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

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ann Arbor Art Fair, July 21-24, 2016

The annual Ann Arbor Art Fair returns this week, and the city's downtown will be transformed as over 1,000 artists set up booths alongside food vendors, performers, and artist demonstrators. The Fair runs from Thursday, July 21st to Sunday, July 24th, and the Clements Library finds itself right at the heart of it all with artists literally at our doorstep.

Hopefully the Ann Arbor Art Fair won't be quite as chaotic as the scene depicted in our hand-colored 1734 copy of William Hogarth's print, [Southwark Fair].
On Thursday, our grand Avenir Foundation Reading Room is only open to registered researchers working with our collections. We will have a tent on the south lawn with information about the library. 

On Friday, July 22nd, our doors are open to all Art Fair revelers who want to come explore our exhibits from 10 am – 4 pm (while simultaneously enjoying an air-conditioned reprieve from the forecasted sweltering heat). We are also offering tours of our newly renovated library on Friday at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 3:00 pm. Space is limited, so please email us at with your preferred time in order to reserve a spot on a tour.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

From the Stacks: Mosquitoes

Balmy summer weather has finally arrived in Ann Arbor, and the staff at the Clements Library are enjoying the season's warmth and sunshine. The joys of sipping lemonade in the shade and lounging in hammocks are tempered by the less popular harbingers of summer-- mosquitoes. Mosquito-borne illnesses continue to plague the modern world, with West Nile, Zika virus, malaria, and dengue fever still making news headlines. While the resources at our disposal to try to mitigate and prevent the spread of disease far outweigh those available in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the annoyance we feel when confronted with a mosquito's whine and bite seems remarkably unchanged from that expressed by our forebears.

Our Edward L. Buttrick Diary records Buttrick's experiences as an itinerant schoolteacher in rural Kentucky in 1843. Buttrick remarked after a particularly restless hot September night, "The musquitoes nearly ate me alive. It was an excessively warm night & I could only cover my face in the bed clothes & be resigned to my fate… I could bear the biting but the singing was what troubled me. They sing you a song & then present their bills which you must receive in spite of all protestations."

The familiarity of the mosquitoes' "song" is referenced in this sheet music from 1899.

Howard Whitney, The Mosquitoes' Parade: A Jersey Review (New York: M. Witmark and Sons, 1899). Versions of the song can be heard on YouTube.

The Mosquitoes' Parade draws on the shared understanding of the insect's high-pitched and incessant drone to add humor and depth to the score.  Laughing at the misfortune of dealing with the evasive and persistent mosquito also tends to be coupled with a good dose of hyperbole to express the sheer frustration caused by them. Take, for example, this illustrated envelope from our Pen and Ink Collection.

While the swarms of mosquitoes featured in this piece labelled "Pleasures of Minnesota Life" may be larger and more ferocious than those in real life, the exaggeration evokes the size of the artist's despair in trying to outrun and outwit the pests in "Mosquito Swamp, Min."

Another type of "mosquito swamp" appears in an illustrated survey map from our Samuel Williams Papers. Samuel Williams served as the chief clerk in the Northwest Territory surveyor general's office, and this map may have been a light-hearted joint effort with his brother, William. Near the center of the survey, the "Musquito Breeding Swamp" would surely be a place to avoid.

This sampling from our collections hints at the long-standing irritation with these summertime pests. As Edward Fenno, of our Fenno-Hoffman Family Papers, lamented while suffering through a New Orleans summer in 1823, mosquitoes "are an obstacle to all improvement of the mind… one must be made of most impenetrable stuff to withstand their attacks." Alternatively, we can sing the praises of the 21st century while using copious amounts of insect repellent.

Friday, July 1, 2016

New Additions to Exhibit on Clements Library Collecting

Tobias Lear, A Minute Account of the Last Sickness and Death of George Washington, Mount Vernon, Virginia: December 14, 1799. Tobias Lear Papers.

Just inside the great bronze doors of the Clements Library, visitors will find an exhibit about the collecting history of the institution. "Clements Library: A Century of Collecting, 1903-2016" uses original examples of Americana from the collection to show how Clements and the four directors who have guided the place since 1923 built up the Library's holdings. The pieces on exhibit are rotated every three months to minimize their exposure to light.

New additions to the exhibit will go on display July 1, 2016. These include a letter describing the dying hours of President Washington; a note from Rachel Revere to her husband, Paul; a watercolor view of a War of 1812 POW camp; and a view of the infant town of York (Toronto) in 1803.

