Learning The Wages of Sin

by Patrick Wohlscheid

Looking through the Library of Congress Digital Archives for items related to poetry and early American religious culture, I found a printed broadside entitled “The Wages of Sin; or, Robbery justly Rewarded: a Poem Occasioned by the untimely Death of Richard Wilson, Who was Executed on Boston Neck, for Burglary, on Thursday the 19th of October, 1732.” This page caught my eye not only because it was a poem occasioned for such a specific public event, and an execution no less, but that it is also fairly compact and visually striking. The poem and its illustration, a square printed woodcut depicting a man hanging, with his executioner and judge even larger in the foreground, are not hidden in a volume of other poetry and prose works, nor are they part of a larger everyday text like a newspaper, but is its own self-contained piece of printed ephemera that combines the religious, political, and literary. Under the illustration and title, the poem is divided into two columns, and at the bottom reads “Boston: Printed and Sold at the Heart and Crown in Cornhill,” which I found was a rather popular publisher in the mid to late 18th century. The printed script is easy to read, despite the typical typographical feature of “s” appearing more like a modern “f.” The condition of the page looks quite good for its age, with a minimal amount of smudging and discoloration.

The poem itself consists of 19 rhyming quatrains, and chronicles the specific crime of Richard Wilson—marking a home as a target in the daytime and robbing it at night—and more broadly details the social and religious implications of crime and sin. Against the backdrop of the Great Awakening and the lingering influences of Puritanism in New England, we receive lines like “No human pardon can he get, / by intercession made; / but flee he must unto the Pit, / and by no Man be stay’d” and “there is no Places sure, / where Workers of Iniquity / can hide themselves secure.” Though the speaker of the poem does say that hopefully Wilson may receive a pardon because he grieves his sins and bemoans a life lived immorally, it is more a public lesson for other thieves and sinners before it is too late, like it essentially is for Richard Wilson. This poem, referencing the Bible verse that the wage of sin is death, and that this death is a just reward for robbery, combines Calvinist doctrine and religious fervor with the power of the carceral state to enact punishment on its citizens.

Overall, I think that this text from the archives provides us with a lot of interesting questions about the connections between the state and religion in 18th century America, especially in thinking about the way that the public sphere is a space to display punishment not only for illegality, but immorality, and that poetry is utilized not for its aesthetic value, but as moral/behavioral education and correction. Compared to contemporary times as well, it seems that the American carceral state is often just as harsh in its judgment and punishment, but is able to act “depoliticized” due to the abstracting away from specific moral or religious principles, which seems often just as oppressive in different ways.

Blog 2 – Oh André

By Alex Ronan

For this blog post I had only a vague notion of what I was going to search for in the digital archives of esteemed major public institutions. I decided to investigate General Benedict Arnold as he is a character known by almost every American, but so little is taught on his treason in schools. I tried two of these online databases and found mainly sketches of his likeness. However, in the DPLA I found an extremely interesting item, a pamphlet containing the proceedings from Major John André’s trial for treason following his capture near Tarrytown, N.Y. Having read the play André by William Dunlop this semester, I immediately knew this would be my object of interest. The pamphlet was printed in 1780 and contained the proceedings of the trial, as well as letters from the likes of General Washington and General Arnold.

I was struck by how odd the pamphlet looked at first, as though it was a middle school project where it had been aged by soaking in tea and rubbing ash from burning the edges of the paper. It is 22 pages long and contains a page of written notes that I was unable to read due to the handwriting. The letters that were printed were as sharp as can be, which surprised me that the ink had not faded after almost a quarter of a century. It was not difficult to read, the only noticeable change in the English used was the seemingly random use of the letter “f” being substituted for the letter “s” in words. They had the letter “s”, but most had been replaced by “f”. The digital archive also explains that this pamphlet is incomplete which explains the odd ending.

