Monthly Archives: August 2011

Recent reading: Codex by Lev Grossman

“What’s that you’re reading?”
Codex.”
“Yes, I can see that…what’s the title?”
“I already told you: Codex.”

How could any librarian not be drawn to a book whose title is Codex? It’s so meta! (For those who may never have taken a History of Books class, “codex” is simply a fancy word for what we would just call a “book” today – gatherings of pages bound together within a cover. But in ye olden dayes, the word “codex” distinguished that familiar format from a much earlier book format: the scroll.)

I had recently read a review for Grossman’s newer books — The Magicians and The Magician King — which are supposed to be like fresh meat for adults lamenting the end of Harry Potter. Anyway, I was browsing the Fiction section at the library, and of course the Magician books were all checked out, but the title of one of Grossman’s earlier books, Codex: A Novel (2004) book caught my eye.

Here’s the book’s official description, since quite frankly it seems silly to reinvent the wheel in that respect:

About to depart on his first vacation in years, Edward Wozny, a hotshot young investment banker, is sent to help one of his firm’s most important and mysterious clients. His task is to search their library stacks for a precious medieval codex, a treasure kept sealed away for many years and for many reasons. Enlisting the help of passionate medievalist Margaret Napier, Edward is determined to solve the mystery of the codex-to understand its significance to his wealthy clients, and to decipher the seeming parallels between the legend of the codex and an obsessive role-playing computer game that has absorbed him in the dark hours of the night. [From the entry on Amazon.]

I was still interested after reading the description, and so I decided to take it home with me — er, checking it out first, of course.

I was not disappointed. Similar to how Grossman’s The Magicians is being compared to Harry Potter, I would compare Codex to The Da Vinci Code. As in, if you liked The Da Vinci Code, I think you’d probably like Codex. If you enjoy a good mystery/thriller that is going to have its characters talking about history, books, and traipsing through an archives or two, then I think Codex is probably for you.

I was delighted any time the narrative described an archives or a bunch of old books — which was often — so I frequently found myself nodding and chuckling, as Grossman clearly knows what he’s writing about.

Here are some of my favorite quotations from the book — no spoilers — with page numbers from the 2004 Harcourt hardcover edition:

It was at the bottom of a tall stack of books, but before he could offer to help she picked them up and shifted them to the floor in one practiced motion. The books left a ladder of dusty smudges up the front of her dress, but she didn’t seem to notice. (pg. 109)

(Yep. Been there.)

“Do you know what happens to books like these once they’re sold?… They’re disbound. Dealers dismantle them, cut them up and sell them off page by page because they’re worth more money that way. Do you understand? They’ll be gone forever. Dead. They’ll never be reassembled.” (pg. 123)

(Sad but true. However, I was reminded of Micah Erwin’s presentation at the Preserving our Cultural Heritage conference in March, in which he described a project aimed at virtually reassembling medieval leaf collections, using social technologies such as Flickr. It was extremely intriguing.)

“…he imagined another life for himself as one of these silent scholars, buried in his research like a guinea pig in its wood shavings, nibbling away steadily after some arcane piece of knowledge in the hope of making an addition, however imperceptible, to the collective pile.” (pp. 205-206)

(I had to chuckle at this, recalling the massive pile of research I had assembled when trying to figure out my “little Quaker love story” a few weeks ago. And you should see all the papers I have piled up on my book cart as I do background research for the entire Forrer-Peirce-Wood collection. I am completely guilty of the guinea-pig-buried-in-its-wood-shavings syndrome, but I’m happy when I’m in there.)

At one point, a litany of book conservation supplies are described, and I just couldn’t help grinning from ear to ear as I read, thinking, I actually know what most of that is for!

I won’t spoil the ending for you. No spoilers here. But I will say that I was surprised at the ending and not quite sure how I feel about it. 

Nevertheless, it was an awesome book, and part of me wants to read it again, just to catch all the things I’m sure I missed the first time around. I might save it in the back of my mind for a re-read again soon, but for now I have other books that need reading. And I need to return my copy of Codex to the library, so someone else can enjoy it.

MVAR Recap 8/18

The most recent meeting of the Miami Valley Archives Roundtable (MVAR) was hosted today by the WACO Air Museum at Historic WACO Field in Troy, Ohio.

