Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

Resources About Slavery at Spencer Research Library

March 29th, 2014

The success of and critical acclaim for the recent film 12 Years a Slave has generated an increased public discourse about the history, significance, and lasting implications of slavery in the United States. Beyond Spencer’s African American Experience collections, a perhaps surprising number of sources in both the Kansas Collection and Special Collections highlight various components of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century slavery from multiple points of view.

Image of "Seperation of Eliza and her Last Child," from Twelve Years a Slave
“I have seen mothers kissing for the last time the faces of their dead offspring,”
wrote Solomon Northup in Twelve Years a Slave, “I have seen them looking down
into the grave, as the earth fell with a dull sound upon their coffins,
hiding them from their eyes forever; but never have I seen
such an exhibition of intense, unmeasured, and unbounded grief, as when Eliza was parted
from her child.” Call Number: Howey B1584. Click image to enlarge.

When researching the past, it’s important to keep in mind that the written historical record – including published and unpublished sources – reflects various contexts within the broader society in which they were originally produced. In Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America, historian Ira Berlin describes the relationship between masters and slaves as “profoundly asymmetrical,” writing that it was constantly being negotiated but “always informed by the master’s near monopoly of force.” However, Berlin also asserts that

Knowing that a person was a slave does not tell everything about him or her. Put another way, slaveholders severely circumscribed the lives of enslaved people, but they never fully defined them. Slaves were neither extensions of their owners’ will nor the products of the market’s demand. The slaves’ history – like all human history – was made not only by what was done to them but also what they did for themselves (2).

Given this context, it’s not surprising that a population of people denied the ability to read and write over the course of generations did not produce voluminous written documentation. However, as Berlin hints at, the written record is not completely bereft of accounts by free and formerly enslaved African Americans, describing their own experiences in their own voices.

Andrew Williams’ narrative is the sole unpublished, handwritten narrative by a formerly enslaved person in Spencer’s collections. Williams (d. 1913) was a slave near Springfield, Missouri, who served in the Civil War and survived Quantrill’s 1863 raid on Lawrence. Williams’ eleven-page narrative begins around the time he acquired his freedom and describes his experiences in the Civil War.

Image of page in Andrew Williams' narrative of a former slave
Andrew Williams, along with his mother and siblings,
was freed in September 1862 by the 6th Kansas Regiment,
described on this page of his narrative. During the raid on his owner’s farm,
the soldiers also killed livestock and confiscated guns and food.
Andrew Williams Collection. Call Number: RH MS P42. Click image to enlarge.

More numerous in Spencer’s holdings are published narratives by former slaves, including Olaudah Equiano, Juan Francisco Manzano, Sojourner Truth, Henry Box Brown, John Thompson, Thomas H. Jones, and Jermain Wesley Loguen. Also among Spencer’s holdings is an early printing of Solomon Northup’s narrative, Twelve Years a Slave.

Image of "The Staking Out and Flogging of the Girl Patsey," from Twelve Years a Slave
“It was the Sabbath of the Lord…peace and happiness seemed to reign everywhere,
save in the bosoms of Epps and his panting victim and
the silent witnesses around him.” Solomon Northup, Twelve Years a Slave.
Call Number: Howey B1584. Click image to enlarge.

Image of Arrival Home, and First Meeting with His Wife and Children," from Twelve Years a Slave
“They embraced me, and with tears flowing down their cheeks,
hung upon my neck,” wrote Solomon Northup at the end of his narrative,
Twelve Years a Slave. “But I draw a veil over a scene
which can better be imagined than described.”
Call Number: Howey B1584. Click image to enlarge.

Supplementing these sources are unpublished documents and published accounts by slaveholders and others who vigorously defended the system and by whites who passionately opposed it. Several of these works are based on the author’s personal observations of the treatment of slaves.

For example, Spencer’s Kansas Collection contains the estate records for Jackson County, Missouri, resident John Bartleson. These documents relate to the Bartleson enslaved African Americans and their legal disposition as property in the settlement of the estate. Additionally, the Kansas Collection also includes bound volumes of records from Natchez, Mississippi, located on bluffs above the Mississippi River about 100 miles upriver from New Orleans. Home to wealthy planters’ city mansions, antebellum Natchez had the most millionaires per capita of any city in the United States. These materials don’t directly address the experiences of enslaved African Americans, whose work created that wealth. However, much can be derived from these meticulous records, which document the management required to operate a sizable plantation and the business transactions of other local enterprises like a medical practice, medical society, and general store.

Image of estate inventory from the John Bartleson Estate Collection
Pages from “a full inventory” of John Bartleson’s property showing
six slaves listed as part of his personal estate, 1848.
John Bartleson Estate Collection. Call Number: RH MS 867. Click image to enlarge.

