becoming a student member, and professional development opportunities in the fields of history and archives. Plus, you'll be getting a free Clements Library T-Shirt and other goodies. What's not to love? We hope to see you there. For any questions, please contact Anne Bennington-Helber at
  • Follow our Social Media for GBD challenges! 
You will be able to participate in exciting social media challenges throughout the day. We'll be challenging everyone to different things, such as creating a caption for the Clements Library, telling us what you love about the Clements Library, and showing off your artistic side using #GivingBlueday. Please make sure to like our Facebook Page and follow us on Twitter to see the challenges. We hope you'll join us!

Twitter: @ClementsLibrary

We hope to see you interact with us online, or at our special student event. Have a great Giving Blueday!

Monday, October 31, 2016

From the Stacks: Accusation of Witchcraft, 1665/66

Perhaps no image is more synonymous with Halloween than that of the witch, a woman dressed in black with a pointy hat and a broomstick. But this seemingly innocent costume has roots stretching back to the colonial period when being called a witch was a serious, often deadly, accusation. While some historians like Paul S. Boyer and Stephen Nissenbaum focused on geographic and economic factors in such accusations, the important connection between gender and witchcraft in America has since been analyzed by many historians, including Carol Karlsen in her 1987 publication The Devil in the Shape of a Woman. In her book, Karlsen found that women who threatened the patriarchal social order, especially in areas such as land transfer or nonconformance with societal gender norms, were more likely to be accused of witchcraft. Karlsen's findings make any male accused of witchcraft in colonial New England an intriguing "outlier" worthy of further study.

This 1665/66 deposition for the trial of Jonathan Godfrey calls for his arrest on charges of witchcraft. Citation: Jonathan Godfrey document, Jan. 30th 1665/66,GS Box 1.

The Clements Library holds a 1665/66 court order concerning charges of witchcraft against one Jonathan Godfrey. Except for those accused during the infamous Salem trials of 1692-93, Godfrey was one of only two men to be tried for witchcraft in New England who were not related to a woman also accused of witchcraft. The document reads as follows:
Att a County Court held at Boston 30th January 1665
Jno Godfrey being Complained against by Job Tyler & Jno Rimington
for severall acts which they conceave to be acts of witchcraft &
wth divers others they doubt not but fully to prove against him
The sayd John Godfrey was Committed to prison in open Court there
to lye till the next Court of Asistants there to be tried (and
sayd Job Tyler & John Rimington bound themselves in twenty
pounds a peece to ye Tresurer of the ye Country to prosecute their
Complaint at the next Court of Asistants agt the sayd
Godfrey) unless: Jno Godfret give suffisient security to value of
two hundred pounds that he shall appeare at the next Court
of Asistants: accordingly and Capt Wm Davis & Capt
Thomas Lake as sureties wth Jno Godfrey the prensiple binds
themselves in two hundred pounds apeece to the Tresurer
of the County on this condition - that sayd John Godfrey shall
appeare before the next Court of Asistants & Ansr wt
shall be layd agt him as above. as attests; Edw. Rawson Recorder
Vera Copia Attests Edw Rawson Recorder. 
The two men accusing Godfrey of witchcraft, Job Tyler and Jonathan Rimington, were both involved in prior legal cases with Godfrey. In 1659 Job Tyler claimed that Godfrey had accused his wife of witchcraft (the verdict is not known). Four years later, Jonathan Rimington was successfully sued by Godfrey for slander. As the above document held at the Clements Library shows, the animosity between Godfrey, Tyler, and Rimington continued into 1665/66. Godfrey’s trial was held on March 6, 1665/66 and while the court found him "suspitiously Guilty of witchcraft" they did not find him "legally Guilty."  This verdict did not stop future litigation over Godfrey and witchcraft. In 1669, Godfrey sued another individual, Daniel Ela, for accusing Godfrey of being in two places at one time. The court found in favor of Ela and ordered Godfrey to pay the court costs.

The numerous charges of witchcraft against Godfrey raise an interesting question about why he was so frequently accused of what was almost always viewed as a woman’s crime. Godfrey’s own accusations of witchcraft against the wife of Job Tyler add another intriguing element to this already fascinating incident.

Louis Miller
Reading Room Supervisor and Curatorial Assistant

Friday, September 30, 2016

Politics Past: Political Prints and Social Satires in the Graphics Division

As our nation cycles through a particularly contentious political year, the collections of the Clements Library remind us that this is not the first time. Evidence of political pyrotechnics from past elections can be found across all divisions of the Clements Library. Smoldering in the print collection are examples of the political broadsides that were popular in the 19th century. These entertaining lithographs and engravings were sold mostly in urban areas at booksellers, stationery stores, and directly from the publishers. They would circulate in parlors, taverns, coffee shops -- anywhere that people gathered and met to discuss the events of the day.

The Clements collection of political prints and social satires can be explored online in the Library's Digital Image Bank.

Additional images are continually being added from the larger selection found in the Mirlyn catalog.

Subject searches for "Caricatures and cartoons," coupled with other search terms will bring up results in both databases. Sorting Mirlyn search results by date may be helpful to locate election year peaks. The original prints can of course be requested and viewed in the Clements reading room.

