Category Archives: Wheaton College Digital History Project

Cotton Production in Antebellum Norton, Massachusetts

On February 21, I presented a pecha kucha for my colleagues in the FiberSpace at Wheaton College.  The FiberSpace is an extension of the WHALE Lab, which is Wheaton’s makerspace.  This year, Social Sciences Liaison Lauren Slingluff and Assistant Archivist Megan Wheaton-Book have teamed up to do some programming at the FiberSpace, and the event was one of a series they have been working on since classes started at the end of January.  My presentation was only a small part of Friday’s program; after a brief question period, it was followed by an opportunity to make squares for a community quilt that will decorate the space.  Hooray for making!

Below are the slides from this public event with a transcript of the narration for each, followed by a list of sources keyed by slide number.

This presentation takes its theme from a pamphlet that Laban Morey Wheaton collected when he visited the International Exhibition that opened in London on May first, 1862.  Wheaton and his wife, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, visited London in the spring and summer of 1862.

This presentation takes its theme from a pamphlet that Laban Morey Wheaton collected when he visited the International Exhibition that opened in London on May first, 1862. Wheaton and his wife, Eliza Baylies Wheaton, visited London in the spring and summer of 1862.

The pamphlet was produced by the Royal Italian Commission, and it concluded with a paragraph that offers a window on Wheaton’s position as a businessman whose interests included cotton mills in Norton, Massachusetts.

The pamphlet was produced by the Royal Italian Commission, and it concluded with a paragraph that offers a window on Wheaton’s position as a businessman whose interests included cotton mills in Norton, Massachusetts.

The slides include an example of the kinds of account books that Laban Morey Wheaton used to keep track of some of his business affairs.  And some of the slides illustrate the place of Norton’s textile mills in the overall map of textile production in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.

The slides include an example of the kinds of account books that Laban Morey Wheaton used to keep track of some of his business affairs. And some of the slides illustrate the place of Norton’s textile mills in the overall map of textile production in Massachusetts and the United States as a whole.

I quote now from the final paragraph of the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet: South Carolina produces five hundred thousand bales of cotton, with a population of seven hundred and fifteen thousand inhabitants.  In Italy there is no want either of inhabitants or land to commence at once an extensive cultivation of cotton,

I quote now from the final paragraph of the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet:
South Carolina produces five hundred thousand bales of cotton, with a population of seven hundred and fifteen thousand inhabitants. In Italy there is no want either of inhabitants or land to commence at once an extensive cultivation of cotton,

Which might, perhaps, prevent the recurrence of one of the most fearful commercial crises which could take place, and possibly not a little contribute to the solution of that vital problem of modern civilization—the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Which might, perhaps, prevent the recurrence of one of the most fearful commercial crises which could take place, and possibly not a little contribute to the solution of that vital problem of modern civilization—the abolition of slavery in the United States.

The fearsome crisis—the so-called cotton famine of 1862—stilled approximately half of the four million spindles in mills north of the Potomac River.

The fearsome crisis—the so-called cotton famine of 1862—stilled approximately half of the four million spindles in mills north of the Potomac River.

A global shortage of raw cotton began when the Confederate government withheld the commodity from the international market in an effort to draw Great Britain into the U.S. Civil War, and the Union blockade of Confederate ports perpetuated the shortage.

A global shortage of raw cotton began when the Confederate government withheld the commodity from the international market in an effort to draw Great Britain into the U.S. Civil War, and the Union blockade of Confederate ports perpetuated the shortage.

After the introduction of power looms at Waltham and the rapid transformation of the village of West Chelmsford into the city of Lowell in the 1820s, the state of Massachusetts collected statistics on the number of factories and spindles within its boundaries.

After the introduction of power looms at Waltham and the rapid transformation of the village of West Chelmsford into the city of Lowell in the 1820s, the state of Massachusetts collected statistics on the number of factories and spindles within its boundaries.

Compared to those cities and as a proportion of the number of mills and spindles in the state as a whole, the four textile mills in Norton were so small in number at to seem insignificant.

Compared to those cities and as a proportion of the number of mills and spindles in the state as a whole, the four textile mills in Norton were so small in number at to seem insignificant.

