Dickinson College, Spring 2023

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Learning and Living in Black Carlisle

If I had one goal for my work at the Cumberland Historical Society, it was to prioritize and increase my effectiveness. The biggest roadblock I had run into in my past research efforts had been my affinity for overextending myself. This time, I wanted to focus my attention and efforts on one topic and truly explore that as far as I could. This led me to answer the question of education. In my Ancestry research, I had noticed a trend among the Spradleys.

In the 1870 Census, Henry (Williams) Spradley was identified as being able to read, but unable to write. There’s some discrepancy, then, in the 1880 Census, as it identifies him as unable to read and write. In both the 1870 and 1880 Census, Mina is identified as unable to read or write. Compare this to their children; William and Elizabeth are identified as recently attending school in 1870, and Shirley is identified as being able to read and write in the 1900 census. This difference over generation made me think about the increased access to education post-enslavement, and to wonder how that took place in Carlisle specifically. With almost no knowledge of the Carlisle school system, I decided to dive head-first.


1870 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.


1880 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.


1900 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.

Thanks to the work of Professor Pinsker, I was provided with a list of relevant primary and secondary sources about Black communities in Carlisle in the late 19th century. My first step, therefore, was to read these sources in order to find more direction when I arrived at the Historical Society. In hindsight, this work would have been better done on campus, during the hours that the Historical Society was closed, but I didn’t have that foresight. Instead, I read over these contextual documents in the Historical Society library, which left me with less time to search in the library itself. That’s a mistake I’ll certainly learn from.

I found a lot of important information in the contextual readings. The 1896 article; “Negroes Under Northern Conditions” by Guy Carleton Lee, was greatly useful in creating a general understanding of the education system in Carlisle. In this source, I read an introduction to the separate school system created for Black children.

book quote

Guy Carleton Lee, “Negroes Under Northern Conditions,” Gunton’s Magazine 10 (January 1896): p. 60)

The author, Guy Carleton Lee, cited records of the Carlisle School Board. I was quick to jot that down and figured the Historical Society would have some resources from the School Board.

This being my third research attempt on the Spradleys, I knew better than to expect to find an exact record of Shirley, William, Elizabeth, or Emma. But I knew I could at least paint a picture of their time, enough to suppose the conditions they encountered.

Specifically, after conversations with Professor Pinsker, I wanted to know when the separate schools were created, and if there had ever been integrated classes pre-official integration. This topic veered off from the Spradleys and towards the story of the Youngs; the story of fellow janitor Robert Young’s fight to have his son (Robert G. Young) admitted to Dickinson in the 1880s. Newspaper articles reporting on the case had interestingly identified Robert G.’s classes as being integrated, which directly conflicted with the widely understood timeline of integration. If I could answer this question as well, I’d be pleased.

I used the Historical Society’s Past Perfect search database next. The database was slow, especially compared to Ancestry and the Dickinson Archives, so this was another opportunity to be careful budgeting my time. I searched “colored school”, “school board”, “Carlisle schools”, and “Black school.” From those searches, I found a good amount of sources.

The first thing that caught my eye was “Carlisle School System Records, 1836-1935.” This was the perfect, primary source material I was looking for to describe the schools and maybe even list the students. Next, I found the “Development of Colored Education,” another source developed by the Carlisle School System. I found a large number of secondary sources that recounted the Carlisle schools, including Thomas Vale’s “A Century of Progress” (c. 1934) and “Mary E. Brown vs Carlisle School Board” by David Strausbaugh (c.1985.)

Satisfied with my results, I requested the items and went through them one by one. By reading all the sources, I was able to construct a rough timeline of the school system.


Timeline, created by James van Kuilenburg.

I learned that the “colored school” was founded in 1836, along with the rest of the school system. As the need grew, additional schools were opened in 1864, 1878, 1882, and 1892.  [1]

I had hoped to find some building plans or photos included in the school board’s notes, but unfortunately, I had no such luck. I used PastPerfect again, using similar search terms, but the photos that turned up were few. I spent a lot of time trying to download the images to my computer, so that I could retain their quality, but too late into the process, realized that was a poor use of my time.

photo 2

Courtesy of the Cumberland Historical Society.

Generally, I learned a lot about the culture around these “colored schools” because of their marked absence from many documents. These schools, in every way, were afterthoughts in budgeting and public memory keeping.

The most useful source I found was “Development of Colored Education,” an abridged version of the school board’s notes. This collection of notes specified the exact dates schools were founded, but rarely their full addresses or building details. The most exciting part of this source was absolutely the list of student graduates (from the regular schools and the “colored” ones.) Once I realized I could find the Spradley children among these names, I became very excited.

graduate text

“Carlisle School System Records, 1836-1935,” Cumberland County Historical Society.

While I understood the “colored schools” were much smaller than the mainstream ones, I was still surprised at how few graduates were produced. Guy Carleton Lee attributed this to a “lack of parental co-operation”, or in other words, Black parents were too busy at work to help their children in school. [2] I can’t say whether or not this was true, but unfortunately, it seems the Spradley children may have been part of this trend of failing to graduate.

Doing some simple math, I found roughly the years I could expect the Spradley children to be enrolled. As of the 1870 census, Elizabeth and William had been recently enrolled, and Shirley was literate by age 22 in 1900. This was a window of 30 years, but even so, there were no traces of any of them.

graduate text

“Carlisle School System Records, 1836-1935,” Cumberland County Historical Society.

I felt defeated by this discovery. I had been so excited by the idea of finding them recorded in the school system notes that I didn’t know what to do once I had failed. Then, I realized, I had yet to answer the question of Robert Young’s son, Robert G., and the mysteriously integrated schools.

I went to the Freedom’s Legacy website, and refreshed myself with the story of Robert G. According to an October 1886 article, Robert G. had “graduated from the High School… among a large class of white and colored students.” [3] Armed with the student rosters, I went searching for Robert’s name.

I found it under June 1886. There his name was listed; “Robert Young” under the header “Colored High School.” Above, were listed the white male graduates. This evidence, paired with the school board notes cited above, I believe, puts the mystery to rest. Schools were in fact still segregated as of 1886, and newspapers were using the term “class” to describe the entire graduating class, as opposed to the specific school.

graduate text

“Carlisle School System Records, 1836-1935″, Cumberland Historical Society.

My time in the Historical Society was running out, so after searching for photos one last time, I called it quits. I hadn’t accomplished everything I had set out to do, but I found some answers to other questions along the way. Furthermore, I discovered a more complicated story of Black education than I had previously known. Maybe we’ll never find answers to the questions about where and when the Spradley children attended school, but we do now know that education was highly controversial, and even when schools were available, they didn’t always support their students as best as they could.

Lessons Learned and Loose Ends

I wish I had had more developed knowledge of Carlisle geography, as that could have helped me greatly in guessing where the schools may have been and conducting more research.

Greater access to School Board information could have been useful as well, especially as there were references to incident reports in the “Negroes in Northern Conditions” piece that could not be found in the notes available at the Historical Society.

There is more work to be done on the Spradley family, but an interesting lead I noticed was Henry being identified as disabled in 1870 and 1880, and Mina in the 1870 census. The causes of these identifications may be available through newspapers if they had been the result of accidents or something similar. Furthermore, I’d be interested to see how this ties into the greater white impression of disabilities in Black populations, pre, and post-slavery.

I learned a good deal about archival research, especially when it came to using secondary sources that summarized events. I knew they were good jumping points, but that there was always a bias or motive driving the creation of the work.

[1] Lee, Guy Carleton. “Negroes Under Northern Conditions.” Gunton’s Magazine 10 (January 1896): 61–62.

[2] Lee, Guy Carleton. “Negroes Under Northern Conditions.” Gunton’s Magazine 10 (January 1896): 62.

