Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
In 1994, the UN declared that International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples would be observed on August 9th every year. Bearing that declaration in mind, I decided to examine HSP’s collection and see what, if any, primary documentation of the voices of indigenous peoples to the area survives.
The area around Philadelphia was home to the Lenni Lenape, also called the Lenape or Delaware, when Europeans arrived. As was the case with other settlements, the indigenous peoples were forced into displacement relatively soon after the arrival of white settlers.
One of the primary documents in HSP’s collection specifically written by indigenous peoples is the Chiefs of the Delaware Indians at Allegaeening [Allegheny] letter to Patrick Gordon. Dated 1732, the letter is faint with spidery handwriting, but has clear pictographic signatures. Though difficult to discern, the text is a direct recording of Lenape voices and communications.
The majority of the documents and books in HSP’s collections are written by Europeans, however. One of the most well-known is William Penn’s peace treaty with the Lenape, made in what is now Penn Treaty Park. In addition to that, HSP holds the Indian Rights Association’s papers; the Association was founded by Europeans in the 19th century to “bring about the complete civilization of the Indians and their admission to citizenship.” The Association maintained close ties to indigenous populations as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but at its core the organization viewed indigenous culture through a colonizing European lens.
These ethnographies and anthropological works in HSP’s collection all rely on primary informants to varying degrees; it’s really only those documents from the twentieth century that focus on indigenous voices while regularly naming informants. One of the most interesting is Frank Speck’s A study of the Delaware Indian big house ceremony : in native text dictated by WitapanoÌxwe. The majority of the book is the transcribed oral account by a Delaware man describing a ceremony intended to fulfill obligations owed to a ‘pantheon of spiritual forces’, in Speck’s words. A student of Franz Boas - the father of American anthropology - Speck makes it clear that his informant was raised in the culture he is describing, and includes his original account in the Delaware language with the translation on the facing page. He also rather tactfully drops in that WitapanoÌxwe was compensated for his work and time.
Speck has strong opinions regarding those who do not work with indigenous informants:
“[Prior research and speculative writing not directly based on interviews] has been sufficient to cause hesitation on the part of ethnologists in using the record for the purpose of drawing culture conclusions since the accounts have all been fragmentary and recorded in the words of European observers instead of being based upon the expressions of the natives.”
A case study of this can be found in the analysis of the Walam Olum in anthropological and Native studies. The Walam Olum was presented by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (also styled as Rafinesque-Schmaltz) as a historical narrative of Lenape stories, including a creation myth, a record of the migration from west to east, and a brief historical account of the coming of Europeans.
Rafinesque claimed that his source was pictographs recorded on wooden tablets or sticks, and he reproduces these pictographs along with the accompanying ‘verse’ in the Delaware language, and provides his own translation. His source was given only as a Dr. Ward of Indiana.
From the start, historians were skeptical. Was the Walam Olum even real? Daniel Brinton, in The Lenape and their Legends goes into some depth on this question, citing linguistic analysis by native speakers which declares the language to be accurate. Brinton regularly notes that he consults on this or that point with a ‘well-educated’ native, but only rarely names his sources. And, although his respect and affection is clear, it is not Lenape voices that are centered in his writing. He redraws the pictographs of the Walam Olum (introducing errors) and provides his own translation from Delaware to English.
Jumping forward a century gives us a handsome volume released by the Indiana Historical Society that reproduces the pages of Rafinesque’s notebook, offering translations and glossaries provided by bilingual native speakers. The voices of the actual Lenape people are much more present, and reliance on their knowledge (both linguistic and historical) takes precedence.
The Walam Olum is now generally regarded as a fake. In his 1994 essay “Unmasking the Walum Olum: A 19th-Century Hoax,” David M. Oestreicher presented evidence to show that Rafinesque fabricated the stories, which he actually translated from English to the Delaware language using a series of dictionaries available at the time. As a result, the Delaware tribe of Indians (now in Oklahoma after forced relocation) withdrew their endorsement of the document in 1997.
While I found the story of the Walam Olum fascinating, taking a step back and looking at texts available in HSP’s collection shows the gradual movement towards recognizing the validity of indigenous voices. These voices have always been present, but it has been, and continues to be, a long journey still to bring them to the forefront within a wider culture.
Not unlike today, after an election, there is a need to try to reunite the country. After taking the oath of office on March 4, 1817, President James Monroe was hungry to repair the political disorder between Democratic-Republicans and Federalists. Though the War of 1812 had ended two years before Monroe’s inauguration, the Capitol in Washington D.C. still showed scars of the traumatic British invasion. The White House, having been severely damaged by fire due to British assault, was still under construction, and Monroe was nervous about America’s ability defend herself against foreign invasion. With the country feeling divided and vulnerable, Monroe was determined to show strength and unity and usher in a new era - an era that would become known as the “Era of Good Feelings.” To do this, however, he would have to see the country and more importantly, let the country see him.
On June 1, 1817, James Monroe ventured on his first procession of the northern states with the mission of both unifying the Republic and inspecting her defenses. Unlike today, with contemporary transportation, twenty-four-hour news coverage, and social media, rarely, if ever, did people in the 1800s get to see the President of the United States. Stopping in places like Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and Detroit, Monroe was greeted with parades and encountered great fanfare. During this procession, Monroe traveled by horse, carriage, and steamboat while inspecting military forts, reviewing troops, and making speeches to veteran groups.
