Monday, August 21, 2017

Thomas Jefferson's 1811 Eclipse Observations

LWS 1197, Thomas Jefferson to John Payne Todd, October 10, 1811
(referring to September 17, 1811 solar eclipse)
Today North Americans celebrate The Great American Eclispe! At around 1:22 pm EST, Morristown will begin to experience coverage, achieving maximum coverage at around 2:44 pm EST. These astronomical events have intrigued humans for thousands of years. ☀ In fact, in January 1777, shortly after arriving in Morristown, General George Washington penned a letter to Thomas Wharton with concerns about quelling any superstitious reactions by his troops. This event took place during the first Morristown encampment, while the General was lodging at Arnold's Tavern. ☀ Washington was not the only 'founding observer' of eclipses. Thomas Jefferson was known to have attempted to observe at least four solar eclipses in his lifetime. Morristown NHP houses Jefferson's September 17, 1811 observations in a letter to John Payne Todd (son of Dolley Payne Todd Madison). His notes focus on the phases of contact and the exact times he witnessed its path.

To John Payne Todd

Monticello Oct. 10. 11.
Dear Sir
According to promise I send you our observations of the solar eclipse of Sep. 17. we had, you know, a perfect observation of the passage of the sun over the meridian, and the eclipse began so soon after as to leave little room for error from the time piece. her rate of going however was ascertained by 10. days subsequent observation and comparison with the sun, and the times, as I now give them to you are corrected by these. I have no confidence in the times of the 1st & ultimate contacts, because you know we were not early enough on the watch, decieved by our time piece which was too slow. the impression on the sun was too sensible when we first observed it, to be considered as the moment of commencement, and the largeness of our conjectural correction (18″) shews that that part of the observation should be considered as nothing. the last contact was well enough observed, but it is on the forming and breaking of the annulus that I rely with entire confidence. I am certain there was not an error of an instant of time in either. I would be governed therefore solely by them, and not suffer their result to be affected by the others. I have not yet entered on the calculation of our longitude from them. they will enable you to do it as a college exercise. affectionately yours
Th: Jefferson
1st contact0–13–54}
annulus formed1–53–0}central time H      central timeH      
annulus broken1–59–25of annulus.1–56–12½of the two contacts 1–51–28
ultimate contact3–29–2
Latitude of Monticello 38°–8′

☀ Transcription via

Learn more about these historical astronomical activities:

☀ January 8, 1777

☀ September 17, 1811

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Cobbs of Morristown

Box 6, unprocessed and nearly 
intact to its original storage condition
Although their name may not be as familiar as the Fords’, the Cobbs of Morristown were a prominent local family and had an equally influential role in the development and history of Morris County. As contemporaries of the Fords (for whom the Ford Mansion is named), the Cobbs had a hand in regional economic and business matters.

This summer, I have had the pleasure of going through the Cobb Collection. I have spent most of my time taking notes on the documents’ contents and rehousing them in archive-friendly, acid-free folders. The collection is one of the park’s lesser-known holdings and contains personal, legal and business documents created by or related to the Cobb family dating back to the pre-Revolutionary period. The collection was originally given to the park by Andrew Lemuel Cobb Jr. (c. 1895-1967), a descendant of the Cobbs who continued to live locally until his death, and includes over forty boxes of approximately one hundred documents each. Although the park has had the collection for over forty years, its sheer size has made cataloging its full contents difficult.

My original goal was to create a finding aid for the collection, but doing so will have to be a collaborative effort; I have been able to go through only eleven of forty-plus boxes so far! Hopefully, the work that I have done will make the collection more accessible to other researchers and will also serve as a start for what I hope will someday be a complete catalog of the collection.

Most of the documents in the collection were originated by Lemuel Cobb (1762-1831) and his son, Andrew Bell Cobb (1804-1873). Both Cobbs worked as lawyers and surveyors and eventually served as justices of the peace for the Morris County Court of Common Pleas. The younger Cobb also acted as Parsippany’s postmaster and was elected to the New Jersey State Senate.