John Barleson Estate Collection, auctioneer's report, 1853
Auctioneer’s report from 1853 listing individual and total prices for
Charles, Clara and child, Courtney, Thomas, Fanny, Mary, and William.
It is assumed that they were members of one family separated by this sale
“at the Court House door in the City of Independence [Missouri].”
John Bartleson Estate Collection. Call Number: RH MS 867. Click image to enlarge.

Finally, numerous printed volumes in Spencer’s holdings show slavery was a much-considered topic that was also hotly debated in government and in public. Especially strong are works examining slavery and the slave trade in Great Britain and the British Empire in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Other works, focusing on the United States, show how the dispute over Kansas and the expansion of slavery into new territories was waged in print and how Kansas became a political and physical battleground for pro- and antislavery forces.

Caitlin Donnelly
Head of Public Services

Sewing a book

March 20th, 2014

When guests come on a tour of the conservation lab, they are sometimes surprised that book pages are usually held together with thread. (Since many modern paperbacks are glued, not sewn, younger guests are often less familiar with sewn bindings.) There are many sewing techniques, useful in different situations.

Traditionally books were sewn on a piece of equipment called a sewing frame. The frame holds the sewing supports taut so the binder can keep her hands free for the actual sewing. Sewing supports are usually either a broad, flat tape (made of cotton, linen, ramie, leather, or vellum), or a cord (usually linen), around which the sewing thread progresses. Cords make raised bands on the final, covered spine, whereas tapes can be flat to the spine.

Sewing a book

A sewing frame set up with three sewing supports of linen tape.

In this example, the book is being sewn with what is known as a supported link stitch, in which each row of stitching is linked to the one before. The center of each folded section of paper is pierced with a sewing needle at a sewing station. At the head and tail of the book are two more stations, called kettles. The kettle stitch is a half-knot or chain, and serves to cinch the newest section of paper to the previous ones.

Sewing a book Sewing a book

Left: Supported link stitch with curved needle.
Right: The finished sewing. Note the kettle stitches at each end of the book.

Once the book is sewn it is often rounded and backed, to create a rounded shape on the spine and shoulders for book boards to be set into. Rounding and backing is often done with a special bookbinding tool called a backing hammer in a cast iron contraption called a job backer.

Job backer with backing hammer. Job backer with backing hammer.

Left: The job backer and backing hammer.
Right: Detail of the rounded and backed book in the job backer.

Whitney Baker
Head, Conservation Services

Irish Ephemera for St. Patrick’s Day

March 14th, 2014

Some things are built to last, and others…well…are not. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day (this upcoming Monday), we are sharing five examples of ephemera from Spencer’s Irish Collections.  “Ephemera” is the term applied to a variety of everyday documents originally intended for one-time or short-term use, including posters, playbills, political pamphlets, broadsides, advertisements, and newspapers (to name but a few).  Such materials form the background of everyday life and furnish researchers with important information about the material, political, and cultural conditions of the past. Since Spencer’s Irish Collections include ephemera in addition to major works by significant authors, they serve as particularly fertile ground for students and scholars.

1.  Color “Supplements” from United Ireland and The Irish Fireside, 1884-1885.

These colorful cartoons and illustrations are examples of loose supplements that sometimes accompanied late nineteenth-century Irish periodicals.  The first three cartoons are from United Ireland and reflect that weekly’s Parnellite politics.  Earl Spencer (John Poyntz Spencer), then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, is depicted with his distinctive red hair twisted into horns.  The third cartoon shows Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish nationalist leader, handing Earl Spencer his walking papers following the fall of William Gladstone’s administration in June of 1885.  The final two illustrations come from The Irish Fireside, a periodical whose subtitle spells out its mission: Fiction / Amusement / Instruction.  These illustrations celebrate Aideen and Emmeline Talbot as part of a series depicting heroines of Irish history.

Image of Color Supplement from United Ireland, Cartoon featuring valentines to Erin (Ireland), February 16, 1884.
Image of Color Supplement from United Ireland, Cartoon featuring "Erin" and Earl Spencer, March 28, 1885 Image of Color Supplement from United Ireland, Cartoon featuring Parnell and Earl Spencer, June 20, 1885.

Above: Color Political Cartoons, “Supplement Gratis with ‘United Ireland.'” [Dublin]: [United Ireland], 1884-1885. Call Number: DK17, Folder 16.  Below: Heroines of Irish History–Aideen and Emmeline Talbot, “Supplement to The Irish Fireside.” Dublin, [The Irish Fireside], 1885. Call Number: DK17, Folder 5. Click images to enlarge.