[3] “Kept Out of College,” Philadelphia Times, October 20 1886, http://housedivided.dickinson.edu/sites/slavery/files/2018/10/Screen-Shot-2018-10-10-at-1.33.04-PM.png)

Memories of the Spradleys

Following my research using Ancestry, I had a lot of questions about the Spradleys to answer. I had started a big puzzle and using Ancestry, I was able to create what I would consider a border of the picture. I knew the names, dates, and general family structure of the Spradleys. What I was missing was the middle of the puzzle – real, concrete details about the Spradleys’ lives. Now, it was time to fill in that middle by focusing on their connection to Dickinson College and the campus. 

After an in-class discussion with my professor and classmate, I decided to pursue a few specific topics. First, I wanted to trace where exactly on campus the Spradley family had lived. Did they live alongside students? Secondly, I was interested in a newspaper article I had come across in my Ancestry research. It was a parody letter written from the perspective of Henry (Williams) Spradley by Dickinson students. 

Just like the rest of the nation, these Dickinson students had used exaggerated misspellings, a minstrel type of

cartoon letter

“Spradley cartoon letter.” Microcosm (1893-94).

tone, and cartoonish features to parody Black people, and in this specific case, Spradley. Was this a trend to make fun of Spradley, or a one-off?

In all, I had a lot on my plate, and I was hoping the College Archives would have some of the many, many, many answers I was looking for. 

Before finding any of these answers, I decided to create a timeline of sorts for my own note keeping purposes. By creating this, I was able to list some of the important events in the lives of the Spradley family in an easy to read, accessible way. These events came from my previous Ancestry research as well as the new newspaper articles my professor had provided me. The highlighted text signifies further work needs to be done. In this case, researchers in the future need to compare more historical records of Mina Spradley’s death in order to determine her death location.


 Timeline, created by James van Kuilenburg.

I begun with the Archives’ online search engines of the Microcosm and the Dickinsonian. Going year by year, I began with a group of words: Spradley, Sprad (a nickname for Henry), Shirley, South College (the building where his family lived), janitor (in order to get accounts of janitor life not specific to Henry), negro, Black, and Shirley. Through using these words I found a plethora of articles, poems, letters, and tidbits of information. 

I learned more information about South College or should I say South Colleges. I had wrongly assumed there was only one South College in the school’s history, but I learned instead, there were three separate buildings. I consulted the archivist on staff and learned about the Archives’ Encyclopedia. On the website, you can access overviews of buildings and staff members, so I was able to learn more about the South Colleges quickly. 


South College, c.1880. Photograph Collection, Record Group 2000.1, South College II, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

The South College I was interested in was built in 1838 and lasted until 1927, when it was razed in order to build a new gym. I learned this information through the encyclopedia entry as well as the South College drop file in the Archives. Inside this South College was a lab, library, and museum, as well as the opportunity for students to rent rooms.


“Carlisle,” Microcosm (1881-82): 11.


“Boarding Houses,” Student Handbook (1893-94):

Unfortunately, I learned I wouldn’t be able to see a campus-wide map of the time because maps were hardly necessary for such a small campus.

Once I realized that South College was both residential and classroom-oriented, I began to understand why Henry (Williams) Spradley had been jokingly referred to as the “Adjunct Professor of Experimental Physics.” What would have simply seemed like an odd joke now was contextualized because of my greater understanding of South College.

faculty microcosm

“Faculty,” Microcosm (1881-82): 5.

There was a trend among student publications to ironically assign janitors academic titles, and I found another similar instance where Henry (Williams) Spradley was identified as “Dr. Spradley,” tasked with showing students their measly accommodations in South College. 


“Class of ’95,” Microcosm (1892-93): 34.

Later, he was referred to as a professor of “Bellology” and “higher Janitorology.” 


“Old Dickinson” Microcosm (1895-96): 16.

In this same excerpt, a story was told from the perspective of Spradley about carrying his children to freedom during the Civil War. Again, a minstrel accent was adopted by the student authors, effectively patronizing Spradley. That aside, the story was greatly useful to my understanding of the Spradley family history. Through my genealogy work, I understood this story was most likely describing William and Elizabeth Spradley’s move to Pennsylvania, as they were both born in Virginia before appearing in the 1870 census. 

Through these examples, I began to understand the relationship between the students and the Spradley family. Sometimes mocking in nature, but as other examples suggested, revering and respecting. 

Henry (Williams) Spradley was described as an almost paternal figure when students lamented they “didn’t have Spradley to tuck us in.”


“’85,” Microcosm (1881-82): 192.

Furthermore, his position as a bellringer was subject of many a poem and song. 


“A Spradley Antic,” Microcosm (1893-94): 87.


“Serenade to Dickinson,” Microcosm (1891-92): 140.

In an interesting story, “Spradley” was jokingly(?) blamed for a water poisoning. I was unable to find more evidence in the Dickinonsian or Microcosm of this, but if I had more time, I’d like to learn the entire story.

lead poison

“Terrible Lead Poison Panic” Microcosm (1881-82): 96.

I feel as though Henry (Williams) Spradley was belittled in a specific way; students transformed him into a one-dimensional, dumb, “Uncle Tom” stereotype. This stereotype relied on depicting Spradley as stupid and non-authoritative, while also emphasizing his love of doing work (bell-ringing) for white students on campus.

While researching, I found myself frustrated because I know by using student-created resources, I will always struggle to find humanity in any depictions. This process led me to think carefully about how I might accidently replicate the same racism that existed in his time, and how I could afford him more respect and create a more complicated portrayal. 

Moving on from Henry (Williams) Spradley, I found a variety of mentions of Shirley Spradley as well. Perhaps the most interesting and complicated portrayal was in a short science fiction piece. 

science fiction

“Class of ’96,” Microcosm (1893-94): 95.

In the story, a character named “Shirley Spradlerio” is identified as a consul in the distant future of 2000 A.D. While a lot of analysis could be devoted to this piece alone, from what I could glean, the work was purposefully absurdist. The words and expressions used were other-worldly, bizarre, and confusing. The use of the Shirley Spradley’s name, I believe, then, was a testament to how Dickinson student couldn’t realistically believe a Black man like Shirley to be in any position of power in the future. I’d be very curious to hear what other opinions people may have about this, especially those with more experience in science fiction of the era.

In my searches of Shirley’s name, I found a recurring name; George Edward. He was also satirized in the science fiction piece, as well as mentioned in a variety of short reports on campus events. From what I read, I was led to believe he may have been another member of the janitorial staff, or in a similarly low ranking position. I couldn’t find any more information about him in online House Divided or Archives searches. 

george edwards

“Calendar” Microcosm (1895-96): 265.

Another unsolved mystery I ran into – a man named Shirley referred to on a first-name basis. In one instance, a reference was made to “Shirley’s dog,” and in another, to a man who passed out “college bills.” I think a strong case could be made that this was referring to Shirley Spradley, as these references would be sensical for Shirley as a janitor employed at Dickinson. But I wouldn’t say this with 100% certainty. 

shirleys dog

“Class of 96” Microcosm (1894-95): 40.


“Calendar” Microcosm (1897-98): 257.

Lessons Learned

Through my research at the Archives, I was able to gain a larger picture of the Spradleys’ lives. I was overwhelmed by how much information I found, and summarizing/creating a narrative was a point of difficulty for me. I found a lot of use in the student publications, but I think my narrative could have been stronger if I had found more sources (faculty minutes, catalogues, etc.) From this experience, I have a greater appreciation for time management and balancing research priorities and interests. There were a lot of threads I would have liked to follow further, but couldn’t because of how I structured my time. These lessons will be useful for me as I continue my research at the Historical Society, and generally as a historian. 

The Name Game: Demystifying the Records of the Spradley Family

I have never found census records to be particularly emotional. Names, numbers, and dates are supposed to objective things. When I began this assignment, I expected it to be interesting, but hardly emotional. By the end of my research, I had been proven wrong. Henry Spradley, my subject of study, has become more than just a name and a set of numbers. Through census records, marriage and death certificates, and the quickly growing family tree I have constructed, I discovered respect and admiration for Spradley’s family, a family I will never meet. 

