Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Book Preservation and the Jefferson Papers

Last week was book preservation week, and while it is a necessary task, covering dust jackets in plastic and gluing loose pages back into books just did not seem that blog-worthy. Although, there is something strangely satisfying about dust jacket covering :-). Thankfully, this week has brought tasks that are a little more exciting. I am currently working on preparing a finding aid for the Thomas Jefferson Foundation's digital archives (a finding aid is basically a detailed outline of the content in a collection). I have come across pictures of several events at Monticello that many high-profile people have attended. Just to name a few, Monticello has received visits from Bill Clinton and Al Gore (before their inauguration), Mikhail Gorbachev, several Supreme Court Justices, Emperor Akihito of Japan, and Margaret Thatcher.

Today, the interns got together for the first time since orientation to hear some of the editorial staff from The Papers of Thomas Jefferson: The Retirement Series tell us about their work. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson is a project that has been undertaken by Princeton University with the goal of publishing a comprehensive, annotated collection of Jefferson's writings. The project began in the 1940s and because of the immense amount of material to sort through, they have only published about 36 volumes, and they have not even reached Jefferson's presidential years. Because the project was going so slowly, the guys at Princeton decided to clone the project and have a separate group of people working on the other half of the material. That is how an editorial team of about 10 people ended up working on the third floor of Jefferson Library to publish the papers of Thomas Jefferson written after his retirement. The group has been able to publish about one volume a year. They are up to volume 7, and they estimate that there will be about 23 volumes by the time they have completed their work. This talk was interesting to me for a couple reasons. First of all, I was unaware that this important project has been going on two floors above me this whole time. If you remember my last blog post, you know that the Jefferson Papers have been an extremely helpful resource when answering reference questions - especially because of the annotations. It was also interesting to hear about the work that goes into each volume. It involves scavenging for missing manuscripts, multiple proof-readings of transcriptions, and a lot of attention to detail.

Keep your eyes peeled for an encyclopedia article expansion I am currently working on. It involves the mysterious world of secret societies.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Adventures in Research

So, for the past couple of days I was hard at work, tracking down the ownership history of a plot of land, in response to a patron's question. (*warning* if you do not wish to read a long, drawn out account of my pursuit of the answer, just skip down to the bottom and read the results of my search). The patron had read somewhere that TJ gave Thomas Mann Randolph and Martha Jefferson Randolph a tract of land from his Poplar Forest estate when they got married.  Then, Jefferson left the Poplar Forest estate to his grandson, Francis Eppes, in his will. It was not entirely clear what happened to the thousand acre plot of land, given as a dowry to the Randolphs, in the meantime. First, I found a promising book written about Poplar Forest, but the only information I could glean from that source was that Jefferson did indeed convey 1,000 acres (which somehow turned into 1,441 acres later on) to his daughter and son-in-law in 1790. There was no mention of what happened to the plot after that, but I did confirm that it was not part of Francis Eppes' inheritance. Eppes actually received considerably less acreage than Jefferson originally owned at Poplar Forest, because a lot of it was left for Jefferson's other grandson, TJ Randolph. Some for his personal use, and some to sell off to help cover TJ's outstanding debts. Next, I consulted a biography on Thomas Mann Randolph (there are too many Thomas's in this family). Then, I stumbled upon a brief paragraph about the property and I thought I had hit the jackpot. The author reported that TM Randolph had sold the property to John Watson in 1810, citing a deed draft that is part of a collection of Jefferson papers at UVA. So, naturally I had to see this deed for myself. But while searching the Bedford County records on microfilm, I discovered a deed conveying 840 acres of the Randolph land at Poplar Forest to Anne Moseley in 1810. You might be wondering, how could the Randolphs sell all of their Poplar Forest land to John Watson and also sell 840 acres of the same land to Anne Moseley? Well, the answer is, they couldn't and they didn't. (this is the part where I bang my head against a wall). My supervisor pointed me in the direction of the Princeton published Thomas Jefferson Papers. It turns out that the whole story was laid out pretty concisely in a handy little footnote. The deed to John Watson was drawn up, but the sale was never completed (explaining the absence of documentation in the county records). 840 acres of the land was sold to Anne Moseley in 1810, and the Randolph's conveyed the leftover land to their oldest daughter, Ann Cary, as a dowry upon her marriage to Charles Lewis Bankhead.

So, that is the saga of the Poplar Forest land. I regret that it took me nearly 8 hours to find this information, when it was so readily available, but I guess that's an inducement to hone more efficient research techniques.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Spurious Quotes

Today I got to write my first article for the online Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia! It isn't a very long entry, but it is a contribution to a very interesting section of the encyclopedia which sets the record straight on many quotes that are believed to have originated from Thomas Jefferson. In this case, I was not able to determine the real origin of the quote, but I feel confident in the conclusion that it is not a Jefferson quote. Click here to see the article.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Jefferson and Pirates, ARGHHH!!!

Well, I have concluded my second week at the library. This week I learned a little about collection development. Depending on how you look at it, collection development at the Jefferson Library is either very simple or more difficult than at more diverse libraries. On the one hand, since the library has such a narrow focus, we accept anything and everything that has to do with Thomas Jefferson, his legacy, or his time. I got to look through several publications to find newly published materials that we might want to add to our collection, and having such specific guidelines makes that job pretty simple. On the other hand, we have to pass up a lot of great stuff because it does not fit the parameters of our institution. That is the difficult part.

I also embarked on some research for one of the encyclopedia articles I will be writing this summer. The subject is the Barbary Wars- the first of which took place during Jefferson's presidency. But Jefferson had had several run-ins with the Barbary states before he assumed the presidency. The United States' dealings with the Barbary states (Algiers, Morocco, Tunis, and Tripoli) had been an issue almost from American independence. Without the protection of a strong navy, American shipping was fair game for the corsairs of Barbary (corsairs were the equivalent of privateers at the time, meaning they were acting under the direction of the government). Jefferson had the responsibility of appointing a consular to Algiers while he was secretary of state. Although negotiations with Algiers had occurred before, tensions between the US and Algiers were becoming increasingly tense, so an experienced diplomat was a necessity. This predicament leads us to the curse of the Algerian consular appointment...dum dum DUM. Jefferson's first choice was John Paul Jones, an experienced naval fighter whom Jefferson believed could exert some pressure on the Algerian ruler to back off on his demands. Sadly, before Jefferson's appointment letter arrived, Jones had died. It was a sad loss, but not the end of the world. There were other people who could fill the position. Jefferson's second choice was Thomas Barclay, who had previously negotiated a treaty with Morocco which did not include having to pay tribute. So Jones' name was crossed out of the letter and Barclay's was filled in. Barclay received the commission and began making preparations in Lisbon, only to die a couple of weeks later. Third choice was David Humphreys, the American minister to Portugal (If I were him, I would be afraid to receive that letter). Humphreys actually made it to Algiers in 1793, the year that Jefferson resigned as Secretary of State. It took several years, hundreds of thousands of dollars and more diplomatic agents to bring about peace between Algiers and the U.S.. And even then, it would not be a lasting peace. War with the Barbary States would flare up again during Jefferson's presidency.
Here's a picture of a battle with Algiers in 1816 (which I borrowed from wikipedia), because it's always great to have a visual.

Of course, I still have a lot of research left to do to get a complete picture of this aspect in American history. But so far, my exploration has turned up very interesting facts.