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African American and African Diaspora collection, 1729-1970 (majority within 1781-1865)

0.75 linear feet

The African American and African Diaspora Collection is comprised largely of individual letters, documents, and other manuscript items relating to slavery, abolition movements, and aspects of African American life, largely dating between 1781 and 1865.

The African American and African Diaspora Collection is comprised largely of individual letters, documents, and other manuscript items relating to slavery, abolition movements, and aspects of African American life, largely dating between 1781 and 1865. Topics addressed in the letters and documents include the experiences and work of enslaved persons in the North and South; the buying and selling of enslaved men, women, and children; participation in the French and Indian War, American Revolution, and Civil War of African descended persons; abolitionists and abolition societies; the American Colonization Society; the lives of formerly enslaved persons; African American education; and many other subjects. For details on each document, see the inventory located under "Detailed Box and Folder Listing"


Charlie and John Moore papers, 1839-1864

15 items

Charlie and John Moore, who appear to have been cousins, both received captains' commissions in the 99th U.S. Colored Infantry. Their letters describe training at Camp Lyon in Connecticut, a journey to Ship Island, and stationing in New Orleans.

The John and Charlie Moore papers (15 items) contain the letters of two cousins serving as captains in the 5th Engineers, Corps d'Afrique, writing to John's father in Hartford, Connecticut. The collection falls into two distinct parts, the first of which includes nine letters written by John Moore, covering his training at Camp Lyon in Connecticut, to his transport and arrival at Ship Island. John Moore's letters are generally well-written, suggesting that he was well educated, however his descriptions of Camp Lyon are routine, focusing mainly on food and requests for stockings, books (James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy and The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish), and other daily needs. Two letters stand out: one describing the unpleasant journey to Ship Island aboard the Steamer Fulton (1862 May 3-5), and another desribing the wildlife that he and his fellow soldiers encountered around Ship Island while gathering logs for construction (1862 March 29).

Moore had trepidations about becoming ill in the South, and on June 16, 1862, he wrote that he had become lame and was being considered for a medical discharge. The presence of an additional letter from Moore, dated April 17, 1864, suggests that he did not receive a discharge. By that time, Moore had been commissioned as Captain in the 5th Engineers, Corps d'Afrique (later designated as the 99th U.S.C.T.), and was involved in Banks' Red River Campaign.

Charlie Moore is less articulate than John, and the letters he wrote while an officer in the 99th U.S. Infantry (Colored) were written while stationed in relatively calm New Orleans. Most of Charlie's five letters discuss bad news he received of Banks' campaign, and rumors of good news of Grant's success in the east. Moore's company appears to have spent much its time overseeing "contrabands" who were working plantations.


Cornelia Hancock papers, 1862-1937 (majority within 1862-1865)

236 items

The Cornelia Hancock papers consist primarily of the Civil War correspondence of Hancock, who served as a nurse for the Union Army in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Virginia from 1863-1865. The collection also includes brief accounts of Hancock's experiences during the war, as well as several items of ephemera.

The Cornelia Hancock papers consist primarily of the Civil War correspondence of Cornelia Hancock (1840-1927), who served as a nurse for the Union Army from 1863 to 1865. Other items within the collection include photographs, accounts of Hancock's experiences during the war, and several items of ephemera.

The Correspondence series includes 168 dated letters, 15 undated letters and fragments, 2 military passes, and 1 fragment of cloth. The dated letters cover the period from July 31, 1862-January 12, 1866, with the undated fragments most likely from the Civil War period. Two additional letters, dated August 27, 1890, and April 25, 1892, are also included in the collection.

