Images of “by-gone days:” Visualizing the Manayunk of yesteryear

Oftentimes, history can seem like an accumulation of paper trails, a collection of stories told through the letters, diaries, and other written records that our ancestors leave behind.  However, graphic materials are also compelling historical artifacts, as I’m continually reminded while working on rights and reproductions orders at HSP.  Within our rich and diverse collections, HSP houses over 300,000 graphic items and these materials, whether they be photographs, watercolors, lithographs, maps, or other media, are a valued part of the historical record and often integral to the stories that our patrons aspire to tell.

Manayunk circa 1840 (Bb 862 M312)

A few months ago, I received a request for historic images of Manayunk for a documentary about Samuel Hughes, a Welshman who immigrated to Philadelphia in 1837 and settled on a dairy farm in Manayunk.  While searching our collections, I found this oil and watercolor in one of our graphics collections and was immediately captivated.  Painted by an unknown artist sometime around 1840, this image, with its lush, green landscape and open farmland, was so far removed from my own vision of present-day Manayunk that it prompted me to search for more information about Manayunk’s progression from rural farmland to metropolitan hub.

 

Title page of "Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk" (Am .3724)

Among the varied resources concerning Manayunk in our collections, my favorite is a hand-written volume by Horatio Gates Jones, Jr. entitled “Early History of Roxborough and Manayunk, 1855.”  A former corresponding secretary for HSP, Mr. Jones wrote the volume for the entertainment of his family and friends and aimed to take readers back to “by-gone days-when this whole country was a wilderness” (Jones p. 3).  With charm and wit (not to mention impeccable handwriting!), Mr. Jones gives a lively account of the settlement of a small tract of land bordered by the Schuylkill River to the west  and Germantown, or “the German Township” as it was then known, to the northeast (p. 4).  Initially part of Roxborough, the area that became Manayunk was settled, beginning in the 1680s, by such families as the Leverings, Rittenhouses, and Gorgas, whose legacies persist in Manayunk’s street names.  Interestingly, the expansion of these families and the area itself went hand-in-hand in these early years.  Indeed, according to Jones’ account, the central thoroughfare into Manayunk, Green Lane, owes its existence to the efforts of the Levering family to seek “a free egress and regress” between the tracts of land that Wigard Levering and his sons Jacob and William claimed along the Schuylkill River (p. 20).

Railroad Bridge over the Wissahickon, Near Manayunk, circa 1834 (Bb 7 R131)

As late as 1817, the population of present-day Manayunk hovered around 60 inhabitants, but the construction of a canal and dam to regulate the Schuylkill, along with the establishment of Manayunk’s first mill in the 1820s, helped the area blossom into a manufacturing hub that drew comparisons to Manchester, England.  Still considered part of Roxborough, the expanding mill town was known by the name of its dam, “Flat Rock,” but rapid population growth brought a push for a proper name.  In 1824, the names “Udoravia,” “Hydoravia,” and “Bridgewater” all came under consideration, but it was “Manaiung,” the Native American word for river, that ultimately provided inspiration for the name “Manayunk” (p. 24).    On June 11, 1840, Manayunk officially incorporated as a borough, completing its transformation from, in Jones’ words, a “once quiet and retired valley” to a miniature town that finally became part of the extended city of Philadelphia in 1854.  

Jones' account of the naming of "Manayunk" (Am .3724)

The more I read about the early history of Manayunk, the more I came to appreciate this painting and the other images in our collections as snapshots of a moment time that perfectly capture Manayunk’s development from a stretch of open farmland along the Schuylkill River to a budding industrial center.  Explore HSP’s Digital Library (http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/) for more great graphic materials that complement and enhance our understanding of the past – you never know what visual history you’ll uncover.

Bankers Trust Company becomes entangled in a ‘publishers’ war’

Several years after its failure, Bankers Trust Company became entangled in a ‘publishers’ war’ which pitted two of Philadelphia’s most prominent newspapers against each other: The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Record. The larger backdrop for this conflict was the vicious political battle raging in the city as well as the rest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as Democrats, for the first time in years, began to wrest control of government from the Republican Party. George Earle III, elected Pennsylvania’s governor in November 1934, was the first Democrat to be elected to the position in 40 years.