Photograph of Henry Spradley.

Henry Spradley, House Divided.

As with many subjects of historical research, I am far from being the first person to research his family, so I began where others had left off. Cursory searches of Dickinson’s House Divided and the Dickinson and Slavery pages were fruitful. I found the work of Colin Macfarlane, a 2011 student of Professor Pinsker’s who had researched Henry Spradley’s life. I watched his engaging video and read over the many blog entries he created. Next, I skimmed the encyclopedic entries about him on the House Divided page, gaining the valuable basic information about Spradley that I could use later (birth date, death date, birthplace, and so forth.) My goal from this secondary source research was to gather key terms or facts in order to use the Ancestry database as effectively as possible. So, armed with a master document of all the information I found, and most importantly, the primary sources these articles cited, I was ready for my next step.

One of the most impactful skills I learned using Ancestry was the art of narrowing my search requests down. Searching “Henry Spradley” without any supplementary information brought up thousands of results, so I became adept at plugging in the necessary supplements. From my secondary research, I knew he was formerly enslaved and born in Winchester City, Virginia, so at the suggestion of Professor Pinsker, I turned to the 1850 U.S Federal Census Slave Schedules. I tried every possible description of Spradley I could think of, typed in his birth year, and found… nothing. Without knowing where in Winchester City he had lived or what his “owner,” for lack of a better term, was named, the slave schedules were simply too vast for my research. The earliest documents were the Civil War-era registration records of Spradley entering the Union army on July 1st, 1863.

Registration document.

U.S Civil War Draft, Registrations Records, 1863-1865, Ancestry.

I may have had a rocky start, but this find propelled me forward. I immediately took notice of Spradley’s marital status – married. I knew Spradley had freed himself from slavery and escaped to Pennsylvania, thanks to the secondary sources, so that meant this “marriage” couldn’t have been legal. I tucked this thought away for research at a later date. 

Another point to mention is Henry’s decision to use the last name Williams instead. I attribute this difference to the same reason as found by previous researchers of Spradley, like Colin McFarlane. It appears to be a choice Henry made to identify with Williams during the war as he had just freed himself from slavery. After the war, he used Spradley. The change in middle names later in his life in student publications like The Dickinsonian and the Microcosm, I believe, can be explained by typos or misunderstandings.

Next, I found the Pennsylvania Civil War Muster Rolls, where more information about his unit could be found. I was on a search for his family, however, so I moved on from his time served. His household appeared in the 1870 Federal Census and provided me with the first glance at his children (Elizabeth, Alexander, William, and Shirley) and wife (Jemima).

Census record.

1870 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.

I took down the names and age estimates and began my family tree on a website called Family Echo

I jumped ahead to the 1880 Federal Census, where Spradley’s occupation was described as “laborer,” along with the first official mention of his son Shirley.

In an 1882 U.S City Directory, Henry Spradley’s address is listed as South College, and his job as “janitor.” He passed in 1897, as attested to by his death record. Satisfied with the overview I gained about Henry Spradley, I began what I can only call “the name game.”


U.S. City Directories 1882, Ancestry.

To find more about their children, I moved on to Spradley’s wife, Jemima. Quickly, I discovered there was a host of names she was identified by – Mina, Minie, and Jennie.  She was born around 1842, based on her age of 38 in the 1880 Federal Census.

Under the name Jennie in the 1900 United States Federal Census, I found her living with her then-married daughter, Elizabeth.  I was excited to find three obituaries, dating her death to be in 1904, which had been unmentioned by any previous research. Unfortunately, behind a paywall, I couldn’t get access to them. 

Census 1900.

1900 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.

Next, I focused heavily on Elizabeth Spradley and her spouse, Alexander Bowman. Elizabeth, following the legacy of her mother, appeared as both Elizabeth and Lizzie. She was born around 1858, according to her age of 12 in the 1870 Federal Census, and lived with her family during the 1880 Census. She married Alexander Bowman in 1894 while Alexander was working as a dairyman. No children appeared in the record as far as I could tell. Elizabeth worked as a laundress in 1900, while she lived with her husband and mother. Alexander, like the Spradley family, was from Virginia. In 1900, he worked as a day laborer.

In 1909, Elizabeth passed away, and from what I could understand of the cause of death, it may have been cancer in her uterus. If I had more time, I would try harder to understand this entry and consult other people’s opinions.


Death certificate.

Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1967, Ancestry.

After her death, I found Alexander living with his sister in the 1910 United States Federal Census. In 1920, he lived as a boarder in a house full of mostly children.

Shirley, Elizabeth’s brother, was born in 1874, according to the 1880 census. In 1896, he married Jennie Caldwell (yes, just like Jemima “Jennie” Spradley). In the 1900 census, Shirley and Jennie’s children, Mary and Martha are mentioned. The family lived with Patsy Davis, Jennie’s grandmother, and Mary, Jennie’s mother.

In 1910, Jennie identifies herself as divorced from Shirley, as well as mentioning her son Reed. Shirley enlists in the U.S army in 1917, but continues to refer to Jennie as his wife.  In the 1920 census, Jennie and Shirley appear as still married. In 1928, Shirley passes. Jennie lives until 1937, working as a cook for 15 years in a hotel. 


1910 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.

These were all only names and numbers, but through them, I followed an extended family as they moved, changed jobs, married, divorced?, and died. I found myself smiling when I calculated the dates of all the family’s marriages. Jemima and Henry both barely survived long enough to see Shirley and Elizabeth marry their spouses.

Family tree.

Spradley Family Tree, Family Echo.

Lessons Learned and Loose Ends

Using the Ancestry database truly tested my ability to keep track of information effectively and efficiently to maximize my findings. Conflicting dates and names tripped me up, but by keeping detailed notes helped me power through. Though I was satisfied with the family tree I was able to construct, there remain some intriguing loose ends I hope to research in the future:

  • the life of Alexander Bowman, especially as related to Dickinson College
  • the remaining children of Henry and Jemima – William and Emma
  • the marriage of Jennie and Shirley Spradley

Pennsylvania Newspapers in 1863: A different perspective

After four long year of studying at Dickinson, I hope to graduate. And with this will come the long and anticipated commencement ceremony. It will be the conclusion of all my hard work here at this institution. I’m sure most students have these feelings about the ending to their college career, including the graduating class of 1863 at Dickinson. However, their commencement was far from normal. With the heart of the Civil War in place, Dickinson was caught in the middle of it. The Confederacy was advancing and gaining momentum, and were on their way from Harrisburg to Carlisle. In my previous post I researched different journals and letters from people that experienced the week long occupation and shelling of Carlisle, which was the precursor to the important Battle of Gettysburg. With so much chaos and confusion going on in Carlisle in late June through early July in 1863, it is interesting to research how people obtained the information of the events that were happening. The way we understood this event is through primary documents and newspapers. Having already investigated the first hand accounts of Carlisle residents during this time, I was eager to see what the newspaper articles were reporting on it.

