Delving into the Archives: Drinking in 1859 and the Dickinson College Board Trustees

After generally analyzing the Dickinson College class of 1860 as a whole and later finding more information on a select few individuals through reference sources and publicly available records on, documented in my previous research journal, the next logical step was to find more personal primary source documents in an archive.

My first step was to use Dickinson online sources.  I searched for 5-10 members of the class in the Dickinson College Archives and Special Collections, the Waidner-Spahr Library, and an Archives Jumpstart search engine.  Through the Archives and Special Collections, I found that  Rufus Edmonds Shapley received an honorary degree at the commencement ceremony for the class of 1900, a whole 40 years after he graduated.  I also found an obituary of David B Brunner in an issue of the Dickinsonian, the school’s newspaper, in 1902.  Using the library’s website was somewhat helpful, as I found a published diary by John Henry Grabill recounting his experiences in the Confederate Army, as well as George Baylor’s recounting of his time in the Confederate Army, and a published book by Shapley, Solid for Mulhooly: a Political Satire.  Using the Archives search engine, I found another published book, The Indians of Berk County, this time written by David B Brunner.

The usefulness of these online sources varied.  I was initially very excited by Shapley’s honorary degree, but the actual document wasn’t online.  The four published books, particularly the Confederate diaries, will likely be quite useful later into the project, but I was not looking for former students’ books yet at this stage.  After searching for documents through Dickinson’s searches, I branched out to other sources.

My search for documents through other online sources was somewhat unsuccessful.  I searched the website of the Howard County, Maryland Historical Society because a member of the class, Charles F Thomas, was from Ilchester, a town in the county.   I already know of a journal of his from the years 1859-1861.  The journal is an incredible source to learn about a young man reaching adulthood at the same time the country is splitting in two.  Unfortunately, there is nothing on the site about him, but I sent an email to the historical society to see if they had any information on him, letters, another diary, anything.

I conducted a similar search for Clarence Gearhart Jackson on two separate historical societies’ websites — Berwick, his hometown, and Colombia County, in which Berwick is located.  Colombia County has some searchable databases on their site, and there were results of death notices for Jackson, but it simply said they had them, there were no pictures or transcriptions.  Berwick’s site has an entire page dedicated to Jackson’s mansion but no documents.  I emailed Colombia County Historical Society and the Jackson Mansion Curator, Jim Stout.

At the time of writing this, Friday afternoon, I haven’t heard back from Howard County or Colombia County, but I did receive an email from Johannah Naus, the Jackson Mansion Coordinator, in response to my inquiry.  We have scheduled a time for phone call, and she suggested I visit Jackson’s visit and gravestone.  I am truly excited to to see what kinds of documents and other information she may have on Jackson, and I hope to hear from the Howard and Colombia county historical societies soon.

Shapley’s Honorary Degree, credit to the Dickinson Archive

After these online searches, it was time to head to the Dickinson archives.  First, I wanted to find proof of Shapley’s honorary degree and the physical copy of the Dickinsonian issue with Brunner’s obituary in it.  The degree was in the 1900 Dickinson College Catalog, and the obituary was in a hard cover book with years of Dickinsonians in it.  I also transcribed the obituary.  Both of these were interesting, and it proves their importance.  Shapley received an honorary degree forty years after graduating for his work as a political satirist, and it is impressive that Brunner was seen as important enough to include an obituary for him in the college paper forty two years after his time at Dickinson.

The Class of 1860, credit to the Dickinson Archive
Seating Chart for Composite Photo, credit to the Dickinson Archive

Frank, a student intern, gave me a photo of Shapley, as well as a composite of all the 1860 graduates.  The Shapley photo is available online, but I was intrigued by the composite photo.  Not only is it a physical copy of photos of all the graduates, but there is also a seating chart of sorts, so I can now match a name to a face for them all.  Furthermore, it is unclear whether this photo was required by the college or if the graduates simply wanted to commemorate the occasion and went to a photographer on their own.

Jackson’s Trustee Oath, credit to the Dickinson Archive

I knew from previous research that Clarence Gearhart Jackson was a member of the Dickinson College Board of Trustees, so I wanted to see if there was any record of this in Dickinson’s archive.  I checked inside the finding aid labeled “Trustees 1783-1879” and sure enough, I found his oath that must have been required for all trustees to take.  Although I figured that there would be some record of his joining, I was excited to find his oath because I did not know that that was even required.  It also was very odd because the oath states that the trustee, Jackson, must uphold the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions, but there is no mention of the college charter or really even anything about the college or what the position of a trustee requires.  A transcription of the oath that I wrote can be found here.

Seymour Drinking
Letter to Seymour, credit to the Dickinson Archive

The final document that I found was a letter to a member of the class 1860, H. Gordon Seymour, and a member of the class of 1861, John W Harris, for trying to force two other student to drink.  Truthfully I found this by chance.  I checked a Student Affairs/Registrar finding aid just to see if there was anything in it about the class of 1860, and it led me to the letter.  It was the last thing I was expecting to find, and when I read it I was pretty surprised.  In today’s world, many college students party and drink, but not many people think of college students drinking in the mid-18th century.  The letter calls the act a “high offense,” and their conduct seems to be reviewed by the entire faculty of the college, so it seems like this offense was taken very seriously.

While it’s great that some sources were available online, they are not all there, and the sources on the internet are not nearly as helpful as physical finding aids in the archive.  Going online gave me a basic idea of what I might be able to find, but the finding aids has exactly what the archive has and exactly how to see it.  Actually going to Dickinson’s archive was absolutely critical and much more enjoyable than I originally expected.  Before this class, I had envisioned research to be painfully boring, but I have been pleasantly surprised to find that while frustrating at times, research is not nearly as bad as I had expected.  Of course, my experience at the archive was made much easier by Jim Garencser, the college archivist, Malinda Triller Doran, the special collections librarian, and Frank.  Doran and Frank in particular helped me to find all the documents I needed in the archive, and they even helped me transcribe Jackson’s Board of Trustees oath.

Transcribed Documents’ Citations –

“David B. Brunner, ’60.”  Dickinsonian, 2 December 1902.

Jackson, Clarence G.  Dickinson College Board of Trustees Oath of Clarence G Jackson,                       27 June 1876.  1.2.10, Trustees 1783 – 1879, Archives and Special Collections,                               Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *