First Central Bank of the United States


Figure 1.  Front of a cast iron bank from the Nathan Mansfield privy (c. 1850-1870) at the Federal Reserve Site (18BC27) in Baltimore.

This flat piece of cast iron (Figure 1) was once part of a coin bank produced around 1872 by J. & E. Stevens of Cromwell, Connecticut. Known as a still bank (to distinguish them from mechanical banks, which had moving parts), this little repository was a bank shaped like a bank building (Figure 2).  To make matters even more interesting, this artifact was recovered from an archaeological excavation in Baltimore at the future site of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, on Sharp Street.


Figure 2.  Complete J. & E. Stevens bank from a private collection.

This archaeological artifact thus seems like a good entry into an exploration of our nation’s early central banking history.  Today’s Federal Reserve Bank is the country’s third central banking system.  The first—the First Bank of the United States—operated from 1791 to 1811 and was the brainchild of our nation’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton (Figure 3).

The newly-formed United States was left facing a sizable public debt at the end of the Revolutionary War.  Hamilton’s voracious reading habits, coupled with his experience as a clerk for a Caribbean merchant, left him with a sound understanding of economic systems.  Prior to proposing a national bank, he helped found the Bank of New York in 1784 (PBS 2019). He envisioned the formation of a central bank that would stimulate the economy and provide much-needed credit for building the new nation.  Hamilton’s 1790 proposal to Congress for a national bank was passed into law in early 1791. Hamilton’s other fiscal achievements included establishment of the U. S. Mint, consolidating the states’ debts into a national debt handled by the US Treasury and creating taxes on domestic production to help fund the military (Federal Reserve 2019).


Figure 3.  Alexander Hamilton, circa 1790. By Charles Shirreff – Magnet, Myron (2013) The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735–1817, W. W. Norton & Company, p. 492 ISBN: 978-0393241884., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=61422753.

The First Bank of the United States, located in Philadelphia (Figure 4), was chartered for twenty years.  The Federal Government held twenty percent ownership in its ten million dollars of capital. The bank fulfilled numerous financial/fiscal roles:  tax collection, credit extension, issuing standard currency, making commercial loans, handling foreign exchange and serving as a depository for government funds. In addition to rapidly stabilizing the national economy, the bank helped position the United States on equal financial footing with European nations.

Figure 4. Bank of the United States, in Third Street Philadelphia [graphic] / Drawn, Engraved & Published by W. Birch & Son.; Philadelphia: W. Birch & Son, 1799.

From its beginning, centralized banking met with opposition.  The agrarian southern states, as represented by politicians like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were against the bank, while the more industrialized northern states were in favor.  The split eventually helped lead to the formation of our nation’s first two political parties – the pro-bank Federalist party and the anti-bank Democratic-Republicans.  Opponents saw the central bank as an overreach of executive branch power—similar to the opposition by state-chartered banks, who felt central financial control was an insult to state’s rights and unwanted competition.  

Republican control of the executive branch, beginning at the turn of the 19th century, led to the bank’s charter not being renewed at the end of its initial twenty-year term. Due to the dissolution of the First Central Bank in 1811, the United States was faced with economic difficulty during the War of 1812, when there was no central bank to fund the military (PBS 2019). James Madison, initially an opponent to centralized banking, supported the creation of the second centralized banking system in 1817.  Andrew Jackson did not renew the charter for the Second Bank of the United States in 1836 and it was not until 1913 that the third iteration of central banking – the Federal Reserve—was created (Britannica 2019).

References

Britannica Online Encyclopedia.  2019  Bank of the United States.  Encyclopaedia Britannica. Website accessed December 17, 2019 at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bank-of-the-United-States.

Federal Reserve.  2019  Alexander Hamilton.  Federal Reserve History.  Website accessed December 17, 2019 at https://www.federalreservehistory.org/people/alexander_hamilton.

Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).  2019  Alexander Hamilton; Establishing a National Bank.  American Experience.  Website accessed December 17, 2019 at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/establishing-national-bank/.

Two Transportation Firsts – the Old National Pike and the National Road


Figure 1. Stone mileage marker from the National Road. Scale is one-meter long. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab and the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highways Administration.

