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.