Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Dr. Jude Pfister's Latest Book Debuts

Chief of Cultural Resources Dr. Jude Pfister's new book, Defining America in the Radical 1760s: John Dickinson, George III, and the Fate of Empire, is now available from McFarland publishing. 

In his book, Dr. Pfister looks at the arguments both for and against the American colonies during the crucial decade of the 1760s. Before Lexington and Concord, before Paul Revere's lights in a church steeple, before Valley Forge, before Morristown, before George Washington, Britain and America traded recriminations and endured failed diplomatic initiatives. Had the diplomacy not been hampered by slow communication, the disagreements between Britain and America may have been settled in a legislative arena rather than by warfare. 

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Featured Manuscript: Materials Related to the Voyages of Captain James Cook

The document spotlight features materials related to the voyages of Captain James Cook, a British naval officer whose 18th century voyages continue to captivate. The materials at Morristown include two complete early editions of published diaries from Cook’s third Pacific voyage and an atlas of illustrations by the artist John Webber who accompanied Cook. The diaries largely contain Cook’s personal observations on the management of his crew and, more importantly, the many peoples that he and his men encountered along the way. Webber’s illustrations add depth to Cook’s writings by illustrating local people and landscapes, as they would have been seen from a European perspective. Cook’s diaries and accompanying illustrations fueled the public imagination by describing people, flora, fauna, and natural resources that most people could only dream of seeing. Many ongoing celebrations of Cook, however, reflect a romanticized account of his life and impacts. It is important to acknowledge the romance of historical memory and interrogate the discourses around individuals that arise as cultural heroes. In the case of Cook, this means reconsideration of the purposes and impacts of his voyage, as well as exploring the roles of Aboriginal Australians, Maori, and Pacific Islanders in their interactions with Cook and beyond.

Brief Introduction to James Cook

Born in 1728, James Cook grew up in a life of very modest means. His father was a migrant farm foreman and, though he had schooling until the age of 12, Cook was also a laborer and worked on the same farm as his father throughout his teens. As a young man, he completed an apprenticeship at a general store near the coast where he was introduced to maritime life. At the age of 18, Cook apprenticed with a local ship owner and learned the trade of an able seaman. Seeking a more exciting career, Cook eschewed mercantile shipping in favor of the Royal Navy. He quickly moved through the ranks and was made master of HMS Pembroke at the age of 29. Prior to his later voyages, which made him famous, his early naval career was notable for his charting of the St. Lawrence River, survey of the Newfoundland coast, and his action in the Seven Years War.[1]


In 1768, Cook was appointed commander of a Pacific expedition - the first of three of his most important voyages. This first expedition, on the ship Endeavor, carried Royal Society scientists led by John Banks. Over the course of two years, Cook charted all of New Zealand and the southern coast of Australia, which was heretofore unknown to Europeans. After the success of his first voyage, Cook was promoted and sent out to the Pacific once more - this time with two ships, Resolution and Adventure. From 1772 to 1775, Cook completed the first west-east circumnavigation, penetrated the Antarctic, and charted several islands previously unknown to Europeans. His final Pacific voyage embarked in 1776, with the ships Resolution and Discovery. The primary, though secret, purpose of this expedition was to find a northwest passage between the Atlantic and Pacific to facilitate trade. Cook was unsuccessful in locating such a passage and the voyage eventually resulted in Cook’s death on the island of Kaua’i (Hawai’i).[2]

            Cook’s demise is perhaps as famous, if not more so, than the man himself. Cook’s first landing on the Islands of Hawai’i, in 1778, was successful by his measure. The ships were able to obtain water and food to continue on to the coast of Alaska. They made landfall in Hawai’i again one year later, in the midst of Makahiki, a New Year festival celebrating the harvest and the god Lono. As a result of their coincidental arrival during the festive season, Cook and his crew were honored guests. The warm reception quickly soured, however, after his crew violated a restriction to their access to women in the villages and when Cook demanded wood from a timber fence surrounding a sacred temple and burial ground. His welcome was thoroughly worn out by the 19th day.[3] On the 14th of February, Cook attempted to take the Chief Kalaniopuu hostage in retaliation for the theft of a longboat and was killed by a warrior in his attempt. His men took revenge by means of the murder of two Hawaiians and destruction of a village, though relations between the ships and chiefs were somewhat repaired upon their final departure. Thus was the mortal end of Captain James Cook. The legends around him and his accomplishments, however, became embedded in Western cultural discourses around exploration, scientific discovery, and imperialism.[4]