The exhibit is open to the public each Friday 
from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

From the Stacks: Flag Day

By Emiko Hastings, Curator of Books

In honor of Flag Day, we share a variety of U.S. flag-related imagery from across the Clements Library collections. Flag Day, established by President Woodrow Wilson, in 1916, commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14th, 1777.

Addie Guthrie Weaver, The Story of Our Flag, Colonial and National: With Historical Sketch of the Quakeress, Betsy Ross (Chicago, 1898). 

The Book Division includes a variety of printed materials about the history of the flag and its uses. One such example is The Story of Our Flag, Colonial and National: With Historical Sketch of the Quakeress, Betsy Ross, by Addie Guthrie Weaver (Chicago, 1898). In the foreword to this second edition, the author writes, "It is gratifying to note the cordial welcome extended the first edition of this work, it having been exhausted in a few months' time. The many kind letters received from appreciative readers have been an incentive to publish this second edition, to which has been added some new features making the historical data more complete."

John Wallis, The United States of America laid down from the Best Authorities, Agreeable to the Peace of 1783 (London, 1783).  

John Wallis' map of the United States includes a cartouche in the lower right corner, depicting George Washington as military leader and Benjamin Franklin as diplomat beneath a rendering of the U.S. flag. Printed in 1783, it is one of the earliest impressions of the new United States flag, with thirteen stars and stripes.

"Freedom to the Slave." All Slaves Were Made Freemen (Philadelphia, ca. 1863). 
From the print collections of the Graphics Division, we find a great number of patriotic images, including a recruiting handbill from the Civil War with the John Brown Song lyrics ​and a recruiting pitch ​on the verso. This item was published by the Supervisory Committee for Recruiting Colored Regiments in Philadelphia, 1863 or 1864.

Hayward, Nathan. S. East View of Fort St. Tammany: N. Hayward to Major H. Burbeck. ca. 1792. From the Henry Burbeck Papers
The Henry Burbeck Papers, 1735-1866, include a noteworthy view of Fort St. Tammany, on St. Mary's River on the Georgia-Florida line, given to Burbeck by Surgeon's Mate Nathan Hayward. Burbeck personally oversaw the construction of Fort St. Tammany in 1790, and this item contains a detailed depiction of the garrison, complete with an American flag. It is now housed in the Map Division with other manuscript maps from the Burbeck Papers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

New Online Exhibit: "So Once Were We": Death in Early America

"So Once Were We": Death in Early America

Mortality is a useful lens through which we may view many aspects of early American society. "So Once Were We": Death in Early America explores American practices and traditions for coping with death, from the early years of European exploration and discovery to the early 20th century and the burgeoning modern funeral industry.

"So Once Were We" is a partial line from a once-common verse, which has many variations. One, from a Civil War-era tombstone in St. Clair County, Alabama, is "Remember us, as you pass by / as you are now, so once were we." Other examples may be found in the section on Monuments and Stonework.  The title embodies several themes in the exhibit: the transatlantic movement of ideas and traditions, the universal experience of death, and personal and collective remembrance.

The exhibit is arranged topically and includes in part:
  • Examples of rare early European books with content pertinent to Native American funeral and burial practices (16th-17th century)
  • Early books respecting French missionaries in America (17th century)
  • Books and manuscripts related to mortality, disease, and medicine (18th-19th centuries)
  • Memorial imagery:  Printed items, photographs, and artwork (19th century)
  • Post-mortem photographs:  Memorial photographs taken mostly for private mourning purposes (19th-early 20th centuries)
  • Books, photographs, manuscripts, and instruments respecting embalming, undertaking, and transportation (19th-early 20th centuries)
  • Manuscripts, pamphlets, and photographs regarding American funerals (18th-19th centuries)
  • Examples of 19th century funeral cards, images of floral arrangements, mourning stationery, and other memorial products
  • Books, manuscripts, and photographs pertaining to 19th century mourning fashion (especially women's fashions)
  • Materials related to monuments, tombstones, epitaphs, and cemeteries (mostly 19th century)
  • First-person accounts of the deaths of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, with additional materials related to their funerals and public commemoration.
The online exhibit "So Once Were We": Death in Early America is an expanded version of a physical exhibit, which was on display at the William L. Clements Library from October 17, 2011, to February 27, 2012.