August 27, 2008

"His hypocritical balderdash of self-defence + pretended injuries"

William White Chew was a prolific writer. He wrote notes to himself on scraps of paper, in journals, and in the form of memos. He wrote to family and friends in voluminous letters that he drafted repeatedly, as well as letters to the editor, newspaper articles, and other public communications. His journals contain detailed descriptions of his day to day life, records of family strife, and his deep despair about his life situation.

In his journals from 1843-1844, William White Chew recounts, on a daily basis, his brother Anthony's deteriorating behavior, which was fueled by alcoholism and his family's enabling. William is clearly outraged at the disgrace Anthony is bringing to the family, and more particularly, the effect he has on his parents in their old age. In this entry from 1843, he describes an especially difficult evening when Anthony returns from town drunk with a friend:

" violent resentment against me for being better than he, for his being a disgrace to the family + I otherwise, he let out a volley of foul abuse of me before his if the utter corruption the brandy has filled him with, mind + body + feelings, and the iniquitous career he has led for years from bad to worse, the sins of various kinds + degrees he has committed + continually perpetrates, the indecency + criminality of his presumption tonight in bringing thro'...some vagabond to sleep in his bed with him--as if all these matters were peccadillies!" (p. 92)

(Images enlarge if you click on them.)

More than any other series in this collection, William White Chew's papers create a clear sketch of his character, his political and moral opinions, and his passions.
In this poem, he laments the love he has for his cousin Mary Bayard, who is already married.

It begins "And dost thou ask, and wilt thou hear / The common story I can tell, / Of early--lasting--gnawing care, / Which sometimes makes this world a hell?"

A later stanza laments, "From round my heart, the wreath of snow, / With which I've made it seem so cold, / The flame thou'lt see within, is meant / Alone to prove to thee the truth / Of feelings doubled, which were sent / To mildew (God knows why) my youth."

His life was lived with passion and drama, and his writings provide us a glimpse into the world he inhabited.

August 20, 2008

Conserving the Chew Family Papers

A large portion of the yet untouched Chew Family Papers are maps, which have been collecting dust in rolls for years and years. Although bagged and labeled, the rolled documents need to be individually evaluated for conservation purposes. Cathleen and I spent hours last week carefully unrolling and looking at a variety of documents: printed maps, hand-drawn maps, blueprints, advertisments... All are oversized (i.e. too large for the preferred storage location of flat files), as seen in the following photographic documentation:

Look forward to posts on the conservation of these large maps, which will prove to be interesting, I'm sure!

August 14, 2008

Trigonometry Notes

I am and Intern here at HSP currently working on the Chew papers, specifically Anthony B. Chew's papers.

While going through Anthony B. Chew's school notes I came across this interesting diagram of a Horizontal Dial for Latitude 40 degrees. Instead of a simple drawing, this diagram has an attached piece for the dial. (shown below and above)


August 13, 2008

Notes of discontent

Benjamin Chew III, like several of his family members, kept many notes that are difficult to decipher and categorize. It's hard to know where the two notes below fit into the rest of "Bad Ben's" papers or if they may be related in some way. They do share a tone of discontent. Benjamin III seems to have spent much of his time dissatisfied with one (if not many) issues. Often, his discontent was related to family matters, particularly the protracted arguments he had with his brothers and other family over the settlement of his father's estate.

The first note appears to refer to Chew v. Chew, the suit between Benjamin III, Katherine (Banning) Chew, and the other executors of Benjamin Chew, Jr. over the settlement of Benjamin Jr.'s estate. It reads, in part:

8 July 1860

B Chew is before the Court again; the opposite parties let him have no rest. They grasp at every thing - not content with endeavoring to seize all his property they try to get what belongs to the estate of his dead brother... they attempt to pillage the living and plunder the dead.

The second note appears to refer to Civil War tensions. It is unclear whether Benjamin III penned the information contained in this note himself, or if he may have copied it from some other source. The quoted lines at the top come from a passage near the end of Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), with a slight discprepancy in the first line. A list of "Leaders in Treason" follows, including several politicians who supported secession and the Confederacy. Among them are Benjamin III's brother-in-law James Murray Mason, who was one of Benjamin Jr.'s executors and who worked with his brothers Henry Banning Chew and William White Chew to have him removed as an executor. James Murray Mason served in the United States House of Representative and Senate before the Civil War and in the Confederate government during the war. Others listed are John Slidell, a politician who served in the Louisiana legislature and U.S. House of Representatives and William Yancey, who served in the Alabama and U.S. legislatures. Both men also worked for the Confederate government after secession and Slidell was involved in the Trent Affair with Mason in November 1861.

This note reminds me how directly the Chew family was involved with many of the "movers and shakers" of their time.

August 11, 2008

When "scraps of paper" seems like a useful archival category

I have been sorting through a box of William White Chew's papers that was labeled "Chew Family Papers--Not Processed." Indeed, they are in a total state of disarray.
Here is the box before I started sorting (I started with the one on the right. I can't wait to get to the second box!):

What I'm finding is interesting, and sometimes puzzling. This pile is a collection of notes and lists and random scrawls that were scattered throughout writings on various subjects--from capital punishment to drunkenness.

Some of the more interesting pieces in this pile are:
*a thin strip of paper that simply says "13 Dec. '41. Drowned"
*a list that begins with "Piano; Cow; 2 large mattresses in state room..."
*a strip that reads "I care not to be remembered when I am dead: Those by whom I wd. have wished to be remembd. do not know me--others can not"
*a small folded sheet that reads "In some cases drunkenness is the origin of wickedness: in others, wickedness is the cause of drunkenness along with other vices: --they of the latter [?] the most depraved + incorrigible + hopeless."
next to a sheet with a list of arguments for and against capital punishment (along with several other similar sheets, some with notes about both drunkenness and capital punishment).

It seems that William White Chew was writing both articles and letters to the editor of newspapers, and some of his topics were political (i.e., capital punishment and tariffs) and some were social (i.e., drunkenness).

The notebook at the bottom of the first picture is filled with drafts of poems, essays, and letters. I will be interested to see what emerges from that collection of materials. Until then, I sort through the scraps.