As travelers drive along our nation’s highways, their eyes are literally assaulted by a never-ending stream of billboards and towering signs advertising fast food restaurants, shopping centers and gas stations.  Useful information for the traveler to be sure, as are the green reflective signs that display the distance to cities and towns farther along the road. What a different experience we would have had as a traveler in the 19th century. Simple marker posts crafted of carved stone were the norm two centuries ago, providing travelers with directional and mileage information.

This gray limestone marker once stood in Maryland along the Old National Pike, which stretched from Baltimore to Cumberland, Maryland. Maryland holds the distinction of being the first Mid-Atlantic state to finance and maintain its road with a tolled turnpike system. Funded by a group of Baltimore banks, the road was built by several turnpike companies, including the Baltimore-Fredericktown Turnpike Company, beginning in the first decade of the 19th century.  Stone markers were spaced at mile intervals along the road, which joined the National Road at Cumberland. 

Mile marker 119 arrived at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab at Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum in 2018 for cleaning prior to its upcoming installation at the National Road Museum in Boonsboro, Maryland. It is believed to have been removed from the road right-of-way in the Flintstone area around 1987, when Interstate 68 was constructed.

As the U. S. population began moving west of the Allegheny Mountains into the Ohio River Valley in the late 18th century, the need for easy and reliable overland travel became more pressing.  In 1806, the U. S. Congress authorized the Thomas Jefferson administration  toconstruct another transportation first.  The National Road was the first federally funded infrastructure project of our new nation (Longfellow 2017).  The government used part of the proceeds of land sales in Ohio to fund the project. The National Road eventually extended all the way from Cumberland, Maryland to Vandalia, Illinois.

Figure 2. Extent of the National Road. Courtesy of the National Park Service. https://www.nps.gov/fone/learn/historyculture/nationalroad.htm

The road itself had its origins in a military road constructed in 1754 and 1755 by General Edward Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian War (NPS 2015).  The twelve-foot wide road extended from Fort Cumberland to Fort Duquesne, in what is now Pittsburgh.  Construction actually began on the National Road in 1811 (Jensen 2019), first with improvements to Braddock’s Road, followed by extending the highway from Pittsburgh to Wheeling, West Virginia.

The construction suffered a series of stops and starts over the following decades, but the road had reached Vandalia by 1839, an ultimate distance of 620 miles (Jensen 2019). The twenty-foot wide road made possible travel to the Midwest for stagecoaches carrying people and mail, and Conestoga wagons carrying freight.  Towns offering services like taverns, blacksmith shops and livery stables sprang up and thrived along the length of the road.

The development of the railroad spelled a temporary death knell for the National Road, but it saw a resurgence after the invention of the automobile and the rise in popularity of motor touring (NPS 2015).  In 1926, the National Road was designated as U. S. Route 40 and served as a major east-west artery until the interstate system was established in the 1950s with the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act. Today there are websites and blogs devoted to driving the length of Route 40, with a focus on the highway’s historical context and attractions (Brusca 2019; Srinivasan 2019).

Stone mileage markers began to disappear early in the 20th century, with the introduction of standardized highway signage.  Today, 69 stone mile markers are still standing along the route of the Old National Pike in Maryland and they have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places (MHT 2019).  The Maryland Department of Transportation State Highways Administration’s Cultural Resources Section has created an inventory of historic mile markers throughout the state using ArcGIS, a geographic information system.  The inventory contains description, location, and condition information for each marker, as well as photographs.  Interested readers can find out more at https://maryland.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=374856d5ea864183847d22b158af102a.

Acknowledgments:  The author would like to thank Dr. Julie Schablitsky, Chief of the Cultural Resources Division at the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration and Terry Maxwell, Public Involvement Coordinator at the Maryland Department of Transportation State Highway Administration for their assistance with this post.

References

Brusca, Frank.  2019  Return to Route 40; A Half Century of Landscape Change along a Transcontinental American Highway. Website accessed November 20, 2019 at http://www.route40.net/page.asp?n=1.

Jensen, Rich.  2019  National Road:  America’s First Interstate. Website accessed November 10, 2019 at   http://www.historynet.com/national-road-americas-first-highway.htm.  

Longfellow, Rickie.  2017  Back in Time; the National Road.  U. S. Department of Transportation. Federal Highway Administration.  Website accessed November 10, 2019 at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infrastructure/back0103.cfm

Maryland Historical Trust (MHT).  2019  Old National Pike. Maryland Historical Trust MEDUSA. https://mht.maryland.gov/secure/Medusa/PDF/Allegany/AL-I-B-077.pdf.