On June 4, James Monroe visited Fort Mifflin, on Philadelphia’s outskirts, to inspect the structure and ensure it was ready should there be another British incursion. The next day, June 5h, Monroe entered the City and was welcomed by a large and fervent crowd of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the fifth president. Starting at the Market Street Bridge, the first permanent bridge over the Schuylkill River, the President paraded east down Market Street to cheers and jubilation. He ended the parade at the Washington Hall and Renshaw's Hotel where he would stay for the duration of his visit in Philadelphia. Arriving at the hotel, Monroe gave a speech to the Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati that was full of gratitude and hope for the future. Over the next two days, he would also visit the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (the first building), the Pennsylvania Hospital, the State House, Peale’s Museum, Carpenter’ Hall, Bank of the United States, The Navy Yard, and the Walnut Street Jail. During his tour, Monroe visited a variety of municipal buildings where he met with the city’s leadership and elected officials.
Leaving Philadelphia on June 7, Monroe traveled north through the neighborhood of Germantown to visit a revolutionary war battlefield that was the scene of fierce fighting between Washington’s Continental Army and British regulars in an attempt to prevent the city from British occupation in 1777. After Monroe’s solemn visit to the battlefield and feeling satisfied with the readiness of the City to defend itself on the chance of another British invasion, Monroe left for New Jersey. He would continue to tour the northern states until finally coming back to Washington D.C. on September 17, 1817.
Curious for more? Want to know what else happened during this historic presidential tour? In 1820, Samual Waldo documented this journey by writing a book called The tour of James Monroe: president of the United States, through the northern and eastern states, in 1817. A copy of this book is in the archives of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and was used as a source of information for this blog. Also, at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, in partnership with the James Monroe Museum and The Papers of James Monroe, is the exhibit called “In the Sprit of the People: James Monroe’s 1817 Presidental Tour.” This traveling exhibit details Monroe’s procession through the northern and western states using primary source material and engaging visuals. It is free and open to the public at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in downtown Philadephia during regular operating hours through July 14.
Pennsylvanian to Pennsylvania,
HSP Education Intern
“Philadelphia has the finest orchestra I have ever heard at any time or any place in my whole life. I don’t know that I would be exaggerating if I said that it is the finest orchestra the world has ever heard.”
Sergei Rachmaninoff, the great early 20th-century Russian pianist/composer/conductor, spent the last 25 years of his life exiled from his beloved homeland, but musically he found a home with the Philadelphia Orchestra. As shaped by its two longtime conductors, Leopold Stokowski and Eugene Ormandy, the Philadelphia Orchestra was Rachmaninoff’s favorite musical ensemble, one that he and many of his contemporaries considered the world’s greatest orchestra. Rachmaninoff noted in his later years that when he composed for orchestra he had the renowned “Philadelphia Sound” in mind, and it was with the Philadelphia Orchestra that he gave the world or U.S. premieres of many of his compositions.
Rachmaninoff was born in northwestern Russia in 1873 and trained at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory. A rising star at the turn of the 20th-century, he first toured America in 1909, at which time he made his first appearances with the Philadelphia Orchestra on November 26-27, 1909 in the Academy of Music. In these concerts, he was featured in the triple-threat role of pianist-composer-conductor that would be the hallmark of his long and successful career. Back in Russia in the 1910s, Rachmaninoff kept an active schedule of composing and concertizing and especially loved spending time at his family’s country estate, Ivanovka, some 300 miles southeast of Moscow. His world would be shattered forever, however, by the cataclysmic events of the 1917 Russian Revolution.
With his country in upheaval, Rachmaninoff accepted an offer to give a series of recitals in Scandinavia and in late 1917 he left Russia with his wife and two daughters. Little did he know at the time that he would never return and that he would spend the rest of his life yearning for his Russian homeland. Later, he learned that Ivanovka had been burned to the ground. These events and his longtime status as an exile would deeply influence his music, which is characterized by a distinct Russian flavor and an often yearning, melancholy spirit.
After living in Scandinavia for a while, Rachmaninoff and his family came to the U.S. to live in late 1918. For the rest of his life, when not touring, he split his time between his primary residence in the U.S. and a lakeside villa he kept in Switzerland. He appeared again with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1919, a number of times in the 1920s, and then very frequently from the mid-1930s through early 1940s. He also recorded extensively with the Philadelphia Orchestra in this period.
The high point of Rachmaninoff’s relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra was the 1939 Rachmaninoff Cycle, a series of all-Rachmaninoff concerts given by Eugene Ormandy and the Orchestra in Carnegie Hall in New York City in November and December of 1939, with similar concerts in the Academy of Music in Philadelphia in the same period. Conceived and directed by Ormandy in consultation with the composer, these concerts featured the 66-year-old Rachmaninoff in various roles as pianist, conductor, and special guest. The Cycle was billed as “one of the outstanding musical events of all time” and was a great success, critically and commercially. Following the Cycle, Rachmaninoff performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra five more times in the early 1940s, until his death in March 1943 just prior to his 70th birthday. He had become a U.S. citizen a month earlier.
