The Conventional and Unconventional Values of the Jasper Yeates Papers

I’m posting this on behalf of Michael Fiorelli.  Last week he completed a summer archival internship at HSP, and we thank him for all his hard work.  Cary.

I am a History Graduate Student at Villanova University and for the past two months I have been processing the Jasper Yeates papers (Collection 740) at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.   I transferred the papers to acid free folders, rehoused them in legal sized boxes, and created a new finding aid with Archivist Toolkit.   This internship was a good opportunity to get practical experience in a related field, and since my mind is usually stuck in the Civil War, processing this collection was a nice change of pace for me.  It was hard to resist reading many of the documents in depth, and I wanted to share some of my observations on the values of the collection.

Yeates (1745-1817) was a prominent lawyer in Lancaster when he married Sarah Burd in 1767. After a prestigious law career, he became a state Supreme Court Justice in 1791 until his death in 1817. The collection includes his business papers and personal correspondence, but the bulk of the collection consists of his legal papers, which include the court cases he worked on as a lawyer and later as a Supreme Court Justice.   While these documents will be most useful to researchers, the correspondence during the 1760’s to the 1790’s will probably interest the public the most.  The collection truly demonstrates the old saying that all history is local history, as Yeates was affected by the political issues of his time just as much as Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson.  He took time out of his law practice to perform many public functions during the Revolutionary War, most notably by serving as the Chairman of the Lancaster Committee of Correspondence that communicated with the second Continental Congress.   He also became Captain of the Lancaster militia under Colonel Matthias Slough, but his militia duties were interrupted the following year when the Continental Congress appointed him to a Commission of Indian Affairs to negotiate a treaty with the Delaware Indians at Fort Pitt. Some of the more interesting items concerning the Commission are a series of letters to Pennsylvania political figures Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson.  While Wilson is not as well known today, he was a delegate to the Continental Congress who would also play a vital role at the Constitutional Convention and serve as a Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Among the topics discussed in the letters are Yeates’ acceptance of the position and his concerns over an Indian war breaking out.

Jasper Yeates to Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson (page 1 above, pages 2 and 3 below), Collection 740, Box 7

But for the rest of this blog post I would like to focus on the quirks of the collection that will not find their way to the finding aid.  If there is one thing historians have a knack for, it is recognizing value in the mundane.  In a letter dated November 26, 1765, Richard Peters Jr., a future delegate to the Continental Congress, recounted a conversation with other friends about the local reaction to the controversial Stamp Act.  One of my personal favorite tidbits was Peters’ lamentation that his debate did not amount to much because a participant identified as Mr. Ross was too drunk to contribute to the discussion and a Mr. Galloway vehemently disagreed with the protests against the controversial act.[1]  The image of people getting drunk at such a time does not quite jive with our impressions of the Revolutionary War era!  My best discovery, however, was when I found drawings of faces on court case documents.  We all have some guilty memories of doodling in our notebooks when we should have been doing something important, and apparently people in the eighteenth century were not immune to this impulse either!

Two examples (above, below) from Jasper Yeates court notes, Collection 740, Box 49

These seemingly insignificant details in the letters can tell us about the people who wrote them and how much we have in common with the past.  Given the polarized political atmosphere and the difficult economic times we are in, a random letter by Edward Burd to his sister Sarah struck a chord with me, because he lamented the “tenpenny cuts” to the postal service by that “worthless politician” Benjamin Franklin.[2]  Ben Franklin a “worthless politician?”  I wonder if Burd would retract that statement if he were alive today!

While the general sentiment toward politicians and the post office have not changed much since the eighteenth century, we are obviously different in many ways.  For one thing, if the founders saw my penmanship they would think I had the mental capacity of a three year old, but people in the eighteenth century also seemed to be more openly affectionate in their letters than we are today.  The correspondence contains many letters from Jasper Yeates to Sarah, but I would like to quote a letter from Richard Peters in which he wrote:  “I beg your pardon for not answering your letter… don’t think, however, that because I am lazy in answering I am not fond of receiving your letters.”[3]   Just imagine a man in this day and age telling his best friend:  “don’t think that just because I don’t always respond to your texts that I am not fond of receiving them.”  Perhaps the age of instant communication has eliminated the need for such reminders (clicking the “like” button on facebook does not seem to compare).