To start my research, I believed that the most useful newspapers to research were local Carlisle papers. I started looking on Dickinson’s library catalog to find local newspapers. After a long and unsuccessful time researching on the databases, I came to realize that local newspapers were not online. I learned that they were only available at Dickinson’s Microfilm, located in the basement of the library. The first newspaper I attempted to research was called The Carlisle American. I was sure that there would be abundance of information of the shelling of Carlisle. After  figuring out how to use the Microfilm with the help of fellow scholar Ryan Lucas, I began my research. However, it came to a dead end. Confused on why there was no reports of this event, I decided to look closer into the newspaper. I came to realize that this paper was a monthly publication, rather than a weekly. It was released on the 17th of every month. In the June issue, the invasion had not happened yet, so the articles were advertisements and general political events that were happening in the country. The next issue was on July 17th which was more Civil War specific. However, with the major event of Gettysburg happening in that time frame, most of the articles were about it and its importance. The tone of the articles were hopeful with the turning point of the war occurring. My research, however, was not. I understood that there were many newspapers to research though. I turned to another local newspaper called the American Volunteer. Before I researched the week of the bombing, I made sure this was a weekly article. Luckily, it was. This newspaper was far more informative than the previous one. In this, it described each day and the events that had occurred. Fascinated, I read over each day, gaining more knowledge about this historic event. On one of the last days that was reported, something caught my eye. It was about the influential figure  named  General Smith of the Union army. During the shelling, a truce was sent over by the Confederates to General Smith. The deal was that the bombing would stop, as long as they gave up Carlisle. He refused. General Smith was known to have kept Carlisle from surrendering, and was a hero in Cumberland valley. I recalled my previous research about letters and documents from Carlisle residents recounting his war efforts.

Predicting the Invasion

After finishing up my research at the Microfilm, I turned my attention to bigger publications. I referenced back to the Dickinson databases in order to gain more information. I used the PA Civil War Newspaper Collection under the Penn State library. This proved to be very useful. I simply searched “Carlisle” into the database. There were a lot of different results so I decided to narrow down my search. I filtered the time to only newspaper articles in 1863. With this I was able to acquire different newspapers that had multiple reports on the shelling of Carlisle. The first article I read was from a Philadelphia news paper named The Press on June 26, 1863. There were only brief information about Carlisle, however it was intriguing. In the subtitle it reads, “Their Advance Twelve Miles From Carlisle. Battle expected at Carlisle”. This jolted my memory of a journal entry from Charles Himes during my previous research. In his personal diary, he wrote that the rebels were 15 miles away and advancing to Carlisle. This journal entry was written on June 26, 1863. The connection between the the diary and the newspaper article was fascinating to see.

After going back to the search on the PA Civil War Newspaper Collection, I decided to research a different newspaper. I found an article from The Evening Telegraph. This article proved to be insightful because it went into detail about the events leading up to the truce sent over by General Lee. It describes General Smith’s forces being caught by surprise by the Confederates, however was able to regain their ground and hold off the rebels. This led General Lee to send over the truce and General Smith’s heroic rejection.


The Press detailing the shelling


Having read so many reports on General Smith, I focused my attention to him to see if I could find any articles on him. I went back to the PA Civil War Newspaper Collection and looked up “General Smith-Carlisle” into the search bar, along with the year 1863 to see if I could find more about this officer. An article from The Press appeared from July 3, 1863  recounting the events that had happened in Carlisle. Again, it wrote about the truce that was sent over by General Lee, and General Smith’s refusal. It also wrote about the actual bombings that occurred. It wrote “During the shelling a detachment of the enemy made a detour around the railroad and fired the barracks. the gas-works were also set on fire, the sparks from which are said to have burned several lumber yards, one private dwelling, and several barns”. This article proved that I did not know everything about the shelling, and gained more knowledge about the event. This was equally insightful as the article I found at the Microfilm, and was important to see that not just Carlisle knew about General Smith’s efforts, along with the bombings. This was read about all over the state of Pennsylvania, along with the country.

I don’t know why making the connections from first hand documents such as letters and journal, to newspapers was so interesting to me. The dates, events and people all aligned with each other, and gave a sense of validity to my research. However, I still know there is still more to explore about the Invasion of Carlisle, and I look forward to discovering it all.


  1. “The Preservation of the Constitution” American Volunteer, June 25, 1863, Page 2, Column 1
  2. “The Invasion” The Press, June 25, 1863, Page 2, Column 1
  3. “The Situation” Evening Telegraph, July 2, 1863 Page 2, Column 1
  4. “The Invasion: The Battle at Carlilse” The Press, July 3, 1863, Page 1, Column 1

























The Diary of John Grabill

In the first part of this research project I was challenged to conduct my own research and find primary sources using the Dickinson College Achieves.  In that time, I was able to identify two students, William Laws Cannon and John Henry Grabill, who I believe will be the subject of my final project and primary sources concerning the two members of the class of 1860.  Coming out of that assignment I was pretty confident in the research I was able to accomplish and felt as thou I learned valuable skills concerning research in archives.  The next step of this project, is to identify newspapers that are related to our assigned class year of specific or “explore stories of students from their assigned class.”

In my previous part I mentioned that I was able to find John Grabill’s journal from the civil war from an online source, on the website it mentions that the journal was printed in the Shenandoah Herald, a newspaper that Grabill was the editor of later in his life.  The journal was split up in three parts and printed the three consecutive issues spanning from January 8,15, and the 22 of 1909.  Going into this second assignment focusing on newspapers I knew I wanted to find either digital or microfilm versions of the original newspapers the diary appeared in.  Considering there was a requirement that we had to identify at least one microfilm that is relevant to our research I wanted to try and find a microfilm for the Shenandoah Herald from with these three issues on them.  Unfortunately, I was unable to find microfilm for the Shenandoah Herald in either the Dickinson College microfilm collection or the Cumberland County Historical Society microfilm collection.  After I realized I was not going to be able to find microfilm for the Shenandoah Herald, I decided that I should turn to digital databases in order to find these three specific issues.

As Shenandoah is located in Virginia I decided to find an archival database focused on Virginia.  I was able to identify that the Library of Virginia had a digital archive of Virginia newspapers, available online.  Using this website, I was able to find digital copies of all three copies the Shenandoah Herald that Grabill’s diary was printed in.  The first issue that Grabill’s journal appeared in was January 8th, 1909.  The journal appeared in the fourth column on the front page.  This first part of the diary explains how Grabill found his old diary, presumably sometime in 1908 and decided to publish it in his newspaper.  This part of the diary contains Grabill’s account of his time in the Stonewall Brigade, during the start of the civil war.  With this issue I also decided to double check that John Grabill was the editor of the newspaper at the time and to no surprise I found his name on the second page of the paper as the editor.  Unless there was another John Grabill in Virginia who also published a newspaper, I found my guy.  The following two issues of Shenandoah Herald contained the other two thirds of Grabill’s diary, both of which appeared on the front page of the issue.

To this point in my research I was able to find the three issues of the Shenandoah Herald that I sought out to find, but I was unable to find a microfilm that was relevant to my research.  I knew I had to find at least one article on microfilm, so I brainstormed possible topics I could attempt to find on microfilm.  I decided I should skim through Grabill’s journal to find an event I could find on microfilm.  On the entry of July 21, 1861 he recounts his view of the battle of Manassas, or more commonly known as Bull Run.  As Bull Run is one of the most well-known battles of the Civil War, I decided that I would try to find newspaper articles covering the battle and see how they reported on the battle compared to Grabill’s recount on the civil war.

I started with trying to find an article covering the battle in the New York Times.  (ViewScan_0000)I went to the Dickinson College library’s collection of microfilm and found the reel of the Times spanning from July-September 1861.  I loaded the reel in to the microfilm readers and skimmed through until I found an issue printed approximately around the time of Bull Run.  I was able to find an article covering Bull Run in the July 21, 1861 issues of the Times.  The article entitled, The Fight at Bull’s Run, gives a brief account of both armies and their positions.  As the article was printed prior to the end of the battle, the actual result was not encompassed in the article.  As the article did not talk about the Union defeat, I once again spewed through microfilm attempting to find another article that did.

I eventually found an article in the Carlisle Herald.  On the reel spanning from April 26, 1861 to September 28, 1866 I identified an article printed in the July 26 issue of the paper.  A report with the date of July 22, 1861 covers the Confederate victory of Bull Run and the disorganized retreat of Union forces.  The report has the heading of “Terrible Battle” and “3,000 Killed!” (ViewScan_0002)  I found that this particular report and the prior report in the Times, were simply just reporting the facts of the battle.  Compared to Grabill’s recount of the battle who was focused on his firsthand account of the events that took place.