From the election that triggered secession and the Civil War, this print from 1860 shows four of the major candidates for the Presidency competing in "The National Game." John Bell, Stephen Douglas, John Breckenridge and Abraham Lincoln.

The national game three "outs" and one "run" : Abraham winning the ball.

The Democratic Party was so hopelessly divided in 1860 that they held three conventions and nominated two candidates to run against each other. The political death of Democratic President James Buchanan and the rise of Senator Stephen Douglas as one Democratic nominee are the subject of this hilarious lithograph.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Clements Library Acquires Previously Unknown Plan of 1790 Detroit

It seems as if the Director and curators of the Clements Library are always searching—searching for new documentation to make accessible to scholars; searching for collections or parts of collections that they know or hope are still “out there” in the hands of descendants, local and national Americana dealers, or private collectors.  To this end the curators carefully examine dozens of catalogs each month and make recommendations to the Director, who then decides what we can afford.  All this suggests that much is still available “out there.”

And then there are in-kind gifts, most often donated by descendants of the original writer.  The Manuscripts Division has been especially lucky in this category over the last three years, accepting gifts of documents from families to flesh out some of our existing collections—Perry, Douglass, Weld-Grimké and others.

But best of all is the thrill of serendipity—when the right individuals come together in a successful acquisition effort of an item they were not looking for because they were not aware of its existence.

This spring the Map Division was the beneficiary of a good strong shot of serendipity.  Map curator Brian Dunnigan received an email from an old friend and colleague, Canadian military historian Donald Graves.  Don forwarded rough images with his message.  It took just a moment to realize that these depicted a plan of Detroit in 1790 that was entirely unknown, drawn from an unknown survey, and thus not included in Dunnigan’s 2001 book Frontier Metropolis: Picturing Early Detroit, 1701-1838. The book attempted to compile a comprehensive iconography of the city before the invention of photography.

The map was large (20 x 39.5 inches) and mounted in what appeared to be an early twentieth-century picture frame.  Its coloring was still bright and fresh, and a cartouche on the left side provided a considerable amount of information.  Titled “Rough Scetch [sic] of the King’s Domain at Detroit,” D.W. Smith signed and dated it September 1790.  The map was the property of a man who resided near Ottawa, Ontario, who had purchased it from another local resident.  The latter shared family lore that his grandfather had purchased the Detroit plan in the 1930s from a tavern in Montréal where it had doubtless looked down on many a glass of good Canadian lager.  The current owner was seeking information about the map, and historian Graves passed the question on to curator Dunnigan.  It was soon apparent that the map was for sale, and after some negotiation the parties came to an agreement.  The 1790 Detroit map arrived at the Library in August.

At this point the map generates as many questions as it does answers.  It was drawn by Sir David William Smith (1764-1837) then a captain in the British 5th Regiment of Foot serving as acting fort adjutant at Detroit.  He would later hold the position of Surveyor General of Upper Canada (today’s Ontario).  The title of the plan proclaims its purpose, which was to properly identify the bounds of the “King’s Domain,” an extra-wide ribbon farm originally granted by Cadillac to himself.  The fortified town of Detroit stood within the Domain.  Following Cadillac’s departure in 1710 it became royal land under the French and the British and “public ground” under the Americans after 1796.  The east and west boundaries became those of the town of Detroit in 1808 as the frontier metropolis rebuilt after the fire of 1805.

Although many architectural details are shown, property documentation was clearly the purpose of Smith’s survey.  Serious encroachment is apparent on both boundaries of the Domain—on the east by prosperous merchant John Askin and on the west by the even more prosperous William Macomb.  The letters A through N identify a total of 18 parcels of land within the town walls.  The status of those plots is unknown, but they had probably been granted or loaned to individuals.  The letters show that Smith must have prepared a table of references or keyed the letters to a report.  Of this important document, alas there is no sign.

Detroit was internationally contested ground in 1790, seven years after the Treaty of Paris had confirmed the independence of the United States and established a boundary through the Great Lakes.  The trouble was that the forts at Oswego, New York, Niagara, Michilimackinac, and Detroit were on the U.S. side of the line, and the British would not evacuate them until the Americans fulfilled a number of treaty provisions.  The U.S. Army was not strong enough to drive them out and was then also fully committed to a war against the Native American nations of the Ohio country.  Smith drew his plan in 1790, the same year Colonel Josiah Harmar led an unsuccessful expedition against their villages at the modern site of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Detroit’s garrison was thus on high alert, and two projects to strengthen the town’s defenses appear on Smith’s plan.  A deep ditch and earthwork on the west side of the town protects the west gate and two blockhouses.  This was accomplished.  An extension on the north side of star-shaped Fort Lernoult was not.  Its very appearance on this plan is a mystery.  It is labelled “Intended swallows Tail never finished.”  This type of fortification, which looks very much like the tail of a bird, might have been Smith’s own proposal.  There is no evidence it was ever begun, and engineer’s reports from 1788 through 1792 make absolutely no mention of it.

The “Rough Scetch” of Detroit fits nicely with our existing collections.  The Library holds the Harmar Papers as well as other documents relating to the struggle for the Ohio country and a 1790 architectural elevation of the officers’ quarters at Detroit also drawn by Smith.  And there is the thrill of finding something so unexpected and rare as an eighteenth-century manuscript plan.

Brian Leigh Dunnigan
Associate Director and Curator of Maps