March 25, 2008

Sorting out Benjamin Chew Jr's Correspondence

Over the past few days, Natalie and I have been sorting Benjamin Jr's correspondence. It was housed in 30 boxes, but now, sorted by letter of the correspondent's last name, it looks like this:

In the background, taped on the wall, is the Chew Family tree that I put together in the beginning of the project to try to clarify relationships between people.

The Chews were prolific correspondents. These tables are filled with letters from Benjamin Chew's family members. If we are lucky, we might be able to tell the difference between Maria and Catherine Chew's handwriting, as they often don't sign their letters.

Eventually (we hope very soon), these stacks will be sorted by correspondent's name and date, and placed in neat folders to be included in our finding aid.

March 24, 2008

Samuel Chew's Drawing Book!

Check this out! Today we found a drawing book from Samuel Chew (1832-1887) from the years 1855 to 1863. Great little illustrations of family and friends. Here's a few that really got us excited.

This is one of the larger drawings about 6 by 7 inches.

One of the few drawings of a woman. Stating "S. Chew August 1855 at night."A chess game 1864 sytle!
There were lots of these great little cameos! Lots of fun was had by all exploring this book!

posted by Julianna Lose (intern)

March 21, 2008

Dealing with the Madness

Every so often Cathleen walks into the conservation lab with some serious paper madness. These poor documents have been rolled and/or folded for so long it is impossible to open them without the possibility of causing major damage. But once they've been humidified and flattened we start finding the real gems.

This beautiful little document was in a group of papers from the mid 1700's in what seems to be a land dispute in Pennsylvania. It was written by the mayor of London and contains two proofs of marriage as one can see by the vellum tabs in the middle of the second image above, complete with blue paper on the back of the embossed stamp.

I just really liked the document as an object including all of the burns on the paper from the vellum. The last page is blank and contains a beautiful watermark that, unfortunately, I couldn't capture.

Slavery in the Chew Papers

While there are many documents in this collection that illustrate the practice of slavery in Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania, I chose a few that were unfolded this week. These papers range from runaway slave notices to indentures for former slaves. What has been surprising to me is the element of agency on the part of some of the slaves to choose (or at least influence) where they worked.

I grew up with the vision of "Roots" as the way slavery was, and these papers are showing that there was much more of a relationship between people than one might expect.

This is not to minimize the brutality implicit in the ownership of human beings. Whether someone was beaten and chained or lived with a family for years, only to be tallied with the horses and furniture in someone's estate, they were owned. This ownership has taken its toll on generations of people, and has greatly impacted our society today. What is interesting about the relationships between slaves and their owners, as documented in these papers, is that it was so complex. It was paternalistic, as we can see in the above document, but there was, in many cases, an element of respect for the slave's experience that surprised me.

March 11, 2008

What They Were Drinking

This recipe for "Mrs. Dysons Champaign" was found in a bundle containing bills and correspondence. Perhaps they drank this at Benjamin Chew's birthday celebration in 1840, for which there was a list of attendees.

Apparently, this brew can fool even the most discriminating palates.

(De)Ciphering Benjamin Chew

Because I am a poet who works with visual elements of the page, I found this letter completely captivating. The lines jump all over the place, and it is hard to tell where one sentence ends and another begins. It is clear that Benjamin Chew (1758-1844) was losing his faculties in the last years of his life, and his later papers document this decline. We likely have this letter because he had someone else make a legible copy to send to his client or friend. Though not as spectacular as some of the beautiful maps the Chews collected, letters like these provide us with valuable information about the lives of the Chew family.

March 7, 2008

A map for George Washington

The Inscription on this map reads:
To George Washington
President of the United States of America
Magnetic Atlas or Variation Chart
is humbly inscribed by John Churchman.