While this focus on newspapers was the goal of this assignment, I found that the focus was a natural fit for me.  In my previous research I found that Grabill printed the journal he used during the Civil War, in the newspaper he ran later in life.  Using these newspaper records I have further fleshed out his journal for my larger project and learned how to use microfilm to me advantage.

Fun but Fleeting

“Geoff, I need help”. I stared at the foreign microfilm machine with dismay. I had been standing in front of it for what felt like ten minutes, trying and trying to figure out the right way to set it up. I finally decided the best way to get the machine working would be to call my trustee friend Geoff, a fellow member of my History 204 class.

“Ethan it’s just not that hard, just put the film…” After a longer explanation than I would like to admit, Geoff finally walked me through the process of setting up the film. I was ready to get started.

The goal of my research was to find 19th century newspaper articles of or pertaining to my  graduating class (1854), and find anything relevant. I figured the best way to find out information on people, places, or events from around the Carlisle area in 1854 was the Carlisle Herald, the weekly newspaper that covered the area during my time period. The only way to read copies of this newspaper was on microfilm.

The most important part of this type of research (microfilm, that is) is to understand that it isn’t anything like doing research in an archive or online. There’s no “command f” like there is on the computer to easily find a reference to a word or subject. There’s no easy way to go to Google and find information on whatever it is you want researched. It’s all up to you to decide where to look, when to look, how to look, and then ultimately, find what it is you’re looking for.

To start, you have to have a specific timeline. If you’re going into a microfilm session with just an abstract idea in your head, you’re going to fail. To start your research, it’s imperative to know a date to begin. Then comes finding the right reel, which is easy once you have a time period.

Look at all those reels- if you don’t go in knowing what time period you want to study (which for our purpose was easy, seeing as we were assigned a specific class), it’s going to be impossible to find any information.

Once you have the right reel, then comes what I found to be the hardest part- loading the physical reel. After fifteen minutes of anger, a very unhelpful Circulation Desk worker,  and my phone call to Geoff, I was away and reading the Herald from 1854. Of course, it took a few more minutes of scrolling to get to the right date, overshooting the date I was looking for, scrolling back, overshooting again, scrolling back, overshooting again, etc. You get the idea. Finally, after five minutes, I had gotten to the beginning of 1854. What I found was slightly discouraging.

I expected the Carlisle Herald, a newspaper about a town I had thought was heavily based around Dickinson College, to have articles galore about the happenings of the college. Maybe I’m particularly terrible at reading through microfilm or there genuinely wasn’t very much on the college, but after hours of reading dozens and dozens of newspaper articles, I only found two references. Both were in successive newspapers, one describing the new endowment, the other detailing the commencement ceremony of the Class of 1854. With my original research topic stemming around education, neither of these helped my research all that much (despite being interesting finds). It was fun to see the names of people I had researched previously turning up in another source, but in terms of furthering my research on education, these two articles weren’t too helpful.

“Dickinson College”, The Carlisle Herald, July 19, 1854, 2:5









“Dickinson College”, The Carlisle Herald, July 12, 1854, 2:5

I turned my search elsewhere in the Herald.

I found that most of the interesting topics came from the second page, the political section. It was fun to follow along on the process of legislation being passed in Pennsylvania, as well as commentary on Congressional legislation. I read all about the different opinions being voiced about the so-called “Nebraska Act”, an act that proposed making Nebraska a slave territory. Following the progression of the case through an 1854 newspaper was surprisingly entertaining.


“Anti-Nebraska Victories”, The Carlisle Herald, April 12, 1854, 2:4


“State Legislature- Prohibitory Liquor Law”, The Carlisle Herald, March 8, 1854- 2:2

I also found out that Pennsylvania successfully passed a Prohibition law in 1854.  Usually when we study history, we learn about the outcomes and the events themselves, but here, I was following along knowing nothing about the outcome- as if I was living in the moment.

This is the beauty of researching through microfilm and newspapers. Reading these articles from 1854 transported me back in time, as if I was living in 1854 and getting all of my information from the same source that someone in Carlisle back then would have, the Herald. Reading the Wikipedia article on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (as it soon became known as, as opposed to just the Nebraska Act) wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting as following the week to week coverage in a newspaper from the time. This is what I found to be the most rewarding aspect of my time with microfilm. It didn’t necessarily aid me in my research topic or tell me much about Dickinson in 1854, but it did provide entertainment through following along with the same news story over the course of months.


“The Use of Lime”, The Carlisle Herald, April 5, 1854, 4:1

Now, this isn’t to say that reading these newspapers was all fun and entertaining. For every article about the Nebraska Act or the Prohibition Act, there were five articles about things like the best use for lime.

Definitely important journalism.

This is another important thing to realize before using microfilm. There’s a distinct possibility that you don’t find exactly what you’re looking for. When you Google something, you know that within a matter of seconds, exactly what you want is going to pop up and you’ll easily be able to access the desired information. With microfilm, you could be reading for hours and not find a single piece of information relevant to your research. However, this doesn’t mean that you’re time has been wasted. Reading newspapers gives you a context for the times that you can’t get anywhere else. Being able to see how people thought, the events going on both nationally and locally, even what jobs were being offered and the posted advertisements, it all culminates in an experience that helps place the reader in the time period. I felt as though I was living in 1854.

After I was through with microfilm, I figured I had enough articles. However, I had this feeling of emptiness, of disappointment. I hadn’t exactly helped my research. It may have been a fun experience and I was intrigued following along with the news stories, but for my own selfish reasons, I was angry that I hadn’t found anything that helped me. To further my research, I turned to online databases.

My first step was to go to the Dickinson College Library website and find a list of databases that are offered to us as students. One of these was the American Periodicals Series 1740-1900. I figured this was the perfect place to look. I typed in “dickinson college” as my key term, narrowed the search window to just 1854, and was immediately overwhelmed by the amount of articles that popped up. One in particular caught my eye, an article entitled “Dickinson College, Educational Collections”. The article itself is a letter from President Collins (president of Dickinson in 1854) asking for donations from preachers and their congregations, as Dickinson serves to promote Christian education. This falls in line with the previous research I had done, which served to paint Dickinson as a school with good Christian values. Where my time with microfilm had been largely unimportant in furthering my research on 19th century education, using online databases was immediately impactful.

This is the biggest difference between microfilm and online research. I had a much greater sense of accomplishment using microfilm and had a more enjoyable time doing that type of research, but in terms of practicality, nothing beats the internet. Now, the Herald hasn’t been digitalized, so I had to use microfilm for that, but compare the results I got between microfilm and online research. Microfilm, I poured over those papers for hours and found two mentions of the college. Online, I poured over the databases for five minutes and found thousands of results, including one that directly aids my research topic.

If I could go back and change my methods for finding newspaper articles? Absolutely not. Using microfilm for the first time was a great experience. It made me feel like a true historian, going back in time to read what the Carlisle residents would have read in 1854. The sense of accomplishment and enjoyment I got out of seeing “Dickinson College” after hours of reading coupled with the entertainment I got following along on week to week news stories was so much better than anything I’ve ever done online. Microfilm may seem tedious, but everything has a purpose, and everything about it is enjoyable.

Research Journal – Newspapers 1868

The Election of 1868 

Fake news is not just a 21st century term. 19th century papers sensationalized every aspect of human life from accounts of robberies to political elections. The existence of fake news in 19th century papers is important to acknowledge when researching them, without it you could be suckered into believing the ludicrous stories printed within them everyday.

Newspapers of this era of American history were not concerned with, what the modern reader might call, “hard facts.” Instead, utilizing the hook-factor of fake news and inflammatory writing, the effort of the editor and writers to support the paper’s political party affiliation was much more important and ultimately was what lead to major success for the paper.

