March 30, 2009

Greenwich Island Meadows surveys

Over the past few weeks, I have been working on the papers of the Brown and Johnson families that are included in the Chew Papers. Mary Johnson Brown Chew's family and ancestors owned large sections of what is now the First Ward of Philadelphia, Southwark, Passyunk, the Navy Yard, and Tinicum. David Sands Brown, among others, developed land along the Delaware River to accommodate his growing manufacturing businesses, which were headquartered in Gloucester City, New Jersey.

This survey shows William Jones' Meadow, which is part
of Greenwich Island (Surveyed by John Lukens, 1770)

This land passed down through the Johnson family from William Jones (a grazier in Kingsessing Township) to his daughters Mary (Morris, Pancoast) and Elizabeth (Garrett), then to Martha Morris, who married Joseph Johnson, a ship chandler. Johnson ran a booming business from his wharves in South Philadelphia during the late-18th century into the mid-19th century, and his descendants further developed the land as industrialization allowed for more manufactured goods to be moved from place to place. (Stay tuned for an upcoming post on the companies associated with David Sands Brown and the development of Gloucester City.)

As I was sorting through the various deeds that make up a large portion of the material in this series, I was trying to create a mental image of how all of these plots of land fit together. One day, I found a series of maps and surveys that helped me to create a picture of the area the deeds described, and I realized how vastly different the land is today. Aside from the Tinicum Wildlife Refuge, this land has given way to industrial development. Here are a few representations of William Jones' meadows as they were in the mid-1700s.

The first survey was done by John Lukens in 1768.
The second is the original survey done by Nicholas Scull in 1759.

Last night, as I was returning from the New England Archivists' Conference, my flight passed over the area that these surveys portray. I looked out the window and imagined what these waterways and marsh lands would look like without the grid of roads, parking lots, and buildings. I tried to conjure the land as the Swedes found it, before they drained marsh land for grazing. I perform these kind of thought experiments a lot as I sift through documents that shift my relationship to the land that I walk on every day, navigating the grid of Philadelphia's streets, or hanging in the air above this place that is at once so familiar, and so surprisingly new.

This lithographic plan shows the emergence of the South Philadelphia
that we know today. This "Plan of proposed Wharves & Docks with
Railroad Connections in the First Ward" was made for Titus S. Emery
by L.N. Rosenthal's Lithographic shop in 1867.

March 17, 2009

Conserving the Chew Papers: Mold Removal

This is the third in a series of blog posts devoted to the conservation being performed on the documents, books and manuscript materials in the Chew Family Papers Collection. See the first post on enclosures, here, and the second on paper conservation, here.

From the basement to the attic to the stables, most of the Chew Family Papers were stored for many years in unstable environments. As a result, portions of the collection arrived to the Historical Society with significant amounts of mold. In order for the material to be processed (remember this post from May 2007?), these documents had to be treated by our mold technicians.

HSP has a designated mold removal facility with its own ventilation and air filtration system. The technicians wear Tyvek suits, nitrile gloves and respirator masks. Mold removal entails vacuuming with a HEPA-filtered vacuum and wiping book covers with alcohol.

Preservation Technicians Anni Altshuler and Watsuki Harrington vacuuming moldy documents.

For the safety of researchers, items that have been cleaned for mold are clearly labeled, as seen in the image at the top of this post.

March 6, 2009

Whitehall Plantation

The records pertaining to Whitehall, a plantation the Chews owned in Kent County, Delaware, have garnered significant attention because of the detailed records the Chew family kept about the operation of the farm and the treatment of the slaves who worked there. Though there are deeds indicating that Benjamin Chew took ownership over this property in the 1760s, the majority of records that document the plantation's operation date from the period of 1780-1803, when Benjamin Chew sold the property.

This survey illustrates the plantation's layout over the 918 acres that it occupied. Some of the details provided include the locations of tobacco houses and "negroe quarters." The plantation's location was ideal for transporting crops by boat, as it was situated along Duck Creek, which offered access to the Atlantic Ocean. This land is now designated as the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge.

