Monday, November 14, 2011

Rev War junkie, part two - A Call to Serve

They didn't have Twitter or Facebook or YouTube to transmit their revolutionary words and actions.  They didn't have computing or fast transit, or even electricity, but the Patriots of the Revolutionary War did have the printing press and the pamphlet writers.  It could be said that half the war was won on paper, by the spreading of information, and the preservation and memorializing of deeds and events necessary to transmit the ideals of the egalitarian Revolution.

Many of the pamphlets were used for recruiting purposes.  A fine example of one such recruiting pamphlet, perhaps penned by Major General Charles Lee, or a gifted subordinate, was recently found in the Congressional relief petition case-file of Asher Sedgewick, a Patriot who served from Hartford, Connecticut from 1775 until the winter of 1780. 


US Legislative Archives, RG233, hr21a-g13.1

Asher Sedgewick signed this pamphlet, knowing full well that he may as well have been signing his own death warrant.  His name appears clearly written fourth from the bottom.  The lead signatory was Captain Abraham Sedgewick, his own father, so it is really not a mystery why Asher, at the time only 15 years old would have penned his name to this dangerous, seditious document.  Capt. Sedgewick used his utmost zeal and ardour, and perhaps several copies of this pamphlet, which he also probably read aloud to groups of men in Hartford, and raised a company of sixty enlisted men and four officers to serve in Colonel Chester's Regiment Connecticut Militia.


It is not really hard to imagine the impact of this pamphlet.  This one was used specifically for recruitment purposes, and just like recruitment attempts today played on the potential recruit's personal sense of honor and loyalty to submit to the service of their country as a test of character.  Of the signatories to the pamphlet only Capt Sedgewick and his teenage son Asher appear on the Travel Roll of men who actually marched with the Captain to Ticonderoga.

This payroll, which is mentioned by Asher's widow in his pension case file, has not been previously available to researchers.  Luckily for the modern Rev War scholar, the "Travel Role of Captain Abraham Sedgewick's Company Returning from Camp 1776", like the pamphlet, was submitted by Asher to Congress in 1820 in one of his attempts at obtaining a pension or an increase. 

US Legislative Archives, RG233, hr21a-g13.


This "Travel Role" shows the men returning by march from the vicinity of Fort Ticonderoga, New York to Hartford, Connecticut.  In addition to their monthly salary, determined by rank, each man was guaranteed a certain amount of pay, per mile, on the march to and from the place of service, either before or after muster.  Asher, who served as Fifer, traveled 237 miles and received £0-19-9 (19 shillings and 9 pence, when a Pound Sterling equaled 20 shillings).  They marched on foot, and had to obtain whatever lodging and provisions they could find along the way, using their own money or that provided by the Captain, which he received back from the men after the Travel Roll was submitted for pay.

I am inspired by the efforts of my nation's forebears, to continue to preserve their words and deeds.  Anyone interested in assisting to transcribe the names from this document, or other Rev War documents like this, is welcomed to contact soldiersource.com's internship coordinator Anne Musella.


Sources :

Pension case-file of Asher Sedgewick (available on fold3.com and in NARA RG15).

Petition for relief of Asher Sedgewick, US Legislative Archives, RG233 (House of Representatives), HR21a-g13.1, (viewed and scanned by Deiss, 18 May 2011)










Sunday, November 6, 2011

The challenges of Citizen-Archivery

I went to the National Archives' McGowan Theater on Friday night (4 November 2011) to watch and listen to a panel discuss the latest in social media in archives and government.  My primary focus was to learn the latest on the new Citizen-Archivist Dashboard, an application going online soon that will allow researchers to upload scanned or digitally imaged documents directly to the National Archives website and connect those images directly with official catalog citations in ARC and other online descriptive pamphlets and finding aides. This is what I've been hoping they would come up with and it looks like it will soon be available.

The intermediate steps have been to use Flickr and youtube to highlight National Archives records.  These services, as great as they are, have serious limitations.  They are most useful for casual perusal of individual, unconnected records, but not very useful for conducting serious research.  The images are generally too small for any real transcription work, especially when many NARA records are handwritten documents. The videos are generally low resolution and too short. The limitations on file size, format and description are also troubling.  Using these services were baby-steps to help familiarize the public (and NARA staff) with the concepts of social media and sharing of data in the open-source manner.  Despite this concept being essentially part of NARA's core mission-statement to make available Federal records and government data, it was a significant technological leap to make for an agency still stuck (in many ways) in a 20th century mode of thinking about records, public access and sharing. But, with AOTUS Ferriero's stewardship and his ability to pick smart, forward-thinking civil servants to carry out his vision, it happened.