Norton mills, however, fit into a mixed economy not unlike those of other rural towns and villages in the early nineteenth century.   Persistence of agriculture combined with industrial outwork and factory employment in such towns.

Norton mills, however, fit into a mixed economy not unlike those of other rural towns and villages in the early nineteenth century.
Persistence of agriculture combined with industrial outwork and factory employment in such towns.

Cotton manufacture had begun in Norton when the first spinning mills were erected in the town in 1810.  The manufacturers who built the mills combined the system of outwork with factory production, distributing at first the raw cotton and later the yarn from the mills to local families for the next stage of production.

Cotton manufacture had begun in Norton when the first spinning mills were erected in the town in 1810. The manufacturers who built the mills combined the system of outwork with factory production, distributing at first the raw cotton and later the yarn from the mills to local families for the next stage of production.

The cotton-spinning mill known as the Norton Manufacturing Company had been built on the Wading River in 1810, and it was incorporated in 1837.  When the failed firm was sold at auction, Wheaton joined with one of the former partners and another Norton resident to incorporate the Wheaton Manufacturing Company in 1844.

The cotton-spinning mill known as the Norton Manufacturing Company had been built on the Wading River in 1810, and it was incorporated in 1837. When the failed firm was sold at auction, Wheaton joined with one of the former partners and another Norton resident to incorporate the Wheaton Manufacturing Company in 1844.

The accounts of another Norton textile mill point to one of Wheaton’s connections to the larger Atlantic economy through the cotton industry.  In 1846, Wheaton purchased the Centre Mills, which had been established on the Rumford River in 1828.

The accounts of another Norton textile mill point to one of Wheaton’s connections to the larger Atlantic economy through the cotton industry. In 1846, Wheaton purchased the Centre Mills, which had been established on the Rumford River in 1828.

He employed his brother-in-law, Samuel A. Chapin, as his agent to run the mill, and Chapin’s accounts constitute a rich source of information about the running of a rural mill that produced cotton batting in the mid-1840s.

He employed his brother-in-law, Samuel A. Chapin, as his agent to run the mill, and Chapin’s accounts constitute a rich source of information about the running of a rural mill that produced cotton batting in the mid-1840s.

The account book identifies the operatives—men and women—who worked in the mill as well as the broker from whom Wheaton purchased raw cotton.  Providence merchant William Jones King provided cotton to Wheaton’s mills from Charleston, New Orleans, and Apalachicola.

The account book identifies the operatives—men and women—who worked in the mill as well as the broker from whom Wheaton purchased raw cotton. Providence merchant William Jones King provided cotton to Wheaton’s mills from Charleston, New Orleans, and Apalachicola.

A prominent broker on both the New York and Providence exchanges, King was also a trustee of Wheaton Female Seminary between 1848 and his death in 1885.

A prominent broker on both the New York and Providence exchanges, King was also a trustee of Wheaton Female Seminary between 1848 and his death in 1885.

As these maps demonstrate, efforts have been made since at least 1861 to illustrate the relationship between slavery and cotton in the antebellum United States.  And this relationship poses a conundrum for our view of Laban Morey Wheaton and the family wealth that supported Wheaton Female Seminary.

As these maps demonstrate, efforts have been made since at least 1861 to illustrate the relationship between slavery and cotton in the antebellum United States. And this relationship poses a conundrum for our view of Laban Morey Wheaton and the family wealth that supported Wheaton Female Seminary.

During the same years that Laban Morey Wheaton was establishing himself as a cotton manufacturer, he was also involved in antislavery activity.  In 1846 and 1848, he ran for Congress on the ticket of the Liberty Party, a single-issue party devoted to the abolition of slavery.

During the same years that Laban Morey Wheaton was establishing himself as a cotton manufacturer, he was also involved in antislavery activity. In 1846 and 1848, he ran for Congress on the ticket of the Liberty Party, a single-issue party devoted to the abolition of slavery.

The problem of opposing slavery philosophically and politically while at the same time needing raw cotton for economic success led to the production of numerous examples of the sort of thinking represented by the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet.

The problem of opposing slavery philosophically and politically while at the same time needing raw cotton for economic success led to the production of numerous examples of the sort of thinking represented by
the Royal Italian Commission’s pamphlet.

