Monday, February 15, 2016

History nuggets …

… from Jim Remsen.

I think you'll find this month's two history items particularly memorable. The first one revealed itself at the Scranton public library as I was reeling through microfilm of 19th century newspapers. I was looking for period information about the village of Waverly and its settlement of fugitive slaves for use in my forthcoming book--but you never know what other curiosities might pop up along the way. Consider the following from The Scranton Republican of Nov. 1, 1870.

"Causes of Insanity Given." It seems Pennsylvania was building a new mental hospital at Danville to take overflow from the crowded state asylum in Harrisburg. Some of the patients may have been traumatized war veterans, but the listings only indicated categories like "farmers 520, laborers 469, blacksmiths 26, houswives 618, daughters of farmers 121." What I especially wanted to share was the official rundown of the patients' problems. Here it is, verbatim: "ill health, 339; domestic trouble, 251; epilepsy, 118; trouble, 330; grief, 8; millerism, 4; spiritualism, 2; excessive study, 3; disappointment, 11; overexertion, 89; fright, 23; intemperance, 84; religious excitement, 8; opium eating, 10; loss of sleep, 6; failure in business, 2; loss of money, 4; ill treatment, 2; excesses, 25; novel reading, 2; sunstroke, 10; want of occupation, 1; mortified pride, 1; public excitement, 88; pecuniary trouble, 5; jealousy, 1; causes not assigned, 1,358"I can imagine what some of the terms meant and how we might classify them today, but novel reading? Mortified pride? If you're a historian or have expert insight, please pass it on and I'll relay your observations to the group.
"The Slave's Friend." That was the actual name of a children's magazine the American Anti-Slavery Society produced in the 1830s to try to awaken young readers to the cruelties of the Southern bondage. The recently ran an article about it in conjunction with Slate Academy's fine podcast series on American slavery. The abolition magazine gave it to the kids straight, telling them about slaveholders "who cropped enslaved people's ears and chained them in attics or lashed them for the smallest of offenses." My manuscript mentions other literature that abolitionists were circulating (slave narratives, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and more), but I didn't know about The Slave's Friend. I think I'll add it. By the way, here's a link to the Slate article, and below is a sample image from the magazine. If your browser doesn't let you view it, go to the link to see a collection of images.

Inline image 1
Write On. I'm in the midst of writing my chapter on the years after the Civil War. Sadly, it's brought me to the moment when the founding father of the Waverly settlement dies from his gruesome war wound. Other fugitive/vets soon will follow. Meanwhile, I plan to make one last research trip to Waverly and environs in March to chase down a few loose ends. Adios for now.

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