On October 19, 2014 at Dinwiddie Court House, a Virginia historical marker was dedicated to Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley (also spelled Keckly). Elizabeth, or ‘Lizzy’ Keckley was born near Petersburg and was a slave on the Burwell Plantation. Her father was Armistead Burwell, the master of the plantation and her mother was a slave woman. She took the name of her slave father George Hobbs. Elizabeth Keckley had a son, George Keckley, who was killed at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, during the first year of the Civil War. As the offspring of a white father, Alexander Kirkland, who had raped his mother, George Keckley passed as white and was thus able to enlist in the Union army at a time of the war when blacks were prohibited from doing so.
Through the work of our student assistants, volunteers, and staff, Special Collections has recently reprocessed, digitized, and made the Powell Family Papers, Hepburn Addition available online. The bulk of the collection consists of the correspondence of Leven Powell, U.S. President James Madison, Charles Leven Powell, Charles Leven Powell, Jr., Selina Powell Hepburn, and others. Some of the subjects discussed in the letters include the American Revolution, slavery, the Presidential Election of 1800, the American Civil War, and early American politics. Scans of the collection are now available in the William & Mary Digital Archive.
A popular means of documenting personal interests and life events, the practice of scrapbooking dates back centuries. In contrast to the modern practice of pasting family photographs and vacation mementos onto brightly colored paper, early scrapbooks were often compilations of newspaper clippings, artwork, hand-copied quotes, and letters. In addition to being aesthetically interesting, old scrapbooks provide unique insight on the lives of their creators. What did an individual decide was worthy to keep? How does ephemera reflect personal, local, and national events?
In my current project at Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center (SCRC), I have been working on checking the transcriptions that have been uploaded by our transcription volunteers. Although I am not currently working on a particular collection, checking transcriptions of letters written during the Civil War is an incredibly rewarding experience. As I go through the digital archives, I come across letters from an incredibly large cross-section of Americans. Some documents are written by generals and lieutenants, others are written by doctors and lawyers, and others are written by wives and sisters.
The Special Collections Research Center at Swem Library has begun a transcription initiative as part of the “From Fights to Rights: The Long Road to a More Perfect Union” project. The transcription work is a massive effort by volunteers to transcribe selected documents such as diaries and letters and make them available online. One of the first documents selected for transcription is the diary of Asa John Wyatt. Wyatt was a Confederate officer in Company I of the 21st regiment of the Virginia Infantry under the command of Stonewall Jackson. His diary includes accounts of his participation in Jackson’s Shenandoah Valley Campaign in the spring of 1862.
Throughout the past month, as a part of my graduate apprenticeship I have been working with the Johnson-Nance Family Papers, a manuscript collection from the early twentieth century at Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library, at the College of William and Mary. My apprenticeship at Swem began in August 2010 briefly after I moved from Tucson, Arizona to Williamsburg in order to begin my graduate studies in early American history. One of my first tasks as part of my graduate apprenticeship at Swem was to create a lesson plan for the William Taylor Correspondence, a collection consisting of letters between Taylor and his wife during his service in the Civil War. This collection was one that had already been thoroughly processed in previous years, including a finding aid, transcriptions, and digital scans of each item. When I began work on the Johnson-Nance collection I was presented me a very different task as this collection had just recently been acquired in July 2010 and entirely unprocessed.