Friday, July 5, 2013

Declaration of Independency

By 1776, Dartmouth College had been operating in Hanover for nearly six years, its student body had expanded from the 4 original students who came north with Eleazar Wheelock to about 90, and significant growth also had occurred in the population of the town. Clearly, Wheelock's enterprise was off to a very successful start.

However, with unrest growing between the colonies and Great Britain, the College feared breaks with its patrons and the resulting financial hardships. New Hampshire's Royal Governor John Wentworth, who had been instrumental in the College acquiring its charter in 1769 and on many occasions in disagreement with the Crown on its handling of the colonies, nevertheless had been forced to leave New Hampshire, perceived as a loyalist.

On June 16, 1776, John Phillips, prosperous and influential businessman, Dartmouth Trustee and, several years later, founder of Phillips Exeter Academy, wrote to President Wheelock from Exeter. He and other trustees in that area had determined it was unsafe to travel to Hanover for Commencement. He also mentioned that he had seen the Declaration of Independence:
"I have just now seen the Declaration of Independency, and perhaps it will not be long before we shall experience whether we are able to support it - or whether the measures taken by Government on both sides will not be ruinous - The Lord in mercy prevent it, and make us mutual blessings to and [not] destroyers of one another."
It is not completely evident how an Exeter merchant, albeit an important one, would have had access to the document. On the other hand, some scholars contend that there were dozens of declarations and legislative acts relating to separating from Great Britain issued by individual colonies prior to the document drafted and adopted by the Continental Congress in July. Could Phillips be referring to a New Hampshire effort? We would like to believe that he is speaking of THE declaration!

Ask for D.C. Hist Mss 776366.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Homeless Treasures

There are some universal truths about working in the Archives, one being that at some point you will receive an item that is just too lovely not to keep, but which has no direct connection to the College, so you have no idea how to handle it. Rather than make a hasty decision, you place it on a shelf in your office until you retire, passing your indecision along to your successor, who pays the favor forward by giving it to her assistant, who, rapidly approaching retirement age herself, is determined to do better by her replacement. Case in point, the Legion d'Honneur, Chevalier, which we believe was presented to Margaret DeWitt Benedict in 1949 for her service to France during the two world wars.

Margaret DeWitt Benedict was the daughter of LeGrand Benedict of the New York Stock Exchange, and granddaughter of James Benedict, President of the Chicago and Atlantic Railroad. Like many women of her station in life, she engaged in philanthropic activities. During World War I, Miss Benedict went to France with the Anne Morgan Volunteer Group, and remained there to found and direct the American Hospital of France. She was also founder of the Junior Guild of the American Cathedral of Paris.

The Legion d'Honneur, France's highest decoration, was established by Napoleon in 1802. Anne Morgan, mentioned above and the daughter of J. P. Morgan, was the first American woman to be appointed a commander of the French Legion of Honor. Her organization, The American Friends of France, organized health services and provided basic necessities to non-combatants during WWI. Morgan returned to France in 1939 to assist evacuees.

Prior to all her work in France, Anne Morgan was co-founder, with Eleanor Robson Belmont, of the Society for the Prevention of Useless Gift Giving (SPUG), an attempt to reduce the indiscriminant purchasing of Christmas presents, especially by people who could ill-afford them, and lead people to embrace the true spirit of the season. As the organization evolved (it existed until about 1940), its philosophy extended to the recipients of gifts as well, encouraging people to get rid of items they received that were neither useful nor beautiful.

So, after much research on our Legion d'Honneur, I now have a handful of names: LeGrand and James and Margaret DeWitt Benedict, Anne Morgan, Eleanor Robson… none of whom I can connect to Dartmouth… and advice from SPUG about not throwing away anything beautiful. Perhaps it’s best to hope that the next Archives Supervisor likes this medal as much as I do.