With this information in mind, it became very important to me to examine the style of political discourse in papers in the year I was studying, 1868. For most people familiar with the course of American history there were several key events in and around this year that  were discussed in papers: the end of the Civil War, the division between political party as well as the remaining tensions between Northern and Southern States, the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment (granting citizenship to freed slaves)  and the Election of 1868. To do this research I examined The American Volunteer, a local Carlisle Weekly paper and utilized the 19th Century Newspaper Database that lead me to The New Hampshire Statesman.

MicroFilm Research

I initially chose to focus on the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment and its reception in Carlisle. Through resources provided by my Professor I knew it was ratified in July of 1868 and, upon arrival at the College Library, the Microfilm I looked at was in search of articles in The Volunteer regarding that amendment in the months preceding and immediately following its passing.

Interestingly enough, the process of finding the necessary information was very easy (once I summited the learning curve required with microfilm research) because, unlike a diary entry or a subject’s personal papers, there was no bad handwriting or unrelated texts to get through. Utilizing what I learned to be the standard layout of The American Volunteer and the titles of various articles it was easy to both find my place in time (i.e. proximity to certain know historical events) as well as the articles that would be relevant and where they would be placed in the paper.

Unfortunately, I did not find anything about the Fourteenth Amendment. After just a quick scan of the months surrounding the passing of it I noticed a dedication of column inches devoted to the discussion of the Election of 1868 rather than a discussion of what we now consider a landmark of the civil rights and reconstruction movements. And so, that is where I let the papers take me. In this discovery I found out very early on that in the struggle for the presidency of that year the paper strongly supported the Democratic Nominee the Honorable. Horatio Seymour and, with all the contempt available, despised the Republican candidate Ulysses S. Grant. A realization supported by the fact that I knew the paper was historically affiliated with the Democratic party.

A blatant attack on “Why Grant Should Not Be Elected” published before the election in The American Volunteer

Within the paper I found a political climate many would say our modern system mirrors. But, unlike our system, the pundits do not hide behind impartiality and a presentation of facts as fixed things. Both the articles I will describe here represent two different ways of attacking political opponents presented in The American Volunteer. Scanning through the Microfilm pages of these papers it is clear that both these styles of articles, and their subject matter were a consistent feature of The Volunteer.

This first article looks, reads and seems like something we would all recognize as “news.” Really what this type of article stood as was what we would call an op-ed. A political explanation (tinged with personal opinion) of “Why Grant Should Not Be Elected.” Presented as a piece of news, the readers that agreed with this viewpoint would see it as a rallying call to their cause as well as an argument to add to their political negotiation tool chest. A little dry, a little standard lambasting, there is nothing overwhelmingly out of the ordinary here when it comes to a news article, even in todays standards. [1] What it represents though is a valuable insight into one of the ways political information was shared and that was, as I have explained, through personal and often greatly biased articles and insights presented as just the news.

A poem telling Ulysses (and making fun of his middle name, a common past time for his opponents) to “go home” to his dad instead of running for President.

In contrast to the ‘traditional-ness” of the first, this second piece provides something wholly new, a poem. A poem for political gain and point-scoring. If today we saw a poem in the middle of a paper we would assume we were either reading the New Yorker, an ad or a joke. But, positioned squarely under the heading “Political” (just above the title on in this image) this poem is another attempt to slam the enemy (Grant) and confer a Republican message, but this time through rhyme! While it seems like a silly joke, this style of poems for political points was an incredibly popular mode of storytelling in Carlisle newspapers and specifically The Volunteer. [2] In my research I found, on average, 1 per publication and, when it was a good week, 2. Often with one jovial and non-politically motivated (an example of which can be found here) [3] and one much more clearly politically driven (an example of which can be found from a paper published in August of 1868, here). [4] Clearly, the people of Carlisle were much more willing to represent political opinions in this way and willing to read it this way as well. I think this provides a valuable insight to a population and era we generally would describe as serious, conservative or austere. Instead, it is clear that even in the most serious of circumstances, an election, levity was not far out of reach.

New Hampshire Statesman and the 19th Century Newspaper Database

A republican paper out of Concord New Hampshire, The New Hampshire Statesman had a drastically different slant than The Volunteer. In addition to its strongly Grant-leaning politics, a result of its Republican affiliation, it did not seem to take such a hard line position on most subjects and contextualized their work regarding the election in terms of “peace’, rather than the more hostile terms The Volunteer used to describe the contest or its contestants.

This underhanded article, (included as a hyperlink because not all databases making downloading images easy) written October 2, 1868, states that given the context of American History at that moment there need not be mention of how important this election is. Instead, the focus should be on allowing the people to discern who will provide the most “peace” and, the writer argues, “Gen. Grant is presented to the people as the instrument by which to aid in restoring [it].” [5]

I found both the research required to find this document and the document itself much more “normal.” By which I mean the process of refining a search was, since I knew my timeframe and subject of interest (a key even in database work), quite simple. The difficulty for me was finding a good contrast to the Volunteer that, albeit not uncommonly for the time, was pretty hard handed in their language. Many of the papers I saw regarding this election from the New York Herald to the Bangor Daily Whig & Courier carried the same politically agressive language, while The New Hampshire Statesman was, as the name would suggest, rather stately. Polite in their words providing a good view at the differences between even major publications and the ways the readers of differnt states preferred to absorb the news.

The research I did revealed to me three important things:

  • First is that because I went into the project with a crystal clear timeframe for research I was able to quickly narrow my focus so that I did not spend my time looking through a full year’s worth of Microfilm documents with no idea what my end goal was.
    • Specificity in Microfilm and Archival research is hugely helpful no matter your level of expertise or  subject matter or source material.
  • The second observation I made was that Microfilm itself is a fascinating experience. the anachronism of viewing 19th century papers on a 2016 18-inch Dell PC Monitor in high resolution with the ability to crop and capture different portions of the screen was fun, distracting, and a totally new way of researching that I loved and I think should be appreciated by most people.
  • Thirdly and arguably most importantly was that I was wrong. In papers dating from June through November of 1868 there was more discussion of “Dr. Boyle’s Remedies” (presumably a doctor in the area with a standing ad in the local Carlisle Papers) than  about one of the major moments in American Civil Rights history, the ratification of the fourteenth amendment. But that did not deter my work, instead I let it be okay that I needed to take a different path and discovered something fascinating as a result.

If nothing else this project taught me to be flexible, to expect nothing of my research and to go where the sources take me. If you force a source to conform to a question it does not answer than you have denied it the opportunity to teach you what it can. And, perhaps (in the vein of 19th century papers), we should be willing to bring a little levity to even what we deem as the most important moments in our nation. Or at the very least, in our own lives.


[1] “Why Grant Should not be Elected,” American Volunteer, July 30, 1868.

[2] “Col. and Grant – Fax,” American Volunteer, August 20, 1868.

[3] “I’d Die For You.” American Volunteer, January 7, 1869.

[4]”For Every State a State,” American Volunteer, August 13, 1868.

[5]”Republican Success a National Necessity,” New Hampshire Statesman, October 2, 1868.

The 15th Amendment and Yellow Journalism in Carlisle, PA

After researching the Student Rebellion of 1870 through primary source documents from Dickinson College and modern secondary source publications, it came time to hear the voice of Carlisle and Pennsylvania as a whole; newspapers.  I began with online databases, specifically The Library of Congress’s Chronicling America.  Once there, I was able to search for articles by limiting the entries to only those from Pennsylvania in 1870, and even further using keywords and phrases such as “Dickinson College”, “Dickinson”, “Carlisle” and “Rebellion”.  It is important to note that I entered the individual terms into the “ANY of these” bar, as I was hoping to broaden my search sufficiently enough to get useful hits.

Article from The Bloomfield Times (5/24/1870), Courtesy of Chronicling America

Although the two main Carlisle newspapers from the period seem to not be available in the Library of Congress’s database, the student rebellion turned out to be noteworthy enough to make it into many other publications throughout Pennsylvania.  The first was an article from The Bloomfield Times, a local paper from New Bloomfield, PA.    Aside from the date of the absentees return to Dickinson, it provided no new information; however, the fact that a local paper from a small town 20 miles north of Carlisle was covering the rebellion meant I was likely to find articles in larger, more significant publications.

