Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Women's Voices from the Starry Family Correspondence

As one of the Clements Library's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) interns, I was tasked with conserving and providing descriptions of manuscript collections that feature historically underrepresented perspectives and subject matter.  The collections selected for the DEI projects were high priorities because of their need for conservation and for descriptive cataloging.  As a result of the manuscripts' damaged states, many were unreadable and inaccessible to researchers, students, and faculty.
The letters in the Starry Family Collection were heavily stained and torn, brittle, and too fragile to safely handle. Fragments of the letters were stuck to red wax seals. I lifted these bits of text and re-positioned them where they originally belonged, then lined each side of the manuscript with Japanese paper and wheat paste. 
One of the three collections I worked on was the correspondence of James H. Starry and his family. The James H. Starry Family Correspondence is a collection of 36 items, 35 of which are letters, containing personal accounts and discussions about local happenings, marriages, and religion between James H. Starry and his various friends and relatives.  In many of the letters, James wrote from Charlestown, Virginia (now West Virginia) where he lived with his parents, and in others he wrote from Clarksville, Ohio, where he lived with his wife.  James worked as a farmer; his brother, John, worked as a physician; and his brother, Joseph, was a sheriff, jailer, and landowner.  Among the less common topics discussed in the letters are women petitioning for divorce, men and women discussing the activities of slaves, and temperance and drinking.  Particularly notable are candid writings about and between women.

For me, it was incredibly fascinating to hear the women's voices through their own writing, for it provided an at times unfiltered glimpse at some of their ideas, perspectives, and experiences during specifics moments in time. The narratives of women vary from discussions of marriage and motherhood to remarks on abuse and violence, making this collection particularly valuable for the study of women and gender relations.
This image shows damage and loss. In this case, I made a puzzle piece paper fill, made from paper of like weight, grain direction, and tone to insert in the void and stabilize and support the weakened area. I then lined each side of the letter with Japanese paper and wheat paste.

The Starry family correspondence has four prominent female writers:  Caroline, James's cousin in Shepherdstown, Virginia; Sally, James's sister in Charlestown, Virginia; Nancy, James's wife in Clarksville, Ohio; and Anna Kelly, James's mother-in-law in Clarksville, Ohio.  Each woman had a distinct writing style and relationship to James.  Caroline was the most confident and forward in her writing. She was comical, witty, intelligent, and biting, utilizing phrases such as "choke me black" and referring to her cousin's fatness as "that kind of sweet potatoe."

Sally corresponded regularly with her brother James and frequently acted as a mediator between him and their mother.  She often relayed information and attempted to bribe him (literally, with money) into writing more frequently.  Despite her apparent youth, she appeared to have a relatively elevated command of the English language.

Nancy, James's wife, had a lower level of literacy and her letters contain many phonetic spelling variations.  Consequently, Nancy's letters are especially valuable for the way they reflect her spoken language and dialect.  The relationship of Nancy and James varied from concerned and loving to manipulative and abusive.  During the 1840s, James spent much of his time living with his parents and siblings in Virginia while his wife and children lived in Clarksville, Ohio.  James was seven or eight years older than Nancy and often treated her in a condescending and child-like fashion.  He frequently criticized her parenting, despite being an absent father himself, and often told her how much she should love him.  Reading their letters over 170 years later, I had a difficult time reconciling their brief moments of love and flirtation with James's manipulation and neglect. On rare occasions, Nancy would directly express her frustrations with James's unfulfilled promises to return home.  On April 24, 1848, for example, after Nancy expressed her continued frustration and disappointment with James, she wrote "I doant want you to disappoin me again or when you doe com home I will pound you."