Image of Color Supplement from The Irish Fireside, Heroines of Irish History: Aideen, July 8, 1885 Image of Color Supplement from The Irish Fireside, Heroines of Irish History: Emmeline Talbot, July 22, 1885


2. “Programme” for the Abbey Theatre, [1910]

The Abbey Theatre was a key site for the Irish Literary Revival at the beginning of the twentieth century.  W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and (as seen below) J. M. Synge were among the playwrights active there.  The Abbey Theatre’s printed programs record not only the dates of performances and the actors who played each role, but they also shed light on local businesses through the advertisements that appeared in their pages.  Moreover, if you examine the ads closely, you’ll discover little gems, such as this 1910 announcement for James Joyce’s Dubliners by publisher Maunsel & Co. (“Ready in September” it promises).  As Joyceans know, this “Dublin” first edition of Dubliners never did come to pass. Following long delays at the publisher over concerns about potentially objectionable content, the printed sheets for the edition of 1000 copies were destroyed (burned!) by the printer in September 1912, after Joyce tried to retrieve them.  Understandably bitter, the author left Ireland for good, and satirized the incident in his poem “Gas from a Burner.” Dubliners would not reach the shelves until 1914, when it was published by the London firm Grant Richards.

Cover of Abbey Theatre Programme, 1910 Abbey Theatre Programme, 1910, open to play credit lists.

Abbey Theatre Programme, 1910, open to Dubliners Ad (circled).

Abbey Theatre, “Programme.” Dublin, [1910]. Call Number: D134 vol. 194. Click images to enlarge.

3. Gaelic League Carnival Poster, 1912

The Gaelic League was founded in 1893 to revive the Irish language, which was falling increasingly out of use, especially in urban areas where English was dominant.  The majority of its members were middle- and working-class English-speakers, and by 1908 it boasted roughly 600 branches, primarily in cities.  One of the ways that the organization attracted new members was by offering opportunities for socializing and fun alongside Irish language study.  An tOireachtas, the annual national festival (also advertised below) was launched in 1897.  As the poster notes, by 1912, there were even special excursion trains to carry visitors from Cork, Limerick, Galway, Belfast and other locales to the festivities in Dublin. After all, who can resist a hornpipe championship and £ 1,200 in prizes?

Poster for Gaelic League Carnival (Oireachtas)

Gaelic League Carnival: Jones’ road, Dublin, … [June 29 to July 5, 1912]. Poster. Dublin: O’Loughlin, Murphy & Boland, Ltd., [1912]. Call Number: O’Hegarty Q36. Click image to enlarge.

4. “Ticket of admission to public meeting […] to form a Cork City Corps of the Irish Volunteers,” [1913]

Eoin MacNeill, a founder of the Gaelic League, was also a leader of the Irish Volunteers, a paramilitary organization. As this ticket shows, MacNeill was to be the headliner at a recruitment event in Cork, held just a month after the group’s formation in November 1913.  Spencer holds over 40 tickets for this event, several of which bear the stamp of the “Irish Transport and General Worker’s [sic] Union, Dublin” on the reverse.  Interestingly, though the tickets themselves clearly state that capacity of the venue hall is limited to 1500, there are tickets in the lot numbered almost as high as 3000 (see below, bottom right).

Image of a set of tickets to an Irish Volunteers public meeting, December 14 (1913), City Hall, Cork.

“Ticket of admission to public meeting: to be held at 8.30 o’clock in the City Hall, Cork, on Sunday night next, 14th December, to form a Cork City Corps of the Irish Volunteers / Professor Eoin Mac Neill, B.A., Dublin, and local speakers will address the meeting. …” [Cork : s.n., 1913]. Call Number: O’Hegarty AK7. Click image to enlarge.


5. A sheet of “slip songs” from the mid-to-late 1800s

Ballads were popular street literature in Ireland, as in England.  The earliest English printed broadside ballads can be traced back to sixteenth-century London; however the sheet pictured below was printed in Dublin during the second half of the nineteenth century.  A large sheet like this would be cut up into slips by the printer or bookseller and sold individually,  giving us the term “slip song.” Though often ornamented with woodcuts, these ballads and songs did not actually include music (only the occasional reference to a tune). Many of the songs on this particular sheet treat Irish themes, with the tone ranging from comic to satiric to elegiac to patriotic.  History, politics, and love were all popular subjects, as were drinking songs and accounts of contemporary events, including crimes (“murder ballads”).  Slip songs were meant to sell cheaply and quickly, so their paper tends to be thin and the printing rather shoddy.  The staff at Nugent’s General Printing Office in Dublin must have been having a particularly bad day when they printed the sheet below.  Skim through it and and you’ll find slanted text, uneven inking, inked “spaces,” and many, many typographical errors (we dare you to count the mistakes in “The Rakisk [sic] Bachelor”)!

Image of large uncut sheet of Irish slip songs, with woodcuts.

Can you spot the typos? (hint: zoom in on the “Rakisk [sic] Bachelor,” to start…): Uncut sheet of Irish slip songs.
Dublin: Nugent’s General Printing Office, after 1866. Call Number: R43, Item 6. Please click to enlarge.

Elspeth Healey
Special Collections Librarian