American Broadsides & Ephemera, Series I, 1760-1900
Boston College Libraries provide access to the full-color fully searchable digital American Broadsides & Ephemera, Series I, 1760-1900, a resource based on the collections of broadsides and ephemera held by the American Antiquarian Society (AAS). This database offers fully searchable facsimile images of approximately 15,000 broadsides printed between 1820 and 1900 and 15,000 pieces of ephemera printed between 1760 and 1900.
The subjects covered by the broadsides and ephemera are extremely diverse and are categorized under the following headings: Economics and Trade; Government; Health; History; Labor; Languages; Law and Crime; Literature; Military; Peoples; Philosophy; Politics; Religion; Science; Society, Manners and Customs; Theology. There are contemporary accounts of the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the Civil War, facsimiles of school merit rewards, advertisements and programs for theater and music events and other popular entertainments, poems, songs, accounts of natural disasters, official government proclamations, clipper ship trading cards, notices of forthcoming slave auctions, stock certificates, trade cards, tax bills, publishers’ prospectuses, dying confessions of convicted criminals, menus, reports of town meetings and a host of other hard to locate items of potentially great interest to the student of American social and cultural history.
The range of material is fascinating. There are over two thousand civil war envelopes. Used for actual mailing, their primary purpose was patriotic propaganda. “The decorations on these envelopes are done in every way imaginable: hand-colored, printed, engraved, embossed, etc. Sometimes the illustration was small and in one corner on the front of the envelope, and other times covered both sides and included a poem or stanzas from a song.” (Civil War Envelopes at the American Antiquarian Society). An interesting example is entitled “Incidents of the War, Zouave Pluck.” This depicts a Colonel named Ellsworth scolding a group of Zouave soldiers for being away from camp for too long. As explanation one of the Zouaves declares: “Wait Colonel until you’ve seen our apology.” A second Zouave then “pulls a Secession Flag from his bosom”.
Another Civil War envelope represents scenes from the 1862 Battle of Mill Spring, Kentucky, which resulted in a Union victory. It is a brightly illustrated picture depicting a single soldier watching the opposing lines, a fierce battle raging around him. He is surrounded by fallen soldiers.
There are several announcements of forthcoming slave auctions. One, particularly chilling, has the title: “Estate sale. Ninety-three rice field negroes. By Louis D. DeSaussure. On Thursday, 11th January, 1855, at 11 o'clock, A.M., will be sold at auction, in Charleston, at the north end of the Exchange, by order of the executor of the late Seaman Deas, Esq., and Mrs. Broun, a gang of ninety-three negroes, accustomed to the culture of rice and provisions on North Santee.” The conditions are precise: “One-third Cash: balance by Bond payable in three equal successive annual instalments, with legal interest payable annually from day of sale, to be secured by a Mortgage of the Property, and approved personal security. Purchasers to pay for Papers.” The names and age of all the slaves are listed together with brief details of illnesses, infirmities, qualifications. For example, Tom, age 44, has a “Defect in eye”; Martha, age 49, is a “Good nurse, very trusty, not strong”; Billy, age 19, has a “Disease of the hip”.
Among the ephemera are numerous trade cards. One, dating from about 1870, is from A. W. Smith, Dealer in Trimmings and Furnishing Goods, North Adams, Mass., for a Cooley's Globe Corset. The blurb on the card reads:
Miss Jones’ advice Miss Smith has taken.
And finds her friend was not mistaken.
In COOLEY’s GLOBE CORSET at the ball
She was the most admired of all
And Charlie told his love -- so she
Lived ever after happily.
Another trade card, from 1884, is entitled “Noon Hour on the Plantation”. It depicts five African American men, one playing a banjo, another dancing in the background, with the other three observing and listening intently. It’s from the Frick Company, Waynesboro, Pa. and it is advertising the company’s products that it will present at the World's Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exposition, New Orleans the following year. The other side of the trade card mentions Frick’s products: “Traction, plowing, farm, portable and stationary engines. Vibrating threshers and ‘Waynesboro Eclipse’ grain separators, saw mills and cotton gins.”
American Broadsides and Ephemera contains numerous songs and ballads. “The Bonnie Blue Flag”, composed in 1861 just after the Battle of Manassas by Henry Macarthy, an Irish immigrant, was a marching song set to the music of “The Irish Jaunting Car". It was sung throughout the Confederacy and was second only to “Dixie” in popularity. The printed song in this database is particularly interesting for the 1863 letter written in the margins by “a rebel soldier to a young lady in New Orleans.”
There is an interesting three page prospectus dated 1830 for the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charlestown, Mass. “This beautiful and extensive establishment, about two and a half miles from Boston . . . is now open for the admission of young ladies, from the age of six to that of fourteen. . . .” There is a description of the course of studies, regulations, "terms," and "extra charges." It was stressed that "the religious opinions of the children are not interfered with.” The school was conducted by the Ursuline sisters who moved into this new convent in Charlestown in April 1828. The number of pupils increased so rapidly that two new wings were added in 1829. However, the convent and school were not popular with the local populace, largely due to the growth of evangelical Protestantism and a complementary antipathy to working-class, Catholic, Irish immigrants and the convent was burned down in August 1834.
A valuable feature of American Broadsides and Ephemera is that it can be cross-searched with other collections in Readex’s Archive of Americana. The Archive is composed of eight databases: Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans, 1639-1800; Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker, 1801-1819; America's Historical Newspapers; American State Papers, 1789-1838; U.S. Congressional Serial Set, 1817-1980; House and Senate Journals, Series I, 1789-1817; Senate Executive Journals, Series I, 1789-1866, as well as American Broadsides and Ephemera. Two interesting articles concerning subject matter of this database are accessible on the publisher Readex’s website: 1) “Jackasses, Dogs and Dead Chickens: Vignettes of the Civil War Revealed in Ephemera”; 2) “Poignant Songs and Poems Took the Civil War to the Home Front.”
Collection Development Librarian