When Laban Morey Wheaton brought the pamphlet home from the London International Exhibition, he demonstrated the place of Norton and Wheaton Female Seminary in what Harvard historian Sven Beckert has called the “worldwide web of cotton production” in 1862.

When Laban Morey Wheaton brought the pamphlet home from the London International Exhibition, he demonstrated the place of Norton and Wheaton Female Seminary in what Harvard historian Sven Beckert has called the “worldwide web of cotton production” in 1862.

Sources

Slides 2, 3, 4, and 12: Wheaton Family Papers, M089, Wheaton College Archives and Special Collections, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts.

Slide 5: Samuel Batchelder, Introduction and Early Progress of the Cotton Manufacture in the United States (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1863), 56, accessed 02/27/2013, HathiTrust.org, http://hdl.handle.net/2027/miun.ael6663.0001.001.

Slide 6: Batchelder, 1863, 80; George Faber Clark, A History of the Town of Norton, Bristol County, Massachusetts, from 1669 to 1859 (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, and Co., 1859), 341-343.

Slides 6-11 and 14: Tables and charts from statistics in Clark, Chapter XXII.

Slides 15 & 16: GoogleEarth, last accessed 02/20/2014.

Slide 17: Susan Schulten, “Mapping the Cotton Kingdom,” http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/28/mapping-the-cotton-kingdom/, last accessed 02/27/2014.

Slide 18: Matthew B. Hammond, The Cotton Industry: An Essay in American Economic History, Part I. The Cotton Culture and the Cotton Trade (New York: Macmillan, 1897), 60f.

Slide 19: TeachingAmericanHistory.org/neh/interactives/civilwar/lesson1/, last accessed 10/10/2012.

Slide 20: Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the World-Wide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the Civil War,” American Historical Review 109, no. 5 (Dec. 2004): 1405-1438.

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Good News

This is a good day. There is real joy in receiving a phone call from a granting agency, and today that call came from the Office of Digital Humanities at the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Here at the Wheaton College Digital History Project, we proposed a meeting to begin conversations about using TEI to mark up financial records, and reviewers agreed with our assertion that there is enormous potential here for increasing access to abundant and underused archival documents. We are fortunate to be joined in our efforts by colleagues at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Antiquarian Society, the Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia, and the Women Writers Project at Brown University.

We look forward to sharing our ideas as soon as our work is complete.

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Back at Work

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to post here. First, that was because the new semester was starting, but then right at the end of February I got a call from my mother saying she needed me at home. The hospice nurse had told her it was time to find a skilled nursing facility in which my father could receive the kind of care he needed for the final days of his life. So I spent the first twenty days of March arranging to fly to Texas, looking after my dad, finding a nearby nursing home, witnessing his death, arranging his funeral, writing a eulogy, and helping my mother through the first two weeks of her new life on her own.

It has been a difficult time for all of us, and I have a new comprehension of the experiences of some of the people I have studied over the past twenty years. I feel especially close right now to Maria E. Wood, whose journal was the first that I transcribed and encoded with students in a U.S. Women’s History course in fall 2004. Wood’s father died during the time she kept the journal, and she recorded her thoughts and her efforts to feel close to him after his death. Hers was a deep and wrenching grief for a father from whom she had never lived apart, and mine differs in that I have not lived with my parents for over thirty years.

I feel closer to Wood nevertheless, and like her I must now make my own way in the world, looking after my mother as well as myself. And so I return to teaching, research, and writing, ready to record here more regularly ongoing developments in the Wheaton College Digital History Project as well as my thoughts about digital humanities and liberal education.

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The Wheatons and the “Worldwide Web of Cotton Production”

I’ve spent the past several weeks completing a paper for a conference I’ll be attending the first weekend in March. Civil War–Global Conflict is hosted by the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World Program at the College of Charleston. The paper uses the occasion of the 1862 European journey of Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Laban Morey Wheaton, and David Emory Holman as a prompt for examining the connections between the business interests of David Emory Holman and Laban Morey Wheaton and what historian Sven Beckert has called “the worldwide web of cotton production” in the mid-nineteenth century. Watch this space over the next week or so for insights from the paper and additional research about the cotton and straw hat industries in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s, as well as some hints about antislavery activism in Norton, Massachusetts between 1831 and 1861.
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Sven Beckert, “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the World-Wide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the Civil War,” American Historical Review 109, no. 5 (Dec. 2004): 1405-1438.