I hope future researchers find as much value in the Jasper Yeates collection as I did.  I’ve enjoyed my experiences at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.  The HSP unites people of diverse backgrounds in a common mission, and there is much that one can learn from the staff.  I would like to thank them for making this a great experience.

[1] Richard Peters Jr. to Jasper Yeates Nov. 26, 1765, Collection 740, Box 7, Folder 2.

[2] Edward Burd to Sarah Yeates March 7, 1765 Collection 740, Box 7, Folder 2

[3] Richard Peters Jr. to Jasper Yeates, May 7, 1765, Collection 740, Box 7, Folder 2.

Telecommuting History

Archives, like nearly all fields, are being forced to do more with less.  Coupled with the denizens of the internet growing desire for more content at a more rapid pace and we have quite the dilemma.  Luckily, there are still a few tricks about that can help to lessen both of these trials plaguing cultural institutions.  The most recent of which I was able to experiment with was the usage of long-distance interns.

This past spring semester I worked with professor Jeff Cohen of Bryn Mawr’s Growth and Structure of Cities program and two of his students, Ariel Rosenstock and Cindy Spalding, on a project utilizing HSP’s David J. Kennedy Watercolors collection and our recently launched digital library.  The idea behind the project was to have Ariel and Cindy further describe Kennedy’s watercolors based on their digital surrogates, which were digitized in toto as part of the Digital Center for American project, and add in georeferencing information so patrons of the digital library could compare the view and surrounding location Kennedy painted to that of contemporary times.  You can see an example of this completed work in the item level record for “Friends Meetinghouse after Breton;” one of several records that Ariel and Cindy were able to update for this project.

One of the enhanced record from this project

Traditionally such a task could only have been completed by having the interns work on site.  Now, however, the internet and tools that run either on the web or that connect to a centralized database make the necessity of coming into the archives to do your work a thing of the past!  When the Kennedy watercolors were digitized they were added to our digital library with only a minimal amount of description; title, artist, call and collection numbers, and dates.  Once the materials were digitized and online I was able to work with Ariel and Cindy to train them in using our digital asset management system, Collective Access, and start filling in additional information and corrections; inscriptions, attributions, controlled subject terms, wikipedia linking and the geo-locating information to name a few.

One of the screens our distance-interns saw while enhancing records

Though the project was a success, it was not without its hiccups.  Cindy notes some of the issues she experienced:

…We encountered problems due to ongoing work on the database and programming of the software and security, which at times prevented our being able to login, to sort the images according to call #, and at one point we lost the ability to see the inscriptions that had been transcribed from the images…We were also slowed by the research to geo-locate the 19th century images, which in many cases did not correspond easily to a 21st century map. To do this research we used 19th century maps on the website. I also utilized other online tools, such as historic Philadelphia directories available from and other sources…These searches helped me to pin down locations that were sometimes erroneously located by Kennedy, or were nebulously described in the inscriptions…

Additionally, the work we had anticipated as the most time consuming for  Ariel and Cindy was not nearly as lengthy as other aspects of the project :

Initially, we were concerned that the subject tagging would take extra time to add, but that proved not to be the case…The geo-locating and other research were the most time-consuming aspects of the project. I spent on average 15 to 20 minutes to complete the work on one image, but in a few instances, it took up to 1 hour.

Overall, however, we were all pleased with the results and the experience:

Cindy: I think the pay-off was a high level of correctness and completeness of information for each image, and it was this work that was the most rewarding part of the project… On the whole, I think this was a rewarding project that helped us to hone our research skills, and also let us be involved in the process of bringing an important part of Philadelphia history to online researchers.

Ariel: The internship has been a wonderful learning experience— providing an opportunity for me to implement and expand my academic knowledge, while gaining a critical introduction to the “digital humanities”.  In particular, it exposed me to the digital technology methods that have become crucial today in capturing, cataloguing, and sharing our historical, cultural, and artistic memory. The flexibility in having a remote internship was convenient and unique.