On April 27th-29th the Philadelphia Orchestra is presenting a Rachmaninoff Festival, a series of three concerts in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts under the direction of Principal Guest Conductor Stephane Deneve. The Festival will feature all four of Rachmaninoff piano concertos as well as his “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and “Symphonic Dances.” As part of the Festival, the Orchestra has commissioned Playwright Didi Balle to write The Rachmaninoff Trilogy, a series of three short plays based on Rachmaninoff’s relationship with the Orchestra. A play will be performed prior to each of the three Festival concerts. There will also be a display of original archival materials during the Festival.
On April 18th the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) and the Philadelphia Orchestra will present Rachmaninoff’s Philadelphia at HSP. This one-hour program will also focus on Rachmaninoff’s relationship with the Philadelphia Orchestra. There will be a brief illustrated presentation on the subject by Archivist and Music Historian Jack McCarthy, followed by a discussion with Festival Conductor Stephane Deneve and Temple University music professor and Rachmaninoff scholar David Cannata. The discussion will be moderated by Jeremy Rothman, Vice President for Artistic Planning for the Philadelphia Orchestra.
The following article was written by HSP volunteer Randi Kamine and is being posted on her behalf.
"My Dearest X.Y.Z. I want to tell you everything that has occurred lately and I want you to ask me questions which I am bound to answer.” So begins the first entry in the diary written by Selina Richards Schroeder in early 1889."
This diary is the first of three extant diaries in the possession of HSP in the Schroeder family papers (Collection 4054), which was recently processed. The second volume continues to May 1889; Selina was to turn fourteen later that year. The last of the three diaries ends in the year 1891 when Selina was sixteen.
Selina was the daughter of Louisa and Gilliat Schroeder. Gilliat uprooted from Mobile, Alabama, to New York where he developed a thriving business in the commerce of cotton. The family was upper middle class. Their home base was New York City. Selina, in her musings, did not aim to place herself in the context of social or economic class. However, class distinction is apparent in Selina’s excellent handwriting and grammar and the activities in which she participated, including painting lessons, music lessons, drawing lessons, and buying hats and dresses in up-scale shops in New York. She belonged to the economic class whose members were literate and had time and means to reflect, to the extent there is reflection in her writings.
The diaries give the reader an insight into the late 19th century adolescent world. Particularly, reading Selina’s entries casts some light on the function diaries had for Selina and girls of that era. She writes about friends, family, and herself in often candid prose, although friends and family are seldom introduced by name, which makes it difficult to figure out who is who (she uses initials and nicknames more often than full names). While much of the correspondence in the Schroeder family papers from which the diaries emerged is formal and stilted, the diary of the young girl is open and intimate. She was adamant, however, that her thoughts stay private between her and her written words. To provide secrecy she often wrote in code. [See example below – can you figure out the code?]
Selina writes about things teens today are concerned with (albeit in hand written form as opposed to digital). Indeed, one may observe that things have not changed much when it comes to the thoughts of teenage girls. There is little in the way of comments on current events and few political observations.
The last of the three diaries is filled with ephemera collected from dinners, concerts, and events Selina attended. In the three year period Selina wrote these diaries, she began to take her place in the society in which she is surrounded. It is perhaps in the third volume that readers can best capture the tone of upper middle class urban culture.
In the first volume there is a stern warning that, should the book be found, it should not be opened. Selina writes, “This book is absolutely private – except to S.R. S.[Selina herself] and her two friends E.L.S and X.Y.Z.” (Perhaps using a convention used by diarists in the nineteenth century of writing to an imaginary friend in the second person). She writes that she wants “to tell you everything that occurred lately.” This first page of the first volume has a photo of Selina and two of her friends [see photo below]. It seems that despite her warnings her secrets were not well guarded. She writes shortly after starting the diary that “Harry, and Jim and G. got hold of this book and read part of it. I was so mortified that I tore part of it up and put in the fire !!!” She will henceforth “carry the keys to my desk in my corset so nobody can get them.”
Selina’s cares revolve around who “stands up” for her and whose friendship disappoints her. In the first few pages, she gives written portraits of several of her friends. As she herself acknowledges, most of her comments are negative. She tries hard to be generous, but her compliments tend to be left handed and she quickly veers toward criticism even when starting out with a positive observation about the character, looks, or demeanor of her friends. She refers to her brothers as “the brats” throughout the diary.
Young men were at the top of Salina’s thoughts. Her descriptions of the boys in her dancing class tend to be caustic and not terribly kind. For example, “He looks as if he had swallowed a bayonet – so stiff.” Indeed, descriptions of boys, news of engagements, observations of male-female relationships predominate throughout this first volume. She wonders which of the women a boy named Basil has been pursuing for marriage—will she be the the one he loves or the one who has money? She appreciates praise given to her by her father. “Papa says I said two very clever things at dinner tonight” she writes. After a joke about grass and hay fever, (“I think that was very clever of me.”) her Aunt M. and Pa were talking about how “much darker and more Indian like” the Americans were getting , Selina quipped, “perhaps in another generation we would all be perfectly black – I think that was rather clever too, don’t you?”
There were, however, moments of serious news. “My Dear [speaking to her diary], is it not dreadful, we have just received a telegram saying Aunt F. has the Typhoid fever.” Family planned to be going to her side, in Washington, the day after hearing the news.