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Lydia Folger Fowler’s Marker in Highgate Cemetery

Lydia Folger Fowler Marker in Highgate Cemetery

Zeph Stickney and I went to Highgate one afternoon in July 2010 to check on Fowler’s gravestone. Fowler died in London in 1879, and her remains were buried in the famous cemetery. The grave is to the left of the entrance gate, up the hill, and in a densely used spot. The marked was overgrown with ivy, which Zeph pulled away so that I could take the photograph.

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The Influences of Lydia Folger Fowler

This year, my holiday preparations include not only frantic knitting but also frenzied preparation of a paper that must be sent out on January 5.  There is nothing special about this situation, as some sort of writing to some sort of deadline is part of the academic professional’s condition.  It bears mention here because it takes me back to where I left off writing about Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s travel journal in (cringe) September.

The paper focuses on the business interests of Laban Morey Wheaton and David Emory Holman, and it includes some discussion about Lydia Folger Fowler, her travels in Europe between 1860 and 1862, and her influence on the journeys of the Wheatons and Holman in England and Europe.  My ideas about that influence have been percolating since late summer, and now that I have time to turn attention to some additional background research about Fowler’s travels in Europe, I am convinced that her influence offers a solution to a longstanding question in the interpretation of Eliza B. Wheaton’s herbaria.

My colleague and frequent co-author Wheaton College Archivist Zephorene L. Stickney (Zeph) is the real expert on the Wheatons and their papers.  Ever since we began working together on what has become the Wheaton College Digital History Project, she has emphasized the significance of the herbaria for our being able to develop a full understanding of the European trip.  The travel journal itself is quite short.  Eliza B. Wheaton described the time she spent in London through the first few weeks that she, her husband, and Holman spent in their rooms on Sloane Street, but her entries stopped at the end of May and did not begin again until July, when the travelers crossed the Channel to France. As I noted here on April 17, Eliza B. Wheaton wrote the travel journal retrospectively. Both Eliza and Laban Morey Wheaton made notes of their activities on various days, probably as an aid to memory for future entries in the journal. The gaps represent moments for which either the couple could not remember what they had done or Eliza Wheaton lacked time to go back to fill in descriptions of the experiences.  In fact, we might conclude that the wealth of ephemera that Zeph and I have relied on for parsing the travelers’ European itinerary represents an unfulfilled intention on Wheaton’s part to complete those descriptions after the trip had ended.

The ephemera is only one part of the Wheaton Family Papers collection that Zeph knew could help us describe the itinerary. Eliza B. Wheaton also compiled herbaria as a record of her journey. An avid gardener, she picked flowers and took clippings from trees at many sites, including the thorn tree in Glastonbury that vandals damaged last week. The herbaria introduced some confusion, however, because some of the evidence it included contradicted more reliable evidence from the ephemera. The herbaria contain clippings from Rome and Florence, but hotel receipts preserved in the collection provide evidence that the group traveled directly from Lyons to Geneva from there up the Rhine to Brussels. They did not go to Italy.

But Lydia Fowler did. And one of my tasks this week is to look through the Phrenological Journal for reports that might indicate she could have collected the specimens that appear in Eliza B. Wheaton’s herbaria and shared them with her friend when the activities of Garibaldi and his army prevented her visiting the sites herself. The game is afoot!

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Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, Herbaria, and Ephemera, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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Collaborative Pedagogy

I wrote this post in response to a ProfHacker Open-Thread Wednesday, but I kept getting an error message when I tried to post it. So I’m posting it here instead. The question for the day was about IT success stories.

We have had enormous success in collaborations among technologists, librarians, archivists, students, and faculty in the Wheaton College Digital History Project, which began in 2004. And the inspiration of our staff in what was then Academic Computing and a former staff member at the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) laid the groundwork. From a classroom assignment for an introductory level course in U.S. Women’s History, we developed a digitization project that has employed students during summers to transcribe and encode the diaries of our institution’s founder, Eliza Baylies Wheaton. We have now begun similar work on financial records that are part of the Wheaton Family Papers. Eventually, we plan to digitize all of the documents from the founding era of the college, 1834-1911.