Perhaps the most interesting exchange between James and a female writer occurred when his mother-in-law Anna Kelly (or, Kelley) sent him an update on January 30, 1848.  The letter begins very typically, as Anna informed him of recent local news, and apologized for her grammatical mistakes.  Before she concluded her letter, she included a troubling story in which an older local man took a young girl to a tavern to room for the night, seemingly against her will.  Anna wrote:
 "old solsbery has bin cuting up he has took up with a girl that he raised but tha have got the old chap and are going to try him for his good be havier he took the girl and started of with hur and went to butlervill and stoped at the tavern and caled for a room that had low beads in and told the lanlord that he had a young womin with him and that she was very timed and would like to have hur in the same room with him the lanlords gerls lighted hur to bed then she told the girls that she wanted the key to lock the room her self then old sol went up to bed the lanlords gerls looked in at the key hole and saw hem in bed with hur tha went down and told their father that tha was in bed to gether the old man went up and told them to leav his house tha got up and went to the mouth of the fork it was a bout ten oclock.” 
Anna Kelly's letter to her son-in-law James H. Starry, January 30, 1848, in which she relates news about "old solsbery" and a young woman at a tavern in Butlerville, Ohio.
While it is empowering to see the tavern keeper's young daughters advocating for the poor girl trapped in the room with this older man, it is disheartening to think of what may have happened to her before or after they left the Tavern.  Furthermore, it is unfortunate that we do not have any more information or historical records that would be able to provide even a cursory look at the life of this woman.

The Starry family correspondence suggests the resilience and strength of young mothers, witty cousins, and loyal sisters, and also the manner in which women stuck together in order to help one another.  These women's letters highlight their everyday and unglamorous struggles in the rural America of the 1850s during a time when they relied primarily on each other for encouragement, support, and appreciation.  The conservation work and finding aid description resulting from my DEI internship will allow faculty, students, and other scholars to discover, access, and utilize the Starry correspondence for their research.

- Ella Horwedel
Student Intern

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The First Published African-American Composer

Portrait courtesy of IMSLP.org
The earliest published African-American composer in the United States is Francis “Frank” Johnson (1792-1844), whose international musical career first flourished in Philadelphia, the city of his birth. Johnson lived through the era of slavery and gradual emancipation in Pennsylvania. During this process, African Americans began to congregate and form societies, churches, and schools. This included religious and musical societies, which helped the Philadelphia music scene blossom.

In his youth and young adulthood, Johnson studied instruments such as the violin and later the Kent bugle (also called the “cornet” or “keyed bugle”), for which he would later become famous. His bugle teacher may have been Richard Willis (d. 1830), a Scottish immigrant who would go on to lead the West Point Military Academy band. Not only is Johnson reported to have been a gifted horn player--he was also a successful composer, publishing by the 1810s. On October 6, 1818, he posted a notice in Philadelphia’s first daily newspaper, Poulson’s American Daily Advisor, advertising the sale of his compositions and promoting his band for “assemblies, public, and private balls.” That same year on November 7, A Collection of New Cotillions by F. Johnson was published by noted music publisher George Willig in Philadelphia. An example of an early Johnson musical score from the Clements collection is Johnson’s New Bird Waltz, arranged for piano, from 1819.

New Bird Waltz (catalog record)
New Bird Waltz full musical score (PDF)

Listen to New Bird Waltz 
Performed by Bernard Tan

Many early 19th century brass bands were associated with militia units as the music encouraged enlistment and discipline. In 1821, Johnson was leading the band of the State Fencibles, a civilian military unit. Johnson also performed with the Washington Guards Third Company sometime before 1823, and may have stayed with the group past that date. The demand for cotillions, waltzes, and other dances composed by Johnson increased with his reputation for band leadership.

Though Johnson and his fellow Black band members faced racial prejudice, Captain James Page of the State Fencibles kept him associated with the group for years to come. Initially, the Fencibles were a group of four, comprised of one bugle (Johnson playing), one fife, one bass drum, and one small drum but would grow to become a larger band. In performance, they were described as unmatched in skill and gained popularity across the city and beyond. With the Fencibles, and also as "Johnson and his band," Francis Johnson toured nationally, gained international recognition, eventually playing for Queen Victoria of England in November 1837.

In 1839 Johnson was invited to perform in Detroit’s July 4th celebration with the Guards of Buffalo, New York. At this time Johnson’s group had between 7 and 16 members, and the Buffalo Guards about 90! This performance was publicized nationally, and people came from across Michigan to join the celebration. Johnson composed a piece especially for the occasion, the Buffalo City Guards Parade March. The performance was very well-received, and left the public wishing Johnson and his band could stay in town a bit longer and give a concert. Johnson's success kept the band on a tight schedule and they left for their next gig in Cleveland only a few days later.

