Wednesday, October 22, 2014

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

Welcome back to Part Two of the document analysis series. We will continue our research where we left off.

Review Step One: Observation <<<


Let's jump right in.

LWS 4031

 I will begin with the first line of questioning. 1. What does this source tell us? It tells us that John Morrison traveled from Kingsbridge (possibly in NY) to Philadelphia (and perhaps sustained an injury during travel) and was recommended by an Alderman to travel to New York.  He then took a boat to Burlington and traveled to Trenton, then through Brunswick to Perth Amboy on his way to Staten Island. In Perth Amboy, he was stopped it appears and questioned about his travels since entering the country.

            2. What questions does this document raise? There are many so I won’t attempt to ask them all.  You will probably have questions of your own. For example –Were examinations like this common? –Did Morrison’s status have anything to do with this proceeding? –Is he a free man? –Why did he emigrate to the U.S.? Did he have family in the U.S.?  –Why was he traveling to Philadelphia?  -The document mentions Morrison’s return to Philadelphia. When and why was he in Philadelphia previously? Other than his Burlington boat ride, how did he travel? Foot? Horse? –Did Morrison sustain his injury during his travels or was he suffering from the complications of a prior injury? *Older documents like this also cause readers to encounters odd or unfamiliar vocabulary, terminology, or references, so questions like… - What is an Alderman?  -What is a surveyor’s chain? –And why doesn’t the creator of this document use punctuation? ….may come up.

3. Next we have to ask, What conclusions can we draw?  -Perhaps a person needed a pass or proper documentation to travel between counties or states.  –Perhaps Morrison was the suspect in a crime and had to testify to his whereabouts.  –Maybe Morrison had broken his contract and was being made to explain his absence.  –Or maybe his freedom to travel was in question.  Other conclusions…-Morrison was of lower class or status because he was working as a paid laborer.  –He was unable to read and write in English as he signed his name with an “X.”  Maybe his Irish (Catholic?) background had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t read or write. -He was perhaps in debt because even after receiving payment from Abner Cloud he was applying to stay at a poor house.  –He may have sustained his injury on the way to Philadelphia as he was able to work in Wheeling but unable upon his arrival in Philadelphia. –Or… as revealed by this document alone, he spent most of his time between New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey since his arrival into the U.S.

4. What is the relevance of this document? – It captures an example of immigrant daily life--finding work, travel experiences, and approximate wages for survey work for a man in Morrison’s class (or circumstance). –It gives insight into early nineteenth-century migrant work.  –It documents city/place names in New Jersey as of 1800. –And it provides evidence of court procedures, among other things.

5. What are the ambiguities or weaknesses we encounter while using this document?  -Who this man was -Why he was being examined  -Why he was traveling –Who the exact originator of the document was  -Whether or not his shoulder injury was sustained during his travels –Why the Alderman suggested he travel to New York and why he paid for Morrison’s passage –Whether or not this is the “whole side of the story” or if Morrison being misrepresented  -Whether some of the place names mentioned are cities, towns, streets, or regions as these are often hard to distinguish (For example, is Kingsbridge  in NY?  And where is aforementioned Wheeling? WV?)

timeline based on the evidence presented in this manuscript

speculative map based on the evidence presented in this manuscript
After you have extracted as much as you can about a document using the most easily accessible clues the document has to offer, you can move on to more structured research. Creating visual aids or ways to organize the evidence you have will help you determine the direction of your prospective research. Sometimes inferred “evidence” is generated as you try to logically sort through the details.  (For example, I have inferred the location of Morrison’s arrival to the U.S. to be Castle Clinton, modern day Battery Park, NY, as this was a prominent location for immigrants to arrive prior to 1890—Can I confirm this? No. But it gives me a starting point for research). 

We now must ask… 6. In which direction should we take future research? – At this point, if you were able to reference other primary sources or other companion pieces that would ideally be your next logical step. But since that is not the case, perhaps a closer look at eighteenth-century American social history will help provide answers.  This may help determine which groups of people were emigrating and at what times and for what reasons. A researcher may also be able to determine whether Market Street in Philadelphia was a common place for immigrants to convene. It is probable that places like the Philadelphia Public Library and the Pennsylvania Historical Society have resources pertaining to this time period, so those might be good places to start.

Knowing who the experts are will also help you solve the puzzle.  For example, when I first read and transcribed the Morrison examination, I had mis-transcribed the word Carrickfergus as “confesses us,” but when I had Dr. Christine Kinealy (Quinnipiac University) read over the piece, she immediately read it with her expert knowledge in mind. Experts view history from specialized perspectives.

For this particular document, historians of law, labor, New Jersey, Early America and immigration may prove very helpful resources. If you are unable to access an expert personally, their published works will probably get you far.

Next up....Step Three: Interpretation. Stay Tuned!

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

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