The content of the pamphlet is also very interesting. From reading the play André I was left with a very different version of the last days of the British Major. Though I knew I was reading a fictional account, it had subconsciously become the information I knew on the topic. The pamphlet is essentially a collection of letters that argue the finer points of André guilt of a spy, and one or two rather ridiculous letters from Benedict Arnold on André’s behalf. Washington writes to the tribunal that André had been captured using the false name of John Anderson in Tarrytown New York, he was dressed in civilian clothes, carried a pass issued by General Arnold in the assumed name, and had hidden in his boots intelligence papers about West Point which were meant for the enemy. He had been caught behind enemy lines, not neutral ground, and was to be considered a spy. André then claims that it was all a misunderstanding or that he had been listening to Arnold’s advice, he had never meant to be near American positions, and he was only out of uniform with the pass on Arnold’s recommendation. He even mentions a man in Charlestown who the British are holding that could be exchanged for himself. The language is very flattering, he seems mainly concerned about his honor, it being most important to him. Arnold writes to Washington as if they are still the best of friends and even asks for his personal items to be shipped on to England, graciously offering to pay the fee, if he must. He then attempts a rather lame defense of André by claiming he was protected as he had come under the flag of parley. Benedict Arnold is seemingly close to Major André and for some reason believes that he and Washington as still firmly friends, even post the high treason that Arnold had taken. Though the pamphlet is incomplete, the men involved argue the semantics of his arrival under a flag of truce issued by and treasonous agent, Gen. Arnold, and that André was merely following orders. The tribunal clearly did not accept the validity of this argument and André was hanged as a spy a short while after, being denied the more honorable death of being placed on a firing line. Not to throw any aspersions on Mr. Dunlop, but this pamphlet was more concise, illuminating, and accurate than the play version. It was also quite entertaining to see just how clueless Benedict Arnold was.

Letters & Mortar Shells

by Elizabeth Askins

A Letter Telling of a Revolution

This particular letter was written in 1779 by a Mr. Abraham Lott to General Nathanael Green. I found this manuscript residing on the Lowcountry Digital Libraries’ website in the Charleston Museum Collection of Revolutionary War Letters. The letter details Lott’s poor health, the current state of the military affairs, and even his family. There is a current stronghold in Charlestown where companies of men are stationed, and the enemy has recently retreated. I was surprised to see Lott mentioning his family to General Green, clearly, they were decently close friends.

I found this manuscript incredibly hard to read, and not just because of the small, watermark-like cursive. I could only make out bits and pieces of the story, so I relied heavily on the description from The Charleston Museum Archives. The paper is rather yellowed, and the creases muddle the words a bit. The ink has also faded a decent amount, almost as if it was written with watercolor paint. Who knows? Maybe Lott was running out of ink.

The writing takes up the entire page with little white space, though it looks fairly neatly written. Abraham Lott must have been running out of paper, but not in a rush, as his letter is very lengthy yet shoved into one page. This letter gives personality to those fighting in the war that, otherwise, we may not have known about.

Mortar that Mortally Wounds

These five mortar shells can be found in the Digital Public Library of America. They date back to the Revolutionary War and were used in White Plains, Battle of New York that occurred in 1776.

      As you can expect, being hit with one of these would cause great bodily harm to someone.They are dark in color, and some of them have chips and are broken in half. By using the hand in the photo for reference, these shells are about the size of a dodgeball, though I would predict these come at you a great deal faster and leave a lasting impact as opposed to rubber. The notes on the image describe the height and condition of these shells, though they are hard to read.

It amazes me how the shell on the far left is broken. What could this solid mortar shell have hit to crack it in half? A note reads, “fragment of exploded shell showing bolts and bullets”. This describes whoever made these mortar shells as resourceful, and even a responsible recycler! The notes denote that some of the shells vary in weight, denoting shells of 71 pounds, 75 pounds, and even a hefty 84 pounds. I could only imagine one of these soaring at me on a battlefield riddled with flying bullets, sharp bayonets, and swinging swords as drummer boys played in the background.