Scholarship about Cook is largely “imperial in theme and biographical in intent,” without much ethnographical or cultural sensitivity to the peoples that Cook encountered. Until mid-twentieth century, almost two hundred years of popular Cook accounts in the West emphasized the man as explorer and hero, reflecting a hagiographic agenda that left Indigenous people at the periphery of discourses surrounding the processes and impacts of European exploration and colonization.[5]  Anglophone scholarship began to expand its metropolitan cultural/historical outlook in the 1960s, although representations of the exploration of Oceania remained largely Eurocentric. The scholarship of Bernard Smith represents an important initial divergence from these popular narratives, however, in which he mused on the role of Indigenous action as an integral aspect of European impressions of Oceania.[6] In the years following Smith, historians have actively employed methodologies that center Indigenous histories, cultures, outlooks, and agency as key factors in the accounts of James Cook and other European explorers. Demythologizing Cook has become an integral aspect of scholarship about him, thus allowing his achievements, and shortcomings, to define him.


Impacts of Cook: Many Systems of Exchange 

Cook’s place in the Western canon is based on two central aspects of his life: his interactions with peoples of the Pacific Islands and the mythology of  his death. His interactions with indigenous Pacific Islanders are part of a larger share of cultural and historical memory, with his explorations remaining central to discussions of European, Australian, and New Zealander heritage and identity. In addition to being an explorer, Cook is credited with being a sort of proto-anthropologist in his documentation of the cultures that he encountered. The confluence of exploration, trade, and science,  allowed Cook to rise as one of the ultimate symbols of the Enlightenment. This made him famous among his contemporaries and that reputation continues to resonate today, with the likes of Christopher Columbus. 

An integral aspect of Cook’s hagiography is the perception of his interactions with indigenous peoples that had, until that point, remained relatively unknown to Europeans. Biographer R.A. Skelton wrote of Cook:

“The same qualities of sympathy and recognition of the right of men to be different characterize Cook’s dealings with native peoples. His Combination of friendliness and firmness, his success in communication on equal terms, his eager interests in the island societies of Polynesia, in the way in which their people organized their lives, in their manner and customs, and in the reasons for them --- all these factors assured the safety of his expeditions. More than this: Cook was able to bring back a priceless record of a way of life that the other Europeans were to destroy.”[7]

This impression of Cook can be attributed to historiographical discourse that suggests that Cook’s voyages, in line with his Enlightenment characterization, “heralded a shift in the goals of discovery from conquest, plunder, and imperial appropriation to scientific exploration devoid of any explicit agenda for conquest or for the exploitation and terrorization of native peoples.”[8] Indeed, scientific exploration was an explicit goal of Cook’s most famous voyages. The voyage of the ship Endeavor was a particularly scientific mission, with projects dedicated to astronomy, botany, zoology, and ethnography--much like a later nineteenth century voyage with a young Charles Darwin.

However, the suggestion that Cook’s main goals - and impacts - were purely scientific is an incomplete assessment. Coded within the scientific discourse of eighteenth century discovery was a discourse of civilization and domestication. Each of Cook’s landings were characterized by materially and symbolically significant imperial performances: Cook mapped locations according to the European tradition, “named” them in the English language, planted English gardens, and introduced European livestock. These acts were motivated by an appropriative desire to alter local landscapes to be more European, an act that was conceived of as beneficial to both the original inhabitants and future European settlers.[9] Cook, along with other European explorers and colonizers, carried an implicit mission of colonization.

Instructions were given to Cook by Lord Morton, President of the Royal Society, to “exercise the utmost patience and forbearance with respect to the Natives...restrain the use of firearms…[and] to have it still in view that shedding the blood of these people is a crime of the highest nature.”[10] However, the reality of their encounters was not so humane. Perceived infractions against Cook and the ships were punished, often brutally. Regardless of their own laws or social norms, British maritime judicial practices were imposed upon the islanders on their own land. All Polynesians were considered to be “subordinate to the commander’s authority…[with] ordinary Polynesians on par with the crew” and chiefs ranking somewhere between the crew and officers.[11] Furthermore, the maritime laws that indigenous peoples were subjected to were not applied equally and often more severe than those which were imposed upon the crew. Cook’s own diaries do not document this extensively, but those of his officers do.  Islanders were often subjected to many dozens of lashes, whereas sailors were not to be punished with more than twelve lashes under any circumstances. By Cook’s third voyage, these practices were routine.[12]