The only known image of Johnson's band is this detail of a lithographed sheet music cover. Johnson himself is likely the figure on the right. From Planter's House Assembly Waltz (1844), Clements Library.
Unfortunately, none of Johnson’s original band orchestrations survive today, including the Buffalo City Guards Parade March. The published versions of his compositions were mostly written for amateur musicians looking to socially perform the popular music of the day on the pianoforte, the most common domestic parlor instrument of the time. The Clements sheet music collection does include the Buffalo City Guards Parade March as a piano score, published in 1839.

Buffalo City Guards (catalog record)
Buffalo City Guards Parade March full musical score (PDF)

Listen to Buffalo City Guards Parade March
Performed by Bernard Tan

Johnson’s band was considered one of the best, if not the best, in the nation at the time, which enabled them to move between racial social circles to some degree. Nonetheless, they certainly experienced prejudice, even in northern states. At the time of their Detroit visit, Michigan had only become a state two years prior, and had discluded Blacks and Native Americans from most of the rights of citizens in the state constitution. Black people were not welcome at white social events, and were often forced to meet in secret for their own assemblies.

The newly formed Second Baptist Church, a Detroit African-American congregation, had recently decided that since they were not fully included in the commemoration of independence on July 4th, they would instead celebrate the liberation of slaves in the British West Indies on August 1st. It has been reported by musicologist and historian Arthur LaBrew that Johnson may have encountered this discussion, though we do not know for sure. What we can reasonably guess is that Johnson’s visit made a lasting impression on Black communities in the Detroit area and may have inspired many subsequent celebrations with lavish dinners and musical performances.


Let me introduce myself. I am an intern for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the Clements Library and an undergraduate vocal performance student in the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance. My background is in performance, but I have spent the past few months scanning and cataloging sections of the Library’s historical sheet music collection. The Clements' sheet music holdings come from many sources with some of the Francis Johnson pieces coming from Detroit musicologist Arthur R. LaBrew (1930-2015), who was a familiar face in the Clements reading room. Much of my own research has come from his Captain Francis Johnson: Great American Black Bandsman, self-published in 1994. LaBrew was a leading scholar on Black musicians from around the world. His research spanned centuries, in an effort to track every early Black musician who had created something, performers, bandleaders, teachers, and composers alike. LaBrew's book is an in-depth collection of data and analysis of Francis Johnson’s life, and it is a fascinating read. Johnson was an amazing musician, and his success clearly inspired LaBrew. Even though it is a scholarly textbook, the story is exciting to read. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to learn a little about American music history.

Since I am primarily a singer, I wanted to perform one of Johnson’s pieces myself. In this recording, pianist Bernard Tan and I are performing Oh turn away those mournful eyes from 1824. He didn’t compose for the voice often, and there isn’t much information about this piece, so I wonder if Johnson had anyone in mind when we wrote it (he was married to Helen Appo, sister of fellow bandmate William Appo). The lyrics, which I have printed below, are by a mysterious “Miss M. A.” and, to me, they suggest that the singer is somehow barred from returning feelings of love from an admirer with “mournful eyes” and “deep drawn sighs.” I invite readers to share their own interpretation of the text, or continue the conversation about Francis Johnson in the comments.

- Alexandra Brassard
Student Intern

Oh turn away those mournful eyes (catalog record)

Oh turn away those mournful eyes full musical score (PDF)

Listen to Oh turn away those mournful eyes
Bernard Tan, piano & Alex Brassard, soprano 

Oh, turn away those mournful eyes,
That ask the love I can’t bestow;
In pity check those deep drawn sighs,
For I congenial anguish know;
In pity check those deep drawn sighs,
For I congenial anguish know.

As if reflected in a glass,
My agony by thine is shown,
And when thou look’st or sigh’st alas!
Thy hapless fate recalls my own.
And when thou look’st or sigh’st alas!
Thy hapless fate recalls my own.

My faded check I see in thine,
In thine my blighted youth I view,
A heart devoted, fond as mine,
And ah! I fear as faithful too;
A heart devoted, fond as mine,
And ah! I fear as faithful too.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Most Beautifully-Bound Newspaper in the Library

Most of the 18th and 19th century American newspapers in the Clements Library collections have bindings that are functional rather than artistic. Many volumes have been rebound in 20th century olive green cloth and either green paper or plain gray boards.

The older leather bindings are often much-repaired, showing evidence of their heavy use over the years. In some cases, layers of glue and tape are all that hold the spines together.