The Death of Procris

by Abigail Young

The digital archive that I chose to explore was ArtStor, which has extensive records of Fine and Decorative arts of all kinds. To refine my search, I narrowed down the field to art from the United States that was created between 1770 and 1820. A painting that stood out to me was made by Benjamin West called Death of Procris. According to the ArtStor entry, the painting was completed in 1770 but was retouched in 1803. It is an oil painting on panel which would be typical of this time period. It currently resides in The Art Institute of Chicago.

This painting by West appears to be inspired by a work Piero di Cosimo which was made around 1495. The original painting has a very similar layout to this one, with the male figure leaning over the woman who appears to be asleep or dead, as well as a dog on the right hand side of the composition. The layout displayed in this painting is a popular one, as there are three main elements that visually create a kind of triangle. This subtle shape in the composition draws the viewers eyes to the various elements, and creates a dynamic tension between the cloaked figure, the woman, and the dog.

Another formal element to note about this painting is the color scheme that is used. The fabric on both figures are rich jewel tones, the cloaked figure in a russet red and the woman in a peacock blue. Using color theory, these colors may hint at the nature of each of the people in the scene. Typically, reds are thought to represent anger or danger, while blue is often a more serene or relaxing color–it is also often tied to innocence and the Virgin Mary. With this in mind, West may be implying that there is some kind of treachery happening between the two.

After looking up the backstory associated with the title, it appears that there are several different versions of Procris’ death. She is a figure in greek mythology, and there is also a mention of the story of her death in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. According to the myth, Procris followed her husband into the forrest one day when he went out hunting, because she thought that he may be cheating on her. When she hears him shouting the name of another woman in the forrest, Procris steps out from where she is hiding behind a tree. This startles her husband, and he ends up shooting her with a bow and arrow, and killing her. Knowing this story, the contrast of the colors, and their meaning, along with the presence of the hunting dog all make sense. The male figure is revealed to be the husband, whose red cape implicates his guilt in this murder, while the innocent Procris now lays dead. Looking a bit more closely at the painting, you can see some drops of blood on the white of Procris’ gown, as well as a bloody arrow resting at the base of the composition.

Despite the dark background of this story, I think that the painting in and of itself is really interesting. It has beautiful technique, and is something different than would typically be seen in this time period that was over-run by portraits of the wealthy.


Learn more about the mythology of Procris: https://www.greekmythology.com/Myths/Mortals/Procris/procris.html

Link to the ArtStor page: https://library.artstor.org/#/asset/AMICO_CHICAGO_1031149700

The Reality of Religious Frenzy

By: Mollie Bowman

When I first started looking through databases, I was not entirely sure what exactly I wanted to look for, so I ended up just searching whatever would come to mind on many different platforms. Eventually, I found myself on Readux’s American Historical Newspapers database where I searched up the phrase “religious frenzy,” a subject that fascinated me while reading Wieland. This search brought up quite a few results, but I ended up finding a very interesting article that related the results of an investigation into a man who attempted to murder the King in London. This same story was printed in many American newspapers in the database, but the one I will be referencing is from the issue of the Connecticut Journal printed on July 16th, 1800.

The newspaper itself has quite a lot crammed into one page. It consists of four columns filled with stories in a relatively small typeface, which allows for a lot of information to be on a singular page. The article about the attempted murder takes up a column and a half of the page, which is quite a lot considering that no other story on this page goes over half a column. The type itself is really easy to read, as the only real difference that it poses to contemporary lettering is the use of the long s. Additionally, the newspaper seems to have been well-kept and was scanned nicely for the database. There seem to be almost no blemishes on this archival piece, save for a bit of faded ink along the outside of the newspaper. Though the database did not list the dimensions of the newspaper, it seems to have been relatively large. It seems clear from the layout of this piece that this newspaper is doing what it is meant to do: deliver as much news as possible without using too much paper.