The nature of the Cobbs’ vocation means that many of the documents I have gone through are less than thrilling. There are many land deeds, mortgages, bonds, accounts, surveys, receipts and IOUs, or “notes.” Most of these are unexciting but some do include mentions of or correspondence with notable historical figures including Supreme Court Justice James Wilson and Governors William Livingston and Isaac Williamson. Aaron Ogden, the third governor of New Jersey did a lot of business with Lemuel Cobb and I also found a quit claim signed by Philip Schuyler, senator and father-in-law of founding father Alexander Hamilton.

One of the boxes includes letters to Andrew B. Cobb’s first wife, Elizabeth Farrand Kirkpatrick Cobb, which I found comparatively more entertaining than business documents. As a postal enthusiast, I enjoyed looking at all of the stamps and different postmarks that appear on the letters. Elizabeth Cobb’s correspondence also provides insight into contemporary daily life and social activities, which she and her relatives recount in their letters. Along with the letters, she also saved an invitation to a ball celebrating “Washington’s Birthnight” (very exciting, I’m sure) and there is also mention of an illegitimate child (gasp!) in one of the letters. Elizabeth Cobb’s letters also helped illustrate the contrast between early nineteenth-century life and life today, and not only through personal accounts of quotidian happenings. One of the letters to Elizabeth from Andrew was sent from the Dunning Hotel at the corner of Washington and Cortlandt Streets in New York; that site would eventually become the location of the World Trade Center.

One of three checks found in the Cobb Collection
In addition to the mundane, the Cobb collection also includes some novel material. There are several sets of military discharge papers, an arrest warrant and three checks written in 1831. I also found some hand-copied verses from the Book of Genesis, a number of court summonses, a scrapbook, and a partial diagram of the planets.

A bill of sale for the purchase of a mother and two children

The collection also occasionally veers into the humorous. Among the more light-hearted documents are three short letters from William Robb addressed to Mr. Cobb, Mrs. Cobb and then Mr. Cobb again in April, May and June of 1797 requesting “one qt of sidar [sic] spirits.” Poor Mr. Robb apparently waited a long time to get a drink. Another that I found entertaining was an affidavit of a deposition in a case that came before Lemuel Cobb as a justice of the peace, in which the complainant accused her neighbors of repeatedly sneaking through her fence to steal her chickens.

In addition to documenting land transactions, the Cobb Collection also documents the transaction of humans, an unfortunate aspect of nineteenth-century life in Morris County that should not be overlooked. As an affluent businessman with extensive land holdings, Lemuel Cobb bought and sold slaves, including children. Bills of sale document his purchase of nine slaves, including children as young as nine months and two years old. And although Cobb treated enslaved people as commodities, it is important to remember that they were not passive objects but real people subjected to horrific treatment by other humans who sometimes bravely resisted their circumstances. A 1798 bill of sale records Lemuel Cobb paying £22 for a three-year-old female child from Elisabeth Righter; some twenty-odd years later, an affidavit recounts how that very same girl, Hagar, ran away in 1821.

Although tedious at times, my time with the Cobb Collection has also been at turns amusing, enlightening and affecting. I can only imagine what other diamonds in the rough are waiting to be found in the rest of the forty boxes. 

This blog post by Phoebe Duke, Hamilton College.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

At the Front, Behind the Scenes: Prototypes and Reality

Designing an exhibit is a lot of fun, but requires attention to detail. Being organized kept the exhibit visually clean and cohesive as well as ensuring that all the documents I pulled were protected and didn’t get lost. I used two techniques for the actual organization and aesthetic of the display: one was using guidelines from two different exhibit books and the other was prototyping the exhibit with a 2-D model.

These two books, Exhibits in Archives and Special Collections Libraries by Jessica Lacher-Feldman and Great Exhibits! An Exhibit Planning and Construction Handbook for Small Museums by Beth Hansen provided organizational guidelines and aspects of a good exhibit display that I have never consider. Lacher-Feldman provided a comprehensive list of questions that forced me to consider things like the space for my display, building accessibility and clarity of signage, as well as how to navigate the strengths and weakness of the collection.[2] Hansen’s books discussed aspects of executing the exhibit, for example the importance of labels at eye level and the angles used to prop up objects. [3]

The second tool I used was creating a paper layout of the documents. This allowed me to manipulate the “documents” for layout without over handling them. Powerpoint proved to be a useful tool for display case layout. 