WACO Air Museum

WACO Air Museum

The meeting commenced at 10:00 a.m. with everyone giving their introductions and institutional reports. For the most part, we were all reporting on “the usual” at our institutions. In my own report, I shared that:

  • I’m finally tackling the 34 boxes of Forrer-Peirce-Wood materials (MS-018). As you know if you’ve been reading my previous posts, Samuel Forrer was one of the “top 3” civil engineers on the Miami-Erie Canal project. A significant portion of the collection consists of the papers of his grandchildren, members of the Peirce family. There are many of them, and they did a variety of things, which I’m sure I will probably write about at some point…if not, you’ll be able to read about it in the finding aid.
  • We have created an “Early Obituaries” digital collection – which is not yet “live” but when it is, will be available on our Dayton Remembers site. These are all pre-1923 (so no copyright issues) obits for famous Daytonians (such as Wilbur Wright) and people who died as a result of Spanish Flu or World War I, for instance.
  • The Main Library is in the process of brainstorming about ways to improve services and layout in the building. The Main Library was built in 1962, but unfortunately a whole new building is just not in the cards right now. So we are exploring how to re-invent the space we have to improve our services.
  • And finally – I was very excited last night to receive an email (at my personal email account) from a researcher who found one of our Dayton Metro Library collections through this blog. I’m glad for evidence that people (even a few people) have found my postings interesting and helpful.

One of the institutional reports included an anecdote about an unusual item found in a museum collection. The reporter then issued this challenge to the rest of us: What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever found in your collection — something that really didn’t belong there?  I think I would have to say the weirdest thing I’ve found so far was that Bible with all the locks of hair in it (see “Hair in a Book,” May 24, 2011]!

Judy Deeter, our host, shared the following news about goings-on in Troy:

After the institutional reports, our Roundtable facilitator Rachel reviewed the dates and locations of upcoming conferences of interest:

Rachel also floated the idea of possibly discussing particular topics of interest at future meetings, in addition to giving our institutional reports. This idea was met with positive feedback, so it may be incorporated into future MVAR meetings.

About 11:15, we heard a brief presentation from a student intern about his work in cataloging the collections.

Then, we received a guided tour of the museum from executive director Don Willis. I learned many interesting things about WACO during this tour — which, not to discount the quality of the tour or the importance of WACO, but that may not be as impressive as it sounds since I knew pretty much nothing about the company prior to today.

First things first : WACO – which should be pronounced in such a way as to rhyme with the word “taco” – was originally the Weaver Aircraft Company, and it manufactured airplanes from shortly after World War I until shortly after World War II. (The approximate dates 1919 to 1947 were mentioned.) According to the brochure I picked up in the lobby, WACO “was the Boeing of its day, and produced more civil aircraft than any other manufacturer in the country in the late 1920s and early 30s.” And it was located right here in the Miami Valley, in Troy, Ohio!

Due to the fact that very few WACO planes were identical, this lack of standardization hurt WACO during WWII when the U.S. government preferred contracts with airplane manufacturers who used more standardization. WACO did get one WWII era government contract for a glider. According to Mr. Willis, gliders were to WWII as helicopters were to later wars : used to drop troops and supplies. The WACO glider could haul up to 12 people; it could also haul a Jeep. The glider was towed by a C-47 airplane using a tow rope and then let go at the appropriate area. These WACO gliders were used in the invasion of Normandy, as well as in other operations in Europe and the Pacific during WWII.

Here are some examples of WACO aircraft, from the museum’s exhibits (click to view larger on my Flickr page):

WACO Model 9

WACO Model 9

WACO ATO Taperwing

WACO ATO Taperwing

Red Baron plane

Red Baron plane

These are just a few shots that I snapped on my way out of the meeting. There are many other interesting things to see there, so if you are interested in historic airplanes, I’d definitely recommend a visit. There are also tons more photos on the WACO Air Museum web site – so check it out as well!

After our tour was over, we had a delicious lunch of turkey club sandwiches — I’m being completely serious, that sandwich was amazing — whilst swapping more archives and museum “war stories”. Then about 1:00, we all dispersed back to our usual abodes, archives and museums throughout the Miami Valley.

The next meeting will be November 17th. Let me know if you need the location.

A little Quaker love story, Part 4 (Final Installment)

The last point of interest in regards to the whole Samuel Forrer/Sarah Howard marriage situation was to explore the all the instances of name-dropping that Samuel felt was warranted in his letter to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, in which he announced, “Hey, I we got married anyway even though you told us not to, but all these other people seem to think it was a fine idea.”

The people whose approval Samuel mentioned were: M. T. Williams, Joseph Gest, and Joseph Evans. He mentioned in the letter: Rev. William Burke, Oliver Martin, and Joseph Ridgeway.

Let’s address the names in the letter one by one, shall we?

I’m going to skip M. T. Williams for now. I find his connection the most interesting, so I want to save him for last.

*****

First, there’s Joseph Gest. He is listed in Hall’s 1825 Cincinnati city directory as a merchant and city surveyor. There is some interesting (but uncited) information about Gest on the Cincinnati Views web site, stating that he was the city engineer from 1819-1844.