The content of this article is just utterly fascinating. It is an update on the completed investigation into a man who attempted to assassinate the king at a London theatre. The report tells that the man, Hadfield, had been previously deemed insane but had been let back out into the world. He soon met another man, Truelock, who was “touched with a religious frenzy” and “filled the brain of Hatfield with some incoherent and frantic superstitions.” The most interesting part of this article is when it relates how Hadfield is convinced to go through with this treasonous attempt: “[Truelock] told him of a divine commission which he had to perform for the good of mankind––that he was appointed to purify the earth––that in truth [Truelock] was God, and that he wanted a second God to assist his work, and he would appoint Hatfield to be his son.” I personally find this fascinating, and its parallels to Wieland are quite evident. Though this article was printed two years after Wieland’s publication, it shows that this idea of being spoken to by an apparent God and pushed to kill was actually a reality (and one that, importantly for the novel, was occuring in Europe). I think this piece is totally interesting on its own, but it also reveals so much about the fears of that world that Charles Brockden Brown was writing within.

America’s First Cookbook

By Callie Andrew

While browsing the Library of Congress’ digital database, I discovered a new genre of literature that began right at the endpoint of our course: cookbooks. Published in 1796, American cookery, or, The art of dressing viands, fish, poultry, and vegetables : and the best modes of making pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, puddings, custards, and preserves : and all kinds of cakes, from the imperial plumb to plain cake, adapted to this country, and all grades of life, is now known as America’s first cookbook. Written by Amelia Simmons, American Cookery introduced a new era of literature with its simple, yet informational, retelling of recipes and common cooking techniques. 

While looking through the pages of this cookbook, one of the first things that caught my eye was how similar the text looked to other novels we have read throughout this semester. Inspired by the trends of the nineteenth century, the writing on the pale yellow pages is organized in the same way as any other novel. I was surprised by how easily I was able to read the pages, as Simmons’ narration thoroughly detailed the reasoning for each ingredient in a way that added depth to the instruction. An example of this can be seen when Simmons writes that “Shad, contrary to the generally received opinion are not for much richer flavored, as they are harder when first taken out of the water…” 

Much like most literature at the time, American Cookery undoubtedly has British influence. English recipes such as roast lamb and Queen’s Cake were intertwined with the simplistic dishes of American culture. I found the mixing of culture to be fascinating, as it highlighted just how significant British culture was at this time.

An Original Manuscript on the Illuminati!

by Brandon Eichelberg

For this assignment, I decided to dive deeper into the ominous world of the Illuminati. I remember being very intrigued by this topic in middle school and staying up late watching cheesy YouTube videos on it, so I am pretty surprised that I have been given the opportunity to rekindle this interest and do some research for a real grade in a college class. 

To start my research, I decided to go to the Digital Public Library of America. I simply searched “illuminati” and narrowed my results down so that they would fit this prompt. I discovered a copy of an old English translation of a French book called On the Influence Attributed to Philosophers, Free-Masons, and to the Illuminati, on the French Revolution. Real hefty name.

This particular copy, which is scanned/photo-copied by Princeton University, was created in 1801. The original French was written by Jean-Joseph Mounier, and the English translation was done by a man named J. Walker. 

Based on the brief introduction, the whole piece is arguing against the negative accusations that were placed against such groups as philosophers, Free-Masons, and the Illuminati. Many Europeans during the French Revolution believed that such groups were implementing chaos within the order of the French government, and therefore supporting the revolution. This whole piece seems as though it could have been written, or at least owned, by Ludloe from Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist (ignoring the fact that Memoirs takes place before the French Revolution).

Mounier claims that such groups were not responsible for the French Revolution “directly or indirectly.” He also says that arguments against groups such as the Illuminati are by “superficial minds.” I found this interesting because it shows the contrast between the rational Enlightenment thinkers and the religious Christians that we have noticed in the Early Republic of America. 

Something else that I found interesting from Mounier, is his insistence on liberty and human reason. His whole argument – again, only based on the small bits that I did read – seems to support the French Revolution and Illuminati-like groups, yet he is denying that they are interrelated at all. 

