Curator Snippets – Letters from the Past

The Fenton and Hall House Research Centers are hosting a graduate intern from Simmons University, Boston. Joshua Tomaszewski, a Jamestown resident, is taking his Master’s in Library and Information Science online. He is with us this spring semester to fulfill his internship requirement for his introductory archives course.

Joshua is sorting through and deciphering letters (with their respective envelopes) from the 1850s, 1860s, 1870s and 1880s. These letters involve the Gleason Family: mothers, brothers, cousins and aunts from Clymer, Westfield, Rochester, Amherst, Providence. Their correspondence pertained to topics revolving around farming, particularly concerning butter and wool; ice-skating; politics and religion. The latter is especially prominent in that it seemingly overrides important subjects such as education. For example, “…more important than your studies is your immortal soul”. One of the profound quotes from these passages is, “I say give all the rights of citizen to those who are loyal and can read and write whether white or black…” [from L.M. Gleason of Clymer to A.L. Gleason of Amherst]. Other interesting features that stand out are the phrase “Dear Bro” in some writings, which sounds rather modern, and learning what the word “copperhead” means (pro-peace). Additionally, there is a variety of beautiful and intricate embossed stamps (of images derived from nature and calligraphy) on the stationery which may be the printers’ logos. Joshua and I are intrigued by the many facets and imagery these letters provoke; one is the feeling of being transported back in time and imagining the surrounding environment and atmosphere. It was a time when hand-writing was the chief means of communication and was thus very significant.

We have around 250 of these letters in our archives. They are housed in binders and protected by photo sheets/sleeves. The plan is to digitize them and make them accessible to researchers and the public eventually. I thank Joshua for helping with this project and I hope that he is enjoying this field experience.

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