News Of History


After having been in storage for nearly a century, an important and invaluable collection of furniture, paintings, silver, jewelry, and over 85,000 manuscripts of the Livingston family has been acquired by the New-York Historical Society. Included are the personal papers of Chancellor Robert R. Livingston, who, as Jefferson’s minister to France, 1801-04, negotiated the Louisiana Purchase and, with Robert Fulton, promoted the first successful commercial use of steamboats.

The collection, presented by Mr. and Mrs. Goodhue Livingston, has never before been available to historians.

“The Liberties of America are an infinite stake,” wrote Alexander Hamilton in a letter of June 28, 1777, to Chancellor Livingston. “We should not play a game for it, or put it upon the issue of a single cast of the die,” he adds, justifying Washington’s tactics.

“Living in our capital [New York] is become so very expensive, and what its worse . . . it is become fashionable. Surely this must be very pernicious,” laments Robert Livingston, Third Lord of the Manor, to his son Walter on April 6, 1785.

The New-York Historical Society arranged a special exhibition in the late winter celebrating the contribution of the Livingston family in American history. Included in the display were such choice items from the new collection as Napoleon’s authorization for the sale of Louisiana in 1803, a letter from John Paul Jones telling of his hoisting of the American flag for the first time, and the lyrics for a Fourth of July song written by Thomas Paine in 1802.

An historical project of major proportions in Ohio has been the construction of a blockhouse at Fort Recovery, in Mercer County, where a fort of reduced scale was built some years ago. The new structure represents with a maximum of accuracy the type of protective building common in the Ohio Valley during the early years of settlement. Fort Recovery was erected by forces under General Anthony Wayne as a supply depot and rallying point for the victorious Indian campaign of 1794. It was located on the site of General St. Glair’s defeat by the Indian tribes in 1791.

The present construction is based on the limited details supplied by the Wayne diaries and other related manuscripts. Built of twelve-inch logs, the blockhouse is two stories in height and is topped by a cupola, or lookout tower. The lower story is twenty feet square and the upper is somewhat larger, projecting over the lower story on three sides by two and one-half feet. Rifle slits and embrasures for cannon have been cut through the log walls; openings also have been left in the overhang for downward fire. A large open fireplace has been constructed of soft brick along the single interior wall, a feature which provided some measure of protection from wintry blasts which entered the rough structure through cracks and rifle slits. Future plans call for razing the older, small-scale units and grading of the area to indicate other features of the defense system.

More than half the money necessary to build the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri, which will house the 3,500,000 items constituting the papers of the former President, has already been given, David D. Lloyd, executive director of the Harry S. Truman Library, Inc., revealed recently.

Of the corporation’s goal of $1,750,000, more than one million has been collected, and Lloyd expressed the belief that construction of the library would begin this spring. The site for the library is a knoll in a public park in Independence, not far from the Truman home. The building will be in “a simple modern style, air-conditioned throughout,” and it will contain not only stack areas for the papers but reading and study rooms for visiting researchers and offices for the staff and for the former President. There will also be an auditorium and exhibition rooms.

The generosity of the descendents of Benjamin Franklin and of his correspondents in giving away countless Franklin autograph letters as souvenirs to admirers, has greatly increased the task of Professor Leonard W. Labaree of Yale University who is editing the papers of Franklin. The first task of an editor in a project such as this is the assembling in photostat form of all extant manuscript materials. Franklin’s papers suffered severely from loss and dispersal, through destruction during the Revolution, through the indifference and neglect of heirs, and through their generosity.

About 25,000 manuscript items are believed to be recoverable, 80 to 85 per cent in a dozen or so major collections—of which that in the American Philosophical Society is by far the largest. The rest are widely scattered in this country and abroad in libraries and private hands. Systematic efforts are being made to reach the unknown owners of manuscript items and appeal for permission to have copies of their holdings for inclusion in the edition. The first six months of operations in the editorial headquarters resulted in the assembling and accessioning of about 5,000 items, a gratifying number from private collectors.

The plan is to publish all known Franklin writings except purely routine documents and all letters addressed to him, though some of the latter will be given in abstract form. The arrangement will be strictly chronological with a very few exceptions. It is hoped that the first of perhaps 25 volumes will be published late in 1958.