The great bulk of the correspondence was written by Cornelia Hancock to her mother Rachel, her sister Ellen, and her niece Sarah, during Cornelia's time serving as a nurse in Pennsylvania and Virginia; her mother and sister occasionally returned letters giving news of the family in New Jersey. Other correspondents represented in the collection include Cornelia's brother, William N. Hancock; Caroline Dod, the mother of a soldier who died during the war; and several soldiers who expressed gratitude for Hancock's work. In her letters, Cornelia discussed in some detail her work as a nurse during the war, including several accounts of specific wounds and illnesses. Slavery and the social and economic conditions of freedmen are focal points of the letters written during Hancock's time at the Contraband Hospital in Washington, D.C. Though most of the letters concentrate on wounded soldiers and military hospitals and treatments, Hancock and others often expressed political opinions, reported on developments in the war, and shared news of loved ones in the field or back home.

An early series of letters documents Hancock's experiences at the Camp Letterman Hospital after the Battle of Gettysburg, when she first noted "There are no words in the English language to express the sufferings I witnessed today…" (July 7, 1863). A few months later, in October 1863, Hancock left for Washington, D.C., where her letters document her time working with African American refugees at the Contraband Hospital. Twice, she related encounters with President Lincoln. Robert Owen, a former United States ambassador to Italy, once "read to us a speech that he read to the President one Sunday…The subject was the Pardoning power vested in the President. He said that Abraham listened with all his attention then asked him if he would give it to him and also had him promise he would not have it published for the present, said he would read and consider it well. [Lincoln] Complimented Mr. Owen, told him he had been of much service to him in many ways" (October 25, 1863). On another occasion, Hancock recounted a personal glimpse of Abraham Lincoln: "Little Meenah Breed and I went to the White House, and I told you I would encounter the President- sure enough there he stood talking to some poor woman. I did not stop him because he was in a hurry but I know him now and I shall. It is a much easier matter to see him than Stanton" (October 29, 1863). Other letters from this period pertain to the state of escaped slaves (November 15, 1863) and the state of the anti-slavery movement: "Where are the people who have been professing such strong abolition proclivity for the last 30 years[?] Certainly not in Washington laboring with these people whom they have been clamoring to have freed" [January 1864].

In February 1864, Hancock moved again to work with the 3rd Division of the 2nd Corps at Brandy Station, Virginia. Hancock was here during the Battle of the Wilderness, the aftermath of which is represented in Hancock's accounts and in a letter of Henry Child to his wife, Ellen (née Hancock), wherein he warns, "You will hear of another terrible battle yesterday" (May 12, 1864). Soon after the Battle of the Wilderness, Hancock accompanied the Union Army during their march through Virginia. Items from this period include a description of a "rebel house…The house was visited by our Cavalry guard and found deserted, also that the the [sic] gentleman owning the house was a chief of Guerillas, consequently the house was burned to the ground" (May 3, 1864, author unknown). In June 1864, Hancock spent a few days at White House, Virginia, before eventually stopping at City Point, Virginia, where she remained until the end of the war. During this period, she reflected on what had become normal experiences in the time she spent with the army: "A shell explodes every little while, not far away. About as much account is made of it as the dropping of a pin at home. Habit is a wonderfull [sic] matter" (June 7, 1864).

At City Point, Hancock continued to work with the ill and wounded soldiers of the Union army, and in many of her letters, she described specific soldiers or wounds she treated. Among these soldiers was Charlie Dod, a New Jersey native who served with Cornelia's friend Henry Smith. Dod's August 17, 1864, letter is included in the collection, as well as two notes by Cornelia relating that "Capt. Dod is now dying in my bed" (August 27, 1864) and "Capt. Dod of Henry's company died in my bed today. His mother arrived in time to see him just one day and night…The scene was very affecting and I shall never forget it" (August 27, 1864). Charlie's mother, Caroline Dod, became an occasional correspondent after this time and continued to hold Cornelia in high regard throughout the rest of her life. Another notable item from this period is an official Union army pass allowing Cornelia to travel to and from Washington, D.C.; this is enclosed in a letter from Rachel Hancock dated October 20, 1864.