            Both formal and informal economic exchange were central to Cook’s mission, undermining popular representations of his voyages as scientific or ethnographic. Secret instructions given to Cook for his third voyage explicitly stated that he was to search for a Northwest Passage by which Europeans could more easily move trade goods from the Pacific to the Atlantic, bypassing the Indian Ocean and Africa.[13] Furthermore, Cook was provided with a significant portion of goods with which to trade on their voyage. Trade is a prominent item of discussion in his journals and a lens by which Cook interpreted, judged, and catalogued the cultures he encountered. By Cook’s measure, those cultures that engaged in trade practices that resembled British economic values were “superior” to those that did not.[14]

Informal systems of economic and cultural exchange  are less visible  in Cook’s accounts, largely enacted between sailors and Indigenous individuals.[15] Although it was not formally conceptualized as part of a system of exchange for many decades of scholarship,  biological exchange has come to be realized as a key point of Indigenous and European interaction. The interaction of human bodies were unsanctioned but nonetheless evident in Cook’s accounts through descriptions of “disease” among sailors and the people they encountered. Euphemistic language describing “disease” and “venereal complaints” referred to the liaisons  between common sailors and local women that manifested “alternative systems of capital and exchange outside formal networks supported by those in authority.”[16] Cook endeavored to create accounts that would build and maintain relationships for formal economic exchange; his accounts likewise acknowledged the system of sexual exchange. This was permitted in Cook’s early voyages, but disallowed by the third. Venereal complaints were cited as the main reason for restricting his sailors’ access to the women they met. English maritime law also forbade these relationships at great consequence to the sailors, particularly if revealed through the transmission of infection. These rules were informed by the knowledge that these diseases were, and continued to be, introduced to Pacific Island populations by Europeans. Contagious illness had a lasting impact on all lands imposed upon by European traders and colonizers. European disease introduction reduced some populations up to a tenth of their previous size.[17]

Disease was only one facet of biological exchange. Cook’s voyage could aptly be compared in biblical terms to Noah’s Ark, in which he brought many animals to be used in the process of exploration, with the explicit purpose of trade, and to reshape the local environments to accommodate European-style agriculture. These animals quickly multiplied and modified the regions in which they resided. In Hawai’i, for example, introduced flora thrived in new ecological niches carved out by grazing livestock. The introduction of the european rat had a tremendous impact on native birds; in turn, other animals, cats and mongooses, were introduced to manage the growing rat population. These animals would become pests themselves, leading to lasting depletion of native bird populations.[18] The sea was also impacted by the arrival of Europeans to the South Pacific region, as new fishing technologies and agricultural pollution damaged coral reefs and other aquatic ecosystems. These ecosystems, particularly reefs, remain in jeopardy to this day.[19]


Indigenous Voices: What Did Indigenous People Think of Cook?

Cook’s impressions and encounters with the peoples that he encountered are documented extensively in his journals. Conversely, it is more difficult to examine the impression these people had of Cook. Cultural differences in historical documentation and belated interest on the part of 19th century Europeans has impeded this effort. However, some oral histories, cultural practices, and historical debates do shed light on the issue of how Cook and his crews were received. One may look to Aboriginal storytelling, which offers generational oral narratives that describe Cook’s landing. Nearly all of them are concerned with the manner by which Cook first entered Aboriginal people’s land on the Australian coast in 1770.[20] One particularly poignant story describes how Cook did not greet the first people he met, the Gweagal people of Botany Bay, thus failing to observe the proper protocols for entering Aboriginal territories and resulting in violence. This failure was evident in Cook’s own account,  and continued to echo throughout the relationship between the colonists and Aboriginal Australians.[21] In the decades and centuries to come, Cook came to stand for all European invaders and settlers.

One of the most enduring debates about the reception of James Cook is centered in the theory that, upon his 1779 arrival in Hawai’i, the indigenous Hawaiians that he encountered believed him to be the god Lono, who at that time was being celebrated in the seasonal New Year festival Makahiki. This statement is incorporated as fact into nearly every mainstream account of Cook’s life and death, in which he is acknowledged by priests to be Lono and was treated with respect and adoration until his death.[22] The implication of ritual death has the effects of advancing the notion that Cook’s death was predicated on Hawaiian religious practice and reinforcing his heroism in Western discourses.[23] Late twentieth-century scholarship, however, pushes back on these notions. Gananath Obeysekere, a scholar of Hawaii, points out several issues that undermine the deification theory. Obeyesekere asks whether it is likely that that Hawaiians believed a European-looking person who did not speak their language or know their lifeways could possibly be a god of their pantheon; furthermore, Hawaiians knew that Cook came from “Brittannee” and not the sacred land of Kahiki.[24] Obeysekere also points out that that the ritual reception included Cook prostrating himself before an image of the god Kū and notes that none of the chiefs performed that ritual to Cook - only commoners did, as they would do to their own chiefs.[25] It is more likely, as Polynesian anthropologist Te Rangi Hiroa suggests, that Cook was called Lono, due to the appearance of his ships’ white sails, but not likely thought to be Lono. Cook’s arrival was considered significant and he was certainly elevated to high status, as indicated by ritual prostration, but this status could be linked to that of a chief rather than a god. This is reinforced by the fact that chiefs could be killed “when circumstances demanded.” Finally, deification was a post mortem event, not ante mortem, which aligns with the treatment of Cook’s body after his death.[26] 