Comments on current events are few and far between. However, Selina does report that she was present at the New York City celebration of the 100th anniversary of George Washington’s inauguration on April 29 through May 1, 1889. She saw President Benjamin Harrison “as he went by on his boat as all the men-of-war saluted him. He was rather late and we thought perhaps that Baby McKee [Harrison’s grandson] had left his bottle behind and had to go back for it….” Later she saw the President drive by City Hall. “He stayed so long at his lunch we were afraid he had had an attack of indigestion because he had eaten so much.” Always the wisecracker.
Near the last pages of volume one, Selina has this to say about “Society.
"My Dear, there was such a delightful young beardless youth, Oh so handsome at The Wick’s. His name was Douglas Taylor. He was awfully jolly and clever. He was not a bit of a flirt and he and I looked out the window and had lots of fun. But he does not appear in Society like those ossified “beardless” idiots who do. I’m not going to let my children (particularly boys) make their appearance until they are twenty-five, as I think these youths or “cads” who go out in Society put on airs and are unbearable and detestable…. [T]hese youthful, idiots, beardless cads monopolize Society."
The second volume continues in 1889. “It is absolutely necessary no one shall open it [the diary] but myself and my chum Edith L. Speyers,” she writes. After writing, “I never get tired of writing in it and it affords me unlimited pleasure and fun,” the next twenty pages are taken up with the topics of love and romance. “Engaged: Miss Alice Jerone to Mr. Benjamin B. Lawrence (Uncle Ben) [she writes in large capital letters taking up two pages]. The most exciting thing that has happened in years !!!!!!!” This volume is replete with drawings depicting couples, women swooning over men, men swooning over women, and couples in various social activities such as rowing along a river. A drawing of said Uncle Ben and Miss Alice has the caption, “This is Aunt Alice and Uncle Ben out walking. He is so much in love with her that he can’t keep his eyes off her…This is so romantic.” Selina does not seem particularly aware of a larger meaning of events or of time passing in any historical sense. Selina’s identity as an urban, elite young woman is not explored very deeply in her day-to-day observations. She easily accepts the social order as natural.
Despite Selina’s desire for strict secrecy concerning her own diary, she was apparently not too shy about delving into others’ confidential papers. She writes, “We have just discovered a whole package of letters from Berkely MacCauly’s ten page letters !!!!” to her Aunt Julia. “Strictly private,” Selina warns above this confession, “Only S.R.S. and E.L.S. can see this.” Apparently, Selina and her friend were well aware they would get into trouble for snooping.
A description and accompanying drawing of the Schroeder family starting on a European trip, (“they are all going to Rome to study art!!!!!”) is indicative of the Schroeder family’s social and economic standing. Unfortunately, although it appears that Selina was among those going, there are no notes about the trip. (Not every page is dated so it’s difficult to say how much time passed between entries.) In this volume there are walks along Fifth Avenue, an East Hampton summer and other idle pastimes that speak to a life of leisure and at least moderate luxury. A trip to the dentist also attests to her economic standing. There are visits from friends from England who came bearing gifts and who returned from their European sojourn with seven pairs of gloves.
As in the first volume, not every entry is frivolous. Selina mentions a funeral of a friend’s mother. “Poor Mr. J. Van S … lost his mother a few weeks ago, and is in great danger of losing a good deal of his money.” Not exactly a sympathetic observation, but she does mention that the girl interested in poor Mr. Van S. went to the funeral and wept a great deal, went to bed and was “dissolved in tears almost the entire night.” A few pages later Selina shows a modicum of generosity when she notes that she participated in a fair for the Fresh Air Fund and helped raise $75.00.
There is one political reference. Selina pasted a printed copy of a poem:
"Why doth the little busy bee
And Blaine and Burchard too
Forever sing the G.O.P
It is their nature to."
The poem above is in reference to James G. Blaine and Rev. Dr. James Burchard. Rev. Burchard was a prominent Presbyterian New York minister and supporter of James G. Blaine. Burchard was accused of killing the chances of Blaine winning the Presidency in 1884 against Grover Cleveland by Burchard’s bigoted slurs against Roman Catholics.
There are more printed poems, stories, and vignettes in this second diary than the first. Selina’s drawings have improved and her world seems to have expanded a bit. She took up photography and photographed places she visited and her girlfriends. Her primary interest, however, is still with her social “set” and the romantic interactions that seem to be the center of her universe. (“Edith gave me a punch and shrieked, ‘Is that Archie?’ I turned around and spied a pair of legs and a very long nose swaying down 14th Street. I almost fainted…you see I am so excited I can hardly write!”) [Followed by dozens of exclamation marks.] Her adventures in book two include being locked in a closet for a spell and witnessing a runaway horse with an empty wagon.
The third volume starts on December 3, 1890, and has a somewhat different tone than the previous two. There are dozens of loose pages with appointment dates and descriptions of activities. It seems that Selina is busy every day of the week with social engagements. Among her mementoes is a program from her first dinner party at the Berkeley Lyceum on W. 44th Street in New York; playbills for plays at Madison Square Garden and other theaters; and concert programs. The many comments on these souvenirs include, “Grand,” “Splendid,” “Perfectly Divine,” and “Glorious.” It is clear that Selina embraces the time and place in which she lived. And no wonder—her material life is well taken care of. She records a list of Christmas gifts that would be the envy of any adolescent today. The catalogue of thirty-four gifts includes two clocks, a silver pin, a silk bag, stockings, and cash.