By the spring of 1865, the Union army was closing in on Richmond, and Cornelia Hancock was near the Confederate capital when it fell. On April 3, 1865, she reported, "This morning we could see the flames of Petersburg lighting the skies[. I] suppose the rebels are compelled to evacuate the place. Our troops can enter now at any time…Gen Weitzel entered Richmond this morning at 8 A.M. There is great rejoicing here of course." Even better was the feeling of release that accompanied the end of the fighting: "The situation is splendid the air so fresh and altogether it seems like getting out of prison to get away from C[ity] P[oint] we were there so long" (May 13, 1865).

The undated papers and fragments appear at the end of the collection and include eight letters and fragments written by Hancock as well as five letters from Caroline Dod. These appear to date from the Civil War period. One fragment was written on the reverse side of a table of contents from the 8th volume of Connop Thirlwall's History of Greece.

Other postwar material in the series includes the following three items:
  • A January 3, 1866, letter of reference from Robert Dale Owen, a friend of Dr. Henry Child, stating that the "bearer of this, Miss Cornelia Hancock…is about to visit the South, there to aid in the education of the children of freedmen," and giving a glowing account of Hancock's merits.
  • An August 27, 1890, letter from Caroline B. Dod, in which she reflected on the death of her son and expressed continuing gratitude for Hancock's sympathy during his final hours. The letter is accompanied by its original envelope, which was used by a later owner of the material to house Robert Owen's letter of reference for Cornelia Hancock (January 3, 1866) and an undated Swarthmore Library ticket with manuscript biographical notes on Owen.
  • An April 25, 1892, letter from S. B. Dod to Cornelia Hancock, in which he explained that his mother had left Hancock a legacy in her will as a token of "her appreciation of your great kindness to my brother Charlie."
The series includes three additional items, interfiled chronologically. These include:
  • January 8, 1864: A pass authorizing Ellen Child and one friend to travel "over Chain and Aqueduct Bridges and Alexandria Ferry, within the lines of the Fortifications"
  • January 12, 1864: A pass authorizing "Miss C. Hancock team, driver, and Contrabands to Arlington Va and return."
  • "A piece of the ornaments upon the flag of the 116th Pa. Vol." Verso: "Capt. Shoener's Regt." (Undated)
The Reminiscences and Other Writings series series includes several items:
  • A 10-page typescript with unattributed manuscript annotations. Topics include the personality of Hancock's father and an account of her time at Gettysburg, told in the first person. This text is the basis for some of the biographical information included in published editions of Hancock's letters.
  • A 10-page incomplete typescript written well after the war, with unattributed manuscript annotations. The text is a first-person account of Hancock's war experiences near the end of the war. Of particular interest is a recollection that "April 8th Abraham Lincoln visited our hospital." The typescript is the basis for much of the biographical information included in published editions of Hancock's letters.
  • A first-person manuscript fragment, written in the style of a diary and with a note on the reverse that the author, likely Cornelia Hancock, "would like this sent to mother and have her copy it." The note also says that "Soldiering now days is hard work."
  • An incomplete third-person account of Cornelia Hancock, covering the very beginning with her journey to Gettysburg "with Mrs. Elizabeth W. Farnham, who was an eminent writer," in July 1863.
  • An 8-page manuscript account of Cornelia Hancock's departure for the theater of war. The manuscript includes two slightly different copies of the same material, and a lapse into the first person suggests that Cornelia Hancock is the author.

The Cornelia Hancock Obituary is a small newspaper obituary published on January 1, [1928], entitled "Civil War Nurse Dies, Closing Busy Career." The item was not part of the original accession and was discovered in a book in the Clements Library in 1985.

The Ephemera series includes eight items:
  • A 4" x 6" photograph on card stock showing a party of women and military men gathered in front of several tents. The photograph is labeled "Cornelia Hancock." [1860s]
  • A newspaper clipping "Queen of Field Nurses at Ninety in Feeble Health," recounting the decline of Florence Nightingale. [1910]
  • Five identical sheets of paper bearing the letterhead of the Association of Army Nurses of the Civil War. The letterhead includes a list of officers of the organization. One sheet is marked, "To Cornelia," and is slightly torn.
  • A book jacket from the 1937 edition of South after Gettysburg; letters of Cornelia Hancock, 1863-1868.