Reexamining the Hawaiian reception of Cook is important because it significantly alters discourses around his death, which perhaps made him more famous than he was in life. The apotheosis of Cook was a significant cultural milestone of the late eighteenth century, with popular literature, art, and plays dedicated to the subject. European understandings of Cook’s final moments influenced his entire biography and, more importantly, Western perceptions of the Hawaiian people that would go on to influence their portrayal and treatment by future visitors. Understanding the contemporary indigenous perspectives of their encounters with Cook is essential to form honest evaluations of Cook’s exploits, legacy, and popular cultural memory and also give equal weight to the voices of those that he impacted.


Other Journeys To Consider: Explorers from the Pacific Islands

            Some of the most important journeys of this time were not those of Cook or other Europeans. Rather, we should look to indigenous people and their travels to gain a sense of the vast system of cultural exchange that occurred before and after the time of Cook. People of the South Seas have a long history of seafaring, with cultural continuities indicating their migration across massive swaths of the Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to New Zealand  and the islands of Hawai’i. In the eighteenth century, there were prominent Pacific Islanders who returned to Europe with various circumnavigators and made their own forays into Europe. These journeys continued well into the nineteenth century.

            One such person is Ahutoru, the adopted son of a village chief, who traveled to France with Louis Antoine de Bougainville. Ahutoru came to know Bougainville when the circumnavigator completed his voyage in Tahiti and set sail to return to France. How he came to be on Bougainville’s ship is not entirely clear - with some accounts describing Ahutoru as an eager adventurer and others suggesting that he was “offered” to Bougainville by his village. Others imply that he went willingly, but that he intended to disembark from the ship on the island Raiatea. However, he was not permitted to disembark and found himself on a long and  harrowing voyage. On the long trip, Ahutoru was pressed for plant identification by the ship’s botanist and for information about his religious practices by the captain, who penned an account of the voyage.[27] Most of the information in Bourgainville’s book, however, likely came from Ahutoru, as Bourgainville’s stay on the island was short. His contributions, which are not well-attributed, made a tremendous impact on the expansion of botanical sciences at the time.[28] During his time in Paris, Bougainville introduced him to French high society, including King Louis XV. With a few exceptions, Ahutoru was well-liked and spent a great deal of time making social calls and venturing out into Paris. This was bitter-sweet, however, as Ahutoru was regarded as a novelty - an embodiment of Enlightenment philosophy’s fantasies about unspoiled ways of life and the stereotype of the “noble savage.”[29] Ahutoru departed France in 1770, but died from a contagious illness on his voyage home in 1771.


Omai of the Friendly Isles, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c.1774 (Public Domain)


            Omai, a young Tahian man from Huahine, would go on to be Ahuturo’s counterpart in England. He left Tahiti in 1773, following Cook’s second voyage. Much like Ahutoru, Omai provided Europeans with a great deal of information about his local customs and culture. During his visit to England, Omai resided with Joseph Banks, a botanist who Omai had met during Cook’s first voyage. Much like Ahutoru, Omai became a popular personality over the course of his stay. He was a favored guest for socialite dinner parties and was presented with a sword by King George, who also provided a stipend. His portrait was painted by popular artists and his social life became the subject of conversation in popular magazines. For all that Omai was popular, many disapproved of the lifestyle he lived in London, insisting instead that should have received “Christian moral instruction” or learned a trade.[30] In 1776, Omai left London to travel with Cook once more on Cook’s third voyage. Omai was sent off with many gifts ranging from tools and guns to a suit of armor and supply of port wine. His return was used to advantage by Cook, using it as an excuse to introduce livestock to the islands they stopped at.[31] Much is unknown about his life after travelling, although he did pass away several years following his return.