More importantly, he was a fellow Quaker. I found his family listed in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy, Volume 5 (p. 907), in the Cincinnati Monthly Meeting, and to be sure it was the same family, I checked some later census records. Furthermore, there is a letter in the very collection I’m working with that is addressed to “Joseph Gest, mercht., for Sarah Howard,” at Cincinnati; the letter is from Horton Howard, from Waynesville, to his daughter, dated 11th month [Nov.] 23, 1825.

Another letter from Horton to his daughter Sarah, dated 11th of 12th month (Dec.) 1825 is also addressed to her by way of Joseph Gest. In this letter, Horton also writes: “Tell Joseph Gest I should be pleased to receive a line from him as I consider him one of thy guardians or parents in my absence…”

Gest lived on Walnut between Fourth and Fifth. (I noticed that most of these individuals lived between Race and Walnut, and Fourth and Fifth. I’m not too familiar with Cincinnati real estate history, but if I had to guess, I’d bet that used to be a pretty ritzy residential area.)

*****

Joseph Evans was a bit more difficult for me to investigate. The 1825 directory lists him as a merchant who lived on Fourth between Vine and Race. There are several entries for men named Joseph Evans (being not such a unique name as “Joseph Gest”) in Hinshaw’s Quaker records, though there was a Quaker man named Joseph Evans in Cincinnati at the time. I expect that may have been the same one, but I can’t be sure.

*****

Basically, the same goes for Oliver Martin as Joseph Evans. There is an Oliver Martin who was a Quaker and living in Cincinnati in the right time frame, but I can’t be positive they are the same person. The only Oliver Martin in the 1825 directory was a merchant who lived on W. Market, between Elm and Plum, so a little further away than the others; his store was at the corner of Main and Second. Then again, the Oliver Martin from Samuel’s letter was the owner of “a genteel country tavern two miles from Cincinnati on the Hamilton road,” so may not have lived within the city limits at all and thus might not have been the same Oliver Martin from the directory.

*****

Whoever this Oliver Martin was, he was “a friend of Joseph Ridgeway’s son,” according to Samuel. There is no Joseph Ridgeway listed in the 1825 Cincinnati directory. There are several “Joseph Ridgeway”s and “Joseph Ridgway”s listed in the Hinshaw Quaker records.

From what I have been able to surmise, Joseph Ridgway Jr. was an Ohio politician who seems to have had something to do with the Ohio canal system – which Samuel Forrer was also affiliated, so that explains how Samuel would have known him. For instance, see the Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio, Volume 26 [year 1827], Issue 1, pg. 251. The Journal mentions that Ridgway was under the supervision of principal canal engineer David Bates, who happened to be Samuel Forrer’s supervisor as well.

And clearly, Horton Howard knew Ridgway as well, as he writes in another part of the Dec. 11, 1825, letter to Sarah from Columbus: “I make my home [at] J. Ridgway’s, who wishes to be remembered to thee…”

*****

Before I get to M. T. Williams, I want to say just a word or two about Rev. William Burke. I suppose Samuel includes his name simply as a matter of information, since he was the minister who married them. According to Hall’s 1825 Cincinnati city directory, Burke was a Methodist minister, and the fact that they were married by a minister is the official reason that Sarah gets into trouble with the Monthly Meeting folks. Burke lived on Vine Street between Fourth and Fifth, according to the directory. (I include this only as a matter of interest, since Samuel’s letter states that he and Sarah were married at the minister’s home.)

*****

And finally, without further adieu, who was M. T. Williams? We already know that he was the man at whose home Samuel first met Sarah. But Samuel seems to almost harp on him. I met Sarah at M. T. Williams’ house. M. T. Williams is my good friend. M. T. Williams threw us a wedding reception. Why all the fuss?

Well, as it happened, M. T. Williams was kind of a big deal. I had little trouble figuring out how Samuel Forrer knew him.

Micajah Terrell Williams was Cincinnati’s representative to the Ohio House of Representatives in the mid-1820s and was even Speaker of the Ohio House in 1824-25. He was one of the principal promoters of building a canal system in Ohio and when the project was finally undertaken, he was very involved with it and was appointed one of the seven Canal Commissioners in 1825. Later that year, the Canal Commissioners hired for the canal project a principal engineer and two resident engineers. One of the resident engineers was Samuel Forrer.

But how did M. T. Williams know the Howard family? After all, Sarah was staying at his home, apparently—which, by the way, was on Fifth Street between Walnut and Vine, in 1825.

I found useful clues in the following sources:

As it turned out, Micajah Williams was of Quaker descent. His family came from North Carolina—which perked my ears at first, since Horton Howard was originally from North Carolina. However, a check of Hinshaw’s Quaker Encyclopedia again showed that their families lived nowhere near each other (as in, opposite ends of the state).