Even after measuring the case, it became clear I had too many documents to fit comfortably and neatly, when I eventually tried place the documents in the case.

I had put less than a third of the manuscripts I wanted in the case and already there was no room for labels or descriptive text. I went back to the paper layout and had to decide what to keep and what to remove from the exhibit. That was one of the most challenging parts of this project because every object that I had picked was there for a reason and I wanted to tell both the author’s and recipient’s stories. In Matters of Conflict, editor Nicholas J. Saunders wrote that the academic focus “on material culture…offers to revitalize investigations into the physical and symbolic worlds that war has created, and that defines us as subjects through memory, imagination, and technology.” [5] This emphasis on “inquiry through objects” forces you to make decisions as to what order and importance each item carries for study, and this eventually dictates how we understand and “remember” history. I had to weigh what was important to the exhibit, but also what would attract the attention of the visitor best: a letter from an unknown soldier writing to Manning or a letter also to Manning about collecting from future President FDR?

Monday, July 31, 2017

At the Front, Behind the Scenes: The Work Before the Exhibit

One of the new exhibits at Morristown National Historical Park (MNHP), “Remembering A Forgotten War: Memories of War and Wartime by Soldiers, Civilians, and Collectors” examines materials from the Lloyd W. Smith Collection. One of the great things about doing an exhibit on a relatively unexamined collection is the freedom to let the exhibit ideas and themes find you. Since I was doing a solo exhibit, I had a free range to explore, examine, and report to the public aspects of the collection that I found most interesting and that would best express the mission of MNHP. However, it is also one of the more difficult aspects of an exhibit, having so many creative avenues. Originally, the hope was that the materials would have a distinctly “New Jersey” flavor and that the exhibit could link to local histories. Even a cursory examination of the materials proved that to be something of a dead-end as the most conclusive New Jersey connection was the collector Lloyd W. Smith himself. However, Smith’s collection did not disappoint. This blog post looks at the materials used for the exhibit, “Remembering A Forgotten War” and provides a behind the scenes for planning, prototyping, and executing the display. Going into this project, I knew I wanted to find a way to incorporate my interest of how World War One is remembered and how the documents express these ideas.

There are two boxes in the collection that Smith and later curators labeled as “World War” material with several interesting items that immediately caught my eye, specifically a correspondence series between James H. Manning of Albany and Eugene Brumaghim stationed in France with the Red Cross, and two letters from General Philippe Pétain. The two boxes provided a great starting point, but they did not lend themselves to a cohesive and complex exhibit. That balance, audience interest and historical nuance, became the thing that I was most after. I wanted to tell a story that was not just about combatants, politicians, or activities on the American Home Front, but rather encompassed all those aspects through the lens of methods of remembrance. 

After the two labeled boxes, I moved on to the microfilm, all 70 reels with hundreds of slides on each role. 

(drawer 1 of 4!)

I looked through the Morristown Manuscript Collection which has the entire collection indexed alphabetically, noting items that fell into my date range, roughly 1913 to 1920. By sifting through each item and document, (and every thank you note for dinners attended and foregone) that was from my time period it became clear that the act of collecting was a key element to the collection but also how historians understand the time period. This process also helped to fill in the gaps that occurred naturally through the initial cataloging by Smith. The “World War” folders contained letters and items with a military emphasis. The boxes that held manuscripts from Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, and even Franklin Delano Roosevelt were self-contained because it made sense to keep them together. But if I hadn’t gone through the microfilm I would never have found them, and my exhibit would have been very different. 

By making an outline and eventually a finding aid (a detailed index of the collection) of the manuscripts from the 1913-1920 date range, three exhibit categories came about: items from combatants, items from non-combatants in America that discussed the conflict, and those who collected items and signatures (a very popular practice) of influential people. With these three sections of the possible exhibit established, I began shifting the focus of my secondary source research away from more general histories of the time-period to one with specific focuses that related to my documents. This included reading about the American Red Cross in France, theories of memory through objects and manuscripts, and creating exhibits in small museums and for archival collections. The result is the bibliography below. Once I accomplished most of the intellectual grunt work, the exhibit itself began to take shape.

     Lloyd W. Smith Collection. Morristown National Historical Park. Morristown, NJ.