National Park Service (NPS).  2015  The National Road.  The National Park Service.  Website accessed November 10, 2019 at https://www.nps.gov/fone/learn/historyculture/nationalroad.htm

Srinivasan, Sriram. 2019   Driving the Historic National Road, from Start to Finish.  Travel Codex.  Website accessed November 20, 2019 at https://www.travelcodex.com/driving-the-historic-national-road-from-almost-start-to-almost-finish/.

The Life of Josiah Henson


In 1849, Maryland citizens could purchase a newly-published book whose origins began in their own state. Entitled The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, this volume recounted Henson’s life, including his childhood as an enslaved individual in Charles County. In and of itself, the publication of slave narratives—personal accounts of life in bondage—was not an unusual occurrence during the antebellum period. What makes this volume stand out is that it served as the inspiration for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 anti-slavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The second most translated book ever published (after the Bible), Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped galvanize the abolitionist movement in the United States (Robbins 2019).

Even without the Stowe connection, Henson (Figure 1) was an interesting man in his own right. While Henson stated his birth date as 1789, he may have actually been born closer to 1798 on a plantation known as “La Grange”. Subjected as a child to multiple acts of cruelty and violence, Henson eventually ended up in present-day Rockville, Maryland, where he became an overseer for Isaac Riley. Escaping enslavement with his family in 1830, Henson relocated to Canada and helped to found the British American Institute of Science and Industry and the Dawn Settlement, a community for former slaves. Henson became active in the Underground Railroad, serving as a conductor, as well as speaking extensively about his experiences as a way to raise money for refugee slaves. He also became a Methodist minister. Before his death in 1883, Henson had visited Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and been the guest of President Rutherford B. Hayes at the White House (Brock 2018).

Henson has sparked a great deal of intellectual curiosity over the years and recently this interest has taken an archaeological turn. In 2009, archaeologists working for the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Montgomery Parks began archaeological exploration at the Josiah Henson Site (18MO653). One of the goals of the project was to discover archaeological traces that could be dated to the period that Henson and another twenty enslaved individuals lived at this site. This multi-year project was featured in 2014 on an episode of the archaeological reality show Time Team America. A museum dedicated to the community enslaved at Riley’s plantation will open in late 2020 at the Josiah Henson Park.

Figure 2. Copper alloy pie crimper from the Josiah Henson Birthplace site.

In 2016, a group of archaeologists from St. Mary’s College of Maryland did work at a property known today as La Grange (18CH928) near Port Tobacco, where Henson was born (Webster et al., 2017). It was during testing of a trash midden area between the house and the quarter that a small copper alloy artifact was discovered. It was originally part of a kitchen tool known as a pastry wheel or pie crimper, used for cutting and trimming pie dough (Figure 2). The small wheel would have originally been set in a handle that allowed it to rotate freely (Figure 3). Although dating to the same period as Henson’s life at La Grange, it is unlikely that he ever used or even saw this object. Cooking was considered women’s work and the plantation kitchen would have been located near the main house and in an area probably off-limits to children.

Figure 3. Early 19th-century brass pastry wheel from a private collection. Length: 4″.

References
Brock, Jared. 2018. The Story of Josiah Henson, the Real Inspiration for ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’. Smithsonian. Website accessed October 28, 2019 at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/story-josiah-henson-real-inspiration-uncle-toms-cabin-180969094/.


Henson, Josiah. 1849. The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself. Arthur D. Phelps, Boston.


Robbins, Hollis. 2019. Uncle Tom’s Cabin and the Matter of Influence. The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Website accessed October 28, 2019 at https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/essays/uncle-tom%C3%A2%E2%82%AC%E2%84%A2s-cabin-and-matter-influence


Stowe, Harriet Beecher. 1852. Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. John J. Jewett & Co., Boston.

Acknowledgments:  The author would like to thank Cassandra Michaud of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Montgomery Parks for providing information about the excavations at the Josiah Henson Park.

