On the night of Sunday October 16, 1859, twenty-three men emerged from the woods surrounding the town of Harpers Ferry, which sits at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers in present-day West Virginia. Armed with rifles and pikes, their mission was to successfully secure the large cache of weapons kept in the town’s armory and expel the U.S. military from the area. Led by the radical abolitionist John Brown, their overarching goal was to end slavery in the South by force, arming liberated enslaved people in Virginia with rifles and arms from the armory so that they could rise up against the white planter class.
Down in the belly of Special Collections sits a mysterious blue velvet box. Its contents are simultaneously mundane and bizarre, important for the study of language in Spain, and remarkably unremarkable. The box bears the inscription Matxin de Zalbaren Gutuna, La Carta de Machin de Zalba, 1416. What is it? Why do we have it? What makes it both special and ordinary?
In December 2016, David B. Wolf, a New York attorney and collector interested in John Marshall and his biography of George Washington, donated three letters that join an existing collection of John Marshall Papers (Mss. 39.1 M34). Two of the letters were written and signed by John Marshall and the third is from George Washington’s nephew, Bushrod Washington, to Tobias Lear at Mount Vernon. The letters document John Marshall’s writing of the biography of George Washington, of which the Special Collections has a first edition copy. Recent scholarship suggests that writing the biography was an honor for which Tobias Lear, in particular, passionately vied and one that ultimately eluded him (see Ray Brighton, The Checkered Career of Tobias Lear).
What is the difference between printing and publishing?
This is perhaps something many of us don’t think about, but there is a difference. After all, we now speak of things being published on the internet, so there is not an inherent relationship between print and publication, at least not anymore. Two documents from the Thomas G. and Louise Rowe Pullen collection perfectly illustrate how important news was published in the past, and they do so with reference to the process by which our own William and Mary went from being Prince and Princess of Orange to King and Queen.