In the summer of 1937 Moses Annenberg, staunch Republican and owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, began to use his newspaper to attack Albert M. Greenfield. For years a backer of the Republican Party, Greenfield had by this time switched his allegiance to the Democrats and worked ardently to see them gain control of the government. Greenfield’s political involvement as well as the fact that he was the chief financial backer of The Inquirer’s rival Democratic paper, The Record, made him a prime target. Annenberg used these attacks as a way to discredit The Record, Greenfield, and others affiliated with the Democratic Party. J. David Stern, owner of The Record, and Greenfield did their best to reciprocate.

The Daily News, October 28, 1938

Besides alleging improper political dealings with top Democratic officials, the newspaper focused on his association with Bankers Trust Company. Bankers Trust, which was still undergoing liquidation, continued to be a sore topic for many Philadelphians. The Inquirer began to print articles blaming Greenfield for the bank’s failure. During the gubernatorial and U.S. senatorial elections of 1938, the newspaper, along with the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee, sponsored two radio broadcasts by Philadelphia attorney Daniel G. Murphy: “Let’s face the facts” and “The Closed Banks-who got the money.”

In the former address, Murphy accused the Earle administration and its backers of corruption, claiming that the State Banking Department had given preferential treatment to Greenfield and his associates who still owed millions of dollars to closed banks, including Bankers Trust Company.

In the second, Murphy contested that Greenfield had known about the bank’s impending failure, and had one of his firms withdraw $300,000 from the bank five days before it closed. The Inquirer gave the radio address full coverage, reproducing Murphy’s statement and including a photo-static copy of the check showing the supposed withdrawn funds.

Greenfield refuted these claims in a radio address, entitled “The Closing of Bankers Trust- the wrong of 1930.” This marked the first time that Greenfield had spoken publicly about the bank and his affiliation with it since its closure.

First page of the draft of Greenfield's radio address

Greenfield argued that his real estate firm, the Albert Company, paid Bankers Trust $300,000 for a loan it had received shortly before the bank closed.

Besides radio addresses, Greenfield bought newspaper ads denouncing Murphy and Annenberg. The Record also began to print slanderous articles about The Inquirer owner, including charges that he was involved in illegal horse betting.

Annenberg and Greenfield ultimately sued each other for libel, but the suits were withdrawn in May 1939 with the signing of mutual public apologies.

The story of Bankers Trust Company is being documented as part of the Greenfield digital project. The project is set to launch by the end of 2012.

Conrad Weiser, Indian Affairs Agent (1696-1760)

Johann Conrad Weiser lived in Pennsylvania in the early 1700s and is mostly known for his role in shaping the history of colonial America through his work as an “Indian affairs agent.” He lived quite a busy and remarkable life, although perhaps everyone who crossed an ocean to live on a continent entirely unknown for most of their culture’s history is worth marking more than once.

His father was part of a group of German immigrants to North America who swore loyalty to the English crown, a fealty that Weiser would enthusiastically maintain. When he was 16 his father made an agreement with a local Mohawk chief and sent young Conrad to spend a winter with the tribe, learning their language and customs. Weiser would later move to Pennsylvania and begin working for a series of governors, in theory as an Indian affairs agent, helping to prevent violence between Native tribes and colonists and brokering land “sales,” but in reality doing much more. During the French and Indian War (or the North American part of Seven Years War, depending on your geographical perspective) he was a lieutenant. He commanded an underfed but fierce militia of colonists while still maintaining diplomatic relations with the Six Nations, a united group of Iroquois or Haudenosaunee (Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, and Tuscaroras). He also helped to found Reading, Pennsylvania and Berks County, and was Berks County’s chief judge from 1752 until 1760. In addition to his civic duties, he was a teacher and minister in the Lutheran Church, although he spent a few years living at the Ephrata Cloister in Lancaster County.

Now that I’ve introduced you to Conrad Weiser, I’ll let some of his records speak for themselves.