The following card photograph from the collection is currently housed in the graphics division:

  • "Capt. Charles Dod[,] A. A. Gen. in Gen. Hancocks staff. 2nd Corps[,] A.P." Portrait of Charles Dod, by [Frederick August] Wenderoth & [William Curtis] Taylor, Philadelphia, ca. 1864.

Edwin F. and William H. Strong collection, 1846-1866 (majority within 1862-1866)

7 items

This collection is made up of 4 letters to William H. Strong of Wallingford, Connecticut; a manuscript poem addressed to his sister-in-law, Louisa Strong of Wallingford and New Haven, Connecticut; a letter addressed to "Bro. Strong"; and proverbial thoughts about friendship by James and Marcia A. Strong. William's brother, Edwin F. Strong, wrote 4 of the letters while serving in the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. The poem, told from the point of view of a slave, also concerns the war.

This collection (7 items) is made up of 4 letters to William H. Strong of Wallingford, Connecticut; a manuscript poem addressed to his sister-in-law, Louisa Strong of Wallingford and New Haven, Connecticut; a letter addressed to "Bro. Strong;" and proverbial thoughts about friendship by James and Marcia A. Strong.

Edwin F. Strong's 4 letters his brother William regard Edwin's service in the 8th Connecticut Infantry Regiment during the Civil War, and his life in New Haven, Connecticut, after his discharge from the army. "Jennie G" sent a poem titled "Kingdom Coming" to Louisa Strong; the poem is in African-American dialect and regards a master fleeing his plantation. C. E. Piper's letter to [William?] Strong concerns Christianity. See the Detailed Box and Folder Listing for more information about each item.


Emil Smith sketchbook, ca. 1860-1870

1 volume

The Emil Smith sketchbook, titled "Specimens of Designs for Carving in Ivory," contains pencil drawings of decorative picture frames, canes, swords, and hand-mirrors, as well as deer, dogs, and scenes of Civil War camps and soldiers. Included in the sketchbook are lithographs of various cities and buildings in Germany.

The Emil Smith sketchbook contains 38 pages filled with pencil drawings and pasted lithographs. The inside cover includes a modern reprint of a carte-de-visite of a soldier holding a bugle, identified as Lou Smith. The first page indicates that the sketchbook belonged to Emil Smith, which he titled, "Specimens of Designs for Carving in Ivory." This page also includes an image of Lady Columbia about to stab a cougar, along with a note that Emil Smith was a member of Company G of the 39th Ohio Volunteer Infantry.

Many of the sketches are of deer and dogs and decorative frames with leaves and vines. There are also sketches of a woman wearing gold jewelry, anatomical sketches of arms and legs, an angel in a cup, female hair pieces, and the handles of swords and canes. Of note are multiple sketches depicting various scenes of the Civil War, including a bird's-eye view of Camp Dennison near Cincinnati, Ohio, unidentified barracks, a scene of camp life titled "Fair Ground Near Memphis," and a sketch of an African American soldier. The sketch of the soldier is based on an illustration from Harper's Weekly from July 2, 1862. The article accompanying the illustration, "The Escaped Slave and the Union Soldier," describes the life of an escaped slave from Montgomery, Alabama who joined the Union Army. The soldier's name was not mentioned in the article, however, the soldier has later been identified as Hubbard Pryor.

Also included in the sketchbook are many lithographs of water scenes, city buildings, castles, and cathedrals in various locations in Germany, including Andernach, Bacharach, Koblenz, Mainz, Nonnenwerth, Wiesbaden, and Worms.


Fannie Preston diary, 1861-1863

1 volume

Fannie Preston's diary spans 120 pages and reflects her experiences during a stay in Baker County, Georgia, from November 1861 to September 1862, and of life in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1862 to 1863. Preston discussed daily life, wartime hardships, battles, Confederates, Confederate-sympathizers, African American people, slavery, religion, education, and wartime hardships.