Potential romance is still uppermost in Selina’s mind. In speaking of a Mr. Atcheson, she says, “To tell you the truth I am dead gone on him !!!! He is very good looking and has the loveliest smile and a divine voice, and when he looks at me, such emotion thrills through every vein…He is a vision and a Dream.” Whew.
The several drawings of dresses and costumes in the diary are a portent of Selina’s future (see picture below).
In early July, 1891 Selina closes this third volume with:
"I must close with a fond farewell as I am going to Luzerne tomorrow morning… Farewell. S.R.S."
For those of us who remember those tender teenage years, and especially those of us who wrote in diaries, the intimate musings in these books will surely have us thinking, “the more things change the more they stay the same.” And yet, the reader might wonder, while reading about the familiar emotions that were expressed by Selina -- have things really stayed the same, or, with social media being the predominate mode of communication, is there no longer an outlet for this type of expression. Perhaps in studying these and other diaries historians can contribute to a subject that is being intensely discussed these days, that is, the diminished sense of privacy, and its implications.
Curious of what became of our carefree teenager? In her mid-twenties she opened a dress shop in Manhattan due to a turn in her father’s fortunes! She married Charles Lawrence in Westchester, New York, in 1900.
For more information on her and other working women see What Women can Earn: Occupations of Women and their Compensation, by Frederick A. Stokes (1899)
History is a mystery, especially for events that occurred more than 100 years ago. With no one around who was a witness, the evidence is often sketchy at best. A newspaper article, a photograph, a letter – each piece only whets the appetite by offering a tantalizing clue.
Historians, like real life Sherlock Holmeses, search out all the evidence they can find and then apply their honed skills of reasoning to create an interpretation of what happened. Even then, they don’t always have all the right information – and they may come to incorrect conclusions.
One example is the mystery of what happened to a statue built for the Liberty Loan parades in Philadelphia during World War I. In preparing materials for a program, I was looking at photographs in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s (HSP) Philadelphia War Photograph Committee collection. Liberty Loans were bonds sold to individuals by the U.S. Treasury to fund the War, rather than raising taxes. Parades helped to promote the sales through whipping up patriotic fervor. I noticed in photographs of a parade on South Broad Street in 1917 that there was a very large Statue of Liberty next to City Hall.
It certainly is not there now, so where did it go?
My interest piqued, I began an internet search. I read up on Liberty Loan parades in HSP’s collections, including the finding aid to the South Philadelphia Women’s Liberty Loan Committee Records. And then I went to newspapers of the day and looked for articles and photographs, figuring something so large would have occasioned mention. I also wrote to curators of local art museums and searched sculpture databases for Philadelphia.
I did learn something about the statue: It was unveiled on April 16, 1917 and sculpted by Max Voight, a German immigrant. It stood 51 feet high with the base, about one-third the height of the “real” Statue of Library. The choice of Voight as sculptor echoed the poem on the Statue’s base welcoming immigrants and showed how German Americans stood with their new home in the war movement. I even found a patent for Voight’s design, but I could not discover more information about Voight, despite going to genealogy sources.
In browsing more photographs from the War Committee Collection, I saw the Statue of Liberty one more time – this time in front of Independence Hall in 1919. The occasion was a homecoming parade for the 18th Infantry Division. But the case has gone cold. No source mentions and no living person knows where the sculpture went after that final parade nearly 100 years ago.
On February 23, come to HSP to learn about another Philadelphia history mystery. Like Christopher Boone and the letters in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time or me with World War I photographs, try your hand at searching historical documents and piecing together a true, but forgotten, story.
This post is shared on behalf of Andrea (Ang) Reidell, Educational Specialist, National Archives.
Last night I had the pleasure of co-presenting at Intriguing Sources: How to Solve a Historical Mystery, A One City, One Philadelphia Book Program hosted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP). Participants dove right into the documents we presented to them - all evidence or clues related to an important - but now little-known - story of slavery and freedom in Philadelphia. The room buzzed with conversation as attendees looked at copies of documents from the National Archives, the Philadelphia City Archives and of course HSP. Ship manifests, ledger book pages, old newspapers and indenture certificates helped participants connect to historical events and people in a new way. Primary sources help make those historical connections happen.
What historical mysteries are you intrigued by? What stories do you want to learn more about? Maybe they are family stories, or the history of your neighborhood.or town. The historical stories I am most drawn to usually involve people who worked for change - those who worked to make the world a better place in big or small ways. Examples of this abound at the National Archives. For example, did you know that Philadelphia was the location of a famous federal civil rights case - in 1876? Newspapers across the country covered the case Reverend Fields Cook of Virginia brought against Upton Newcomer, a clerk at the plush Bingham House hotel on Market Street. But somehow knowledge of that case dissipated over the years and it became a historical mystery, rediscovered again several years ago when someone was going through court case files at the National Archives at Philadelphia. Take a look at the document below and try to decipher the clerk’s handwriting that give an overview of the process and outcome of the case. What verdict did the jury find in this Reconstruction-Era civil rights case?
Image: Indictment of Upton Newcomer; U.S. v. Newcomer, 1876; Criminal Case Files; United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia); Records of District Courts of the United States, Record Group 21; National Archives at Philadelphia.
Amid holiday tumult, Lee Arnold, HSP's Senior Director of the Library & Collections and Chief Operating Officer, takes a humorous look at hidden Thanksgiving "history."