”Prince Lee Boo,” Henry Kingsbury, published by George Nicol, published for Henry Wilson, after Georgiana Jane Henderson, 1788 [Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery London]


            Other Pacific Islanders, such as Prince Lee Boo of Palau and Chief Ka’iana of Kaua’i, embarked on voyages with English captains. Lee Boo was the second son of King Abbe Thulle, who sent him with Captain Henry Wilson to gather information about England that could benefit Palau.[32] Much like Omai, Lee Boo enjoyed popularity as a dinner guest among the English bourgeoisie and as a student to tutors who instructed him in English at his request. Wilson hosted Lee Boo and took measures to prevent him from exposure to smallpox; however, these efforts were in vain. Lee Boo died from the illness in 1784, at the age of 20. In 1787, the Hawaiian nobleman Ka’iana sought passage to England by means of Captain John Meares. Meares agreed to take them along. His voyage was particularly notable, as he was the first Hawaiian chief to travel to China, the Philippines, and the Northwestern American coast.[33] Ka’iana never completed his voyage to Europe, having been satisfied by his experiences in China. Although his time with Meares was short, Ka’iana’s life is well-documented. On his return to his homeland, he quickly became a close aide to King Kamehameha I. Ka’iana parlayed his social status relationships with English merchants to secure favorable terms of trade and to obtain weapons to supply an ongoing war. He eventually fell out of favor with Kamehameha I, but his filial associations with the Hawaiian nobility enabled extensive documentation of his life. His nephew, Kekuanao'a, would eventually complete Ka’iana’s journey to England in 1823.[34]


"Tianna a Prince of Atooi" or Ka'iana, lithograph by Spoilumin, located in John Meares: Voyages Made in the Tears 1788 and 1789 [Courtesy of the State Archives of Hawaii]

            These explorers continued to traverse the oceans throughout the turn of the century. The Maori of New Zealand left a particular travel legacy that continues to resonate into the present. The very first Maori to to leave the shores of New Zealand did so on the vessel of James Cook, having been brought aboard to act as servants to Omai. Te Wehura and Koa were the first to leave New Zealand in many hundreds of years, but many others soon followed. At the end of the eighteenth century, Maori chiefs embarked on trading vessels to Australia and others sailed aboard European vessels as crew. However, not all Maori volunteered for these roles - some were kidnapped, abused, and even abandoned on foreign islands. The first Maori explorer to visit England was Moehanga, a Ngāpuhi man that arrived in 1806, more than twenty years before New Zealand was declared a British colony. Many Maori would follow him in the years after his visit, but Moehanga has come to be celebrated (on Moehanga Day) as first Maori to discover Britain, a nod to changing discourses around the historical narratives of global exploration and indigenous autonomy.

Looking Forward: Contemporary Discourses to Captain Cook

            In many respects, Captain Cook remains a lauded figure in conventional accounts of maritime history and the establishment of states like Australia and New Zealand. In Australia, Cook is celebrated every year on the 29th of April, commemorating the day that he “discovered” and “founded” modern Australia. Much like Columbus Day in North America, Cook’s anniversary is increasingly challenged by recent interrogations of his impact on Australia. Aboriginal Australians are at the forefront of these debates, as both subject and actor. These discourses acknowledge Cook’s skill as a navigator, but ultimately seek to re-center indigenous peoples in the discourses around him. In this case, the subject of conversation is whether Cook “discovered” Australia at all. Recent dialogues now point out that Australia was discovered many hundreds of years prior to Cook, by the people who came to inhabit the land long before Cook’s arrival. Furthermore, Cook claimed the continent on behalf of the Crown without the consent or collaboration of the people who were already there. Increased interest in the oral histories of Aboriginal Australians has reconfigured the conventional historical narrative, emphasizing the lingering impacts of his encounters in the Aboriginal consciousness.

           This sort of historical interrogation is not unique to discourses around James Cook. Rather, they continue to spring up around many persistent historical narratives surrounding the issues of European exploration, the international slave trade, and European colonization. In turn, practices of historical writing and remembrance shift to reflect new interests and interpretations that can be the instruments of social change. Captain Cook, for now, is largely perceived as a benign, if not heroic, figure in Western history. This perception, however, is evolving as cultural and historical practices are mobilized to illustrate how truly complicated his legacy is, as both a man and legendary figure, and how profoundly he impacted the historical and contemporary outcomes of all of the places and people that he encountered.

[1] Alan John Villiers, “James Cook: British Naval Officer, Encyclopedia Britannica (2021), https://www.britannica.com/biography/James-Cook.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ruth M. Tabrah, Hawaii: A History (New York: WW Norton, 1984), 20.

[4] Ibid., 20 -22

[5] Bronwen Douglas, “Voyages, Encounters, and Agency in Oceania: Captain Cook and Indiginous People,” History Compass 6.3 (2008), 714.

[6] Ibid., 714.

[7] R.A. Skelton as quoted by Gananath Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook: European Mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 4.

[8] Ibid., 5.

[9] Ibid., 12.

[10] Ibid., 13.

[11] Ibid.,, 30.