There are refinements to be made to distance internships just as there are with any new workflow or methodology.  However, I feel the potential pay off with such work to be great.  Both for the students in the many online-only archives programs who need experience, and the archival institutions who would love to enhance their collections through improved metadata and error correction.   Hopefully, following the creation of some video tutorials to make training easier, I will be able to continue projects such as the one with Ariel, Cindy and Professor Cohen and eventually expand it to other software we use, such as Archivists’ Toolkit, which could also be worked with in such a manner.

Looking Back, Fondly: My Summer Internship at HSP

–I am posting this on behalf of Melissa Hozik.  Earlier this week, she completed a summer internship at the archives at HSP, and we send her many, many thanks for all her hard work.  Cary.

When deciding what to do for coursework this summer at Drexel University (I am a library and information science graduate student), I decided that I wanted to complete a practicum in an archival setting.  It seemed like few places were hiring, and I was worried that I would not find a practicum site before classes began.  However, I found the Summer Archives Intern posting on HSP’s website, right before the application due date.   Just days later, Cary Majewicz and Matthew Lyons were interviewing me, and a few days after that, I was offered the position.

I began the internship with rehousing collections, such as the Leon Gardiner collection of American Negro Historical Society records, which was full of portraits and rich African-American materials from the 19th-century.  Next was rehousing and labeling the Academy of Music collection, full of programs from the various opera companies in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Ballet Company.  This collection was where I had my chance to hone my research skills, and write a biographical note regarding the history of The Academy of Music.  I found many interesting tidbits of information that entangled me in the rich history of the organization.  Did you know that there was actually a University of Pennsylvania football game held *inside* the Academy?  It really did happen.

The next tasks put my archival theory and processing coursework into practice–I worked on the Robert Proud collection and the William H. L. Smith collection.  As I wrote about in my post on Proud, I searched for information to give the collection some context, and I ended up learning about an individual whose path I crossed academically hundreds of years later.  With Smith, I learned that collections aren’t as always as exhilarating as one might hope, but it can be fun searching for material to give a better image of who a person was, and why a collection may have importance to someone else in the future.

I completed so many projects that I had to be reminded of all of them, as I had forgotten.  I’ve labeled, rehoused, tabbed, tied, cleaned, processed, and researched on so many organizations and individuals that I’ve gone home after every day after my internship with something exciting to talk about (at least to me).  I was given the leeway to strike out on my own as an archivist, and simply learn by doing.  However, having Cary sitting behind me made it easy for me to ask questions when I felt I wasn’t sure on how to do something, or what task to complete next.  The working environment treated me like an equal, and every single person I’ve met here has been passionate about what they do, and know more than I may ever know.  Just shadowing with Dr. Dan [Rolph] at the reference desk reminded me that I do like helping people find information, and everyone here at HSP does that – from processing to public services to outreach, HSP wants you to come in and look at what they have to offer.  I admit it; I’ve walked by this building dozens of times and have not realized what’s inside.  Now I do know what’s inside, and I want to stay.  I may be leaving for another internship now, but I’ll find my way back.

Looking back, I’ve completed this internship in ten weeks, and it feels like ten days.  Time flew by, and I enjoyed every minute of it.  I feel that I know how to process archival materials, how to conduct more thorough research, and how to work on a team.  For all you library and archival science students who are reading this: you want to work here.  You will learn from each individual that you interact with, and you will have the opportunity to work with collections that will challenge and intrigue you.

A Belated Answer and a Farewell

First the belated answer to the “Guess the Story” post.