The story we have all been told, about a happy confluence between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians, really didn’t happen. In fact, the Wampanoag, on that crisp 4th Thursday of November, just wanted to have a nice quiet feast without all those foreigners peppering them with silly questions: Where are we again?; Is there any place to get a nice cuppa’ tea?; What do you think of Brexit?, etc. Every time one of the Pilgrims would come to the Indian village, hinting for an invitation (“Don’t have any T-day plans…” or “Sure would be nice to be with loved ones on the holiday…”), the Wampanoags would just close their windows, turn off the lights, and pretend they weren’t home—just like they had to do with the Pilgrims the month before on Halloween.
The only Wampanoag who actually set foot in Plymouth Plantation was a Native cat which the Pilgrims called Francine but her Indian name was Fri-Tṑ-Lay-Fḗt (which roughly translates to “She whose toes smell like corn chips”). She didn’t come to Plymouth because she liked the Pilgrims; she was usually just looking for voles. But this day a hungry Pilgrim named Vivica bribed Francine with two freshly shucked quahogs. Francine not only led them to the Wampanoag smokehouse where they found ample supplies of venison and wild turkey, but she also led them to the Wampanoag pantry where they found cases of canned cranberry sauce and enough Sam Adams Pale Ale to fend off the cold till at least the New Year.
In the end the Wampanoags did set extra plates at the table (but did not put out the good silver) and taught the Pilgrims how to make a wish using the, aptly named, turkey wishbones; the Pilgrims taught them how to belch and re-notch their belts after over-eating. [We all know what the Wampanoags really wished for.] Francine, ultimately, was felis-non-grata in both communities. The Wampanoag changed her name to Bi-Valv-Kit-Tḗ (which roughly means “Cat who sells soul for small shellfish”); the Pilgrims soon forgot her heroic service that fall day and kept yelling “scat” and clapping their hands whenever she was seen in the Plantation with a vole in her mouth. They also wouldn’t let her play with any yarn on the Sabbath and she had to sit still during 3-hour sermons at Wednesday evening services. And then there were the mandatory choir rehearsals on Thursdays, and…well, Francine had simply had it and moved to Rhode Island.
For my third and final blog post, I had originally planned to profile several individuals living in Philadelphia’s Chinatown at different points in its history. As I sifted through boxes of documents and folders of photos, however, I found this task nearly impossible.
Despite having gone through stacks of Christmas cards and business letters, newspaper clippings and various personal collections, I felt as if I barely understood these individuals better than those anonymous faces featured in black and white photographs published in period newspapers.
Rather than attempting to speak on behalf of the individuals contained in these collections, I have included some of their photos and items that struck a personal chord. It is my hope that these images will allow others to put faces and names to individuals from these historical eras and events, in an effort to make them come alive as much more than mere "history book facts."
An image of Henry Loo, a successful restaurateur in the Philadelphia area, as a young man. From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
The letter above is addressed to Henry Loo from his brother and details the situation surrounding their mother’s sickness. With Loo in the United States and his brother in Singapore, the duty of taking care of their mother fell to their sisters. From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
Amidst the rest of his papers, I found this document showing that Henry Loo had at one time been considered for deportation. The sentence was later overturned. From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
This Alien Registration Certificate does not belong to Henry Loo, but I have included it as something to compare to the modern day equivalents (say, for example, a green card). From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
As I flipped through the folders containing the various items in Henry Loo's personal papers, I had to include his impressive menu collection. I've taken a photo of just a few of the more colorful menus here. From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
Amid his many other accomplishments as a successful business owner, Henry Loo was also a skilled painter. I found this little sketch of bamboo, done on a paper towel, amidst his personal papers. From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
A photograph of Henry Loo celebrating his 80th birthday. From the Henry Loo personal papers and business records (#MSS140).
From the Jung Family photographs (#PG084).
From the Jung Family photographs (#PG084).
As I mentioned in the introduction to this blog series, I’ve had quite a few firsts during my time here at HSP, but I’ve also seen quite a bit of change and growth, too. Over the course of a summer, I’ve gone from being terrified of handing in a call slip and causing irreparable damage to the documents, to being proud of my call slip collection and eager to see what the next box held in store (though, of course, I never stopped being careful with what I handled!). With my time as an intern at HSP drawing to a close, I am grateful for being able to have had the opportunity to see a community history so personal to me in a new light, and I look forward to carrying that perspective with me to whatever new journeys I embark upon next.
Every Sunday, my parents bring home a copy of The World Journal Weekly (Shi Jie Zhou Kan), the Sunday edition of a newspaper circulated in the Chinatowns of the United States documenting everything from world events and economic news to articles addressing issues pertinent to the Chinese American community. I remember that these pages of colorful newsprint would litter the house, and for the longest time, I paid little attention to them. The few times that I did find them useful usually had more to do with their ability to serve as a great substitute for, say, Styrofoam packing peanuts.
As I was entering combinations of keywords into HSP's catalog, however, some entries I found soon made me change my opinion about those newspapers. For starters, I didn’t realize that the publications my parents read had counterparts dating from the 1890s—a bit silly considering the amount of time newspapers have been around (as opposed to, say, social media). And given that these were published with articles written and translated in both English and Chinese, my ability to peruse the contents shot up.