[12] Ibid., 30-32.

[13] Lisa Vandenbossche, “Illicit Trade and Contagious Disease in the Journals of Captain James Cook,” Cultural Economies of the Atlantic World (New York: Taylor & Francis 2020), 3-4.

[14] Gordon Sauer, Unspoken Voices: Captain Cook’s Third Voyage, the Lono Question, and the Discourse of Trade (Thesis: Clemson University), 27 - 32.

[15] Lisa Vandenbosshe, “Illicit Trade and Contagious Disease in the Journals of Captain James Cook,” ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Moshe Rapaport, “Edin in Peril: Impact of Humans on Pacific Island Ecosystems,” Island Studies Journal 1.1 (2006), 114.


[19] Ibid., 115.

[20] Maria Louise Nugent, “‘To Try to Form Some Connections with the Natives’: Encounters between Cook and Indigenous People at Botany Bay in 1770,” History Compass 6.2 (2008), 479.

[21] Ibid., 479 - 481.

[22] Ganantha Obeyesekere, The Apotheosis of Captain Cook, 3.

[23] Ibid., 57.

[24] Ibid., 61.

[25] Ibid., 64.

[26] Ibid., 75.

[27] Ernest Dodge, Islands and Empires: Western Impact on the Pacific and East Asia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1976), 42.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 43.

[30] Ibid., 43 - 47.

[31] Ibid., 47.

[32] Ibid., 48.

[33] David G Miller, “Ka’iana, the Once Famous ‘Prince of Kaua’i’”, The Hawaiian Journal of History 22 (1988), 1 - 2.

[34] Ibid., 16.

This article written by Amy Hester, Ph.D. candidate at Drew University.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Featured Artifact: Toys at Morristown

“Archaeology” is a fancy term for studying human garbage.* That is right- garbage! What we leave behind, accidentally drop, or misplace is present in the archaeological record. Some of these items are very precious, however. Do you remember the panic that struck when you couldn’t find your favorite stuffed animal, or a piece of an important puzzle went missing? Or the feeling when you went outside after a long winter and suddenly a ball that was left out got revealed through the melting ice and snow? If you were lucky, you got those toys back and got to form more memories through play. If you were not so lucky, the toys were tossed and lost forever. You are not alone in your heartache. The loss has been experienced by children for hundreds, maybe even thousands, of years.

Before the age of plastics, manufactured toys were a commodity not enjoyed by all (4). Dolls, tea sets and figurines were produced starting in the 1700s; however, they were enjoyed by wealthier families. There was no standard for toys like these until the industrial revolution and the turn of the 19th century (2)(3)(6).

Small cup inside a box with the label "MORR 1230 Teacup". A ruler in inches is to the right.
Figure 1: Small teacup in
Morristown N.H.P. collection
At Morristown National Historical Park, there are several items in the collection that are representative of toys of the 18th and 19th centuries. Toy tea sets made in porcelain and faience were most popular by the mid-1800s. Toys made for female children were meant to teach skills they would use as future adult women. For instance, a tea set could teach manners at the table. Another skill highly prized was needle work. By the 1800s girls were given patterns to sew that were designed specifically for the use in doll houses. Instead of purchasing items for the homes, girls earned the new “toys” through sewing the furnishings themselves (1). Miniature ceramics have been discovered at Morristown (Figure 1). The small teacup (MORR 1230) is “doll-sized.” It is barely an inch tall! Toys like this inspired imaginary parties for hundreds of years.

Small metal figurine in a box that has a ruler in inches to the right.
Figure 2: Figurine discovered in
Morristown N.H.P Collection
Soldiers and non-military figurines are also popular toys. Figurines have been discovered in archaeological finds all around the world. Without context, it is hard to differentiate these between toys and funerary objects. For instance, the terracotta soldiers in Shaanxi, China, which were discovered as part of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, are a well-known funerary display. Depending on the location of discovery, historical context, and precedence, it is possible to determine the use of a figurine as a toy versus funerary object (or both in some cases like the burial of children). Toy soldiers and civilian figures have long been popular for play (5). This approximately three-inch figurine of a man (MORR1226) depicts a civilian. In its current condition, it is hard to determine more about this toy without expert review (Figure 2).

The small number of miniature toys discovered through archaeological investigation shows that there were children enjoying domestic life and playing across the sites in Morristown, New Jersey. While the site is made famous by the soldiers wintering in 1779-1780, this small town was home year-round to families. The evidence of their total experience is minimal in the current collection; however, there is written record for the Ford Mansion, Wick House, and Cross Estate, that helps fill in the pieces. What is missing from the archaeological record can also tell us about the people that lived in these locations. It allows us to ask more questions. In reference to the children, we could ask, “could they afford toys? Who were the children? How were they educated? Did they work? Who were the families? Beside the Fords or Wicks, were there other children living on the grounds?”