The images are from Der Struwwelpeter (Slovenly Peter), a German children’s book by Heinrich Hoffman first published in 1845. The stories were meant as warnings to children by showing them the consequences of misbehavior. Series One, called “Die Geschichte vom Daumenlutscher” (The Story of Little Suck-a-Thumb), shows us what happens to a little boy who refuses to stop sucking his thumbs – a “roving tailor” tailor cuts them off. Series Two, “Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug” (The Very Sad Story of the Matches), tells of the dangers of playing with matches. Series Three is called “Die Geschichte von Hans Guck-in-die-Luft” (The Story of Johnny Head-in-the-Air) warns of the consequences of daydreaming. Curiously the set of cards found at HSP were missing the story the titular story about Struwwelpeter, the little boy who refused to cut his hair and nails. To find out more about these interesting (and odd) little stories check out this link.

Now onto the farewell.

Last Thursday marked the end of my internship at HSP. To say that my time at HSP was an enormous learning experience would be an understatement. Coming into this experience I had an idea that archives would be something I would like to pursue professionally, but I had no real hands-on experience. For that reason I am extremely grateful to Matthew Lyons for extending an opportunity to a novice in every sense of the word. It was a fun semester getting absorbed into the world of archives, and this internship has confirmed to me that this is really something I could see myself doing forever. This semester I also graduated from Temple University with a B.A. in History and will be continuing to study archival methods and practices in graduate school. I urge any budding archivists out there who may be reading this to consider interning at HSP – it is an experience you won’t forget.

I must also thank Cary Majewicz for her continued guidance throughout the semester. Cary showed me the ropes every step of the way, and showed unending patience as I asked her question after question (and sometimes the same question repeatedly). I also have to thank Cathleen Miller, who like Cary, was always willing to take time out of her day to guide me and answer questions. There are many other people at HSP who helped me along the way, and I extend a big thank you to them as well.

I’m hoping to return to HSP as a volunteer in the new year, so perhaps this is only a temporary farewell. I can also be followed on my personal blog Doing Public History.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Can You Guess the Story?

While continuing to work on the Allen collection I came across a curious set of cards. The cards were numbered in a series and each series seemed to tell some kind of moral story. Since the text is in German we had a lot of fun trying to guess what the story was just based on the illustrations. Tara O’Brien, our Director of Preservation and Conservation Services and resident German speaker/expert clued us in as to what these were and the stories they were telling, but we thought it would be fun to share these with our readers and see what you could come up with. So please, feel free to comment and share with us your guesses!

Series One:

Series Two (my personal favorite):

Series Three:

Getting There is Half the Fun

While working with the Allen Family Papers I came across some travel journals with ephemera from the trips (mostly postcards) laid in. The journals span 1909 to 1934 and cover the family’s trips to Europe (with one exception of a trip to California via the Panama Canal).

Picture 002

Picture 027The journals presented a somewhat perplexing question. The earlier journals were written by Alfred Reginald Allen Sr. (1876-1918) while the later ones were written by Alfred Reginald “Reggie” Allen Jr. (1905-1988). What’s odd is that even though different people wrote them at different times, the journals all look physically the same; a small green canvas binder with three-holed notebook paper inside. I had to wonder how this could be. I figured that Allen Sr. purchased several binders at once and that Reggie continued to use them as travel journals after his father’s death. Another possibility is that Reggie put his father’s writings into the same type of binders he was using sometime after his father’s death. If I had to guess, I would say that the former is probably the case since the paper inside is such a rare size to find.

Picture 022

Since these journals were written well before the time that trans-Atlantic air travel came into being, the first and last portions of the journals always document the trip across the Atlantic and back via ocean liner. Being an avid ocean liner buff I found these portions, particularly the related ocean liner ephemera included, to be the most interesting.


At a time when a trip to Europe meant spending about a week at sea ocean liners had to be more than basic transport but more akin to a floating city. The various companies (notably the German and British lines) competed to outdo each other in size, speed and grandeur to lure passengers to book passages on their ships. Essentially they wanted to make the ship itself a destination. With that in mind, traveling during the heyday of the ocean line gives truth to the old adage: “Getting there is half the fun.”

Picture 024

Reggie and sister Helen having fun during a voyage in 1913.

Passenger lists on the best ships tended to read like a veritable Who’s Who of American and European society. The French line Compagnie Générale Transatlantique went so far as to print lists of passengers for the passengers. Maybe this was that well to do people could plan whom they would be dining with aboard the ship (getting a “good” table was of the utmost importance).


