Day 4 in Rare Books & Special Collections

May 22, 2014 1:45-4:45pm

Today I moved on to a new box of documents and letters, donated by Mrs. Peple. This box had some interesting treasures hidden within! When I first opened the box, most of what I saw was simply old letters from or to people I had never heard of, or the items were so difficult to read that I was only able to make out one or two words of every sentence. I went through the motions of placing each item in an acid free sleeve and then inside of an acid free folder, labeling the folders as I went and jotting down the names I could make out and dates and places on the letters. I did this for several letters until I uncovered four letters that made my heart skip a beat, each for a different reason.

The first letter I came across is by far my favorite, although some of you may find letter number two more interesting. The letter was written on a small piece of paper, but was legible except for the names of who wrote the letter and who the letter was written to. The letter was written during the Civil War – dated Nov. 4, 1862. The author was informing an Army Captain that he expected all “stragglers” of the Army and all soldiers who drank liquor to be arrested and brought back to the author. Clearly the author was higher up than a Captain and I made it my mission to figure out exactly who he was before moving on to the next document. I could make out what I believed the last name to be: Echols. The letter was coming from Narrows New River and I had the date of Nov. 4, 1862. With this information I did a bit of research and discovered who the author was: General John Echols, Brigadier General. I was not quite as lucky with figuring out who the letter was written to. The name looked like Captain Dorman, but I could not make out the Captain’s first name. I’ll likely spend some time this weekend trying to figure out who this man was. Researching this letter is exactly why I found it to be the most interesting of the four. I enjoyed having only a small amount of information, but being able to discover who the author of the letter was!

Letter two was written entirely in pencil and signed by Andrew Jackson! This was definitely an exciting find, particularly because the folder that the Andrew Jackson letter was in only noted that a typed copy of the letter was residing in the folder. It did not mention that in addition to the typed copy, the original letter was there. I read the typed copy, not yet knowing that the original was just underneath; it was a letter to a Mr. Mason of Prince William Co., Virginia. It was a friendly letter, simply thanking Mr. Mason for his well wishes to Andrew Jackson’s previous illness, condolences for the loss of Mr. Mason’s children, and a brief rant about the American aristocracy. I thought the typed copy was interesting enough, but seeing the original handwriting and signature of Andrew Jackson on a semi-torn legal sheet of paper made my heart skip a beat!

Letter three & four – the fourth was more of a document than a letter – were both from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The letter was to Mrs. Peple, informing her that he did not have enough time to read through poems sent to him and make suggestions regarding the authors writing. The document was a handwritten and signed poem entitled, “The Arrow and the Song”. I was unable to determine whether Longfellow sent the poem to Mrs. Peple, or if she had acquired it by some other means. Either way, it was an interesting thing to see…and touch!

Being able to touch historical documents is more exciting for me than reading them. I feel connected to the history when I can touch the document; I’m not sure why that is. Perhaps it’s the awareness of knowing someone, such as Andrew Jackson, had touched and written the document. It’s almost as if you’re connected for one brief moment in time.


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