They have slowly added more Citizen-Archivist interactive functionality.  The Online Public Access page now has a tagging feature, so researchers or would-be archivist-types, can tag an image and cite it, perhaps link it directly to items in ARC and other online catalogs.  This is another baby-step to full integration of the online and textual collections, with full search functionality and a direct description-to-item correlation and concordance.  This is all going to be at least theoretically possible once the HMS software is fully populated with data, all the boxes of records in the building have been tagged, marked and identified and the locations of every single item entered in the database.  This is still an ongoing process.

The local Wash-DC Wikipedian element is now involved, there is a NARA Wikepedian-in-Residence and some other big players are giving serious thought to how they can be a part of the game.  The private firms like ancestry.com (and oh yeah, there isn't anyone else except google perhaps) are spending their money to digitize records for their private networks, so some of the collection is getting online and available for a fee.  Ancestry.com is the business side of the equation, and it has relevance, despite its genealogy orientation.  It's sister site fold3.com (footnote.com) has a real potential for being more than just a genealogy site. With the right collections and indexing, arranged properly, it could be a premier military-history research resource.

Individuals are doing small projects, too numerous to discuss here.  There just isn't much in the way of funding available for the small-timers.  Congress has yet to really get behind these kinds of initiatives and although NARA is going ahead with their projects despite a shrinking budget, it will be difficult to expand on present efforts in the future without more money.  In the current climate, it is hard to imagine seeing a large influx of cash for this kind of thing.  It would seem like the perfect kind of thing for a techno-savvy philanthropist like Bil Gates to throw a billion bucks at, but what do I know?  I do what I do on a poverty level salary - actually less.

As a Citizen-Archivist, it seems challenging to find a way to present my data, to dispense my collection of scans and images, in a cost effective and labor efficient manner to the research community and the general public.  Its seems challenging to find ways to fund the activity of scanning and processing - whether raising funds through philanthropy, offering services, or using private resources.  I have found temporary solutions, again and again, to those problems.  The real challenge isn't either of those issues, but fundamentally that of perseverance, persistence, and flexibility in the face of rapid change. Circumstances and opportunities have changed so much at the National Archives in the past 36 months that it almost boggles the mind to keep up.

I look forward to the Citizen-Archivist Dashboard and what comes next, and hope that things plateau soon so that the contributions of Citizen-Archivists, past and future, will have a chance to achieve a more persistent and steadfast legacy.  It seems a waste of valuable labor to spend time to populate one system after the other with data just to see them superseded by a version X or a new software rev.  In the mean time, I will keep scanning.  The singularity, the composite solution will coalesce soon enough...





Friday, November 4, 2011

Blessed by the Windham Bacchus

The Windham Bacchus was originally carved by British prisoners
confined to an improvised jail at Windham Green during the Rev War.
The artifact has been restored at various times, but still retains
much of the original work. Author's photo, 2001.
Ten years ago, this month, I traveled to Windham County, Connecticut. Heavily wooded and rural, Windham County is serene and quiet, largely unchanged since the time of the Revolution. I touched base with my roots, found the graves of my ancient ancestors and stood on the green where the Militia mustered in 1775. It was a highly patriotic time, in the wake of 9/11, and I seemed to be having one strangely serendipitous moment after the other. Locals opened their doors to me to share local history, documents, food and more. I stayed in a cold, rustic cabin, roamed misty old cemeteries, and absorbed the charm of the place. Paul Newman waved at me. It was a great week and climaxed when the local librarian in the tiny library on the Windham Green, dared me to climb a ladder just vacated by a handyman and touch the legendary Windham Bacchus. What made her dare me? The thing was what looked to me like twelve feet up, on a pediment, a forbidden artifact of the Revolution - off-limits. But, I took the challenge. I touched the Windham Bacchus. Did I receive some kind of strange curse, to be obsessed with the Revolutionary War? The question is moot, look where I am.


More about the Bacchus of Windham :

It appeared on china dishware.

The Treasury of American Design considered it a 'treasure'.

See page 38 of Early American Wood Carving By Erwin Ottomar Christensen for an explanation of the carvings' origin.