     The Autograph Collection Formed by the late Col. James H. Manning Albany, N.Y. Catalog. The Anderson Galleries. New York NY. 1926. Hathi Trust Digital Library.

     Englund, Will. March 1917: On the Brink of War and Revolution. New York. NY. W. W. Norton & Company. 2017

     Faulkner, Richard Shawn. Pershing’s Crusaders: The American Soldiers in World War I. Lawrence. KS. University Press of Kansas. 2017.

     Hansen, Beth. Great exhibits!: an exhibit planning and construction handbook for small museums. Lanham. Rowman and Littlefield. 2017.

     Irwin, Julia F. Making the world safe: The American Red Cross and a nation’s humanitarian awakening. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 2013.

     Keene, Jennifer D. “Remembering the ‘Forgotten War’: American Historiography on World War I.” The Historian. Phi Alpha Theta. 2016.

     Lacher-Feldman, Jessica. Exhibits in Archives and special collections libraries. Chicago. Society of American Archivists. 2013.

     Meyer, G. J. The World Remade: America in World War I. New York. NY. Penguin Random House. 2016.

     Piehler, G. Kurt. Remembering War the American Way. Washington. Smithsonian Press. 1995.

     Saunders, Nicholas J. Matters of conflict: material culture, memory, and the First World War. London. Routledge. 2004.

     Trout, Steven. On the Battlefield of Memory: The First World War and American Remembrance, 1919-1941. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press. 2010.

     Winter, Jay. Remembering War: The Great War Between Memory and History in the Twentieth-Century. New Haven. Yale University Press. 2006

     Winter, Jay and Emmanuel Siran, eds. War and Remembrance in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1999.

     World War One Remembered. Fort Washington. PA. Eastern National. 2017.

This blog post by Claire Du Laney, North Carolina State/University of NC, Chapel Hill. 

*This is part one of a two-part series. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Looking Beyond the Musical: A Journey with Alexander Hamilton

Before my time at Morristown National Historical Park, I was one of the many people who had been enamored with the musical Hamilton. As a history and political science student with an interest in theatre, the story of Alexander Hamilton in musical form seemed to be everything I could have ever hoped for. So, when the question of what my summer internship project would be was raised, the answer seemed clear: create an exhibit featuring the manuscripts of Alexander Hamilton in the museum’s collection. 

While the end goal seems clear, the process of constructing and researching an exhibit has many different components and goes through different phases. Luckily, Alexander Hamilton has always been a well-known figure to historians, even though the public just took interest in him recently. So, there was a solid foundation of information to start.  The first step was determining which manuscripts would be featured in the exhibit. Morristown’s collection currently contains eighty-two documents authored by Hamilton. Luckily, the manuscripts are cataloged in a digest containing their basic information and brief summary of their contents. This made my search easier because I didn't have to track down eighty-two individual documents in order to begin. 

With the help of three different color highlighters, I was able to decide which documents the most were interesting or came from defining parts of Hamilton’s life. 

From the summaries in the digest, my next step was to look as the letters on the museum’s microfilm to examine the entire letter. My first round of searching discovered that our manuscripts are truly representative of Hamilton’s entire life, from the Revolutionary War, his private law practice, his time as Secretary of the Treasury, his service as Inspector General of the United States Army, and even his own property. I decided on six letters to focus on. My choices were a letter to Colonel Pickering from 1780, a letter to Philip Schuyler from 1781, a report to George Washington from 1794, two letters to James Monroe from 1797, and a letter to Elizabeth Hamilton from 1798.

While having these documents is the best way to look into Hamilton’s life, I knew I needed to find more information in order to create a full picture of Alexander Hamilton, not only for anyone looking at my display, but for myself as well. Now, I thought I had a pretty solid understanding of Hamilton through my admiration of the musical and my previous knowledge. However, off I went into the realms of the internet to see how well I really knew Alexander Hamilton and I discovered that there was more to this founding father than any one musical could ever cover. I spent multiple days simply combing through article after article in order to put together a detailed, cohesive timeline of Hamilton’s life. I even color coded the timeline I made, giving different events in his life different colors, from Revolutionary War achievements to his personal life, in order to see how many different facets Hamilton’s life was carved into at any given time.