Looking at this old document was also interesting in other ways unrelated to its subject matter. Something that really hindered my reading, was the use of the letter S. As can be seen in the image of the first page of the “Introduction,” the letter “s”, when lower-case and in the beginning or middle of a word, looks a lot like an ‘f’. However, I noticed that when a lower-case ‘s’ is at the end of the word, it looks normal. Furthermore, an upper-case ‘S’ looks normal as well. Maybe this has to do with the bleeding of ink? I am not 100% sure, considering I have not looked too much into it yet. My other thought was that it could relate to the Greek use of a lower-case sigma, which is different based on if it is at the end of a word or in the beginning/middle of a word. I’m sure Dr. Peeples knows, so I would love an explanation, especially if I cannot find one online.

Overall, I found the fruits of this labor interesting and fun. Diving into the Illuminati in the context of this class was a treat and seeing photo-copied versions of old manuscripts was very cool as well. 

Blog Post 2

by Ryan Barry

Being honest, I really had no idea where to start. My search began very blandly, and I didn’t really know what I should be looking for. It didn’t take very long for me to start noticing these business card things.

While I do not understand their history, I don’t think they are meant to be very historical. Instead, they appear to be what is known in today’s world as forms of advertisement. The reason I was drawn to these rather plain documents has nothing to do with the individual pictures of each, but the fact that I came across so many of them in the database (I used the Digital Public Library of America).

Their appearance is quite simple and straightforward; they possess differences and similarities to the ‘advertisements’ of the contemporary world. As simple as they are, however, they are all unique. It comes to my attention that the reason these caught my attention is because we are working on document design at the moment in my 225 class. While these would never pass for effective advertising today, they still possess some of the most basic elements of an effective form of communication. They contain all of the necessary information to convey their intended message.

I think the main difference between today and the time these cards were created is the visual design and layout. Not only are we flashier today but audiences prefer only the most essential information because our attention spans are not nearly as long as they used to be. For instance, the second picture advertises an amalgamation of ingredients to be sold in a sort of sentence-style paragraph. Today, this information would be lucky to make the paper and if it did it would be in the form of a bullet point list.

It’s difficult to read deeply into these articles. You might be able to assert that life was simpler or that there was less regulation or even that it did not take much to capture people’s attention (because any document created was not very common), but otherwise they are merely forms of advertisement. It’s cool to see and I wish I could see how they were presented to audiences (i.e., by hand, on a wall, etc.). It was certainly different from how advertisements reach audiences today. Perhaps they were mediums of basic information, and all the information people needed was obtained by talking to other individuals in the community. Nevertheless, it is cool to see just how different documents are today than they were a few centuries ago.

Shays’ Rebellion and the Constitutional Convention

By: Brooke Diemart

Unlike my first post, this is not my first rodeo looking into the Digital Public Library of America. However, I did find this particular task a little daunting since I had checked out other sites and there was so much. DPLA seemed to be easier to access information. Upon getting that information, I had looked at a couple things during this time period that related to the Revolution. I scrolled down and saw Shays’ Rebellion. This actually was very enticing to me because once it was mentioned in class from our reading of The Contrast (which I enjoyed very much – one of my favorite readings in class), I was drawn to it! 

A portrait of Major General Benjamin Lincoln, a supporter of the Constitution who led a militia to suppress Shays’ Rebellion.

This illustration of Benjamin Lincoln pulled me in. So, I want to mention what I saw in the photo that intrigued me. To the left of Lincoln in the photo (right to Lincoln), it is very small, but there are soldiers who are holding up an American flag. It almost looks as if they are celebrating. I cannot help but notice the cannon that Lincoln is leaning on in the picture. He has a piece of blank paper in his hand and (I think) a glove in his other. He stands wearing a uniform that has stars at the top, representing America. I would also say that he is standing like he is distinguished. He has his arm on his hip (which seems to me confident) and his face slightly turned. That is not to say he is just posing because he very well could be.  He has what seems to be a satchel around his arm swinging around to his side and a sword right in front of it.  At the bottom of the picture it states, “Engraved by J.R. Smith / Major General Benjamin Lincoln/ Of the Revolutionary Army of the United States, / President of the Cincinnati of the State of Massachusetts…”. This is all I could really get from it since the type face is cursive and very hard to read. 