This notebook appears to contain notes that Weiser kept during a meeting with Six Nations representatives sometime around 1750. The handwriting — he was usually much neater — suggests that he was writing this as it happened or shortly thereafter. He was one of the first (or possibly the first) colonist to recognize the importance of wampum belts in strengthening diplomatic relationships, and here he describes being presented with one:

We give you this belt of wampum to wear about your neck as a token that you are our friends that have been at our counsel fire. (Vol 1, Page 22)

In this item, Weiser argues to his friend and secretary to the governor of Pennsylvania, Richard Peters, that all tribes should be given warning long before their land is sold and be given adequate time to leave it before European settlers move in. But ideally, he adds, land should only be bought and sold during visits from the Six Nations’ chiefs and only with their consent. These opinions seem less than moderate to us, but his sympathy for the local tribes would eventually lead to accusations of disloyalty and of his being a traitor to the English crown. Throughout the correspondence in this collection, Weiser makes references to lies and rumors being spread about him, and is eventually forced to defend himself against charges of disloyalty and in one instance, against an armed mob.

(Vol 1, Page 19)

In this account of a hostile meeting between Weiser and a gathering of townspeople, he describes how they react when he first escorts a party of Native men safely to lodgings for the night (guarding them from a large, angry throng) and then tries to draft volunteers for a militia. The townspeople are riled after hearing rumors that a colonist was murdered by a Native American man, so the meeting quickly escalates to threats of violence.

They began, some to curse the Governor; some the Assembly; called me a traitor of the country, who held with the Indians, and must have known this murder beforehand. I sat in the house by a low window, some of my friends came to pull me away from it, telling me some of the people threatened to shoot me. (Vol 1, Page 34)

Given Weiser’s staunch support of the English crown, the final item in the collection was a bit of a surprise to me. This letter was written well after Weiser’s death, from James Biddle, a friend of the family to Weiser’s son, Samuel Weiser. The letter is unfortunately damaged and missing some of its right hand side, but the sentiment comes through clearly. Biddle is warning Samuel Weiser that Great Britain is no longer the trusted, benevolent protector that it was only decades ago.

Our old parent Great Britain seemes bent upon treating us rather like slaves than child[ren] and has thrown aside all affection & love for us. They are bent upon making us hewers of wood & drawers of water… (Vol 2, Page 213)


Biddle closes his letter with a final warning: “… Sammy if there is a cloud gathering about America… unless our different legislature in America all join and keep constantly on the watch. It is a dangerous time and all America must be watchful of Great Britain as they certainly want to make slaves…”

This collection offers a surprisingly varied view into this period in Pennsylvania history. In addition to correspondence, it also includes muster rolls, lists of men who died in conflicts with French forces, receipts and expenses for diplomatic trips, and depositions for cases Weiser heard as a Berks County judge (including testimony of domestic violence,  accusations of slander, and a colonist alleging that a Nanticoke man sexually assaulted his daughter).

These papers document a period of time in United States history from which relatively little written material survives. But more interestingly, they describe the interactions between colonists and Native peoples from the point of view of a man who was sympathetic to but complicit in their systematic  exploitation.  Weiser’s papers surprised me with their sincerity — the genuine respect that he has for the Native men and women and the seriousness with which he takes his responsibility to them come through in his letters. This is undoubtedly one of the most historically and socially important collections that I’ve had a chance to work with as a processing archivist, and I’m especially glad that because it’s part of the DCA2 project, it will soon be available online to more users than could access it through the Historical Society’s reading room.

[November is Native American Heritage Month. For more information, images, audio and video resources, and materials for teachers, visit http://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov]

Transparency in documentary editing

Postmodernist theory, which emphasizes the inevitable existence of individuals’ subjectivity and bias, has for the most part, become commonplace thinking. Within academe, postmodern critical analysis has affected all disciplines, including the “pure” sciences, which are no longer viewed as completely objective and neutral.

The reality of subjectivity has caused scholars in the humanities and social sciences to try to be more balanced in their work and/or transparent about their own personal biases as well as the biases inherent in their work. In the case of historians, this means acknowledging the subjective nature of the materials with which they use to construct past events. Historical records—primary source materials—are not static and objective carriers of truth. Among other things, they are the products of persons or groups who had the means to create and maintain them. Produced for specific purposes and within specific contexts, records harbor their creators’ biases and viewpoints.

With regards to the Greenfield Digital project, there is bias inherent in the records that Dana and I are using to tell the story of Bankers Trust Company. About 95% of the records that we are editing come from the Albert M. Greenfield Papers (1959). Thus, it is largely through Greenfield’s eyes that the history of Bankers Trust Company will be told. Although the story of the bank was closely interwoven with that of Greenfield, who played a principal role in the bank’s founding, expansion, and subsequent demise, his documentary records only captures part of the story.