While so many people know about his larger achievements, such as serving at the Constitutional Convention, what fascinated me the most is that there was always something going on in his life, whether public or private, large or small.

Now fully equipped with knowledge, it was time to decide how I could organize the letters and what kind of story I wanted to tell. As my letters span multiple years and topics, it would be hard to try and tell Hamilton’s entire life story without straying from the amazing original material we have in the collection. So, I decided to frame this exhibit as snapshots of Hamilton’s life, giving it a temporary name of “Hamilton’s Most Memorable Years”. My next step was to take each letter and dissect it for interesting quotes and references, as well as placing it in Hamilton’s life (basically how or why this letter exists). As I started this phase, I decided that Hamilton’s report to Washington would not become part of my exhibit. As interesting as it is, the report is not about an event that Hamilton or Washington are directly involved in and would take away from sharing Hamilton’s life and times. Also, the report is fourteen pages long….so out it went.

Five single spaced pages later, I had laid out the five letters and their importance to Hamilton. I was ready to start shaping my exhibit and brochure. However, before I could do anything, I knew I needed a new title, since “Hamilton’s Most Memorable Years” sounded more like cheesy sitcom or TV movie than an exhibit. As I looked at the letters, one quote stood out. In the 1781 letter to Philip Schuyler, Hamilton refers to “some plausible pretext” as a way that some individuals will tell a story. While building this exhibit, I am essentially using my own “pretext” to tell Hamilton’s story, but that “pretext” is Hamilton’s own words and thoughts expressed in these letters. My exhibit took the name: 

As my brochure started to take shape, I noticed that I was still missing an overview element to Hamilton. While the letters and their secondary information were insightful, I still wanted anyone who saw the exhibit to be able to know how this letter fit into Hamilton’s story (to know what came before and after). In one of my check-in meetings with Dr. Jude Pfister, he suggested a timeline to serve as an introduction before the real “meat” of my exhibit. Since I already had my extensive, color-coded timeline, it was easy to condense and create another one to fit in the brochure, this one highlighting the years of the letters that would be on display; 1780,1781,1797,1798. 

Another important part of creating an exhibit is creating an introductory text panel to catch the attention of visitors and describe what they would be looking at. Given Hamilton’s current popularity, there is already certain level of attention given when he is mentioned. However, my concern was that, what if people had the same mindset I did when I first started my research? That the musical Hamilton already educated a person enough and that this would be restating some of those points?  So, I decided to put my knowledge of the musical to good use and play on the song titles and lyrics, mixing what the musical explains and what the audience does not get through the music.
After the text was finished, I finally emerged from behind my computer and began the assembly phase, a much more physical part of the exhibit building process. This phase included Dr. Sarah Minegar and I pulling my selected manuscripts, which meant spending one, almost two days going through boxes in the archives (and finding a lot of cool stuff along the way). 

Once the manuscripts were ready to display, my fellow intern Claire (who was working on  a World War I exhibit during this time) and I transferred our empty display cases up to the main floor of the museum (they do not fit in the elevator…trust me…we tried). Then, it was time to find the perfect way to display all of the manuscripts, which contained a lot of trial and error placement until I was satisfied.

This part of the process sounded easy at first, but proved to have its own challenge; the curious eyes of visitors constantly watching to see what this new addition is in the front of the museum. Once the exhibit was finished, that curiosity turned to excitement at the opportunity to learn about something new opened in front of them.

The visitors were not the only ones experiencing something new, as a first time exhibit designer, this project allowed me to take someone, like Alexander Hamilton and not only expand my knowledge, but share it with others as well. While it was not always easy, for instance, coming across missing manuscripts and mismarked documents (those stories are for anther blog post). Overall, I was able to learn something along the way, which is the point of coming to a museum in the first place. 

This blog post by Meghan Kolbusch, Centenary University. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

George Washington and the Supreme Court

President Washington was instrumental in forming the foundations of the Supreme Court during his first term. He took his Constitutional role as President seriously in selecting jurists that would represent the evolving concept of American law. Curator Jude M. Pfister contributed an article about Washington's role in legal history to the Mount Vernon Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Read his entry, HERE 🔔

Monday, June 19, 2017

Meet the Interns!