While a number of our newspapers bindings include lovely marbled papers, their beauty tends to be subtle rather than ostentatious. It is only once they are pulled off the shelf that their colors and patterns are revealed.

Among the vast array of green cloth and worn leather bindings, one volume leaps to the eye midway down the shelves. Volume three of The Pennsylvania Chronicle and University Advertiser (January 23, 1769-January 15, 1770) is bound in non-contemporary red morocco leather, tooled in gold and decorated with flowers.

This newspaper was published by William Goddard in Philadelphia from 1767 to 1774. His mother and older sister, Sarah Updike Goddard and Mary Katherine Goddard, were also involved in the printing trade. Mary Katherine Goddard became Baltimore's first postmaster and famously published the second printed edition of the Declaration of Independence, also known as the Goddard broadside.

As you can see in the above photo, volume two of the same newspaper is in the standard olive green cloth binding, making this item particularly striking by contrast.

The cover is decorated with a green leather onlay tooled in gold and the spine is similarly decorated with flowers.

The binder’s name is stamped in tiny letters in the upper left corner of the front flyleaf: “J. MacDonald -- Binder, N.Y.” James MacDonald was a Scottish bookbinder who came to the United States in 1873. He worked with the famous American binder William Matthews and then established his own binding business in New York in 1880. His listing in the New York Times Book Review described the company as the “Finest equipped bindery in America; (Purchaser of the “Club Bindery”). Special bindings for collectors. Extra fine binding for private libraries. Solander and slip cases of every description.”  (November 5, 1922).

This volume was originally purchased by William L. Clements and donated with the rest of his books to the Clements Library in 1923. We do not know whether he commissioned the binding himself or purchased it that way from another source.

Although the binding style is unusual for the newspaper collection, it does resemble many other bindings found in our Rare Book Room collection. Mr. Clements did not collect decorative bookbindings for their own sake, preferring to focus on the subject matter of Americana, but many of his books were nevertheless beautifully-bound in brightly-colored leathers by Riviere, Pratt, Matthews, Sangorski and Sutcliffe, Zaehnsdorf, and other notable bookbinders.

He may have purchased this newspaper and had it rebound to match his other books, before realizing that rebinding every newspaper in the same way would quickly become impractical. Or perhaps another collector treasured this volume and paid for the binding before it came into the Clements collection. Either way, it remains a lovely surprise among the drab bindings in the newspaper shelves, and is sure to delight any researcher who requests this newspaper volume in the reading room.

Emiko Hastings
Curator of Books

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

“Discover Series” programs treat you to an up-close view of historical materials and work at the Clements Library

Last fall the William L. Clements Library launched a new type of program, the “Discover Series,” to great response. The goal was to provide in-depth coverage of various aspects of the library’s work, in a smaller, more informal setting and with time for discussion. While our lecture series allows scholars to share their historical research, the Discover Series is inspired by the work of the library’s staff. With the success of the inaugural events, the Clements Library is now pleased to announce a new schedule for the Discover Series in Winter-Spring 2019.

The programs begin with a brief presentation on a specific topic of relevance to the collections and continue as a dialogue with the audience. Within the workspaces at the library, our staff are able to display materials from the collections for discussion. Participants enjoy the opportunity of a first-hand look at our rare books, manuscripts, maps, and graphics outside of a formal exhibition setting. These deep dives explore both the historical significance of the materials and how they are acquired and preserved by the library for scholarly research.

Topics and dates for the Discover Series in early 2019 are as follows:

Student Internships: Working with Collections that Highlight Underrepresented Perspectives. January 17, 4:00pm – Learn more/ Register

Love Letters & Romance in the Archives. February 14, 11:00am – Learn more/ Register

Beyond the Lens: Hidden Features of 19th century Ambrotypes. February 28, 4:00pm – Learn more/ Register

Merging the Old and the New: Bird’s-Eye Views of America. March 21, 11:00am – Learn more/ Register

A Close Look at Vues D’Optique. March 28, 4:00pm – Learn more/ Register

Books as Physical Objects: Examining Selections from the Clements Collection. April 25, 4:00pm – Learn more/ Register

The Discover Series is free and open to the public, but space is limited. Attendees are asked to arrive at the library’s north glass atrium entrance to check in. Please register and view all upcoming Clements Library programs on our events calendar. To receive our monthly Clements Connection Newsletter, sign up here.