A Fish for All Times – Atlantic Menhaden’s Long History in the Chesapeake



Figure 1. Mid-nineteenth century barrel excavated at the Brown’s Wharf site (18BC59).  Photograph courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

During the Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology’s 1987 excavation of the Brown’s Wharf site (18BC59), archaeologists uncovered an unusual find—a complete wooden barrel whose staves were held together with split tree branch bands (Figures 1 and 2).  Barrels like this one, which dated to the mid-nineteenth century, were used for storing virtually anything, including grain, salted meat, cider, whale oil and dried and pickled fish.  And indeed, removing the soil filling the interior of this barrel, revealed – among other items like a metal funnel, a shoe, rope and a broken champagne bottle—sixty menhaden (Figure 3), whose bodies had been preserved in a tarry substance (Stevens 1989).

The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus) is a native North American schooling fish in the herring family, ranging from Nova Scotia to Florida (Figure 4).  Small and oily, menhaden are not considered an appetizing meal for humans, but are prey for larger fish like weakfish, striped bass and bluefish. Menhaden’s primary food source is phytoplankton.

Figure 2. Unidentified archaeologist excavating the Brown’s Wharf barrel. Photo courtesy of the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Lab.

Menhaden have had a long and important history for the Chesapeake Bay region. Although long used by Native Americans as fertilizer, perhaps the earliest written record of menhaden was penned by Captain John Smith, who described them as “lying so thick with their heads above the water, as for want of nets (our barge driving amongst them) we attempted to catch them with a frying pan.” (Smith 1624).  Although not favored as a human food, menhaden have been used in paint, as a bait fish, for fertilizer, as animal feed, in human dietary supplements and as lamp oil (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019).  Large numbers of processing plants sprang up along the Atlantic coast for converting menhaden into these valuable products.

Figure 3: BCUA curator Louis Akerson and archaeologist Scott Simmons examining the contents of the barrel. Reprinted from The Evening Sun, Perry E. Thorsvik.

Almost four hundred years later, a time-traveling John Smith would be disheartened at the menhaden population in the Chesapeake Bay.  Once menhaden oil began to replace whale oil for lighting and as an industrial lubricant in the late nineteenth century, menhaden populations began to decline (Franklin 2008; Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019). These numbers continued to plummet as overharvesting went on throughout the twentieth century, with the menhaden fishery being the largest in the Atlantic.

Some conservationists refer to menhaden as “the most important fish in the sea”, since they form a vital part of the marine food web (Franklin 2008).  With menhaden numbers depleted, populations of phytoplankton, “a major cause of algae blooms and brown tides” (Carini 2017), explode, to the detriment of the coastal waters.  Studies by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) have shown the striped bass population suffering malnutrition because of the reduced menhaden population (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019).

Figure 4. The Atlantic menhaden (Brevoortia tyrannus). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Brevoortia_tyrannus1.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1674101

In an attempt to curb population reduction, the ASMFC voted in 2012 to cap the harvest of menhaden at 20 percent less than the previous three year’s catch (Carini 2017).  A population study completed in 2017 showed that menhaden numbers are increasing, but still not at levels considered healthy for the ecology of the Atlantic coastal ecosystem (Chesapeake Bay Foundation 2019; Carini 2017). Since the Chesapeake Bay is the source of almost 87% of the menhaden harvested in the Atlantic (with Virginia fisherman allocated over 85% of the harvest), the population recovery has not been as successful in the Bay (Dunn 2017).  Although small in size, menhaden loom large in the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay’s ecosystem and conservation measures need to continue.

References

Carini, Frank.  2017.  Menhaden:  The Most Important Fish at the Moment.  EcoRI News.  Website site accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.ecori.org/aquaculture/2017/11/10/menhaden-the-most-important-fish-that-the-moment.

Chesapeake Bay Foundation.  2019.  Atlantic Menhaden; the Chesapeake’s Unsung Hero.  Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Website accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.cbf.org/about-the-bay/more-than-just-the-bay/chesapeake-wildlife/menhaden/.

Dunn, Joel.  2017.  Bay’s History Depended on Menhaden; Its Future Will as Well.  The Bay Journal.  Website accessed July 30, 2019 at https://www.bayjournal.com/article/bays_history_depended_on_menhaden_its_future_will_as_well.

Franklin, H. Bruce.  2008. The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America.  Island Press, Washington, D. C.

Smith, Captain John.  1624. The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles. I.D and I. H. for Michael Sparkes, London.  Electronic version available at https://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/smith/smith.html.

Stevens, Kristen L.  1989.  An Investigation of the Archaeological Resources Associated with the Brown’s Wharf Site (18BC59) on Thames Street, Baltimore, Maryland.  Baltimore Center for Urban Archaeology Research Series No. 28.  On file at MHT.