The first publication that caught my eye was HSP’s collection of The Chinese-American Advocate (Hua Mei Zi Bao), a bilingual series published and distributed in Philadelphia starting in 1892. While I only found the first two issues of the first volume, there was plenty of material to digest. As the newspaper's title and motto (“Do ye unto others as ye would that others should do unto you”) suggest, a large part of the publication’s aims were geared towards the community outside of Philadelphia’s fledgling Chinatown.
The first issue of The Chinese-American Advocate. Dr. Jin Fuey Moy, the editor of The Advocate, was one of the first Chinese in America to become a doctor. Dr. Moy practiced mainly in the Philadelphia area.
By the late 1800s, many Chinese on the West coast of the United States who remained after the California Gold Rush and transcontinental railroad boom began to migrate eastward to escape rising anti-Chinese sentiments. There, they formed communities in mostly urban areas and took jobs that incited little offence, such as opening laundromats and restaurants offering Chop Suey. Given the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the subsequent Geary Act of 1892 that prohibited further entry of Chinese into the United States, many of these early Chinese Americans were bachelors or men whose families were still in China. With few efforts made to integrate them into American society, these men and their enclaves became associated with rampant gambling and drug use.
This was the type of community that Dr. Jin Fuey Moy, editor of The Chinese-American Advocate, wanted to speak out for. In his introduction of the first issue of The Advocate, Dr. Moy appeals to his English-speaking readers, stating: “It is the purpose of this publication to be as substantially useful within the range of its influence as the circumstances will permit. While in a sense addressed to and for Chinamen, resident in America, it mayhaps will fall into the hands of many an American or English-speaking friend of the Chinese race, and to such we would desire to be helpful in their intercourse with those people, and enable them the better to accomplish the good they have in mind.”
The content of the publication itself also reflects this motive. While the newspaper is written in both Chinese and English, only a select number of the articles are actually translated into Chinese. Other pieces, such as that detailing with the escape of a Chinese girl from an abusive “work house,” are left un-translated and clearly appeal to the sympathy of an American reader.
But this is not to say that Dr. Moy addressed little content to his fellow countrymen—in fact, what he does translate is quite crucial to the Chinatown community. Beyond news about China, Dr. Moy also included a translation of a Sunday school lesson in each issue, as religious bodies were one of the few institutions to reach out to Chinese American communities at the time. And, in the first issue, the centerpiece article includes a copy of the newly passed Geary Act of 1892 translated into Chinese. This is critical, for beyond just extending the ten-year effectiveness of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the Geary Act also mandated that all Chinese in the United States carry documents proving their valid residency at all times. Without these papers, they would be deported.
An image of a Sunday school lesson translated in Chinese in The Chinese American Advocate.
The Chinese-American Advocate is not the only publication to have served such a purpose in Philadelphia’s Chinatown. One of the other collections I found almost immediately when scrolling through HSP’s online catalog included several volumes of Yellow Seeds (Huang Zi Bao) published starting in 1972. This newspaper is also written in both English and Chinese. Like The Advocate, it focuses mainly on raising awareness for the plights of people in Chinatown, particularly with regards to housing and healthcare issues.
Contrary to the overall tone of its predecessor, however, Yellow Seeds serves less as an appeal to the compassion of the religious as it does as a rallying call for unity against injustices facing the Chinese American community. This is reflected in its contents, with article titles ranging from “What Does Chinatown Mean to Me?” and “Suzy Wong/Charlie Chan: Is that really me?” to “US Policy in Vietnam: Why Should Asians in America Keep Well Informed About US Policy in Asia?,” “Can You Be Deported: Facts for Illegal Entrants,” and “Why Learn English?!”.
An article titled "Can You Be Deported: Facts for Illegal Entrants" that was published in the first issue of Yellow Seeds. The newspaper contains many articles targeting issues and concerns pertinent to the Chinese American population, including a list of health symtpoms which require medical attention.
Having observed this difference, I can’t help but wonder: What would have happened to Dr. Moy if he had published a passage such as this, drawn from an article in Yellow Seeds?
“In order to ‘succeed’ we have to ‘operate’ in the American system—accept its values, play its games. But we are never fully accepted into this system because of our ‘slanted eyes and yellow skin.’ We must live in segregated communities to feel we are “among friends”. So we retreat to our Chinatowns and Little Tokyos, to our homes where old traditions compete with American ways.”
Of course, the 1970s were vastly different than the late 1800s, and it’s quite clear that such acerbic words come from people with a very different voice in society than before. This is perhaps made even more evident by the fact that I was able to treat the current equivalent of The Advocate and Yellow Seeds as packing material. But at the same time, the experiences outlined from one era’s advocate to the next reminds us of what is still left to change.
Following independence from Great Britain, it became especially important for America to create ties to the rest of the world that had previously not been necessary under British rule. Demand for commodities like tea, porcelain, and silk meant that American merchants had to quickly find a way to establish trade routes with China directly. Along with New York and Boston, Philadelphia became a key city from which vessels like the one shown below departed for Canton (now Guangzhou).
Detail of a watercolor painted by Jacob Peterson capturing the Helvetius, a ship belonging to Stephen Girard used in trade with India and China. This image was captured from Philadelphians and the China Trade 1784-1844 by Jean Gordon Lee found in HSP’s collection.
I decided to start my research by examining the different materials available at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania connected to the China trade, and from those materials, I was able to piece together a rough outline of what a voyage on such a scale would look like.
