Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Featured Manuscript: The Examination of John Morrison (Part One)

LWS 4031
This month's featured manuscript is the examination of one John Morrison, dated July 28, 1800. Though succinct, this short document is packed with interesting information, making it the perfect candidate for a document anaylsis activity. This three-part blog series takes a step-by-step look at this court record and shares some guidelines for manuscript observation, interrogation, and interpretation.


Effective and meaningful primary source investigation requires patience. You can begin piecing the story together by searching for clues. 

To start, try to determine the document type and look for any special markings, as those provide you with information regarding the relevance of an individual manuscript.  Sometimes it is necessary to read large portions of the document in order to determine the type. This is not always an easy process as the script or printing can pose legibility issues. Manuscripts written in foreign languages often further complicate the transcription and interpretation process.

Let's try a few document analysis activities...

Activity 1

Carefully examine manuscript LWS 4031 (click image to enlarge) and complete the following questions.


___ Newspaper
___ Letter
___ Patent
___ Memorandum
___ Broadside
___ Receipt
___ Map
___ Telegram
___ Press release
___ Report
___ Indenture
___ Check
___ Advertisement
___ Congressional record
___ Census report
___ Pamphlet
___ Lottery ticket
___ Other

___ Interesting letterhead
___ Handwritten
___ Typed
___ Seals
___ Notations
___ Post markings
___ Foreign language     
___ Other




POSITION (TITLE, if known):



Activity 2

Think about what the document says:

  Through the use of language and style
  By “not saying it” (what it leaves out)

Activity 3
  The Subject of this document (matters discussed or people, ideas, or events mentioned)
  The Occasion (what event(s) or era does this mark…what is the time and place of the piece, the current situation)
  The Audience (who this is created for, written to, or directed to)
  The Purpose (why it was created)
  The Speaker (who created this document)

Activity 4

Transcribe the document:

The examination of John Morrison taken this 28th day of July 1800
before John Battoone, Joseph March & Andrew Bell, Magistrates
of the City of Perth Amboy. Who saith that he is a nation of
Carrickfergus in Ireland, has been 4 years in this country,
that he was hired last winter by one Abner Cloud who lived near Kings
bridge to go with him to the Western country to assist in carrying
the chain in surveying  lands near Wheeling, that he continued
there about a month, and received six dollars from Mr. Cloud for
his services and returned to Philadelphia where he arrived on Monday the 21st instant (?)
in the evening and lodged at the Black Horse in Market Street, and
the next morning applied to the overseer an Alderman who lives near the Market
(but whose name he does not remember) to be admitted into the Poor
house on account of a wound he had received from an Indian by a tomahawk in the
Shoulder, which disabled him from working.- that the Alderman
recommended his going to New York, where as he had arrived there first
from Ireland, and gave that he went with him to the Burlington
Stage Boat and paid a quarter dollar for his passage up.- that he
left Burlington on Tuesday evening and traveled to Trenton, from whence
he came through Brunswick to this place, being informed that he
could pass across Staten Island to New York.

Taken before us, the day                                        his
year above written~                                     John  X   Morrison                                                                                                                                                               mark                      
John Battoone                                                                                                 
Joseph March
Andrew Bell


John Morrison’s Examination

28th July 1800

Collecting Evidence

Let’s take a look at the document and see what clues we have been given.

At our institution, a processed manuscript is filed by its originator or creator. This means I must determine who created the manuscript (a task that is not without its own complications). Often times manuscripts list names and places, but not all are clearly marked or signed by their creator. For example, this document has four signatures at the bottom of the page. Did any of these men draft the above document or was that the duty of a courtroom recorder? Or perhaps a lawyer? Sometimes these answers aren’t apparent but must be inferred by comparison to other similar cases or by studying the history of court room practices. Take a careful look at the document. Look closely for familiar place names.
Several bits of information are spoken outright though. For example, the fact that this document is a court examination of one John Morrison examined by Perth Amboymagistrates John Batoone, Joseph March, and Andrew Bell is clearly stated. The places Morrison traveled during the month of July 1800 are also stated, as is the name of his former employer, and information regarding his emigration from Ireland.
Other clues (even those that at first may seem insignificant) reveal more of the story. A reader can discern that he first emigrated to New York from Carrickfergus, Ireland four years prior, that he worked for Abner Cloud in Kingsbridge the previous winter as a chain carrier for survey work, that after he received payment from Cloud he traveled to Philadelphia where he asked permission to take lodging in a poor house and thus received help from an Alderman, that said Alderman suggested he travel to New York, that at some point he encountered a Native American and subsequently suffered a shoulder wound thus impairing his ability to work, that he took the Burlington Stage Boat for twenty five cents on Tuesday July 22nd, and that before he was to arrive in New York he appeared in court in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. With all of this said, there are still many gaps in the story of John Morrison, and to fill in those gaps a bit of interrogation is necessary. Sometimes a document has to be grilled for information, but we'll save that for our next session, Step Two: Interrogation.

This blog series by Sarah Minegar, Archivist and Museum Educator.

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