The papers in this series of the collection are rich with details about farming and animal husbandry, and offer an in-depth view of how the Chew family managed the plantation and the overseers and slaves who produced salable goods there. Benjamin Chew employed several overseers for Whitehall over the course of its operation. George Ford was overseer from approximately 1789-1797, and Joseph Porter succeeded him from 1798-1803. Their letters provide extensive information about life on the plantation--from the impact of weather upon the crops to the birthing and slaughter of animals on the farm. They discuss the slaves, who they often refer to as simply "the people", and their need of clothing and sustenance. Benjamin Chew appears to be pretty hands-off in terms of the day to day workings of Whitehall, and there are some letters that suggest that he may have been neglectful of his workers. George Ford often writes asking for supplies. In one letter, he pleads with Benjamin Chew to send linen for the slaves' clothes, as "the Boys are so naked I Cant git much work out of them..." [April 26 1795].

In another letter, Ford writes that he would have sent Chew another letter, except that he was "down the Creek after Mr Samuel Chew negors that runway from him..." [August 26 1796]. He also updates Benjamin Chew about the state of the stock at Whitehall: "the wheat that was left in the Barn I Sould for two dollars a bus marsh hay we have got about 30 stacks the sesson has been very much a gainst us or we Cold have got more our Corn is very good the back birds has bin very bad on it...."

There are letters in which Ford pleads with Benjamin Chew to come to the plantation to punish various slaves who attacked him, but equally interesting, in my opinion, are the letters that report that not much is getting done because the slaves are sick, lazy, indolent, or are receiving visitors. In a letter from August 3, 1797, Ford writes of his frustration that "the people are so slow and indlent about ther work that I have no comfort with them and some of them are solate home from ther wifes that they lose two ours time in the morning and that three or four times a weak and as for the women they are not worth ther vitles for what work they do. . . Rachel is hear amust every night in the weak and her husban which is free and bears avery bad name...."

These letters shed light on the practice of slavery, which was far more complicated than popular conceptions suggest. There were relationships between free blacks and slaves, and some of the account records describe agreements and negotiations between the Chews and free blacks who purchased the freedom of their family members.

There have been moments during the processing of this collection when I have thrown up my hands in frustration and asked "why did they have to save every scrap of paper?!", but when I look through the materials related to Whitehall, I am grateful that the Chew family preserved their history so religiously. These documents are a gift to our understanding of our past, and I am quite certain that the richness in these boxes will move people in many ways--intellectually, and emotionally. I'll leave off with just one more striking image that made the lists of slaves at Whitehall come alive for me. These two documents are measurements for the slaves' shoes, which illustrate the size of each person's foot with hash marks along a line.

March 4, 2009

Conserving the Chew Papers: Paper Conservation

This is the second in a series of blog posts devoted to the conservation being performed on the documents, books and manuscript materials in the Chew Family Papers Collection. See the first post, on enclosures, here.

From large manuscript maps to tiny scraps of note papers, there is a wide range of documents in the Chew Family Papers and a variety of conservation procedures for these papers.

One of the least invasive conservation methods for paper is dry cleaning or surface cleaning. Removing the dirt and dust off a document not only improves the appearance of the document, it keeps the hands of researchers clean. Eraser bits and vulcanized rubber sponges are the two products that are used to clean documents at HSP. Extreme care and patience is needed for this process due to the fragility of paper. Attention must be paid to any pencil markings or writing on documents so they are not removed.

The vulcanized rubber sponge is used to clean the linen backing of a manuscript map.

Paper documents are best stored flat. In the Chew collection, many items have been folded or rolled requiring humidification and flattening. Over time, fibers in paper can become stiff and brittle. Humidification helps the fibers in paper to relax. When a folded, crumpled, wrinkled, or rolled document is humidified, it can then be opened with ease and without damage to the paper.

The document is placed in a humidification chamber. The document is then unfolded or unrolled, placed between blotter papers and pellon, and put under weight.

A document is washed to de-acidify and clean the paper. Washing also reconditions the fibers making the paper pliable and malleable. Prior to washing a document, it is necessary to test to see if the ink is water soluble. The document is placed in a bath of deionized water. After twenty minutes, it is carefully removed and placed between blotters and pellons to dry.

Once papers have been cleaning, humidified and/or washed, they are ready for paper mending. HSP only uses wheat paste and Japanese papers for mending. Often the Japanese papers are dyed to match the color of the document using high quality acrylic paints. A thin coating of wheat paste is applied to a strip of Japanese paper. The glued-out strip is carefully placed on the tear, burnished into place and put under weight to dry flat.

Before and during mending. The excess Japanese paper will be trimmed.