But I did find that Micajah T. Williams was married in the Plainfield Monthly Meeting to Hannah Jones in 1818. Plainfield struck a chord—the Howards had belonged to that meeting at one time—during the same time frame, in fact (1815-1820). Coincidentally—well, if you consider the alphabet a coincidence—the Howard records and the Jones marriage were listed on the exact same page in Hinshaw: Volume 4, page 338. That could possibly explain how they knew each other; they had ties to the same Quaker congregation.

However it came about, clearly Horton Howard and M. T. Williams knew each other somehow, because I’m sure Horton wouldn’t let his daughter board with just anyone. And why was she staying with him anyway?

Horton’s Dec. 11, 1825, letter to Sarah, sheds even more light on these relationships. Horton writes: “Micajah is here and in good health, says he rec’d a letter from Hannah telling that you were well and that thou wast pleased with the School all of which is very satisfactory…” Evidently, Sarah was attending a school in Cincinnati and she needed a place to live while there. (I wonder what school it was? Ah, another mystery!)

Horton writes later on in the same letter: “I am doing all I can to aid the Canal Commissioners and the Commissioner of the Canal fund or rather to procure the enlargement of their powers, with I think a good prospect of success…” So it looks like Horton had some affiliation with the canal project himself. I wonder what it was? Still more mysteries.

Have I said before that the study of history is a sort of never-ending journey? One thing just leads to another and another…

*****

Let’s recap, shall we? Samuel Forrer met Sarah Howard about 1825 while she was staying in Cincinnati with Micajah T. Williams and family, apparently while attending school. Samuel wrote to Sarah’s father, Horton Howard, asking for his blessing, although not expecting to receive it since the Howards were Quakers and Samuel was not. Horton Howard apparently did disapprove of the match, although we don’t seem to have the letter detailing his exact response. However, Samuel and Sarah wed anyway on February 8, 1826, in Cincinnati. Samuel then wrote to his new father-in-law, telling him what they had done, but noting the approval of several of their mutual influential friends (most if not all of whom appear to have been Quaker), in hopes that Horton would eventually look favorably on the union. It appears that Horton eventually came around, since there are several later letters from Horton to Samuel and Sarah, addressing “my dear children” and signed “your affectionate father.”

*****

Well, I hope you have enjoyed reading about my little exploration and investigation surrounding the marriage of Samuel Forrer and Sarah Howard.

I’m sure this won’t be the last you hear from me on the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection. I think I’m only about 1/3 of the way through it so far. However, I do hope not to need 5 parts the next time I want to mention it!

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 3B

A lot can happen in 14 years. For instance, in the 14 years between 1793 and 1807, the following happened: the Treaty of Greenville (1795) opened Ohio up for more settlement; the city of Dayton, Ohio, was founded (1796); George Washington died (1799); the Library of Congress was founded (1800); Ohio became a state (1803); Thomas Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase (1803), doubling the size of the United States’ territory; and Lewis and Clark set out on their famous adventure (1804).

Why did I choose the arbitrary-sounding dates of 1793 and 1807? Because those are the years in which Samuel Forrer and Sarah Howard were born, respectively. He was 14 years older than her, and at the time of their marriage, he was 33, and she was 18. And actually: they were married in February, and Sarah had only just turned 18 the previous December.

I know I promised previously that Part 4 would be the final installment, and so as to keep that promise, I am cleverly deeming this “Part 3B,” and still reserving “Part 4” for a discussion of the men mentioned in Samuel’s second letter, as intended.

I noticed the age disparity sometime after writing Part 3 and decided that it really deserved a discussion.

I wonder how a father might view the situation, if a 33-year-old man wanted to marry his 18-year-old daughter. Today a dad might object purely on creepiness factor. (The would-be groom was probably already starting to think about shaving the year his prospective bride had been born.) However, that is looking at it with twenty-first century eyes and cultural norms.

But would it have been considered odd in the 1820s? I’m not going to answer, because I don’t know. I couldn’t find any good statistics on the matter from the time period at hand, although the CDC has an interesting document – “Marriages: Trends and Characteristics” – but it only covers 1867-1967. This document states at one point: “Men marry later in life than women” (p. 13), which seems like an almost obvious “duh,” but I suppose bears actually stating explicitly if you are going to bother writing up an analysis of statistics on the subject.

J. William Frost writes in The Quaker Family in Colonial America (1973) that “the average age for Quaker women [to be married] was 22.8 and for men 26.5; the median age for women was 20.5 and for men 24” (p. 151). He states this in contrast to “the popular stereotype of colonial women marrying in their teens, bearing a dozen children, and then dying young” (p. 151). But again, as I said in Part 2 when I mentioned Frost before, you can only extrapolate so much from Frost to the Forrer/Howard situation, since he was writing about the colonial era, of which 1826 is not a part. Furthermore, though Sarah was a Quaker, Samuel was not.