Fannie Preston's diary spans 120 pages and reflects her experiences during a stay in Baker County, Georgia, from November 1861 to September 1862, and of life in Baltimore, Maryland, from 1862 to 1863.

Preston's writings while in Georgia include descriptions of daily life and wartime hardships. Preston was elated at finding something as simple as a "tangled skein of black silk" on the floor, having been forced to take apart old garments for thread to repair a dilapidated wardrobe (February 22, 1862). Preston's entries reflect the all-encompassing nature of the war, women's struggles on the home front, and her daily duties and responsibilities amidst the turmoil.

While in Baker County, Georgia, Preston worked as a teacher and taught a variety of fundamental topics to students. She considered herself somewhat proficient in "how to make a good grammarian, or a good reader, or to make [a student] proficient in History, Geography, Mathematics, etc." (January 23, 1862), but struggled with the belief that she did not know how to form her students' character. Deeply religious, Preston often included Christian teachings and practices with lessons.

After Preston returned to Maryland, she continued to write about the effects of the war on civilian life. On April 18, 1863, her family discussed heavy firing heard in the distance that morning, but still "returned to [their] various pursuits and meditations, as if [they] had not just admitted the probability of a murderous conflict within a few miles." This desensitization to war was not new to Fannie: "the idea of war, a year ago, tho' painful, was romantic", but her sensibilities were "somewhat deadened by familiarity with details of carnage and destruction" (March 21, 1862). Mentions of disputes over the American flag--as well as farmers learning how to deal with a lack of an enslaved work force--paint a picture of a Maryland occupied by Union forces, but whose populace leaned towards the Confederacy.

Preston, a Confederate-sympathizing Protestant, also wrote about her internal conflicts regarding slavery and whether it was ordained by God or was a sin. She questioned her personal duties and remarked on what she would do if "Providence made me the slave" (June 8, 1863). She consulted scripture for answers to these questions, but did not seem to draw a hard conclusion. Her brief description of African Americans in Georgia and Maryland during the Civil War includes building entrenchments, attending school, singing hymns, and continuing work as laborers and caretakers. These remarks provide glimpses of the lived experiences of African American communities during a time of extreme tumult. In October of 1863, she noted the passage of Black people escaping enslavement: "Some of them inform their mistresses beforehand that they are getting ready to leave. Most of the men have been gone some time, and every once in a while, the wife and children of one of the absentees disappear into the night carrying with them their effects" (October 18, 1863).


Francis E. Vinaca papers, 1850-1871 (majority within 1861-1865)

66 items

The Vinaca papers consist of Civil War letters written by Francis Vinaca to his parents; correspondence from his cousins Henry Chase and James Miner; and from a friend, Martin Dealing. Francis and Martin served in the 186th New York Infantry and Henry in the 1st New York Mounted Rifles. Francis' letters are a valuable resource for examining the attitudes of a soldier entering the war in its latter stages.

The Vinaca papers contain 46 letters written by Francis Vinaca to his parents during the Civil War; 10 from his cousin, Henry Chase addressed to Francis; two letters from Francis' close friend, Martin Dealing (also of the 186th N.Y. Infantry); and two from a cousin, James Miner of the 35th New York Infantry. Although he is not the most observant writer, Francis' letters are a valuable resource for examining the attitudes of a soldier entering the war in its latter stages. His motives for enlisting appear to have been as much tied as much in profit and personal advancement as they were in patriotism, and the time that he spent in the unglamorous work of building roads or digging for fortifications was typical of the experiences of many soldiers, as were the periods of inactivity. Vinaca's unsuccessful attempts to secure a commission in a "colored" regiment are meagerly documented.

Henry Chase's rough-edged and occasionally offensive letters include some colorful descriptions of the theatre of action near New Bern, N.C., with particularly negative comments reserved for discussions of African Americans and the idea of fighting for the end of slavery.