This insurance policy for the Calcedonia’s trip from Philadelphia to Canton and back is dated March 23, 1812. From the Robert Waln papers.
Within the Robert Waln Papers, I found a series of insurance policies for his ship, the Calcedonia, that was bound for Canton. From what I can make of the script, “the Assurers are contented to bear, and take upon them in this voyage… Seas, Men of War, Fires, Enemies, Pirates, Rovers, Thieves, Jettisons, Letters of Mart, and Counter Mart, Surprisals, Takings at Sea, Arrests, Restraints and Detainments of all Kings, Princes or People, of what Nation, Condition, or Quality soever, Barratry of the Master, and Mariners, and all other perils, losses and misfortunes, which have or shall come to the hurt, detriment, or damage of the said goods or merchandises, or any part thereof.” This appears to be quite a comprehensive list, and I have little doubt of its necessity, especially given the amount of risk associated with such a voyage.
A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade; Export Paintings, Furniture, Silver & Other Objects depicting a painting of the Hongs at Canton.
With all of the necessary documents in order, a ship traveling from Philadelphia to Canton would then undergo a voyage lasting several weeks before finally arriving at the mouth of the Pearl River. There at the Whampoa checkpoint, merchants would secure a translator and stock up on necessary supplies before being conveyed up the river to Canton. From there, business could commence.
A “Tea Weighing Book” I found in HSP’s collection belonging to an anonymous merchant. On the left page is a tally of the prices for “Bohea Souchong,” a black tea from Fujian province, while on the right is a tally for “Young Hyson,” a green tea from Anhui province. The Chinese characters found on both most probably refer to the company from which the teas were purchased, and the heading “Punhoyqua” most probably refers to the name of the Co-Hong merchant with which this transaction took place.
Among the letters of another Philadelphia merchant, Joseph Archer, I found a narration of what sorts of struggles came with that sort of business. In a letter from Canton dated October 24, 1833 addressed to his “dear friend” Jon Cryder Esq. in London, Archer writes that:
“All sales are made here at the risk of the consignee. I know of no instance of guarantee on the part of the seller. Under the old system of doing business in Canton where all the sales and investments or nearly so were made through the Hong Investments, very little or no risk was incurred, but of late years the system of doing business has undergone a very decided change for the worse in this respect. The few men… who are now members of the Hong have confined themselves for several years back, almost exclusively to the Company’s business and sales are now necessarily made to the [proofer?] Hong merchants and to another clap of men who are termed Outside Merchants and who are doing business under the Hong Merchants, as [Jurors?] or Clerks. Some of these men are respectable and [possess?] some property; but the system is entirely illegal and in case of death or fraud of the party, you have no redress whatever under the law of China."
A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade depicting a wooden chair made in China.
Archer continued: "In case of failure of any of the Hong Merchants, the Co. Hong is liable for all debts due to foreigners (of this you are no doubt aware) but the manner in which such debts are paid, in installments of 12 or 10 pct. per annum, amounts at last to almost a total loss...
"The Old Hong Merchants deny altogether being responsible for the debts of those who were appointed at the requisition of the Company [34?] years ago and subsequently. This is a question yet to be decided by the legal authorities; the foreigners contend that they are one and all members of the Co. Hong and are individually and collectively liable for each other’s debts.”
Detail from Ellen Decker’s After the Chinese Taste: China's Influence in America 1750-1930, a book in HSP’s collections. Shown here is a chest of drawers with details of fantastical creatures and scenery from China. Imports like these were the majority of what informed the public about Chinese culture.
Joseph Archer’s letter book, being the very first item I examined during my research, was more puzzling than enlightening at the time, especially with regards to the mentioned Hong and Co-Hong merchants. It was only after further inquiry from some secondary sources I examined at HSP that I was able to understand what it was Archer was referring to. During the Qing Dynasty, permission for foreign trade was only granted to a few merchants in Canton known as Co-Hongs, and foreign traders would conduct transactions and limit their activities to their country’s respective “Hong.” Thus armed with this knowledge, what Archer describes to his friend in this letter here is actually quite exciting—these “Outside Merchants” who operate underneath the Hong merchants are actually working illegally, and thus the Co-Hongs are technically not liable for the debts that their agents incur… a potentially disastrous situation for the unlucky foreigner.
A detail from Jean Gordon Lee’s Philadelphians and the China Trade, 1784-1844 as found in HSP’s collection. This silk fan is one of the many imports from China that Philadelphians would have purchased.
However say that all does go well during these transactions. Having obtained the tea, silk, furniture, fans, and other goods, next comes the voyage back to Philadelphia. There, products from China were sold as exotic luxuries to the ladies and gentlemen who could afford them.
A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade depicting samples of silk that could be imported.
But just as their knowledge of China is incomplete and obtained only from limited accounts and the objects they have purchased, my quick recount of the China trade is also imperfect. As the passage from Joseph Archer’s letter reveals, many obstacles to conducting trade presented themselves in the form of cultural and systemic disparities, and very little of what I looked at offers a glimpse at the lasting impacts of the China trade on the people of Canton. Perhaps some more digging through the HSP archives might remedy that…
Join me next time as I look at the founding of Philadelphia’s Chinatown and the first stirrings of Chinese American activism!
A detail from Carl Crossman’s The China Trade. Above is a certificate granting permission for a vessel to leave Canton.