Another angle to consider is the possibility that an early 19th century father – or perhaps any father, for that matter – might actually be pleased that an older gentleman with an already well-established, steady career was interested in marrying his daughter. By the time Samuel Forrer met Sarah, he already had several apparently successful years of civil engineering experience under his belt, enough so that he was chosen as one of the three top engineers on the new Ohio canals project in 1825. So by the time he was asking for her hand in marriage, he had a good state-paid job on a project that would keep him employed for the next few years at least until the canals were finished. (And, although they did not know it at the time, Forrer was involved with the canals for much of the rest of his life, into the early 1870s.)

I’m not sure I will ever know how Horton Howard felt about the fact that his daughter’s suitor was 14 years her senior, all non-Quaker-ness aside. (Again, I really wish I could read whatever letter Horton wrote back to Samuel. And perhaps someday I will. Maybe it’s out there somewhere.)

But part of the reason that I bring all of this up is point out something about primary sources (e.g., letters, diaries, oral history interviews). Primary sources constitute first-hand information. Is that better than second-hand information? (Remember the telephone game in kindergarten?) Sure, it probably is. But is it always 100% accurate? Not necessarily. You have to remember to watch out for fallacies in the information from, well, just being human. There can be errors of memory (reconstructing things over time), perception (“I thought I saw…”), or estimation (fish tales, anyone? and some people, like me, are just genuinely bad at estimating sizes).

You could be reading a primary source and the author gives a reason that he or she thinks something might be true; their perception of “why” something happened or why someone else did something. But how do you know they are correct? There are a lot of factors that go into the degree to which you can trust their assessment but the bottom line is: you don’t, really.

When I wrote Part 2, I focused on whether or not Horton Howard would disapprove of Samuel Forrer marrying his daughter Sarah simply on the basis of Samuel’s not being a Quaker. Why did I do that? Well, it does seem to be the most obvious reason for Horton’s disapproval. But I didn’t know much of anything about Quakers before I got into this, so how did I even know that might be an issue?

Oh yeah, because Samuel said so:

I am aware sir that the rules of the Society of Friends imperiously requires parents to guard against the intrusions of strangers; and that, consequently I must not expect that you will give consent to our union…

But what I do not have, as I have said all along, is the letter that Horton wrote back, stating not only his answer but (hopefully) his reasoning. And that would be the most trustworthy source for Horton’s reason: a letter written by him, stating, “I disapprove, and here’s why.” Do I imagine that the objection was probably for the exact reason that Samuel expected? Sure, it probably was. But could it have been for a different reason—like the age difference. Which, come to think of it, did Horton even know Samuel’s exact age? They seem to have had at least a few mutual friends—which I will get to in Part 4—so I suppose it is logical to assume that someone could have given him at least an approximation of the man’s age if he had asked for it.

Back to the idea of factors weighing into whether or not you trust the writer’s assessment. Let’s not forget Samuel’s beloved Sarah. We might assume that Samuel knew Sarah well, and one would think that Sarah probably knew her father well. Perhaps Samuel assumed that Horton would disapprove on religious grounds because Sarah has told him so.

Can’t you just imagine them? Samuel’s just floated the idea of marriage, and at first Sarah’s all giddy, but then she gets somber and informs him, “My father will never consent to it, since you’re not a Quaker, but we have to at least ask him.” Now I have this image of her perched over his shoulder as he scribbled down that draft. Perhaps her suggestions even resulted in some of the strikethroughs? See, now I’m drifting into the realm of total, unfounded, imaginative speculation.

I get lost in it, I really do. I can imagine how long it has taken you readers to sift through the details of these last several posts. And hopefully they do not come off as completely scatter-brained. But even as long as they may take to read, I’ve spent quite a lot more time reading and researching and stewing on the matter myself, and then I had to try to unwind the web of thoughts into some kind of halfway-intelligent narrative.

As promise, the next will be Part 4, the final installment, in which we explore the men named in Samuel’s second letter, the letter that says, “Oh, by the way, we got married last week even after disapproved of it, but all these people think it was a good idea” with a silent “so you should, too.”

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 3

When you’re working with history, you sometimes find yourself in a situation where you don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle, many times far fewer than you’d like, and so you use your brain and you do some guesswork and speculation to hopefully help you connect the dots, get from A to B, explain whatever it is you’re trying to explain. But always keep your eyes open for hard evidence that will eventually tell you that you’re barking up the wrong tree.

During this investigation, lacking for any other documentary evidence (as yet), I wandered down what turned out to be a false trail myself for a while.