Vinaca's letters from March and April, 1865, provide an indication of how low Confederate morale had sunk, as measured by the large number of deserters crossing the lines, and the level of desperation they must have felt. The most interesting letters concerning military action are the two in which Francis discusses his bloody experiences in the assault on Fort Mahone and the fall of Petersburg -- the last major engagements of the war in Virginia.


Frank H. Sterns papers, 1862-1863

11 items

Frank Sterns, a 21-year old clerk from Granby, Mass., enlisted as a private in the 52nd Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War, rapidly earning promotions to Corporal and Sergeant. His seven letters and four incomplete letters cover subjects such as contrabands he guarded at Baton Rouge, a Confederate spy, and a brief description of the skirmish at Indian Bend.

The Sterns letters are a collection of seven letters and four incomplete letters written by Frank Sterns that describe aspects of his Civil War service. Two letters that are particularly noteworthy are the ones in which Sterns describes contrabands he is guarding at Baton Rouge, and a letter in which Sterns discusses a Confederate soldier who deserted, enlisted in the 52nd Infantry, but then deserted back to the Confederate side after gathering information. Sterns also provides a brief account of the skirmish at Indian Bend.


George H. B. Young letters, 1864

7 items

This collection is made up of 7 letters that Private George H. B. Young wrote to his family while serving with the 26th Ohio Independent Light Artillery Battery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, between April 24, 1864, and September 16, 1864.

This collection is made up of 7 letters that Private George H. B. Young wrote to his family, while serving with the 26th Ohio Independent Light Artillery Battery in Vicksburg, Mississippi, between April 24, 1864, and September 16, 1864.

Young addressed his letters to his parents, George H. and Rebecca Young, and to his brother, Jacob B. Young. He occasionally signed his letters "Hardesty." He described his experiences at Vicksburg during the Union occupation, and recorded his impressions of African Americans and captured Confederate soldiers (April 24, 1864). Young expressed fondness for military life, which he preferred to farm work, and provided details about camp life and the size of his battery. In one letter, he suggested that his brother Jacob ride to Vicksburg to collect his pay, though he anticipated difficulties along the route, such as possible capture by Confederate forces (April 24, 1864). He drew a picture of a person carrying a letter (May 2, 1864), and wrote 3 letters on stationery from the United States Christian Commission.


George Schubert papers, 1862-1911 (majority within 1862-1863)

26 items

As a young man, George Schubert emigrated from Germany to Connecticut, and in September 1862, he enlisted in the 25th Connecticut Infantry. His letters to his wife Sophia during the Civil War are filled with news of his doings and his longing for home, including information on the siege and capture of Port Hudson and the skirmishes at Irish Bend and Bayou Lafourche.

George Schubert's letters to his beloved wife, "Sophie'chen," cover the soldier's entire service in a nine month Civil War regiment. From his enlistment in Co. I of the 25th Connecticut Infantry to his return home in the summer of 1863, Schubert wrote faithfully, sending affectionate letters filled with news of his doings and his longing for home and wife.

The defining moments of Schubert's tour of duty were surely his protracted participation in the siege and capture of Port Hudson and some minor skirmishes in the near vicinity. Several long, well-written letters provide useful information on the siege and on the skirmishes at Irish Bend and Bayou Lafourche, and while they are written from the perspective of a lowly non-commissioned officer in a nine months' regiment, the reflect Schubert's intelligence and far-sightedness, as well as his somewhat lax ambition to rise in the ranks.

All of Schubert's letters are all in English, and while not his native language, his syntax and grammar are better than that of many of native-born soldiers, and his handwriting is thoroughly "American." However, Schubert's spelling is essentially phonetic, resulting in a frozen picture of a mid-Victorian German accent. In writing, as he must have in speech, he freely substituted "t" for "d", "j" for "y", and "b" for "p." His German background may also explain his habitual salutation of "Dear Wife!" or "Dear Sophie!"