Friday, January 10, 2020

Exhibit: "The Ties that Bind: Slavery and Dartmouth"

Eleazar Wheelock came to Hanover and carved a place for Dartmouth College out the wilderness, or so the story goes. Often overlooked in that account is the significance of slavery in the founding and the first century of the college. In an exhibit at the Dartmouth Library's Rauner Special Collections Library in Webster Hall, the students in Professor Deborah King’s Sociology 79.08 class, "Lest We Forget: History, Collective Memory and Slavery at Dartmouth," explore the role played by the enslaved people of its first two presidents, and the College and Hanover as a site for the intellectual, moral and political debates surrounding slavery.

The exhibit is on display in the Class of 1965 Galleries at Rauner Library in Webster Hall from November 15th, 2019, through March 13th, 2020. To learn more, visit the exhibit website.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Hitting below the Belt

Front of letter to selectmenWe were digging though the Hanover Town Records for documents pertaining to the poor farm for a class next week on poverty in the 19th century. There was not a Federal safety net, and not much on the state level, so individual towns and counties ran poor farms for the indigent. We have file after file of sobering affidavits and letters documenting the plight of the poor.

Back of letter to selectmen
One jumped out at us because of the rhetoric it employed. In 1860, the aged Mrs. Hastings sought relief due to some unfortunate event in her life: her son only alluded to it in a letter by saying "I need not ever name the cause of her unhappyness." She desperately wanted to stay out off of the poor farm, but no one in her family had the means to keep her and the Selectmen of Hanover seemed to have little pity for her case. There are several letters back and forth between the town and her son and her grandson. The family offered to take her into the grandson's home if only the town would pay thirty cents a day for her board. The town repeatedly denied the request, and her grandson finally resorted to saying that sending her to the poor farm would be tantamount to one of the worst horrors of slavery: he said his reason for writing was "to relieve the feelings of an aged woman lame and infirm for what to her is like separating the families of the black slave."

Damn, that is harsh, especially directed at northern government officials just before the start of the Civil War, but it points to the treatment of the poor in the 19th century when poverty warranted the removal of individuals to the poor farm, and often the separation of children from their parents.

To see the letters, and many other similar stories, ask for DH-1, Boxes 10799 and 10801.