I mentioned in Part 2 that Horton Howard and his family were “disowned” in 1829 for joining the Hicksites. But what did that mean? Well, I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this, but suffice it to say that the Ohio Quakers found themselves divided in 1828, and when the dust settled, the more conservative members stayed with the “Orthodox” Quakers, and the more liberal members joined the Hicksite faction (named for Elias Hicks, whose ideas they agreed with). [If you are really interested, you can read more about it at the “Ohio YM (Hicksite)” entry on Quakerpedia. Yes, there is a Quakerpedia.]

So I was beginning to piece things together in my head: Hmm, so I know that there are later letters from Horton Howard to Sarah and Samuel addressed to “dear children” and they seem generally pleasant, so if he failed to give his blessing to their marriage, he obviously didn’t “disown” them himself or stay mad forever. And now, here I have this bit of information stating that he sided with the liberals during this religious schism in 1828, so I suppose that probably means he was one of the more, well, liberal Quakers himself. So could it stand to reason that perhaps he just went ahead and gave his “permission” for Samuel and Sarah to get married with a “devil may care” attitude towards what the rest of the congregation might think? But then again, he was one of their leaders, so that probably wouldn’t have looked very good, and maybe he was concerned about keeping up appearances, even if privately he didn’t care who she married?

You can see how my brain might have been starting to implode, with all these “what ifs” swirling around and seemingly no way to confirm any them.

(Here’s where I shake my fist on behalf of historians everywhere and encourage each and every one of you out there to write down more about your lives—and keep it safe, and in print—so that future generations will know the whos, whats, whens, whys, and hows of…well, more of your life than if you write down nothing. Now, back to our regularly scheduled 19th century tale…)

Just as I was about to resign myself to perhaps never knowing whether Horton Howard gave his blessing to Samuel and Sarah to be married, but knowing that whatever he said, they definitely did get married….I found this:

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 1 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 1 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 2 of 2

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, Feb. 13, 1826, Page 2 of 2

Why yes, that is a letter from Samuel Forrer to his new father-in-law Horton Howard, dated February 13, 1826, a little less than week after Samuel and Sarah were married on February 8. Apparently, they were married in Cincinnati—even all the biographical sketches I found claimed they were married in Delaware, Ohio, since that’s where her family was…

But here are the words, straight from Samuel’s own mouth…er, pen:

Smith’s Tavern, Feby. 13, 1826

H. Howard Esqr.

Dear sir,

With feelings of gratitude and pleasure on account of my peculiar good fortune I hasten to inform you that your daughter Sarah is now my wife— All that is now wanting to make my situation all that I can wish it is that yourself and family will excuse the step I have induced your daughter to take in opposition to the rules of your society and without the consent of her much loved parents, and that you will permit me to address you by the endearing name of Father in any future correspondence— This would relieve my dear Sarah from all doubts of your feelings, in regard to our union— We were married on Wednesday evening feby. 8 by the Revd. William Burke, at his dwelling house, and passed the evening at our good friends Mr. M. T. Williams, where we had the pleasure of the company of a most agreeable little party of our friends, all of whom seemed to congratulate us with much pleasantness and sincerity of feeling— Joseph Gest, who had not been made acquainted with the situation of affairs until about the time we were to be married at first doubted whether he ought to pay us a visit or not on the evening we had our little party at Mr. Williams— He however did come and I was much rejoiced to find him as cordial in his congratula- [page 2] tions as we could wish—by his and Mr. Gest’s particular request we passed the next evening with a party of friends at his house. On Friday morning Mr. Joseph Evans call’d and gave us a warm invitation to spend an evening at his home but we had determined t leave the city that day and consequently declined his and several other kind invitations to parties— I mention these little circumstances to show that the mutual friends of Sarah and myself, in this city, approve of the course we have taken— Sarah and myself approve of it I am sure— And that her much esteemed parents brothers and sisters will also approve of it (aside from the common objections under similar circumstances) is now the only wish of both of us— I have not yet fixed on a place of residence for any length of time; but it is my intention to locate myself for some time at some point on the Miami canal where I can spend the most time at home with the least possible injury to the public service— At present we are boarding at a genteel country tavern two miles from Cincinnati on the Hamilton road— The house is owned by Oliver Martin a friend of Joseph Ridgeway’s son. Mr. Williams will also probably bring his family here, in which case we shall both make it a summer residence— Sarah and myself will expect a letter from you very soon— Do indulge us and believe me[,] yours with much esteem—

Saml. Forrer

(Our mutual love to the family)

[Written on the side:] Direct your letter to Cincinnati.

So there you have it, folks: “without the consent of her much loved parents.” Mystery solved—that one, anyway. Apparently, dad said no, and they big fat did it anyway. Although it seems to have worked out all right in the end. Like I said, Horton Howard clearly wasn’t so angry that he cut off contact with them or anything. (He sent them several letters afterwards addressed to “dear children” and signed “your affectionate father.”) Heck, maybe he wasn’t really angry at all, but for the “official” record had to deny the request. Very interesting stuff, religion and politics.