Evening Telegraph Article (indicated by sections highlighted in red), Courtesy of Chronicling America

My hypothesis soon proved correct with the discovery of a rather long, front page article in Philadelphia’s Evening Telegraph published on May 5th, 1870.  Surprisingly, this article proved to be one of the most detailed summaries of the rebellion I had come across thus far, although it only covered up to the suspension of the sophomore and junior classes.  The article includes details on the debate between student and faculty over the penalty students received, which was based on the school’s own policies (the students wanted to take 8 minus marks, the combined penalty for a misdemeanor  and missing class, instead of the upwards of 500 placed upon them).  The article also provided a transcription of the notice students were sent by the President’s office regarding the rebellion:

Resolved, That the President announce to the members of the Sophomore and Junior Classes that any members of those classes who shall absent himself from recitations on Monday, May 2 without sufficient excuse, presented during the same day to the President, shall be and is hereby suspended from college until the first Thursday of September next, to be restored at the end of that time only on making satisfactory acknowledgment to the faculty, and that any student so suspended is required to leave town for home on Tuesday, May 3, before 5:20 P.M., under penalty of expulsion.”

A Microfilm Viewer at Cumberland County Historical Society. The film is fed through the spool at the bottom and viewed through a magnifier on screen.

Having been fairly successful in my search for articles about the rebellion, I decided to try and tackle one of my other research questions: the reception in the 15th Amendment in Carlisle.  Unfortunately, I got very few hits on Chronicling America and this is also when I discovered that the database didn’t have any of the Carlisle newspapers from the time.  Luckily, however, the Cumberland County Historical Society, which is located just a block or two off campus, has a copy of every issue of The American Volunteer and The Carlisle Herald (the town’s two major publications during the period) on microfilm; a method of viewing documents that allows years worth of papers to be stored on a single role of film.

“Our Washington Letter” 4/14/1870, Courtesy of Cumberland County Historical Society

I began by taking a look at the Volunteer and was almost immediately successful.  On the second page of the April 14th edition, a weekly column titled “Our Washington Letter” toted some rather strong opinions on the passage of the 15th Amendment.  I immediately knew I had found exactly what I was looking for when the second sentence of the article read: “Sambo (a racial slur for African Americans) is no longer merely ‘a man and a brother,’ but is now a full pledged fellow citizen of African ‘scent”.[1]  The article eventually came to the conclusion that the African American race did not deserve the right to vote because “nineteen twentieths [of them] could neither read nor write…”, meaning that the 15th Amendment was pushed through by Radical Republicans in Congress who simply wanted to use the African American vote to stay in power (an article from another paper stated that the Radicals were “enslaving the negroes” to their cause)[2]  I found further articles in other issues of the Volunteer that claimed the amendment had been passed “not in the mode prescribed by the Constitution itself, but by the arms of the military consulate, acting in the name of the President and Congress”.[3]  There were also several articles about a Senator Revels, who was an African American, that contained such blatant and over the top slander as to put the 2016 election to shame; the articles referred to him as “a full blooded, curly haired, ebony shinned, big-footed negro” and stated that “The attempt, therefore, to make it appear that this negro [Revels] is a man of talent – ‘a statesman and scholar’ – is a fraud”.[4]

Ultimately, I was somewhat amazed as to what just a few hours of newspaper research was able to tell me about not just the student rebellion, but also Carlislian sentiment regarding the 15th Amendment.  Admittedly, I have yet to examine any articles from the Herald, and the existence of the amendment’s celebratory parade leaves plenty of room for  a mixed response; yet, so far everything I have come across has been both highly revealing and condemning.  I greatly look forward to continuing my examination of the local papers in regards to the 15th Amendment.



[1]  “Our Washington Letter,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, April 14, 1870, p. 2: 5, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

[2]  “Our Washington Letter,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, April 14, 1870, p. 2: 5, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

[3]  “The Fifteenth Amendment,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, February 3, 1870, p. 2: 2, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.

[4]  “Negro U.S. Senator,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, February 3, 1870, p. 2: 2, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA; “Senator Revels,” (Carlisle) American Volunteer, April 21, 1870, p. 2: 2, Microfilm Collection, Cumberland County Historical Society, Carlisle, PA.


Be Kind, Rewind: My Time with Microfilm

The Microfilm viewing section of the Dickinson College Library

After a few weeks of archival research, I considered myself to be a proper history detective, though admittedly only in training. My experience remained limited, however, and it became clear that before I could fully understand the scope of historical research I would have to decipher the mystery of microfilm. As is often best practice when learning a new skill, I started by doing something I know well: asking my friendly neighborhood archivist for help. He provided me with a finding guide for both physical newspapers kept in the archives and the reels of microfilm, and with guidebook in hand I got to work.

Step One:  Basic Training

The first thing one sees when entering the microfilm section of the Dickinson College Library is the expanse of cabinets in which reels are kept. Luckily for me, these reels are organized in the finding guide alphabetically by newspaper title and chronologically by publication date. I wrote down three newspapers which had the year 1840 within their range and got to work.

Microfilm Reader and Screen

The downside of venturing into the microfilm section is that my beloved archivists, Jim Gerencser and Malinda Triller-Doran, don’t have jurisdiction there. As such, I had to make new connections, and thus began with the receptionist at the basement circulation desk. She sent me upstairs to the main desk, where a supervisor and student worker were excited to try their hand at the machine. With their guidance, I was able to learn some of the basics, and once we had the first reel in the rest was more or less intuitive.

Close-up of Reader

The reels of film resemble VHS tapes removed from their box, and the process of playing and rewinding them was very tactile and satisfying. Being able to physically see the little pictures moving on the tape was far more engaging than scrolling through digitized archives online, even if it did take a little more skill and finesse.


Step Two: Finding the Reels

The three newspapers I identified in the finding guide were The Carlisle Herald and Expositor, The American Volunteer, and The Republican. Unfortunately, the run of The Republican, though listed as ranging from 1835-1891, actually had a gap during the time I was interested in studying, but with the information in the guide the first two newspapers were easy to find in the cabinets. Microfilm takes some patience, especially when trying to move through a lot of data at once. For example, the tape for The American Volunteer began with the 1833 editions, but I didn’t intend on using any issues published before 1838. As such, I was overjoyed to find a button on the reader’s interface which fast-forwards the film without the user having to keep their finger on the button, allowing me to do further research while the tape wound.

Election Map describing Democrats as Locofocos (click for more information)

During one of these breaks I decided to finally uncover more about the mysterious Locofoco party, which I had never encountered in my earlier education but whose name had appeared multiple times in my reading. After a quick search in the Dickinson Online Databases, I found an article by Carl N. Degler, a history professor at Vassar, entitled “The Locofocos: Urban ‘Agrarians.’”[1] From this piece I learned that the Locofocos were a faction of the Democratic party which aimed to curry favor with the poor and pulled from the same voting groups as Democratic president Andrew Jackson.


Step Three: The Expositor

1838 Carlisle Herald and Expositor [2]

With this information in mind and the microfilm finally wound to the correct year, I looked first at the May 1, 1838 edition of The Carlisle Herald and Expositor. This newspaper was far more clearly organized than some others of its time, and I was thrilled to find that it had in fact a whole column dedicated to political issues[2]. On this date, some time before the presidential election, the paper instead covered the upcoming 1838 gubernatorial election in Pennsylvania. It was a point-by-point takedown of Democratic candidate David R. Porter and, while it said little about the nature of the presidential election to come, it did establish the Expositor as a solidly Whig-leaning paper and laid out the views of Whig Carlilians of the time.

