THE BRITISH LIBRARY

American Collections blog

3 posts from June 2018

27 June 2018

Founding Greatness: Migration on United States Postages Stamps, 1869-1987


The central role of Migration in the development of the United States ensures it is a theme well represented upon the nation’s postage stamps. The first to tackle the subject was the United States 1869 Issue 15 cent stamp containing James Smillie’s vignette engraving depicting the landing of Columbus in the Americas on 12th October 1492. Based upon John Vanderlyn’s famous painting now displayed inside the Capitol’s Rotunda in Washington, this event is widely recognised to be a turning point in the history of migration to the Americas. Furthermore this stamp and succeeding issues all provide clear allusions to the economic, military and religious incentives behind the waves of migration to the American Continent since the closing years of the fifteenth century to the present day.

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The main objective of Columbus’ voyages was to establish maritime trading routes to the East Indies; instead he discovered the New World. The wealth accrued by consequent Spanish colonial, military and economic in the Americas in turn encouraged mercantile classes from rival European nation states to try and emulate such economic success. The French, English, Swedish, Dutch and others all established colonial settlements within North America from the sixteenth century onwards. The United States 13 July 1984 20 cent stamp commemorating the 400th Anniversary of the First Raleigh Expedition to Roanoke Island depicts the Elizabeth Galleon, one of the vessels involved in establishing the famous Roanoke Colony which vanished under mysterious circumstances.

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More successful was the establishment of England’s first successful permanent Colony established at Jamestown, Virginia by the Virginia Company in 1607, an event commemorated on the United States 1907 Jamestown Exposition Issue 2 cent stamp.

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 The United States 27 June 1938 Issue 3 cent stamp commemorating the tercentenary of Scandinavian Settlement in America depicts the establishment of a colonial settlement by Swedes and Finns on the lower reaches of the Delaware River in present day Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1638.

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Religious and political persecution in Europe during the early seventeenth century also led to migrants settling in various parts of America. The United States 18 December 1920 Issue 2 cents stamp commemorates the tercentenary of the migration of a group of religious dissenters known as the Pilgrim Fathers who established Plymouth Colony, Massachusetts in 1620.

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In 1624 Huguenot-Walloon migrants also migrated to the United States to escape religious persecution forming the first permanent Dutch Settlement known as Fort Orange or New Netherland in present day Albany an event celebrated on the United States 1 May 1924 Issue 2 cent stamp.

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Missionary activity also resulted in migrants settling within America, individuals like a major the French Jesuit Missionary Father Jacques Marquette (1637-1675) established settlements at Michigan and was one of the first Europeans to explore and map the northern portion of the Mississippi River. His exploits commemorated on both the United States 10 June 1898 issue 1 cent and 20 September 1968 Issue 6 cent stamps.

 

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After the War of Independence, the territorial extent of the fledgling United States was largely confined to the eastern seaboard of America. As an independent nation the government initiated a continued policy of westward expansion into the hinterland of North America. This expansion extended the Nation’s boundaries to the Pacific coastline. One of the earliest of such migrations into the North-West Territories now known as Ohio, Indiana and Illinois conducted by veterans of the War of Independence and the Ohio Company has been commemorated on the United States 15 July 1938 Issue 3 cent stamp.

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Further South, Daniel Boone’s famous explorations in Virginia resulting in the establishment of the Kentucky Settlement in 1792 has also been depicted on the United States 1 June 1942 Issue 3 cent stamp to commemorate Kentucky’s 150th Anniversary.

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The United States Government also acquired territory for settlement via diplomacy and financial transactions with foreign colonial powers. A good example is the acquisition of lands acquired from the Spanish and French which formed parts of the Mississippi Territory, a precursor to the State of Mississippi established in 1798. The various stages of this expansion are depicted on the United States 8th April 1948 Issue 3 cent stamp commemorating the Territory’s 150th Anniversary.