Collaborations are essential in classroom uses of technology as well as in projects that extend beyond the classroom, and whilst technologists are one significant group in the mix, so too are archivists and reference librarians, who bring other strengths and professional perspectives to any course or project.

Collaborative pedagogy requires forethought, something I’m very bad at. So I would urge faculty members who seek to enrich their pedagogy with technological and research tools to do this part of the job better than I do. Plan such assignments early. Contact the appropriate archivists, librarians, and technologists before the semester begins. Call a meeting in which you bring together the members of the faculty and staff who will be working with your students. Ask them what they think your students need to get the most out of your assignment. You, your students, and your staff colleagues will all benefit from the extra time it takes to craft the classroom experience.

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Transcribe Bentham

I’m not spending much time on Twitter right now because I’m trying to minimize distractions. (She said, thinking of how she has just spent the entire day on errands in celebration of payday. Oh well, she thinks, the dog is happy to have food. Now, where’s that new toy I bought her?) But today I dipped a toe into the stream and noticed that the transcription desk is now open at Transcribe Bentham. Talk about distraction. I love the idea of this project and I’m shamelessly stealing from it for the next step in the Wheaton College Digital History Project, Transcribe Wheaton. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

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Creating Reference Files for an Expanding Project

I spent much of Labor Day 2010 in the land of XML/TEI, adding to a personography file I began to work on after a TEI seminar in April. This rather intensive set of tasks arose because we at the Wheaton College Digital History Project are proceeding apace with imaging financial records created by Laban Morey Wheaton and his agents between 1828 and 1859. (Thanks, Chris!) This is exciting news in a project that began with transcription of Eliza Baylies Wheaton’s diaries in spring 2005.

The need for a consolidated personography is related in part to our extending this work in P5, the current version of the TEI. I can’t remember whether we were using P3 or P4 when we began the project. I took a rather distant approach to the project at the time, relying on my colleagues in Archives and Special Collections and in Research and Instruction to manage much of the daily work of transcription and coding undertaken by our undergraduate research assistants. In the past couple of years, I have been learning more and more TEI and taking more responsibility for being able to communicate the needs of the program to a changing (growing) group of technical and library colleagues as the project has expanded from diaries to financial records.

When we were working on the diaries, my colleagues created a reference file that included name identifiers for people whose names appeared in them. As we began to transcribe the financial records, we kept another list of names that appeared in them. Now that we have established a workflow for transcribing and coding the financial records, we are ready for a consolidated personography that allows us to assign unique identifiers for every name in the Wheaton Family Papers.

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Setting Out for Europe

On April 15, 1862, Eliza Baylies Wheaton and her husband Laban Morey Wheaton departed from their home in Norton, Massachusetts, to begin their journey to Europe. In the travel journal that she wrote to memorialize the trip, she recorded the events leading up to their departure:

We rose early and made our toilet preparatory to leaving home for Europe— After looking at drawers, closets, + memorandums to see all was safe we made our way to our Pastor’s for breakfast where we had been invited. My appetite was nearly gone[.]

Wheaton’s lack of appetite indicated the level of intense excitement and trepidation with which she anticipated the journey. She and her husband were avid travelers. Twelve years earlier, they had toured the United States, traveling down the east coast to New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, turning west and traveling through Pittsburgh, Harper’s Ferry, Bowling Green, Nashville, and other cities on the way to St. Louis, and then turning north to travel through Chicago and Detroit, and sailing east on Lake Erie to Buffalo and Niagara Falls and then home.

In April 1862, Eliza Baylies Wheaton had spent the previous month preparing for the European journey. Her beloved sister Mary Chapin Judson had come from her home in Uxbridge to help with the preparations, and she joined the Wheatons as they set off for Boston, where Mary’s husband Willard Judson met them at the train depot. The travelers spent the night at the American Hotel in Boston. They would board their ship and embark for Europe the next day.
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Paine, Harriet E. The life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton: A Chapter in the History of the Higher Education of Women. Cambridge, Mass.: Printed at the Riverside Press, 1907.

Eliza Baylies Wheaton, Travel Journal, p. 1, Wheaton Family Collection (MC089), Marion B. Gebbie Archives & Special Collections, Madeleine Clark Wallace Library, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

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