This post is by Matthew Murphy, Head of Cataloging and Metadata.
Virtually every document in the American Historical Manuscript Collection holds a surprise. Take for example the seemingly nondescript receipt below, given to George H. Yewell to document his payment of $65.00 for cabin passage aboard the ship James Foster Jr. in 1856:
Not terribly exciting, but flip the sheet over to reveal the lovely nautical scene Yewell painted on the reverse:
The James Foster Jr. might have been a fine vessel when George Yewell was its passenger, but by 1869 its reputation had slipped dramatically. “Year after year,” wrote a reporter for Harper’s Weekly on March 27, “stories come to us of the terrible calamities which fall upon overcrowded emigrant ships. In the case of the ship James Foster Jun., the sufferings of the passengers were threefold. The terrors of the sea (rendering their passage an unusually long one) the calamity of ship-fever, and the brutality of the officers under whose protection they were placed, all combined to aggravate their miseries.”
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.