One Small Sewing Thimble, One Giant Sewing Job!


Archaeologists working on domestic sites are almost sure to find at least one example of that most humble of artifacts—the sewing thimble. Whether manufactured from brass, iron, aluminum or silver, most of these thimbles are the familiar closed-top variety. But a small percentage are open-topped thimble rings.  

Figure 1.  This thimble ring from Oxon Hill Manor (18PR175) in Prince George’s County was found in a layer of soil deposited sometime during the 1800s.

Like a closed-top thimble, these sewing rings—as they were also called—were used to help push a needle through fabric. Thimble rings, which protected the side, rather than the top of the finger, were often used by tailors or individuals sewing heavy cloth, like canvas sails or leather (Holmes 1985).

Thimble rings would have been an everyday tool in 18th– and 19th-century Baltimore, when the city was renowned as a center for shipbuilding.  By 1809, there were nine shipyards in the city, many of them located in the Fell’s Point neighborhood. Before the advent of steam engines, ships relied on the wind and sails for power.  And where shipbuilding flourished, so too did the production of canvas sails.  Eleven sail makers worked in Baltimore in 1809; a number that had increased to 29 in the 1822 city directory (Matchett 1822).

The size of sails made it expedient for sailmakers to work in large, open floor plan workrooms known as lofts. Although the bolts of canvas used for crafting sails were thirty-nine yards long, they were only two feet wide, necessitating the piecing together of long strips of fabric (Allan 2018).  Some of the largest sails could weigh in at over a ton (Allen 2018). Standardized rules governed the profession of sailmaking and numerous treatises were published in the 19th century with guidelines for constructing different types of sails (O’Regan 2014).  And sailmaking was not just a dry land activity; all sailing vessels needed the services of a sailmaker on board for at-sea repairs.

Figure 2.  The Sail Loft by Ralph Hedley.  1908. (c) Laing Art Gallery; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation.

While flax linen imported from Europe had typically been used for making sails, the introduction of new spinning and weaving technology in the early 19th century brought about the transition to cotton (O’Regan 2014).  Cotton duck proved to be a strong, tightly woven fabric perfect for creating sails. Cotton grown in the American South was imported to cotton mills along Baltimore’s Jones Falls and these mills found a ready market among sailmakers (Nettles 2019).

Within three decades of the 1843 development of steam-powered ships, “virtually all merchant and military ships had converted to metal hulls and steam power” (Nettles 2019). While it might seem that the advent of steam-powered vessels would have been a death knell for sailmakers, this was not the case.  Mid-19th century technological advancements in food canning and preservation brought about a boom in the oyster industry, with an attendant need for sails to outfit Chesapeake oyster boats (Brewington 1970).  During the Civil War, sailmakers found employment making tents for soldiers. 

Figure 3. Early 19th-century English Provincial School oil painting of a sailing ship.

Today, the use of sailing vessels is more of a sport and recreational activity, rather than economic or military necessity.  Technological improvements in fabric manufacture have advanced the art of sailmaking well beyond heavy canvas into a range of lighter weight polyester blends. Although Baltimore was once a center for shipbuilding and sailmaking, today that honor seems to have shifted south to Annapolis, where a search of the yellow pages reveals a number of companies specializing in sail design and production.

References

Allan, Philip K.   2018  Sails and the Art of the Sailmaker.   Blog of Philip K. Allen, Author.  Post dated July 9, 2018 at https://www.philipkallan.com/single-post/2018/07/09/Sails-and-the-Vanishing-Art-of-the-Sailmaker.  Post accessed June 5, 2019.

Brewington, Marion V.   1970  Chesapeake Sailmaking.   Maryland Historical Magazine Volume 65, Issue 2.

Holmes, Edwin F.  1985  A History of Thimbles.  Cornwall Books, New York.

Matchett, R. J.  1822  C. Keenan’s Baltimore directory for 1822 & ’23 : together with the eastern and western precincts, never before included : a correct account of removals, new firms, and other useful information. R. J. Matchett, Baltimore.