We may not have the answers to these questions, but that is the joy of discovery. For now, we can enjoy looking at the miniature toys that make us want to say, “how cute!”

*Archaeology originates from the Greek Logos (study) of Archaios (ancient things).  

[Note:  Archeological resources, both sites and collections, are protected by law on federal and state lands. Understanding these laws is an important part of what you can do to help protect archeological resources. For more information visit: https://www.nps.gov/archeology/public/publicLaw.htm#:~:text=Archeological%20and%20Historic%20Preservation%20Act,Historic%20Sites%20Act%20of%201935To best protect archeological resources: Report looting and vandalism to Federal land management authorities or your local sheriff; Encourage others to be stewards of the past by your example; Treat remains of past cultures with respect; Tread lightly when visiting archaeological sites; Leave artifacts in place; Photograph, sketch and enjoy rock art, but do not touch ancient surfaces or designs]

This blog post was prepared by Kelsey Taormina, detail Museum Specialist at Morristown NHP/Park Ranger at the Statue of Liberty National Monument.

1. Beecher, Catharine Esther. A Treatise on Domestic Economy: For the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School. United States: Harper & Brothers, 1846.
2. Meikle, Jeffrey L.. American plastic : a cultural history. United Kingdom: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
3. Katz, Sylvia. Early Plastics. United Kingdom: Shire, 1994.
4. Kinderculture: The Corporate Construction Of Childhood. United Kingdom: Avalon Publishing, 1997.
5. Opie, James., Toiati, Luigi. The History of Toy Soldiers. United Kingdom: Pen & Sword Books, 2019.
6. Rossi, Jean. Plastic Novelties and Toys of the '40s, '50s, And '60s. United States: Schiffer Publishing, Limited, 2001.

Monday, May 3, 2021

Featured Manuscript: Letter from Richard Wagner to King Ludwig II

You have likely heard a Richard Wagner piece from the Great Dictator, Apocalypse Now, Father of the Bride, or even Bugs Bunny. Wagner created stories in all his compositions. Drama and romance were at the center of his creativity and personal life (1) (2). Richard Wagner’s operas caught the attention of a young Prince Ludwig II of Bavaria, who swore to support and bring him fame saying, “When I am a King, I will show the world how highly I prize his genius!” (3). Without the support of Ludwig II, Wagner may not have seen great success. He was in debt and faced many financial and political woes (4). What was their relationship? How did it form? What influence did the two figures have on one another? A letter among the collections at Morristown National Historical Park may just answer those questions (5).

Letter to Ludwig II

In March 1867, Wagner wrote the following letter to Ludwig II. With help of an international Volunteer-in-Parks with the National Park Service, Christoph Späth, the letter has been transcribed and translated. An earlier uncredited translation and transcription were cross-referenced for clarity.

A handwritten letter in German
First page of Wagner Letter to Ludwig II
March 31, 1867

A handwritten letter in German
Second page of Wagner Letter to Ludwig II
March 31, 1867

A handwritten letter in German
Third page of Wagner Letter to Ludwig II
March 31, 1867

Letter Transcription (German)

Theuerster Geliebter,

Hier ein Briefchen für die erhabene Liebliche! Ich schreibe Ihr darin von unserem Parzival.

Wie geht es dem holdesten Herrn der Erde? Ich fürchte, Er hat jetzt viel zu ‚hexen‘ und sehnt sich bald wieder ‚zaubern‘ zu dürfen?

Armer!! Ich bin für das Hexen jetzt sehr müde geworden, und hoffe getrost für einige Zeit es andern lassen zu können. Ich denke, mit meinem wunderlichen Hans ist nun Alles in Ordnung: am 15. April trifft er mit der Freundin nun wieder in München ein, um auch für mit Quartier zu machen. Wenn nur die Hexerei mit Putlitz gelingen wollte! Ich erfahre nichts davon, und fürchte Ihre kleinen Räthe u.d.w. werden Ihnen viel Schwierigkeiten machen, dazu sind sie nun einmal in der Welt, und selbst in der Residenz München! Machen sie es gar zu schwer, so wird Parzival wohl wieder einmal zum Siegfriedschwerte greifen müssen: In Betreff dieser Leute steht mein Spruch jetzt so: „Ihr sollt leben, lasst uns aber auch leben.“ Bitte, bitte! Lassen Sie sich gegen den Putlitz nichts einwenden: ich gehe bei dieser Bitte mit grosser Vorsicht und Ueberlegung zu Werke: seine Berufung ist das Beste und Zweckmässigste was sie tun können, um mit einem male Ordnung und sich selbst Ruhe und Fortgang der Sache zu versichern. Der treffliche Schmitt soll dabei ungestört Intendanzrathen, so gut und viel er kann. Aber: „leben und leben lassen!“ –

