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

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.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Today in History: The Stamp Act Repeal, March 18, 1766

Guest post by Kayla Carucci, Book Division student assistant and graduate student at the University of Michigan School of Information.

With the move from Ellsworth back to campus finally complete, the Clements staff and volunteers grow more excited by the day for the reopening of the reading room. Relocating the collections served as a reminder of how vast and varied the Clements Library holdings are.

A five shilling stamp from the Thomas Gage Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.

In March 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a controversial taxation measure which forced colonists to purchase a British stamp for every paper product they obtained, including but not limited to newspapers, licenses, wills, deeds and playing cards. The tax ranged from three pence to two pounds for each individual sheet of parchment, vellum, or paper depending on the intended use; for example, a certificate or diploma from an institution carried a two pound tax, the modern-day equivalent of $352.79 USD. However, such documents were not commonplace; a pack of playing cards, found in many households, carried a one shilling tax. In today’s society, it would be the same as paying $8.60 USD, in addition to the price of the deck.

A popular satirical print celebrates the repeal of the Stamp Act. The repeal, or, The funeral procession of Miss Americ-Stamp (1766).

The Clements Library owns three different versions of this print; the original was so well received that many printmakers copied it. The repeal, or, The funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp. London: Carington Bowles, 1766.

American colonial protests began shortly after its passage, escalating into riots in the fall of 1765. Colonists boycotted British goods and attacked the homes of tax collectors and supporters of the Act.

The law became effective in November 1765 and Benjamin Franklin, then residing in London, received sharp criticism in part for his delayed rebuke of the measure. In mid-February 1766, Franklin appeared before the British House of Commons to speak in support of a repeal. A mere four months after its enactment, the Stamp Act was repealed on March 18, 1766. Yet, on the same day, the Declaratory Act passed, setting firmly in place Parliament's legal authority and supremacy over the colonies.

Revere, P. (1766). A view of the obelisk erected under the Liberty-Tree in Boston on the rejoicings for the repeal of the ---- Stamp-Act. [Boston: s.n.].

Nevertheless, an obelisk made of wood was erected on the Boston Common as a celebration; candles illuminated it from within. Each side of the obelisk portrayed the colonists’ struggles with the Stamp Act. The obelisk itself became a satirical work of art, and Paul Revere made this famous schematic engraving to preserve it. The bottom of the page reads, "To every Lover of Liberty, this Plate is humbly dedicated, by her true born Sons, in Boston New England."

Except from a letter to Joseph Galloway, from Benjamin Franklin in November 1766. Benjamin Franklin Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.

Several months after repeal, an exposé essay appeared in a supplement of the Pennsylvania Journal, which attempted to prove that Benjamin Franklin was an author of the Stamp Act, based in part on the knowledge that he had recommended merchant John Hughes, a friend, for the position of stamp distributor in Philadelphia. In an eloquent letter to Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly member/speaker Joseph Galloway, Franklin responded to the accusation.

1766 November 8 . Benjamin Franklin ALS to Joseph Galloway; London, [England]. Benjamin Franklin Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.

The letter states: “Dear friend, I received your kind Letter of Sept. the 22d. and from another Friend a Copy of that lying Essay in which I am represented as the Author of the Stamp Act, and you as concern’d in it. The Answer you mention is not yet come to hand. Your Consolation, my Friend, and mine, under these Abuses, must be, that we do not deserve them. But what can console the Writers and Promoters of such infamously false Accusations, if they should ever come themselves to a Sense of that Malice of their Hearts, and that Stupidity of their Heads, which by these Papers they have manifested and exposed to all the World. Dunces often write Satyrs on themselves, when they think all the while that they are mocking their Neighbours. Let us, as we ever have done, uniformly endeavour the Service of our Country, according to the best of our Judgment and Abilities, and Time will do us Justice. Dirt thrown on a Mud-Wall may stick and incorporate; but it will not long adhere to polish’d Marble. I can now only add that I am, with Sincerest Esteem and Affection, Yours, B Franklin”