Dana and I have made it a point to try to be as transparent as we can in order to make clear that this project is not an authoritative or all-encompassing analysis of the story of Bankers Trust Company. Following the lead of other documentary editing scholars and TEI best practices, we are employing several means with which to do this.

We have developed editorial principles for our document selection process as well as for our encoding and transcription practices. These principles will be included on the web site. The document selection principles outline the criteria we used to decide what materials from the Greenfield papers and other collections, including the Philadelphia Record clippings and photo morgue, to include to tell the story of Bankers Trust and why.

With regards to our transcription and encoding methodology, Dana and I agree with Michael E. Stevens and Steven B. Burg’s assertion that documentary editors “…have an obligation to explain how they have treated the text” since there are multiple ways to present the text of a document, “ranging from heavily emended to absolutely literal.”[1] In explaining our methodology, we will be following the lead of other digital editing projects, such as the Women Writers Project, that have provided such transparency.

We will also include information about our editorial decisions for each document and also document decisions such as the taxonomy we’ve chosen to use to describe the documents which will affect users’ search capabilities. For this project, we’re using the Library of Congress Thesaurus for Graphic Materials. This information will appear in the header of the TEI documents:

Moreover, Dana and I have discussed the possibility of incorporating Web 2.0 technologies into the project to allow users, especially educators and scholars, to contribute their knowledge of the materials as well as how their using the materials in the classroom.

Despite the inadequacies and biases that we face, the Greenfield project, part of a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation, will contribute new and intriguing information about bank failures and Philadelphia during the Great Depression, and serve as an important resource for educators and scholars among others.


[1] Stevens, Michael E. and Steven B. Burg, Editing Historical Documents: a handbook of practice (Walnut Creek, CA : AltaMira Press, 1997), 12-13.

Rights and Reproductions, or “R&R” for those in the know

William Penn, chalk portrait by Francis Place

Since starting at HSP in July as the new Rights and Reproductions Associate, I’ve handled lots of orders for digital reproductions of HSP materials and permission to distribute these materials in books, exhibitions, and other media.  Processing R&R orders provides a great front row seat to HSP’s unique and diverse materials, not to mention the cool ways in which patrons are using our historical artifacts.  While some materials are perennial favorites with patrons (Francis Place’s chalk portrait of William Penn is especially popular among textbook publishers), here’s a snapshot of MY favorite (and sometimes less well-known) R&R materials from the past two months:    

Not long after I began working at HSP, I received a request from Christie’s New York for a copy of a watercolor of Harriton House by William L. Breton.  Built in 1704 by a Welsh Quaker, Harriton is located in Lower Merion and is best known as the home of Charles Thomson, “the Sam Adams of Philadelphia.”  A Philadelphia merchant, Thomson became the first and only Secretary to the Continental Congresses and, in April 1789, traveled to Mount Vernon to inform George Washington that he had been elected the first President of the United States.  Over 200 years later, a carved mahogany side chair belonging to Charles Thomson was featured in Christie’s September auction of American furniture, folk art, and decorative arts and the watercolor of Harriton House was used as an illustration in the auction catalog.

Charles Thomson's Residence Harriton in Lower Merion

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania is perhaps best known for its colonial and early American history holdings, but we also have many collections of compelling twentieth-century materials.

WPA poster of William Penn House

 

One of my favorites is the Work Projects Administration posters collection, which includes over 900 examples of works by Federal Art Project artists from the 1940s. While the Work Projects Administration was a federal program, it spawned many state and local subsidiaries, among them the Pennsylvania Art Program.  Accordingly, while the subjects and styles of the artworks in the poster collection are diverse, many are also specific to Philadelphia and feature such local landmarks as the Philadelphia Zoo and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

"Defense Steel" by Horatio C. Forjohn

The color and style of these woodblock prints notably contrasts with the charcoal shades of more well-known WPA artworks like Horatio Forjohn’s “Defense Steel,” which will be published in a forthcoming volume on industrial art.