But hey, let’s not forget our final point of interest: There’s that name again—M. T. Williams. (Remember, he’s the man whose home Sarah was staying in when Samuel met her?) And for that matter, now that I have this second letter, who are all those other guys? Samuel sure seems to think that the fact that he knows these people and the fact that they approve of his marriage to Sarah ought to win him some brownie points with his new father-in-law. Like, “Look, Dad—er, I mean, ‘Sir’—these guys think I’m good enough for your daughter, so you should too.” So who were they?

I think I may save that for Part 4. And I promise, Part 4 will be the final installment of this particular adventure.

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 2

When we left Part 1, Samuel Forrer had written a letter to his beloved Sarah’s father Horton Howard, asking permission to marry her and hoping that, if he objected, it would be “only on the ground that I am not a member of your society.” And by “society,” he meant the Society of Friends, or Quakers. This piqued my interest, so I decided to do a bit of searching into the marrying customs of Quakers.

The most useful resource that I found on the subject was The Quaker Family in Colonial America: A Portrait of the Society of Friends by J. William Frost (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1973). Granted, I wasn’t interested in the colonial period, but the 1820s; however, Frost’s work was the most comprehensive scholarly book I could readily get my hands on—and after all, this was just an intellectual curiosity—and I figured that the colonial period would be close enough for general background on Quakers customs. I did a little investigating into Frost himself, finding that he was a well-credentialed Quaker scholar and historian, and was later a professor at Swarthmore College, a Quaker college in Pennsylvania (which incidentally has his Papers).

Frost’s book was very helpful, in particular Chapter 8 “Choosing a Wife.” I learned the following helpful bits of information from it:

  • “The Quakers, who had no sacraments, agreed to register the event of a marriage ceremony with the government, but they insisted that since God alone could join people in holy wedlock the meeting should participate in all formalities” (p. 150). (The “meeting,” by the way, is the basic organizational unit of Quakers, like a congregation.) Quakers married each other; they were not married “by” someone. This was part of the objection to marrying outside of the Society “since a marriage involving a non-Friend entailed being wed by a cleric” (p. 158).
  • “Parents had the right to consent to the marriage of a son or daughter no matter what their ages… If…the parents allowed or did not actively oppose a marriage out of unity, Friends might discipline them and the newlyweds” (p. 155). A “marriage out of unity” was a marriage someone who was not a Quaker.
  • “The records of monthly meetings in America illustrate the great amount of time devoted to the problem of improper marriage. Throughout the colonial period marriage out of unity was the most frequent offense for which Quakers were disowned” (p. 159). Furthermore, Frost further states that by 1765, about 75% of Quaker marriages were “exogamous” (p. 159). From the sound of it, “marrying out” was rather common, at least in the colonial era. And I’m guessing that trend didn’t suddenly reverse itself as time went on.
  • Anyone who was disowned for an offense, including “marriage out of unity” or “marriage contrary to discipline” (being married by a cleric), “who appeared to be sorry and was willing to confess his sin could in time gain readmission. … The admission of guilt was not…for marrying a particular person but for violating a tenet of the Society” (p. 160).
  • And finally: “While there were no direct challenges to the endogamous pattern of marriage in meetings, both the frequency of marriage out of unity and the occasional comments show that some Quakers questioned this tenet” (p. 160).

A search for members of the Horton Howard family in the Encyclopedia of Quaker Genealogy by W. W. Hinshaw (Ann Arbor: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1936+) yielded some interesting results and examples of the above. With a little help from this Glossary of Quaker Terms on Ancestry/RootsWeb, I was better able to understand the meanings of the abbreviations used in Hinshaw’s Encyclopedia.

I found the following entry in Hinshaw, Volume 4, page 1166, from the records of the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting:

  • HOWARD. 1827, 5, 3 [May 3, 1827]. Sarah Forrer (form Howard) con mcd.

What did that mean? I already knew that Sarah Howard did marry Samuel Forrer on February 8, 1826. The Glossary of Quaker Terms helped me understand. It meant that Sarah (Howard) Forrer had “condemned” her own misbehavior, that misbehavior being “marriage contrary to discipline.” (They were married by a reverend.) [Incidentally, Sarah’s sister Mary was “disowned” the following year later for the same offense, a record on the same page indicated.] I found it a little strange that there was no mention of a “marriage out of unity” since Samuel Forrer himself stated that he was not a member of the Society of Friends. Perhaps he joined? However, Samuel Forrer is mentioned nowhere in Hinshaw’s compendium. Interesting.