Nettles, Dean 2019   Shipbuilding and the Rise and Fall of Sails. Baltimore Industry Tours. http://www.baltimoreindustrytours.com/shipbuilding.php

O’Regan, Deirdre  2014  New Sails for an Old Ship—Building Sails for the Charles W. MorganSea History 147.  Summer 2014. https://www.mysticseaport.org/voyage/restoration/new-sails-for-an-old-ship/ Website accessed June 5, 2019.

Ouija, The Wonderful Talking Board– a Baltimore Original


Figure 1.   Metal game board spinner from the Aged Home for Colored Men and Women, Baltimore. Photo courtesy of the MAC Lab.

Winter is still upon us and what better way to spend a cold, dark evening than settled by the fire with a board game and a few friends?  Whenever I visit my 30-something nieces and nephews, we make sure to schedule time for a game night (which usually turns quite raucous as the evening progresses!).  Board and card game popularity has been on the rise over the last eight years, driven largely by millennials (Graham 2016).  It will come as no surprise to readers that this recent upsurge in interest is part of a long history of board games.

The period between the 1880s and the 1920s has been described as the “Golden Age” of board games in America (Hofer 2003).  Their popularity was enhanced by mass production, which made games inexpensive and easily available.  The game board spinner shown in Figure 1 was found among other artifacts from an 1870-1910 Methodist Episcopal retirement home for African American men and women. 

Not many people realize that Ouija, a board game still popular today, was invented in Baltimore in the late nineteenth century.  We’ve all come under its spell at one time or another – usually, I suspect, as young and impressionable children.  Who hasn’t fallen under the lure of a hushed candlelit room, a tingling spine and a table set with a Ouija board and its promise to put us in touch with the departed? 

Figure 2. The popularity of Ouija was celebrated on the cover of the
Saturday Evening Post in 1920.

The Ouija board was created by Elijah Bond, a Baltimore attorney, and produced by the Kennard Novelty Company.  Several years prior, spiritualists in the Midwest had begun using “talking boards” as a means to make communication with the deceased easier to understand (McRobbie 2013).  These talking boards were the precursors of the product Bond and his partners patented in 1891.  The Ouija board contains all the letters of the alphabet, numbers from 0 to 9, and the words “yes”, “no” and “goodbye”.  When players put their fingers on a small heart-shaped wooden or metal piece called a planchette, spiritual forces will guide them to letters and numbers spelling out a message from the beyond (Figure 3).  And Ouija was instantly popular: by 1892, the Kennard Novelty Company had gone from one factory to six: with two factories in Baltimore and the others in Chicago, New York and London. 

The invention of Ouija and its popularity can be attributed to the rise of belief in spiritualism in Victorian America and Britain (McRobbie 2013).  In America, this movement began in the late 1840s when the three Fox sisters convinced people of their ability to communicate with the deceased.  Adherents of Spiritualism believed such communication was possible and engaged in this activity through seances, automatic writing or gatherings where participants were seated around a table that would spin or shake through no apparent human intervention.  Some of the great intellectuals of the nineteenth century, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, evolutionary biologist Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Dickens were believers in spiritualism.  Queen Victoria participated in seances after the 1861 death of her husband, Prince Albert, and was said to have received messages from him (Diniejko 2016).  Mary Todd Lincoln sought the assistance of spiritualists after the death of her son, William, in the early 1860s.

Figure 3. Players placed their fingers on the planchett and waited for spirits to guide it to spell out a message. Photo courtesy of Bettman/Corbis.

While the Spiritualism movement lost energy later in the nineteenth century as mediums were exposed as frauds, the popularity of Ouija board has waxed and waned over the years.  In times of economic uncertainty or turmoil, such as the years around World War I and during the Great Depression, the popularity of the Ouija surged.  Some people believed that the Ouija board was a bad influence and a court case was held in the 1920s to determine if it was a toy (Thorpe 2018). 

Unfortunately, no shaped wooden pieces that formed the earliest game planchets have been recovered to date from Baltimore archaeological sites, but it is surely just a matter of time before one is pulled from a privy or cellar.


Figure 4.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija-themed tombstone in Baltimore’s Green Mount cemetery. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Although Elijah Bond divested himself of his interest in the Kennard Novelty Company by 1893 (McRobbie 2013), Ouija boards continued to be made in Baltimore until 1966.  Bond died in 1921 and was buried in a grave whose location was lost over the years.  Ouija board collector and founder of The Talking Board Historical Society Robert Murch spearheaded an effort to relocate Bond’s unmarked grave in Baltimore’s Green Mount Cemetery (Atlas Obscura 2019). Around 2007, Bond’s grave received a new and entirely appropriate head stone (Figure 4).