This summer we've been fortunate to line up a talented trio of historians. From left to right: Claire Du Laney, Phoebe Duke, and Meghan Kolbusch.

Claire Du Laney is a Drew University grad and current dual masters candidate in Public History (North Carolina State) and Library Science (University of NC, Chapel Hill). Her specialization in early twentieth-century British history will assist her in cataloging our WWI materials in preparation for this years' centennial celebration. Claire has enjoyed combing through postcards and letters and exploring a bit of cultural history along the way. Her brush with microfilm reels and digital finding aids will hopefully prove useful this coming semester! Claire's project will culminate in an exhibit this summer. Stay tuned for her blog posts.

Phoebe Duke is a Hamilton College junior, studying history. She actually found this internship when she pursued an academic interest in Alexander Hamilton. Her interest in the Hamilton story led her to this site where she discovered student researchers were needed. Giving museum and archival studies a try, Phoebe is working on rehousing and cataloging the Cobb Collection. The Cobbs, a prominent Morristown family during the revolution, were in correspondence with many notable figures, such a Philip Schuyler and William Livingston. These first-hand accounts are right up Phoebe's alley. She'll be blogging her finds.

Meghan Kolbusch, a double major in Political and Governmental Affairs and History, comes to us from Centenary University.  Meghan has the enviable task of examining our Alexander Hamilton materials.  Her exhibit will focus on Hamilton's time at Morristown and the years following the war. Meghan is interested in his relationship with General Washington and plans to explore the subtext of their correspondence. Her work and exhibit will also be featured on the blog.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Finding Their Park

Student artists from Westside High School, Newark, New Jersey found their park at Morristown! After viewing their Dream Rocket exhibit, these talented teens wanted to explore the site that inspired their art...they had a little fun in the process!

The Morristown Dream Rocket theme is Ingenuity in the Face of Adversity, and our Westside artists were especially creative with their interpretations of what that means.

Hiking the yellow trail from the Wick House
to the soldier huts with Ranger Gilson. 
Before students even visited our site, they were given a creative prompt which taught them about the Park's history, the Revolution War events we commemorate, and the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) who helped lay the groundwork for historical parks around the country. With this information and the guidance of their outstanding teacher, Ms. Patricia Marinaro, students collaborated to see their artistic visions materialize.

See their work on our Flickr Album
(keyword Westside High School):

Students were allowed to pick rhubarb with the gardener's
permission. Here they are visiting the Wick House,
stalks in hand.
Journals in hand, students set out to explore the resources that inspired their work. The framing narrative for the day was "assumption versus evidence" and this tool helped us analyze everything from historic landscapes and structures to park careers, preservation, and climate change.


Some questions we tackled...

Place Over Time

•What has happened here throughout time?

•How are we part of that history?

•How does understanding the past help us become more empathetic people?

•How will you mark your legacy?

Preserving Public Lands

Student explore the replica hut at the VC.
•What is natural and cultural stewardship?

•Why is it important? How can we help?

•What is involved in preserving and protecting landscapes and historic sites?

•What careers in science, public history, education, and engineering are available at parks?

Innovation in the Face of Adversity

•What is innovation?

•In what ways are you innovative in hard times?

•How do your struggles connect you with other people throughout time?

•How might you connect your story to the stories this park has to tell?

Making Preserved Landscapes Relevant

•What are the reasons a person might enjoy public lands?

•How might preserved landscapes be meaningful to people on a personal level?

Frog encounters.
Looking closely.

For four hours, students spent time immersed in the power of place. They spent time journaling, conducting science experiments, hiking, analyzing real world job scenarios, and exploring historic structures.

Ranger Gilson (a guest science educator from Gateway Parks) leads students
in a climate change simulation.

Sit spotting exercise.

Student posing with his work (his is in the center).

A little entertainment on the trails.

Thanks Ms. Marinaro for inspiring your talented troop and for helping them #FindTheirPark!

I think we might even have a few new recruits!

sit spotting and journal time

>The Dream Rocket exhibit runs now through Sept 4, 2017,
at our Jockey Hollow location.

✿ Big thanks to Ranger Kathryn Gilson and Ranger Abby Parsons!