Although commercial air travel was available starting in the 1920’s it did not really take off (no pun intended) until the 1950’s. Commercial jets such as the DeHavilland Comet and the Boeing 707 provided passengers with a much faster and cheaper way of crossing the Atlantic. By the 1960’s the age of the ocean liner was all but over. But in the first decades of the twentieth century, air travel was more of a novelty as this brochure from the London Aerodrome (dated 1913) that was with the journals can attest to.


For a fee one could be flown around the London Aerodrome.

The Allen Family Papers

Last week I began to create a finding aid for the Allen Family Papers. From what I can tell so far, the majority of the collection seems to be Alfred Reginald Allen Sr.’s (1876-1918) correspondences with his father, son, wife, and other family members. Leslie Hunt, a former archivist at HSP, had painstakingly inventoried some of this collection back in 2001. Given that and considering that my processing of the collection would be an experiment in minimal processing (see Mark A.Greene and Dennis Meissner’s “More Product, Less Process” for more), I did not have the chance to really dig into this collection. However, what I could glean from this collection was an interesting story about the father and son relationships within this family.

Alfred Reginald Allen Sr. was a neurologist and neurosurgeon who earned his degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Allen also had a serious interest in musical theater. In his early adult life, he wrote numerous songs, some published, some not. He was also a founding member of the Savoy Company, a theater group that performed the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, which still exists today. However, Allen seems to have abandoned the theater world around 1907. His father, Rev. George Pomeroy Allen (1845-?) apparently exerted pressure on Alfred to focus exclusively on his medical pursuits. The previous archivist noted that this might have been because Alfred’s younger siblings, John Ernest and Nancy, were “free spirits” that caused the family much grief and that for this reason Rev. Allen pressured Alfred to be successful.

Before abandoning his theatrical pursuits entirely however, Alfred seemed to find a way to combine the theater and medical worlds. Here is a program for a medical-themed comic musical entitled “Evelyn and Harry” that Alfred wrote, scored, and acted in. “The American Neurological Association Comic Opera Company” presented the musical – perhaps this was a conglomerate of like-minded neurosurgeons?

Evelyn and Mary Program

Evelyn and Harry Program

One thing that from the musical that got a laugh out us was the number titled “I Want Your Brain and Spinal Cord.” Luckily, the collection contained the sheet music for this song.

Allen-Brain & Spinal Cord

In 1915 Alfred joined a reserve unit of the United States Army. In the summer of 1918 his reserve unit was called into action. Alfred wrote numerous letters to family first detailing his experiences at training camp, and then his experiences in the war-zone in France. From France he wrote a very sentimental letter to his son, Alfred Jr. (1905-1988), called Reggie in the family, in which he (perhaps realizing that there was a good chance he would not survive the war) instructs Reggie on how to be a man and also to follow whatever endeavors he wished. Reggie initially did not respond to this letter, and Alfred Sr. wrote a few letters to his wife asking why. Reggie, who was about 13 at this time, finally wrote back to his father explaining that he did not respond because the letter made him “feel so badly that I tried to forget it all.”

Alfred Jr

Sadly, Alfred Sr. never received this letter – he was killed in action in September 1918 during the Battle of Argonne. I can only imagine what young Alfred Jr. must have felt when this letter was returned to him marked “Killed in Action.”

Allen envelope

However, Alfred Jr. seemed to take his father’s advice to heart. Perhaps following the path that his father could not take because of Alfred Sr.’s own father’s pressures, Alfred Jr. was much involved in the Philadelphia music community, eventually becoming General Manager of the Philadelphia Orchestra in the 1930’s.

This is another one of those interesting little stories that the collections at HSP have to tell. Uncovering these stories has been truly the most fascinating aspect of archival work for me. I hope to find (and share) many more!