I, a natural curious being, wanted to find out more about him. Why put these pieces particularly inside the illustration? So, I went to do research. Born on January 24, 1733, he was a Major General and very important to the Revolutionary War. This explains the American Flag and soldiers. It also explains the cannons! He played a role in Shays’ Rebellion too. Just for short review, in New England, farmers and merchants were trying to keep their businesses maintained without European trade or credit lines. In August 1786, an uprising was led by Daniel Shays in Massachusetts started from the rise of tension and lasted until 1787. This uprising was for what they thought was an oppressive tax system, political corruption, and the focus on the elites that were ignoring the issues of the lower class. Benjamin Lincoln plays a role in this, because in 1787, he led a force of militia to put an end to these uprisings. 

This rebellion was one of the major influences for the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia that took place from May 14 to September 17, 1787, in Philadelphia.

An illustration of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

This is another image/illustration I was looking at. This illustration had a bunch of men, who were delegates helping ratify the constitution. At the table are the Committee of Detail. They were in charge of drafting. I believe that it is George Washington who is standing and holding his hand up to the crowd of delegates. This was to decide how America was governed and for the revising of the Constitution. Benjamin Lincoln had been chosen to be a delegate here and vote to ratify the Constitution (thanks to his stance in the rebellion). Overall, this entire meeting helped shape the United States Constitution! I found all this super interesting and important to know! I have gained a better understanding of both Shays’ Rebellion and the Constitutional Convention. 

Roslin Plantation Journal (Lowcountry Digital Library)

by Victoria Christie

For this post, what we dud with the first one, I wanted to focus on South Carolina. I’m very interested in slavery, so I looked around for exhibits that explored how it impacted people in the South. What I found was an old journal, that explored how one of the antebellum slave plantations worked.

The journal itself is in horrible shape. I could not read it for the life of me. The paper, which looks like it’s made from material older than the printing press, is coming apart at every side. There is not a clear picture of what it’s addressing. However, I do see some names and numbers, which I assume are the slaves. A huge piece of the manuscript is torn out. The handwriting looks like old-timing cursive, which helps give it at least somewhat of a formal appearance. The writing, for better clarity, is broken up into tables, with each one dedicated to one slave. It almost looks like an old-timey clipboard.

Because the manuscript is so used, it tells me how important slavery, keeping track of the slaves, and how to run a plantation was to a slave owner. Since slavery was such a huge deal in the antebellum period, people needed to find a way to make sure everything stayed organized. This particular piece was written in 1810. It goes on and on. This leads me to believe that the 1810s were the highlights of this particular plantation, where they had the most slaves and the most jobs for them to handle. It did not matter whether they were men or women (there are equal female names and male names in the lists).

This manuscript got me thinking about how slaves were treated in this day of age, especially women. Every slave was assigned a job. There are lots of jobs on display in the piece that are watered out, so I am not able to share some of them. However, what I do know is that none of the jobs were easy. Many comprised of hard labor, like the slaves who built the pyramid, and women had it even worse then men, since they could bear children. Children meant more slaves, which meant more money for the owner.

The overview of the manuscript explains that it contains not only names and jobs, but also the equipment needed for the slaves to satisfy their masters. I was not surprised by the fact that most of the piece is a response to how to grow and pick cotton, because that was so common in the Lowcountry back then. According to the manuscript, there were different stations for cotton workers, and a certain number of slaves were assigned to it. If one fell ill or died, then the owner just replaced that person with another slave. I think this document gives us an idea of how these plantations worked and what was so important to the slave owners. It will answer questions about the different tasks the slaves had to accomplish and what was needed to maintain their reputation so that they didn’t die under the influence.