Der Lenz kämpft noch mit Winterstürmen. Am Jahrestag unsres Grütli besuches mussten wir zu Haus bleiben. Am Charfreitag bin ich aber dort: O Parzival! Wie muss ich dich lieben, mein trauter Held! – Bald wird wohl die Welt sehen was das zu bedeuten hat,--und ­­­­­­­­­ärgern wird sie sich auch, zu gewahren, dass alles Unheil welches sie für uns kocht (??), uns zum Heilsaft wird.

Siegmund könnte eben Gift vertragen: denn er war göttlich! –

Mit Gott mein Theurer! Schön „hexen“ dass ich armer Meister gut „zaubern“ kann: Es geht, es wird, ich hoffe, liebe und glaube! –

Tausend innige Seelengrüsse!
Ewig true und eigen
Richard Wagner
Innigste Grüsse der treuesten Freundin
31. März 1867

Wagner Letter Translation (English)

Dearest loved one,

Here is a letter for the sublime lovely one. In it I write about our Parzival. How is the loveliest gentleman on earth? I’m afraid he has a lot “of witchcraft” now and is longing to be able to “practice sorcery” again soon?

Poor one!! I have now become very tired of witchcraft, and I confidently hope to leave it with somebody else for a while. I believe everything is alright with my wonderful Hans: on the 15th of April he is arriving in Munich with his lady-friend, in order to make quarters for me as well. If only the sorcery with Putlitz would succeed. I haven’t heard about it and am afraid that your little councils etc. are going to make it difficult for you, for that you are in the world, even in the Munich Residence. If they make it too difficult, Parzival will have to again take up the sword of Siegfried. With regards to these people my line is: “You should live, but let us also live” Please, please!! Let there be no objection to Putlitz: I’m proceeding with this request with great caution and deliberation his appointment is the best and most expedient thing they can do, in order to assure order and yourself peace and progress of the matter at once. May our excellent Schmitt be undisturbed in giving his counsels as a stage manager, as much as he can. But: “live and let live!”-

Spring is still battling with winter storms. On the anniversary of our Grütli visit, we had to stay at home. But on Good Friday I will be there: O Parzival! How I must love you, my dear hero! – Soon the world will see what this means, - angry to be aware that all mischief it is cooking for us becomes our healing potion. Siegmund could endure the poison: for he was divine! –

With God, my dearest! Nicely “work magic” that I poor master can “conjure” well: It works, it will be, I hope, love, and believe! –

A thousand heartfelt greetings
Eternally faithful,
Richard Wagner
Heartfelt greetings to your faithful girlfriend
March 31, 1867

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Upcoming Web Events

Sunday, February 27, 2021 - 10:00 AM (EST)

Bach, Bagels, and Bob - Bringing New/Old Music to Life

Maestro Robert W. Butts welcomes special guests soprano Timothy Maureen Cole and Dr. Jude Pfister, author and Chief of Cultural Resources at Washington Headquarters, Morristown National Historical Park.

Maestro Butts and guests will discuss bringing unknown music to life - ranging from brand new premiere compositions to the incredible discovery of the 1693 manuscript of La Giuditta by Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti.  Dr, Pfister will also discuss the major documents and manuscripts of the collection.  Maestro Butts will discuss the memorable collaborative concerts "Music and Manuscripts" which have featured music associated with documents in the collection - including Scarlatti''s major masterpiece as well as the signed copy of the published book of poetry by 18th Century African-American poet Phyllis Wheatley.

Excerpts from performances will be shown.

The event is a free online zoom event, but registration is required.

Visit baroqueorchestra.org to register.

[Image Descriptions: This post features the promotional page for the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey’s new web series Bach, Bagels, and Bob. Pictured is Maestro Robert W. Butts.]

Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 7:00 PM (EST)

Join The Museum of Early Trades and Crafts (METC) and Morristown National Historical Park Chief Curator Dr. Jude Pfister for a virtual guided tour of the exhibits at the park museum relating to medical care during the Revolutionary War.  

Visit @metcnj for registration details.

[Image Description: This post features the doorway of the model log cabin in the MNHP Discover History gallery. Under the image is a yellow information box that reads “METC and MNHP presents a virtual program, Medical Care During the Hard Winter.”]