Joshua Humphreys, “Father of the American Navy”

This week I spent some time working on the Joshua Humphreys papers (Collection 306). Born in Haverford, Pa. in 1751, Humphreys would go on to be the nation’s foremost naval architect in the post-Revolutionary era. In 1776 Humphreys was chosen by the Continental Congress to design the retrofitting of eight merchant vessels into battle-worthy frigates. These eight ships were the first military vessels of the United States. After the war, Humphreys pressed for an expanded fleet of ships that would be capable of not just defending the coastline, but also capable of going on the offensive in the open seas. In 1797, the frigate United States was launched and five more ships soon followed. These ships were the first all new ships designed for the American Navy and formed the backbone of the fleet during the War of 1812. The other ships were the President, Chesapeake, Constellation, Congress, and the Constitution – famously known as “Old Ironsides” and the oldest commissioned U.S. naval vessel still afloat. Several of the innovations Humphreys introduced on these ships, such as a knife-like keel to cut through the water and a bulging hull for added steadiness, were design elements used on ships well into the steam era. Humphreys managed to irritate several Secretaries of War and when Thomas Jefferson, who was opposed to the idea of an offensive Navy, was elected, Humphreys was “asked” to retire in 1803. His son Samuel however was also a naval architect, and Humphreys managed to stay in the business through his son, albeit in a less official capacity.



The collection consists of Humphreys’ daybooks, ledger books, and letter books. Taking a look at these, I suddenly became very grateful for all the computer accounting and financial management software out there (I myself swear by Quicken). In the late 1700’s, managing a business meant one had to be very methodical to keep all these records by hand.


Though most of the collection consists of financial record keeping, there were also some instructions on how to build ships and some hand drawn diagrams too.



Also in this collection was the daybook of Charles Humphreys, Joshua’s brother and a member of the First Continental Congress. When I opened this book, many small scraps of paper literally came bursting out. It seems Charles did a lot of his record keeping on small scraps of paper, sometimes tearing personal letters up and using the backs to do some quick math. Perhaps he was the less organized of the two brothers.

Finally, while doing some background research on the web, I came across this most interesting site, It’s an interesting project with lots of fascinating documents. Anyone interested in early American military history must check it out.



The saga of the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House continues…

First I should start by correcting myself a bit. In my last blog I said that the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House, U.S. objected to the idea put forth by the Friends of Benjamin Franklin House, U.K. to use theatrical presentations to tell the story and have a science lab on the upper floors of the house. To finance the U.K. groups plan would require that entrance fees be steep. The U.S. group thought that the cost would deter visitors. Well this seemed to be precisely the U.K. group’s intention. Knowing that the upper floors of the house were fragile they thought that pricey admissions would make it so that large numbers of people were never traipsing through the house, potentially damaging it. Since the U.K. group did not want to restore the house to as it looked when Franklin lived there citing that it would not be interesting enough to attract visitors, I have to wonder if both group’s reasoning was flawed. When the choice is to limit attendance by either price or ‘interesting-ness,’ would either one actually be viable in the long-term? This seems to be a recurring problem for house museums today. Do we simply create a snapshot in time and hope for the best, or do we forsake some of the history in order to infuse it with some 21st Century thinking (and still hope for the best)?

One of the largest files I’ve come across was one simply labeled ‘Hallam.’ Apparently in 2005 Margaret and Martin Hallam, Franklin historians living in England, were hired by the Friends U.S. to create a guidebook to 36 Craven St. As the book neared completion, the Hallams expressed interest in also printing to book in the U.K., and selling it at Craven St. when it opened. The reaction of the U.S. group was severe to say the least. Their response was that they did not want something they funded to be used in the U.K. They could not understand why the Hallam’s were even asking. Ultimately, no solution was ever found and the book went unfinished. The last documents in this particular file were of Mrs. Hallam requesting payment for the work that they did complete.

I also uncovered a document that further explains Lady Bessborough’s refusal to give back some Franklin memorabilia that was given to her for safekeeping during renovations. Bessborough apparently kept the artifacts because she felt that their “security would be compromised by theatrical presentations.” How the presentations and the security of the artifacts were related she did not elaborate on. Possibly this was just another way to stall the U.K. group, which by this time was rapidly moving towards achieving their goal for the house.

Still many files to look at…