Children’s Letters

Parents keep their children’s letters and drawings, now often putting them on the refrigerator. Unless the children were sent away for education, in the eighteenth and nineteenth-century, most stayed close to home and probably only wrote if a parent were away. There are some letters in our collection written by older students away at boarding school or college, but letters by very young children are few.

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A Window into Nineteenth-century Parlor Music

Ruffin-Pollard illustrated title pageNineteenth-century bound sheet music offers a window into domestic music making. The accouterments of musical life—instruments and sheet music—were recognizable symbols of elite taste and education. Much nineteenth-century sheet music was bound together into volumes by owners, sometimes with ornate, personalized covers and marbled endpapers. Collecting loose sheaves of music into a bound volume gave the music greater permanency and value; bound volumes became objects for display as well as use in the parlor. Symbols of status and taste, a piano and sheet music were ubiquitous fixtures of most middle- and upper-class American parlors.

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“gave out and rec’d books”

This quote from the diary of Civil War chaplain William E. Wiatt documents an unusual aspect of the his duties. The chaplain carried a circulating library for the soldiers he was tending. Wiatt’s diary has been published, but the original is still in private hands. (Alex L. Wiatt. Confederate Chaplain William Edward Wiatt: An Annotated Diary. Lynchburg, Va.: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1994. E 635 W52 1994.) However, Swem’s Special Collections holds the account book Wiatt used to record the circulation of the books. (Mss. MsV Ap39)
William Wiatt (1826-1918) was a Baptist minister who also had taught school in Kentucky and Alabama before returning to his native Gloucester County, Virginia. He served the 26th Virginia Infantry Regiment, Confederate States Army, from 1861 until its disbandment in 1865. The unit spent the first part of the war guarding the Peninsula, but later transferred to Georgia and Florida. The troops returned to Virginia and were in defense of Petersburg before surrendering at Appomattox. (See Alex L. Wiatt. 26th Virginia Infantry. Lynchburg, Va.: H. E. Howard, Inc., 1984. E 581.5 26th W5 1984.)
While Wiatt notes giving out New Testaments, religious tracts and newspapers (the Religious Herald and the Virginia Advocate), the books in his lending library are both devout and secular in nature. Two examples of titles from the page below are Sarah B. Judson and Eagle Pass. Sarah Judson was a member of the American mission to Burma (book published 1848), and Eagle Pass, or Life on the Border, was published in 1852. While it is not easy to identify books based on short or popular titles, it might be fruitful study for someone to research these book titles and write an article.

William E. Wiatt Account Book (Mss. MsV Ap39), Special Collections, Swem Library, College of William and Mary

William E. Wiatt Account Book (Mss. MsV Ap39), Special Collections, Swem Library, College of William and Mary

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