Also interesting and a bit mysterious was the entry just below Mary (Howard) Little’s disownment:

  • HOWARD. 1829, 1, 1 [January 1, 1829]. Horton &w, Hannah, &dt, Ann, dis jH.

In 1829, Horton and the rest of his family were disowned by the Alum Creek Monthly Meeting, for the apparent sin of “jH,” whatever that meant. I did have a hunch what “jH” might mean, based on the time frame and some other things I had read about Quakers, and as it turned out, I was right. Although Hinshaw failed to define the abbreviation “jH” in the front of Volume 4, a later supplement (online here) verified the answer: “joined Hicksites.”

More to come in Part 3.

The material discussed here is from the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018), which can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

A little Quaker love story, Part 1

My high school Latin teacher, an elderly Catholic nun who was usually slightly disgruntled anyway, always used to get exasperated with us for not having enough “intellectual curiosity.” She’d hint at something we ought to look up—but not “assign” us to do so—and then act all surprised the next day when we hadn’t looked it up. What did she really expect from a bunch of 16-year-olds who had friends, boyfriends/girlfriends, sports, extracurriculars, 6 or 7 other classes, and a bunch of other regular “assigned” homework to do (including nightly Latin assignments)?

This isn’t a story about my high school Latin teacher, though. It’s about a civil engineer who fell in love with a young Quaker woman at Cincinnati in the mid-1820s.

However, I think Sr. D would be pleased to know that somewhere along the past 12 years, I have definitely developed a considerable amount of “intellectual curiosity.” Maybe it’s partially because as an archivist I spend such a significant portion of my day surrounded by, for lack of a better simple term, “cool old stuff.”

And sometimes, I come across “cool old stuff” that gets my intellectual curiosity sense going, and I just know that (a) I’ve just got to look into it further, and now that I have a blog (b) I’m going to share that journey with others.

Now is one of those occasions.

A few weeks ago, while processing the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) – something you may hear me talk about frequently over the next several months, as it is quite large – I came across the following letter (well, draft of a letter, really). The final version of the letter was sent from Samuel Forrer, a civil engineer at Cincinnati who was involved with the construction of Ohio’s canal system, to Horton Howard, a Quaker leader in the Delaware/Columbus area.

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, ca1825-1826

Letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, ca1825-1826

The letter from Samuel Forrer to Horton Howard, undated but probably written in late 1825 or early 1826, reads as follows:

Dear sir,

Your late visit to Cincinnati and the consequent accidental circumstance of leaving your amiable daughter Sarah Howard, at my friend with the family of my good friend M. T. Williams has given me an opportunity of forming and cultivating an acquaintance I have long since ardently desired. The result of this acquaintance has fully satisfied a conviction on my part that Sarah was a determination on my part to make Sarah a tender of my affections; which I did and am now happy to say that I have received from her an acknowledgement that she reciprocates them— In short we are morally engaged to be married, with the condition on the part of Sarah that you her much loved parents do not forbid it unconditionally— I am aware sir that the rules of the Society of Friends imperiously requires parents to guard against the intrusions of strangers; and that, consequently I must not expect that you will give consent to our union— But may I not hope that your acquaintance with my character will warrant me has given you an impression not unfavorable to my character that you will object only on the ground that I am not a member of your society? Pardon the interrogatory but my happiness here depends so much on my union with Sarah that I am constrained to make it, and for the accompany it with a request that you will have the goodness to consult with Sarah’s kind mother and affectionate brothers and sisters, for all of whom she has [discovers?] the most ardent feelings of affectionate regard, and immediately communicate your advice to my beloved Sarah.

So many things about this letter jumped out at me that I was compelled to look into it further.

The most striking thought I had was, So apparently Quakers do not like their children to marry non-Quakers? And Samuel Forrer states right here that he is a non-Quaker, while I know that Sarah Howard was one… And I’m going to go ahead and spoil things for you right here and tell you that, yes, they do get married. But what did her father say initially? Did he give permission, or did they disobey him? There are several other letters from Horton Howard to the Forrers in the collection, so if he was mad, he obviously wasn’t that mad, because they seem to have remained on good terms. I also wondered about these Quaker marriage rules in general.

Another thing that jumped out at me: Who was this M. T. Williams? This seemed like a reasonably researchable question. After all, how many men by that name could there have been in Cincinnati in 1826? Actually, I would hit the jackpot on answering the M. T. Williams question. I also wondered what Sarah was doing in Cincinnati with the Williams family, when her family lived near Columbus. I never did find an explicit answer to this, per se, but I have developed a speculation. And at first, I thought the mention of M. T. Williams was just a bit of good, honest storytelling. But as I learned more, I think there was another reason for the name-drop…

I think I’ll leave it at this for Part 1. Stay tuned for Part 2.

The Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection (MS-018) discussed here can be found at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.