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Pioneers and settlers involved in such migration and settlement faced significant dangers and hardships in the form of starvation, disease and violence. Such conditions are alluded to in the United States 10 June 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition, Omaha Issue, 8 cent stamp depicting troops guarding a pioneer train from attacks whilst the 10 cent  depicts a dead horse on a pioneer wagon.

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With such privation in mind, the Government introduced financial incentives for westward migration in the form of various Government Acts offering land parcels at favourable prices or for free. The United States 20 May 1962 Issue 4 cent stamp commemorates the 1852 Homestead Act passed by Abraham Lincoln offering public land in the west to any US citizen, including free slaves, who was willing to settle, farm and improve the land over a period of five years.

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The forced migration of African slaves to America is unrepresented on the library’s United States philatelic holdings. Nevertheless one particular issue which demonstrates its importance in shaping America is the United States 20 February 1987 Black Heritage Issue 22 cent stamp depicting an idealised portrait of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable and some of his property and lands during the late eighteenth century which helped found modern day Chicago.

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Richard Scott Morel

Curator, Philatelic Collections

 

Images from the British Library, Philatelic Collections:  The Tapling Collection and UPU Collection material for the  United States of America.

 

 

14 June 2018

Call for Applicants: Fulbright-British Library Eccles Centre Scholar Award

Above: Klondiker's buying mining licenses in Victoria, BC. J. W. Jones, 1898 [Picturing Canada project on Wiki Commons]

Summertime is always exciting for the Eccles Centre as we announce new calls for our various awards and fellowships. Keep an eye on the Americas blog for news of our various award schemes over the coming months but today I wanted to write about our US-UK Fulbright Commission Scholarship. This is a relatively new part of our programme and is a partnership with Fulbright to bring a US-based scholar to the Library so they can work on the North American collections held here. Work can be on any area of the collections relating to Canada, the Caribbean and / or the United States and applications connected to the Centre’s research priorities are encouraged.

The Fulbright-Eccles Scholarship is a unique opportunity for a US-based scholar as it provides a significant award (£12,000) to cover a dedicated research trip of twelve months. As well as using the collections of the Library our Scholars are encouraged to take part in our events programme, including our evening lectures and Summer Scholars season, and present about their work with partner institutions outside of the Library, such as the Rothermere American Institute at Oxford. This provides a rich set of opportunities to develop ideas and discuss them with a variety of audiences during the scholarship. We are also happy to facilitate a Scholar in conducting wider work with the Library and helping them get to know other parts of the Library’s operation, such as our innovative Learning Team, British Library Publishing and others.

Our 2018-19 Scholar will be Professor Andrew Hartman who will be using the British Library’s collections to conduct further research on the influence of Karl Marx on American political thought. The research will form part of Professor Hartman’s upcoming book, Karl Marx in America, which is contracted to University of Chicago Press. The Fulbright-Eccles Scholar is one of over 800 U.S. citizens who will teach and conduct research abroad for the 2018-2019 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program; if you would like to apply to be our Scholar in the 2019-20 academic year please do see our website for further information and get in touch with us.

Phil Hatfield, Head of the Eccles Centre

08 June 2018

On Funeral Trains

June 5, 2018 marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.  Reflections on his political and cultural significance have appeared across media, with many  articles illustrated by wonderful photographs from the lively campaign for the Democratic nomination he was working on, and winning, at the time of his death.  Perhaps the most striking images, however, are of the crowds that came to pay their respect alongside the train tracks via which RFK's funeral train passed on its way from New York to Washington on June 8, 1968.

The most well circulated images from the funeral train were taken by Magnum photographer Paul Fusco.  Fusco was working for Look magazine, and was assigned to the funeral mass and burial.  The mass was held at St Patrick's Cathedral in New York, where RFK's brother Edward Kennedy delivered this moving eulogy to his older brother.  Subsequently, his body was taken by train to Washington where it was transferred to a cortege that wound past Resurrection City, to its final resting place alongside President John F. Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery.