 
 
 

Sometimes the best history is personal history and two recent reproductions requests follow that mantra.  The first order was for a digital copy of Thomas C. Simpson’s personal cashbook; a nineteenth-century merchant, Mr. Simpson emigrated from Northern Ireland to Norristown and the cashbook has helped his modern-day descendants in England unravel a piece of family history.  “Family” was also the watchword for a young bride and groom, who ordered a copy of Samuel Carpenter and Hannah Hardiman’s 1684 marriage certificate from HSP’s Isaac Cooper Jones collection of marriage certificates.  Descendants of Samuel and Hannah, the couple plans to display the certificate at their wedding and have their relatives sign it, just as the Carpenter and Hardiman families did in 1684.  It is these connections between past and present that make working at HSP so rewarding and make R&R a great opportunity to share our collections with patrons far and wide.

Marriage certificate of Samuel Carpenter and Hannah Hardiman

Interested in purchasing high-quality digital scans of HSP materials? Contact us at rnr@hsp.org or visit http://www.hsp.org/node/2032 for more information on our Rights and Reproductions service.  You can also view already-digitized materials online in HSP’s Digital Library.

Dad humor of the early 1900’s

Phase two of HSP’s Digital Center for Americana Project is well underway. This project has the same broad goals of processing and creating digital access to collections as the pilot phase did, but this time around the focus is on ethnic history collections rather than the Civil War. The collections in DCA2 all come from families and individuals who were immigrants to the Philadelphia area, or groups which documented the lives of those immigrant families and communities. These collections span over 300 years (from the late 1600’s to the early 2000’s) and represent people and families from Germany, Sweden, France, Japan, Korea, Greece, Italy, and various nations in South Asia, Africa, the Middle East. All of these collections are receiving some kind of digitization and will be available for you to access via HSP’s digital library in the future. Collections will either be entirely digitized or we will digitize a selection of images that best represent the content of the collection.

One of the first collections to be processed was also one of the most charming I’ve ever seen. Charles A. Quinn was a postal worker in Philadelphia in the early 20th century who kept himself busy in his off hours by photographing his growing family, developing the photographs himself, placing them in an album, writing captions for every photograph, and hand painting decorations for the album pages.

Charles A. Quinn family album

Charles Quinn and Ann Weber's courtship

The album begins during the courtship and engagement of Charles and his wife, Ann Weber, and documents his family throughout the growth of their two daughters. By the end of the album, the youngest Quinn daughter is graduating from secondary school, quite the sophisticated young lady.

Charles A. Quinn family album

Now comes the baby. "Here I is -- Mother!"

But it isn’t the breadth of the album that I find so appealing – it’s how much of Charles Quinn’s personality comes through in the photographs, decorations, and captions. This was a man who adored his wife and children, and demonstrated it by spending years carefully creating a representation of their happy life together. You can see his affection in captions like the one under a photograph of his betrothed, who coyly poses for him, hand under her chin: “Here we have the lady in a likely pose.” Or in shots of his infant daughter laughing for the camera: “Here I is — Mother!” and “Is dinner ready, Muvver?” Or in a photo of his daughter with her schoolmates on their graduation from secondary school: “Surely no school worries here!”

Charles A. Quinn family album

School days

This is corny, dad humor circa 1910, which I’m inclined to think (after processing this collection) is the best kind.

(The entire album is not yet digitized as of the date of this post, but some images are available via HSP’s Digital Library. When digitization is completed, the entire album will be accessible by following the same link. View the finding aid for this collection here.)

These American Lives

With part two of the Digital Center for Americana project underway, collections coming up the digital library pipeline include family album watercolors and oral history sound recordings that provide unique glimpses into Philadelphia family life, as well as how family life changes when individuals leave their country of origin for Philadelphia.

Najma Davis shares her first impressions of America.

Given the role that genealogy plays here at HSP, family history and ethnic heritage are especially fitting highlights, as they also tap into the question of how genealogy exists for recent immigrants and those that have been displaced against their will. Indeed, not all materials are delightful or even pleasant.

Among the massive linear span of the Chew family papers, three boxes in the collection document plantation activities and slavery in the North. Folders filled with bills, lists, and receipts seem dull and repetitive until they build context for human holdings. In the document below, the sale of “a Negro girl named Sarah” is chillingly ordinary.

The going rate in 1754? Thirty-two pounds and ten shillings. And the cost for impertinence? 15, 25 strokes, likely depending on the whims of your overseer.

Not all of the settlers or immigrants who arrived in America came for or received a better life. The stories in these collections include those openly shared as well as those, if we’re lucky, will be extracted by dedicated researchers. Some of them may evoke familiar themes, but history is always best when tangible. This project reminds us that each story comes with a name attached.