This post was written by Catherine Falzone, Cataloger, American Historical Manuscripts Collection.
In cataloging the many small collections that make up the American Historical Manuscripts Collection (AHMC), we catalogers first turn to our card catalog.
Many (but by no means all) items in our collections are represented by a card. Sometimes these cards give us helpful information for creating electronic records (available for search on Bobcat), but other times, we aren’t so lucky. These cards were mostly written before Internet access, so the librarian or clerk who wrote them could only rely on their own knowledge or an inefficient search through our thousands of books. I’m sure this person had other duties and couldn’t spend all day searching indexes for information, so sometimes the cards are incomplete or inaccurate.
That was the case with a card that stated there was a letter written by a “C. Griffin” to Jeremiah Wadsworth, dated December 18, 1782. The letter is signed “C. G.” I have no idea how the card writer came up with C. Griffin (Griffin is not written anywhere on the letter) and was not able to find a credible person with that name who could have written to Wadsworth.
A clue to the identity of the writer was in the style and content of the letter. The writer says, teasingly, “And now for such a scolding you never heard; you have been so kind Sir as to write the Genl several letters since my arrival here – you did mention me and that was all – oh my Dear Sir if you knew how much tender affection and sincere friendship I feel for you; you would not neglect me.”
And later, “We are going to dance away the winter in Charleston, would to God you were here. Nothing could make me so happy.” These sentences could have been written by a man, but considering the time period, they were much more likely to have been written by a woman. This woman probably had either a husband or a father who was a general, and clearly, she was on rather intimate terms with Wadsworth.
While investigating Wadsworth, I discovered that he was a good friend and business partner of General Nathanael Greene, who was married to Catharine Littlefield Greene—bingo! She was with her husband and children in Charleston that winter. I also learned that people at the time suspected that she and Wadsworth were having an affair. We don’t know if that was true or not, but they were obviously very friendly. After her husband’s death in 1786, Catharine Greene (1755-1814) enlisted Jeremiah Wadsworth to help her petition the government for reimbursement of money General Greene lost while trying to pay merchants for supplies during the war. George Washington approved the petition.
Catharine Greene went on to become a patron of Eli Whitney, allowing him to stay at her plantation, Mulberry Grove, and work on his inventions. Some sources say that a crucial component of the cotton gin was her idea, but, like her alleged affair, there is no proof in the historical record. Perhaps a plan for a cotton gin will appear someday marked “C. G.”
Cataloging of the American Historical Manuscript Collection (AHMC), a group of 12,000 small and unique manuscript collections, is made possible by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, and the Pine Tree Foundation of New York.