1838 Expositor Political Advertisement [3]

Far more telling than the first headline which caught my eye was in fact an advertisement[3] on the second page which clearly endorsed the Whig William Henry Harrison for president fully two years before the election. The seemingly interminable election cycle which repeats itself every four years in the United States has been oft-bemoaned as tiring and unnecessary, so it was interesting to see its roots as far back as 1838.


Intrigued by what I had found in the Expositor, I attempted to do more outside research on these small tickets, which my professor informed me could actually be used as ballots. Starting with a broad google search, I combined many term clusters such as “william henry harrison,” “newspaper,” “ballots,” and “1840 voting system.” I didn’t find very much about the ballots, but I did discover that the campaigns actually each had their own newspapers in addition to the already partisan local weeklies, so I would be eager as a I continue my research to explore these documents further and investigate how they influenced the election.

1839 Expositor article on presidential race [4]

Moving forward, I skipped to the next year’s issues and found an article entitled “The Next President”[4] on page two of the May 8, 1839 edition. At this point, the gubernatorial election had still not taken place: the paper continued to endorse incumbent Anti-Masonic Joseph Ritner. Their man would go on to lose to Democrat David R. Porter whom the paper had so lambasted the previous May, but at the time of printing the paper was eagerly awaiting Ritner’s re-election, predicting that the Democratic party would “sink forever, with its misdeeds.”4

By the time of this publication, with the presidential election about a year and a half away, the Expositor wished to focus on the task at hand: “We go first for the re-election of Joseph Ritner–Then we go for General Harrison…because we belive [sic] him to be the most available candidate for Pennsylvania.”4 These mentions of the presidential race so long before it actually occurred show how this was to be a different game altogether, but only with further research will I uncover how the newspapers handled the campaign itself.

Step Four: The Volunteer

1837 American Volunteer article on Democratic Meeting [5]

Though I will be sure to return to the later issues of the Expositor, during this first visit to the microfilm machine I was eager to see another political point of view. To that end I next fed in the reel for The American Volunteer, a Democratic paper which covered a “Great Democratic Meeting”[5] on October 8, 1837. This issue was also discussing the gubernatorial election, an event which seems to have sown the seeds of inter-party animosity in Pennsylvania leading up to the polarizing 1840 presidential election. The Volunteer saw the gravity of the situation and described the battle to come: “We are on the eve of an election of the most important character; an election in which the question whether the people or a local aristocracy will rule.”5

Having seen how the local writers of both parties viewed one another before the presidential election, I am anxious to visit the Cumberland County archives to see later articles and determine how they dealt with the unique campaign and eventual result.




[1] Carl N. Degler, “The Locofocos: Urban ‘Agrarians,’” The Journal of Economic History, 16, no. 3 (1956): 322-333

[2] The Carlisle Herald and Expositor (Carlisle, PA),  May 1, 1838, pg 1 col. 7

[3] The Carlisle Herald and Expositor (Carlisle, PA), May 1, 1838, pg 2 col. 6

[4] The Carlisle Herald and Expositor (Carlisle, PA), May 8, 1839, pg 2 col. 7

[5] The American Volunteer (Carlisle, PA), October 8, 1837, pg 1 col. 4

Societies, Rivalries, and Presidents

When scanning through the 1905 Dickinson Alumni Record, nearly all of the members in the Class of 1858 had, “U. P. Society” or, “B. L. Society” in their short blurbs.  While doing research about these abbreviations in the archives, the research assistant told me about the Belles Lettres and the Union Philosophical Society. These two literary societies had existed since the 18th century, which were the earliest days of the college. Both societies sought to enhance the intellectual development of students at the college, as well as create bonds between members.  I then sought to find out how the students acted within these societies, and how they affected the college.

From the Belles Lettres Constitution, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, RG 8/3 1-11

U. P. Society Certificate, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives OC 1999.9 Folder 10










With thirty-two out of a possible thirty-five students in the class belonging to either society, they clearly were influential within the student body. And naturally, as groups of college-aged students do, they developed a rivalry. Luckily, the Dickinson Archives has an excellent collection of the papers of Horatio Collins King

He is prominent graduate of the class, and many of his papers were donated to the Archives. As a member of the U. P. Society, he writes on the rivalry between the two societies, “We went together to the B.L.’s Anniversary, and were much pleased therewith. I was especially relieved, also, for I had little fear after hearing their speakers, but what we Union’s would give them a “fair shake”. 

King is writing about the commencement ceremonies in 1858 here, as he included pamphlets from the celebrations in his diary, which show that the Belles Lettres and Union Philosophical Society would present orations, and they would compete on who could have the best speech, King presented a speech titled, “Aristocracy.” (King, Diary, 574) Additionally, King writes about how the Belles Lettres and U. P. Society would compete throughout the year in oration contests, and fondly remembers one time the U. P. Society came out on top. 

The audience at our Exhib. Was much larger and more chaste than at the B.L.’s… I performed my part to the satisfaction of all, and retired from the stage mid rapturous applause and showers of boquets…We all went to our rooms with the glorious satisfaction that we had gained a victory over the B.L.’s by whom we were almost certain of being beaten. ( King, Diary, 559)

These societies were not just limited to graduation ceremonies and competitions. After looking through more of his diary, I found a connection to a President. King was the Secretary of the U. P. Society in 1856, and wrote about a meeting on December, 11, when they discussed sending a delegation of members to the house of James Buchanan, in Lancaster, PA, to “offer the congratulations of society.” (King, Diary, 332) This was in regard to his recent victory in the 1856 Presidential Election, when he defeated Republican candidate, John C. Frémont. Buchanan graduated from Dickinson in 1809, and a member of the U. P. Society during his time at Dickinson.

Union Philosophical Society Member Catalog, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, RG 8/23 B3 F4

Buchanan’s name is the thirteenth down on the right-hand column, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives











Days later, King wrote Buchanan on behalf of the Union Philosophical Society, and Buchanan quickly wrote back, below are transcriptions of the original letters, which were kept in King’s diary.

Letter from King to Buchanan, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, King, Diary, 584.

Dickinson College

Carlisle, Dec 13, 56

Honored Sir:

A committee has been appointed by the Union Philosophical Society of Dickinson College to wait upon you at Wheatland, to extend the salutations of society, and congratulate you upon the result of the recent Presidential Election. It is the object of this note to inquire if it would suit your convenience to receive the committee at as early a day as Tuesday or Wednesday. An immediate answer is requested. 

I have the honor to be

Sir, your ob’h (obliging) serv’t

Horatio C. King


And here is Buchanan’s response.

Letter from Buchanan to King, courtesy of the Dickinson Archives, King, Diary, 585.

Wheatland 14 December 1856

My dear sir/

My answer to your note of yesterday I regret to say that I shall be obliged to leave home for Philadelphia on tomorrow evening or at latest Tuesday morning, I am truly sorry that by reason of engagement I shall be deprived of the pleasure of meeting the committee of the Union Philosophical Society during the present week.

Yours very respectfully,

James Buchanan

Clearly, the role of these two societies was large over the campus then. Whether it was friendly competition between groups, or trying to honor a President-elect, Dickinson students were involved in the community, and country as a whole.

This all began with wondering about an abbreviation in a class record, which led to me reading a letter written by a U. S. President. The records preserved by individuals and groups in the Archives were crucial to this research. The tools which were most useful were the records of the the student groups themselves and personal letters, which had details about members and traditions which led to learning more about the Belles Lettres and the Union Philosophical Society.

Works Cited

King, Horatio Collins. Diary, 1854-1858. MC 1999.9, Horatio Collins King Family Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.

Reed, George Leffingwell.  Alumni Record: Dickinson College. (Carlisle, Dickinson College, 1905), 174-183.

Union Philosophical Society. Catalogue of the Members of the Union Philosophical Society of Dickinson College: From it’s Establishment August 31st , A. D. 1789, to November 12th, 1831. Record Group 8/23, B3, F4. Archives and Special Collections, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA.


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