Interest in Ouija continues; in 2012 the Baltimore Museum of Industry held a temporary exhibit entitled “Let The Spirit Move You: Ouija, Baltimore’s Mystifying Oracle” and the Ouija board played a big role in the 2016 movie thriller Ouija, the Origin of Evil.

References

Atlas Obscura.  2019.  Elijah Bond’s Ouija Board Grave. Atlas Obscura. Website accessed February 26, 2019 at https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/elijah-bond-s-ouija-board-grave.

Diniejko, Andrzej.  2016.  Victorian Spiritualism.  The Victorian Web; literature, history & culture in the age of Victoria.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at http://www.victorianweb.org/victorian/religion/spirit.html.

Graham, Luke.  2016.  Millennials are Driving the Board Games Revival.  CNBC.  December 22, 2016.  at https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/22/millennials-the-board-games-revival-catan-pandemic.html. Hofer, Margaret.  2003.  The Games We Played: The Golden Age of Board & Table Games. New York:  Princeton Architectural Press.

McRobbie, Linda Rodriquez.  2013. The Strange and Mysterious History of the Ouija Board.  Smithsonian. com.  Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-strange-and-mysterious-history-of-the-ouija-board-5860627/.

Thorpe, J. R.  2018.  The History of Ouija Boards, Where They Come From, & Why They’re So Freaking Creepy.  Bustle.com. Website accessed February 27, 2019 at https://www.bustle.com/p/the-history-of-ouija-boards-where-they-come-from-why-theyre-so-freaking-creepy-12279291.

Oblate Sisters of Providence: The First Order of African-American Nuns


This post was written by former MAC Lab volunteer Lauren Morrell.  Thank you, Lauren!

18CH216-Lot28

Front: Written in French, “O MARIE CONÇUE SANS PÉCHÉ PRIEZ POUR NOUS QUI AVONS RECOURS À VOUS” (Translation: O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee) around the Virgin Mary with rays emitting from her hands.
Back: 
Miraculous Medal motif showing the letter “M” with a cross over it, and under both are the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a crown of thorns, and the Sacred Heart of Mary pierced by a sword. Courtesy U.S. Army Garrison, Adelphi Laboratory Center.

This miraculous medal — a medallion that many Catholics believe was inspired by the Virgin Mary — was uncovered at Blossom Point farm in Charles County, Maryland (18CH216). The farm was part of St. Thomas Manor, which was patented in 1649 by Thomas Matthews and Father Thomas Copley, who were members of the Jesuit community. St. Thomas Manor has been owned by the Jesuits since then. The farm was rented to short-term tenants after the Civil War and this medal, which postdates 1832, was probably owned by one of the tenants.

Maryland has a long history with the Catholic religion. Founded in 1634 by Catholic Lord Baltimore, the colony became known as the cradle of Catholicity (Pyne 2008). The first Catholic church in the English Colonies was constructed in St. Mary’s City in 1667 (The Chapel of St Mary’s City, 2019). By the founding of the country, roughly ten percent of Maryland’s population were openly practicing Catholics, of which nearly 20 percent were slaves (Pyne 2008).

Baltimore has the distinction of being the birthplace of a Catholic religious institute that broke both racial and gender social norms. The Oblate Sisters of Providence were the first permanent community of Roman Catholic Sisters of African descent in the world; their mission is to “renounce the world to consecrate themselves to God and to Christian education of young girls of color” (Posey 1994). The title, Oblate Sisters of Providence, was given October 2, 1831, by Papal recognition as an official Catholic organization.

The community began in 1828 when Elizabeth Lange, a free woman of color, and Father James Nicholas Joubert, a white Frenchman, bonded over their shared French culture, Caribbean refugee status, devotion to the Catholic faith, and their commitment to providing education to black children (Morrow 1997).

Elizabeth Lange was born in the Caribbean around 1784.

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Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange

She immigrated to Baltimore in 1813, joining the growing community of free people of African descent. Baltimore, at the time, was the “free black capital” of 19th-century America, with a vibrant and involved community (Morrow 2000). Elizabeth saw a need to educate French- speaking children, so she and another Caribbean emigrant, Mary Balas, opened a school for children in their home (Morrow 2000). Continue reading