It was a hot summer Saturday and the crowds that appeared along the length of the train tracks were so large that the train had to run at a slower speed, following a collision at a station.  The journey lasted most of the day, and was broadcast in its entirety on national television (it was also partially transmitted by satellite to the UK).  Perhaps for this reason, the photographs remained largely unseen until 1999 when Fusco found a new audience for his work.  The America they capture is a reflection of RFK's political vision and campaign strategy - profoundly democratic and inclusive, and which spoke directly to and about people at the margins of society.  They are also a fascinating evocation of US urban life in 1968, the social demographic mapping of cities, and the importance of trains and railway infrastructure within this.  It is interesting to consider how the communities depicted in Fusco's photographs have since fared.  Baltimore proves a particularly sobering comparison, from the lively and thriving neighbourhood seen in Fusco's photograph of North Broadway, and its current condition.  Elsewhere, whole communities disappeared under eminent domain with the expansion of Washington Dulles airport.

It is safe to say that this particularly egalitarian view of national mourning was possible because it was a train journey.  In this respect, Kennedy's funeral followed in the footsteps of Presidents F.D. Roosevelt and Lincoln, both of whom were transported by train following their deaths.  FDR died at Warm Springs, Atlanta, and was returned to Washington by train, although though this was not part of his funerary rituals.

FDR Funeral Train
Map by Steven Noble, shelfmark YC.2012.a.6505

Abraham Lincoln's funeral train journey was of a wholly different scale.  Departing Washington on April 21st 1865, it passed through hundreds of towns, stopping at 12 cities in 6 states on a 13 day trip.  Pulled by Lincoln's purpose-made engine, The United States, the funeral train followed the reverse route from Springfield, Illinois to Washington made by Lincoln for his 1860 inauguration.  You can read more about this on the Library of Congress' interactive site, which houses photographs, maps and newspaper accounts.  Lincoln's funeral is now near-mythical, and has been an inspiration for many projects - including this particular endeavour to rebuild The United States.

Clearly, trains figure largely in the American political imagination, which is pertinent given their early importance in connecting isolated populations to national events.  The whistle-stop campaign continued to be used in 20th Century campaigns as it continued to be a practical strategy of reaching otherwise alienated voters in sprawling states, while also invoking the nostalgia of 19th century political Americana.  It thus should not be a surprise that trains continued to figure largely in political death - they too proved an eminently practical means of enabling community-based mourning, and in the case of President Lincoln and Senator Kennedy, they also transported a large entourage of mourners, politicians, and press.

Given that Roosevelt was known for his whistle-stop  campaigns, turning out to see his funeral train was a particularly apt way of bidding farewell to the wartime President.  Indeed, RFK also undertook a whistle-stop campaign in Oregon, just a matter of weeks before his assassination.  Comparing the images of this to those from his funeral train, and reading descriptions of the atmosphere on board, one can't help but think how fitting it was that RFK's funeral elicited the spirit of inclusive participatory democracy that characterised his politics and his campaign.

- F.D. Fuentes Rettig, Curator North American Collections

 

The issue of Look Fusco originally printed his images in can be found at shelfmark P.P.6392.la., they appear in the RFK special memorial issue which hit the shelves late June, 1968.  They can also be seen in his seminal photobook RFK: Funeral Train, shelfmark LB.31.a.10247 , and subsequent expanded publication Paul Fusco: RFK shelfmark, LC.37.a.312 .  Jean Stein's American Journey, a collection of interviews with some of the passengers aboard RFK's funeral train is at shelfmark A70/3547.  Bill Epstein's collection of campaign photographs, A Time It Was can be found at LC.31.a.6397, and Harry Benson's RFK: A Photographer's Journal is currently on order.  Full descriptions of the Washington stages of both Senator Kennedy and President F.D. Roosevelt's funerals can be found in B.C. Mossman and M.W. Stark's The Last Salute: Civil and Military Funerals, shelfmark A.S.573/59. or online here.  See also Michael Leavy, The Lincoln Funeral, shelfmark YKL.2016.b.2629 .